Interviewee: Delmy Valencia
Interviewer: Martin Mowforth
Location: CIS, San Salvador, El Salvador
Date: 28th July 2010
Theme: A wide-ranging discussion of development issues in El Salvador, but especially covering the CAFTA-DR free trade treaty and maquilas.
Delmy Valencia (DV): The recent storm Ida which battered the country caused a price increase in vegetables, because this storm came to ruin the crops. 80 per cent of the vegetables consumed in El Salvador come from Guatemala, we buy bananas from Honduras, and we buy cheese from Nicaragua. The natural disaster affected these countries, ruining the crops. There was a brief shortage of vegetables which caused a rise in prices, an increase in dairy products, and an increase in the cost of bananas that we get from Honduras because our own production is not enough. So there was a loss of a million (dollars?) in crops.
The government is currently distributing agricultural kits, giving farmers seeds for purple bean, sorghum, corn, coffee, because the campesino does not have the economic resources to buy fertilisers and to harvest as in previous years. This has been done to make sure there is enough production so that at least we do not have shortages of these products in the market.
As a result of all this, at no point were the prices of foodstuffs lowered again. The National Service of Territorial Studies (Servicio Nacional de Estudios Territoriales, SNET) is taking precautions against various tropical storms that are coming and will cause problems in the region and we are very aware that we will have food shortages. What measures are the Government taking? Well, I already mentioned that the Government has a unit which is providing all such measures to help alleviate the situation. I have not mentioned that such an environmental problem has caused gullies (by soil erosion). There are houses which have been carried away by the mud coming down from the mountains.
So, with the food problem we rely heavily on Guatemala; we have to buy grain, we depend on other countries with this issue. We believe that the food shortages, even if we have the support of the World Food Programme for the most essential needs, there may come a time when we will have the money to buy, but we are not going to have to buy. This is something that the Government must move forward, take measures that will enable us to address these types of situations, because we could end up having famines. So, the efforts currently being made by the Government with regards to Central American integration, if we do not fight because the five Central American countries are becoming a nation without borders, where will we be able to exchange without legal bindings or borders this problem. We are going to have a crisis which could lead us to other problems, like what I was pointing out about water.
With water, we could end up with a serious social problem. There is one study, by the person who we will meet this afternoon, they have an estimate on how long before we are going to be buying water from other countries.
So, the food issue is very important, it is an issue which needs to be addressed in greater depth. We have lost millions which has forced us to try and buy from other countries, but Guatemala did not have anything for itself, much less to sell to us, as the storm Ida also affected them. That has created a series of problems and the first has been the rise in food prices.
The Free Trade Agreement is a huge issue. I do not know who you are going to speak with about this Agreement.
Martin Mowforth (MM): In other countries, but here, no. We have already addressed this issue in various interviews, in Panama and Costa Rica. This topic is the least developed in the current chapters. I have been following not only the development of CAFTA, but also the European Union Association Agreement.
DV: One person who could give you very valuable information and who has written books and has been on the board of … Dr. Raúl Moreno, an economist. He wrote a book about the Free Trade Agreement.
MM: One issue that interests us especially in El Salvador, is the issue of water and water supply, privatisation or efforts to privatise it and the campaign against privatisation. I understand that the Suchitoto 14 was a problem caused by water privatisation. Could you tell me more about this issue and your views on what is happening and how the campaign against privatisation is going?
DV: Thank you for the opportunity to share with you some issues to do with the development of my country, especially on an issue as important as water. Specifically, I was involved in the events which happened in Suchitoto which had to do with an attempt by the Executive Power, then president Antonio Saca, who sought release from the city of Suchitoto, which is a city where the FMLN has governed since they signed the peace accords and is a landmark city in the country, especially for the Left, the first law of privatisation of water.
Many social organisations and NGOs found out about this attempt at privatisation and there was a demonstration by all the social organisations in the country and of non-governmental entities, to try and stop what they were trying to do that day. The protests by the social organisations were suppressed by the Saca Government in a combined military action with the National Civil Police. It was the police chief at that time who was later the presidential candidate for ARENA, Rodrigo Ávila. The social organisations attempted to block the road, to prevent the leader reaching Suchitoto. There was also a demonstration boat in the Lake Suchitlán, to block some of the intents of the Salvadoran ruler.
These demonstrations were suppressed by the army, supported by helicopters, large amounts of tear gas was used, some people were hit, some were caught, and with these actions the attempt at water privatisation immediately failed, but those caught were subjected to the anti-terrorism law. Then there was a commotion at the international level because this has to do with the life blood of our population. As a result we had people who were tried. Later, after the trial, the people arrested were dismissed, that is, they were released, but under pressure from national civil society and under pressure from international agencies. It was almost heroic, the actions of those people who were imprisoned, who were mistreated, whose human rights were violated.
MM: How long did they spend in prison?
DV: More than two months. The US on this issue, before then we were visited by a foundation, a niece of the ex-president Kennedy, daughter of the Senator came to the front … Kennedy in support of saying yes to water and no to privatisation.
The government agency that administers water here is called ANDA and it supposedly delivers the service at a basic minimum cost. And it should also be noted that there are municipalities, such as the municipality of Suchitoto which delivers water services for the city of Suchitoto where the FMLN govern. That is an example of how municipalities can supply water. There are some non-governmental associations, such as the association in the municipality of San Pedro Perulapán in the Cuscatlán province, called ACOSAMA, which administers water and which also takes care of the environment. This civil society organisation was financed with funds from USAID through CARE. In the country we also have non-private institutions that deliver water services.
So we have three types of water delivery to the population: one through associations, the other through the municipalities, and ….. (no mention of the third, presumably the non-private institutions No, the other being ANDA).
The country has seen declining levels of water collection as a consequence of deforestation and neglect of the environment. Construction companies have destroyed large areas of land, farms, with a zeal and spirit for accumulating economic resources. They have built, then there has been incredible deforestation. This has happened over the last 20 years. So as a result El Salvador is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world. Here it rains one hour too hard, we already have emergencies in some places, the ground is very loose and full of water, and on top of that we have the water pipes, the piping that goes in, that of the houses, the piping is old, they are old water systems and when they block up the drains they cause serious flooding. We have had some serious misfortunes.
I think that very soon in this country we will have to be buying water from another country. We believe it could be a fight for water. Water is becoming more and more scarce every day, precisely because we have not looked after the environment. Many trees have been cut down, large farms have been turned into residential development estates, nature has hit us with earthquakes, this is a country where the earth shakes a lot and this has filled in springs and other sources of water. With the natural disasters, storms and tropical depressions that we have experienced, our land has been eroded and washed away too much, but also major springs have been covered.
To some extent there is a cultural reason that has contributed to this problem, which is that in the countryside we have many people that chop down trees for firewood; so, they cut down trees but they do not plant them. That has also contributed. The modernisation in which we find ourselves with regards to plastics, bottles and disposable products also has created problems and we are going to have a water crisis very soon.
The fight against privatisation of water is a fair fight in which all the Salvadorans must get involved. There are bodies which are fighting for this and it is not yet resolved, for example UNES (Unidad Ecológica Salvadoreña), also the Centre for Consumer Protection (Centro para la Defensa del Consumidor, CDC), they have sought support from international agencies so that our springs will not disappear completely.
Naturally, the issue of water also lends itself to the greed of transnationals. We have bottled water here, enormous transnationals and pure water does not exist in this country. The water in all parts of this country is heavily contaminated. The National University has done studies, UNES (Unidad Ecologica Salvadoreña) has done research, and our water contains faecal matter, contains parasites. I suggest that you investigate it, maybe you could follow this up with UNES. There is a study. Water quality in some parts of this country has caused kidney problems and some studies have indicated that this is precisely because of the quality of the water. Many water sources, where before water could be taken without problems, now the water is grossly contaminated, now it is not colourless, now it is not odourless, instead it has a greenish-blue colour, it has flavour and it is full of worms/maggots and faeces.
With the issue of mining in the world we know that this will cause further problems in the environment. It will poison us even more and right now there is a fight against mining, there is a specific movement against mining. In Cabañas, there have been deaths, there have been people ‘disappeared’, murders, because we are playing with money, very big money.
I believe that on the issue of water in El Salvador, we should point out the attempts at privatisation, water quality, and how natural disasters, the greed of big capital in construction, and the logging of trees have contributed to having water unfit for human consumption, and sometimes not even for washing in. For example, in the municipality of San Pedro Perulapán there is a place in which the children have many skin disorders (se llenan de muchas cosas en la piel) precisely because of the quality of the water. So here we have very serious problems with the threat of privatisation, how the quality is having an impact on health because of various diseases, how natural disasters have caused the closing-off of springs, and how the greed of big capital has contributed to the point where our climate is changing. The logging of trees has contributed to an increase in temperature, to climate change which sometimes people that are not experts on the subject fail to understand. And how some people have gone to prison in their fight to prevent such threats of privatisation. How the human rights of people fighting to defend their right to water are violated.
MM: Do you know about the case of Coca Cola in Nejapa, what is happening, has there been over-exploitation of water?
DV: There is overexploitation of water in Nejapa. Nejapa has a whole system set up to recycle water, to classify rubbish, there are landfills that are managed by an entity called MIDES. The information we have, but which has not yet been brought completely to the public light and is handled by secret voices, is that there is over exploitation of water and the non-proper management of solid waste.
MM: Regarding the current government, what is the position of this government with regards to the privatisation of water? Is it against it or under pressure from big capital to continue with privatisation in small parts? What do you think?
DV: Mauricio Funes’ government is a government of social inclusion. In his cabinet and in its autonomous institutions there are people from different parties, from different sectors, representatives from private business, there are ministers from the Left, there are people from the Right. We qualify as a very broad government, like the words say it, of social inclusion.
In his campaign, he made commitments that are slowly developing. One year of government is still very little time for actually seeing changes. There is a commitment from him for full respect for the political Constitution, and his main objective is to govern for the people most in need. In fact, in his first term, the most profitable thing that has come from Mauricio Funes’ government are the measures taken, for example, such that in the hospitals the people no longer have to pay, the people that used to buy their medicine now no longer have to buy it, they no longer pay for any service. So that is a measure that has naturally come to help the poor.
The other programme which he has implemented and that really benefits the vast majority is the measures taken by the Ministry of Education. The government now buys childrens’ uniforms and their shoes. There is food in the morning for the children who sometimes go to school without having eaten anything. These were the first measures he took.
There is a commitment against corruption, in fact already there have been legal actions taken against some representatives of the previous administration that had embezzled funds. There is one authority for government ethics, there are actions that I mentioned a moment ago, where already there are people who have been sued, to make sure that people answer for any embezzlement and abuse of administrative responsibility.
There is a commitment from him to deepen democracy through the promotion of measures which bring greater transparency and the modernisation of the electoral system. There is also another concept from the departmental governor, now he is not the governor but he was in the time of ARENA, who was one activist more. Today the governors have a prominent role in assisting with natural disasters for example. There is one authority which right now is doing a great job, the institution that coordinates with SNET to take preventative measures for natural disasters, called the General Directorate of Civil Protection, Disaster Prevention and Mitigation (Dirección General de Protección Civil, Prevención y Mitigación de Desastres), a body which is working really hard to prevent natural disasters.
Diplomatic relations with some countries have been opened, for example with Cuba, of course, now they are going to sign the agreement with Cuba to increase and strengthen programmes such as Operation Miracle (provides free eye surgery to those in need) which was to do with El Salvador sending contingents of people with cataract problems to be operated on in Cuba.
There is an effort by him for the integration of Central American.
MM: Does El Salvador have a Petrocaribe treaty with Venezuela?
DV: No, in the relationship with Venezuela, Mauricio Funes has been very cautious, very slow, he really has not wanted to resume a relationship with ALBA-oil.
MM: Maybe because of the problems in Honduras. Because the relationship with Hugo Chávez was an excuse for the rightists, for the coup?
DV: We can understand, we do not like being distanced from Venezuela, because we truly believe that Venezuela is a country with which to further strengthen relations and exchange would be very helpful for the Salvadoran population. However, the president is who he is, and we respect that. He has adopted a very cautious policy with the Chavez government, but we understand that the Executive heads foreign affairs and we respect that. But we are making progress, I am rescuing his efforts towards the integration of Central America, for reviving the Central American common market. It is important, because it would strengthen the textile industry, it would benefit the small businesses, medium-sized businesses and as a result facilitate other types of migratory relations. For example, it could strengthen and deepen ties with regards to citizen security, which is one of the biggest debts of the Mauricio Funes government, but that is not a problem caused by this government, it is inherited, although that does not justify the high statistics. El Salvador is one of the most violent countries of these times, but this is due to various factors, even if it has been inherited. Because for example, El Salvador lives on remittances, but what impact do remittances have? Yes, it brings millions of dollars, but it also causes the disintegration of families, because there is a father or mother living abroad, and here the children are living with the grandfather or grandmother, with the uncle, the aunt, the cousin, a friend. Therefore there is no paternal or maternal guidance, there is no guide for strengthening and shaping the character and the conduct of young people. This creates problems of identity, causes loneliness, there is not any guidance for the young people, there is no motivation to study, there is no motivation to succeed. Or be it that the remittances bring wealth by which the country lives, but the other side of the coin is family disintegration.
But that also creates another problem, a subculture, a transculture, because the young that are born in the United States adopt behaviours and absorb much of the U.S. culture. By bringing that culture here, and when I speak of culture I mean the music, the language, all those features that make up a culture, and when they come from a developed country like the United States, and are implanted in a developing country like this, that causes a collision and generates an emotional outburst and very dangerous attitudes. So, the phenomenon of violence here is caused mostly by gangs, but we cannot blame only the problem of gang violence, it is organised crime and we still have remnants from the war. There are many weapons in the hands of the population.
MM: Are there many facilities for getting hold of weapons in comparison with other Central American countries?
DV: Yes, although there are some measures to make sure that a weapon is not sold to anyone who does not meet the requirements, it needs to be regulated more, it is a very old law. Currently the sale of legal weapons occurs under a very old law which needs to be modernised and reformed so that there is greater control. What the government was promoting before was not to do with the possession of weapons, but the use. You can have a weapon in your house to defend yourself but what the Executive was promoting was a greater regulation of its use. We think that the law governing the sale and purchase of weapons in this country should be modernised and updated. If you compare it with the United States, this country has a law a little more open, there you can buy weapons of a different calibre. But, it is the problem of society, a society in crisis, a sick society, which only recently emerged from civil war and we entered a postwar period, with remnants of the people who ran away, of the social integration of all the people who rose up with weapons, the long-term effects continue, but also transculturización (transculturation?) as a result of the disintegration of families, intra-family violence.
MM: What is your view on the working conditions in the maquilas? Has this government managed to improve the conditions? Do you know of labour abuses in the maquilas?
DV: That is a debt that still exists – a law is currently being debated – because there is a claim in the maquilas for increasing the hours which people work in the maquilas. Already there is resistance to raising the issue, there are organisations that are already touching the subject, but then enters the part of the private business which has had a very prominent role in this government in the sense of coming out before the media and questioning any action that they believe threatens their interests. In this sense it is a fight which has hardly begun, although it is something that has been seen for years, the abuses, but on this issue we have made very little progress. I think it is a duty of the current government, it is something that will be addressed.