As the Right Wing Rushes to Privatize Water Resources, Social Movements Fight Back

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Social Movement leaders demonstrate against the privatization of water. Source: Foro del Agua

Since the historic approval of the prohibition on all metallic mining in El Salvador, the environmental and social movements have continued mobilizing around another long sought demand- a General Water Law that would uphold access to water as a human right and guarantee equitable community control of precious water resources. However, in an attempt to preempt this push, right wing parties in the Legislative Assembly have presented their own proposal regarding the regulation of water resources. The environmental and social movements, who have pushed for a Water Law since 2006, have rejected the right’s proposal and denounced it as an attempt to privatize water.

The private sector proposal, called the “Comprehensive Water Law”, was introduced by the right wing parties ARENA, GANA, PNC and PDC, and would create a private institution responsible for managing and regulating water in the country. This institution would be made up of 2 representatives from the National Association of Private Enterprise (ANEP), 2 from the Corporation of Municipalities of El Salvador (COMURES), and 1 from the government. This structure would essentially give control of the country´s water resources to the business elite, as ANEP and COMURES are both controlled by the economic oligarchy. If this law were to pass, it would essentially be a backdoor privatization of water resources in the country.

The fight over water privatization is not new in El Salvador. Privatization of water resources has long been a goal of the right wing business elite, most recently in an attempt to include water in the 2013 Public Private Partnership Law. At that time the social movement and the left-wing FMLN party successfully fought to prevent those attempts to privatize water, and in the end water and other essential public services such as education and healthcarewere excluded from the Public Private Partnership Law.

This new attempt has been met with a resounding “NO” by the social movement, as well as a number of respected public institutions. Carlos Flores, a representative of the popular movement the Water Forum, stated “We are ready to be in the streets and to boycott any attempt to privatize water.” The Water Forum has consistently upheld the human right to water and has fought to ensure that water remain a public good and not a commodity. The union movement, led by organized workers at the public water agency ANDA, has also taken to the streets to defend water rights as the attempted privatization threatens both the livelihood of workers at ANDA but also access to water for all Salvadorans

In addition to the loud, angry responses by the social movement, the right wing proposal has been met with condemnation by the University of Central America (UCA) and the Human Rights Ombudswoman (PDDH). In a statement, the UCA held that “To prioritize the commercialization of water when so many people lack access to it is simply and basically a betrayal of the democratic spirit and of the text of the Constitution, which demands common welfare and social justice.” The Office of the Human Rights Ombudswoman was equally strong in recognizing that water is a human right and as such it must remain in public hands.

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