Environment, Tourism

U.S. and El Salvador Ready to Sign Second MCC Compact

DSCF0220Beach in Corral de Mulas on the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula. Behind the fence is an incubator for critically endangered sea turtles. The land is owned by a wealthy investor who is allowing locals to incubate the sea turtle eggs until he is ready to break ground on a tourism project.

After more than a year of delays, the governments of El Salvador and the United States seem ready to sign a second Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact. Last weekend, Salvadoran President Salvador Sanchez Cerén said they would close the deal on September 30th.

The U.S. Embassy says the second MCC compact, which includes $277 million from the U.S. and $88.2 million from El Salvador, will “spur investment through public private partnerships and better regulations, improve the quality of education, and strengthen key logistical infrastructure.”

After the agreement is signed, the U.S. will disburse $10 million to FOMELINIO (the Salvadoran organization managing the grant) to lay the groundwork for MCC projects. From then it will take six to nine months before other funds will be released and projects can begin.

While the $277 grant from the U.S. is popular among Salvadorans and politicians, communities in the Jiquilisco Bay of Usulután remain strongly opposed to the aid package. They believe the MCC grant will help finance the destruction of the region’s fragile natural resources and agrarian culture.

As Voices has discussed elsewhere on this blog, developers want to use MCC funds to promote tourism along the coast. They are particularly interested in the Jiquilisco Bay, which they have proposed turning into the “Cancun of Central America.” The communities targeted for development argue that large-scale tourism projects will cause irreversible harm to the mangrove forests they rely on for their survival and beaches that critically endangered sea turtles use for a nesting ground.

DSCF0158A community leader speaking to a group about how land speculation and tourism projects are already affecting the health of the mangrove forests and destabilizing the community.

Hundreds of families in the Bay region make their living by fishing and harvesting crab. For generations they have cared for the mangroves and beaches, protecting them and taking only what they need to survive. In theory the Ministry of the Environment is supposed to enforce laws that protect the forests and the right for local communities to harvest what they need to survive. But residents say the State does not get down there much, and few have faith in the Ministry’s ability or willingness to enforce laws.

Community leaders emphasize that they are not against tourism; they welcome visitors who want to tour the mangrove forests, bird watch, and even surf. They are opposed only to the kind of large-scale, unregulated development that investors are planning for the region.

Most of the opposition to MCC is due to the complete lack of public consultation. Community leaders are quick to point out that MCC and FOMELINIO officials have never been to the region to discuss development priorities or what is at stake when investors talk about turning the Jiquilisco Bay into the Cancun of Central America.

Manuel Cruz, a representative of El Chile, says his community is united in their opposition to the MCC grant. He says MCC or FOMELINIO representatives have never come to the region to discuss the grant, much less ask how it might benefit (or harm) the region. All they have heard is that investors want to use funds to develop tourism and that land speculators have been acquiring land all around them, denying access to mangrove forests and beaches that are supposed to be public land.

Another community leader who wishes to remain anonymous says that the closest thing to consultation he knows of was an informal conversation he had in March 2013 with a supporter of the MCC grant. The supporter, who works for an international NGO, said his community had to support the MCC because opposing it would be going against the FMLN party, for which there would be consequences. The community leader ignored the threat and his community remains united in its opposition.

Jose “Mario” Santos Guevarra, representative of the United Communities of the Bajo Lempa and the President of MOVIAC, has voiced opposition against MCC and FOMELINIO on several occasions. His concerns also focus on the lack of consultation from MCC and FOMELINIO. He argues that if MCC and FOMELINIO were really interested in building infrastructure and had consulted with the people, they would know that one of the biggest barriers to economic growth along the coast is the poor condition of the levees along the Lempa and other rivers.

Mario and many others see the lack of consultation as an indication that the MCC grant is meant to benefit rich investors – creating conditions for them to extract value out of the coastal region. He says that if the MCC was to benefit the people, it would not require a $100,000 counterpart to access grant funds. In theory, communities like El Chile, La Tirana, and others could apply for MCC funds to finally install potable water systems or connect to the electrical grid, which they need. But they are unable to front the $100,000 needed to receive MCC funds.

Residents of Chile during a recent meeting to discuss tourism and the impact of land speculation on their ability to access mangrove forests. Residents of Chile during a recent meeting to discuss tourism and the impact of land speculation on their ability to access mangrove forests.

Over the past year and a half, Voices staff has shared these concerns over the lack of consultation with policymakers at the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador. We have extended at least three invitations to host meetings between Embassy staff, who have a role in the MCC grant, and coastal communities. The Embassy has declined each of these invitations.

According to newspaper articles, $110 million of the MCC grant will be used to expand a section of the Litoral Highway between the airport and Zacatecaluca. Another $100 million will be for education. That leaves another $155.2 million to cover administrative costs and support tourism and other development. Communities in the Jiquilisco Bay have not had a voice in the MCC planning or approval process, and it is unlikely that that they will have a voice in deciding which proposals for MCC projects get approved. That does not mean, however, communities are going to allow developers to destroy their mangrove forests, beaches and agrarian way of life. They will be paying close attention to how MCC and FOMELINIO use the funds and ensure none will be used to harm their fragile ecosystems.

Food Security

Popular Struggle for Food Security in El Salvador

To commemorate World Food Day (October 16) several coalitions in El Salvador joined together to draft a declaration that calls on the Legislative  Assembly to take specific actions to help Salvadorans achieve food security.

Achieving food security, and more specifically food sovereignty, is the number one priority for the communities that Voices’ serves in the Bajo Lempa region of Jiquilisco, Usulután. The Bajo Lempa has some of the richest, most productive land in El Salvador, yet agricultural and economic policies have made it almost impossible for small farmers to even feed their families. Free trade agreements allow large, subsidized farms in the U.S. access to Salvadoran markets, and local farmers simply can’t compete. Grocery stores and markets in urban areas are full of grains and processed food from the U.S.

Supporters of globalization might argue that grocery stores in San Salvador or Zacatecoluca full of Welches Grape Juice and Pancake syrup is a positive development. But many in the Bajo Lempa argue that it ruins the local economy and is replacing their culture of food. The community of Amando Lopez has recognized this as an important issue and for their community assemblies requires participants to bring their own cups and bowls and instead of serving cookies and cokes for refreshments they serve traditional tomalies, fresh maracuya (passion fruit) juice, hot chocolate or other locally produced snacks. But even organized communities like Amando Lopez struggle to achieve food security.

Instead of food for local consumption, policy makers are pushing other crops like sugarcane for export or altogether different industries like tourism. Communities are trying to reject sugarcane production because of the heavy use of toxic chemicals that are sprayed with crop dusters and contaminate nearby communities, causing alarming rates of chronic renal failure and other diseases. They reject tourism in their region because of the impact it will have on valuable natural resources like the Jiquilisco Bay and surrounding mangrove forests, and the strain it will put on El Salvador’s already tenuous water supply.

Communities in the Bajo Lempa share a common goal – they want to farm and feed their families with locally produced grains, fruits and vegetables. And they are calling on the Legislative Assembly help them achieve these goals.

Voices partners in the Bajo Lempa, including NGOs like ACUDESBAL, ADIBAL, are members of MOVIAC (Movement for the Victims of Climate Change), and helped author this declaration. We’ve attached it below, first in the original Spanish and then and English translation below.

En Español:

LUCHA Y UNIDAD POPULAR POR LA SOBERANIA ALIMENTARIA EN EL SALVADOR

En el Día Mundial de la Alimentación, diversas organizaciones comunitarias, campesinas y cooperativas agropecuarias, organizaciones ambientalistas, organizaciones de mujeres rurales, movimiento de agro-ecología, redes de economía solidaria, entidades de investigación y organizaciones no gubernamentales estrechamente vinculadas a la pequeña producción campesina, nos unimos para luchar por la Soberanía Alimentaria, entendida como el derecho de nuestro pueblo a alimentos nutritivos y culturalmente adecuados, accesibles, producidos de forma sostenible y ecológica, y el derecho a decidir nuestro propio sistema alimentario y productivo. Al mismo tiempo reiteramos que la alimentación adecuada es un derecho consagrado en la Declaración Universal de los Derechos Humanos y  otros instrumentos jurídicos internacionales.

Sin embargo, El Salvador aún no reconoce constitucionalmente este derecho, a pesar que muchas familias que viven en condiciones de pobreza en el campo y la ciudad, no consumen los alimentos necesarios para tener una vida sana y activa, situación de inseguridad alimentaria que es una consecuencia de las políticas neoliberales. La dolarización y la firma de Tratados de Libre Comercio abrieron totalmente al país al comercio agrícola internacional, eliminando todo tipo de protección a la producción nacional, razón por la cual más de la mitad de las personas que trabajan en la agricultura viven en condiciones de pobreza y extrema pobreza.  En esta realidad las mujeres son las más desfavorecidas, a pesar de sus grandes aportes en la producción de alimentos, ya que son las mujeres del campo las que garantizan el sustento de las familias.

Otro problema que tiene relación con la inseguridad alimentaria es la injusta distribución de la tierra, injusticia que es más grave en el caso de las mujeres, a pesar de la Reforma Agraria, el  Programa de transferencias de tierra  y entrega de títulos de propiedad por el actual gobierno. El acceso a la tierra con equidad e igualdad de condiciones para mujeres y hombres, y la garantía de hacer uso sostenible de ella es un problema no resuelto en el país.

El incremento del monocultivo de la caña de azúcar con sus perjudiciales métodos de producción, el interés de empresas transnacionales por llevar a cabo megaproyectos de explotación minera en la zona norte del país, así como la amenaza de proyectos turísticos en la zona costera y la permanente destrucción de los recursos naturales, principalmente el suelo, la biodiversidad y el agua, dañan severamente la agricultura campesina y la producción de alimentos.

También el uso indiscriminado de agroquímicos tóxicos provoca inseguridad alimentaria y contaminación ambiental, matando a la población campesina con enfermedades como la insuficiencia renal crónica. Muchos de estos productos son prohibidos en sus mismos países de origen, sin embargo, en El Salvador aún se comercializan mientras se debate su prohibición.

Por todas estas razones exigimos que se cumpla nuestro derecho a la alimentación sana, nutritiva, suficiente, culturalmente aceptable y con equidad de género, por tanto demandamos de la Asamblea Legislativa, de forma inmediata:

1-    Aprobar la Ley de Soberanía Alimentaria que fortalezca la producción nacional campesina y familiar de alimentos con equidad de género, que garantice el derecho a la tierra y al agua para las y los campesinos, la asociatividad en la producción y distribución de los beneficios, garantizando el derecho de todas las personas a una alimentación adecuada, promoviendo la agroecología, la economía solidaria y los mercados campesinos.

2-    Ratificar la reforma al artículo 69 de la Constitución reconociendo el Derecho Humano al Agua y la Alimentación.

3-    Aprobar la Ley General de Aguas, con participación y gestión comunitaria.

4-    Aprobar la Ley de Promoción y Fomento de la Producción Agropecuaria Orgánica, presentada el 24 de septiembre de 2013.

5-    Prohibir la exploración y explotación de minería metálica aprobando la Ley presentada el 1 de octubre de 2013.

6-    Prohibir el uso de riego aéreo de agroquímicos, la quema fundamentalmente en los cultivos de caña de azúcar y frenar la expansión de este monocultivo.

7-    Superar las observaciones del Presidente Funes, a la reforma aprobada por la Asamblea el pasado 5 de septiembre, referida a la prohibición de 53 Agrotóxicos.

¡¡ EXIGIMOS LA APROBACIÓN DE LA LEY DE SOBERANIA ALIMENTARIA!!

¡¡MUJERES Y HOMBRES DEMANDAMOS LA GARANTIA DE UNA ALIMENTACION  SUSTENTABLE Y LIBRE DE TOXICOS!!

San Salvador, 16 de octubre de 2013

Plataforma de Lucha Cooperativa

Alianza de Mujeres Cooperativistas de El Salvador

Mesa por la Soberanía Alimentaria

Plataforma de Economía Solidaria, PECOSOL, capítulo El Salvador

Movimiento de Víctimas y Afectados por el Cambio Climático y Corporaciones, MOVIAC

Movimiento Popular de Resistencia 12 de OctubreLogos

In English:

POPULAR STRUGGLE AND UNITY FOR FOOD SOVEREIGNTY IN EL SALVADOR

On World Food Day, community organizations, farmers and agricultural cooperatives, environmental organizations, rural women’s organizations, members of the agro-ecology movement, solidarity economy networks, research institutions, and non-governmental organizations associated with small peasant agricultural production join the fight for food sovereignty. We the people have the right to food that is nutritious and culturally appropriate and produced using sustainable, organic practices. We also have the right to choose our own food and agricultural systems. We reiterate that the right to adequate food is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international treaties.

The Salvadoran Constitution, however, has yet to recognize this basic right, and too many families from urban and rural settings continue to live in poverty and lack the food they need to live healthy, active lives. And food insecurity is a consequence of neoliberal policies. Dollarization and the signing of Free Trade Agreements have opened El Salvador to international agricultural markets by removing all means for protecting domestic producers. As a result more than half of all agricultural workers live in poverty or extreme poverty. Even though they make great contributions in the production of food, women are the most disadvantaged because they put the well being of their families first.

Another factor that contributes to food insecurity is the unfair distribution of land, despite Agrarian Reform Program land transfers and the current government’s efforts to provide land titles to rural farmers. Again women suffer the most from unequal distribution of land.

Other causes of food insecurity include the increased production of sugarcane and the growing reliance on destructive methods of production, as well as mining exploration conducted by international corporations in northern region of El Salvador, the threat of tourism along the southern coast, and the constant destruction of natural resources like soil, biodiversity and water. These issues severely diminish the ability of peasant farmers to produce food or otherwise achieve food security.

The indiscriminate use of toxic agrochemicals also contributes to food insecurity, also resulting in significant environmental destruction, and high numbers of death among the peasant population, which suffers from epidemic rates of chronic renal failure and other infirmities. Many of these toxic chemicals are banned in most other countries but are still sold and used in El Salvador while the government debates whether or not to ban them.

For all of these reasons we demand that our international right to healthy, nutritious and, culturally acceptable food, as well as gender equality be respected, and we call on the Legislative Assembly to immediately:

1 – Pass a Food Sovereignty Law that strengthens domestic family farming and food production, while promoting gender equity, and guaranteeing the right to land and water for all peasants, as well as the right of all people to adequate food, while promoting agro-ecology, the solidarity economy, and farmers markets.
2 – Ratify a reform of article 69 of the Salvadoran Constitution to recognize the right to water and food.
3 – Approve the General Water Law, which ensures community participation and management.
4 – Approve the Law on Promotion and Development of Organic Farming, which was proposed on September 24, 2013.
5 – Ban metallic mining exploration and exploitation by passing the law proposed on October 1, 2013.
6 – Ban the use of aerial spraying of chemicals, the burning of sugar cane crops, and curb the growth of monoculture production.

7 – Veto President Funes’ comments on the amendment passed by the Assembly last September 5, relating to the prohibition of 53 pesticides.

WE DEMAND THE APPROVAL OF FOOD SOVEREIGNTY LAW!!!

MEN AND WOMEN DEMAND THE GUARANTEE OF FOOD SECURITY AND FREEDOM FROM TOXIC CHEMICALS!!!

San Salvador, 16 de octubre de 2013

Plataforma de Lucha Cooperativa

Alianza de Mujeres Cooperativistas de El Salvador

Mesa por la Soberanía Alimentaria

Plataforma de Economía Solidaria, PECOSOL, capítulo El Salvador

Movimiento de Víctimas y Afectados por el Cambio Climático y Corporaciones, MOVIAC

Movimiento Popular de Resistencia 12 de Octubre

Logos

Advocacy, El Salvador Government, Politics

El Salvador’s Armed Forces Veterans Take the Streets

On January 8, 2013, Salvadoran police clashed with military veterans who had blockaded several of El Salvador’s busiest highways in protest over pensions and benefits.

For more than a year, veterans groups have been negotiating with the Funes Administration to secure benefits they believe they were due for their service during the civil war. Some veterans groups are demanding that the government pay each veteran $10,000 for indemnification and begin disbursing $700 per month pension. These groups said that if the government did not start making payments by the end of 2012 they would start protesting, which they did on January 8 and have promised to continue doing.

Among the busiest roads protestors blocked was the Comalapa Highway that runs between the Comalapa International Airport and San Salvador. After protestors had blocked the highway for a couple hours causing major disruptions the police used their batons and teargas to break them up. They arrested 37 protestors in the process.

Seven of the protestors arrested at the Comalapa Highway blockade are from Nuevo Amanecer, a small community in the Lower Lempa of Usulután that was settled in 1991 by demobilized armed forces veterans. After being detained for 72 hours, the protestors were released on probation. The Nuevo Amanecer veterans are not new to protests and blockades. In 2011, the same group blocked the coastal highway that runs through San Maros de Lempa in protest of the government’s mis-management of dams on the Lempa River and their weak response to flooding caused by Tropical Storm 12-E.

Voices staff spoke with several of the Nuevo Amanecer veterans arrested during the protests. Daniel Benavides Martinez said he is a veteran of the Armed Forces and was demobilized in February 1992 after the Peace Accords were signed. He says he never received any of the benefits promised to veterans following the war. His father, who is also a veteran, received a piece of land in the Lower Lempa, but none in the family have received any other pension payments or benefits. Mr. Benavides Martinez also recalled that towards the end of the war military leaders mistreated soldiers in an effort to get them to desert the Armed Forces without collecting salaries, pensions, or other benefits.

Another of the Nueveo Amanecer veterans arrested during the protests spoke on the condition of anonymity, fearing reprisal. He said “there were funds assigned to us (veterans) after the Peace Accords, and [former Presidents] Cristiani and Calderon Sol and other members of the Tandona (military leadership) split it up amongst themselves.”

We also spoke with Pedro Martinez, a former FMLN militant and friend of those arrested. He explained that many veterans were cheated after the war, but are just now learning how to organize and advocate for their rights. Martinez, who is part of a veteran’s association that represents both armed forces and guerilla veterans, is working to distribute resources to veterans in need through the War Wounded Fund. However Martinez says that people try to take advantage of the limited fund. He said, “now someone who maybe just got bit by a horse is out on the street saying they were wounded from the war.”

Not all of the veterans are on board with the protests. José Amaya heads a veteran’s association that has been negotiating with the Funes Administration since November 2011. He disagrees that the administration has not done anything and apologized to Salvadorans for the protests, ensuring that they were not involved.

The day after the protests, Alex Segovia, the President’s Technical Secretary, emphasized that the government had never promised the veterans monetary compensation. “They say the government has made a commitment and this is false. We are never going to accept the amount [of pension] that they are proposing because it would break the State and we are not going to bend to pressure from anyone who makes demands.”

Retired Army Colonel Ochoa Perez, who is now serving as a legislative representative, disputes Alex Segovia’s claim that the administration has not made any promises. He said that in the past few months the Funes Administration has made promises of an indemnification package (the $10,000), a pension fund, land grants, and agricultural packages, but they have not followed through on any of them. In an interview just after the protests, he told La Pagina that he has documentation that proves they made promises. Perez unabashedly supports the protests, stating that he is a soldier before he is a politician. He even visited the veterans who were arrested while they were in jail, and gave them $160 to buy food while they were detained.

In January 2012, President Funes and Segovia promised a law that would provide more benefits to FLMN and Armed Forces veterans. And the general consensus seems to be that the FMLN and Armed Forces Associations agree that since the Funes Administration took office, they have begun to receive more pensions and social and economic support, especially for the war wounds, who are represented by ALGES. The Instituto de Previsión Social de la Fuerza Armada (IPSFA) has provided pensions and services for Armed Forces veterans for over 30 years, but getting benefits can be a long and tedious process, and the resources available are quite limited. In October of 2012, IPSFA announced that they were running a $4 million a month deficit and would be selling off a lot of their assets, which include beach resorts, hotels, and other properties. (The comment sections at the end of these articles are full of interesting comments and accusations of corruption within IPFSA).

In his response to the protests, Alex Segovia alleged that the protests were an effort by other political parties to destabilize the government and the FMLN party in what is essentially an election year (presidential elections are scheduled for January 2014). This would not be the first time that the military and veterans have been used for political gains. Even Ochoa Perez said after the protests that “they have used veterans and thrown them in the trash like sugarcane pulp.”

Pedro Martinez says that anger and protests targeting the current administration are a little misplaced considering that there were four conservative ARENA governments that failed to adequately address the needs of military veterans.

Economy, El Salvador Government

Street Vendors Ousted from Downtown San Salvador

San Salvador looks a bit like a war-zone today after mayor and ARENA presidential candidate Norman Quijano deployed 1,000 police officers and 4,000 city employees to oust 970 vendors from 33 blocks in the downtown area.

When police and city workers showed up Friday with heavy machinery and began clearing the area, vendors fought back by setting up barriers and lighting fires. They were eventually removed, but not before 10 people were injured including 6 police officers. The mayor has asked for locals to be patient as 2,500 workers clean up the area, a process he expects to continue through Tuesday. He also estimates that the clean up will cost taxpayers a whopping $200,000!

Downtown El Salvador has been the home to an informal market for many years. Venders sell just about everything – food, clothing, videos and music, school supplies, hardware, and so much more.

Vendors did not have advanced notice of the removal and many lost all of their merchandise and other capital investments including refrigerators, jukeboxes, slot machines, video games, antennas, and much more. One vendor, who lost $10,000 worth of merchandise, told La Prensa Grafica, “they did not give us the opportunity. They arrived and threw us out and we lost all of our things. The mayor is responsible for everything.”

La Prensa Grafica noted that this was not the first action of its kind. Since 2009, the San Salvador municipal government has removed vendors from 167 blocks in the city in more than 31 interventions.

The mayor’s office says the vendors are able to move to a central market in the area where there are 623 stalls available for them to use. Of course that is not enough space to accommodate for the 970 vendors removed over the weekend.

This has been a complex issue for many years (downtown street vendors organized their first union in 1962) and there are some real issues, all of which stem from the systemic exclusion of people from the formal economy. Salvadorans without jobs can generate income by selling things on the street, generally to other poor people who can’t afford to shop in the formal economy. These informal markets are a bad deal all the way around. The street vendors lack the security, rights, and benefits that their counterparts in the formal sector have (or are supposed to have, but that’s another article). But they also don’t collect or pay taxes, which has been a point of contention for the international community (World Bank, IMF, U.S, and other). Many street vendors also violate international intellectual property laws by selling pirated movies, music, software, and clothing ($10 knockoff Ray Bans). Street venders also clog downtown streets, and if you’ve ever tried to take a bus through downtown on a Friday afternoon, you know how bad it can be.

Spending $200,000 to clear street vendors with bulldozers is in no way a sustainable solution to these problems. It doesn’t help venders get work in the formal sector and it definitely doesn’t mean low-income folks will all of a sudden start buying their blue jeans at Metro-Centro (a San Salvador shopping mall).

These evictions only mean that the poor have even fewer and fewer options – but that seems to be a global trend.

Here is a link to photos of the destruction.

 

Environment

Buying Up El Espino – the Last Lung of San Salvador

In the past couple of weeks, El Faro.net has published a couple of articles about Finca El Espino. An article last week reported that a Salvadoran court has allowed the sale of 7 manzanas (12 acres) to continue. An article posted on Monday reports that José Roberto Argueta Manzano, who led an effort to purchase 213 manzanas (370 acres), has been appointed to the Salvadoran Supreme Court. El Faro’s articles are reminders that one of El Salvador’s most important natural resources remains under a constant threat of being destroyed.

Last week a judge in Tonacatepeque said there were no legal reasons to nullify a 2011 aucAnction that resulted in the sale of two lots totaling 12 acres in El Espino. Salvadoran contractor Raúl Arguello González paid $4,020,000 for the two pieces of land, and the court’s decision will allow the parties to complete the sale by registering the transaction with the National Registry.

In early 2006, Argueta Manzano and the Ancona Corporation purchased 370 acres of land in El Espino for $2,979,000 during a similar public auction. This summer, Argueta Manzano was appointed to be a magistrate in the Supreme Court’s Public Sector Dispute chamber(one of four chambers charged with hearing administrative law cases).

El Faro.net has reported on Finca El Espino regularly over the years, referring to it as San Salvador’s last lung because it is El Salvador’s largest carbon sink. El Espino is also an extremely important aquifer recharge zone. Seasonal rainwater drains down from the San Salvador volcano and soaks into the aquifer underneath, providing as much as 40% of the water for San Salvador.

In 2008, ComUnica en Linea (an online journal published by the University of Central America) posted an informative article on El Espino.  From the 1860s to 1980 Finca El Espino belonged to the Dueñas family. In 1980 President Duarte passed agrarian reform and expropriated El Espino from the Dueñas family and placed it in the control of the El Espino Agricultural Production Cooperative. In 1987, the Supreme Court revoked the expropriation and returned the property back to the Dueñas family. The members of the Cooperative rejected the Court’s findings and began a protracted legal battle over who owned the property. In 1993, the Cristiani Administration bought 83% of El Espino (1,194 acres) and titled it to the Cooperative.

Since then, the Cooperative has sold off much of El Espino, one piece at a time –the sales to Argueta Manzano and Raúl Arguello González are just two examples. Laws and the Cooperative’s own statutes that protect the forest prevent the outright sale of property within El Espino. Loopholes, however, have allowed churches, contractors, developers, and law firms (which often hold land for international investors) to purchase large tracks of the protected area. One of the El Faro articles says, “the sale of all of Finca [El Espino] is just a question of time.”

Most of El Espino, including the sections that were recently auctioned off, is technically still a protected area, so it’s unlikely that Argueta Manzano and Arguello González will be breaking out chainsaws in the immediate future. But they and others have invested millions of dollars in buying land, surely with the expectation that they will be able to develop it sometime in the future. There is plenty of precedent to give them hope. Within the past 10 years the government has approved destruction of part of El Espino for a San Salvador by-pass system. In 2004 developers cleared a section of the forest to build the Multiplaza shopping center. There are also high-end housing developments, a golf course, government complexes and much more on what used to be part of San Salvador’s last lung.

In 2005 the Legislative Assembly gave into popular pressure and passed the Law of Protected Natural Areas. Laws, however, can be overturned and amended, and clever attorneys make lots of money to find loopholes. Investors understand this well – why else buy sections of Finca El Espino?

2014 Elections

ARENA Nominates Norman Quijano

COENA, the ARENA’s executive committee, announced that it has selected San Salvador mayor Norman Quijano as their 2014 presidential candidate. Other possible ARENA candidates included former Vice President Ana Vilma de Escobar, Diputado Edwin Zamora, and former Chancellor Francisco Laínez.

Quijano is a 64 year-old dentist from Santa Ana. His political career began in 1994 when he was elected to the Legislative Assembly, where he served for fifteen years. In 2009, he was elected the mayor of San Salvador, defeating FMLN incumbant Violeta Menjívar. This March he won a second term as a cadre of ARENA candidates won other former FMLN strongholds throughout the San Salvador metropolitan area.

Friends of Quijano have a website up with more biographical information including a 10 minute video.

More than 18 months before the March 2014 elections, both of El Salvador’s major political parties have selected candidates. In May the FMLN chose Sanchez Cerén, the current Vice President under FMLN President Mauricio Funes. It also appears as though former President Tony Saca (2004-2009) will run for another term as President, this time representing a coalition of the GANA, CN (Concertación Nacional – formerly the PCN), and PES (Partido de la Esperanza) parties.

Norman Quijano’s nomination is no surprise. In a July survey, 71% of respondents indicated that Quijano would be their best candidate for the ARENA party. On the contrary, 76% said that Vice President Cerén would not be the best candidate for the FMLN. The survey also found that 32.6% of respondents supported ARENA, while only 20.7% supported FMLN. GANA came in a distant third with only 4.6% support. Almost 40% of respondents didn’t have a preference for any of the parties. Perhaps the most telling was that 60% thought the ARENA would win back the presidency.

Despite his popularity, the ARENA mayor has sparked his share of controversy this year. In March 2012, the Salvadoran Institute for Municipal Development (ISDEM) sued Quijano for using his position in the Institute for political purposes.

A month later, the Court of Accounts found that as Mayor of San Salvador, Quijano had mismanaged over $580,000 in 2010 and 2011. The funds were provided by the Fondo para Deserrollo Económico y Social (Fodes) for public infrastructure projects, but Quijano used them to cover administrative expenses. As of August 11, the Mayor still hasn’t responded to the Court’s request for more information. Last week an official from the Mayor’s office denied that the funds were used for administrative costs.

With these allegations pending, Quijano recently led a group of ARENA mayors to request support from their conservative colleagues in the Legislative Assembly to increase the amount Fodes contributes to municipalities for infrastructure projects.

As the Salvadoran presidential race (more like an ultra-marathon) gets under way, it’s easy to look at polls like the one above, and conclude that Quijano will be the next president of El Salvador. But nothing is that straight forward, especially in Salvadoran politics. Each candidate has strengths and weaknesses, and Tony Saca could end up having a lot of influence over the outcome.

Economy, Environment

Protest Against Walmart in Mejicanos, El Salvador Next Thursday

Last month, Walmart received permits to build a store in Mejicanos, a municipality within the greater Metropolitan San Salvador Area. The 86,100 square foot store will be located on a lovely 6.6-acre lot on the Constitution Boulevard, at the base of the San Salvador Volcano. Walmart officials estimate that the store will create 500 new direct jobs and 250 new indirect jobs and inject a bunch of new tax revenue into the local and central governments.

Sadly, the 6.6 acres where Walmart is going to build was a forest, which was removed to accommodate the large building and parking lots.

Destruction of the forest and other reasons have sparked a group of Salvadorans to oppose the new Walmart. They are organizing a protest on Thursday June 21 at the Shafik Plaza in front of the new store’s location. In an email invitation to the protest, organizers provided a top-ten list of reasons they oppose the new Walmart. Their reasons include:

  1. The reduction of income and the closing of local businesses as the result of competition with Wal-Mart;
  2. The cutting down of thousands of trees;
  3. Floods, landslides and the obstruction of drainage pipes as a result of deforestation;
  4. Damage to hydraulic basins which would mean less water for human consumption;
  5. Higher temperatures: if there are fewer trees, the temperature will increase;
  6. Labor rights violations: poor employee compensation, with difficult working conditions such as the denial of the right to form a union;
  7. Increased dependence of small producers that sell to Wal-Mart, because as the sole business partner of these producers, Wal-Mart controls the terms and prices of trade;
  8. More genetically modified and unhealthy products would enter the country;
  9. More imported products would worsen the country’s economic crisis; and
  10. There will probably be more illicit processes in the acquisition of permits; which could include corruption and intimidation.

Anticipating that Salvadorans would not appreciate their cutting down trees, the mega-giant store plans to plant 10,000 trees in a deforested areas in the nearby municipality of Nejapa. Whether their reforestation efforts will offset losing 6.6 acres of forest at the base of the volcano remains unclear, but opponents are doubtful.

Protest organizers have a Facebook page with information about the protest and their opposition. Here is a poster advertizing the event:

Elsalvador.com published an article on May 1st of this year giving the new ARENA mayor, Juanita Lemus de Pacas, credit for getting Walmart the permits they need to start building. Up to the March 2012 elections, the leftist FMLN party had held the mayor’s office in Mejicanos and Walmart was unable to secure their permits. Shortly after the new ARENA government took over the municipal government, Walmart broke ground on the project.

Walmart has been in Central America since 2005 and is already the region’s largest retailer. Walmart Centroamérica has 79 stores open in El Salvador; Despensa Familiar – 51; La Despensa de Don Juan -25; Walmart Supercenter – 2; and Maxi Despensa -1.

Cabanas, Mining

Canadian Embassy Denies Access to two of its Own in San Salvador

Yesterday morning (June 13), a small group of anti-mining activists held a peaceful protest and press conference on the sidewalk in front of the Canadian Embassy. The protest was the culmination of a two-week effort by anti-mining activists to hand-deliver a letter to the Canadian Embassy asking them to end their support for Pacific Rim’s lawsuit against El Salvador. (For background on the lawsuit and Pacific Rim’s efforts, click here and here).

One highlight from the event was when two Canadian law students (Erica and Leah) who are interning for Voices on the Border and FESPAD this summer, tried to enter the embassy to deliver the letter, and talk to Embassy officials about the case. The Embassy turned them away without explanation. Yesterday afternoon, Erica wrote:

“This is outrageous treatment. Any citizen of any country is allowed to enter their embassy while traveling abroad – that’s what embassies are for. Your political affiliations don’t affect this basic right, nor do your stances on controversial issues. The embassy is Canadian territory. As citizens, we have the right to enter our embassy. They do not have the right to refuse entry to law-abiding Canadians.”

When they pressed the issue with security guards, they received word from Embassy officials that one of them could enter if they had document problems, otherwise they could not enter. That’s true solidarity! Erica and Leah experienced the kind of exclusion that Salvadorans and impoverished people around the world experience every day as they try to defend their environment, protect their economic security, and build a healthy life for their children.

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Yesterday’s events came almost two weeks after the International Center for Settlement of Investor Disputes (ICSID) tribunal announced their decision on preliminary objections in Pacific Rim’s lawsuit against El Salvador. This round of objections focused on jurisdiction – determining whether ICSID had the authority to hear Pacific Rim’s claim against El Salvador. In their lawsuit, Pacific Rim argues that El Salvador violated rights protected under the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and El Salvador’s investment law. The tribunal decided it did not have jurisdiction to hear the CAFTA claims (Pacific Rim is a Canadian firm and Canada is not a CAFTA signatory), but that it would hear the claims under El Salvador’s investment law.

Following the decision, Gus Van Harten, Associate Professor of Law at Osgoode Hall Law School, said,

“The case will now be one of the rare ones that proceeds under the host state’s domestic law on investment, but it is no less threatening than the treaty cases because of this. The arbitrators retain essentially the same wide-ranging powers, including to decide what a regulatory expropriation is, what is fair or unfair regulation, etc…. and to award damages or make affirmative orders against the government. Their award will also be widely enforceable in the manner of any treaty case.”

The Salvadoran Attorney General has tried to spin the decision as a victory, and that CAFTA works, but few agree. Pacific Rim’s lawsuit is still alive and a victory under Salvadoran law is just as enforceable as a victory under CAFTA.

What happens next remains a little unclear. It could be that Pacific Rim and El Salvador proceed to the next phase of the trial. Pacific Rim will present their complaint and EL Salvador will present their defense. Then the tribunal will hand down their decision. Or it could be that Pacific Rim and El Salvador negotiate a settlement; though El Salvador has yet to indicate they’d even consider doing so.

There is another, more extreme option worth mentioning, if for no other reason than highlighting El Salvador’s more serious problem – the fact they give corporations the right to sue them in the first place.

Historically, individuals and corporations did not have the right to sue a country – only a country could sue another country. That began to change when the U.S., Mexico, and Canada signed the North American Free Trade Agreement, which gave corporations the right to seek arbitration if a signatory country appropriated an investment. International law still dictates that a country has to submit to jurisdiction, and unless they have, individuals and corporations cannot sue. By signing CAFTA, the U.S., Mexico, and Canada all agreed that they would give international courts jurisdiction to arbitrate any disputes with investors.

El Salvador first submitted to jurisdiction in 1999 when the Flores Administration and ARENA-controlled Legislative Assembly passed the Foreign Investment Act – the law Pacific Rim is using now. The also agreed to give international tribunals jurisdiction to arbitrate disputes when they signed CAFTA and other trade agreements.

Professor Van Harten suggested after the recent ruling that one way El Salvador could get out of the Pacific Rim suit would be to repeal part or all of the 1999 Investment Law and no longer submit to jurisdiction. The Legislative Assembly would have to explicitly state that the law is retroactive and apply to any current actions. While that would likely be a popular move at home, it probably wouldn’t go over well with the U.S. and other international bodies, and it seems unlikely that the Salvadoran government would put those relationships at risk without careful consideration.

Withdrawing from jurisdiction may be something El Salvador wants to do anyway. Pacific Rim is only one of many mining companies that have applied for but not received exploitation permits from the Salvadoran government. If Pacific Rim is successful in their lawsuit, many others will likely follow. If El Salvador is unsuccessful in defending itself, it may end up granting more than 30 mining permits or face defending itself against an equal number of very large lawsuits.

Another reason to withdraw jurisdiction from international arbitration panels like ICSID is because future trade agreements may grant investors even more protection and rights than NAFTA and CAFTA.

Just yesterday, Public Citizen published a report on the investor protection provisions in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) – a trade agreement being negotiated by Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, and the U.S. According Public Citizen’s analysis, some of the most outrageous provisions would:

  • Limit how countries can regulate foreign firms operating within their jurisdiction, with requirements to provide them with greater rights than domestic firms;
  • Establish a two-track legal system that gives foreign corporations to avoid domestic courts and laws, and sue States in foreign tribunals; and
  • Grant foreign corporations the right to demand compensation for financial, health, environmental and land use regulations they claim undermine their TPP privileges, and demand compensation for costs of complying with financial or environmental regulations that apply equally to domestic and foreign firms.

El Salvador is not a signatory to the TPP, and the agreement has not even been signed or ratified, but the pendulum seems to be swinging very far in favor of these kinds of pro-investor rights. Once that is the standard, any efforts to protect local environments and resources are subject to the desires of international corporations… until countries organize and push the pendulum back to protect their interests.

Corporations and the U.S. have worked hard to keep concerned citizens and civil society groups from influencing negotiations of these trade agreements. Public Citizen’s account of how hard the U.S. has worked to keep the TPP negotiations sounds a lot like the CAFTA negotiations eight and nine years ago. While Corporations and business interests have a say in the process, concerned citizens and civil society organizations are left on the sidewalk to protest.

In that context, it’s not really surprising that the Canadian Embassy denied Erica and Leah (the Canadian law students interning in El Salvador) entry to the Embassy – they were hanging out with the wrong crowd. Perhaps if they were interning for Pacific Rim or any other international corporation they  would have had a different experience.

Uncategorized

Fiestas Agostinas in El Salvador

Yesterday marked the first day of the August vacations in El Salvador.  In the capital, the celebrations began at 5:00 this morning when people gathered around the Plaza Las Américas to sing in commemoration of their patron, Divine Savior of the World (Divino Salvador del Mundo), after whom the city and country are named.  At the center of the plaza is the Monument to the Savior of the World (a giant statue of Jesus Christ standing atop the globe), which is a national symbol of El Salvador.  Later that day, there was a procession from the statue to Cuzcatlán Park featuring floats and costumed revelers.

Although the festival itself is of a religious nature, this week is also a time for secular retreat.  Last year, about 70,000 Salvadorans left the country for vacation, most of them to other parts of Central America.  Additionally, over 19,000 Salvadorans living abroad returned to the country.

The religious events of the week will culminate with a Saturday evening mass celebrating the Transfiguration of Jesus, a miracle in the Gospels and Catholic feast.  This feast is celebrated every year on August 6, and holds particular significance for El Salvador as it also commemorates the victory of the Spanish over the indigenous Cuscaltecos in 1526. Elsalvador.com provides a full list of the week’s festivities on their website.  Security will be tight all week, with the National Civl Police deploying 20,600 officers to patrol the areas in which the main festivities will take place.  Last year, 78 homicideswere committed during the festival, down 26% from the year before, and San Salvador’s Mayor Quijano has stated that safety will be a top priority.

The National Civil Police was featured prominently in the August 1st parade. Photo credit- La Prensa Gráfica

Advocacy, International Relations, News Highlights

Obama in El Salvador

The media in El Salvador provided constant coverage of Tuesday’s presidential visit to El Salvador.  While the majority of Salvadorans are very proud and excited to receive the Obama family, there were several points of concern from sectors of civil society.  We at Voices just wanted to share a little of what you won’t see in the papers.

Obama Remember: It's not the will of God that some have everything and others have nothing - Saint Romero

Same empire as yesterday, You could change the face and the color, but not its essence.

Trying to get some 'change'

Photography by Fredy Granillo