Metalic Mining – In recent years, there has been an increase in interest from foreign investors to re-open metallic mines in El Salvador. The people and government of El Salvador have collectively said no to such mining, due to the detrimental effects on the environment and the people who depend on the environment. The chemicals used in the extraction process causes toxic contamination in a vast area surrounding the site of extraction, and even further when you consider the contamination of water that then flows downstream to other communities. There has been high incidence of disease and destruction of vegetation on areas close to metallic mining sites.
Pacific Rim is the Canadian company currently pushing to use Free Trade agreements as permission to mine in El Salvador, but their movements to begin extraction have been blocked. The legislative assembly is currently considering a law that would definitively block all metallic mining in El Salvador, and the International Round Table Against Metallic Mining is working to promote similar laws in neighboring countries, countries that share water sources and therefore contamination.
Sugar Cane Cultivation– In the past ten years or so, sugar cane production has exploded along coastal areas of El Salvador, with most of the sugar being used for ethanol exported out of the country. Land that was previously used to cultivate crops that were consumed within the local communities — corn, beans, millet — has been converted to sugarcane as investors in the country but who do not live in the area where they are cultivating offer a price too tempting to pass up to use land of local land owners.
All sugarcane farms in the area use toxic chemicals to keep bugs off and to speed up the maturation of the plant for quicker harvest, and these chemicals have been linked to drastically increased incidence of kidney disease in the population of workers, and locals note the frequency of premature deaths of men who work in the sugarcane fields. Toxic chemicals are also applied from airplanes, which contaminates water sources, kills flora and fauna, and kills the fruit trees and livestock on people’s private property where they live, which is often directly next to sugarcane fields. In addition, it is common practice to burn the fields after harvesting, which kills livestock and wildlife and often spreads out of control, destroying homes, trees, and livelihood.
Environmental groups have been active on these issues but unfortunately with little response on a national level. However, a recent law banning 53 of these toxic chemicals is a major achievement, made possible by the organization and insistent demands of the Salvadoran people.
Food Sovereignty – 20 years ago, El Salvador produced 95% of its basic grains consumed in country, but now that number is reduced to less than half. How can that be in a country whose economy is based on agriculture? With the implementation of CAFTA, local farmers could no longer compete with the prices of the United States, where subsidies and chemical alteration creates uber cheap mega crops. So the farmers here in El Salvador who used to farm the beans, rice, and other basic grains they consumed are now both out of work and forced to buy imported grains from the USA, which are lower in nutrients and sometimes even harmful to one’s health because of chemical and genetic modification.
One entity that is doing something productive about this issue is a Venezuelan petroleum company called ALBA. The profits from sales at Alba gas stations are used to subsidize farming of basic grains by farmers all around Latin America. Farmers in rural El Salvador can sell the excess from their crops – after feeding their own families – to Alba at a subsidized price, which makes it more viable. Otherwise the expenses would not be balanced out by earnings. This is one of Venezuelan President Chavez’s policies that the US strongly opposes. In the US, Chavez is seen as a dangerous radical who threatens the security of the Americas.
War Against Gangs – In an attempt to fight the northern journey of drugs from Columbia and other parts of Latin America into the United States, the US government funds a so-called “War On Gangs,” which has taken many forms. One of those forms is a US-funded training facility which equips special police forces to identify and detain youths suspected to be involved in gangs. The courts that correspond to such police forces are exempt from certain judiciary procedures, like burden of proof or right to testify. Youths who are taken before this court may only have the police who arrested them as the only witnesses for their case, and may be denied the opportunity to present their own evidence.
Gangs are a huge problem in this country, and the attempt to extinguish their influence while maintaining human rights is a challenging task. Many youths are assumed to be involved in gangs simply because they are young and poor. Truce efforts between the government and gangs are highly controversial, because although the truce decreases homicide rates (down to 5 murders a day from the previous rate of 12 murders a day), it is an unstable and false sense of security that grants too much power and sovereignty to these volatile, violent groups.
This is a part of the larger problem for youth in El Salvador. There is little work to be had, and studying is not an option for everyone. Yet wherever youth gather, they are seen as a threat and are discouraged by older people in the community, who fears that they are getting involved in gangs or other vices, such as alcohol or drugs. Where the perception is that youth are bound to be involved in negative things, many youth are inclined to step up to that expectation and get involved in harmful activities. That is why CRIPDES and other organizations that work in rural areas focus a large part of their work on youth, seeing them instead as potential leaders in their communities, needing somewhere positive to direct their attention and efforts. Instead of assuming they’re doing bad things, why not give them positive activities to get involved in that promote the development of their communities?
Human Rights in Honduras — In 2009 the Honduran president Manuel Zayala was forced into exile in a military coup, which marked the beginning of a period of repression and violence that continues today. Rural populations demanding land rights have been violently persecuted, and anyone associated with the struggle for land rights is in danger of being targeted and killed. Other targeted populations include human rights lawyers, journalists, and the LGBT community. The second elections since the 2009 coup will be held in November 2013, and many candidates from the left have been threatened and killed. Hondurans and the international community alike are concerned about the legitimacy of this year’s elections and the human rights implications the elections and their results will have for the already persecuted Honduran populace.
Public Private Agreement — The United States government is pressuring El Salvador to approve a new law that opens the doors to privatization of various sectors that are currently publicly run, such as higher education, water, electricity, and more. While such a law would certainly benefit foreign investors and large business owners, privatization historically leads to decreased access to basic needs for poor populations. When a particular service becomes privatized, it operates under a business model rather than public service model, meaning practices that yield the highest profit take priority, and the focus is no longer the accessibility of that good/service to the population.
This law was approved in May of 2013, but there are efforts to make amendments to the law to make further limits on the kinds of entities that can be privatized.