El Salvador urged to declare environmental health emergency in Jiquilisco Bay

By Stephanie Williamson, ENCA Newsletter No.54, November 2011

The southern zone of Jiquilisco Bay has become the country’s priority concern for human health and environmental protection due to critical levels of contamination in the watercourses and saltwater mangrove swamps. A year ago health authorities were alerted to very high incidence of kidney disease, following a survey conducted by Cuban renal experts. The survey found that 11 out of every 100 inhabitants in the Jiquilisco and Bajo Lempa areas suffer chronic renal health problems and that the incidence is particularly high among men. This compares with an incidence rate of 2 per 100 in other countries. There are suspicions that the problem may be related to contamination of water sources, including wells, by insecticides and herbicides used in cotton production decades ago. The Mayor of Jiquilisco has called for the government to declare the zone a state of emergency so that all relevant government agencies prioritise efforts to address the health problems.

The Salvadoran Waterworks Board and the Ministry of Environment are working together to provide clean drinking water as a first step. Locals are demanding a water treatment plant to be set up as they fear that many of the artisanal wells used by rural communities may be contaminated.

The Jiquilisco Bay is one of the jewels of El Salvador’s ecological crown, providing home to over 1,500 species of animals and plants, and serving as an important wetlands for migratory birds. The Bay and its 18,000 hectares of mangroves, the most extensive in all Central America’s Pacific coast, have been declared an international RAMSAR site and Biosphere Reserve. José Acosta from the Salvadoran Centre for Appropriate Technology believes the Bay area deserves permanent special attention and should become a fully protected ecological reserve.

An independent Salvadoran research unit has now detected residues of 10 prohibited pesticides in water samples and evidence that empty pesticide drums are being used to store water for drinking purposes for humans and cattle. The expanding sugarcane cultivation is being blamed for a current wave of pesticide contamination, with run-off draining into the mangrove forests. Ecosystem degradation, along with deforestation by the large-scale shrimp farming industry, has led to an 80 per cent reduction in mangroves in recent years.

So far in 2011 the authorities have distributed 4,000 household water filter units and have submitted for presidential approval plans for a larger programme for drinking water supply. The government awaits news of a US$5 million World Bank project to restore ecological health in Jiquilisco and support employment and local fishing livelihoods.


Sources:
‘El Salvador: Bahía de Jiquilisco con residuos de plaguicidas’, La Prensa Gráfica, 7th October 2010.
‘ANDA en busca de solución de corto plazo’, La Prensa Gráfica, 7th March 2011.
‘Pobladores y autoridades preocupados por casos de deficiencia renal en Jiquilisco’, La Pagina.com 8th August 2011.

La resistencia maya a la concesión privada de los ríos ve la luz en Guatemala: Revista de ‘Liberemos Nuestros Ríos’ por Madre Selva

Publicado 14 de Marzo 2018 por ACAFREMIN (Alianza Centroamericana Frente a la Minería). 
Les estamos agradecidos a ACAFREMIN por el derecho de reproducir el artículo aquí.

El colectivo guatemalteco ecologista Madre Selva publicó hoy un libro en el que narra la resistencia de las comunidades mayas Q’eqchi’ de Santa María Cahabón, en el departamento norteño de Alta Verapaz, a los proyectos hidroeléctricos Oxec y Oxec II.

La obra, titulada ‘Liberemos Nuestros Ríos’ y editada por la investigadora Simona Violetta Yagenova, tiene como objetivo “nutrir” a la población guatemalteca sobre la oposición a la ‘concesión privada de los ríos’ con énfasis en el proceso de ‘defensa’ que han realizado las comunidades aledañas para impedir que se desarrollen los proyectos en los ríos Cahabón y su afluente Oxec. El libro, que contó con el apoyo de la Fundación Hienrich Böll Stiftung, realiza un análisis histórico de la ‘lucha social’ de los dos proyectos hidroeléctricos.

Ambos pertenecen al grupo Energy Resources Capital Corp., registrado en Panamá, y obtuvieron la autorización definitiva para operar del Ministerio de Energía y Minas el 7 de agosto de 2013 y el 12 de febrero de 2015 para Oxec I y Oxec II, respectivamente.

La investigación narra cómo desde el año 2012 al 2015 la población de Santa María Cahabón habría sufrido asesinatos y desalojos a pobladores de la comunidad, así como el encarcelamiento de algunos de sus líderes que se opusieron a la instalación de dichos proyectos.

Fotografia por: latrillamediosindependientes.blogspot.com

El movimiento, añade, emergió y se desarrolló a pesar de una extensa campaña de difamación, que incluye la criminalización de uno de sus dirigentes (Bernardo Caal, detenido el pasado 5 de febrero por supuestamente haber cometido los delitos de detención ilegal y robo), orquestada por ‘el empresariado’ y ‘los poderes locales’, con la connivencia de los organismos Ejecutivo y Judicial.

Del Río Cahabón, que cuenta con una longitud de 195,95 kilómetros entre el norte y el oriente del país, se desprenden más de 50 ríos y arroyos entre los que se encuentra Oxec, Canlich y Chiacté, en los cuales operan actualmente seis hidroeléctricas: las Renaces I, II, III y IV (de la Corporación Multiinversiones), los Oxec I y II y la de Chichaic.

La construcción de varias represas, señala el documento, “altera gravemente el ecosistema fluvial” alrededor de los cauces, “destruyendo hábitats, modificando el caudal y cambiando los parámetros básicos del agua”.

Tras un análisis detallado de las diferentes acciones, consultas previas, amparos y resoluciones del ente Constitucional -que en mayo pasado resolvió que la hidroeléctrica podría seguir trabajando pese a no haber esperado a la consulta previa basada en el Convenio 169 de la OIT- la publicación de Madre Selva asegura que hubo contradicciones en la resolución.

El libro concluye que “las consultas comunitarias de buena fe constituyen mecanismos de regulación social, resolución de conflictos y toma de decisiones que se construyen colectivamente.”

En diciembre pasado [2017], la Cámara de la Industria de Guatemala celebró el fin a un proceso de consulta comunitaria que encabezó el Ministerio de Energía y Minas entre septiembre y noviembre pasados en 11 comunidades aledañas, en los que supuestamente se llegaron a acuerdos que fueron trasladados a la Corte Suprema de Justicia. No obstante, dicho proceso no fue bien recibido por colectivos de activistas, como Madre Selva.

Según dijo al presentar los resultados el ministro de Energía, Luis Chang, los acuerdos entregados al poder Supremo se centran en constituir “relaciones en un ambiente de armonía” y que la empresa cumpla con “mitigaciones ambientales durante y posterior a la construcción y operación del proyecto.”

Una afirmación a la que se opone el libro ‘Liberemos Nuestros Ríos’, el cual sostiene que el Estado guatemalteco, históricamente, “ha despojado a los pueblos originarios en sucesivos periodos históricos bajo el lema del desarrollo y el progreso.”

Mientras las hidroeléctricas Oxec I y II guardan la esperanza de generar unos 100 MW anuales, han sido centenares de pobladores y activistas los que advierten que el proyecto ha dejado sin agua a unas 50 comunidades.

The power that makes pitchers overflow and rivers flood their banks

By Erasto Reyes, an organiser, lawyer and member of Bloque Popular, a national mobilising organisation in Honduras.

Extracts from ‘Changing the Flow: Water Movements in Latin America’, a report by Food and Water Watch, Red Vida, Transnational Institute, The RPR Network and Other Worlds, 2009.

We have been working on water since 2000, when we began our struggle against the privatisation of public services – energy and telecommunications. But water has been our greatest focus. Water ignited our struggles in Latin America: the struggles of the Bolivians, the Argentineans, the Uruguayans; the proposals that come out of Venezuela, the experiences in Brazil. These struggles have filled us with hope, and they are why there has been growing popular mobilisation throughout Central America.

… When Central America makes the news, it’s for serious and nasty issues like drug trafficking or natural disasters like Hurricane Mitch. But it doesn’t appear, for example, when in countries like El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and Costa Rica, people are reclaiming the human right to water.

In Central America, we have serious problems with sanitation and water supply. Honduras is one of the countries with the largest water reserves in Central America, but the state has no policies to ensure access to water and sanitation. … Water, from our point of view, is a heritage of humanity just like land.

Water is linked to land, and also linked to health. … You could say that the water wars of South America have arrived at our doorstep. The water war in Bolivia gave us a profound conviction to fight water privatisation. We have gone beyond simply protesting in the streets and are developing alternative proposals to meet the needs of our people. We are expanding the spaces where people can participate politically. … This has allowed the social movement fighting for water to cross borders, to move beyond the limits of our villages and towns. We are seeing this in the determined efforts of every country in South America, in Central America and Mexico, and – why not mention it? – in the United States and other countries as well. The people have governments but, until now, with only a few exceptions, the people do not have power. …

What a law says, what a decree says, what the UN says, or what divine grace says, is not enough. We have to make water a human right. …

Guatemala: teleSUR Correspondent Attacked By Men With Machetes

The report on the need for Mayan resistance to the Oxec (and other) hydroelectric projects – also reported in this month’s additions to The Violence of Development website – is supported here by a teleSUR report on violence suffered by one of its journalists investigating the illegal logging and other damages done by the Oxec hydroelectric project. 

teleSUR, 24 August 2018 

Rolanda de Jesús García Hernández was filming the consequences of alleged illegal logging by a hydroelectric company when men threatened her with machetes. A teleSUR correspondent in Guatemala, the Indigenous Mayan K’iche journalist Rolanda de Jesús García Hernández, was attacked and robbed of her equipment while reporting on a hydroelectric project and illegal logging by unknown attackers who threatened to kill her.

García and another teleSUR correspondent, Santiago Botón, were summoned by the Q’eqchi’ community authorities of Sacta, on Cahabón’s riverside, to investigate illegal logging believed to be connected to the Oxec hydroelectric project. García travelled there to meet with local authorities, who accompanied her investigation on August 21 [2018].

García, with community leader Francisco Tec, walked for an hour to reach a community on Sacte mountain which has been severely affected by logging. Once there, they interviewed locals and filmed some of the affected areas for a T.V. reportage.

“The people were very worried; we interviewed them on the stop, as part of my job,” García told a press conference on Friday. “I managed to film some images, some shots with the locals. At the other side we saw there were some employees from the Oxec company. After a few minutes, they started yelling at us.”

The employees then approached the reporting team and tried to take the cameras. They then shouted sexually suggestive threats at García in Spanish.

The reporting team decided to leave the area, but got separated. García stopped at a small river, where she was surrounded by six men who threatened her with machetes.

“Employees of the Oxec Hydroelectric detained the journalist Rolanda de Jesús García, along with community members of Sacte in the Cahabón municipality, Alta Verapaz. The journalist was doing her journalism work when detained.”

García sent a text message just after 3 p.m. local time, saying: “In Cahabón, just informing you I’m in an ugly place, they want to take the camera away.” The attackers then seized the camera and threw it into the river.

“Our boss gets mad when someone enters his private property,” one of the men told García, stressing that the group knew who she was and where to find her. After threatening to rape and kill her then throw her body into the river, the men finally released García when she promised never to return. The incident has been reported to police.

People living on the Cahabón river say erosion and flooding have increased dramatically with the illegal logging allegedly related to the Oxec hydroelectric company, but the government is ignoring their plight.

“We can’t remain silent, it’s important to denounce this truth,” García said. “We’ve been the witnesses of several arrests and criminalization against the leaders, and now the press is being persecuted.”

“I fear for my life. I was warned they know who I am and took pictures and video of me. I was threatened and I was told their boss would have the files” – Rolanda García Hernández, teleSUR correspondent.

Guatemala’s social leaders, especially those involved in human rights and environmental issues, are often criminalized by the government and private companies whose economic interests are at stake, occasionally resulting in murder.

García said: “It would seem like it’s a confrontation between brothers and sisters, but we know this persecution comes from groups that are behind all these actions because when the communities try to speak to the cameras, the radios, to denounce, what they immediately receive is persecution. We’re also at risk.”

Several Guatemalan and international alternative media outlets and human rights groups are standing in solidarity with García, condemning the attack and demanding the Public Ministry prevent such assaults on freedom of speech.

The Oxec Hyodroelectric has denied any responsibility for the incident or having knowledge of García’s journalistic work.

Infant mortality rates

Country2-page-001-929x1024


Source: United Nations World Population Prospects: 2011 revision.

Notes:
The Infant mortality rate (IMR) is the number of deaths of infants under one year old per 1,000 live births.
The figures given in the table relate to the last three year average.

A new definition of hope – community organisation for water in El Salvador

By Ana Ella Gómez, Centre for the Defence of the Consumer, El Salvador

The Centre for the Defence of the Consumer, where I work, is part of a citizen campaign called Blue Democracy that aims to reclaim the human right to water in El Salvador. We are strengthening a multi-sector alliance in which the common point of departure is the defence of water. …

We are now working on a campaign to reform the country’s constitution and get water recognised as a human right. … We are also working on a proposed water policy that deals with three main types of services: state, municipal, and communal. In the case of El Salvador, we’re convinced that we have to claim the public water supply by strengthening the public company that already exists [ANDA]. We want an efficient public company but we also want a public company with public participation. We also want to strengthen the municipalities that provide good local development with participation by the people. ….

One of Latin America’s victories has been the belief that water must be in public hands, must be held by the community, that the people have the power to make their own decisions and that, whether a company is public or is communally owned, it is essential that the citizens, the men and women, participate in strategic decision-making. …

In the end, what do we want? We want people to be able to not just share their opinions, but also to make their own decisions. Each model must be based on the reality of each community and each community needs to define what type of public, community set-up meets its populations’ needs. We want a commitment to protect our water, a commitment made by everyone, a shared responsibility. We want a system in which service providers are also responsible for protecting and taking care of the water. ….

Right now, our biggest advantage is that we have constructed our own alternative and the commitment to defend it. Our successes so far demonstrate that another way is possible. But the threats continue. Neither the multilateral institutions nor the big corporations are going to yield what they’ve won, whether those victories were from trade treaties or from government policy. …


Source: ‘Changing The Flow: Water Movements in Latin America’, a report by Food and Water Watch, Red Vida, Transnational Institute, The RPR Network and Other Worlds. 2009.

A Managua water project, 2011

After a two year delay, the Nicaraguan Water and Sewer Company (ENACAL) signed contracts with seven Nicaraguan companies to start construction of 49 potable water systems and sewer systems in 27 Managua neighborhoods. The projects are estimated to benefit 130,000 citizens in the capital city and include potable water connections to 10,000 households and sewer connections to 18,000 households.

The project is being financed by a US$38 million credit extended by the Inter-American Development Bank. The project was scheduled to break ground in March 2009, but it suffered setbacks. The money will also go toward increasing the pumping capacity of wells in Managua, updating two sewer treatment plants, as well as toward sewage treatment improvements in Tipitapa and Ciudad Sandino. (La Prensa, Apr. 14)


Reproduced from Nicaragua News 20 April 2011

Marina Puesta Del Sol, Nicaragua

Reproduced from ENCA 38, June 2005, by Martin Mowforth

The Marina Puesta Del Sol is located in the Pacific coastal community of Aserradores in the Cosigüina Peninsula of Nicaragua. The Cosigüina Peninsula is an agricultural area characterised by extreme rural poverty surrounded by coastal communities such as Aserradores in which most families have traditionally made their living by artisanal fishing and small-scale shrimp farming. Few of the 143 communities in the area have electricity and outside the main town of El Viejo the water supply is from wells or rivers and the most common sanitation system is a sump latrine. The village of Aserradores has a population of approximately 500.

Roberto Membreño (left) and Max Garay

Roberto Membreño (left) and Max Garay

The Marina Puesta Del Sol is the project of Roberto Membreño, a millionaire US businessman who was born in Nicaragua. Begun in the year 2001, the marina and hotel complex has around 120 berths and a hotel offering 33 luxury suites, a driving range, swimming pools, tennis courts, air strip, helipad, restaurants, shops and many other smaller facilities for guests.

Although the development has other investors, Mexican and North American, it is closely and personally identified with Señor Membreño, a personal friend of Enrique Bolaños, Nicaraguan president at the time of construction of the marina. It is believed that the development involved an investment of at least US$100 million on the part of Sr. Membreño. The whole environment exudes wealth and opulence and is clearly for the ultra-rich only. As Membreño himself says, “Look at this. It’s superb. My carpenters from Corinto have taught the local workers to do things like this. They have skills now that they could not have dreamed of before.”[1]

Membreño recognises that few of the locals will be able to provide the services he requires for his guests in Marina Puesta Del Sol without training. He argues forcefully, however, that the benefits of his seafaring tourism development trickle down to the locals through the construction phase of the project in which some of them were hired as labourers and trainees for positions such as service providers and attendants. He also believes that the development could give rise to a range of other related businesses in the vicinity. The potential for trickle-down benefit in the community exists, and it is hard to find anyone in Aserradores who does not acknowledge that some local people have benefited through employment in the development.

It is not difficult, however, to find local opposition to the marina – the story of Marina Puesta Del Sol2005 mpds piscina y yate is not as clear-cut and as widely beneficial as the developer’s publicity claims. The development has necessitated the purchase of a considerable amount of land in Aserradores, most of which is now policed by private guards and protected by barbed wire and ‘Private Property’ notices. The fishermen of the community have been left with only one narrow access point to the estuary, now crowded with boats; access to the estuary and the sea is prohibited in all but a few points which are not owned by Sr. Membreño; most of the land previously owned by the Mario Carrio Chevez fishing cooperative in agreement with the municipality was sold off, in dubious circumstances, to Sr. Membreño; two short stretches of estuarine mangrove vegetation have been destroyed and replaced by white sand brought from the Pacific Ocean coast of the area; and heavy pressure has been exerted on one particular family to quit their land which now forms something of an island surrounded by the marina.

Probably the most critical of the local issues arising from the development, however, and the one that generates the most heated sentiment is the lack of suitable provision of potable water for residents of Aserradores, especially when set aside the provision of swimming pools, a number of hydro-massage whirlpools and luxurious bathrooms in the hotel suites. For years the community has had problems with its water supply. Water in the wells in the immediate area is too saline to be potable and subterranean water in general in this area is too contaminated with agrochemicals to be of use. In 2003 the supply of water was identified as the highest priority for resolution by over half the population, the next major problem (the lack of electricity) being identified by less than twenty per cent.[2] Francisco José Maliaño Molina, a former leader of the community now retired and tending his herd of goats, explains how in 2002 he sent a letter to Sr. Membreño, signed by over 80 residents, asking him to take into account in his development the community’s need for potable water. He never received a reply and concluded that: “he’s not interested in the community.”[3] Juan Alberto Chieres Casco, a member of the local administrative committee, related that “members of the local committee have discussed the problem [of water supply] with Membreño and he suggested that he was going to do something about it; but we don’t know when.”[4]

On the destruction of mangroves either side of the major quay to make way for white sand brought in from the nearby Pacific coast, in my discussions with him in 2003 Sr. Membreño was fulsome in his praise of the geologist who had assured him that the respective ecosystems would not be adversely affected. It has to be remarked, however, that it would be difficult to find any environmentalist or a geologist not in Membreño’s pay who would agree that such actions would have no effect.

Regarding land ownership in an2005-mpds-piscina-y-yate-300x194d around the community, residents report that Sr. Membreño’s supposed benevolence towards the local community has concealed his aggressive approach to acquiring the land required for the development. The family of Max Garay is one of the few Nicaraguans families in Aserradores who owned sizeable parcels of land. He explains:

The [fishing] cooperative gave up its rights to the Marina Puesta Del Sol and the marina began to develop a hostile attitude towards various residents, including my family. … [Membreño] has managed, through buying influence, to turn the illegal into the legal. … Bit by bit he has closed down our spaces along the estuary and at his whim they have closed our access to the sea for subsistence. … The judicial system in Nicaragua is very easy to corrupt.[5]

Max Garay’s wife, Tadea, adds: “I wanted to talk directly with him so that we could put all our cards on the table and tell him that I am not against his project. Our country needs progress. The only thing that I am asking is that he respects our rights.”[6] Allan Bolt, a journalist with El Nuevo Diario, one of Nicaragua’s leading daily newspapers, confirms this version of events:

Everybody, including the Garay family, welcomed the new tourism project enthusiastically because it meant work and increasing affluence for all. But it seems that this investor has his own vision of how he wants the countryside to appear and what type of people he wants to see there, so he has closed the public right of way to the shore (which is unconstitutional, but which the authorities have allowed), he has prohibited his employees from making purchases in Garay’s mini-store, he has tried to throw them off the Island of Aserradores (despite their land titles), and he has been supported in this ugly game by all the powers of the state.[7]

Some benefits have trickled down to a few members of the community of Aserradores, but these appear to have been more than offset by the trickle-down of a number of disbenefits to various residents, although it is an impossible task to quantify the net effect of these different impacts. But putting aside all the eulogistic publicity material in favour of the development, all the local criticisms against it and all doubts about the very notion of the trickle-down effect, probably the most telling comparison to make is the fact that the amount of money invested in the Marina Puesta Del Sol could have provided a safe potable water supply for every person in the whole of the Cosigüina Peninsula. Such an investment would have spread the health and security benefits of this amount of money to a huge number of people instead of leisure and luxury benefits to a tiny number of people whose wealth is already great enough to ensure their basic human needs and rights.


[1] Roberto Membreño (April 2003) In discussion with Martin Mowforth and others, Aserradores, Nicaragua.
[2] SELVA (2003) ‘Información Linea Base para el Diseño de Proyectos de Desarrollo de la Comunidad de Aserradores’, El Viejo, Nicaragua.
[3] Francisco José Maliaño Molina (September 2004) In interview, Aserradores, Nicaragua.
[4] Juan Alberto Chieres Casco (September 2004) In interview, Aserradores, Nicaragua.
[5] Max and Tadea Garay (September 2004) In interview, Aserradores, Nicaragua.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Allan Bolt (19 December 2002) ‘Turismo, soberanía y desarrollo’, El Nuevo Diario, Managua.

The Water Forum, El Salvador, 2013

Social Movement Denounces P3 Law Reforms As Water Privatization Scheme

September 18, 2013.

picOn Tuesday, September 10, representatives of the diverse social movement organizations of the Water Forum held a press conference at the National Legislative Assembly to denounce proposed reforms to the controversial Public-Private Partnership (P3) Law as a back door, right-wing effort to privatize water. The reforms seek to include water treatment and administration among the public goods open for private contracts and concession after the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) party successfully excluded water from the original legislation.

The Water Forum, which has been pushing for legislation to protect water from privatization efforts for years, criticized the recent formation of an ad-hoc committee by the Assembly’s right-wing parties to study the reforms, calling the move en effort to push through the reforms without public debate. FMLN Legislator Norma Guevara condemned the committee’s creation as “a means to take the issue out of the Treasury Commission and impose a rapid adjustment to incorporate water into the sphere of business, which appears to be one of the clearest interests of the [right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance] ARENA party’s financial backers, the largest economic groups.”

At Tuesday’s event, the Forum presented a letter to the Assembly (full English text here) demanding the exclusion of any schemes to privatize water from all laws debated in the Assembly and an audience with the ad hoc committee to present their arguments in defense of “the human right to water and its sustainability.” Carlos Flores, a member of the Water Forum, declared: “It’s impossible that ARENA continue to see water as a potential source of profit for companies to do what they like with: contaminate our aquifers, exploit state resources, contribute to the extinction of the country’s rivers. We cannot allow more privatization in this country!”

Costa Rica’s water supply

Extracts from an article in Semanario Universidad (Costa Rica), 03.06.09, ‘Water is in a state of emergency’, (p.3)

Ana Isabel Barquero, Coordinator of the Interdisciplinary Programme of Research into and Management of Water of Costa Rica’s National University (PRIGA-UNA), warns that despite the abundance of water in the country its administration requires improvement if any degree of efficiency is to be achieved. Indeed, as a specialist in this subject, she described the situation of water in the country as “an emergency”.

Barquero stated that underground waters which are the major source of the household water supply are being contaminated by chemicals such as nitrates and other toxic substances which are used in agriculture. She particularly indicated that in the Caribbean coastal areas the chemicals used in pineapple and banana cultivation are reaching the rivers. A recent Nature Conservancy study contained evidence that many of the freshwater wetlands, rivers and lakes from Mexico to Panama and the life they contain are in danger from toxic substances.

She explained that in order to safeguard the water supply, in the first instance a genuine management scheme is required, “starting with the government and including the municipalities and other institutions.”

She singled out tourism which she says must start to use water resources efficiently – in various places in the country so much water is wasted for swimming pools and golf courses.

Water safe from privatisation for now – El Salvador

Reproduced from CISPES news item. CISPES is the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador. – April 2, 2014.

picWith the ink barely dry on the State Department’s commitments to work with the incoming administration of Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the leftist Farabundo Martí Liberation Front (FMLN), US Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte continues her crusade for privatization policy, intervening in El Salvador’s legislative affairs to promote corporate interests. Aponte has taken up lobbying efforts to urge the Legislative Assembly to approve reforms to the US-backed Public-Private Partnership (P3) Law, conditioning US development aid on the passage of the reforms package. The Ambassador insists the reforms are necessary to invest the pending $277 million Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) funds, claiming El Salvador’s investment conditions “are not totally mature yet.”

The P3 Law, which was originally drafted with US government advisors, opens up public projects to private concessions. The proposed reforms would reverse several elements that FMLN legislators had managed to include in the final bill to ensure it did not trigger a privatization free-for-all of essential public services. Presented by legislators from the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party last December, the reforms are based on a proposal by the National Council for Growth, a body created by the US-El Salvador bilateral economic agreement, the Partnership for Growth, that joins government representatives with the country’s wealthiest businessmen.

At a March 24 forum hosted by the Legislative Assembly, representatives of the broad-based social movement coalition the Water Forum and FMLN legislators expressed fierce opposition to a reform that would make water vulnerable to private concessions after the FMLN had successfully excluded it from the P3 Law. “The FMLN is not in favor of privatizing our fundamental services,” said legislator Orestes Ortez of the leftist party.

Intent on passing the reforms as soon as possible, the Council for Growth unveiled a reduced list of recommended reforms the next day, abandoning plans to bring water back into the realm of possible concessions. The surviving reforms aim to minimize public debate around concessions and speed up their approval. One would change the current P3 legislation, which requires the Assembly first approve the terms of bidding and then approve the final contract, so that concessions would only require a one-stop legislative approval. Another would put supervision of the concessions into the hands of the president’s Investment and Exports Promotion Agency (PROESA), rather than an autonomous oversight body in the Ministry of the Economy. A third reform would increase the limit on how much debt the State can incur from any one concession from 1% of the nation’s GDP to 3%. FMLN legislator Lorena Peña pointed out that 1% of the GDP is already $245 million, nearly the same amount as the entire MCC project ($277 million).

The US Embassy’s shameless intervention in the Legislative Assembly’s affairs make the US’s true foreign policy aims all the more transparent. Ambassador Aponte is forcing legislation on the country to ensure that MCC funds are easily diverted into the pocket of private, transnational corporations, granting them greater access to El Salvador’s public services in the future, regardless of the party in power. As Aponte recently affirmed the Obama administration’s willingness to work with the incoming FMLN administration, she emphasized the need to advance bilateral programs “not only for the benefit of El Salvador, but also for the benefit of the United States,” but her latest actions seem to indicate that the primary beneficiary will be, as ever, a transnational corporate elite.