El Salvador: Anti-Water Privatization Law Submitted for Legislative Approval

Hundreds of anti-water privatization activists gathered outside El Salvador‘s Legislative Assembly this week to back legislation that would “increase [water] coverage, quality and sustainability and guarantee access… for low income families.”  They presented a new proposal entitled “The Potable Water and Sewage Sub-sector Law” for legislative approval. The alternative proposal was developed by a number of civil society organizations in close consultation with communities struggling for access to clean water.

“This country has among the lowest levels of potable water coverage in Latin America. There is a serious water quality problem, constant shortages and what’s more, there are threats of water privatization. That’s why we decided to work in a collaborative way toward a Potable Water Law. It closes all doors to privatization,” said Armando Flores of the Consumer Defense Center.

Catholic-based Cáritas, the environmental group UNES, ASTAC and 17 other groups contributed to the development of the proposal.

“This law would regulate water usage, rates and service providers…and in a way that puts the service under human control,” said Zoila Quijada, an FMLN deputy, whose party is supporting the measure.

Surprisingly, the right wing National Conciliation Party (PCN in Spanish), often at odds with the FMLN on high-profile issues, also supports the Potable Water proposal. Quoted by the Diario CoLatino, PCN deputy Orlando Arévalo hinted that, rather than a whole-hearted backing of the measure, his party’s support is based on frustration with the ARENA government’s repeated failure to present water sector reform legislation. The future of both proposals is unclear.

The music group Exceso de Equipaje serenaded the crowd outside the Legislative Assembly.

Morazán Gathers to Contest Water Privatization
More that 200 people from San Ysidro held an open forum on water privatization last Saturday. Water workers, a local Catholic priest, and a Conjunto band sought joined residents, many of whom traveled from nearby casillos and cantones (towns and villages). The event was moved outside after the number of attendees exceeded capacity at the local community center.

“As workers at ANDA (El Salvador‘s state-run water company), we feel responsible for letting people know what the government’s privatization plans really are,” said Wilfredo Romero, Secretary General of SETA, the union of ANDA workers. “Their plan calls for ‘decentralization and concessions,’ but it is privatization just the same.”

Despite promises from high-ranking officials, a government-sponsored proposal for a “General Water Law,” has been stalled for months. The proposal would apply to all surface and sub-surface waters in El Salvador and require local municipalities to sign concessions with water management companies for periods of up to 50 years. Similar measures have been reversed or rejected in Bolivia, Argentina and other Latin American countries.

Many attendees said they would oppose any government attempts to privatize the resource in Morazán.