Protests to Demand Access to Water Shut down Bridges and Highways
In actions around the country yesterday, protestors demanded the government not approve the General Water Law that would open up the public water administration to decentralization and privatization. Members of the water workers union (SETA) and others shut down the road in front of the legislative assembly for two hours before the riot police broke up the protest. Meanwhile, communities in other strategic points around the country Santa Ana, Ahuachapan, Chalatenango, and the Puente de Oro (Bridge of Gold) shut down roads and major bridges to demand the legislative assembly not approve ARENAs law. Government officials including Cesar Funes, head of the Public Water Administration (ANDA), have said that they will introduce the law to the Legislative Assembly in the coming days or weeks.
Protestors instead are calling on the government to approve an alternative proposal, put forward by consumer advocates and environmental groups, which would place the responsibility of guaranteeing universal access to water clearly on the government and not in private hands. For more information on the water protests, see http://upsidedownworld.org/main/content/view/548/1/ .
Minor Changes in Cabinet Signal Little Hope for Change in "Mano Dura" Crime Policies
With increasing pressure to do something about crime, President Saca announced on Monday, December 4th the creation of a new Ministry of Security and Justice. Officially, the new ministry will directly oversee the National Civilian Police, the prison system, judges and other related offices. However, the shift signals little change, since Saca named Rene Figueroa, former Minister of Interior, as the new Minister. Yet Figueroa was in charge of all these same functions in his previous role. Saca also created the ministry without concrete proposals to combat crime and without a budget, so now he and his ARENA party are proposing tax on cellular phone calls and a 100 million dollar loan from the World Bank for its financing.
The Human Rights Ombudsperson, the FMLN and social organizations have all criticized the then Ministry, saying that it lacks a real proposal to eradicate violence. They have also pointed out that the real need is not for more focus on "security," but rather that the ministry should be Ministry of Justice, since a better justice system would be the basis for security. Many people see this new ministry as a continuation of ARENAs "Super Mano Dura" (Iron Fist) policy. FMLN Deputy Sigfrido Reyes pointed out that creating a new ministry without changing strategy will not solve the crime problem, and that Figueroa has failed in the past.
The municipalities governed by the FMLN in the metropolitan area have presented their own initiative to combat crime, including the creation of laws that prohibit carrying guns in public spaces and the selling of alcohol after certain hours. However, the Human Rights Ombudsperson Beatrice de Carrillo is sceptical of municipalities carrying the burden of guaranteeing public safety, since it is not their jurisdiction, but rather the responsibility of the presidency and the National Civilian Police.
Nonetheless, Saca also announced his intention to create local committees of security whose main role would be to coordinate with the National Police. He is proposing that there be 364 committees in communities and neighbourhoods around the country. While the nature and function of these committees is unclear, just the idea of the state sending neighbours out to spy on each other is too reminiscent for many Salvadorans of the similar bodies that were set up as part of the states repressive apparatus during the 1980s.
Rightwing parties approve sending 8th battalion of troops to Iraq
ARENA and its right wing ally party, the PCN, voted to send the 8th battalion of troops to Iraq composed, in complete disregard public opinion: the vast majority of the population (81% according to a survey conducted by UCA) is against sending more troops to Iraq. Even Opus Dei archbishop of San Salvador, Saenz Lacalle has called for bringing the soldiers home. Five Salvadoran soldiers have died in Iraq since the first battalion was sent in 2003. To justify being the only Latin American country with military presence in Iraq, Saca and other ARENA deputies insinuate that in return Bush will repay El Salvador with political and economic favors.
Earlier this month the smaller right wing party, the PCN, voiced opposition to sending the 8th battalion, saying agreements with former U.S. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld have not been fulfilled, including U.S. economic support for the Salvadoran Military. However, on December 12th, the PCN voted with ARENA in favor of sending more troops to Iraq scheduled to leave this February. Additionally, ARENA and the PCN have begun talk of unifying the right presumably around a single candidate for the 2009 presidential elections as a way of warding off any efforts of the victory of the left in El Salvador.