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.

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El Salvador Government, News Highlights, Politics

PDC and PCN “No Han Muerto”

We recently reported that last Friday, July 1, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal voted to dissolve the PDC and the PCN political parties.  However, as of today, the Christian Democratic Party (PDC) and National Coalition Party (PCN) have not died.  Both parties are still alive as the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) was not able to sign off on its final decision yesterday. It seems as though this now permits PCN and PDC politicians to participate in the municipal elections in March 2012 and they are able to obtain funds from the state for campaigning. For the PCN and the PDC, this failure on the part of the TSE to sign off on the decision 48 hours after having decided on the verdict, has saved these parties from being removed from the ballot.

 

In order to be able to issue the verdict, four of the five magistrates were required to agree, but that was not possible yesterday after having sat down for almost three hours in discussion. As a result, there is some discrepancy as to whether these parties will in fact be able to participate in the elections or not. Eugenio Chicas, a magistrate on the TSE said on July 4 that “the cancellation process has not been consolidated, in other words, there is no clear resolution to the cancellation.” When asked if the PCN and PDC will be able to run in 2012, Chicas said that “these parties are still alive, there is a certain form of life in these parties, but I still cannot give a resolution regarding they eligibility to run in the March 2012 elections”. Even the president of the TSE was unable to clearly state whether or not the parties will obtain funds for their campaigns.

 

 

El Salvador Government, Politics

Supreme Electoral Tribunal Dissolves Two Oldest Political Parties

On Friday, July 1, 2011, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) of El Salvador “cancelled” the country’s two oldest political parties, the Christian Democratic Party (PDC) and the National Conciliation Party (PCN). If the ruling stands up to appeal, the two parties will no longer appear on election ballots, having each gained less than the required 3% of the vote in the 2004 elections.

Although the Legislative Assembly passed a decree in 2005 allowing both parties to continue to officially run, in April the Supreme Court declared that decree unconstitutional. In order to register for the ballot, the parties would each have to collect 50,000 signatures of support, rather than the 3,000 that were required by the Legislative Decree.

Both parties have roots in the military right wing. The PDC was the ruling party during the Civil War years of the 1980’s, whereas the PCN had been the political face of the military dictatorships in the two decades prior.

We’ll be reporting on the other TSE electoral reforms for the 2012 municipal elections in the next couple of days… stay tuned!

 

El Salvador Government, Mauricio Funes

The Debate Over Decree 743 Continues

Last week we posted two stories about Decree 743 – the controversial law that requires El Salvador’s Constitutional Court to make decisions by unanimous consensus instead of a four-vote majority as in the past. Due to the makeup of the court, decree 743 essentially renders the court powerless.

There has been a lot of movement around this issue since our last update – the following are highlights from the week’s developments. Despite all the statements from government officials, legal experts, civil society leaders, and others, there is still a lot that remains unclear about the politics behind the passage of Decree 743 and how the current debate over the law will play out.

Timeline:

Thursday, June 2

  • The Legislative Assembly passed decree 743 with the support of the PCN, PDC, GANA, and ARENA conservative parties. Left and centrist parties FMLN and CD legislatures abstained from the vote, meaning that they did not vote against the bill, but just didn’t participate.
  • President Mauricio Funes signed Decree 743 into law.

Friday, June 3

  • Decree 743 is published in the Diario Oficial, at which point it took effect.
  • Sigfredo Reyes, the FMLN President of the Legislative Assembly, called Decree 743 a “tragedy for democracy.”
  • By late afternoon, protesters had organized a demonstration in front of the Presidential Palace in San Salvador. Organizers used text messages and social media to spread the word of the protest and several hundred participated.

Saturday, June 4

  • In the morning civil society organizations met to discuss Decree 743 and to organize a movement against it.  They also agreed on organizing a larger protest at 3:00pm on Sunday at the Salvador del Mundo Monument, in San Salvador. They created a Facebook page and twitter accounts, and reached out to communities through phone calls and word of mouth.
  • The FMLN party issued an official statement denouncing Decree 743.

Sunday, June 5

  • Over five hundred people representing all sectors of Salvadoran society participated in the protest at the Salvador del Mundo. Civil society representatives used a pickup truck as a makeshift stage and a loud speaker to denounce the law and voice their opinions on the impact of Decree 743 if it is allowed to stand.

Monday, June 6

  • Civil society organizations met again at the University of Central America (UCA) to continue discussing their opposition and planning a strategy to challenge the new law.
  • President Funes responded to the objections of Decree 743, stating that it is constitutional and not a restriction of the judiciary. He argued that the law promotes democracy by requiring all of the justices to come to an agreement before making a decision on a case. President Funes also stated that the process for drafting and passing the law was transparent and not done under the table.
  • The Constitutional Court declared Decree 743 unconstitutional.

Tuesday, June 7

  • Thirty-five civil society organizations held a press conference in which they demanded that the Legislative Assembly repeal the law.
  • The Constitutional Defense Forum, a Salvadoran organization, filed a lawsuit with the Supreme Court against Decree 743.

Wednesday, June 8

  • The Funes Administration began to evaluate Decree 743 and the possibility of repealing the law.
  • Medardo Gonzalez, the Secretary General of the FMLN, demanded that the Supreme Court recognize Decree 743 as law (yes, in contradiction to the FMLN’s Saturday statement opposing the law). In addition, he called the controversial decisions by the Constitutional Court “rebellious and irresponsible” and said that they were motivated by ideological and political motives.
  • The right-wing ARENA party called for the repeal of Decree 743 and asked that the FMLN join them. Former president and ARENA leader Alfredo Cristiani stated that ARENA’s support of the decree was based on misinformation that the Court would abolish the Amnesty Law and the law the enables CAFTA.  He said now that he knew the Court will ‘defend’ the Amnesty Law, he will support the repeal of the decree.
  • The FMLN met in the afternoon to organize their stand on the law and their next steps.
  • Just before 4 pm, Salvadoran attorney Manuel Antonio Cortez Meléndez filed a claim with the Constitutional Court claiming that the Amnesty and CAFTA laws are unconstitutional. These cases had never been formally submitted to the Court prior to this point.
  • PDC officials motion to remove the four magistrates from the Constitutional Court for not complying with Decree 743 and declaring it unconstitutional.

Thursday, June 9

  • Civil society organizations organized another protest, marching from the Salvador del Mundo monument to the Legislative Assembly. Marchers demanded the repeal of Decree 743 and transparency in the process. One of the main complaints by civil society organizations is that the Legislative Assembly and President Funes were not transparent in passing the law or in discussing their justifications for the law. Once the marchers arrived at the Legislative Assembly, they demanded entrance but only a few were allowed in. Those who remained outside threw eggs at the entrance in protest. On the floor of the Assembly, Diputado Orlando Arevalo (an Independent) accepted a petition from the protestors.
  • Early in the day, FMLN representatives announced that they will not support ARENA’s efforts to repeal the law, stating that they have to work with the PDC, PCN, and GANA to “get themselves out of the mess they helped create.” They also refused to meet with civil society representatives, inciting the egg throwing.
  • Later in the day, representatives from the FMLN, PDC, and PCN stated that they would support repeal of the law, but only if the four magistrates from the Constitutional Court “demonstrated a change in attitude and don’t invade the functions of the Legislative Assembly.” Medardo Gonzalez stated, “the Court has to change, and if there is change, of course the FMLN will be the first to ask for the repeal of the decree.”
  • All five magistrates of Constitutional Court met with members of the Legislative Assembly for four hours in the afternoon. They insisted that they did not negotiate sentences or decrees, and simply clarified ‘misunderstandings’.
  • President Funes also released a statement expressing concern over the protests and further justifying his support of the law. His three arguments for supporting Decree 743 are: 1) The decree is constitutional in form and substance; 2) it was presented to prevent the judiciary and legislature from becoming embroiled in conflict; and 3) it does not prevent the Court from acting, and the magistrates are able to achieve consensus. He also stated that the ARENA declaration on Wednesday implies intervention and upon investigation could lead to the removal of any magistrates found negotiating with the Legislative Assmebly representatives.

Friday, June 10

  • President of the Supreme Court of Justice, Belarmino Jaime, publicly denies the existence of an agreement between the Court and either ARENA or Alfredo Cristiani.
  • The Secretaries General of both FMLN and PCN, Medardo Gonzalez and Ciro Cruz respectively, emerge from a multilateral meeting between the courts and the parties stating the willingness of their parties to sign on to a bill to repeal Decree 743.
  • ARENA denies the allegations by President Funes that an agreement was in place between them and the Court, and criticizes Funes for saying so.
  • The Archbishop of San Salvador urges the parties to work together to solve the crisis, expressing a wish for all sides to defend the people and the common good.

Monday, June 13

  • ARENA’s proposal to repeal Decree 743 received no response from the Committee on Constitutional Legislation and Legislative Assembly.
  • FMLN, GANA, PDC and PCN all declined to vote in favor of the repeal.
  • Medardo Gonzalez, Secretary General for the FMLN, now says the FMLN will not support the repeal of the decree in any fashion.

The debate over Decree 743 is far from over, and much seems unclear (at least from our vantage point). It seems that it is questionable whether the new law is even in force – last week four of the five Constitutional Court magistrates joined an opinion stating that it was not, which means that the repeal being discussed is not even necessary. It also remains unclear why Cristiani and some in the ARENA party are willing to support the repeal. Perhaps they see this as an opportunity to appeal to the wide sectors of Salvadoran society that oppose the decree in advance of the 2012 municipal and legislative elections.

Funes’ support for the law is also confusing, as well as lacking. The Constitutional Court is one of the only government entities that has been implementing the kinds of change that the President championed while campaigning in 2008-2009. His argument that the law prevents conflict between the legislative and judicial branches of government is wanting – such tension is common and a healthy element of the democratic process. Funes’ argument that Decree 743 is constitutional in both form and substance is circular – sayin’ it is, don’t make it so.

What seems very clear at this point is that civil society organizations did not have an opportunity to comment on Decree 743 until it was already signed into law. But judging by the the numerous statements made since the controversy began, politicians are concerned what civil society has to say and how the people might respond in 2012.

Elections 2009

A Flurry of Endorsements

This past week, the political endorsements for the only two remaining presidential candidates have been coming fast and furious.

The National Republican Alliance (ARENA) has succeeded in consolidating support for its ticket from El Salvador’s right-wing political parties. The top leaders of the National Conciliation Party (PCN) had already pledged their support to ARENA’s Rodrigo Avila, and as expected the Christian Democratic Party (PDC) endorsed ARENA as well. The FMLN’s Funes received the official nod from the center-left Party of Democratic Change (CD).

The FMLN and ARENA are also receiving endorsement from former political parties.

This week Funes accepted the endorsement from the Social Democratic Party (PSD), a former party that had split off the FMLN, now turned movement. The secretary general of the leftist Revolutionary Democratic Front (FDR), which must dissolve because it failed to win enough votes in the January elections, has surprisingly endorsed ARENA’s vice-presidential candidate Arturo Zablah. The same is true of the former leaders of the dissolved National Action Party (PAN), composed mostly of ex-members of military patrols. They promised 60,000 votes to ARENA.

Dissension among the ranks

Officials from each party have defied the endorsements made by their party’s leadership to make their own endorsements.

For example, two PDC mayors had already announced their endorsement of Funes before the party announced its endorsement of Avila. More interesting still, there is apparently a faction within the PDC calling themselves Christian Democrats for Change. They have taken out a radio ad featuring a sound bite from Jose Napoleon Duarte –one of the party’s historical icons– which calls the ARENA the party of violence. It should be noted that, Rodolfo Parker, secretary general of the PDC accuses the FMLN of being behind the ad.

There is also a divergence between leadership and the representatives of the FDR. Even though the party’s secretary has endorsed ARENA’s vice-presidential candidate Zablah, three of the party’s leaders and 90% of its base support Funes.

The PCN, also experiencing some dissension, has threatened to sanction members who publicly endorse Funes.

Some officials who’ve been unable to decide between candidates have declared that they will leave their voters free to decide.

And what about those voters?

Along with their pledge of support, party leaders pledge to give the candidates the votes that their party received in the elections on January 18. The vote totals for each party are shown below.

Party:  # of Votes  (% of Votes)

ARENA: 854,166 (38.56%)

FMLN: 943,936 (42.60%)

PCN: 194,751 (08.79%)

PDC: 153,654 (06.94%)

CD: 46,971 (02.12%)

FDR: 22,111 (01.00%)

In his article titled “Nada nuevo (Nothing new)” political analyst Joaquin Samayoa asserts that, as reflected by the fissures within the party hierarchies, the bases will split too. It is likely that the majority of the PCN base will vote for ARENA. However, some angry supporters of Chevez -the PCN’s former presidential candidate who was pushed out by party leadership- may stay away from the polls. The PDC base will also probably mostly vote for Avila, but a significant minority is expected to vote for Funes. Samayoa points out that many CD supporters came to the party because they were unsatisfied with ARENA, but rejected the FMLN’s ideology. He cautions that with the CD’s endorsement of Funes, these members may leave the CD for good.

Samayos  goes on to say “The discussion about offering support from the institution to one of the contending parties or to leave their militants free is idle talk. The Constitution is what grants us voters freedom, not the leaders of a party…The vote is free and secret. That is how we understand it, and that is how we, as citizens, will exercise it.”

Elections 2009

Election Update: PDC and PCN Candidates Withdraw from Presidential Race

The billboard shows Funes and the FMLN flag.
The billboard shows the FMLN's Funes with it's campaign slogan "A secure change."
ARENA's presidential candidate is shown here with the party's slogan, "Vote with wisdom."
ARENA's presidential candidate Rodrigo Avila is shown here with the party's slogan, "Vote with wisdom."

Feb 6, 2009


This week the field of candidates in the race for president was reduce by half. Only the FLMN with candidate Mauricio Funes of the and ARENA with Roberto Avila were left on the ballot when the candidates from the Cristian Democrat (PDC) and the National Conciliation (PCN) parties withdrew or were withdrawn from the race. (Note: check back soon for brief descriptions of each party.)


The PDC candidate Carlos Rivas Zamora, formerly a mayor with the FMLN, voluntarily withdrew from the race on Wednesday (Feb 4 2009). The withdrawl of the PCN candidate Tomas Chevez, an evangelical minister, was more controversial. Earlier, the PCN party leadership –which in Salvadoran politcs has much more power than in the US party system– ordered Chevez to withdraw from the race, but Chevez refused. In response, the PCN leadership voted to expel Chevez from the party, and on Thursday (Feb 5 2009) the leaders petitioned the Supreme Election Tribunal (TSE) to annul his candidacy, which they did in a 3-2 vote.


The TSE Magistrates voting in favor of the annulment cited Article 85 of the Constitution, which states that candidates may only seek the presidency with the support of a party. The Magistrates voting against the annulment pointed out that the PCN leadership violated its own bylaws by expelling Chevez without calling for a party-wide vote on the matter.


The PDC, PCN, and ARENA represent the contemporary political right in El Salvador. While the FMLN is the single party with largest number of representatives in Legislative Assembly, the right-wing voting bloc has the majority. With their candidate out of the race, the PCN leadership has announced its endorsement of the ARENA candidate, while PDC leaders have not announced an endorsement.


The withdrawl of these two candidates from the race is expected to unify the right-wing vote and give ARENA a boost, although it is unclear how much. It is predicted that ARENA will gain most of the votes that would have gone to Chevez, although there may be a backlash against the PCN leadership from Chevez loyalists. Already three PCN mayors have defied the party line and endorsed Funes. It is expected that the PDCs base will split, and may lean more towards the FMLN.


There have been allegations that the withdrawl of these candidates from the race was a negotiated agreement between the party leaders of PDC, PCN, and ARENA in return for favors or posts in a future ARENA government. These charges are denied by the parties.


In the five weeks remaining before the election, the FMLN and ARENA are left to court the allegiance of three main groups: voters who had supported Chevez or Rivas Zamora (in El Salvador they are called “floating voters”), the voters who have remained undecided, as well mayors from the PCN and PDC which may help sway voters in the first two groups. The FMLN‘s Funes has remained in the lead in most polls, but the withdrawl of PDC and PCN candidates is sure to tighten the race.