As Newly Elected Conservatives Move into the Legislature, Social Movement Takes to the Streets

Blogpost

On May 1st, Salvadoran legislators were sworn into office for the 2018-2021 term. As a result of the March 4 elections, most of the right-wing parties picked up seats from the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, which dipped below the threshold needed to block votes requiring a two-thirds majority for the first time since 2000.

Facing the new reality of consolidated right-wing control in the legislature, tens of thousands took to the streets on International Workers Day to defend the major advancements that have been achieved under the FMLN government, for example, in health care and education. “We will not hand over the things we have won,” proclaimed unions and social movement organizations as they marched and chanted through the streets of San Salvador.

On May 1, the Salvadoran social movement showed a unified commitment to thwart any attempts by right-wing legislators to end social programs that benefit the impoverished majorities or to reverse key social movement advances such as the historic 2017 mining ban.

See photos of this year’s march here!

Social movement organizations also called on the new legislators to approve the Food Sovereignty Law and the General Water Law; the latter would guarantee community access to water as a human right and as an essential public resource and prohibit attempts to privatize water. Both of these laws, which the FMLN introduced in consultation with environmental and rural organizations, have been blocked in the Legislative Assembly by right-wing parties that hope to capitalize on the commercialization of key government institutions and public resources.

Additionally, unions demanded a further increase to the minimum wage in order to meet the rising cost of living, an increase to the minimum pension amount and the elimination of the predatory private pension fund companies, as well as an increase in taxes on the rich.

Meanwhile, in the legislature, the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) and the National Conciliation Party (PCN) consolidated their old alliance, which, in the post-war era, facilitated the privatization of major public resources, including banks, electricity and telecommunications.

The new legislature has hit the ground running. Despite years of blocking FMLN budget proposals in the name of “austerity,” the incoming president of the Legislative Assembly, ARENA’s Norman Quijano, quickly proposed constructing an additional building for the Assembly, claiming the current one is “too crowded.” Quijano has been blasted for his proposal on social media, considering that funds to rebuild Hospital Rosales, the largest national public hospital, have languished in the Assembly.

In addition to concerns that the right-wing will move to increase corporate control over water, the right-wing may also take up a proposal to eliminate the limit on the amount of land one corporation or person can own, transfer or inherit. The current limit was enshrined in the 1983 Constitution, a major land reform victory that resulted from decades of struggle against the power of the landed elite. Legislators from ARENA, the Grand National Alliance (GANA), and the Christian Democratic Party (PDC), introduced the reform at the end of the last legislative session.

Social movement organizations, including women and indigenous organizers who form part of the National Food Sovereignty Roundtable have loudly rejected this proposal. “As people native to these lands, we denounce that once again our people are being cast aside in an attempt to steal their lands. Right-wing parties want to give these lands to people who seek to accumulate them, not to care for them, but to destroy them, when they know that our lives are there…” said a member of the Roundtable in a press conference.

Social movement organizations and the FMLN face an uphill battle to defend achievements that have sought to move the country towards a more socially and economically just democracy. Stay tuned for calls for international solidarity!

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CISPES delegates during press conference (Photo: Verdad Digital)

Demonstrators carry a banner reading "Water is ours, not private companies'" during a march against water privatization, June 16, 2018. Source: Yesenia Portillo