This morning the Environmental Alliance – made up of 5 environmental coalitions in El Salvador – invited Salvadorans to hear the environmental platforms of candidates to the Legislative Assembly from various political parties. Of the seven who were invited, only three showed up, a silence that spoke clearly to those present and to the thousands who will watch snippits of the forum on national and local news stations tonight.
February 18, 2015
By Catie Johnston
The event began with members of the 5 coalitions that make up the Environmental Alliance laying out their demands and the context that makes them necessary. The National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining (La Mesa) spoke about the environmental precariousness of El Salvador and the need for a national law banning mining. The Water Forum spoke to the increasingly limited access to clean water for human consumption and the dangers of corporate use of water being prioritized over use for human consumption. The Permanent Roundtable for Natural Disaster Management (MPGR) cited increasing incidence of natural disasters like earthquakes and floods, and called for legislation that creates spaces for prevention, response, and reparation. The National Roundtable for Food Sovereignty emphasized the precarious situation created by the water situation and climate change and the importance of the proposed Food Sovereignty and Security Law for the economic and environmental sustainability of El Salvador. The Movement Against Death Projects demonstrated maps of dam projects throughout the country and how they affect and are affected by water scarcity and contamination.
But these were not disparate calls to action by a multitude of organizations each fighting for their own demands. The Environmental Alliance is a newly revived space that has come together to spread the message that we are One, and our demands are One. The foremost demand that all these groups made to the candidates present was the ratification of a constitutional reform that would specify food and water as human rights, thus prioritizing their use for human consumption over industrial use. Following the constitutional reform, all groups called for the approval of the General Water Law, the Prohibition of Mining Exploration and Exploitation Law, the Food Sovereignty and Nutrition Law, and reform to the Law for Civil Protection and Mitigation and Prevention of Natural Disasters.
The three legislative candidates who were present in the forum were Baudilio Ventura of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), and Blandino Nerio and Nery Diaz of the National Liberation Front Farabundo Martí (FMLN). It seems that the parties that were not represented do not have an environmental platform to speak of, otherwise they would have been there speaking of it.
Blandino began his exposition by directing the audience to parts of the constitution that make very clear that the purpose of the government is to serve its people and their basic rights, including the protection and restoration to the environment. “The FMLN has had an environmental agenda since we got started in 1994,” he emphasized “so you know we´re not inventing anything here.” All of the laws mentioned by the speakers receive support from the FMLN, and Blandino called on civil society to go out to the streets and make so much noise that members of the Legislative Assembly from other parties have no choice but to vote in favor of those laws.
Nery followed up by pointing out that despite the fact that the Environment and Climate Change Commission of the Legislative Assembly, of which she is a current member, is made up of just half as many FMLN members as members from other parties that have tried to take steps towards privatizing water, they have not allowed those efforts to come to fruition. She hopes to see more FMLN representatives after the elections that will take place on March 1st, and also hopes to see greater bipartisan support of these environmental initiatives.
Baudilio Ventura represents a smaller party, but with a clear message that he and his party will do all in their power to block efforts to privatize water and mining exploitation, and that they support the General Water Law and the Prohibition of Mining Exploration and Exploitation Law. Looking to the event organizers, he said “And I´ll be waiting for your invitation to whatever activities you do; please invite us.”
As audience members stepped up to make their comments and questions, there was a definite air of hesitance and doubt, expressed in reminders that they´re not interested in empty campaign promises, and that they will be at the doors of the Legislative Assembly to hold each elected candidate accountable to the promises made during these months of campaign. But amidst the hesitance and doubt began to rise a sense of “Let´s do this,” the unmistakable collective inhalation as members of social organizations, rural communities, universities, churches, and civil society in general renewed their promise to themselves and to their country to be the motor that keeps this movement going.