COMMUNITIES BEGIN PRESSURE FOR PARTICIPATION ON NATURAL AREAS

On Thursday September 23, 10 lower Lempa residents from 8 communities introduced an initiative to the Legislative Assembly around the Law of Natural Areas which threatens to negatively impact the lives of 110,000 people in the Bay of Jiquilisco and 175,000 in La Unin alone (according to studies by the Ministry of the Environment which is promoting the law.  While the community representatives present support protecting the environment they continue to disagree with numerous points contained in the draft legislation.  The initiative was presented jointly by the Association of United Communities for the Social and Economic Development of the Lower Lempa (ACUDESBAL) and the Coordinator of the Lower Lempa.
 
For several years virtually no coordination has existed between these two organizations yet they have been able to commence coordination in action around the threat presented to hundreds of thousands of rural poor in El Salvador if the bill is passed without reforms.
 
Also supporting the initiative though not present for the press conference and introduction of the initiative are Communities for Faith and Life (COFEVI) of the Lutheran Church, and the National Association of Agricultural Workers (ANTA) all of which are member organizations of the Peoples Social Bloc for Real Democracy (BPS).
 
The initiative will enter into the legislative record at the next plenary of the Assembly slated for the morning of Thursday September 30.  As of now 3 buses have been secured by ACUDESBAL to mobilize residents of the lower Lempa and other communities near the Bay of Jiquilisco as well as 2 buses from the area of the Impossible Forest in Ahuachapan by COFEVI while outreach continues to other organizations to guarantee a presence of 300 people outside of the legislature next Thursday.  Currently the communities and their organizations hope to gain time for continued organizing and pressure around this initiative.
 
According to a member of the Health and Environment Commission of the legislature, Roger Nerio Blandino (Jeremias) Legislative Deputy for the FMLN, who signed on to the community based initiative.  This week, for the first time the full bench of FMLN Deputies assessed the seriousness of the possible impact of the bill in the wake of a 2 day session of the commission with Ministry representatives.  At the meeting the small center parties aligned with the legislators of the governing ARENA Party and the right wing PCN to approve the bill as is.  The four FMLN deputies abandoned the 11 member commission and broke quorum preventing approval of the bill, therefore keeping it in the Commission.  In light of the support to build a simple majority among the 84 legislators with only the 31 legislators of the FMLN in opposition, Blandino assessed that the only way this battle can be won is in the streets, (referring to the need for grassroots pressure to stop the immediate passage of the bill as is, without integrating input from concerned communities collected last Friday at a public forum held by the Commission in a San Salvador Hotel.
 
The first step to toward building that pressure comes with the community initiative for reforms that will enter the plenary of  the legislature on September 30.  The Union of Workers of the Social Security Institute have pledged to mobilize members and to assist with press work leading up to next Thursdays protest
 
Voices on the Border is seeking contributions to support community mobilization for participation in the final formulation of this law.
 
 
COMMUNITY BASED PROPOSAL AROUND THE LAW FOR NATURAL PROTECTED AREAS
 
Based on a forum of 145 lower Lempa communities last week and continued forums being held, the community based proposal to the legislature developed with support from Voices on the Border and an Advisor to the Health and Environment Commission of the Legislative Assembly proposes the following nine points:
 
1. Due to the fact that none of the community leaders have been consulted regarding the proposal; prior to the Forums held be the Legislative Commission, the bill should be published in all of the communication media, accompanied by a real process of consultation with communities in the areas that would be affected;
 
2. That titles to land and for exploitation of resources that exist be recognized in areas of salt water forests and not only in other areas such as craters, lakes etc. (article 9 of the bill).  It should be noted that inhabitants of the coastal swamp areas are largely poor people, in some cases beneficiaries of the land reform of the Peace Accords that ended the civil war, which stand to lose their titles under the current draft of the law.  On the other hand, in many of the other natural areas property owners include for example, former President Alfredo Cristiani (the crater lake of Coatepeque, Santa Ana) and Health and Environment Commission member Dr. Hector Silva (crater of the Chaparistique Volcano in San Miguel.  Additionally land titles should be resolved for inhabitants that have lived in these areas and sought legal rights but as of yet have not been recognized by the government.
 
3. That there be financing and incentives to communities and cooperatives for preserving the environment.
 
4. That affected communities are given real participation in the determining of the shock absorbing zones surrounding the protected areas.
 
5. That the definitions of Salt forests be made clear as it is left ambiguous in the current draft as well as the reach and use of zones of shock absorption in an explicit manner in the bill.
 
6.  That in the case of concessions in protected areas for extraction, hunting, production, cutting trees etc, that the communities and cooperatives working and inhabiting the areas be the only recipients of concessions.
 
7. That the same communities and inhabitants fence mark natural areas with support from the government instead of the police and Army as currently contemplated in the bill.
 
8. That the communities and cooperatives adjoining protected areas administer the protected areas with support from the government.
 9. That the authority to establish and declare natural protected areas rest with the Legislative Assembly and not the central government as the legislature is more accountable due to its representative structure by department (state or province).

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