Tourism

Tourism Plans for the Jiquilisco Bay

(Voces está trabajando para traducir este artículo al español y se publicará muy pronto)

Since at least 2004 the Salvadoran Government has been planning large-scale tourism development in El Salvador. Among the goals articulated in the development plans is for tourism to account for 10% of El Salvador’s GDP, up from 3.7% in 2005.

IMG_0363Just this week, Global Travel Industry News wrote, “El Salvador is the diamond in the rough, the potential jewel that needs the savvy hand of a smart developer who is willing and able to chip away on the rough edges to release the beauty and unbridled opportunities of the destination.”

Many people view tourism as a way to create jobs and economic growth. Communities in the Jiquilisco Bay of Usulután, however, do not want developers to chip away at their rough edges or promote development they fear will irreparably harm to their mangrove forests, estuaries, beaches and other natural resources.

Government agencies have at least three plans guiding tourism development – the Plan for the Sustainable Develop of Eco-Tourism in the Jiquilisco Bay (2007), the 2014 National Plan on Tourism (2006), and the 2020 National Plan on Tourism. The 2020 Plan proposes constructing at least 350 new hotels and resorts that will offer at least 23,000 rooms. The Plan suggests that 85% (or 298) of these 350 new hotels and resorts should be small rural or beachfront cabins with 50 rooms or less. If each small hotels maxes out at 50 rooms, in order to achieve the 23,000 room goal, the remaining 15% (or 52) hotels and resorts will have to average 156 rooms.

The Ministry of Tourism wants 1.9 million tourists to visit El Salvador in 2014, a number they want to increase to 3 million with 12 million overnight stays in 2020. In 2005 Central Americans comprised 70% of tourists in El Salvador while North Americans were only 25%. The 2014 Plan says that by 2014 Central Americans should “be no greater than 40% of all tourists” and North Americans should make up at least 45%. The 2020 plan articulates the same numeric goals, but does not state that they should limit the number of Central Americans. Additionally, the 2020 Plan wants tourists to stay at least 7 days and spend more than $160 per day.

A small town nestled into the mangrove forests, but threatened by tourism projects targeted for the region
A small town nestled into the mangrove forests, but threatened by tourism projects targeted for the region

While the 2020 Tourism Plan does not identify any specific region for tourism, the 2014 Tourism Plan and the Jiquilisco Tourism Plan identify the Jiquilisco Bay as an important region for development. The region’s bay and long stretch of undeveloped coastline includes miles of beautiful beaches, mangrove forests, estuaries and rivers, islands and protected park lands. In addition to hanging out on the beach and surfing, the Plans envision tourist activities such as bird watching, canoeing and kayaking, boating and sport fishing, and more.

In 2004, CORTASUR, a government tourism agency, held a conference during which a consultant recommended that the Jiquilisco Bay become the Cancun of Central America, complete with hotels, resorts, shopping centers, restaurants, golf courses and other facilities. The consultant said that the first phase for development would include building a modern, paved road out the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula and acquiring land. A highway out the Peninsula was completed in 2011, and shortly after the conference land speculators began acquiring land. In 2003 a hectare of land on the Peninsula cost around $1,000. In 2005 the price the same hectare of land shot up to $12,000. Prices have been on the rise ever since. The 2014 Plan identified other goals for developing tourism in the region:

 – Promoting foreign investment and local entrepreneurship to develop small, boutique hotels and eco-lodges, and restaurants;

–  Equipping, altering, and cleaning the beaches so that they meet international quality standards;

– Creating the structure for services and activities related to sport fishing, bird watching, and a coastal route;

–  Recuperating and conserving the coastal environment;

–  Building the capacity of local human resources involved in tourism and those who would come in contact with tourists to better serve their clients;

–  Improving the landscape and the beauty of urban spaces; and

–  Improving the infrastructure of the ports.

Undeveloped beach along the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula
Undeveloped beach along the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula

Currently the government is looking for foreign and domestic investments. The 2020 Plan says El Salvador should have at least 2000 investors in restaurants, hotels, and other hospitality services. To help out, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) recently approved a $277 million grant to develop El Salvador’s southern coast. While the funds do not identify support for tourism specifically, FOMELINIO (the Salvadoran Government MCC counterpart) and the El Salvador Investment Challenge issued a call for proposals while they were developing their MCC proposal. The ESIC said the purpose was to:

“to invest in public projects that catalyze private investments in tradable goods and services thereby generating economic growth and poverty reduction. The first phase of the ESIC is a competitive call-for-ideas that would catalyze investments in El Salvador through public-private partnerships, whereby private entities identify public or quasi-public infrastructure and services that are necessary to support private investments aimed at increasing productivity and trade of goods and services in El Salvador.”

Of the 49 proposals received, 27 involved tourism infrastructure projects in Usulután, La Libertad, and La Union. (Efforts to get the names of those who submitted proposals and what they proposed were unsuccessful). MCC funds won’t be available to fund hotels, resorts, or other private investments, but they will likely be available for infrastructure projects like building secondary roads, equipping, altering, and cleaning beaches, operating a tourism police force, creating programs to train locals in tourism and hospitality services, and similar projects to make it easier to attract investments. In addition to MCC funds, the Inter-American Development Bank has approved a $25 million dollar loan for tourism projects.

Currently, opposition to the government’s tourism plan is mostly local. It appears that most Salvadorans approve of tourism as a way to create jobs and improve their stagnant economy. But many residents and organizations in the Bay area are concerned large-scale tourism, and even the small, eco-tourism projects, will harm fragile ecosystems like the mangrove forests, network of rivers and estuaries, the Bay itself, and local beaches.

According to the Mangrove Action Project, their fears are legitimate – tourism is one of the greatest threats to the world’s mangroves. Worldwide the loss of mangroves results in the decline of fisheries, and weak or lost buffers that shield populated areas from storm surges. Specifically, the Jiquilisco Bay’s mangrove forests are home to thousands of species of birds, reptiles, and amphibians and capable of absorbing more than 5 times carbon than rainforests, making them a vital asset for stopping climate change.

Environmentalists also point out that 12 million overnight stays by tourists will put an impossible strain on El Salvador’s scarce water supplies. A water expert at CESTA (the Center for Applied Technology) reports that the average tourist in El Salvador uses at least five times the water that the average Salvadoran uses. Three million tourists who are spending 12 million overnights will put an enormous strain on the nation’s water resources, which are already insufficient to satisfy the country’s demand. It is inevitable that water resources would be diverted to resorts and other tourist facilities along the coast, leaving Salvadorans with even less access to water.

Tourism can also have a tremendous impact on water quality. Three million tourists will produce large quantities of solid waste and sewage, and El Salvador lacks the facilities to manage them properly. Environmentalists fear contamination will further damage the country’s already contaminated water supplies. They also fear that construction projects, buildings, parking lots, and other development will will upset local water tables, resulting in irreversible salinization that would render them useless.

Environmentalists and local populations also fear tourism development and the MCC investments harm the four threatened and endangered species of sea turtle that use the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula beaches as a nesting ground. Approximately 40% of the critically endangered Hawksbill turtles in the eastern Pacific use the region to lay eggs, and in recent years communities have played an important role in protecting their nests and saving the turtle from extinction. “Equipping, altering, and cleaning” local beaches, building beachfront hotels and resorts, and allowing tourists unfettered access to beaches would likely be disastrous for these conservation efforts.

In El Chile, land speculators have started to buy the best land and deny access to locals, which is against the law...
In El Chile, land speculators have started to buy the best land and deny access to locals, which is against the law…

Locals also fear that tourism will result in their mangrove forests and beaches being privatized. Even though Salvadoran law prevents private ownership of beaches and recognizes the right for all people to enjoy unfettered access, private landowners are already fencing off sections of beach and limiting access to mangrove forests. Locals are aware that the Royal Decameron in Sonsonate have sectioned off more than a mile of beach in front of their resort, denying locals all access. This is more than just an issue of locals enjoying a swim every now and then. Many of the families that live near the coast depend on fishing to survive and must have access to the water.

Community boards in the region have also expressed a concern that land speculation is already having on their efforts to achieve food sovereignty. More than jobs, communities want to preserve their agrarian culture and ensure they can feed their families with locally produced, organic food. Just the idea that there might be tourism has already fueled a land grab in which small farms and cooperatives are sold to investors, meaning that they no longer contribute to the region’s ability to achieve food sovereignty. And once farmland is turned into a golf course, resort, or shopping center it is lost forever.

Many people in the Jiquilisco Bay region are quick to say they are not anti-tourism; they are just opposed to the scale of the government’s plan and the lack of consultation with the affected populations.

Young punchero from La Tirana giving a tour of the community's mangrove forests
Young punchero from La Tirana giving a tour of the community’s mangrove forests

La Tirana, a small community nestled in a mangrove forest, enjoys hosting bird watchers and others who regularly ask to be guided through local estuaries and forests. The community’s board even wants to build some small cabins and a comedor (eatery) so they can better host visitors. Residents are very committed to protecting the forests, despite their lack of electricity or running water. Their plans for tourism will allow them to control the number of people that come and go, the areas they visit, and the impact that it would have on the region. La Tirana residents are concerned because land speculators have purchased land in the community and they have heard of plans to build a resort and golf course next to the mangroves. The local population is adamantly opposed to these plans and has vowed to fight them any way they can.

Even though tourism enjoys national and international support as a apparent win-win way of developing the economy, locals are confident that they if they organize they can stop plans to develop hotels, resorts, shopping centers, and sport fishing in the region. Prior to 2005, most people in Cabanas supported Pacific Rim’s plans to mine gold and silver – they thought it would provide them with jobs and economic growth. But once they realized the impact mining would have on their environment, especially water resources, locals organized a strong movement against Pacific Rim and mining. Pacific Rim never got mining permits and this month the Legislative Assembly introduced a bill to ban mining in El Salvador.

Organizations and communities in the Jiquilisco Bay region understand that stopping tourism will be a long, difficult struggle. But according to a declaration they made in July,

our communities have a history of struggle and organization. This land and its resources belong to us, and our children and grandchildren, and we have the strength, courage, and moral duty to defend our lives and territory until the end.

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

Climate Change, Tourism

A Declaration from COO: The Bajo Lempa Continues to Resist!

Friday was International Day of the Mangroves.  Voices’ partner communities and other friends from the Bajo Lempa and Bay of Jiquilisco marked the day by meeting in Comunidad Octavio Ortiz to discuss Climate Change and the tourism projects that the Salvadoran Government and private investors are planning for the region – issues that affect the health of the mangrove forests in the region.

They concluded the meeting by drafting a Declaration: “In Order to Have Life and Hope: The Bajo Lempa Continues to Resist” – We’ve posted below in English and Spanish (the original).

We at Voices are in the middle of a fundraising campaign to raise $7,600 by this Friday (Aug. 2). The funds are to support the communities that drafted this Declaration in their efforts to protect their environment, including the mangrove forests, and preserve their simple, agrarian way of life. Here is a link to our original appeal posted last week. If have donated already, THANK YOU! If you haven’t, there is still time and every dollar helps (you can donate by clicking here). This is an urgent appeal – the government and private investors have huge resources and institutions backing them.

There is a slideshow at the bottom of the post with photos from the mangroves and coastal area, and the communities that are asking for you support.

IN ORDER TO HAVE LIFE AND HOPE,
THE BAJO LEMPA CONTINUES TO RESIST

Accompanied by the revolutionary spirit of Father Octavio Ortiz Luna, we the residents of the Bajo Lempa met again in the community of La Canoa to analyze the issue of climate change, which we experience in the form of floods and at times as prolonged droughts. These affects of climate change are becoming more intense and more frequent, and are the product of a political economic model that is leading us to destruction.

We also met to consider that we live in the region of El Salvador with the greatest biodiversity. We are located in one of the most pristine mangrove forests on the planet.

Species such as crocodiles, fish, crabs, migratory birds like the roseate spoonbill and many others make up an ecosystem that is vital for the survival of our communities. In addition, the mangrove forests are a natural barrier that protect the region from the rising sea waters and reduce the impacts of flooding.

The mangrove forests are an ecological treasure that communities have used, maintained and improved for many years, because we look to them for the sustainence and hope for the present and future generations.

However, the tranquility inspired by the mangroves, the simple lifestyle of the communities, and the hope of life for future generations, are being threatened by domestic and international corporations, and their insatiable thirst for profit through tourism development, with complete disregard for the impacts on the region’s biodiversity and the human rights of our population.

The construction of a modern road through the heart of the Bay of Jiquilisco, land speculation, the government’s tourism development plan, approval of the Public Private Partnership Act, and the the Second Millennium Challenge Compact, indicate that there are serious efforts to turn our region of El Salvador into another Cancun, Mexico, where the beaches are private and exclusive to foreign tourists.

But our communities have a history of struggle and organization. This land and its resources belong to us, and our children and grandchildren, and we have the strength, courage, and moral duty to defend our lives and territory until the end.

So, on this day marking the INTERNATIONAL DAY OF THE MANGROVES, the communities of the Bajo Lempa and in the mangrove forests of the Peninsula of San Juan del Gozo, DECLARE:

1 – We strongly reject all mega tourism and we are ready to mobilize and use all legal remedies against companies seeking to destroy our natural resources.

2 – The communities that live in the mangroves are the only guarantee of the forests’ preservation, and therefore we are organizing and strongly linking with these mangrove communities.

3 – The Communities of the Bajo Lempa, and especially Community Octavio Ortiz are in the process of adaptating to climate change with intense focus on food sovereignty based on agro-ecological production that protects biodiversity, soil, and water. Nature is our source of knowledge and every day we learn more about her.

4 – We demand the government promptly complete and maintain the public works projects meant to protect the region from flooding. We also demand government agencies regulate discharge from the September 15 dam.

We demand respect for our right to life and our right to a healthy environment. We want that forests remain an inexhaustible source of life. We want to have clean and sufficient water supplies, and we want to produce our own food and eat well. We want health and education for our children. We want to remain free …

We want to have life and hope.

Community Octavio Ortiz, July 26, 2013

EN ESPAÑOL:

PARA TENER VIDA Y ESPERANZA,

EL BAJO LEMPA SIGUE EN RESISTENCIA

Acompañados por el espíritu revolucionario del Padre Octavio Ortiz Luna, nuevamente nos reunimos en la comunidad La Canoa para analizar el tema de cambio climático que vivimos en forma de inundaciones y otras veces en forma de sequías prolongadas.  Hemos visto que estos fenómenos se presentan cada vez más intensos y con mayor frecuencia  y que son producto de un modelo económico político que nos está llevando a la destrucción.

Pero también nos hemos reunido para analizar que vivimos en la región de El Salvador de mayor riqueza biológica. En nuestro territorio se ubica uno de los bosques de manglar más desarrollados del planeta.

Especies como cocodrilos, peces, cangrejos, aves  migratorias como la espátula rosada y otras muchas conforman una red vital para la sobrevivencia de las comunidades. El bosque de manglar también constituye una barrera natural que detiene el avance del mar y reduce los impactos de inundaciones.

Este bosque de manglar constituye una riqueza ecológica que las comunidades han aprovechado, mantenido y mejorado durante muchos años, porque en el encuentran el sustento y son la esperanza para las presentes y futuras generaciones.

Sin embargo, la tranquilidad que inspira el manglar, la forma de vida sencilla de las comunidades y la esperanza de vida para las futuras generaciones, hoy se ve amenazada por la sed de lucro insaciable de empresarios nacionales y de corporaciones trasnacionales que pretenden impulsar un desarrollo turístico sin importarles la conservación de la biodiversidad ni los derechos humanos de la población.

La construcción de una moderna carretera que cruza el corazón de la Bahía de Jiquilisco, el acaparamiento y especulación  con la tierra, el plan gubernamental de desarrollo turístico, la aprobación de la Ley de Asociaciones Público Privadas y un interés sospechoso de la empresa privada por que se apruebe el Segundo FOMILENIO, son los principales indicadores de que existen serias pretensiones de convertir este territorio en una región similar a Cancún, en México, en donde las playas son privadas y exclusivas para turistas extranjeros.

Pero nuestras comunidades tienen una historia de lucha y de organización, este territorio y sus recursos nos pertenece y le pertenece a nuestros hijos y nietos, tenemos  la fuerza, el coraje y  el deber moral de defender la vida y el territorio hasta las últimas consecuencias.

Por eso, en este día que se celebra el DIA MUNDIAL DE LOS MANGLARES, las comunidades del Bajo Lempa y las comunidades habitantes de los bosques de manglar de la Península de San Juan del Gozo, DECLARAMOS:

 

1-    Que rechazamos enérgicamente todo megaproyecto de turismo  y que estamos dispuestos a movilizarnos y a demandar judicialmente a cualquier empresa que pretendan destruir nuestros recursos naturales.

2-    Que las comunidades que vivimos en los bosques de manglar somos la única garantía de su conservación, para ello nos estamos organizando y vinculando fuertemente entre comunidades del manglar.

3-    Que las comunidades del Bajo Lempa y en especial la comunidad Octavio Ortiz estamos llevando a cabo un proceso de adaptación al cambio climático con un intenso trabajo por la soberanía alimentaria, en base a la producción agroecológica que protege la biodiversidad, el suelo y el agua. La naturaleza es nuestra fuente de conocimiento y cada día aprendemos más de ella.

4-    Demandamos del gobierno la pronta ejecución de obras de protección ante inundaciones, así como su permanente mantenimiento y la regulación de las descargas de la presa 15 de Septiembre.

Exigimos que se respete nuestro derecho a la vida, nuestro derecho a un medio ambiente saludable. Queremos que los bosques sigan siendo fuente inagotable de vida. Queremos tener agua limpia y suficiente, queremos producir y comer bien. Queremos salud y educación para nuestros hijos.  Queremos seguir siendo libres…

Queremos tener vida y  esperanzas.

Comunidad Octavio Ortiz, 26 de Julio de 2013

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Advocacy, Tourism

Urgent Appeal! Help Protect the Bay of Jiquilisco and Bajo Lempa!

Communities in the Jiquilisco Bay and Bajo Lempa region of Usulután need your help protecting their invaluable, irreplaceable coastal environment and agrarian way of life. Developers are planning to build resorts, golf courses, and shopping centers in the region, and our local partners fear it will destroy their agricultural land, mangrove forests and the other ecosystems upon which they depend.

A small town nestled into the mangrove forests, but threatened by tourism projects targeted for the region
A small town nestled into the mangrove forests, but threatened by tourism projects targeted for the region

We at Voices need to raise $7,600 by August 2nd so we can help our partners develop a legal and political strategy to protect their land, launch a national advocacy campaign, and organize a small, eco-tourism alternative.

Plan for Large-Scale Tourism – Developers are planning large-scale tourism projects for the Jiquilisco Bay and Bajo Lempa region of Usulután. With support from the Salvadoran government they recently completed Phase One – building a highway out the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula and purchasing large tracts of land. They are now preparing to begin Phase Two – construction. The government is again supporting them by proposing that the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation provide financing. Yes, the Salvadoran government wants to give U.S. tax dollars to well-financed developers to build high-end resorts.

Protecting the Local Environment – Communities in the region have simple goals – food security and environmental sustainability. They celebrate their peaceful agrarian lifestyle and would rather have productive farmland and healthy environment than tourism. The government claims tourism will provide jobs and economic opportunities, but our partners want to farm, not clean bathrooms. They want healthy a healthy bay and mangrove forests, not manicured golf courses and jet skis. Government officials say they will require developers to meet “minimal environmental standards” but El Salvador lacks a positive record of enforcing its laws.

Please Help Protect the Region’s Environment and Agrarian Culture! – Our partners ask that we help them 1) organize a legal and political strategy, 2) fund a national advocacy campaign, and 3) support a small eco-tourism alternative.  But we simlply can’t do it without your help. Time is short and we need to raise $7,600 by Friday, August 2nd.  Help our partners’ VOICES be heard by making a generous donation today!

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P.S. Lara Whyte recently published a piece in the Digital Journal about La Tirana and the Tourism threat. Als0, Justine Davidson, one our of Osgoode Hall Law School summer interns wrote an informative article on the Peninsula and the tourism issue.

Here is an overview of the projects/activities we need funding for:

 

Workshops to Develop Legal and Political Strategy

 

$2,600

Voices’ volunteers and staff are helping our local partners develop a legal and political strategy to defend their land and way of life. By July 15th our partners will be ready to present their proposed strategy to their communities, and solicit their input and cooperation. They want to hold open meetings in key communities like Zamorano, La Tirana, El Chile, and Isla de Mendez. Our local partners will then host a weekend conference with 20 community leaders to organize a national advocacy campaign. Each of the open community meetings will cost $400 in transportation, printing, and refreshments. The weekend retreat will cost $1,000 in lodging, transportation, food, and printing.

 

 

National Advocacy Campaign

 

$3,000

In August, after the workshops and weekend conference, our local partners will be ready to launch their National Advocacy Campaign. Organizers have asked Voices and partner organizations to help contribute funds to hire attorneys to file legal cases and monitor environmental permitting processes, arranging transport for rural community members to meet with policy makers in San Salvador, buying one-page advertisements in national newspapers and additional campaign opportunities. These activities will far exceed $3,000 but Voices is joining forces with several Salvadoran organizations that will also contribute to the campaign.

 

 

Alternative

Eco-Tourism

Project in

La Tirana

$2,000

The community board of La Tirana has asked Voices and CESTA (a Salvadoran environmental organization) to help them develop an eco-tourism project as an alternative to the mega-projects.  Birdwatchers and naturalists already visit La Tirana but residents are unable to offer lodging or food. CESTA is willing to help build small, comfortable cabins and a community-run restaurant if Voices will help the board develop the infrastructure and capacity to manage the project in the long-term.
We are ready to begin in July, but need $2,000 to help the board develop a business plan and build their capacity in areas such as accounting and business management which will enable La Tirana residents to sustain their own eco-tourism initiative in the long-run.

 

Advocacy, agriculture, Tourism

Life and Land on the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula of El Salvador

The peninsula of San Juan del Gozo, located in Usulután, is a 30-mile stretch that curves out from the Pacific coastline of El Salvador, embracing the Bahia de Jiquilisco and its wealth of sparsely inhabited, thickly forested islands.  The peninsula is home to a scattering of subsistence fishing communities, and the lives of the residents of the bay are inextricably bound up in the life of the mangrove forest (manglar, in Spanish), which covers much of the interior coastlines and estuaries.

La CanoaThe manglares at the western end of the peninsula, in the estuaries near the community of La Tirana, are home to the oldest and largest mangrove trees on the Pacific coast of Central America. This is due in part to the decade of civil war El Salvador suffered in the 1980s, which caused people to flee the area, leaving the saltwater forests to grow unmolested for years.

Today, residents of La Tirana harvest crabs (known locally as punches) in the large manglar. Other communities take fish and a variety of other shellfish (mariscos) from the waters of the mangrove estuaries and the bay. A few locals take boats out to sea for larger catches; though, no one lives on the ocean side of the peninsula, leaving it as a prime location for endangered hawksbill, olive ridley, leatherback and green turtles to lay their eggs. Communities in the peninsula rely completely on what they take from the water for their survival; there is no other industry except some small-scale eco-tourism outfits and restaurants to serve day visitors. There is one exclusive, boat-in resort in the region but none of the locals we met with report any employment or secondary economic benefits from the operation.

The entire peninsula – with its wealth of migratory birds, rare sea-turtle breeding grounds, magnificent manglares and untouched beaches – is now the focus of a 25-year tourism development plan, launched by the Salvadorian government in 2004. According to government documents, by 2026 there will be accommodation for 2,500 visitors, with a projected 932,000 overnight stays per year. The government first unveiled the plan at an invitation-only event attended by mega-resort developers from around the world, and presenters described the region as the Cancun of Central America. This was a two-fold reference; first to the similar peninsular geography; and second to the plans to create a resort region which would provide tourists with a self-contained vacation destination that would provide accommodations, shopping, hospitals, golf courses and more. At that event, a consultant hired by Salvadorian government outlined the first two steps to developing large-scale tourism in the region: building a new highway and buying large tracts of land.

The only way to get to the peninsula by car is by taking the Litoral Highway to San Marcos Lempa turning south and traveling 12 miles through the Bajo Lempa down to La Canoa (Comunidad Octavio Ortiz). Potholes and sections of washed-out road define the drive between San Marcos and La Canoa. The 20 miles from La Canoa out the Peninsula, however, is a freshly paved, well-maintained stretch of highway.

Residents of the Bajo Lempa and Jiqiulisco Bay take the highway’s construction as a sign of impending development. It was also a warning that land speculation* was about to re-ignite a struggle for land ownership in the region. Since 2004 when the government announced their plans to turn the region into the “Cancun of Central America,” land values have skyrocketed. In 2003, the average price for a hectare of land was $1,000 USD; today, the average has climbed to $10,000 USD and $40,000 USD per hectare for waterfront property.

CESTA, a Salvadoran environmental organization that works extensively in the region, has documented several ways in which government agencies appear to be fostering a positive climate for land speculation and development. CESTA notes that in 2004 there were four agricultural collectives in the peninsular region. All four have since dissolved, the result of government efforts to convince cooperative members that it was better to hold individual title to the land. Since dissolution, many former cooperative members have sold off their land, some because they wanted cash; others because without the shared machinery and support of the collective they could no longer work the land.

CESTA also believes that the government has used the agrarian reform process another way to transfer land to speculators and developers. CESTA representatives have documented cases in which the government has granted land to people who have no agricultural experience or knowledge, and as soon as they receive land titles they sell.

Whether or not communities have legal title to their land is one of the most pressing legal issues facing the residents of the peninsula today. In La Tirana, where all the resident families have legal title (or escritura as it is called here), the townspeople have agreed amongst themselves not to sell their properties to anyone from outside, knowing that they are in both a prime tourism development area, and also an extremely sensitive environmental zone. While land within La Tirana is relatively safe for the time being, wealth Salvadoran investors have already bought up larger tracts just outside of town. Some use the land for cattle or growing crops, others are sitting on the land until developers are ready to build hotels, golf courses, and shopping centers.

Land in other communities is also vulnerable. In El Chile, a small community down the Peninsula, no one holds title to their property, although they were nominally granted the land as part of the agrarian reform program following the peace accord. The land is still technically owned by the state, which now appears to be selling off lots on the edge of town.

Private Property
Sign on a property in El Chile that reads “Private Property – No Entry – You will be Reported to the Police”

Voices staff visited El Chile in mid-June and spoke with the president of the community’s council (or junta directiva). He showed us a large plot of forested land on the edge of town that has been fenced off with barbed wire and decorated with ominous signs warning “No entre” (No trespassing). The fence goes all the way down through the manglar to the water’s edge. As the community president pointed out, no one can own the manglar, it is against the law, and the fence is blocking off what should be public property. Law enforcement has done nothing to address the claim on this land and the fence has come to exemplify the community’s tenuous position without formal land titles. Residents of El Chile know they have a legal right to their land; but they do not have the legal or financial resources to register themselves as owners.

In neighboring Isla de Mendez, almost all residents have a legal title to their land. The only people that don’t have titles are those that live on the waterfront – the most desired and valuable land. With a focus on developing tourism in the region, their position is especially vulnerable.

Life in La Tirana, El Chile, Isla de Mendez and other communities along the Peninsula is still simple and relatively quiet. But if developers have their way that will all change soon. At risk are majestically mangrove forests, nesting grounds for several species of sea turtles, and a sustainable agrarian way of life.

*Land speculation is the practice of buying up properties with the intention of reselling them for a profit. Often land speculation is done by wealthy investors with insider knowledge of coming development or infrastructure, but land speculation can also be self-propelling because when one investor who is known to make profitable speculations starts buying in a region, others often follow, creating a strong sellers’ market.

Advocacy, agriculture, Climate Change, Environment

Earth Day, the Bajo Lempa in Resistance

Today, residents of the Bajo Lempa region of Jiquilisco, Usulutan are marking International Earth Day with a large event in Amando Lopez. Event organizers have made it clear that this is not so much a celebration, but a call to action.

Communities throughout the region have identified food sovereignty and protection of the region’s natural resources as their top priorities. They reject mega-development projects and large monoculture-based economies as a threat to their existence. For more on the mega-projects, click here. For more on mono-culture-based economies (i.e sugarcane) click here. For more on climate change, click here).

Today, organizers of the Bajo Lempa Earth Day event released this declaration stating their positions (we’re posting the declaration in English and Spanish).

ON INTERNATIONAL EARTH DAY, THE BAJO LEMPA IN RESISTANCE – More than a celebration, a cry of alarm and indignation!

Gathered in the community of Amando Lopez to commemorate International Earth Day, we are more than 1,500 people, community leaders, members of grassroots organizations, social groups, and movements, and we declare that we will defend our constitutional right to life.

Our Mother Earth is suffering the consequences of capitalism, which has plundered natural resources and caused serious problems such as destruction of biodiversity, the pollution of the oceans, depletion of water resources, and climate change. This indefensible destruction infringes upon the rights of the poor by making them even more vulnerable.

The main threats to the Bajo Lempa are the profit-driven national and multinational entities that are eager to invade and plunder the region without regard for the rights and dignity of the communities, or the rights of the population. They are doing so in the form of mega-tourism projects that are already underway with the appropriateion of land and the construction of a highway through the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula.

The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC, known in El Salvador as FOMILENIO) is a mechanism for implementing these megaprojects. If passed it will stimulate private investment for mega-tourism projects whose main goal is generating profits and not the wellfare of the communities.

The consequence of MCC/FOMILENIO and related investment projects will be the predation and contamination of the coastal region of El Salvador, as well as the eviction of the peasant communities that have traditionally lived sustainably in the region.

It is sad that these types of mega-projects are possible because stakeholders employ strategies that dismantle the social fabric of communities, and  discourage and deter the organized struggle of hope.

Faced with this reality, there are two possible paths for residents of the Bajo Lempa: tolerate the domination and irrational exploitation of Mother Earth, which will generate disastrous consequences for the poorest, or deploy a strategy of resistance based on sovereignty, sustainability and solidarity with nature and individuals.

For this reason, we, the social organizations and rural communities of the Bajo Lempa, commit ourselves to strengthening the economic struggle in an organized, persistent and brave manner, which involves:

  • Defending our region to the end against all those that threaten to deprive us of our scarce resources, especially our land;
  • Promoting and maintaining a strong mobilization and advocacy campaign to prevent the passage of the Law on Public-Private Partnerships to protect against the privatization of water and health;
  • Strengthening atonomous ways of life and reject the establishment of monoculture economies such a sugarcane production;
  • Creating alliances with all organizations and social movements that reject the Millennium Challenge Corporation;
  • Developing a process to achieve food sovereignty with a focus on agro-ecology that includes the protection of heirloom seeds, the defense of the earth, and the conservation of sources of water;
  • Promoting awareness and disseminating information on the FOMILENIO megaprojects, including tourism, to increase and maintain strength.

    IN DEFENSE OF LIFE AND TERRITORY
    Bajo Lempa in resistance.

    Community Amando Lopez, April 21, 2013

EN EL DÍA INTERNACIONAL DE LA TIERRA – EL BAJO LEMPA EN RESISTENCIA: Más que una celebración, un grito de alerta e indignación.

Reunidos en la comunidad Amando López para conmemorar el Día Internacional de nuestra Madre Tierra, más de 1500 personas, entre líderes comunitarios, miembros de organizaciones de base, de grupos y movimientos sociales, declaramos que defendemos nuestro derecho constitucional a la vida.

La Madre Tierra sufre las consecuencias del capitalismo que ha depredado los recursos naturales y ocasionado graves problemas como la pérdida de  biodiversidad, la contaminación de los océanos, el agotamiento de fuentes de agua  y el cambio climático. Esta destrucción injustificada atenta principalmente contra las poblaciones empobrecidas incrementando su vulnerabilidad.

En lo local la principal amenaza es el afán de lucro de grandes empresas nacionales y trasnacionales que invaden y saquean los territorios sin importarles la dignidad de las comunidades, ni los derechos de la población que se ve afectada. El Bajo Lempa vive esta realidad producto de un megaproyecto turístico que ha iniciado con la concentración de tierras y la construcción de una carretera que cruza de norte a sur  la Península de San Juan del Gozo.

La Corporación Cuenta del Milenio (conocida en El Salvador como FOMILENIO), es un mecanismo para impulsar este tipo de megaproyectos. De aprobarse el segundo FOMILENIO, se realizarán grandes proyectos de turismo cuyo fin será la generación de ganancias y en ningún momento el bienestar de las comunidades.

Las consecuencias del segundo FOMILENIO, serán el incremento en la depredación y contaminación de los ecosistemas costeros del país; además el desalojo de comunidades campesinas que tradicionalmente han pertenecido a estos territorios, quienes han convivido y aprovechado sosteniblemente los recursos naturales.

Es de lamentar que este tipo de megaproyectos se hacen posibles porque los sectores interesados emplean estrategias que desarticulan el tejido social de las comunidades,  desaniman la lucha organizada y desalientan la esperanza.

Frente a este nuevo escenario hay dos caminos posibles para los habitantes del Bajo Lempa, uno tolerar el proceso de dominación y explotación irracional de la Madre Tierra,  ó plantearse una estrategia de resistencia, basada en la soberanía, la sustentabilidad y solidaridad con la naturaleza y las personas.

Por esta razón, organizaciones sociales y comunidades campesinas del Bajo Lempa, nos  comprometemos a trabajar para que se fortalezca la lucha reivindicativa de forma organizada, perseverante y valiente, que comprenderá lo siguiente:

  • Defender nuestro territorio, hasta las últimas consecuencias, de  aquellos intereses que amenacen con despojarnos de nuestros escasos bienes, principalmente la tierra.
  •  Impulsar y mantener una fuerte campaña de movilización para evitar la aprobación de la Ley de Asocios Público – Privados, por el riesgo de privatización de bienes como el agua y la salud.
  • Fortalecer los medios de vida autóctonos y rechazar el establecimiento de monocultivos, como la caña de azúcar.
  • Articular alianzas con grupos, organizaciones y movimientos sociales que rechazan el segundo FOMILENIO.
  • Desarrollar un proceso de Soberanía Alimentaria, con enfoque agroecológico que incluya la protección de nuestras semillas, la defensa de la tierra y la conservación de las fuentes de agua.
  • Impulsar procesos de sensibilización y difusión de información sobre el segundo FOMILENIO y megaproyectos de turismo, para incrementar el conocimiento sobre estos temas y mantener la resistencia.

POR LA DEFENSA DE LA VIDA Y EL TERRITORIO,

EL BAJO LEMPA EN RESISTENCIA.

Comunidad  Amando López, 21 de Abril de 2013.

Environment

Earth Day and Climate Change in the Bajo Lempa

This weekend residents of the Bajo Lempa region of Usulután are celebrating Earth Day in Amando Lopez. The events will focus on climate change and its extreme impacts on the communities, as well as the possible impacts of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and associated tourism projects. Voices posted a blog last week regarding the MCC in El Salvador, and another today about the effect of climate change. We will post more over the weekend about the Earth Day activities and future efforts in the fight to protect communities and the environment in the Bajo Lempa.

This article was written by Jose Acosta, Voices’ new field director, and first published in Contrapunto (El Bajo Lempa con Tenacidad y Esperanza), an online journal in El Salvador.

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The Bajo Lempa, with Tenacity and Hope

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says human actions are directly changing our global climate, and environmental changes will affect all people and ecosystems. The panel also shows that those who live below the poverty line will suffer the greatest impacts.

Residents of El Salvador have already felt the disastrous effects of climate change. The Salvadoran Ecological Unit (UNES, in Spanish) reports that the country’s average temperature has increased 1.2 degrees over the past 40 years. As a consequence, there has been an increase in the occurrence and strength of storms and hurricanes. A recent government study found that El Salvador has suffered five large-magnitude, climate-related events in just the past three years. These events resulted in 244 deaths and affected more than 500,000 people, 86,000 of which live in shelters. In addition, these events have caused considerable material damage. Three storms – hurricanes Ida and Agatha, and stropical storm 12-E – resulted in $1.3 billion in damage.

Poorer populations are even more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and these storms exacerbate poverty by further reducing the ability of impoverished families to respond to crises. During and after disasters, households are forced to use or sell their few resources just to survive, limiting their long-term resilience and further diminishing their food security. Their way of life and capacity to cope with their poverty are weakened with each disaster, forcing many into chronic poverty. CESTA/Friends of the Earth demonstrated this cycle in a study carried out  in the communities of Amando Lopez and Comunidad Octavio Ortiz, located in the Lower Lempa region of Usulután.

The study reports that the main problem for communities in the Bajo Lempa is flooding. According to the Confederations of Federations for Agrarian Reform (CONFRAS) flooding is partly due to the mismanagement of the 15 of September dam located a few kilometers up the Lempa River. During Tropical Storm 12E (October 2011), the discharge from the dam reached 9,000 cubic meters per second, resulting in record flooding throughout the communities downstream from the dam. The CEL, the government institution that manages the dam, was supposed to send information about flow rates to the communities downstream to warn them when the Lempa River may rise. Unfortunately, the CEL did not communicate with the communities and the most extreme flooding happened with little warning.

Organizaitons in the Bajo Lempa, however, came together and formed the Inter-Institutional Roundtable, and issued a press release on November 11, 2011 stating, “We demand to know the CEL’s plan for managing the release of water from the dam and the environmental impact study in order to coordinate the agricultural production cycles and manage risks, and to prioritize life and the protection of the inhabitants of the communities.”

In addition to the flooding, the local population reports several other impacts of climate change, including higher temperatures, droughts, extinction of species, increase of disease, and salinzation of soil and water sources due to increased sea levels. The Association of the United Communities for Economic and Social Development of the Bajo Lempa (ACUDESBAL) declared that communities in the Bajo Lempa are strongly feeling the affects of climate change, and that it has increased food insecurity and made poverty worse.

These problems increase as the levels of consumption and the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continue to rise. The IPCC says that if CO2 in the atmosphere reaches 450 ppm, average temperatures will rise 2 degrees. Such a rise in temperatures will cause catastrophic climate events.

For El Salvador projections indicate an increase in the temperature between 0.8 and 1.1 degrees by the year 2020. Some of the expected impacts in the Bjao Lempa are:

–       Public health problems

–       Shortage of potable water and species of plants and animals

–       Contamination of wells and salinization of bodies of water,

–       Degradation of agricultural lands and decrease in their productivity

–       Loss of domestic animals and livestock

–       Local drainage systems will fill with sediment and collapse

–       Failure of other existing flood prevention systems, among them roads, paths, and bridges

The affected communities are already taking steps to prevent these impacts before they happen. Concepción Martínez, a historic leader of Comunidad Octavio Ortiz, recently stated, “We believe that in confronting climate change, the only viable option is to fight for our survival.”

A resolution adopted by various communities states, “we meet under the heat in La Canoa (another name for Comunidad Octavio Ortiz), to analyze the impacts of climate change that we are experiencing in the form of floods and droughts, but also in the form of the voracity of the transnational businesses and governments that do not respect the cycles of life.

In this occasion we (communities in the Bajo Lempa) express:

“We commit to watch and demand that government policies confront climate change, and we demand they listen and include the opinions and proposals from the communities and civic organizations when forming these policies… to survive and maintain hope that another Bajo Lempa is possible.”

 

agriculture, Economy, El Salvador Government, Environment, Mining, U.S. Relations

The Debate Over Public-Private Partnership Law and MCC Funding in El Salvador

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.

Mangrove Forests near La Tirana, a community targeted for a large tourism project
Mangrove Forests near La Tirana, a community targeted for a large tourism project

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.

FESPAD and Voices on the Borders 2012 legal interns recently published a full analysis of the P3 Law.

Tourism and other Investments

One of the public-private partnerships being proposed in the second MCC compact is tourismhotels and resorts being built along El Salvador’s Pacific coast. In December the government solicited proposals from the private sector and received 49 responses, 27 of which are tourism projects in Usulután, La Paz, and La Libertad.

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.

Environment

The Mangroves of La Tirana

Thompson Reuters published a photo yesterday of La Tirana, one of the communities in the Lower Lempa region of Usulutan targeted for tourism. The short article accompanying the photo focused not on tourism, but on the impact of greenhouse gases and climate change on the region. Here’s the photo and the full text:

Mangrove trees are pictured at the small community of La Tirana, about 110 kilometres (68 miles) from San Salvador August 3, 2012. Because of its location as a thin strip of land between two oceans in a tropical zone, Central America is one of the regions most vulnerable to greenhouse gases. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) estimates that the area stands to lose $10 billion over the next four years for this reason alone. The damage is not confined to El Salvador, Central America’s smallest country, but also its neighbours. Across the region, large tracts of mangroves have also been destroyed by the shrimp and hotel industry, the cultivation of palm oil and sugarcane, as well as salt fields. According to a FAO study, Central America’s mangroves as a whole declined by 35 percent between 1980 and 2005 in terms of hectares. Honduran mangroves decreased by 56 percent, Nicaragua’s forests by 37 percent and Panama by 32 percent. Picture taken August 3, 2012. REUTERS/Ulises Rodriguez

Last year, Ryan Luckey published an article in Al Jazeera English documenting the loss of these mangrove forests in La Tirana and elsewhere in El Salvador. The article quotes Dr. Ricardo Navarro from CESTA (EL Salvador Center for Applied Technology), “All along the central coast of El Salvador there is a dead zone stretching along the beach, measuring between 10 and 50 metres. The cause? Climate change.”

Voices staff took a delegation to La Tirana earlier in this year to see the dead zone – here are a couple photos:

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Climate Change

Royal Decameron Announces Plans to Build Resort in the Lower Lempa

Last week the Royal Decameron Hotel Group announced plans to invest $60 million in three El Salvador projects – an expansion of their high-end beach resort in Sonsonate, construction of a four-star hotel in San Salvador, and a beachfront resort in Usulután. The new Usulután facility, which will cost $12 million, will be modeled after their Sonsonate resort with 300 individual cabins, an office center, spas, and a conference room.

Royal Decameron’s announcement wasn’t completely unexpected. Investors have been working to develop tourism in the Lower Lempa for many years, and there are likely several other projects being planned. Though tourism may seem like a great boost for the local economy, it’s a complicated issue and Royal Decameron is likely to face some stiff opposition from Lower Lempa residents.

Usulután is centrally located along El Salvador’s coast. One of the local treasures is the Bay of Jiquilisco, a large inlet known for its fishing, mangrove forests, and beautiful beaches. The stretch of land between the bay and the ocean is the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula. The only things out on the peninsula right now are mangrove forests, a few fishing and crabbing villages, and a nesting ground for endangered sea turtles… and a very fancy highway.

In 2004, the Ministry of Tourism hosted an event for potential investors at the Intercontinental Hotel in San Salvador. An Argentinean architect presented plans for the Espino Resort, as well as other infrastructure development plans. His presentation included draft plans for “El Pueblo,” a high-end shopping center on the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula for tourists that included grocery stores, ATMs, and other amenities. It was all part of a 25-year plan that outlined specific stages of development – land acquisition, construction of a highway to the end of the peninsula, and a dyke that would supply water. Eight years into the plan, investors have acquired land, the highway through the peninsula is complete, and the government announced plans last year to install a water system.

Three people are reported own much of the real estate between La Tirana and Isla de Mendez. Angel Velasquez owns two sections of land totaling 2.5 miles of waterfront property. Eduard Quiroz owns 1 mile of beachfront property, and the Tesak family owns another 3 miles along the coast. CESTA, a Salvadoran nonprofit environmental organization, owns 872 feet of beachfront that they preserve. Sources also claim that ex-president Alfredo Cristiani owns property in the region, as does FMLN politician Facundo Guardado, who has a consortium of investors that includes possible FMLN VP candidate Oscar Ortiz. Royal Decameron is rumored to own 103 acres in the region though it is unclear whether this is the property they plan to develop.

Land acquisition on the peninsula has been quiet, but not free of controversy. Locals report that Quiroz and Velazquez regularly violate land-use and easement requirements. For example, environmental regulations allow landowners to own property up to 50 meters above the highest tide. Quiroz and Velazquez, however, fenced their property at the high-tide point, ignoring the 50-meter boundary. Similarly, in 2006 ISTA (the Salvadoran Land Reform Institute) distributed plots of land to landless families in La Tirana. The families moved in, but lacking roads and utilities, seven of them sold their plots to Velazquez. Ignoring ISTA regulations that require passage between the plots and access to the mangroves, Velazquez fenced off the plots and blocked access to the forests. The president of La Tirana, Nahum Diaz, has spoken out about the violations but to no end. The 23 families in La Tirana have to survive on crabbing and shellfish, while Velazquez controls access to all of the farmland, which he uses to graze his several hundred head of cattle. Residents are also upset because in addition to blocking access to agricultural fields, Velazquez cleared large areas of forest to expand his cattle operation.

As investors were starting to buy up land along the Peninsula, Gustavo Guerrero arrived in the Lower Lempa. He introduced himself as the charity manager for the Tesak family, which owns Bocadeli, a Salvadoran food company. In 2007, Guerrero created the San Juan del Gozo and Jiquilisco Bay Integral Development Association and illegally listed local community leaders as members of the board without their knowledge. The new organization published a full-page add in a Salvadoran paper listing its priorities – building a levee for irrigation, constructing a National University campus in the Lower Lempa, and other investments to build the tourism infrastructure. He is still handing out checks and has financed several projects in the region including hiring the Linares Company to repave of the road in La Canoa. In 2009, one of our local partners said “Gustavo Guerrero is the person that made it possible for the rich to buy land,” which they often did at prices far below-market value.

But land acquisition also included making room for the new highway through the Peninsula, primarily convincing landowners to allow builders to cut across their property. Linares, the company that repaved the road in La Canoa won the contract to build the road. If you’ve been in the Lower Lempa at all over the past few years you’ve seen large dump trucks tearing up and down the main road – that was Linares hauling sand and backfill for the highway.

Few people or groups are currently protesting tourism in the Lower Lempa. Many locals, however, oppose development projects that threaten their fragile environment. The community of Amando López, for example, released a statement in May 2012 stating: “This land is our life and our life is this land, we will never stop resisting any project that threatens our natural resources and our organized communities.” They also said, “we know that so-called development means more problems for poor communities, and we are not interested in the development they are offering, because in the end the only thing they develop are transnational businesses. We care about our livelihoods and our children’s lives, and we want proposals to come from our communities, that respond to our interests, to our livelihoods, our needs, and our own worldview.

While Amando López residents were specifically referring to the Millennium Challenge Corporation in their address, they assure us that these sentiments apply to a wide array of initiatives being imposed on the region, including tourism. Amando López was the only community in the region to reject funding offered by Gustavo Guerrero.

The Jiquilisco Bay is one of El Salvador’s few remaining treasures, and residents know that once it’s gone – it’s gone. The mangrove forests protect the region from flooding, which is happening with greater frequency, and the Bay provides residents with food and a livlihood. Communities are very aware of how fragile their ecosystem is and are unlikely to let outsiders exploit it.

The argument for allowing tourism is that it will provide jobs and economic growth, but local residents understand that most jobs will go to people with degrees in tourism and hotel management. They also know that profits will be distributed to investors in San Salvador and beyond and not stay local. Residents of the Lower Lempa also know better than to count on the government to enforce the environmental laws that are supposed to protect their natural resources.

But as pointed out by our friends in Amando López, there is a bigger issue at play. Many in the Lower Lempa are not interested in the kinds of development that wealthy investors from San Salvador are selling. Communities prioritize food security over tourism, and a healthy environment for their kids over a larger income for themselves. Amando López residents said “this land is ours and we will defend it with the same courage with which we won it.”

Royal Decameron says that they still have to work out some land acquisition issues, so this is a story that will likely play out over the next several years. Along the way they will likely face a healthy opposition to their ideas of development.