January 31, 2021 – In light of commemorating 29 years since the signing of the Peace Accords, which gave way to democracy in El Salvador, Alianza Americas organized its first virtual delegation “Realities and Challenges: Tools for the transformation of El Salvador.” Leaders of various Alianza Americas member organizations, based in different parts of the U.S., created an informative exchange with representatives from social and human rights organizations, economists, and environmentalists to address the realities and challenges the country faced in 2020, which were aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic, democratic instability, and the climate crisis.
In terms of the economic landscape, economist and academic Carmen Aída Lazo shared that El Salvador experienced post-war advances in various areas that are now at risk of regressing. “When El Salvador came out of the war, six in every 10 households lived in poverty. Before the pandemic, one in every four households lived in poverty. We may be at enormous risk for having poverty levels that we closed the 20th century with,” said Lazo.
Manuel Escalante, deputy director of the Human Rights Institute and coordinator of the Observatory of Human Rights at the Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas (UCA), gave participants an understanding of the landscape of democracy in El Salvador. “This government is characterized by lack of information that does not generate trust. This has an impact on constructing public policies that should take a human rights-based approach.”
Both Lazo and Escalante agreed that the current government of El Salvador has been characterized by using unresolved problems from the past to affect the population’s emotions. “There is a narrative of disregarding the past, which we should use as evidence, and that negative narrative is not exclusive to El Salvador,” Lazo commented.
In analyzing climate change and environmental justice in El Salvador, human rights defender Celia Medrano shared cases that exemplify civil society’s struggle with the Salvadoran state over the deterioration of natural resources. “There are three common factors: wealthy families with political and economic power making decisions for their benefit and to the detriment of the environment and the well-being of the majority of the population; the influences that these families have on State entities, whose duty it is to protect the environment and protect the population from this type of abuse; and that the fate of these construction projects that impact the environment does not favor poor families but for use by families with high purchasing power.”
Cleotilde Guevara, fighter for women’s rights in El Salvador, shared that around 87% of the population lives in environmentally vulnerable conditions. “The people are facing a water crisis, tree clearing, contamination, food crisis, among others. In the midst of this crisis, women as caregivers are the ones fighting on the front line for natural resource protection in their communities,” said Guevara.
The delegation included organized women from feminist and youth movements, as well as investigative journalists who illustrated the environment of violence and security that young people, women and the LGBTI population face in the Central American countries. Karen Moreno, a journalist focused on gender at Revista Gatoencerrado, explained that the situation for women is grave given the ‘machismo’ and misogyny embedded in Salvadoran society, which can also be found in the country’s institutions. Moreno affirmed that the COVID-19 related quarantine “created a breeding ground for femicide since aggressors were shut inside with their victims.” Wendy Morales, director of the Asociación Azul Originario, spoke about the alarming picture of the State’s punitive approach to security and justice. “It’s really difficult to enter a system that is so permeated with corruption that violates due process and access to justice,” said Morales about the vulnerability of young people and human rights defenders. Alejandra Burgos of the Salvadoran Network of Human Rights Defenders shared that around 100 aggressions by public officials and uniformed forces towards human rights defenders and female journalists, we reported. “This authority that the government is giving to uniformed forces continues perpetuating wounds that remain open in El Salvador.” Burgos mentioned that hegemonic decisions from the government have a big impact. He suggested that civil society can work to demand clear proposals from government officials and that opposition is strengthened by diverse representation from youth, human rights groups, and diverse populations.
The leaders of member organizations made the exchange a collaborative experience, sharing updated information and perspectives on the Salvadoran reality. “Thank you Alianza Americas for creating this very necessary virtual space. It’s always refreshing and important to hear the analysis and voices of the people in our countries. That is what inspires me most and motivates me to do my work. I applaud this effort,” said Patricia Montes, executive director of Centro Presente in Boston, MA. “The richness of the delegation is in the exchange,” said Lariza Dugan-Cuadra, executive director of LILA Latinx LGBTQ in Durham, North Carolina, reflecting the necessity to articulate these issues in a transnational way.