Advocacy, Climate Change, El Salvador Government

Communities still demand reconstruction in the Lower Lempa

This is a translation of Contrapunto‘s February 13th note about our partners in the Lower Lempa.

By Gloria Morán

Photo: Luis Veláquez

San Salvador – It has been two months since the Salvadoran President, Mauricio Funes, promised to invest around 21 million dollars for the reconstruction efforts in the Lower Lempa.  Today, representatives from the region are denouncing the failure to fulfill this promise.

On December 19th Funes made this promise, just after the Lower Lempa had suffered the some of the worst impacts of Tropical Storm 12E in October 2011.  “The first priority is the recovery of the levees along the shores of the Lempa River; then the rehabilitation of the drainage ditches, and the construction of two permanent shelters that can provide security and hygiene should future evacuations prove necessary”, announced Funes to local residents in December.

At that moment the Salvadoran representative assumed, with authority, the reconstruction as part of the historic debt owed to the residents of the Lower Lempa, noting that they had discover drainage systems that hadn’t been maintained in over 30 years.

Of these promises, Gilberto Berríos of United Communities (ACUDESBAL), assured us that “of that promised, still nothing has been done”.  The residents of the Lower Lempa, above all, ask that the government repair and rebuild the damaged levees as quickly as possible.  They also demand that they begin the cleaning and rehabilitation of the drainage system and the reconstruction of the main roads that were washed out.  They also insist that the hydroelectric company, CEL, establishes a protocol for discharges so that the residents know when they will release the water, and how much.

They also request that the government create an integral plan to provide health, education, and basic services to the local population; not just reconstruction.  “What is happening now, since nothing is being repaired, is that we are preparing for another flood”, said Maritza Hernández, another representative from the Lower Lempa, who affirmed that time is their worst enemy.

José Acosta, representative in the Lower Lempa for the Center for Appropriate Technology (CESTA), expalined that the greatest worry of the communities is the imminent arrival of the rainy season [around May], and there has been no progress.  Berríos explained that they have seen the contractors who are responsible for the reconstruction in the region, but they have only cleaned-up and marked-off the areas where “we suppose they plan on doing some work, but this is insufficient”.

The representatives of the communities expressed that this is nothing new.  They have been waiting 13 years since Hurricane Mitch and the levees are still incomplete.

According to the surveys done by organizations in the region, 29 communities have been directly affected, of about 2,000 families. [in Jiquilisco]

In regards to the unfulfilled promises made by the president, the head of the Human Rights Ombudsman’s office (PDDH), Oscar Luna, said that as an institution they are requesting the necessary measures so that the residents of the Lower Lempa and other communities receive the help they need in so far as rehabilitation and reconstruction.

Voices note:

The promises made on December 19th by President Funes were considerably more modest than those announced just 3 days after Tropical Storm 12E.  On October 20th, Funes flew into the offices of the Mangle Association in the Lower Lempa and declared that the government and the CEL hydroelectric company would build levees, clean the drainage system, build shelters and dredge the Lempa River.  He also emphasized the government’s interest in establishing the Lower Lempa as a key region for agricultural development in El Salvador, as well as the their commitment to an integral risk management policy.  On November 15th Funes reiterated these promises, even going on to explain that the CEL wanted to just repair a few of the levees, but he had ordered them to include all of the communities, especially along the Tecoluca side of the river. According to a delegation of German Engineers from 2003, it would cost about 400 million dollars to complete all levees, drains, and to dredge the river.  The 21 million that the CEL and the Salvadoran government finally signed off on is really just another band-aid on an increasingly compromised infrastructure.  If the contractors continue the ‘reconstruction’ effort at this pace, the effort will certainly be of little use in the Lower Lempa.

Cabanas, Mining

A new attack against Cabañas Anti Mining Activists

The secretary of the Cabañas Environmental Committee, Neftali Ruíz, was the latest victim of violence and theft this past Friday.  Several young men tied him up in his home and proceeded to search his home, computer files, and cell phones for information and supposed weapons.  This morning Father Neftali, David Pereira, and Bishop Sol held a press conference at the CRIPDES office in San Salvador.  Please read here for a translation of the press release and links to video of the press conference.

Advocacy, Climate Change, Corruption, Disasters

Rains continue, flood waters recede in the Lower Lempa

Today community members report renewed access to San Marcos Lempa via the ‘paved’ road.  Many sections are washed out or still covered with a few inches of water, but smaller vehicles are now able to enter the communities.

Families from less directly affected communities such as Amando López and Octavio Ortiz are anxious to return to their homes, but Voices staff and other authorities are urging them to stay while the rain still falls.  It has been raining without pause throughout the country since the early hours of this morning.

ACUDESBAL (the local inter-communal association) and CESTA (an environmental NGO) published a press release denouncing the role of the September 15th hydroelectric dam in the near total devestation of many communities in the Lower Lempa.  The release says “During this climatic phenomena, the CEL again released 11,500 cubic meters per second, but unlike Hurricane Mitch, this amount of water was released for a prolonged period of time, and the river bed is more clogged [than in ’98’], which caused flooding from San Marcos Lempa all the way down to Montecristo Island”.  The release demands that CEL accept responsibility for their negligence, especially after an interview with the CEL president Irving Tochez, where he claims that CEL is in no way responsible for the devestation, but rather mitigated further disaster by ‘helping to retain water and releasing it in a controlled manner’.

They end by stating ” the road to recovery will be extremely difficult, but we know we can count on the support and solidarity among the organized communities, here and abroad”.

Advocacy, Climate Change, Disasters, Food Security, Hydro Electric Dams

Pictures of Evacuations and Shelters in Jiquilisco, Monday & Tuesday

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Advocacy, Disasters

Crisis in El Salvador! Please Help Now

The situation here in El Salvador has become truly critical in the past 24 hours.  The number of evacuated persons has risen to at least 13,878 and Civil Protection continues to call for more.  In the past 12 hours over 200 ml (approximately 8 inches) of rain fell nation wide, and the death toll has risen to at least 27 people.  Many roads are now impassable due to flooded rivers and creeks, as well as land slides.  Civil Protection has registered 590 land slides, 472 damaged or destroyed homes, and 998 homes in grave risk.

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We cannot stress enough the devastation that has occurred over the past 72 hours.  The entire country is on red alert, frantically trying to get basic necessities to shelters and communities around the country.

In the Lower Lempa the CEL is currently releasing 8000 cubic meters of water per second, levels not seen since Hurricane Mitch in 1998.  The levees are already seriously compromised and the Mayor  of Jiquilisco is calling for a complete evacuation of the Lower Lempa, as ordered by Civil Protection.  The Salvadoran Navy and Armed Forces has dispached boats and vehicles to help facilitate evacuations.

We at Voices are working with the Civil Protection Central Command out of Ciudad Romero. They have asked us, for right now, to provide support to the shelters in Amando Lopez and Comunidad Octavio Ortiz, which we are doing. This afternoon, Civil Protection is evacuating the Amando Lopez Shelter, which is at capacity. As the Rio Lempa continues to rise through the afternoon and into the evening, we expect that the numerous families that have so far not evacuated to make their way to the Amando Lopez shelter, and they will need our support. We will also continue assisting the evacuees as they move to the shelter in San Marcos. Right now we are focused on the basics: food, clothing, and shelter.

Again, if you have not donated for this emergency, we urge you to do so.  This weather is projected to last into the coming week, and any and all aid is urgent and necessary.  Also we have noticed that there is a lack of coverage in the international press – please help spread the word!

We are making a wire transfer to the communities tomorrow morning, so please help tonight by clicking on the Donate Now button to the right of this page. No amount is too small or big.

And please share this bolg post with your friends and Family on Facebook

Climate Change, Disasters, El Salvador Government, Food Security

Flood Update – Saturday, October 15th

Rain continues to fall in El Salvador and our partners in the Lower Lempa region of Jiquilisco, Usulután are flooded out. They face a double threat: 1) massive rainfalls that have no where drain, and 2) the Lempa River which has busted through and is flowing over the levees.

Here is a short slideshow of photos taken Thursday night and Friday in the Lempa.

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Here are the latest numbers from the community evacuation shelters:

Ciudad Romero – 82 people
Zanmorano (mostly evacuees from Nueva Esperanza) – 150 people
El Marillo – 78 people
Amando Lopez – 150 people
Jiquilisco – 99 people
Las Mesitas – 114 people
Isla de Mendez – 47 people
Comunidad Octavio Ortiz – 8 families

The September 15th Dam, which is just upriver from the Lower Lempa, is currently releasing water at a rate of 3000 cm/sec, which is lower than the 5500 cm/sec earlier in the week, but still high. Civil Protection officials are warning that the release rate may go back up above 5000 later today because of the large amounts of rain that continues to fall throughout El Salvador and Guatemala and drains to the Lempa River.

There are four large holes in the levees that protect the communities, so even with the lower flow rates from the dam, water continues to pour inland.

The good news is that all of the work over the past two years to better coordinate rescue efforts has paid off and all of the different government agencies and international organizations are working closer together to serve the needs of those affected.

But the needs are great and Central Command has asked that we help take care of the needs at community shelters such as the one Amando Lopez. The other day Voices set out to raise $3000 to help the shelters and so far we raised only $1300, $800 of which we just used to purchase small mattresses for the Amando Lopez shelter where people have been sleeping on the floor. We are also buying general supplies for the shelters.

The $1300 we’ve raised so far is providing great benefit, but the needs are tremendous at this point, and we ask that if you haven’t already given, please go to our website ( or blog ( and click on the Donate Now button. Even easier – here is the URL for our Network for Good page – cut and past that into your browser… Its easy and just takes a second.

We ask one other thing – please send this update to your friends and family and ask them to also make a donation – no contribution is too small.

Your donation is not going to a large Institution with high overhead – it going directly to the communities where the needs are.

News Highlights, Sports

Beach Soccer Team from Jiquilisco Bay takes on the World Cup

Wilber Alvarado

Fishermen from two small mangrove islands took fourth place in the World Cup for beach soccer. The Azul Playera hails from La Pirraya and Rancho Vieja, where they started training in professional beach soccer seven years ago.  Sunday, after a close game against Portugal, they ended their incredible tour in Ravenna, Italy.

It began in 2004, when Israel Cruz began organizing a soccer league with poor fishing families in San Dionisio, Usulután. While the mud and thorns of the mangrove forest made it hard to practice in the community, he quickly realized the kids played very well in the sand at the beach. So Mr. Cruz organized the community and the players to haul sand up from the bay to cover the field and started holding tournaments.

He soon met some of the team’s stars; Roberto Membreño and Wilber Zavala in Rancho Viejo, and Augustín ‘Tín’ Ruiz, Tomás Hernandez, and Medardo Lobo in La Pirraya. Israel Cruz remembers the first tournaments that the team travelled to. In one incident, ‘Tín’ got carsickness on the way to the nearby beaches of La Libertad.  The anxiety of that experience led him to cut up his passport so that he wouldn’t have to travel to the 2007 elimination rounds in Acapulco, Mexico.

Today their passports are filled with stamps from Spain, Dubai, and Italy. After defeating Oman and Argentina, they classified for the final round with their victory over Italy. Only losses against Russia and then Portugal left them in fourth place – a historic achievement for Salvadoran soccer.

Now the team returns to La Pirraya and Rancho Vieja, where the majority of families survive off of fishing, digging clams from banks of mud in the bay, or transporting neighbors to and from the mainland. Sigfrido Reyes, the President of the Legislative Assembly, has already fielded questions about what, if any, economic aid will be given to these new ‘National Heroes.’

According to an article in El Mundo, the National Sports Institute promised the communities new boats and motors. But a month has gone by and the boats and motors have not materialized. Today, ARENA and FMLN have asked the Legislative Assembly to guarantee these incentives.

El Salvador Government, Elections 2012

Three Weeks Left to Register to Vote in El Salvador: 57,310 New Voters Oblivious of Deadline

The National Registrar (CNR) and Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) are scrambling to get 98.2% of new voters to register before September 12th when, according to the electoral calendar, the window for registration closes.  These new voters are all youth born between September 12th and March 11th, 1994 and will be turning 18 before the March 11th, 2012 elections.

This is an even larger challenge for the government institutions because the Legislative Assembly has yet to approve the electoral budget.  The funds would allow the TSE, the CNR and the different political parties to campaign for voter registration and trainings about the new electoral reforms.  The Assembly only passed the ballot reforms two weeks ago, and they are still negotiating reforms for Independent Candidates.

This morning, Voices on the Border attended a meeting between civil society organizations and representatives from the TSE and CNR.  The President of the TSE, Eugenio Chicas, said it’s too late now for them to effectively reach out to new voters, since these campaigns take at least 3 months to carry out.  Instead, the strategy is to rely on Churches and Non Governmental Organizations to help inform Salvadoran youth.  This Saturday the TSE and CNR will also be tabling at a National Youth Convention in San Salvador.

Voices Developments

Matching Grant Opportunity

We at Voices on the Border have been blogging about current events in El Salvador for over 2 years. With a strong network of partners throughout the country, we hear interesting news and analysis that we like to share with our friends in the international community.

A few weeks ago, for example, we posted about a group of soldiers that killed two Salvadorans in a shooting that took place across the border in Honduras. The media reported that the shooting took place in El Salvador, but our friends from Morazán who witnessed the shooting told a much different story – and they asked that we write up their account.

Our readership has grown over the past couple years to include subscribers from across the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Central America. Blogging, however, is only a small part of what we do, and we want to take a moment to talk about who we are and what we’re up to this year. We also want to announce a matching grant opportunity for new donors that will last through the end of March – a generous donor is matching the first $2000 that we raise through the end of March! Please, keep reading about what we’re up to this year and help us reach our goal of $2000.

Voices on the Border is a US-based nonprofit organization that promotes just and sustainable development in El Salvador. We work through partner communities in Morazán and the Lower Lempa region of Jiquilisco, Usulután, and numerous other partners in U.S. cities such as Charlotte NC, Buffalo NY, Erie PA, the South San Francisco Bay Area in Northern California, and others. We also partner with Gannon University, the University of New Mexico, George Washington University, and other academic institutions. Some of our partnerships date back to the refugee camps in Colomoncagua, Honduras where we provided material and political support for those escaping the country’s brutal, 12-year civil war.

This year we have a variety of activities planned with our partners, including the following:

Amando Lopez Forest Preserve: The community of Amando Lopez in the Lower Lempa of Jiquilisco, Usulután has a section of forest that is threatened by loggers and farmers. This forest is unique for its biodiversity and location along the Lempa River. We are helping the community board secure protective status for the forest and develop a forest management plan. With a grant from the Flora Family Foundation, in 2011 we will help the community develop the organizational capacity to manage and protect the forest.

ASPS Health Promoters: With South Bay Sanctuary Covenant and Horizons of Friendship, we fund several ASPS health promoters in the Lower Lempa in Ciudad Romero, Angela Montano and Comunidad Octavio Ortiz. The health promoters coordinate with the government-run clinics and provide health education, organize health committees, and participate in a variety of advocacy campaigns.

Rescue Squad Training – Along with the George Washington University Institute of Emergency Medicine, we are providing a series of trainings that will improve the ability of civil protection teams in the Lower Lempa to prepare for and respond to disasters and emergencies. Communities in the region are subject to annual floods, as well as earthquakes and other emergencies.

Reproductive Health Education: We are partnering with students from the University of New Mexico School of Medicine to improve access to reproductive and sexual health education in the Lower Lempa. The UNM medical students are coordinating with the ASPS health promoters, local schools, and others to empower youth with the information they need to better protect their reproductive health.

Comunidad Octavio Ortiz (C.O.O) Irrigation Project: With funding from the South Bay Sanctuary Covenant, Voices’ staff and the community board are helping farmers in C.O.O. develop and install the irrigation systems they need to produce corn and other crops in the dry season. After near total crop loss in 2010, irrigation systems will help reduce the vulnerability they have faced from floods and drought.

Women’s Communal Association of Morazán: We are identifying new ways to strengthen our relationship with the Community Association of Women from Morazán, which is a 150-member not-for-profit organization that serves Perquin, San Fernando, Torola, Jocoaitique, and Arambala.  They offer legal advice and mental health services, work against domestic violence and child abandonment, support the development of small businesses and provide help with agricultural diversification.  Voices looks forward to continuing our work with this great organization. 

These are only a few of the activities that we will be working on this year. If you are already one of our partners, we are grateful for your continued support.

If you follow our blog, but have not otherwise become involved, now is a great time to start. A generous donor is matching all gifts made by first-time donors, up to $2000 between now and the end of March! The money we raise will go directly to making these projects possible. Click here to donate!

Corruption, News Highlights, violence

Rumors Bring El Salvador to a Standstill

September 7th

Due to threats yesterday, public bus service and a large percentage of businesses ceased all activities today.  Threats were largely rumored, and the police captured six young men who were passing out flyers that expressed the threat on behalf of the M-18.

Buses that operated despite the threats in the morning were further threatened over the phone and by mid-day there was virtually no bus service nationwide.  Informal commercial sectors appeared abandoned, especially in the center of San Salvador, Soyapango, Ilopango, and San Miguel.

In a press conference this afternoon the PNC reported incidents of buses being taken hostage and burnt in Ahuachapan and in Chalchuapa.  Only the drivers and fare collectors were aboard and no one was killed.  A police vehicle was also attacked with a M-67 grenade, and PNC agents captured two suspects immediately after the incident.  A school in San Martin was also closed upon the discovery of a decapitated head in the surrounding area.  Carlos Ascencio, the National Police Chief, reminded the public that these events are not unlike what they see on any other day.

The PNC and Armed Forces mobilized 3,500 agents initially, and reported an increase of another 1,000 agents.  Helicopters were also observed circling through out the day.

Bus owners claim that the strike is indefinite.  The government plans to activate a contingency plan to provide public transportation if the buses do not resume service tomorrow, with military and police agents on every unit of transportation. They are urging the population to continue their routines as normal.

Manuel Melgar, the Minister of Public Security, reported that they consider these threats to be related to the recent capture of over 10 million dollars in cash un-earthed in barrels in Zacatecoluca.  Others have also attributed the threats to the passage of the new Anti-Gang law.

September 8th Update:

While the partial bus strike continues for the second day, the government continues to increase police and military presence.  The Minister of Public Security, Manuel Melgar, reported 3,500 PNC agents on patrol and the Minister of Defense, David Munguía Payés reported that another 2,000 army personnel have also been mobilized.  Many civilians are relying upon transportation provided by the military and PNC.

Yesterday, the legislative assembly approved the modification of article 347-A of the Penal Code, to increase jail time for persons caught providing arms to gang members.

The prison sub-director, Nelson Rauda, also confirmed ‘rebellions’ by inmates in six different jails.

September 9th Update

As discussed by the bus associations yesterday, today is the third and final day of the bus strikes.  The representative of FECOATRANS, Catalino Miranda, expected to see about 70% of the buses operating as normal by the end of the day.  The police and military trucks are also providing transportation.

The PNC also reported a drop in homicides over the past 3 days.  Nationally, nine homicides were reported on Tuesday (the same as the daily average so far this year), yesterday there were four, and so far today none have been reported.  Yesterday afternoon another M-67 grenade was thrown at a PNC check point in Mejicanos.  No one was injured.  The PNC and the press are highly publicizing the 50 arrests that have been made in the past three days, mostly for young men passing out flyers that threatened informal vendors and bus drivers.  The largest sweep captured 17 young men in Guacotecti, Cabañas for ‘illicit association, possession, and unlicensed weapons’.

Meanwhile, Douglas Moreno, the General Prison Director, has declared emergencies in five prison facilities.  Inmates have declared themselves in ‘rebellion’ and have increased inter-inmate violence and also towards guards.  30 people have been injured.  Moreno has called for the intervention of the UMO (the Order Maintenance Unit) and five days of cell confinement for the prisoners.

Supposed representatives of the MS-13 and M-18 gangs sent out a press release via e-mail yesterday afternoon.  The release apologized for the inconvenience, but that they are seeking a way to be heard by the current administration.  They demand a space for dialogue, a presidential veto of the new anti-gang law, and better conditions for the incarcerated.  Government officials either reserved comment or emphasized the importance of following through on the new legislation.  PNC director Carlos Ascencio said the law would specifically target gang leadership.