The Inter-Institutional Group of the Bajo Lempa region of Jiquilisco released a statement this afternoon in response to the passage of the Public-Private Partnership Law that passed through the Legislative Assembly last week. Their statement comes as the Salvadoran government announced that it is forming a commission to start organizing the first round of partnership agreements.
The Inter-Institutional group is comprised of several local and national development organizations working in the Bajo Lempa and Bay of Jiquilisco – they include organizations like ACUDESBAL (The United Communities of the Bajo Lempa), ADIBAL (Asociación para el Desarrollo Integral del Bajo Lempa), CESTA (Center for the Application of Sustainable Technology), ASPS (Salvadoran Association of Public Health), the Pastoral Team of the Lower Lempa, the Emergency Fund, and Voices on the Border. It also includes communities such as Amando Lopez, Comunidad Octavio Ortiz, La Tirana, Nueva Esperanza, and others.
Here is the Inter-Institutional Group’s statement, first an English translation and then the original Spanish.
PUBLIC PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP LAW
MORE POVERTY AND ENVIRONMENTAL DESTRUCTION
The Inter-Institutional group of civil society organziations of the Lower Lempa and communities in the municipality of Jaquilisco express our strong opposition to the Public-Private Partnerships Law, passed by the Legislative Assembly on Thursday May 23.
Neoliberal measures implemented in El Salvador have failed in every way. Privatization, dollarization and CAFTA-DR were supposed to create jobs and economic growth, but it never happened. Instead poverty, violence, environmental degradatoin and corruption increased significantly during the 4 ARENA governments that oversaw the implementation of these neoliberal policies. We deeply regret that our country continues to embrace the neoliberal agenda dictated by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the United States government, the principal “advisors” and promoters of the Public-Private Partnerships Law.
We recognize that the FMLN introduced important changes to the original bill, but at the same time it infuriates us that the party that once led a fierce opposition to the neoliberal agenda is now endorcing this type of law that provides state resources to transnational corporations whose only purpose is economic profit not the wellfare of the Salvadoran population, which has been marginalized throughout its history.
State resources such as the Comalapa International Airport, seaports, hydroelectric dams, highways and others are the property of all Salvadorans are likely to be endlessly exploited by private companies. Even worse is what can happen to the beaches, mangrove forests and nature reserves.
The Public Private Partnership law also paves the way for the second FOMILENIO, a megaproject that constitutes a series of threats to coastal ecosystems and their populations. Like the proposed gold mining projects and the construction of dams, the second FOMILENIO fund will provide large national and transnational corporations with economic benefit while providing the communities with economic and environmental problems.
Taking into account that all political parties lost credibility with the approval of the Law on Public Partnership Law and no longer represent the interests of the people, and we the below signed organizations and communities of the Lower Lempa once again reiterate our determination to defend our lives and territory until the ultimate consequences.
FOR THE DEFENSE OF LIFE AND THE TERRITORY
THE INTER-INSTITUTIONAL OF THE BAJO LEMPA
LEY DE ASOCIOS PÚBLICO PRIVADOS,
SAQUEO, POBREZA Y DESTRUCCIÓN AMBIENTAL
La Interinstitucional del Bajo Lempa (INTERBAL), integrada por organizaciones sociales y comunidades del municipio de Jiquilisco, expresamos nuestro más enérgico rechazo a la Ley de Asocios Público Privados aprobada por la Asamblea Legislativa, el jueves 23 de mayo.
Las medidas neoliberales aplicadas en El Salvador fracasaron en todo sentido, las promesas de empleo y de crecimiento económico que acompañaron las privatizaciones, la dolarización y la firma del CAFTA-DR, jamás se cumplieron y en su lugar la pobreza, la violencia, el deterioro del medio ambiente y la corrupción se incrementaron grandemente durante los 4 gobiernos de ARENA. Lamentamos profundamente que el país continúe asumiendo la “receta” neoliberal dictada por el Banco Mundial, El Fondo Monetario Internacional y el gobierno de Los Estados Unidos, principales “asesores” y promotores de esta Ley.
Tenemos conocimiento que el FMLN introdujo importantes modificaciones al proyecto de ley original, pero a la vez nos provoca indignación que el partido que fue férreo opositor a la doctrina neoliberal ahora avale este tipo de leyes que ofrecen recursos del Estado a empresas trasnacionales cuyo único fin es el lucro económico y no el bienestar de la población históricamente excluida.
Bienes como el aeropuerto, los puertos, presas hidroeléctricas, carreteras y otros que actualmente son propiedad de todos los salvadoreños y salvadoreñas serán susceptibles de ser explotados hasta la saciedad por empresas privadas; pero más grave aún es lo que puede pasar con las playas, los bosques de manglar y las reservas naturales.
Esta ley también abre el camino para el segundo FOMILENIO, megaproyecto que constituye una seria amenaza a los ecosistemas costeros del país y a la población. Al igual que los proyectos mineros y de construcción de represas, de concretarse el segundo FOMILENIO, grandes empresas, nacionales y trasnacionales saquearan los recursos de la zona, se quedaran con los beneficios económicos y las comunidades que habitan los territorios costeromarinos, serán desplazadas y abandonadas con muchos problemas.
Teniendo en cuenta que con la aprobación de la Ley de Asocios Público Privados todos los partidos políticos han perdido credibilidad y han dejado de representar los intereses de la población salvadoreña, las organizaciones y comunidades del Bajo Lempa reiteramos una vez más nuestra determinación a defender la vida y el territorio hasta las últimas consecuencias.
Last week Pacific Rim Mining Company announced it is seeking $315 million dollars in damages from El Salvador. It was a stark reminder that the 8-year old mining debate, which included several years of threats and violence between mining supporters and opponents, has yet to been resolved and could still result in a devastating economic blow to El Salvador.
As the mining issue continues, another debate with the potential to become just as volatile is brewing. In March the Funes Administration provided some details about its proposal for a second round of funding from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a US aid program started by President Bush in 2004. The proposal is worth $413 million dollars, half of which will likely go towards an infrastructure project like improving the Litoral Highway that runs along El Salvador’s southern coast. The other half is likely to help finance public-private partnerships and improve human capital, which seems to mean education.
As details of the proposal emerge, opposition to a second round of MCC funding is growing. So far, opposition has opened on two fronts. The Salvadoran labor movement has been the most outspoken opponent, denouncing the proposed Law on Public Private Partnerships (P3 Law) since last year. Environmentalists and communities in the Lower Lempa region of Usulután have been less outspoken, but oppose the MCC proposal because the public-private partnerships will support tourism, which they strongly oppose. In 2011, members of the anti-mining movement also spoke out against the P3 Law fearing it would result in mining activities.
Because politicians within the FMLN are supporting the MCC, the politics of opposing the P3 Law and tourism are a little more complicated than opposition to mining was. Other than a protest outside the US Embassy in March and other small activities organized by the labor movement, opposition has remained largely behind closed doors, which may change soon.
The Public Private Partnership Law
US Ambassador Maria Carmen Aponte said in October 2012 that approval of a second round of MCC funds relies on the passage of the P3 Law. The labor movement and their international supporters, argue that the P3 Law will privatize government operations including the airport, seaports, health care facilities, and other important services. They fear it will result in the loss of thousands of jobs, increasing the country’s already high rates of unemployment and driving wages down even further.
The labor movement and other opponents also do not want the private sector to control important resources and services like water, education, and health controlled. For example, Salvadoran civil society has fought against privatization of water for many years, making it such a toxic issue that politicians are unable to advocate for it publicly. Just like the government has not been able to privatize water, civil society organizations have not been able to pass a water law they have been promoting for over 8 years. Among other things, the law would protect water resources from privatization. Similarly, in 2002 then President Francisco Flores tried to privatize part of the health care system, but health care workers and many others took to the streets and forced the government to back off. Opponents of the P3 law fear it will make it easier for the government to accomplish what it has failed to do in the past – privatizing water and health care.
Supporters of the P3 Law, including President Funes, counter that public-private partnerships are not privatization, and the government will not privatize any important services, like health and education. They argue, instead, that public-private partnerships will result in more foreign direct investments, injecting capital into services and industries that are lagging behind.
The labor movement and other activists fear, however, that while not called privatization, the P3s are a way to accomplish the same goals. Concessions could last as long as 40 years, which means the state is essentially relinquishing control of an asset. Similarly, while capital investments are needed, the P3 Law will allow private, international investors to generate profits from basic services in El Salvador and take the profits overseas instead of re-investing in El Salvador.
Public-private partnerships are not new in El Salvador – they government has contracted out many operations to private companies over the years. One regular criticism is that these relationships prioritize profits over the well being of Salvadorans. For example, in the aftermath of the October 2011 floods, communities and organizations in the Lower Lempa blamed the CEL for washing them out. The CEL is the state-owned agency that manages the dam, generating electricity that private power companies sell for profit. The more electricity produced, the more money the companies make. In the months after the 2011 floods CEL representatives responded frankly, stating they operate the dams to make electricity and generate profits, not protect the people downstream.
Tourism is not inherently bad, but communities in the Lower Lempa of Usulután fear that building hotels and resorts in and around their important and fragile ecosystems will cause irreparable harm. One Lower Lempa community targeted for a tourism project is La Tirana, an isolated and economically poor community located at the edge of one of the most pristine mangrove forest in Central America. In addition to its immense natural beauty, the forest supports thousands of species of flora and fauna. The nearby beaches are protected as a nesting ground for several species of endangered sea turtles. Residents of La Tirana fear tourists would damage the fragile mangroves with construction of houses and resorts, jet skis and motorboats, and solid waste and sewage, while displacing local residents and their farms.
Proponents of tourism argue that resorts and hotels in places like Tirana would provide jobs and spur the local economy. They believe this to be especially important in communities, such as those in the Lower Lempa, that have had their agricultural economy diminished by free trade. But locals doubt resorts will help the local economy. They know that hotels are much more likely to hire bilingual youth from San Salvador who have degrees in hotel management than poor campesinos who barely have a sixth grade education.
Voices staff recently met with community members in La Tirana, and they are very much against outside investors building resorts in their region. Recognizing that they live in a special place, the community board is proposing that the community build a series of small, humble cabanas that would have a small ecological footprint, but provide comfortable housing for a small number of guests. They are also proposing that the community build a small community kitchen that could feed guests. The community wants to develop its own small eco-tourism industry that it can regulate and ensure does not harm the forest or turtle nesting ground. It would also mean that the money from tourism would benefit the community, and not just make wealthy investors in San Salvador or abroad even richer.
Other communities in the region are even more vulnerable than La Tirana. In El Chile and other small communities, many residents still do not have title to their land. They fear that if a private investor wants to build a hotel or resort the State could take their land and they would have no legal recourse.
Our staff also met with other communities in the Lower Lempa – Comunidad Octavio Ortiz, Amando Lopez, Nueva Esperanza – and several local organizations. They are also completely opposed to tourism projects in the region. They fear that hotels and resorts will further destroy agricultural land, use up limited water resources, and destroy local culture. The community of Octavio Ortiz even wrote in their strategic plan that they see tourism as a large threat to farming and their peaceful way of life.
While most of the public-private partnership proposals involve tourism, there are quite a few agricultural projects. According to PRESA, the government agency managing the project proposals, they received 14 requests to support production of exports in dairy, mangoes, limes, and honey. In order to be considered for a public-private partnership, investors have to have $100,000 in capital and be producing export crops. The capital requirement means local farmers will not be able to participate. And the requirement that products be grown for export means even more land will be dedicated to products that do not contribute to food sovereignty, which is a top priority for the region.
There are also civil society leaders and academics in El Salvador who oppose the MCC because they see it as the latest phase in implementing a neoliberal economic agenda in their country. They hold it in the same regard as the privatization of state assets (1990s), dollarization (1995-2001), Central American Free Trade Agreement (2006), the first MCC compact (2007-2012), and Partnership for Growth (2011). Similarly, Gilberto Garcia from Center for Labor Studies (CEAL, in Spanish) believes the
highway projects, including the northern highway funded by the first MCC compact and the Litoral Highway project planned for the second compact, are part of an effort to build a land bridge in Guatemala. The “Inter-Oceanic Corridor” will connect ports on the Pacific coasts of Guatemala and El Salvador with Caribbean or Atlantic ports in Guatemala. ODEPAL is managing the project in what they call a public-private partnership. The land bridge is located in Guatemala, but it is right on the borders with El Salvador and Honduras, giving both countries easy access.
Politics of Opposing the MCC and P3 Law
Building a strong national movement around opposition to the second MCC compact and the P3 Law may be more difficult than organizing Salvadorans against mining. While the anti-mining movement was able to reduce the debate to a single issue that all Salvadorans could understand – i.e. gold mining will destroy water resources for 60% of the country – most people believe that tourism, better highways, and other capital investments are always good. Similarly, the P3 Law is fairly abstract and difficult to reduce into a simple message that the majority of Salvadorans can relate to their everyday lives.
The politics around the MCC and P3 Law will make it more difficult to achieve the kind of nation-wide opposition that the anti-mining movement was able to garner. During the mining debate, the FMLN (leftist political party) was the opposition party and had the political freedom to take an anti-mining position. The FMLN is now in power and has to consider the economic and political interests that helped them get there. President Funes and FMLN presidential candidate Sanchez Cerén support the P3 Law and MCC compact, arguing the investments will be good for the economy. According to anonymous sources, many of the same business interests that helped Mauricio Funes with the 2009 presidential elections will benefit from the P3 Law and MCC funds. FMLN legislators have been a slower to sign on to the P3 Law. At times FMLN legislators have said it was not their top priority, and more recently they have tried to negotiate amendments to exclude certain sectors such as health and education from public-private partnerships. Officials from the conservative ARENA party have accused the FMLN legislators of not supporting the law because they want to implement a socialist economy agenda.
But the civil society organizations, communities, and labor unions that are opposed to the P3 Law and the MCC funding generally make up much of the FMLN’s base. If Sanchez Cerén and his supporters continue to embrace the P3 law and the MCC funding, while many in their base protest against it, it could exacerbate an existing split within the party in the months leading up to the February 2014 presidential elections. Many former FMLN militants and supporters, especially in the Lower Lempa, already believe the movement they once fought for no longer represents their interests and values.
Though the US and Salvadoran governments want to pass the P3 Law and sign the MCC compact before the elections, many opponents are gearing up for a long struggle. Even if the P3 Law passes, when the government wants to enter into a public-private partnership the Legislative Assembly will have to approve it. They are likely to face great scrutiny and opposition. Similarly, developers wanting to break ground on tourism projects in La Tirana and other communities are likely to face some rather significant legal and social barriers – much like Pacific Rim faced in Cabañas.
Those of you who have been on a Voices on the Border Delegation to El Salvador in recent years have likely gotten to know our dear friends Marvin and Heidi. They live in Nueva Esperanza, which was underwater last week during the historic rains and floods.
During one of our flood updates we mentioned that Marvin and Heidi had been trapped Nueva Esperanza with 55 other people when flood waters were at their highest. Sunday October 16th, they were forced to spend the night in the bell tower of the church after currents got to strong for the boats to evacuate more people. They were rescued the next afternoon after the rains slowed and the water began to recede.
Yesterday we found a video of their evacuation in which they share their experience as they are boating down the main road out of town.
We also want to thank all of you who donated to the fundraising effort. Your support allowed us to provide material support for those who were forced to their homes and lived in emergency shelters for a week or more. We are continuing to raise money to engage in two post-flood activities 1) providing farmers with support so they can replant their fields and get back on their feet as fast as possible; and 2) supporting local advocacy campaigns for appropriate rebuilding of the levees and drainage system in the Lower Lempa.
Over the weekend Voices staff was able to visit Salinas del Potrero and Nueva Esperanza in the Lower Lempa with our friends from Cristosal. Our initial reports from Salinas were that the flooding cut off the community from the rest of the region but that the damage was minimal. Our visit tells a different story. Many in Salinas continue to live in the community shelter, standing water still obstructs the road going into the community, and many of the community’s fisheries have been flooded out and damaged.
Our staff also visited other communities in the region – Ciudad Romero, Nueva Esperanza, and others and the news is not all bad. The majority of the people who have been living in the emergency shelters have returned home and are starting the arduous task of cleaning up. Electricity and water has been restored in most communities, and people seem to be in fairly good spirits considering the circumstances.
Jessie, voices field volunteer, and 35 youth from OSCA, a youth group in Morazan, traveled to Nueva Esperanza to help locals with the clean up. Read her report with photos here.
Later today we will provide a more thorough update on the survey of the damage.
Thanks to all who have contributed to the recover effort! Though this has been one of the worst disasters in modern Salvadoran history, everyone has worked together to minimize the impact on our local partners. We have a lot of work to do, but the response has been inspiring.
Sorry that we’ve been slow with an update this morning, but we didn’t receive much information out of the Lower Lempa until a moment ago.
Some good news to report; the communities of Nueva Esperanza, Ciudad Romero, Zamorano and others that are completely underwater have been completely evacuated. We have been worried about a group of 57 people (last night we reported 40, but that number was revised upward this morning) were stuck on the top of the Nueva Esperanza Community center and then the bell tower of the church last night. We just received word that they reached the emergency shelter at about noon today.
The water has also begun to recede a bit. While the road is still flooded in some places it is possible to get large trucks all the way down to La Canoa, which has been cut off for the past couple of days. Our staff also met up with several people from the shelter in Amando Lopez who made their way up to the main road and rode their bicycles through the flood waters all the way up to San Marcos.
The shelters are full in San Marcos, Tierra Blanca, Angela Montano, and Jiquilisco, and the conditions are poor, but our staff reports that supplies are starting to arrive.
The weather is supposed to be clearing up today, though our staff reports that it is still raining in the Lempa. Officials from Civil Protection have warned the general public that even if the weather is nice today, the forecast is for storms tomorrow and possibly Thursday so no one should let their guard down.
The latest reports are that there are 32 confirmed deaths in El Salvador, and two people are reported as missing. Schools and universities remain closed today and probably tomorrow. El Faro.net is reporting that the official number of evacuees remains at 32,000, and that over 20,000 houses have been destroyed.
The King of Spain has sent a Boeing 727 full of relief supplies to El Salvador, and it is currently sitting at the military airport in Comalapa being unloaded.
Though the news today is not as bad as yesterday, there are many, many concerns about what’s ahead. Eduardo Espinoza, the Vice-Minister of Public Health, is warning that the greatest threat to public health at this moment is contaminated well water. He is very concerned that in rural communities contaminated water will result in high rates of gastrointestinal infections, typhoid fever, hepatitis, and other diseases. The populations most affected by these diseases are the ones living in shelters and have little or no access to medical care. The ministry is working to get doctors and public health experts to the shelters.
Before the rains started last week, the government was predicting record harvests of basic grains like corn and beans. One estimate is that 80% of the nation’s agricultural crops are lost – which will devastate the local economy and food security. The Consumer Defense agency, a private advocacy and watchdog group in El Salvador, is monitoring the prices of foods and other products, especially imports, and so far there has not been a rise in food prices, but it is a real fear in the coming days and weeks.
The Voices staff is currently drafting a couple posts on different aspects of this disaster, and we’ll have a slideshow and update from the Lower Lempa later this afternoon.
Voices project coordinator just called from the back of a truck in Zamorano, in the Lower Lempa and is reporting that the flooding is worse than what the region experienced during the 1998 flooding caused by Hurricane Mitch. In Nueva Esperanza, Ciudad Romero, Zamorano and other nearby communities the water is almost to the roofs of many houses.
In addition to water, the current is depositing large quantities of sand and silt from the riverbed into homes and businesses, resulting in near complete destruction.
The report from Comunidad Octavio Ortiz (also appropriately called La Canoa – the Canoe) and Amando López is that they are relatively safe and secure. COO, which is located south of Nueva Esperanza and the other communities that are completely flooded out, is completely shut off from the rest of the region. The shelter in Amando López is cooking food and serving other communities in the region that are also cut off from help. Though isolated, their spirits seem to be okay.
We are also hearing reports that the September 15 Dam just upriver from the Lower Lempa has been releasing as much as 12,000 cubic meters per sec. As we’ve stated in previous posts, 2500 cm/sec is cause for extreme alarm. As of an hour ago, the river remains 10.5 meters (34 feet) above normal.
Our local staff is taking a lot of pictures today and we will try to get them up on this blog and Facebook tonight, if they can find internet.
We continue our fundraising effort and with every drop of rain that falls, your help becomes more urgent. Please click on the Donate Now button and ask your friends and family to do the same.