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Archive | February, 2011

Women at the Forefront of Grassroots Organising

Cristina Reyes, president of the local community council, is working to improve women’s lives. (Photo: Erika Blumenfeld/IPS)

CIUDAD ROMERO, El Salvador – Women are playing a leading role in a powerful social movement addressing natural resource protection, adaptation to climate change, and corporate accountability in this coastal village in El Salvador.

Cristina Reyes is currently in her second term as president of the local community council in Ciudad Romero, located in the department (province) of Usulután, on the Pacific Ocean.

Her work bringing electricity, potable water, roads and services for women to her area helped get her elected as head of the community council.

Her life before this — and the lives of many others living in this area — reads more like an epic story of adventure, survival, and resistance.

Reyes and her family had to flee their home village during the political violence that preceded the 1980-1992 civil war that claimed some 75,000 lives.

After living in the jungle and caves with her sister while fleeing the U.S.-backed counterinsurgency forces, Reyes finally sought refuge in neighbouring Honduras.

“But in 1980 we had to return to El Salvador because the Honduran military were conducting a campaign of repression against civil society that was just like what the military in El Salvador were doing,” Reyes told IPS at her home in Ciudad Romero. “Back in El Salvador, however, the military here was still doing the same thing.”

Reyes described a brutal campaign that included the burning down of homes, arrests, and repression of Catholic priests who were defending human rights.

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El Salvador’s environmental crisis

Communities and officials demand that government protect the people from poisonous industries.

Boanerge Lovo lives in a subsistence community on Isla de Monte Cristo near the central coast of El Salvador. His community is self-sustaining and relies on fish, crab, and growing cashews for its survival.

Lovo is president of his community development association, a position that carries the responsibility of watching out for the wellbeing of the 27 families in this community.

Along with weather events like floods and hurricanes of increasing extremes that are attributed to climate change, he and two resource rangers in his community do what they can to stop poverty-stricken residents from nearby communities from cutting down trees in their nearby mangrove forest, poaching iguanas and parrots from the same area (which is a UN protected Biosphere), and try to prevent overfishing.

“We’re trying to change their habits and ideas,” Lovo told Al Jazeera, “We are working to find what we want to leave for future generations.”

Read the rest of this article on Al-Jazeera English.

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“We’re Poisoned. We’re Sick.”

Gulf Coast Residents Protest Lack of Response from BP

Gulf Coast residents protesting the lack of adequate response from BP or the government to health and environmental risks. (Photo: Erika Blumenfeld)

Residents who live along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, all the way from Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, to well into western Florida, continue to tell me of acute symptoms they attribute to ongoing exposure to toxic chemicals being released from BP’s crude oil and the toxic Corexit dispersants used to sink it.

Shirley Tillman from Pass Christian, Mississippi, and former BP Vessels of Opportunity oil cleanup worker wrote me recently:

“You can’t even go to the store without seeing sick people! You can hear them talking to people and they think they have the flu or a virus. I saw a girl that works at a local store yesterday that had to leave work because she was so sick! Others, throughout the entire store were hacking & coughing. It’s crazy that this has been allowed to happen to all of us!”

Oil continues to wash ashore. That which was already there, usually in the form of tar balls or mats of tar, is being uncovered by the weather.

Four of the fragile barrier islands of Mississippi have had four million pounds of oil removed, thus far. The embattled coastline never gets a break. However, BP cleanup crews, who returned to work the first week of January after an 11-day break, removed another 11,000 pounds of oil from Petit Bois Island Thursday, January 6, and another 3,800 pounds from Horn Island.

“The northerly wind seems to do the uncovering [of the oil],” a cleanup supervisor said. “Southerly winds appear to be covering it up.” Continue Reading →

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Climate: Putting people over money

Facing climate change, a social movement in El Salvador fights mass flooding and the toxic burning of cane fields.

Burning sugar cane field in the Lower Lempa region of El Salvador for industrial-scale production [Photo: Erika Blumenfeld]

While debate about whether climate change is real or not continues in the US, the world’s leading producer of CO2 emissions per capita, those already living with the effects, like Jose Domingo Cruz in El Salvador, don’t have time to debate.

“Our storms are increasing in number and intensity,” Cruz, a member of his community Civil Protection Committee that responds to community needs during natural disasters, told Al Jazeera while standing on a levy that ruptured during Tropical Storm Agatha last year. “All of us attribute this to climate change.”

The levy, originally constructed in the aftermath of devastating floods caused by Hurricane Mitch in 1998, now has two huge ruptures in need of repair before the next hurricane season that begins in roughly six months.

A severe drought in 2008 and 2009, and Hurricane Stan in 2005, also took a severe toll on both land and lives in the area. Increasing sea levels will also heavily impact this part of El Salvador, which is largely populated by people who had to flee the US-backed war that raged in the country from 1979 to 1992.

A 2007 climate change study conducted by El Salvador’s National Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources focused on the Lower Lempa River and Bay of Jiquilisco areas of the central Pacific coast.

The study found that this area can expect more of what it is already experiencing: increasing minimum and maximum temperatures, a shift in observed seasons, more frequent observations of extremely wet and extremely dry years, and intensified extreme event activity, including tropical storms and hurricanes.

Against the backdrop of these dire predictions, the people are, however, forming a movement that is learning to protect and sustain itself in the increasingly chaotic world of global climate change and its severe ramifications on people, the environment, and local economies.

Read the rest of this article on Al-Jazeera English.

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