ISTA Representatives Meet With Communities in the Lower Lempa to Discuss Land Titles

Nicolle Katrivanos,* San Salvador – On Saturday, October 24th, the Association of the United Communities for Economic and Social Development of the Lower Lempa (ACUDESBAL) hosted a meeting between the Salvadoran Institute of Agrarian Transformation (ISTA) and representatives from 29 communities in the region.  The meeting permitted citizens of the Lower Lempa to address land-use issues with ISTA, which oversees the implementation of land reform in El Salvador. Over 100 campesinos attended the meeting to voice their concerns and provide support to their neighbors. 

The majority of those in attendance expressed concerns about land titles, appraisal of their land, and fraud. As is the case all over El Salvador, many farmers have possession of their land, but do not have a proper title.  When the government redistributed land following the 1980 Agrarian Land Reform Act and the 1992 Peace Accords, many received a plot of land, but not a title.  Nationally, 116,000 landowners have requested a title to their land, and are waiting for ISTA to respond.  This has been an important issue for the new Funes Administration, which issued 3212 titles in its first 100 days, according the to the ISTA website.  Without title to their land, campesinos are under a constant threat that either a private company or a government entity will challenge their right to their land. Numerous studies over the years have also shown the obvious – that if people do not have a title, they are much less likely to invest their limited resources to improve the land that the live on, limiting their economic opportunities and stifling national productivity.

Other campesinos have a proper title to their land, but still have trouble proving what land is there’s when challenged. Still others in the Lower Lempa have been victims of fraud.  Individuals posing as ISTA representatives have been collecting fees from campesinos in exchange for land they have no authority to distribute.

ISTA representatives at the meeting included its president, regional officer, and a general officer, who all documented comments and concerns voiced by the attendees, and responded directly to each one.  They acknowledged that for the past 20 years, the needs of the campesinos have been set aside, and that they would vindicate their struggle. They stressed that their goal is to distribute land in an objective, transparent, and responsible manner, cautioning that the process would be long.  ISTA representatives also encouraged campesinos to take legal action against individuals perpetrating fraud, assuring them they would support their cases.

In general, the attendees left the meeting satisfied with their interaction with ISTA officials. Participation in the discussion was strong and attendees came prepared with tough questions, and ISTA representatives responded in a productive manner. Meetings are a beginning, but residents of the Lower Lempa said they would save their excitement and optimism until they had secure titles to their land.

*Nicolle Katrivanos is a new Voices volunteer from Maryland who will spend the next 5-6 weeks living in San Salvador and reporting on development issues throughout the country.

Advocacy, Environment

The Second March for Life / La Segunda Caminata por La Vida

Below is the press release for the 2nd March for Life (Feb23-27), organized by the National Movement of Communities Affected by Flooding.

A todos los hermanos y hermanas solidarios/as a los organismos nacionales e internacionales por medio de la presente les comunicamos lo siguiente:

Las 250 comunidades habitadas por 12,000 familias y más de 65,000 personas que vivimos en las zonas bajas de los ríos Lempa, Paz, Jiboa y Grande de San Miguel, este lunes 23 de febrero iniciamos La Segunda Caminata por La Vida, desde el Puente de oro a la altura de San Marcos Lempa con destino a San Salvador para dar a conocer lo siguiente:

1 Que fenómenos como el Huracán Mitch, la tormenta Stan y otros, han provocado serios impactos económicos, medio ambientales y sociales de los cuales aún no terminamos de reponernos.

2. Que nuestras parcelas, viviendas, escuelas, pozos o fuentes de agua, calles y otra infraestructura existente es el único patrimonio que tenemos.

3. Que las amenazas de inundaciones siguen vigentes durante la época de lluvia, ya que las “obras de protección” realizadas son insuficientes, defectuosas e inconclusas y sin ningún mantenimiento, y esto hace a nuestras comunidades altamente vulnerables.

4. Que cuando las inundaciones se presentan soportamos la pérdida de nuestros cultivos agrícolas, animales domésticos, enseres del hogar y herramientas de producción, lo que incrementa la crisis económica y el hambre de nuestras familias, estancando nuestro proceso de un verdadero desarrollo, además de tener serios impactos en la salud, principalmente de niños, niñas y personas de la tercera edad.

Y ante esta realidad, respetuosamente demandamos al gobierno:

a) Que la Comisión de Economía y Agricultura supervise el trabajo de construcción y mantenimiento que se ejecuta con el préstamo 1102-OCE-ES, por un monto de 8 millones de dólares, con el acompañamiento de una comisión del Movimiento Nacional de las Comunidades Rurales Afectadas por las Inundaciones.

b) Que los resultados de la ejecución de las obras sean dados a conocer en un informe a las comunidades en forma directa y a través de los medios de comunicación.

c) Que en el presupuesto de la Nación se establezca una partida especial para que el Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería cuente con recursos para finalizar las bordas, sistemas de drenaje y caminos internos de las cuencas bajas de los ríos: Lempa, Paz, Jiboa y Grande de San Miguel.

d) Que se asegure el mantenimiento permanente de las obras reparadas o construidas.

e) Que se haga un manejo responsable de las presas hidroeléctricas ubicadas sobre el río Lempa, priorizando la protección de las personas y comunidades ubicadas en las riberas de dichos ríos.

f) Que se evite la construcción de nuevas represas, así como la implementación de proyectos mineros

Movimiento de Comunidades Afectadas por Inundaciones

24 de febrero de 2009


We Need Levees!

Every year, communities throughout El Salvador suffer the consequences of preventable disasters such as flooding. But when community leaders and citizens approach their local or national government with proposals to mitigate the risks of such disasters, they are often met with the same refrain: “It’s not in the budget.”

Communities in the coastal areas of four of El Salvador’s major rivers (Rio Lempa, Rio Grande, Rio Jiboa, and Rio Paz) are taking a more proactive approach by getting involved in the budget-making process. Earlier this year, leaders and representatives from these flood-prone regions are leading a campaign to ensure that government officials make sure the funds for levees and other infrastructure projects ARE in the budget. Their timing is pretty good – with local and national elections just months away, politicians are in the mood to pander.

At an open meeting in July, representatives from communities in the four river basins compared their levee systems and what their communities need to minimize the risk of flooding. They reported the following:

Rio Grande (Usulutan):

In 1935, the Salvadoran government built 9 km (5.6 mi) of levee, all of which is currently in a state of serious deterioration.

In 2008, the Ministry of Agriculture and Cattle (MAG) built only 1 km of levee; divided between the two shores.

Rio Lempa (San Vicente and Usulutan)

Tecoluca, San Vicente (Western shore)

In 1998, MAG built 27 km (16.7 mi) of levee, which have all deteriorated.

In 2006, MAG repaired 150 meters (492 feet) of levee washed out after Tropical Storm Stan in 2005.

In 2008 MAG repaired another kilometer near the mouth of the river, but failed to rehabilitate several drains as had been planned.

Jiquilisco, Usulutan (Eastern shore)

In 1998, the government built 27.5 km (17 mi) of levee, which has deteriorated. The contractor was also to construct another 9.9 km (6.6 miles) in the central area of the levee system, but never did. MAG successfully sued the contractor for breach of contract, but they have not reported whether they have recovered the lost funding, and they have yet to allocate funds to complete the undone work.

In 2006, MAG reconstructed approximately 150 meters of the levee washed away by Tropical Storm Stan.

In 2008, MAG reconstructed 1 km of deteriorated levee and constructed another km of levee of the 9.9 km section in the Namcuchiname forest that was left incomplete in 1998. The ministry also rehabilitated several drains.

Rio Jiboa (Usulutan)

In 2008, MAG built 5.7 km (3.5 mi) of levee.

In June 2008, Mayor Carlos Ramos filed suit against a private contractor for illegally hauling sand and rock from the riverbed and shores of Rio Jiboa, making the area more prone to flooding. Un-regulated excavation has caused much destruction and instability for several years despite community efforts to prevent it.

Rio Paz (Auachapan)

In 2005, Tropical Storm Stan caused great damage to the levees.

In 2008, MAG rebuilt 1 km of the levee, but did not repair or rebuild any other sections.

Local communities will be at a much higher risk of flooding if proposed hydroelectric dams along the tributaries are constructed.

These accounts highlight how little the government has done over the years to address the very basic but necessary infrastructure needs of these marginalized and vulnerable communities. The government’s actions to date have been limited and done little to mitigate the risks of disaster. If their inaction was not enough, government officials have permitted the construction of hydroelectric dams that often collect and release water in a manner that causes unnecessary flooding in downstream communities. The government has also failed to enforce environmental laws against private companies such as Cessa – the largest cement producer in Central America – that excavate sand and rock from riverbanks, taking away the first line of defense against flooding.

Past advocacy efforts have proven successful. The communities of the Lower region of the Lower Lempa have been consistent in their demands that the government complete their system of levees. Their efforts have paid off; communities in the Lower Lempa have benefited from more infrastructure projects than any of the other regions now in the coalition. Among their efforts, communities organized the March for Life in 2003, in which citizens marched 70 miles from the Lower Lempa to San Salvador in five days to draw attention to the government’s failure to complete their levees and drainage ditches. The March for Life drew international attention and was successful in pressuring the MAG to continue its work on the levees.

The coalition is organizing another march for November 2008. This time they are marching not on behalf of one region, but for all four river basins vulnerable to flooding in El Salvador. The march will be a national call to action, serving notice to government officials that they must serve all Salvadorans or risk losing their office in the upcoming elections.