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February 5, 2010

Recent News from El Salvador: Water and Power

Two postings appeared online today concerning El Salvador, and both concerned the corrosive influence of power in denying potable water to ordinary people.

My 2007 novel, Blood of Paradise, dealt with corruption and water in present-day El Salvador. My upcoming novel, Do They Know I'm Running?, also addresses the current state of affairs in Central America, though more through the lens of crime and immigration.

The first article appeared in the Guardian, and is an op ed piece addressing the cynical use of provisions within CAFTA by Canadian mining conglomerate Pacific Rim to strong-arm El Salvador into either granting gold mining rights or paying up to $100 million for saying no.

The government's rejection of the plan first came during the regime of conservative president Tony Saca, though it's unclear whether his rejection resulted from environmental concerns or the desire to help cronies rake in a windfall by shorting Pacific Rim's stock.

New president Mauricio Funes has stood by the rejection, basing his position in part on the report of an independent geologist regarding the potential negative impact on groundwater the mining project would cause.

But CAFTA permits multinational corporations to ignore domestic courts and go to an international tribunal set up through the World Bank, claiming damages for "lost profits" even when the host country rejects the plan on environmental or other grounds. The U.S. defended itself against a similar lawsuit in recent years, but poor, cash-strapped El Salvador stands a good chance of being bulldozed.

As this op ed piece notes, and I have discussed on this website, the mining project has also been the cause of at least three extra-judicial murders, one of a woman who was eight months pregnant.

The second article appeared on Tim Muth's El Salvador Blog, one of my favorite venues for news about El Salvador. (Tim belongs to a Lutheran church in Wisconsin that has a sister church relationship with the community of Tonacatapeque.) Today he offered links to two online videos concerning two recently released documentaries on water issues in El Salavador. As Tim states in his set-up, quoting journalist/filmmaker Jason Wallach:

El Salvador receives 3 times as much water in rainfall as what its 6 million inhabitants consume annually, yet 40% of Salvadorans do not enjoy potable water in their homes.

The clips on Tim's blog are well worth watching, and the documentaries they promote deserve a wider audience than I'm afraid they'll gain.

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