World Water Week in El Salvador
Joining people and communities celebrating World Water Week across the planet, the Salvadoran Environmental Alliance, including National Roundtable against Metallic Mining (the Mesa in Spanish), organized a number of activities demanding respect for the human right to water.
The week began with a protest in front of the state-run Salvadoran energy company demanding the halt of the construction of a number of hydro-electric dam projects that are proposed for rivers throughout El Salvador. .
The Mesa Calls the Legislative Assembly’s Hand
The Mesa staged their own protest outside the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday the 21st, demanding that the Assembly take up the debate on whether to ban mining. Since 2010 the Assembly has refused vote on the issue, saying they wanted to wait for the results of the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) which was proposed and overseen by the Ministries of the Economy and of Environment. However, as time dragged on and the assessment process came and went, the SEA has never been released, and the Assembly continues to refuse to deal with the issue.
Through unofficial channels, the Mesa obtained a copy of the SEA and brought printed copies to the rally on Wednesday. They gave copies to the all the major political parties as well as some press covering the event. They demand that the Assembly both pressure the central government to release the SEA publicly, and stop using it as a pretext to ignore the mining ban.
The very same day, almost 2,000 miles away a group of Mesa supporters were leafleting at the World Bank around the very same issues. For the last four weeks, representatives from different D.C. based organizations have been handing out flyers to World Bank employees about Canadian mining company Pacific Rim’s case against the Salvadoran government.
In spite of the weighty subject matter, the protest was an uplifting and spirited event, with speeches from community leaders, chants and a hilarious anti-mining play presented by a youth theater group from Chalatenango.
For the complete SEA, in Spanish.
Government’s Water Reform Proposal Fall Short
On Thursday, March 23, the Salvadoran Environmental Alliance (The Water Forum, The National Roundtable against Metallic Mining, the Movement to stop hydro-electric dams, and the National Roundtable of Natural Disaster Mitigation) held a rally in front the Legislative Assembly in commemoration of World Water Day, but also to pressure for laws that protect El Salvador’s natural resources. Over 1,250 people packed into the small park in front of the Assembly with signs and banners demanding their human right to water. As community leader, Vidalina Morlaes said, “I’ve never seen so many people [in front of the Legislative Assembly].”
The central government, through the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARN in Spanish), took advantage of the occasion to present a General Water Law that would reform current legislation. The Salvadoran social movement had presented its own proposed legislation to the Assembly the last year, but the bill has never been discussed nor voted on.
At first, the Environmental Alliance was heartened by MARN’s proposal because they had been in a process of dialogue with the government. However, upon reading the proposal they have decided that the legislation falls short.
In a press release from March 30th, the Water Forum called the government’s proposed bill “insufficient and weak” claiming, “it doesn’t respond to the gravity of the water crisis in the country.” The press release strongly criticizes the lack of regulation and oversight for water resources, the absence of a mechanism for civic participation in decisions related to water, and the fact the bill does not reference the problems mining and hydro-electric dams create for water resources. It finished by urging that the Assembly discuss and pass the bill presented in 2011 by the social movement.
The decision is now in the hands of the Assembly, but what has become clear is that comprehensive water reform and regulation is still a distant reality.
International Movement Building around World Water Day
Because El Salvador is such a small country and the majority of its water originates outside its national territory, the struggle to ban mining also needs to transcend the country’s borders. Therefore, the Mesa and the organizations and communities struggling to ban mining have been working to connect with groups in Honduras and Guatemala who share their goals for protecting natural resources.
To celebrate World Water Day, the Center for Commerce and Investment Research (CEICOM), Bicicritica and the Mesa organized two events on the border of El Salvador and Guatemala to highlight the importance of the Guija Lake for both countries and the damages mining projects on that lake would bring.
On Friday the 23rd CEICOM organized a march, with over 800 participants in the border town of Metapán followed by an afternoon of music, theater and education on the edge of the Guija Lake. On Sunday the 25th, the critical mass bike group, Bicicritica, and the Mesa organized a bike ride ending at the same lake. Both events included participation from Salvadorans and Guatemalans and helped strengthen the ties needed to build a solid cross-border movement.
For more information in Spanish.