Salvadorans march for water rights

Two thousand people from the National Forum for the Defense of the Sustainability and Right to Water marched in El Salvador’s capital Oct. 18 against privatization and for universal access to quality water. Members of labor, environmental, women’s, religious and community groups from throughout the country gathered downtown at the Rio Acelhuate, where San Salvador pumps its sewage. The music, presentations and popular theater all resonated with the main message of the protest: water is a public and social resource and the government’s responsibility is to administrate the resource in an integral and sustainable manner – not make it a source of profit for private corporations.

Wilfredo Romero, general secretary of SETA (the water worker’s union) warned people of the soon-to-be introduced General Water Law. This law was recently presented to the Technical Secretariat of the Presidency so that it may then be introduced to the Legislative Assembly.“This law was prepared without any public consultation whatsoever, and – if passed – it would transfer the administration of water from ANDA [the public water company] to private companies through contracts of up to 50 years called ‘concessions.’ Those unable to pay would simply go thirsty and die,” said Romero.“Water is a right, fighting for it is our duty,” he concluded.

Human Rights Ombudswoman Beatrice de Carrillo and Lutheran Bishop Medardo Gomez also spoke. Before the march to the Civic Plaza in the center of San Salvador, marchers staged a mock round up of the characters responsible for poor water administration. People dressed up as the Minister of Health, the Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources, the President of ANDA, corporate reps, and mainstream media reps were rounded up from among the crowd and handcuffed. They were marched by the crowd the 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 made connections between the high-impact infrastructure projects the government is frantically trying to approve – like mines, dams and the Northern Highway – and the threat these present to water access.

The march was the Forum’s first public action since it formed on Sept. 7 with the purpose of reclaiming water as a public and social resource and to oppose the ARENA government’s neo-liberal economic policies. CISPES simultaneously published a paid ad in two Salvadoran newspapers signed by over 40 US and Canadian organizations demanding [President Antonio] Saca respect human rights and peoples’ right to organize. As CISPES accompanies the Salvadoran’s social movement resistance to CAFTA, we will continue to show solidarity with upcoming actions against privatization and against increasing repression.

From the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), via Upside Down World, Oct. 19

See our last post on Central America, and our October feature on water privatization in El Salvador.