Erica Terence works with Klamath Riverkeeper and the Waterkeeper Alliance. She traveled from her home watershed in the Klamath River Basin of southern Oregon and Northern California to spend six months in Mexico and South America between October and March. Her last stop was El Salvador, where she aimed to exchange stories, strategies and other ideas about defending water resources at home and around the world. Below are excerpts of a blog she wrote about her experience with our partners in El Salvador. You can find the full post here.
By Erica Terence
The people of the Lower Lempa River in Southeast El Salvador have survived civil war, exile, hurricanes, gang violence, water pollution, over fishing and the manifestations of climate change. How? By getting organized, staying organized, and learning to adapt. The rest of the world can learn a lot from the intricate yet extraordinarily effective systems they’ve put in place in their communities.
To understand their multi-layered organizational scheme and why it works for them, you must first understand the incredible history of the people and place.
In the last week of my six-month Latin American sojourn, upon recommendation by a friend, I stopped over in Ciudad Romero, the heart of the zone where the La Coordinadora holds forth. It is a council of representatives from dozens of smaller, more localized community councils. I hoped to learn the how and why of what they’re doing, and I quickly found that the answers to those questions are rooted in their past.
In the 1980s, when a coup and civil war consumed El Salvador, some groups and people became the targets of political violence and their villages were burned. Many people fled, seeking exile first in Honduras, and eventually landing in Panama for more than a decade. The group of exiles were allowed to settle in a remote, rugged jungle in the mountains of Panama. To survive, the exiles built communal housing structures and organized themselves into groups to perform basic, essential functions. Cooperative existence wasn’t always easy, but in that time the Salvadoran exiles came to recognize and appreciate the benefits of working together. When they eventually received news from home, via some visitors, a few decided to brave the trip back home to El Salvador, and soon the rest followed.
In Honduras, the refugees had been stripped of all documentation, including identification that would have legitimized their claims to the land where they had previously lived. Instead of returning to their original homes, exiles coming home settled small plots of land the government granted them in the river delta where the Lempa River enters the Bay of Jiquilisco on the Pacific Ocean. Though the land should have been some of the most fertile in the country, it had been contaminated, overworked and stripped of nutrients by cotton plantations there in an earlier era.
So, the homecoming diaspora struggled to make their livings in difficult circumstances. To make matters worse, the area was subject to extreme flooding during hurricanes and tropical storms, and younger generations began migrating north to the US, bringing back gang allegiances and violence. Bad farming practices were eroding mountainsides, carrying soil from the fields to the bay, plugging up canals in the estuary and changing the delicate salt-water fresh-water balance. Mangrove forests were dying, sea turtles and fishing stocks were in jeopardy, and most communities didn’t have access to potable water. A disproportionately high rate of kidney problems is surfacing in medical facilities in the area, a probable result of the water contamination there. These social, environmental and infrastructure challenges called for people to once again get organized….
…One of the most memorable was a day spent visiting farmers in the upper watershed who had taken it upon themselves to implement anti-erosion projects, organic methods and other sustainable agriculture techniques to demonstrate to their communities the viability and value of those alternatives. After touring berms, swales, diverse native reforestation plantings and community water systems, we arrived at a crystal-clear pool down slope.
Local people swam there, splashing and laughing. A few women did laundry on the edge, while a baby sat in a gently bouncing chair on the bank, facing the water. The level of the pool had come up substantially since the upslope conservation projects had been implemented, my guides reported. Clearly, there was much pride taken, not only in the conservation projects and the benefits the producers could reap from them, but also in the net positive impacts on the community at large. People of all ages downstream got a relatively clean swimming hole and were taking full advantage in the unrelenting Salvadorian heat. It was a good example of the way that the Coordinadora has managed to integrate economic, social and environmental programs. That integration showed through in every project I learned about there…
…Outside of the Klamath Basin, I have rarely heard the word cuenca (watershed) slung around so often. In the Lower Lempa, the watershed defines their existence, and through their existence in a smart, organized, collective way, they are redefining their watershed. The idea of a waterkeeper fits right into this place, where tributaries are sometimes referred to as ojos de agua (eyes of water).
How business drives U.S. foreign policy, and what to do about it.
In September of 2010, President Obama unveiled a sweeping vision for global development. At a UN speech, he promised to elevate sustainable development as a pillar of U.S. foreign power, fundamental in fostering national security and U.S. interests at home and overseas. He outlined this vision in a Presidential Policy Directive, recently released through a court-ordered FOIA request, and began piloting its principles among four emerging market economies around the world. These countries, including El Salvador (the only Latin American economy to participate), entered into a “Partnership for Growth” in which U.S. aid agencies and foreign governments aligned objectives to overcome constraints to economic growth.
Apart from prioritizing broad-based economic growth as fundamental to sustainable development, Obama’s policy directive also does a couple of important things. On one hand, it elevates USAID with a seat on the National Security Council, and sets forth a Global Development Council, which has been slow to get up and running. On the other, it outlines how the U.S. pursues policy reforms in developing countries through “the use of conditionality and performance-based mechanisms.” It also pledges to “leverage the private sector” throughout the policy reform process as a willing partner in development.
In El Salvador, we are seeing both conditionality and this private sector inclusion play out through the “Partnership for Growth.” So far, private sector interests may be trumping the public good, and rule of law.
Back in May of 2013, El Salvador’s legislature approved a new, Public-Private Partnership Law, or PPP law. The vote was completely unanimous, with one legislator reporting a voice vote after showing up late to the roll call, for fear of being labeled as against the measure. For the first time, El Salvador laid the groundwork for a partnership with the private sector, no small feat when considering El Salvador’s history within our lifetime. However, select members of the private sector weren’t satisfied with the PPP law, and the U.S. began to push for further reform.
As part of Obama’s Partnership for Growth, a Council for Economic Growth was instituted including individuals from the Funes administration, and seven prominent members of El Salvador’s private sector. Together with the Salvadoran Foundation for Economic and Social Development (FUSADES), the Council proposed a series of changes to the current PPP law. These included allowing the government to concession off the water sector to be managed in private hands, increasing the amount of public funds set aside to promote PPPs, outlining a public registry for PPPs, and clarifying the national and international arbitration processes. These reforms also proposed to limit the National Assembly’s approval of concessions, and empowered a relatively new executive agency, PROESA, to make most of these decisions.
In response, the U.S. Embassy vocalized its support for the private sector reform agenda. In tandem, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) put the approval process for $277 million in aid money on hold, setting a unique precedent. Never before had the MCC’s Board of Directors approved an aid package, and then stalled on its signing and ratification. Surprisingly, a look at the structure of the $277 million aid package, and El Salvador’s legal landscape shows that no new laws are needed to execute the 5-year project, known as FOMILENIO II. Part of this package, or compact, also includes technical advice toward appropriate PPPs for El Salvador’s international airport and wind farm in Metapán, each of which could be financed under the current funding ceiling for PPPs. So, it makes little sense for the U.S. to push specific reforms beyond what is required of its immediate foreign aid agenda.
Regardless, the U.S. embassy and MCC continue to push a narrow reform agenda on PPP, and other domestic Salvadoran policies, including money laundering and agricultural seed acquisition—the latter reportedly in conflict with Chapter 9 of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).
In the context of PPP reforms, the U.S. is clearly backing the private sector at the expense of a sustainable public sector, and rule of law.
The current PPP law obliges the Salvadoran state, through its different Ministries, to seek out opportunities for private sector engagement. These PPPs, once designed, would then be funded in part by the state which sets aside a public fund as a percentage of El Salvador’s gross domestic product. It is unclear per the current law, backed by the United States, whether or not the Salvadoran government would fund these long-term concessions by accruing more public debt. Article 67 of the current PPP law leaves the door open for loan financing of private sector engagement. Reforms backed by the United States also go a step further by increasing the size and breadth of that fund, essentially opening up the Salvadoran government and its people to more risk associated with propping up private sector engagement.
U.S.-backed reforms also seek to limit public debate about these PPPs. Though Article 120 of El Salvador’s constitution explicitly states that only the Legislative Assembly can approve long-term economic concessions to the private sector. Instead, reformers and the United States would rather empower an existing agency, PROESA, to assess, design, value, and approve the viability of PPPs. El Salvador has already seen what back-door dealings with the private sector can do to their economy, the perfect case being a deal put forth between the previous Flores administration, and the Italian company ENEL. Unknown to the public or the National Assembly, this deal has been valued at a staggering $2.1 billion dollars to date, and found unconstitutional by the Salvadoran Constitutional Court in 2012.
Proponents for reform, including members of the Council for Economic Growth, argue that empowering a centralized agency to promote PPP policy is better for business and the investment climate. In actuality, a review of current PPP facilities does not support this claim. In a survey conducted by the Overseas Development Institute in 2013, of eight developed and developing countries with a centralized PPP facility like PROESA, only the United Kingdom possessed a PPP unit with as much power. Even in the Philippines, coincidently another “Partnership for Growth” country, its version of PROESA is only empowered to provide technical assistance, not set policy or approve key aspects of PPPs without clear oversight. Along with the basic parameters of the social, environmental and economic feasibility of these PPP deals, the Salvadoran public must be aware of their benefits, and pitfalls. Bottom-line: if a PPP’s Rate of Return on investment for the private sector is higher than El Salvador’s government bond rate, a PPP would make little sense.
At the time this blog was being written, El Salvador’s national assembly was discussing a law to establish PROESA, introduced by the ARENA caucus of the Treasury Commission. This current law, if approved as is, would empower PROESA to establish an internal executive council to approve the basis for PPPs, including how they are designed to meet private sector candidates, and concessions are overseen. No mention is made of linkages to the National Legislative Assembly, nor public transparency mechanisms within PROESA. (UPDATE: The National Assembly approved the PROESA law 74-0, with little discussion in April 9th’s plenary session.)
Enabling debt financing for new private sector concessions, limited public debate and questionable transparency processes. All of this presents serious rule-of-law complications, and all of it is currently being supported by the U.S. government and its aid mission.
El Salvador has just been through a nail-biter of an election cycle, which highlighted a stark political divide in the country. Nevertheless, each presidential candidate voiced their unconditional support for the private sector, and its engagement as a partner in the country’s development. Publicly, there was little daylight between Salvador Sanchez Cerén of the FMLN and Norman Qujano of ARENA on the issue. The debate about PPPs as a tool for economic growth, and even whether or not the private sector should or shouldn’t be engaged in El Salvador’s development agenda, is over. What remains now is whether or not the private sector and the government of El Salvador, as mutual partners, are put on equal footing.
As was the call made on the floor of the U.S. Senate last September, the United States and its agencies like the MCC need to support policy reforms that enable rule-of-law in El Salvador to empower the public sector, not sideline it to expedite narrow private interests. This includes proper legislative oversight over an agency like PROESA, limiting its power as a technical assistance branch of PPPs, and being cautious in opening the flood gates to PPPs through increased funding, and increased risk exposure for a burgeoning public sector. Local, municipal governance structures also need to be prioritized. Alongside national Ministries, local governments should be empowered to, if they so choose, propose and oversee their own PPPs for the good of their distinct local constituencies.
In the Bay of Jiquilisco, Usulután, as well as in La Paz and San Vicente, civil society is forging a coalition with local governments to manage sustainable, inclusive coastal development. The United States and FOMILENIO II should enable these efforts, each already supported by the Salvadoran government through its “Territorios de Progreso” program and National Coastal Zone strategy. This will be especially important with new and unprecedented tourism development being planned for the region´s important coastal areas like the Bay of Jiquilisco.
To the EcoViva community:
I’m very pleased to personally introduce you to our incoming Executive Director, Karolo Aparicio.
Back in November I announced the decision that I would be transitioning out of my role as Executive Director this month. I recognized that for EcoViva to achieve its ambitious 5-year vision plan, we would need a leader who has the time and capacity to build a stronger network for us within the San Francisco Bay Area, around the United States and within Central America. Karolo is precisely that leader.
Karolo Aparicio comes to EcoViva as an accomplished manager and expert fundraiser with a deep commitment to environmental sustainability and social justice. Karolo was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area to Guatemalan immigrant parents, and has spent time in rural and urban communities in Central America. Throughout his career, he has dedicated himself to advancing causes that relate strongly to our mission. As Director of Individual Giving at International Rivers he raised funds for grassroots movements to stop the destruction of tropical forests by large hydroelectric dams. As Development Director at the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the Sierra Club, he worked to address the root causes of climate change. Most recently, as Director of Donor Services at the Global Fund for Women, he has supported grassroots movements for gender equity around the world.
Karolo is the right leader for EcoViva, at the right time. Our work has taken a tremendous leap. Two of the key leaders of our primary partner organization in El Salvador, the Mangrove Association, now sit in the National Legislature. Many of the community projects we have supported for years – school gardens, native corn seed production, reforestation, ecosystem restoration, youth-run community radio – are now being supported by the national government, and in most cases have expanded to reach much broader areas. And with the FMLN winning this month’s historic presidential elections, opportunities for productive alliances with the Salvadoran national government are likely to increase.
The work of the Mangrove Association has expanded from two municipalities with a population of about 20,000 people to 14 municipalities with a population of about 250,000 people, covering the entire watershed area of the Bay of Jiquilisco. We’re not yet supporting community projects in all of those municipalities, but we are supporting a process of community organizing and alliance-building that will generate bottom-up strategic plans for the long-term sustainability of the entire area. And we are beginning to apply what we’ve learned in El Salvador about authentic, long term partnerships for community-led social change to other areas of Central America, beginning with a pilot partnership in Honduras.
I remain personally committed to EcoViva, as a volunteer and as a donor. I feel proud of how far we have come in the last five years, and I’m excited to see us grow further. I will do everything I can to help, and I hope you will as well. That’s why I’m asking you to join with me today and give a donation to welcome Karolo Aparicio as our new director. I have pledged up to $2,000 from my own savings as a matching challenge to you and to all of our supporters.
I hope you’ll help me exceed this goal, so that we can start our new chapter stronger than ever before.
If you’re ever in the San Francisco Bay Area, please come by our offices in Oakland to meet Karolo and our wonderful team. And if you haven’t done so already, I hope you’ll come on one of our many Community Empowerment Tours to El Salvador to witness the inspiring work of our local community partners for yourself. It’s a life-changing experience!
It’s been a privilege and an honor for me to get to know so many of you personally over the last five years, and I am looking forward to staying connected with you as part of the EcoViva community.
Thank you for your commitment to community-led change, in your community and around the world.
Over the last year, we’ve been posting quite a bit about the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation and its activities in El Salvador. This post is meant to provide some background information on the government institution and how it relates to our work.
Established by Congress in 2004 under the Bush administration, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) is an independent U.S. foreign aid agency that aims to make aid for global poverty reduction “smart” by incorporating measures to ensure greater transparency, accountability, and sustainability into the aid process. Unlike USAID, MCC doesn’t distribute emergency relief or food aid. It aims to promote development primarily by spurring economic growth, employing a more “businesslike” approach. You can think of MCC as a leaner, meaner version of USAID, with its own agenda.
MCC is much more selective about who receives aid. The entity supports global poverty reduction but prioritizes countries that demonstrate positive performance in indicators of governance, economic freedom, and citizen investment. Countries who meet these standards are eligible to receive compacts, large ($352 million on average), five-year aid packages. Threshold programs, which consist of smaller grants ($21 million on average) and typically last between two to three years, target countries not yet eligible for compacts but who are working towards satisfying the criteria.
Another notable aspect of the MCC is its emphasis on country ownership of the development process. Evidence-based policies and country ownership of development projects – as opposed to the prescriptive schemes that all too often characterize international aid – are the guiding principles of the MCC. Aid-seeking countries are responsible for engaging their citizens to identify development priorities and involving their experts to propose solutions. They must present an integrated development plan to the MCC in order to be awarded funding and then are in charge of administering the grant and implementing the planned projects. In this way developing countries take charge of their development.
El Salvador entered into its first five-year compact with the MCC in 2007. Fomilenio is the Salvadoran institution created to administer these MCC funds and projects in-country. $461 million dollars were committed to projects in the northern region of the country, 40 percent of which went to improving transportation infrastructure along the Northern Transnational Highway. About 22 percent went to water and electricity systems projects and education initiatives and another 17 percent went to supporting farmers and small businesses.
A second compact, Fomilenio II, which would channel $277 million of investment into development projects primarily in El Salvador’s rural coastal zone where EcoViva and its partners also work, has yet to be signed. The MCC postponed the signing in late November of last year pending certain reforms and has indicated that the process would resume after the conclusion of the 2014 presidential elections. The signing is conditional on these reforms (also here) deemed necessary to improve the investment climate in El Salvador, most notably changes to a law governing public private partnerships (known as the P3 law) that was passed in May 2013. The MCC is not alone in prioritizing business climate improvements. Since the U.S. signed its “Partnership for Growth” with El Salvador in 2010, all U.S. foreign aid agencies in El Salvador must focus on two areas: alleviating violent crime and low performance in the export sector.
This piece by our Program and Policy Director Nathan Weller delves into how this second MCC compact with El Salvador could affect EcoViva’s and our partner organization’s work in the Bay of Jiquilisco. Community members and stakeholders are concerned that their proposals are no longer being considered for MCC funding, which instead is being channeled to select private enterprises. While Fomilenio II represents a valuable investment in the country’s economic development, the project risks shutting out important local actors such as our partners at the Mangrove Association, who have been successfully building a sustainable rural economy in the area for a long time now. It is for this reason that EcoViva will continue advocating for the inclusion of local voices in the planning process, so that MCC funding and its initiative have the best chance for success throughout the country’s unique, and vulnerable, coastal zone.
By Amy Kessler, Team El Salvador
Each January, a group of graduate students from the Monterey Institute of International Studies travels to El Salvador with EcoViva. This group, called Team El Salvador, works with our partners to conduct research on local initiatives and is an example of the important role that technical assistance plays in our partnership. Amy Kessler was a member of Team El Salvador 2013 &2014. In addition, she spent the summer of 2013 in the Lower Lempa to continue her work. Amy is a 2014 candidate for a Master of International Environmental Policy and Business Administration.
As a student of environmental policy, I was familiar with the works of Elinor Ostrom** and the discourse surrounding environmental-governance before I began working with the communities in the Lower Lempa [region of El Salvador] in January of 2013. I recall first learning that Ostrom’s works provided the ideological foundation of the Local Plan for Sustainable Use (PLAS): while hearing this excited my academic side, my realistic (or perhaps cynical) side questioned whether that translated to anything tangible on the community-level implementation of the PLAS.
The Local Plan for Sustainable Use (PLAS) of the mangrove resources is currently in the fourth year of its five-year legal application. Based on the communal governance principles of Elinor Ostrom, the support for the PLAS grew in response to increasing exploitation of mangrove resources and conflict triggered over the use and title of such resources. As a locally constructed plan, it is based on self-regulation and communal ownership, which largely depend on residents’ identification with the community and their commitment to the long-term health and development of the area. Moreover, it requires a level of communal knowledge and organization guided by strong leadership and maintained through functioning lines of communication. Lastly, communal governance depends on well thought-out and implemented systems that enable regular feedback and revision.
Three years after the implementation of the PLAS, the Mangrove Association requested an evaluation of its functionality and impact on the local communities. The study, completed by a group of graduate students from the Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS), myself included, evaluated the critical components of a well-functioning communal governance system: community awareness of the plan, attitude towards the plan, and behavior in response to the plan. The study demonstrated the communities’ support for the protection of the mangrove forests and for a sustainable use plan. However, it further highlighted the need to improve communication of the PLAS as well as promote greater communal-ownership of the plan.
Since the PLAS was first implemented in 2010, several other communities have followed-suit by forming their own local management plans. The PLAS has thus served as a to tool to promote and guide locally adopted management plans. However, it is important to note that when the original PLAS was first written, it was an innovative tool based on an ideology. It was a first of its kind for El Salvador. Thus, like all prototypes, I expect it to have flaws and to need revision.
In response to the findings of the evaluation, the Mangrove Association, in collaboration with EcoViva, requested a team of MIIS students to work with the communities to strengthen the lines of communication and structural organization of the PLAS. In January of 2014, we performed a network analysis to understand how each stakeholder viewed their role in relation to the PLAS and to each other. Moreover, we solicited ideas from community leaders and park rangers for the design and implementation of a community-wide educational campaign, emphasizing the responsibility of community leaders as disseminators of information. Through various focus groups, we further discussed the role of community leaders as links between their communities and higher institutions.
We believe that strengthening the role of community leaders as educators and facilitators of bilateral communication will enable the communities to improve the structural organization of the PLAS and build effective systems for feedback. Moreover, that cultivating the shared knowledge of the PLAS and its community-based roots will support greater participation and patronage required for the functionality of communal-governance.
This past January was my third visit to the region since the beginning of 2013. With the words of community leaders, park rangers and members of the Mangrove Association still fresh in my mind, both my academic and realistic sides feel confident that the communities of the Lower Lempa have a strong support-base and understanding of communal-governance, leaving me entirely and optimistic and excited by the application of Ostrom’s ideologies.
** Elinor Ostrom (1933-2012) was an American political economist who pioneered the concept of protecting natural resources without formal regulations or privatized property. Her work to examine the role of local institutions and communities in protecting Common Pool Resources, such as forests, fisheries and cattle grazing lands, was recognized in 2009 with a Nobel Prize in economics. Her concepts also provide the theories that government of El Salvador employs as the basis for mangrove protections such as the Local Plan for Sustainable Use, discussed above. **
It is with enthusiasm and confidence that I welcome Karolo Aparicio as EcoViva’s new Executive Director! EcoViva’s Board and the Search Committee have just completed a five month search to find a new ED after Yael announced in November that she would be leaving the end of March. Karolo comes to EcoViva with extensive fundraising experience serving most recently as the Director of Donor Services for the Global Fund for Women. He has also worked as the Development Director for the San Francisco Chapter of the Sierra Club and as Director of Individual Giving at International Rivers.
Karolo’s vision and work priorities have been environmental sustainability and social justice, internationally and domestically, and he is connected with the networks in the Bay Area committed to these issues. On a personal level, Karolo was at ease during his four tiers of interviews and moved us all with his warmth, passion, and competence. “Extremely likeable and impressive,” is how I describe him. He will begin working for EcoViva on April 16, and started meeting with Yael and the staff on as Friday March 14. He will visit our partners in El Salvador before and in preparation of our joint Board meeting in June.
While I welcome Karolo with great expectations, I also want to acknowledge the tremendous contributions that Yael Falicov, our departing ED, has made to EcoViva and our partners. During her five years she brought us from Austin to Oakland, where we have become connected in the Bay Area and she has attracted talented and dedicated staff. Yael has tightened the connection and communication with our Salvadoran partners building their trust and at the same time greatly increasing our financial, technical and solidarity support for their work. Yael has helped build our Board into the current enthusiastic, informed, and dedicated body we are today. Because of Yael, Karolo inherits an organization on the rise with much greater resources and potential. I am sure these sentiments are shared by the rest of the Board. Working with Yael has been more than a pleasure. It has been exciting, inspiring, motivating, fulfilling and quite often just fun. There are not enough superlatives to express her understanding, commitment, sensitivity, thoughtfulness and caring. I am sure she will remain a stalwart of support for EcoViva and the Mangrove Association.