El Salvador Government, Partnership for Growth

Bajo Lempa Rejects Latest Pressures from the U.S. Embassy over the Public-Private Partnership Law

In May, El Salvador passed a Law on Public-Private Partnerships (P3 Law) to facilitate foreign investment and increase the private sector’s role in managing and providing public services. The U.S. Embassy made the law a prerequisite for their approval of a second round of Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) funding.

The Legislative Assembly, led by the leftist FMLN party, passed the Law with reforms that exempt certain public goods and services from public-private partnerships. The public assets exempt include water, education, health care, and the prison system – all of which the government deems to important to contract out.

For a few months it seemed as though the passage of the P3 Law, even with the reforms, as enough to satisfy U.S. officials, and in September the MCC board approved a second round of funding.

Last week, however, Mari Carmen Aponte, the U.S. Ambassador, said that the Legislative Assembly would have to reform the P3 Law to take out the exceptions in order to get the MCC funds. The Embassy is also requiring that El Salvador have an anti-money laundering law in place.

Sigfredo Reyes, the FMLN president of the Legislative Assembly, responded to Ambassador Aponte’s new requirements saying that the pretentions that a person would impose such conditions on El Salvador that they would not adopt in their own country was unacceptable. He also stated, we are grateful that the government, or more the MCC has granted this second round of funding, as they call it, but the Salvadoran legislative branch moves to its own rhythm that Salvadorans determine.

Communities in the Bajo Lempa of Jiquilisco, Usulután responded to the Ambassador’s latest threats with the following statement (the original is in Spanish, with an English Translation below):

APROBAR LA LEY DE APP, FUE UN ERROR, REFORMARLA  ES AGRABAR EL ERROR

Desde que surgió el proyecto de Ley de Asocios Público-Privado, las organizaciones sociales, sindicales, ambientalistas, de derechos humanos y campesinas, la rechazan debido a que los resultados serán: control transnacional de servicios e industrias estatales necesarias, incremento de los costos de servicios básicos, peores condiciones laborales para los trabajadores y la pérdida de ingresos para el Estado.

Durante el debate en la Asamblea Legislativa, los partidos llegaron a un acuerdo para proteger por lo menos varios bienes públicos, incluso el agua, la educación, la salud y los sistemas de justicia. También hicieron reformas importantes para garantizar más supervisión por la Asamblea. Estas modificaciones son positivas, pero no suficientes para evitar que bienes como el aeropuerto, los puertos, presas hidroeléctricas, carreteras y otros que actualmente son propiedad de todos los salvadoreños y salvadoreñas sean susceptibles de ser concesionados a empresas privadas; pero más grave aún es lo que puede pasar con las playas, los bosques de manglar  y las reservas naturales.

Con la aprobación de la Ley de APP, El Salvador continúa asumiendo la receta neoliberal dictada por el Banco Mundial, El Fondo Monetario Internacional y el gobierno de Los Estados Unidos, principales “asesores” y promotores de esta Ley. A pesar que las medidas neoliberales fracasaron en todo sentido, las promesas de empleo y de crecimiento económico que acompañaron las privatizaciones, la dolarización y la firma del CAFTA-DR, jamás se cumplieron y en su lugar la pobreza, la violencia, el deterioro del medio ambiente y la corrupción se incrementaron.

A pocos meses de su aprobación la gran empresa privada y el gobierno de los Estados Unidos están presionando por introducir reformas en beneficio de los inversionistas, al respecto la Embajadora de los Estados Unidos en El Salvador, públicamente ha amenazado con detener el segundo compacto del FOMILENIO, si no se aprueban tales reformas.

Este chantaje viola la soberanía del pueblo salvadoreño. Son los y las salvadoreñas,  no el gobierno de los Estados Unidos, quienes deben  determinar la política económica de El Salvador. Por lo que ante las presiones externas de reformas a la Ley, es imprescindible que la Asamblea Legislativa reaccione y comprenda  que aprobar la ley fue un error, introducirle reformas es agravar el error.

Las comunidades del Bajo Lempa, una de las regiones del país, principalmente afectadas con este tipo de leyes, claramente han manifestado:

La ley de asocios público privados y El Fomilenio II, han sido diseñados a partir de los intereses políticos de Los Estados Unidos y como tal se convierten en instrumentos de manipulación y dominación de nuestro pueblo, al mismo tiempo que destruyen los recursos naturales y generan división y conflictos entre comunidades.  Además, expresan: Teniendo en cuenta que con la aprobación de la Ley de Asocios Público Privados todos los partidos políticos han perdido credibilidad, las organizaciones  y comunidades del Bajo Lempa reiteramos una vez más nuestra determinación a defender la vida y el territorio hasta las últimas consecuencias.

English Translation:

Approving the Public Private Partnership Law was a Mistake, Reforming the Law Will Only Make it Worse

Since the beginning of the Public-Private Partnership Law project, social organizations, unions, environmentalists, human rights organizations, and peasant (campesino) communities have rejected it. They believe the law will result in the control of important state services and assets by transnational corporations; increase in the costs of basic services; worse labor conditions; and lost income for the State.

During the Legislative Assembly’s debate of the issue, the political parties came to an agreement to at least protect various public goods from the law, including water, education, health, and the prisons. They also inserted mechanisms to give the Legislative Assembly a greater supervisory role in overseeing public-private partnerships. While these modifications were positive, they were insufficient to ensure that assets like the airport, ports, hydroelectric dams, highways, and others that belong to the Salvadoran people but are now subject to concessions with private, for-profit corporations. The most serious results could be occur with the selling off of the beaches, mangrove forests, and natural reserves, which are currently targeted for tourism projects.

With the approval of the P3 Law, El Salvador continues to implement the neoliberal agenda dictated by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and the government of the United States, which is the principal advisors and promoters of the law. The neoliberal policies have failed the people of Salvador in every sense – the promises of employment and economic growth that were to accompany privatization, dollarization, and the signing of the Free Trade Agreement have never materialized. In their place, poverty, violence, deteriorating environment, and corruption have all increased.

A few months after the approval of the P3 Law, large private corporations and the United States govenrment are pressuring the Legislative Assembly to adopt reforms to the law that will benefit investors. The U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, Mari Carmen Aponte, has threatened publicly to withhold the second round of funding from the Millennium Challenge Corporation if the Legislature does not pass the reforms.

This blackmail violates the sovereignty of the Salvadoran State and its people. Salvadorans, not the U.S. government, ought to be the ones who determine the economic policies of El Salvador. It is imparitive that the Legislative Assembly recognize these external pressures, and state that passing the law was a mistake in the first place, and introducing reforms would only compound previous errors.

The Communities of the Bajo Lempa, one of the regions of El Salvador most affected by these types of laws and the implementation of neoliberal policies, clearly states:

 The Public-Private Partnership Law and the second round of the Millennium Challenge Corporation have been designed to benefit the political and economic interests of the United States, an as such have been converted into a tool of manipulation and domination of our communities and people, while destroying our natural resources and generating conflict between communities. We also state that with regards to the adoption of the Public Private Partnership Law, all political parties have lost credibility, and the social organizations and communities of the Lower Lempa once again reiterate our determination to defend our life and territory to the end.  

Advocacy, U.S. Relations

Call to Action: U.S. Prevents Anti-Mining Activist from Testifying before 
Inter-American Human Rights Commission

On October 18, the United States Consulate in El Salvador refused to allow Hector Berríos to travel to Washington D.C. and appear before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IAHRC) to give testimony on mining-related violence in El Salvador.  He is the fourth anti-mining activist to be denied a travel visa to the United States th is month.  By denying Mr. Berríos the right to appear before the IAHRC, the U.S. is denying the people of El Salvador access to a justice system to which they are entitled to as a member country of the Organization of American States (OAS). Mr. Berríos is scheduled to appear before the IACHR on Monday, October 25 – please take action immediately!

TAKE ACTION TODAY! DEMAND THAT THE U.S. CONSULATE IMMEDIATELY AUTHORIZE HECTOR BERRÍOS’ TRAVEL VISA! See below for sample email and call script.

Background information: Mr. Berríos, who was victim to mining-related violence in 2009, is a member of the Francisco Sanchez 1932 Unified Movement (MUFRAS-32)—a member organization of the National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining in El Salvador.  He was invited by the OAS to give testimony before the IAHRC in a hearing entitled “Environmental Defenders in Danger: the situation in Mexico and Central America in the scope of the mining industry” that is scheduled for this Monday, October 25.  The anti-mining movement in El Salvador saw three of its activists murdered in 2009; death threats and kidnapping and murder attempts against activists, priests and journalists continue.

While material authors of the crimes have been arrested and even sentenced to prison time in a few of the cases, the Attorney General has not investigated the intellectual authors or the role played by mining companies like Pacific Rim.  Salvadoran and other Central American activists are turning to international courts and institutions like the IAHRC to seek justice, legal avenues which the U.S. is currently blocking by denying travel visas.

Send a message to the U.S. State Department  in Washington and San Salvador TODAY: The U.S. cannot block Salvador’s access to international bodies like the OAS!

1. Call Melanie Bonner at the El Salvador desk at the State Department (202) 647-4161. Sample script below.

2. Send an email to Consul General in San Salvador, Kathryn Cabral (congensansal@state.gov) and copy the El Salvador desk at the U.S. State Department (bonnerml@state.gov). Sample email below.

SAMPLE PHONE CALL:

Hello, my name is ______________.  I am very troubled to learn that the U.S. Consulate in San Salvador denied a travel visa to Mr. Hector Berríos, who was invited by the Organization of American States to give testimony before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission about the human rights situation of environmental defenders in El Salvador.  It is completely unacceptable for the U.S. government to deny Mr. Berríos the opportunity to denounce human rights violations just because the hearing is in Washington, DC. By denying this visa, the U.S. is effectively blocking El Salvador’s ability to participate in international organizations of which it is a member.  Will you call the Consul General today and ask her to immediately authorize a travel visa to Mr. Berríos so that he can travel to Washington, D.C. on Saturday, October 23, to appear in the IAHRC hearing scheduled for Monday, October 25?  Thank you.

SAMPLE EMAIL

Dear Ms. Cabral,

On Monday, October 18, U.S. Consulate in San Salvador denied a travel visa to Mr. Hector Antonio Garcia Berríos.  Mr. Berríos was invited by the Organization of American States to give testimony before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission during a hearing entitled, “Environmental Defenders in Danger: the situation in Mexico and Central America in the scope of the mining industry” which is scheduled for this Monday, October 25.

As I hope you know, the situation for environmental defenders in El Salvador is very serious; the anti-mining movement in El Salvador saw three of its activists murdered in 2009, death threats and kidnapping and murder attempts against activists, priests and journalists continue. Mr. Berríos has himself been the victim on mining-related violence, which is why he was nominated to provide testimony.

I understand that Mr. Berríos presented an invitation from the OAS during his interview, as well as sufficient evidence that he had strong ties that would bring him back to his country, including: proof of employment, property titles, and the birth certificate of his young daughter.

I am deeply concerned about this visa denial, especially because Mr. Berríos’ presented a strong application and official OAS invitation. This suggests that there is a political motivation behind the decision, especially as he the FOURTH environmentalist from the anti-mining movement who has been denied a travel visa to the U.S. for a speaking engagement in the past month. I plan to call this situation to the attention of the new Ambassador as well as my Congressional Representatives and Senators.

By denying this visa, the U.S. is blocking El Salvador’s ability to participate in international organizations of which it is a member. It is completely unacceptable for the U.S. government to take advantage of the commission’s location in Washington D.C. in order to deny Mr. Berríos the opportunity to denounce human rights violations happening in his country.

For these reasons, I ask you to immediately authorize a travel visa to Mr. Berríos so that he can travel to Washington D.C. on Saturday, October 23, to appear in the IAHRC hearing scheduled for Monday, October 25.

Sincerely,

[Your name and address]

Thanks to CISPES for organizing this action and for your involvement!

Advocacy, Environment, U.S. Relations

Hector Berrios Denied a Visa, and Opportunity to Speak Before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

Hector Berrios, an attorney in San Isidro, Cabañas, forwarded us a letter he wrote yesterday to staff at the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) in Washington DC. Hector applied for a visa to visit the United States to participate in an October 25th meeting with the Inter-American Court on Human Rights . Though Hector had all of the required documentation, including invitations from CIEL and the Organization of American States, he was denied a visa, preventing him from testifying. As Hector points out, his is not the only application to be denied; other activists from Cabañas have also been prevented from coming to the United States to participate in the meeting.

Hosting institutions such as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the OAS, and many others, carries with it an obligation to give people access. The U.S. should not use the visa hurdle as a way to regulate who has a voice.

With Hector’s permission, we’ve translated and posted his letter in its entirety:

Dear Sofia Splagakis,

I would like to inform you that this morning I presented myself at the US embassy in El Salvador in accordance with the appointment scheduled by the embassy. At the moment of the interview, the consular officer asked me for a variety of documentation.  She asked that I present a US visa, which has been valid for the last 10 years and previously authorized by the embassy. She also asked that I present the Invitation letter from the Organization of American States (OAS), and the letter from the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL). I noticed that the consular official glanced over the OAS letter and put it aside, whereas she carefully examined the letter from CIEL. After that, she began to type on her computer—transcribing the facts from the CIEL letter. A moment later she excused herself (taking the CIEL letter). From her actions I concluded that she went to consult with someone in regard to the CIEL letter, since that was the only document she took with her.

When she returned she asked me if I had any properties in my name. I said yes, and showed her the deed to my house with my name clearly written. Next she asked me for proof of my salary, and I gave her the documentation, showing a monthly salary of $1500. She asked me about my profession and I responded that I am an attorney, while showing her the respective documentation.  She asked about my bank accounts, and I presented her proof of two bank accounts in my name with a total available balance of $2100. She asked if I was married and if I had children, to which I responded yes. She asked if I have family in the United States and if so, what is their immigration status. I responded that my Father is a permanent resident and my two brothers are US citizens. She asked me where they live and I said in Los Angeles. She asked about my destination in the US, and I told her that I would travel to Washington, DC for a meeting with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Finally, she apologized and said that she was not able to approve the visa this time. I provided all the necessary documentation to receive a visa to travel to the US, but my request to participate in the meeting with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on October 25, 2010 was arbitrarily refused.  I believe that the US Congress, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and the Organization of American States should promptly examine what is happening to people in El Salvador that are involved in the issues of mining exploitation and its relation with the Central American Free Trade Agreement and wish to travel to the United States.  I am not the only person that has encountered this type of discrimination; 10 days ago, the visa request of Zenayda Serrando was denied, as was that of Father Neftaly Ruiz. Both Zenayda Serrando and Father Ruiz were invited by members of the US Congress to discuss the mining issue.

This type of negative attitude and obstruction of the people’s justice by the US consular officers is the result of the policy of the US embassy in El Salvador. It should be publicly reported that the embassy is obstructing access to justice for the people of El Salvador that want to make complaints in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inter-American_Commission_on_Human_Rights), which is part of the Inter-American System of Human Rights.  They are taking advantage of the fact that the organization is headquartered in Washington, DC (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washington,_D.C.) by prohibiting access to this event, and obstructing the people’s justice. These people are part of the signing states of the Organization of American States, which is a regional organization with the objective of serving as a public forum for multilateral dialogs, regional integration, and decision making in the American arena.  The organization works to fortify peace and security, consolidate democracy, and protect human rights (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rights) in the Americas. I await your response.

Sincerely,

Héctor Berríos

We will be following up on this issue in the coming days.