El Salvador: Deputy Chief of Mission Robert Blau thinks the environmental group protesting a dam is just a sham of the hard-line left opposition. Is it?
“A recent wave of protests organized by a so-called environmental group, “La Coordinadora Nacional de Medio Ambiente (CNMA)”, are likely part of a movement by hard-line elements of the FMLN to undermine President Funes. Over the past several weeks, the CNMA has carried out ostensibly protesting GOES [Government of El Salvador] plans to continue with the construction of the hydroelectric dam “Chaparral” and perceived inequities in the seed disbursement program to farmers. It seems that hard-line members of the FMLN party are using this relatively unknown organization to vent their frustration about the direction of economic policy and directly challenge the President….
In each case, only a small portion of the population is adversely affected by the policy decisions….Mass street protests are part of the traditional FMLN play book and are one battlefront in an ongoing struggle for power between the orthodox FMLN and President Funes. Funes said at a meeting Thursday August 27 that his administration will not yield to blackmail. There is broad public support for the need for Funes to prevail.
This all seems a bit melodramatic and not a little Reganesque.
Remember that Funes is already from the left party. The “hard-line elements of the FMLN” are other people in his Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front party. Mike Allison, a poli-sci professor and blogger, has helpfully analyzed the cables but on this one says: “Sorry, but I don’t know anything about these strikes and neither does it appear from the cable that Blau does (or at least he isn’t saying).” But he doesn’t quite buy the logic that because there was a big protest it had to be FMLN.
There are pretty good reasons to oppose dams in El Salvador, even if you aren’t secretly undermining a pro-US leader. El Salvador is the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America and it has the smallest portion and sheer area of protected land. Only 2-5% of the forest remains, so wildlife depend on “green” coffee plantations, Chris Wille of the Rainforest Alliance told the BBC.
The main reasons people don’t like the dam is because it will flood their homes, says Tim’s El Salvador blog. Even those not evicted might not be able to use the river for things like swimming, bathing and washing dishes and clothes, says Gringa in El Salvador. The blog Voices from El Salvador says “hydroelectric projects in the past have done little for the displaced populations in rural areas since they usually are not the people in need of more electricity. What they do need is their farmland and homes that are subsequently flooded by dam construction. In the 1950s, many displaced persons from the 5 of November dam project joined guerrilla forces against the government.”
Dams are a huge political issue in Central America. This dam project was started by conservatives and Funes took lots of campaign money from the electric company.
So Blau may be right in that there isn’t a big environmental groundswell against the dam. The impact of dams–aside from the mass flooding–is that have run-off and they prevent wildlife from migrating through the river, particularly fish mating. The Torola river goes into the Rio Lempa, which goes into the Pacific. But big groups like International Rivers opposed the dam and they don’t have a grudge against Funes. The jaguar, ocelot and spider monkeys are here, but suffering from habitat loss. Meanwhile the president stopped work on a similar dam, El Cimarron, so the opposition’s concern’s probably aren’t all fabricated. I think Blau and the US could take the concerns about the dam a little more seriously.
Where to See Wildlife in Latin America