El Salvador Government, Environment

The Legislative Assembly’s Environmental Debt

MontecristoThe current term of the Legislative Assembly comes to an end in a couple weeks and their inaction on environmental issues has left a huge debt to the people the were elected to serve.

When the Legislative Assembly began its 2012-2015 term, the body’s President Sigfrido Reyes said, “the debate in the current legislature requires a dignified position of the Parliament. As the Assembly begins, it is faced with some formidable challenges among them is reducing the environmental vulnerabilities.” A month later, Representative Francisco Zablath, President of the Assembly’s Environmental and Climate Change Commission, said, “What the Legislators do or fail to do affects millions of Salvadorans, and for that reason our task is to legislate responsibly and focus on the common good. So I promise to address water issues in a holistic manner and with the benefit of the population being the center focus.”

But three years later, the Legislative Assembly has accomplished little in protecting El Salvador’s environment and natural resources. Legislators managed to pass a ban on circus animals, extend an environmental emergency declaration in Sitio del Niño, and removed toxic chemicals from San Luis Talpa. These are important and necessary actions, but there are so many other big environmental issues the Legislature failed to act on.

The most emblematic is the General Water Law, which was first presented to the Legislative Assembly in 2006. It is incredibly irresponsible that in 9 years legislators have yet to approve a law that regulates the use of water. El Salvador is on the brink of a water crisis, and the government must take action, but the legislature seems paralyzed.

Carolina Amaya, an environmental activist at the Salvadoran Ecological Unit argues that the reason they have not passed the General Water Law is that business leaders have close ties to right-wing legislators. These private, for-profit interests want to control water resources through privatization, and their representatives in the Legislature have been holding up the bill on the their behalf. Ms. Amaya says that giving private businesses control over water management would be like putting the fox in charge of the hen house.

The Legislature has also failed to ratify an amendment to Article 69 of the Constitution, which would recognize food and water as a basic human right. The amendment was passed in April 2012 just before the last legislative term ended. But to become binding, the Legislature had to ratify it in this term with at least 56 votes, which they were unable to do. It seems like a pretty non-controversial bill giving people the right to adequate nutrition and water, and requiring the State to manage water resources in a way that provides people with adequate access to each.

Twice, legislators have tried to ratify the amendment, but the two conservative parties have voted against it without making any good policy arguments as to why. The Archbishop of San Salvador, José Luis Escobar Alas, recently asked the Assembly, “the right [to food and water] is nothing you can deny, and will all due respect, and with all the respect I can communicate to the honorable legislators, I want to ask that you not reject the amendment and give this your vote, because if you reject it, you deny Salvadorans of their most important and fundamental rights.”

The reality is, however, the Legislative term will end in a couple weeks and with it the opportunity to make a substantial contribution to the country – elevating the right to food and water to a constitutional right.

The legislature also continues to ignore the proposed ban on metallic mining. In a conversation with the Movement of Victims Affected by Climate Change and Corporations (MOVIAC), Representative Lourdes Palacios, the Secretary of the Environmental and Climate Change Committee, recognized that the ban on mining has not been on the Commissions agenda and that they have not looked at the issue.

There are several other environmental issues that are important to Salvadorans and the natural resources they depend on but that the Legislative Assembly has ignored this term. These include the prohibition of toxic agrochemicals, passage of a food sovereignty law, and needed reforms to the Risk Management Law.

The current legislature is leaving a lot of unfinished business for the next term, as well as a big debt to Salvadorans whose health and wellbeing hang in the balance. Water, food and nutrition, mining, toxic agro-chemicals, and risk management are all issues that the Legislature has to address. The next legislative body cannot be irresponsible as their predecessors were – they have a moral and ethical obligation to the people that elected them to office.

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Environment, Food Security

Civil Society Marches for Public Health, Food, and Water

This morning 5,000 Salvadorans from 150 civil society organizations and communities took to the streets in San Salvador to demand that the Legislative Assembly ratify a Constitutional Amendment recognizing food and water as a basic human right.

In 2012, the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly passed an amendment to Article 69 of the Constitution recognizing access to food and water as basic rights to be protected by the State. If the current Legislature ratifies the amendment, Article 69 will include the following language:

“All people have the right to adequate nutrition. The State is required to create food sovereignty and nutritional policies for all inhabitants. A law will regulate this issue.

Water is a resource essential for all of life, and as such the State is required to protect and preserve water resources and provide it for all inhabitants. The State will create public policies that regulate this issue.”

The Legislative Assembly first approved the amendment on April 19, 2012, just 12 days before the current legislature took office. To complete the process, this Legislature has to ratify the amendment before their 3-year term expires on April 30.

When the marchers reached the Legislative Assembly this morning, Diputados (Representatives) Lourdes Palacios and Yoalmo Cabrero greeted them and declared that all 31 representatives from their leftist FMLN party would vote in favor of the amendment. They pointed out, as did many marchers, that it was the right-wing ARENA, PCN, and PDC representatives that have blocked ratification. During a meeting last month with members of MOVIAC, Representative Palacidos said that they have brought the ratification vote to the floor twice and both times ARENA, PCN, and PDC [representatives] blocked its passage. She also said that they have yet to give a valid argument for their opposition.

A statement released by MOVAIC (the Movement of Victims Affected by Climate Change), declared that “water and food, like air, are elements essential for human life and other creatures of the biosphere. Human beings are unable to live without food and water.

“It seems like a lie and its shameful that in the twenty-first century, fifty years after we put a man on the moon and reached high levels of scientific and technological development, that we still are fighting for the recognition of such fundamental rights as access to food and water.”

The holdup seems to be privatization. MOVIAC and others believe that the ARENA, PCN, and PDC Representatives blocking ratification of Article 69 are backing the corporations and investors that want to privatize and control water and food. Representative Palacios confirmed that the opposition from the conservative parties is strong.

In addition to calling for the ratification of the amendment, marchers ask Salvadorans to vote against any legislator or party that has refused to support ratification (on March 1, El Salvador will hold elections for the Legislative Assembly and Municipal governments).

Water resources in El Salvador are scarce and for years Salvadoran organizations have fought to ensure that all Salvadorans have access to potable water. Currently, 20% of Salvadorans do not have access to potable water. That means they have to get water for drinking and to run their household from surface waters, 90% of which are contaminated with agrochemical runoff, untreated industrial waste, raw sewage and other pollutants.

Access to adequate food and nutrition has become more difficult in recent years. Neo-liberal economic policies prioritize using El Salvador’s farmland for growing exports like sugarcane instead of corn, beans, and vegetables for local consumption. U.S. policies such as Partnership for Growth, the Central American Free Trade Agreement, and others have made it increasingly difficult for families to feed themselves or make a living farming.

Ratifying Article 69 of the Salvadoran Constitution will not mean that everyone will have access to water and food, but it will require the executive and legislative branches to take affirmative steps in that direction – like passing the water law that has been lingering in the Legislative Assembly for 10 years.

News out of El Salvador is generally bad – gangs and violence, and 60,000 youth showing up on the U.S. border. That won’t change with the government doubling down on “mano duro” policies and tougher law enforcement. Things will only get better when the government is ready to engage in long-term solutions that ensure Salvadorans have what they need to survive, and nothing is more fundamental than access to food and water.

The inability for some politicians to recognize that people should have the right to access food and water indicates just how far El Salvador has to go before it can resolve its more complicated issues.

agriculture

Debate over the Ban of 53 Agrochemicals in El Salvador

This year our Salvadoran partner communities and organizations asked Voices to join them in a national effort to ban a long list of agrochemicals, including Paraquat, DDT, and Toxaphene. Many of the chemicals are banned in other countries but continue to contaminate Salvadoran communities, resulting in high rates of renal failure, cancer, and other public health issues.

If you follow Voices on Facebook (if you don’t we’d love for you to join us) you might recall that a few weeks ago we posted a photo of communities in the Bajo Lempa, along with Voices staff, CESTA, and MOVIAC all meeting with FMLN representatives in the Legislative Assembly. Our partners were lobbying representatives to consider legislation that would ban a list of toxic agrochemicals. The meeting was successful and the representatives said they were interested in taking action.

Meeting with FMLN diputados about agrochemcials
Meeting with FMLN diputados about agrochemcials

On September 5, the Legislative Assembly took action – they passed a bill banning 53 toxic agrochemicals. It was great news and our partners celebrated it as a victory. There was more motivating the Legislative Assembly’s passage of the ban than our meeting. In recent weeks there has been a tragic story in the Salvadoran news about several barrels of agrochemcials that have contaminated the town of San Luis Talpa, killing at least 60 people. This story helped the FMLN put together a majority of votes to pass the Sept. 5th ban.

But since the law passed, CAMAGRO (the Chamber of Agriculture and Farmers), the rightwing ARENA party, ANEP (National Association of Private Business), and multinational corporations like Monsanto have been lobbying President Funes to veto the bill. They argue that the chemicals are necessary for coffee production and that there are other ways to protect the population from exposure. Funes seems to be hearing them out. He still hasn’t signed the ban into law and supporters of the ban are worried he might veto it.

Members of MOVIAC (the Movement of Victims Affected by Climate Change) held a press conference during which they demanded that President Funes sign the bill into law. They also responded to the argument that chemicals are necessary for cultivating coffee and other crops. In a statement released this morning, MOVIAC states, “Changing the agricultural model is fundamental in order to protect people and the environment, and for this reason the message is not only to policy makers, but to farmers that there exist other forms of cultivation that protect ecosystems and don’t need the use of fertilizers.”

So all sides are stepping up pressure on President Funes to sign or veto the bill. This is a very important issue in the Lower Lempa region of Usulután where large sugarcane plantations spray large quantities of agrochemicals, contaminating nearby fields, water resources, and local villages.
Below (in English and the original Spanish) is an op-ed piece that Voices’ Field Director Jose Acotsa published in the Diario Co-Latino about the ban on agrochemicals. Jose grew up farming in a rural community in Santa Ana and many in his family still grow crops on their small plots. Jose has also spent the past 20 years working with farmers in rural communities like the Bajo Lempa region of Usulután. His article reflects the majority of views and opinions of Voices’ partner communities, and has been widely circulated at the local level.

Here is Jose’s op/ed in English:

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Program defines food security as the condition in which people at all times have access to supplies of safe and nutritious food that is sufficient to meet their cultural preferences and nutritional needs for a healthy and active life.

Since the Legislature reformed the Law on the Control of Pesticides, Fertilizers, and Agricultural Products, to ban 53 agrochemicals, the CAMAGRO (Chamber of Agriculture and Farmer) and other rightwing parties and organizations that supposedly represent peasant farmers lobbied the President to veto the reforms. They argue that the reforms will have negative economic repercussions on families involved in agriculture and result in greater food insecurity.

Food security has been a problem for decades. The UNPD reports that 17% of rural households and 9.2% of urban households live in the state of food depravation, meaning their food consumption is less than the minimum needed to have the energy required to function properly – and these numbers are likely on the low end. Food security has been an issue with the use of agrochemicals and there is no evidence that the ban will make it worse.

The causes of food insecurity in El Salvador are structural, and include the imposition of the neoliberal economic model that promotes ending agricultural production for domestic use. Proponents of the neoliberal model say that free, open markets will provide the most food at the lowest prices. For this reason, El Salvador dismantled the institutions that supported the Salvadoran agriculture sector.

For example, the government got rid of the Institute of Supply Regulation (ARI, in Spanish), meaning it no longer has purchasing power that allowed it to protect prices for producers and consumers. Without the ARI, markets are exposed to competition with foreign grains; there are no import quotas; and import tariffs are drastically reduced – all creating a lucrative business for domestic importers putting thousands of families into poverty.

Unequal land distribution also has a negative impact on domestic agriculture and food security. Despite land reform, land transfers, and efforts by the current administration to help families get titles to their land, poor families still do not have sufficient access to land or the protections that ensure they can use the land they have in a sustainable and production manner.

The problem is not a ban on agrochemicals. The problem is with the agricultural model that has been forced upon us. The debate should not focus on the poisons that kill weeds, pests, or diseases. The questions should center around the causes of the pests and diseases, and what is causing weeds and diseases to become more invasive. The debate should focus on why people believe agrochemicals are even necessary. It appears that conventional agriculture is counter to nature.

Its now necessary to stake out a new relationship between agriculture and nature so that food production is in closer harmony with nature and achieves more of an ecological balance. Endless economic profits should not be the goal or motive, rather producing food in a sustainable manner, caring for the health of the soil, water, biodiversity, and people. Without question, the ban on agrochemicals is a bold step in the right direction.

A new agricultural paradigm also requires spiritual, ethical and moral values. When asked about the Church’s position on agrochemical issue, Archbishop Escobar Alas expressed quite clearly, “using a proper scale of values, life comes first.”

Here is the original Spanish:

La Organización de las Naciones Unidas para la Agricultura y Alimentación FAO, define seguridad alimentaria como una situación en la cual todas las personas tienen acceso en todo momento a alimentos suficientes, seguros y nutritivos para cubrir sus necesidades nutricionales y preferencias culturales para una vida sana y activa.

Ante las reformas a la Ley sobre Control de Pesticidas, Fertilizantes y Productos para uso Agropecuario, la CAMAGRO en conjunto con partidos de derecha y organizaciones presuntamente campesinas, han manifestado que si el Presidente no observa o veta tales reformas habrá repercusiones en la economía de las familias dedicadas a la agricultura, asimismo se afectará profundamente la seguridad alimentaria.

Sin embargo, la seguridad alimentaria está afectada desde hace décadas.  El Programa de las Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo, sostiene que el 17% de los hogares rurales y el 9.2% de los hogares de la zona urbana, viven en situación de privación alimentaria, lo que significa que consumen alimentos por debajo de las necesidades mínimas de energía que requiere el organismo para funcionar adecuadamente, lo cual demuestra que el uso de agroquímicos no soluciona el problema del hambre.

La inseguridad alimentaria del país tiene causas estructurales, una de ellas es la implementación del modelo neoliberal en el que prevaleció la idea de acabar con la agricultura nacional, porque el libre mercado se haría cargo de proveer los alimentos a precios más convenientes. De esta manera se desmontaron y desaparecieron las instituciones que apoyaban la agricultura.

Se suprimió el Instituto Regulador de Abastecimiento (IRA), eliminando el poder de compra estatal que aseguraba precios justos para el productor  y para el consumidor. La desaparición del IRA provocó la liberalización total del mercado de granos básicos con el exterior, se eliminaron las cuotas de importación y se comenzó un proceso de reducción drástica de aranceles, generando un lucrativo negocio para los importadores nacionales y hundiendo en la pobreza a miles de familias campesinas.

Otro problema, que tiene mucha incidencia en la agricultura nacional, es la injusta distribución de la tierra. A pesar de la reforma agraria, transferencias de tierra y el proceso de legalización de propiedades, impulsado por el actual gobierno,  el  acceso a la tierra para los campesinos y la garantía de hacer un uso sostenible y productivo  de la misma es un problema no resuelto.

No obstante, el problema de fondo es el modelo de agricultura que se nos ha impuesto; por tanto la discusión no debe centrarse en los venenos para eliminar hierbas, plagas o  enfermedades, lo que hay que cuestionar es la causa de las plagas y enfermedades, debemos preguntarnos ¿Porqué las hierbas que crecen junto a los cultivos cada vez son más abundantes y agresivas? ¿Por qué cada vez es necesario utilizar más agroquímicos para obtener menores resultados? Evidentemente sucede porque la agricultura convencional actúa en contra de la naturaleza.

Ante este escenario es obligatorio replantear una nueva relación entre la agricultura y naturaleza, para que la producción de alimentos se comporte en armonía con el equilibrio ecológico, no se trata de generar lucro económico de forma ilimitada, si no de producir de forma sostenible, cuidando la base vital como lo es el suelo, el agua, la biodiversidad y la salud de las personas. Sin lugar a dudas con la prohibición de agroquímicos el país está dando un paso firme en la dirección correcta.

Un nuevo paradigma de la agricultura también  requiere de valores espirituales, éticos y morales. Monseñor Escobar Alas, al ser consultado sobre la posición de la iglesia con respecto al tema de los agroquímicos, expresó con absoluta claridad… “En una adecuada escala de valores, la vida está en primer lugar”.

Advocacy, U.S. Relations

The Salvadoran Roundtable Against Mining Releases a Statement Against the P3 Law

Yesterday the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly passed the controversial Public Private Partnership Law. The Law passed 84-0, meaning that no representative in the Legislative Assembly opposed the Law. The vote doesn’t necessarily reflect the public’s opinion of public-private partnerships or the Law. Many groups throughout El Salvador oppose the Law for a variety of reasons.

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Over 75 leaders of communities throughout the Bajo Lempa and Bay of Jiquilisco gathered the day before yesterday’s vote to again denounce the law and the implications that public private partnerships have for the region (click here for more on that). In addition to opposing privatization of more state resources and services, leaders throughout the region oppose the plan to use public-private partnerships to promote tourism in the region.

Simiarlly, the labor movement organized a couple of protests this week and circulated an online petition (click here for more on that). They are concerned that public-private partnerships will cost thousands of public-sector jobs and a deterioration of workers rights.

The Salvadoran Roundtable Against Metallic Mining (MESA, in Spanish) are concerned that the PPP Law will result in government-sponsored mining activities. The MESA released a statement yesterday afternoon and this morning quickly translated it to English (apologies in advance to the authors for any errors) – it is posted below, first in English and then the original in Spanish.

The MESA Statement in English

We REJECT THE LAW BECAUSE Public Private Partnership OPEN POSSIBILITIES FOR METAL MINING IN EL SALVADOR

With regards to the debate around the Public-Private Partnership Law (PPP) and its dishonorable approval by the Legislature, the National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining releases its strong rejection of this new attempt to privatize public services .

As the National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining, we also express our deep concern that the PPP Law opens the door for approval of mining projects in [El Salvador]. When there is no law that prohibits metalic mining or a General Law on Water to alieviate the water shortage that we suffer, it is irresponsible and reprehesible that [the Legislature] would pass a law like the PPP Law that creates the conditions for severe predation and environmental degradation, and a the socio-environmental crisis in which we live.

It is foolish and wrong to repeate actions that have already been proven to be the cause of many of our structural problems. Vulnerability to disasters, along with environmental degradation, massive budgetary and institutional weaknesses in addressing climate change, forced migration, social exclusion and violence are the result of not keeping the voracious markets under control. The State’s goods and resources should serve to provide a dignified life for the population, not to finance predatory corporate profits.

The proposed public-private partnerships are a continuation of the neoliberal policies of the privatization of public services that affect the economic, social and cultural rights of the Salvadoran population. From an environmental sustainability perspective, we urge government authorities and the Legislative Assembly to stop implementing programs promoted by the International Monetary Fund, and pass with equal importance and speed, the General Law on Water, the Ban on Metallic Mining, and the ratification of Article 69 of the Constitution, which establishes the right to water and food.

We reject and deny that private concessions are the solution to improve the delivery of services to the population. We emphasize that if El Salvador prosecuted those who avoid and evade their tax liabilities, and adopt of a progressive tax code that requires those who have more to pay more, the State would have the conditions and resources to provide adequate public services.

We also call on legislative representatives to defend the sovereignty of our country. There are several international treaties such as the Convention for the Conservation of Biodiversity of SICA, Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization ILO, 1992 Rio Convention, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which recognizes the right of people to participate and decide on the use that will be given to the resources of their territories. The Law on Public Private artnerships are nothing more and nothing less than an affront to any possibility of building a worthy development model that is just and sustainable.

Deputies: DEFEND THE SOVEREIGNTY OF THE PEOPLE SALVADORIAN

No to the proposed Public Private Partnership law!

The MESA Statement in Spanish

RECHAZAMOS LA LEY DE ASOCIO PÚBLICO PRIVADO PORQUE ABRE POSIBILIDADES PARA LA MINERÍA METÁLICA EN EL SALVADOR

RECHAZAMOS LA LEY DE ASOCIO PÚBLICO PRIVADO PORQUE ABRE POSIBILIDADES PARA LA MINERÍA METÁLICA EN EL SALVADOR

En el contexto de discusión de la Ley de Asocio Público-Privado (APP) y su deshonrosa aprobación por parte de la Asamblea Legislativa, la Mesa Nacional frente a la Minería Metálica hace público su más enérgico rechazo a este nuevo intento de privatización de servicios públicos.

Como Mesa Nacional frente a la Minería Metálica  manifestamos además nuestra profunda preocupación de que la Ley de APP abra las puertas para la aprobación de proyectos mineros en nuestro país.  Mientras no se cuente con Ley que prohíba la Minería Metálica o una Ley General de Aguas orientada a revertir el estrés hídrico que sufrimos, es irresponsable y repudiable que se apruebe un marco jurídico como la Ley APP, que sienta las condiciones para agudizar gravemente la depredación ambiental y por ende, la crisis socioambiental que vivimos.

Es absurdo y equivocado que se repitan medidas que ya demostraron ser la causa de muchos de nuestros problemas estructurales. La vulnerabilidad ante desastres, al igual que el deterioro ambiental, las enormes desventajas presupuestarias e institucionales para enfrentar el Cambio Climático, la migración forzada, la exclusión y la violencia social son el resultado de no controlar la actitud voraz  del mercado. Los bienes y recursos que son patrimonio del Estado deben orientarse para garantizar la vida digna de la población, no para financiar el lucro depredador de las corporaciones.

Las propuestas de Asocio Público constituyen la continuación de las políticas neoliberales de privatización de servicios públicos que afectarán los derechos económicos, sociales y culturales de la población salvadoreña.  Desde una lógica por la sustentabilidad ambiental, exigimos a las autoridades del Gobierno y a la  Asamblea Legislativa que en lugar de hacer valer los programas del Fondo Monetario Internacional, hagan valer con la misma importancia y celeridad, las leyes de agua, de la prohibición de la minería metálica, así como la ratificación del artículo 69 de la Constitución que establece el derecho humano al agua y a la alimentación.

Rechazamos y desmentimos que las concesiones a privados sean la solución para mejorar la prestación de servicios a la población. Enfatizamos que si en El Salvador se persiguiera la elusión y evasión fiscal, así como si se aprobara un pacto fiscal progresivo donde los que tienen más pagan más, el Estado contaría con las condiciones y recursos suficientes para hacerlo.

Llamamos a las y los diputados de la Asamblea Legislativa para que hagan respetar la soberanía de nuestro país. Existen diversos tratados internacionales como el Convenio para la Conservación de la Biodiversidad del SICA, el Convenio 169 de la Organización Internacional del Trabajo OIT, la Convención de Río de 1992, la Declaración Universal de los Derechos Humanos que reconocen el derecho de las poblaciones para participar y decidir sobre el uso que se le dará a los recursos de sus territorios. Los Asocio Públicos Privados son nada más y nada menos que una afrenta más para cualquier posibilidad de construir un modelo de desarrollo digno, justo y sustentable.

DIPUTADOS Y DIPUTADAS : DEFIENDAN LA SOBERANÍA DEL PUEBLO SALVADOREÑO

¡No a la propuesta de ley de Asocio Público Privado!

 

Partnership for Growth, U.S. Relations

Law on Public Private Partnerships Seems to be Moving Forward in El Salvador (Please sign the Petition Below!)

Countrapunto reported Wednesday that the Legislative Assembly’s Treasury Commission gave a green light to the proposed Law on Public Private Partnerships (P3 Law). The full Assembly should have a chance to vote on the bill as soon as today, Thursday May 23.

Since the Funes Administration introduced the bill last year, opposition has grown, in part, around the fear that if passed that State would be able to privatize important state services and assets. Members of the Treasury Committee tried to address some of those concerns with amendments. FMLN Diputado (Representative) Orestes Ortez, said “at least how it has been modified through today, in agreement with all the other diputados, the bill does not open space for privatizing those goods that have a public or social interest.”

According to the Contrapunto article, the Committee took out a section that required the Legislative Assembly to vote on a contract within 45 days of receiving it. Ortez pointed out that no country in the world imposed such tight time limits on legislative functions. The Committee also created a roll for itself in negotiating the terms of P3 contracts. The original bill only gave them the right to approve or oppose a contract, but not contribute substantively to its content.

Among the other changes, the reforms require that all contractors abide by El Salvador’s labor laws, which they would presumably have to do anyway. This seems to be an attempt to pacify the labor movement, which has been the law’s most vocal opponent. The reforms also exclude services like water, health, education, the public university, the public insurance system, and El Salvador’s jails from P3 contracts.

According to La Prensa Grafica, the bill that left the Treasury Commission should have enough support to pass the Legislative Assembly.

But the reforms seem insufficient to pacify the bill’s opponents. Estela Ramírez, a representative of the Private Sector Worker’s Union Federation (FUERSA), told a group of supporters, “we are here from the private sector to accompany public sector workers in their opposition to the P3 law, not only out of solidarity for those workers’ rights, but because of the impact that this law would have on private sector workers by raising the costs of social services and further bankrupting the state.”

Residents of the Bajo Lempa reigon of Jiquilisco, Usulután share the labor movement’s concerns about the P3 law’s affects on the labor market and access to public services. Their main concern, however, is that the P3 Law is a prerequisite for the second round of Millennium Challenge Corporation funds, which will fund public-private partnerships for developing tourism throughout the region. Residents of the Bajo Lempa have stated on several occasions that they do not want large tourism projects or other mega-development projects that will continue to disrupt their agricultural economy and peaceful way of life.

Yesterday, more than 70 residents and civil society leaders in the Bajo Lempa gathered to discuss the P3 Law and the reforms, as well as the MCC projects. Even after reviewing the changes approved this week by the Treasury Committee, the representatives at the meeting remain 100% against the P3 law and MCC. The reforms did not change their view that the P3 law was written to benefit corporations and wealthy people, and has not taken into consideration the needs of the communities.

One person at yesterday’s meeting made the point that since 2005 civil society has tried to get the Legislative Assembly to consider a Water Law they drafted. Their bill enjoys widespread support because it tries to protect the interests of communities and people. But the Legislative Assembly has never tried to move the bill forward. The P3 Law, however, appears to be zipping through the legislative process even though people, communities and civil society organizations have spoken out against it.

The labor movement is organizing a protest today outside the Legislative Assembly, presumably around the time the diputados will be debating and possibly voting on the P3 Law. They, along with residents of the Bajo Lempa, will continue to protest the law and its application if it is approved.

So far the P3 Law has enjoyed the most support from the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador. U.S. Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte has appeared in the Salvadoran news several times over the past few months calling on the Legislative Assembly to pass the law, stating that it is a prerequisite for the second Millennium Challenge Corporation grant worth $400 million.

Support for the P3 Law amongst Salvadorans doesn’t necessarily come from common sense that public-private partnerships are the key to economic growth, though there are some who are believers. It comes from the th.reat that if the law is not passed, the U.S. will withhold the $400 million MCC fund – an investment that people in the Bajo Lempa don’t want anyway

This morning our friends over at CISPES sent around a petition by CEAL (a Salvadoran Labor group) asking that members of the Legislative Assembly reject the P3 Law, which “was proposed by the Executive branch under the pressure of the United States Embassy.” Instead they call on the Legislative Assembly to approve fiscal reforms quickly that require those that have more to pay more taxes in order to finance more social projects that benefit Salvadoran communities without needing to privatize government assets and services.

Please take a moment to sign the petition – it’s an important way to let the U.S. Embassy and the Legislative Assembly know that you believe that the interests of the Salvadoran people should come before those of wealthy corporations that are already thriving in the neoliberal economic model the U.S. has been implementing since the early 1990s.

2014 Elections, Partnership for Growth, U.S. Relations

Momentum Against the MCC and other U.S. Policies May be Building

On May 2nd, organizations and communities representing thousands of people from the Bajo Lempa region of Jiquilisco, Usulután held a press conference in San Salvador to denounce the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), the Law on Public Private Partnerships (P3 Law), and the tourism projects they promise to support. The Salvadoran labor movement also held a press conference on May 2nd denouncing the MCC and P3 Law, which they believe will adversely affect much of the labor force.

Jose Acosta (Voices' Field Director) speaking at a press conference with Ricardo Navarro (CESTA), Jose Santos Guevara (ACUDESBAL), and Manuel Calderón (ADIBAL)
Jose Acosta (Voices’ Field Director) speaking at a press conference with Ricardo Navarro (CESTA), Jose Santos Guevara (ACUDESBAL), and Manuel Calderón (ADIBAL)

Other than opposition from the labor movement and Bajo Lempa, the MCC proposal and the P3 Law have not created the huge public outcry that other issues have in recent years – attempt to privatize health care (2002), Central American Free Trade Agreement (2006), or Pacific Rim’s efforts to mine gold (2005-present).

But momentum against the MCC and the P3 Law seemed to get a boost on May 1 when Vice President and FMLN presidential candidate Sanchez Cerén announced he and his leftist party do not support U.S. agreements like Partnership for Growth and “the project that has been presented to the Legislative Assembly.” The project Cerén was referring to is a package of laws President Funes presented to the Legislative Assembly in October 2012 and includes the P3 Law.

Cerén’s statements were qualified however, and it remains a little unclear where he and the FMLN stand on the MCC and P3 Law.

Overview of Partnership for Growth, MCC, and the P3 Law

Partnership for Growth is President Obama’s development program that is being implemented in four countries – El Salvador, Ghana, Philippines, and Tanzania. In El Salvador, Partnership for Growth identified security and low production of tradables (exports) as the two main barriers to economic development. As a result, all U.S. programs and funding in El Salvador have to address one or both of these barriers.

In 2004, the Bush Administration created the MCC as its signature development program, investing funds on infrastructure and business development in countries around the world. The first round of MCC funding for El Salvador (2007-20012) invested $463 million in a new highway that spans the northern region of the country, high school and university scholarships, and capital for small businesses. If approved, the second round of MCC funding will be worth $413 million and likely contribute to the expansion of the Litoral Highway along El Salvador’s southern coast and invest in public-private partnerships, which include as many as 30 different tourism projects.

To receive more MCC funds, the U.S. Embassy said El Salvador must pass the Public-Private Partnership Law, which has been lingering in the Legislative Assembly since last year. The bill creates favorable conditions for private investors, and would pave the way for leasing and contracting out State resources and services, including water, education, health care, prisons, air and sea ports, and much more. Critics of the bill fear it will result in the loss of thousands of public sector jobs and adversely affect wages across the labor market. They also fear it will diminish the quality of public services.

Growing Opposition?

In his remarks yesterday, Sanchez Cerén said, “with respect to Partnership for Growth, we want to say that the project that has been presented to the Legislative Assembly, we as the FMLN do not back it.” As pointed out by Diario El Mundo, Cerén was referring to a package of laws that the Funes Administration presented to the Legislative Assembly on October 18, 2012. The purpose of the laws is to implement the Partnership for Growth action plan and include the Public-Private Partnership Law that residents of the Bajo Lempa and the Salvadoran Labor Movement denounced at their press conferences.

Cerén explained that the FMLN does not support Partnership for Growth because it includes mechanisms for privatizing health, education, and prisons. The Diario El Mundo article also reports that FMLN official José Luis Merino confirmed the party’s position on Partnership for Growth adding that they want the United States to respect El Salvador’s sovereignty.

The FMLN, and Cerén, also announced they have drafted their own proposal for increasing investment and promoting public-private investments, but in a manner that will safeguard the interests of the State and ensure that important services (health social services, public security and justice, water and education, and the National University) will not be privatized. It is unclear whether their proposal will satisfy the U.S. Embassy’s prerequisites for the MCC funding. It also remains unclear whether Cerén and the FMLN would also support tourism projects in the Bajo Lempa and respect the region’s desire to protect their communities and natural resources.

During his May 1st speech, Cerén urged members of the FMLN not to abandon the party and permit the right-wing ARENA return to power. The plea was a recognition that the FMLN is somewhat divided right now, in large part over Partnership for Growth, the MCC, and the P3 Law. The FMLN can’t afford to loose the labor movement and entire regions like the Bajo Lempa and expect to defeat the ARENA candidate (Norman Quijano) in February 2014.

For now anyway, momentum against the P3 Law and the MCC seems to be growing.

El Salvador Government

Salvadoran Legislature Reforms the Law on Access to Public Information

At 2:30 in the morning last Friday, the Salvadoran Legislature approved reforms to the Law on Public Access to Information (LAIP). Civil society representatives have reacted by calling the changes unconstitutional and a violation of basic human rights. The reforms take out any teeth the LAIP had to force government agencies to provide information requested. President Funes said he will take his time to review the provisions and decide whether to sign Friday’s bill into law or veto it.

A block of 46 representatives from the FMLN, GANA, and PCN parties voted for the reforms, while 29 representatives from the ARENA, CD, PDC, and 4 other independents voted against them.

Norman Guevara, one of the FMLN representatives who voted for the reforms, said the Legislative Assembly hadn’t approved the Bible when they created the Law [on Access to Public Information] and that it could be reformed. Monday an FMLN spokesman said that they were open to reviewing the reforms and that their only obligation is to transparency.

The Legislative Assembly passed the LAIP in 2011 with 55 votes after civil society organizations, led by Grupo Promotor de LAIP, advocated for years for greater transparency and the right to access public information. The LAIP covers most aspects of information management by government agencies – classification of information, release of information, and promoting a culture of transparency. The LAIP also creates an administrative infrastructure to facilitate citizen access to public information.

Friday’s reforms weaken the LAIP in many ways, according to Grupo Promotor. The Institute charged with implementing the LAIP no longer has the authority to resolve conflicts over what information should or should not be restricted – they can only make recommendations that government agencies can ignore.  The reforms also remove the sanctions that were to be imposed if a government agency withheld information. These reforms mean that the Institute will no longer be able to implement the law and guarantee free access of public information.

Over the weekend, Grupo Promotor said the reforms give government entities the privilege of secrecy and silence.

An article posted by La Prensa Grafica hints at a possible back-story behind the reforms. FUNDE, an organization that belongs to Grupo Promotor and has supported the LAIP, recently requested information from the Legislative Assembly about their costs related to Christmas gifts. They also requested information related to how much art the Legislative Assembly had purchased. The Legislature denied the request pertaining to the Christmas gifts and they said that a list of works of art purchased did not exist. The La Prensa Grafica article seems to indicate that the reforms were in response to FUNDE’s requests and that perhaps the FMLN was trying to hide information regarding these expenditures.

Yesterday, Voices spoke with Cristina, an environmentalists who researches and writes investigative reports about issues that affect the Lower Lempa. She told Voices that the LAIP and its implementation have been a success. As an example, she told us that for two years she tried to obtain the National Program for the Reduction of Risks. Government agencies, including the Ministry of the Environment, which she says is the most secretive, never provided her access to the document. Once the LAIP was passed she consulted with the information officials and received everything she needed.

Cristina said, “with regard to investigations, the LAIP has allowed me access to detailed information about industrial and artisan fishing, shrimping, trawlers operating along the coast, mining concessions and licenses, protocols for hydro-electric dam discharges, lists of properties greater than 100 manzanas, and more.”

Since Friday, many civil society representatives have responded to news of the reforms. The Ombudsman for Human Rights, Oscar Luna, said, “as public officials we are obliged to be transparent in our work. The reforms should not be able to affect the right to information that all citizens have.”

The Archbishop of San Salvador, Monsignor José Luis Escobar said, “the reforms are a violation of the Constitution of the Republic and the freedom of information.” He added, “I have heard that President [Funes] is going to study the issue, and is reflecting on it, and I as the President not to sanction these reforms and that the law should remain as it is, and that the diputados also reconsider their position.”

Javier Castro, who is the director of legal studies of FUSADES and a representative of the Grupo Promotor, said that group is thinking about legal actions. “We are already evaluating… the resources that we will be able to use at the moment. What we are clear about is that there is a clear violation of the constitution, and that a claim for unconstitutionality is viable.

If Funes signs these reforms into law, it will become much more difficult for activists like Cristina and communities like our partners in the Lower Lempa of Usulután and the mountains of Morazán to access information about the issues that affect them.

The reforms of the LAIP seem to be on par with the constitutional crises that El Salvador has experienced over the past couple years.Democracy is not always easy and sometimes those in power do not like the inconveniences of being transparent or not having control of courts. But it is promising to see civil society stand up to politicians and demand they do the right thing. As Funes reviews the reforms, he will surely consider the outcry from Salvadorans calling for him to veto the bill. And if for some reason he signs the bill into law, Grupo Promotor or other activists like Cristina will have recourse in the Constitutional Court. El Salvador faces a lot of complicated issues – drug trafficking, gangs, economic disparity, and so on. But each time Salvadorans go through one of these democratic growing pains, they come out stronger and better equipped to take on their more complicated problems.

Not to downplay the seriousness of this issue. Salvadorans have worked hard to secure the right to access public information and have a greater voices in their government, and they have the right to be outraged. But this is also an opportunity to solidify the country’s demand for and participation in a transparent and open government.

Voices will be following this story over the coming days/weeks so stay tuned. If you speak Spanish and are on Facebook, Grupo Promotor has a very informative page that we follow.