Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Organic Veggies and Powerful Women Tucked away in the Chalate Mountains

Los Pozos, Carasque. From Chalate proper, its another two hour drive down roads that remind you of the many corners of El Salvador long abandoned by may consecutive governments. To get there, near the border with Honduras, we drive a more-than-bumpy road, and on it, we pass over the Río Sumpul. The bridge was seriously damaged during Tropical Storm Agatha, the first time in anyone's memory that this bridge has been damaged.

As we stop to look, Rubia, the Women's Secretary of the CCR, points to the tourist center, whose meeting room and cafeteria were washed away by the raging river. As people came to witness, they saw entire refrigerators, tables, chairs rush downstream. Unpassable, people had to walk across the bridge while the buses on either side made 10-point turns on the narrow road to return.

We make it to Los Pozos, but only about halfway up the mountain to the vegetable garden, where the women are waiting for us. We leave the Share-mobile and, in our flimsy flip flops, hike our way up. As we emerge from the brush, we see the vegetable garden, encompassed by cyclon fence, overlooking the view that could make even a lifelong city slicker fall in love: every shade of green imaginable, with the shadows of the clouds lazily making their way over hills and through valleys. Out here, there are no telephone polls, electric wires, bus noises or pollution.
What they do have are pipianes and ayotes (two kinds of squash, pipian right), mora and chipilín (leafy greens), basil, jicama, cucumber, radish, and watermelon, growing like wildfire in the womens committee's vegetable garden. The land, loaned by one of the group's nine members, is the site where these women are learning to plant and care for fruits and vegetables. It is their first time planting something other than corn and beans, and their first time executing a project as a committee.

Gloria, who leads our tour of the vegetable garden, explains: “Where there is no organization, projects don't work.” She emphasizes that this project has helped them strengthen their organization as women: “This project is helping us to be more organized and responsible... we have to keep the the plants healthy. We know that if we are chosen for a project, we have to be responsible to ensure its success.”

The community has a source of water, a spring, so on days when there is no rain, the women are able to water the crops. As they harvest, the crop will be divided between all nine women for their families' consumption, and, if there is extra, will be sold. With the price of fruits and vegetables high, this garden will allow families to expand their diets of rice, beans and tortillas with lush greens and sweet fruits.

A local farmer, Chepito, led the nine women through the process. His house is a stone's throw from the vegetable garden, so with any question or concern, the women simply walk onto his patio and ask. Chepito's home also houses the nursery, where tomato and green pepper seedlings are currently gaining in size and strength to be replanted among the larger, heartier squash and beans.

Chepito also has experience in organic farming, and offered to train the nine women not only in basic planting and plant care, but also in the preparation and application of organic pesticides. Made from easily accesible inputs, including hot peppers and garlic, the organic pesticide has worked in keeping worms and other bugs off of the budding plants. In Los Pozos, they also add a plant, called ipasina, which, according to one of the women as she scrunches her nose, “smells horrible and scares away the insects” after about 10 days of fermention. The rest of the women laugh as she offers me the plastic jug and I take a big whiff; it's no wonder the bugs stay away!

The women, who come to the vegetable garden together about once a week, depending on the need, take advantage of our visit and put us to work. The radishes look just about ready, and we all happily go to work pulling them gently out of the soft, damp earth. Some of the red bulbs still aren't very big, but Rubia and I are informed that the next planting of radishes is ready to go, so out they all come. As we heap them in a pile, the two children accompanying us see the instants results of our work, and join in. They're with us this morning because, for National Teacher's Day, all schools are closed. But they are getting a valuable education in organizing, women's empowerment, organic gardening, and growing in their connection to the earth.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Press Release of the National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining

Last Thursday, July 1st, the Attorney General of the Republic of El Salvador, through the Specialized Department Against Organized Crime (DECO) and the Sub directorate of Investigations of the National Civil Police captured a dozen suspects involved in the murders of the environmentalists Ramiro Rivera Gómez and Dora Sorto Recinos, who were brutally gunned down in December of 2009 in the town of Trinidad, Sensuntepeque (Cabañas). Most of these detainees are only in provisional custody, except for the two alleged intellectual authors of the crimes.

Its important that the Attorney General office has detained some of the alleged murderers, although they only did so seven months after the crimes took place and only under strong international and national pressure. Nonetheless, many aspects of this police action are worrying. Therefore, the communities and organizations of the National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining would like to address three of these points.

Press Conference of the National Roundtable Against Mining

1. The first is the public declarations made by the director of the DECO, Rodolfo Delgado, and the director of Police Investigations, Howard Coto, in which they state that the conflict over mining is not the principal motivation for these horrific crimes and that they were provoked by a family feud. These officials seem to ignore four elements that prove the opposite. The first is that these crimes did not occur in the region until the mining companies began their work and explorations; the second is that the numerous death threats that the environmentalists Rivera and Sorto received before their assassinations emphatically recriminated them for their opposition against the mining projects; the third is that among the detained suspects there are former employees and sympathizers of the Canadian transnational mining company Pacific Rim; and the fourth is the declaration, made in a resolution by the Sentencing Tribunal of Sensuntepeque during the trial of Oscar Menjivar for the attempted assassination of Ramiro Rivera, that the confrontation in Trinidad is a result of conflicting opinions about metallic mining.

2. The second aspect is the intent of the Attorney General and the Police to definitively conclude the investigation of this case, arguing that among the detained there are already all the suspected material and intellectual authors of these assassinations. Here there are a number of suspicious omissions on the part of Delgado y Coto, which should not be ignored. One is the lack of any investigation into the source of the large sums of money with which the hit men were paid for the assassinations, which should include an investigation into the bank accounts and money transfers made by Pacific Rim representatives in this country; the other is that Oscar Menjivar was not captured, despite the fact that these very same authorities connect him to the crime (we must remember that Menjivar is a promoter of the mining projects on the Pacific Rim payroll and has a serious criminal history of violence against anti-mining activists); and lastly the absence of ballistics reports and other scientific evidence in a sustained case with only one confirmed witness.

3. The third worrying aspect of this case is the fact that the only ones captured are those allegedly responsible for the assassinations of the opposition to Pacific Rim in Trinidad, not those responsible for all the other crimes against environmentalists that have been committed in other parts of Cabañas. There have not been any detentions of those who sent death threats to the journalists and employees of Radio Victoria or those who committed the attempted assassination of priest Luis Quintanilla. Neither have there been any new suspects captured from the case of the kidnapping, torture and assassination of Marcelo Rivera, perpetrated more than a year ago and for which only possible material authors have been detained. Meanwhile, cases like the death threats against Neftalí Ruiz and Francisco Pineda, of the Environmental Committee of Cabañas, haven’t even been registered at all by the Attorney General and the Police.

In the face of all these disturbing facts, the National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining reiterates to the Attorney General of the Republic, the National Civil Police and the Judicial System, our demand that they identify, prosecute and condemn the intellectual and material authors of all the assassinations, assassination attempts and deaths threats against the environmentalists who oppose the mining projects of Pacific Rim in Cabañas. It is important to remember the mandate of the Office for the Defense of Human Rights, which orders that the investigations of these crimes be “comprehensive, deep and exhaustive.” At the same time we insist that a law prohibiting mining be passed in El Salvador, because it is necessary to avoid further social conflicts and to ensure that other mining companies don’t sue the Salvadoran state, as Pacific Rim and Commerce Group have already done.

San Salvador, July 13th, 2010

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Planting Seeds of Women's Empowerment in San Pablo Tacachico

The last workshop from women in San Pablo Tacachico in the home vegetable garden part of the SHARE-UCRES Strengthening Women’s Committees and Advocacy for the Defense of the Rio Sucio project was held on the muggy morning of April 28th at CORDES, a technical organization that works alongside CRIPDES, to provide training and assistance for livestock, agriculture, construction, and many other things. Their compound in San Pablo Tacachico is stunningly beautiful—murals painted all over, flowers in full bloom. Women are given a handbook after the five workshops that encompasses all they have learned, including information specific to the fruits and vegetables they will be planting in their home gardens, and have the direct number of a CORDES expert for any questions or support they may need throughout the process.

In this last workshop, where women from Rutilio Grande, La Joya, Huisisilapa, Ita Maura, Dimas Rodriguez, Amayo, San Jorge, Paso Hondo, William Fuentes and Las Arenas were present, we learn about papayas. In a climate as tropical as El Salvador, papaya thrives, and is both very nutritious and in high demand in the local market. We learn about different varieties of papaya, how to plant them, what kinds of fertilizers the plant needs, how long most will take to provide fruit, the importance of weeding and watering, and the different kinds of insects and diseases that will attack the papaya tree, as well as ways to fight these uninvited guests. “Fruits and vegetables,” we were told, “are like being pregnant—you have to give the plant the most vitamins when it is about to produce, while the fruit is growing, so what it gives will be healthy.” We talked about how water is crucial for the papaya, and lots of it, but to stay on guard for root rot: if the land turns into a swamp after heavy rains, we were advised, be sure to dig drainage canals.

Marisol, from Rutilio Grande, whose little girl stole the show, shared her thoughts on pest and disease prevention—“it´s like vaccinating your children before they get sick.” The most popular and effective organic insecticide? Blend garlic and/or hot chili peppers with water and spray on the plant. Bugs hate the taste and smell, and stay away.

Marisol, who shared a very difficult life story with me after the workshop had ended about violence and threats against her, which forced her and her family to flee from San Salvador back to Rutilio Grande, where she was born and raised, lives in a champita—a shack made out of corrugated tin and other collected, found materials—with her husband and four young children. She is incredibly bright and finds the confidence to participate. She is very excited about the vegetable garden initiative, as she and her husband scrape just enough together month to month for the basics—beans, rice and tortillas, but almost never vegetables and much less, fruit. She has already found a buyer for her tomatoes and cabbage—the pupusería in her community, who has also promised to buy mora and chipilin should she ever decide to grow them.

This kind of initiative was applauded and we talked about the additional need to care for fruits and vegetables that will go to market. Silvia, the UCRES Women’s Promoter, also underlined the purpose of the project—food security for families in the region. In that way, she encouraged the women to be sure that their families ate the tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers and fruits they would be planting first, and then sell what was left over.

As the workshop wound to a close, Marisol offered a thanks for UCRES, CORDES and SHARE for making this activity possible and shared her excited for the project and the commitment the women assumed. Carmen, a women’s promoter, motivated the women by encouraging everyone to do work that they could be proud of, that UCRES could be proud of, and that the people who make this project possible could be proud of, too, and work hard to allow this project to benefit other women in the future.

We also took the opportunity to speak with Ana Ruth, the President of the community council in San Jorge, who spoke convincingly and clearly about the threat of GMO seeds and the importance of seeking out and saving semilla criolla, seeds native to El Salvador whose seeds can be saved and planted year after year. In learning and participating in these kinds of workshops, Ana Ruth shares that she makes a commitment to teach others in her community so that everyone can grow and participate in the community’s development.

Please see a video interview friend of SHARE Doriana West made of Ana Ruth as she speaks about her work in her community and the importance of workshops such as these: