Salvadorans have been taking to the streets for the past month demanding that water stays in the hands of the people, not private businesses.
In early June, just a month after the conservative majority legislator (2018-2022) went into session, lawmakers began to approve measures within the right-wing ARENA (Nationalist Republican Alliance) “Comprehensive Water Law” that would privatize water.
Their bill would also create a water management oversight committee, but stacked with private business leaders.
This has prompted thousands of university students, the Catholic church, members of the National Alliance Against Water Privatization and National Water Forum to take to the streets several times over the past weeks demanding that water stay public.
These groups and other conservation organizations are demanding that legislators not privatize water and approve the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) “General Water Law.” The FMLN bill, originally put forth in 2006, would define and protect water as a human right, ensure its universal access, and calls for the water management oversight committee to consist of state institutions, not corporations.
While ARENA denies that their bill will privatize water and would be kept for the “common good,” social movements say they aren’t fooled by this rhetoric that they have heard in the past.
At a recent demonstration, a National Alliance Against Water Privatization spokesperson declared, “If they violate our rights [to water], we are obligated to protest and to make demands when they cause us harm. This Comprehensive Water Law that ARENA is pushing is a mechanism to privatize – this isn’t something we are making up. We have experiences with the privatization of the banks, telecommunications, dollarization. And they won’t fool us.”
The Salvadoran Episcopal Conference even began a slogan against water privatization, "Don’t let the poor die of thirst." The conference also wrote a letter to the President of the Legislative Assembly and the Environmental Commission within the assembly that heads this debate, making four demands: that water remains the right of all people; that the rain collection areas be protected; that quality of the water be guaranteed, and that water be used efficiently.
Salvadorans have a lot to be concerned about in terms of access to quality drinking water.
In April 2015, parts of the country experienced a prolonged drought which brought on water shortages. Environmental conditions in the country helped lead to the dire situation. El Salvador has the highest degree of deforestation in the Americas, only after Haiti, According to the U.N., only 3 percent of its forests remain. More than 90 percent of the country’s surface water is contaminated.
Organizations are still making their demands heard so that the right-wing, pro-business water bill doesn’t make it through.
The Grand Alliance for National Unity’s within the legislator has demanded that the water oversight committee be removed from the proposal being debated.
Dina Argueta, FMLN lawmaker on the Environmental Commission, says her party is still demanding that the commission take up the FMLN General Water Law that has been debated in previous sessions.
Argueta said, “We are not going to work on a privatizing document and we will not vote for the [Comprehensive Water Law],” affirming that the FMLN’s position to ensure that “legal authority for water remains with the State,” reports Upside Down World.
Their pressure seems to be paying off because last week the commission opened up the debate to the public.