Right-wing parties block ratification of human right to water

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During the last plenary session of El Salvador’s 2012-2015 legislature, a bloc of right-wing parties demonstrated their support for elite business interests over the health and well-being of the Salvadoran people. The Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), National Conciliation (PCN), and Christian Democrat (PDC) parties blocked a vote to ratify a Constitutional reform that would have enshrined water and food as human rights.

As Salvadorans face rising food prices caused by free trade policies that have destroyed local agricultural production and repeated attempts to privatize the country’s scarce water resources, tens of thousands of environmental, religious, labor, community and youth activists have spent the last six years in a continuous campaign to get the proposed reform to Article 69 of the Constitution approved. The previous legislature (2009-2012) unanimously approved the reform in 2012, but Salvadoran law requires a two-thirds ratification by the subsequent legislature, which leaves office tomorrow, in order to enact it. As the window for ratification was coming to a close, activists united in the Environmental Alliance carried out weekly mobilizations for the past three months demanding ratification. The frequency of mobilizations increased even more over the last month and polls showed that 85% of the population supported the reform.

CISPES responded to the Environmental Alliance’s call for international solidarity. We joined 135 organizations from 18 different countries in sending a letter to the Legislative Assembly demanding that legislators heed the popular outcry and ratify the reform. We also hit the streets across the United States and took to the internet to collect petition signatures. Along with Oxfam, local churches, Salvadoran-American organizations, and others we were able to add over 5,000 signatures from the United States to the 33,000 collected in El Salvador. Two progressive Congressional leaders – Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) and Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) – also echoed the call, sending letters to Salvadoran legislators to encourage them to protect water as a public resource and as a human right for all.

Sadly, but unfortunately not surprisingly, ARENA, the PCN, and the PDC chose to ignore the voices of the Salvadoran people in favor of the interests of big business, food importers, and an economic elite that hopes to privatize water. Faced with the right-wing parties’ actions to block the ratification, legislators from the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) party managed to introduce an identical reform before the session ended, which was approved by a simple majority. In order to be adopted, however, it will require its own two-thirds ratification by the incoming legislature (2015-2018), which takes office on Friday.

Though the struggle remains an uphill battle, the FMLN’s action ensures that the proposed reform didn’t meet its end last night. As the Environmental Alliance regroups to chart a new course to fight for the reform’s ratification during the next three-year legislative period, CISPES will continue to support and accompany its struggle.

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