El Salvador: Tourism Projects Threaten Mangroves and Communities
The Salvadoran government is debating a key proposal which is part of a US$ 277 million aid program from the United States and could sign it in September 2013.
A new video testimony  published by Friends of the Earth International on World Environment Day, June 5, shows that mangrove forests, such as the one of La Tirana in the coast of El Salvador, are part of a complex ecosystem that protects coastlines from erosion and filters coastal waters.
Communities living in and around these forests depend on this natural resource for their livelihoods and care for the biodiversity of these fragile ecosystems.
If tourism projects are developed in the protected areas, as the government expects will happen as part of the US Millennium Challenge Fund 'Fomilenio' aid program, “the mangrove forests and communities who depend on these fragile ecosystems would be seriously affected”, says Ricardo Navarro, director of CESTA/ Friends of the Earth El Salvador.
“Coastline tourism projects funded by Fomilenio would displace peasant communities that have always lived in this area because many people there have no legal security over their land” added Navarro.
The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) , the US government agency that promotes Fomilenio, chose El Salvador in December of 2011 for a second US$ 277 million non refundable aid package for the development of the coastal strip.
The government could definitely approve the proposal in late 2013, once the MCC has assessed the projects submitted by the country. The deal has to be approved and signed by March 15, 2014, although it could be signed as early as September 2013. 
Bajo Lempa is affected by floods during the rainy season, which cause deaths and loss of harvests and infrastructure. The region borders the natural Jiquilisco Bay, where several local organizations have developed important environmental and social projects to protect mangroves and other species living there.
The Jiquilisco Bay and the Jaltepeque Estuary are the country’s most important ecological corridor . They occupy an area of 112,454 hectares. Due to their vulnerability and because they area nesting area for many endangered species, the bay and estuary were declared sites protected by the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance
In 2007, the Bay was declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO and it is estimated that along its 37 km of beaches live nearly 50% of the only 300 carey tortoises existing between Mexico and Peru.
The government has so far received 72 projects from private investors for $575 million, especially in the international services, agribusiness and tourism sectors. In order to bring about their plans, entrepreneurs offer to invest that amount while the necessary infrastructure is built.
The social organizations and communities of Bajo Lempa believe that the second Fomilenio package will lead to an increasing degradation and pollution of the country’s coastal ecosystems and to the displacement of peasant communities which traditionally belong to these territories.
The social organizations and communities of Bajo Lempa claim that the second Fomilenio fails to consider projects that the communities of Bajo Lempa have been demanding for years, such as building retaining walls, cleaning-up drainage systems and improving the streets; which shows that they have not consulted the local people.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Ricardo Navarro, Director of Friends of the Earth El Salvador / CESTA (Centro Salvadoreño de Tecnología Apropiada)/ firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: + 503 2213 1400 or +503 2213 1444 (office) or mobile + 503 7888 7567.
NOTES TO EDITORS
 The video testimony filmed in the mangrove forests is available at http://www.foei.org/en/media/resources-for-journalists/world-environment-day-tourism-projects-threaten-mangroves-and-communities-in-el-salvador
There are also photos of Bajo Lempa communities members.
A second video testimony shows how, by saving and exchanging his seeds, a small farmer in El Salvador preserves biodiversity and contributes to fighting hunger.
In May 2013 social organizations and communities of Bajo Lempa declared their intention to continue developing a ‘Food Sovereignty’ process with an agroecological focus that includes protecting local seeds, defending the soil and preserving water sources.
 The US and El Salvador signed the first Fomilenio in 2007, which delivered US$ 461 million to build a highway and to fund other projects in the North of the country. If the second Fomilenio is approved, it will amount to US$ 413 million and will develop infrastructure in the coastline region of El Salvador.
One of the goals of Fomilenio is to build a bridge that connects the ports of the Pacific coast with those of the Central American Caribbean, thus facilitating trade from Asia to the US and Europe. The new highway called ‘carretera Longitudinal del Norte’ built as part of the first Fomilenio package connects port Cutuco de la Union with Puerto Barrios in Guatemala.
The second Fomilenio package will improve the coastline highway in El Salvador in order to connect other Salvadoran ports. It will also develop new sectors, such as tourism. The MCC was created by the US Congress in 2004 to help poor countries overcome poverty and it has so far provided US$ 8.4 billion in aid around the world. For more information: http://www.mcc.gov/pages/about
 For more information, read this recent article by Edgardo Ayala for IPS News Agency: http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/04/activists-fight-u-s-aid-to-develop-el-salvadors-pacific-coastline/