Major March to Defend Right to Water Rejects ARENA

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The October 17th national mobilization and march against the privatization of water was marked by strong attendance, creative street theater, music, and repeated calls for a solution to the country’s water problems that is based on universal access, not private profits. Members of labor, environmental, faith-based, community, and women’s groups from throughout El Salvador gathered downtown at the Acelhuate River, the place where all of San Salvador’s sewage ends up, as a symbolic marker of the seriousness of the country’s water problem. The central message of the protest was that water is a public and social resource and the government’s responsibility is to administer the resource in a sustainable manner. On the same day as the march, CISPES published a paid ad, calling on President Saca to respect the right to organize. (to see the letter, go here)

Wilfredo Romero, General Secretary of SETA (the water worker’s union) warned people about ARENA’s soon-to-be presented General Water Law. The authors of the legislation have worked hard to keep this law secret out of the way of any public scrutiny or debate. The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources recently presented the law to the Technical Secretariat of the Presidency, the last step before it will be formally introduced to the Legislative Assembly for a vote. “This law was prepared without any public consultation whatsoever, and – if passed – it would transfer the administration of water from ANDA (public water company) to private companies through contracts or ‘concessions’ of up to 50 years. Those unable to pay would simply go thirsty and die,” said Romero. “Water is a right, and fighting for it is our duty,” he concluded.

A number of other community leaders attended and spoke, including Human Rights Ombudswoman Beatrice de Carrillo and Lutheran Bishop Medardo Gomez. De Carrillo pointed to CAFTA as a major threat to keeping water a public good, since the agreement gives a legal framework to turn public resources and services into commodities for corporate profiteering. Later, protestors dressed up as the Minister of Health, the Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources, the President of ANDA, corporate representatives, and as journalists from the mainstream media were all rounded up from among the crowd and “handcuffed.” The march then proceeded to take those arrested to the downtown Plaza Civica where the People’s Tribunal tried and sentenced them for environmental devastation, pollution, and an unjust and corrupt administration which violates peoples’ right to water. Community members also spoke about the connections between the high-impact infrastructure projects the government is frantically trying to approve – like mines, damns, and the Northern Highway – and the threat these present to water access.

Yesterday’s march was organized by the Forum for the Defense of the Sustainability and Right to Water, and it was the Forum’s first public action since it formed on September 7th this year with the purpose of reclaiming water as a public and social resource and to oppose the ARENA government’s neoliberal economic policies. CISPES’s paid ad coincided with the march, and featured a letter signed by over 50 U.S. and Canadian organizations demanding Saca respect human rights and people’s right to organize. The letter called on the Salvadoran government to investigate recent human rights abuses and political crimes, and denounced the government’s inaction so far as implicit support for the political repression. The letter, as well as the actions by CISPES activists at consulates in Boston and San Francisco, demonstrate to the Salvadoran government and the social movement that in El Salvador that a broad base of individuals and organizations will be working in solidarity with the fight to stop the privatization of water in El Salvador.

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