The case of the El Chaparral dam

Another water issue which could be characterized as the environment versus development, or rich versus poor, or powerful versus powerless, or progress versus obstruction is the construction of the El Chapparal dam on the Torola river in northern El Salvador. Local communities who face displacement are trying to stop the construction of the hydroelectric dam which is already underway.

The blog at Voices on the Border provides a description of the project:
Despite controversy over environmental destruction of surrounding communities, the Comisión Ejecutiva del Río Lempa (CEL) in El Salvador has began constructing a new hydroelectric dam in the Río Torola located in the northern part of the department of San Miguel in an area known as El Chaparral. Construction began at the beginning of January this year and is expected to continue for fifty months.

Proponents of the project say that the dam is in accordance with the Kyoto Protocol and has the potential to provide electricity to two hundred thousand families in El Salvador. Other touted benefits would include new economic opportunities in agriculture, fishing, and tourism.

However, there is great contention about the benefits of this project due to the resulting flooding of current communities. Contractors and government officials assure that those individuals who lose their land will be compensated and provided a place to live, but according to parish priest, José Antonio Confesor, of the community of San Antonio del Mosco, the majority of the local population does not agree with the construction. Others living in the affected areas say that they were deceived by CEL concerning the purchase of lands.

The project is being financed by a loan from the Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica (BCIE) for 163 million dollars and by the government that has contributed 56 million dollars.

You can read more technical details about the construction of the dam in a Project Idea Note which I found on the website of El Salvador's environment ministry.

Voices on the Border also describes the recent protests:
Citizens of San Antonio del Mosco, San Luis de La Reina, and Sesori participated in protests on Wednesday, July 22, against the construction of El Chaparral dam in the department of San Miguel, demanding that President Funes end the construction project. About 200 people were involved in the protests during the visit of Óscar Luna, the Human Rights Ombudsman for the area.

Luna, who has agreed to act as a mediator between the local population and the national government, said that “The offices of the Ombudsman are open to the two parties meeting and looking for a solution to the problem.”

The local population has questioned President Funes in his commitment to the people. Funes has thus far not called for the halting of the construction of the dam, whose construction began under former President Tony Saca. He has been criticized for the campaign support he received from Nicolás Salume, president of the Executive Hydroelectric Commission of the Lempa River (CEL).

While I was in El Salvador two weeks ago, protesters camped out at the presidential residence to try and force government ministers to meet with them and get a halt to construction activities. Protests earlier this month blocked the passage of traffic on the Panamerican highway.
Protesters have also uploaded YouTube videos here and here.

The president of El Salvador, Mauricio Funes, has addressed the El Chaparral controversy in recent statements to the press:
President Funes said that for the moment there is no executive decision on the case of El Chaparral, saying that "this decision" will be taken by him, after receiving a report that is already being assembled by a commission, chaired by the Secretary of Strategic Affairs, Hato Hasbun.

He also clarified that he is not accepting the request to dismiss the president of CEL or stopping the work of El Chaparral or construction work on [another hydo project] El Cimarron.

"I'm saying we're going to listen to them, let us know their views and we will reach an understanding that is beneficial to them and that would be beneficial for all the population. We must take into account that we have an energy deficit of nearly 6% and who will fill this need," he said.

Moreover, he stated that it is necessary to meet energy demand, because "we can not stop the country, industry, commerce, social sectors, hospitals, because they need energy to operate."

Funes said that the president seeks to reconcile national interests, creating a climate of understanding, reach agreement and establish priorities. "In 60 days we can not change the country, the number of problems that we have obliges us to set priorities, so we have created the commission to resolve this issue," he said.
(any errors in translation are mine)

The issue of the nature and extent of El Salvador's electricity deficit is central to the debate over the hydroelectric project. The proponents of the project, as echoed in Funes' comments, point to shortfalls in electricity generation compared to El Salvador's needs and argue that increased generating capacity, which the dam would provide, is necessary to attract investment and keep business functioning. Opponents of the dam argue that the shortfall is overstated and that the country's energy needs could be met more cheaply and effectively through conservation efforts.

The El Chapparal dam project has more challenges for Funes than just the local protesters. An article in La Prensa Grafica describes a report from the country's General Superintendent for Electricity and Telecommunications raising concerns about the way the Comisión Ejecutiva del Río Lempa (CEL), the autonomous agency which owns the project, awarded the contracts for construction of the dam. Blogger Neto Rivas points out that this issue is a problem for the new president because because the head of the CEL just happens to be the son of Funes' largest campaign supporter, Nicolás Salume.


El-Visitador said…
Your previous post was about the dire poverty millions of Salvadoreans endure, and their resulting inability to purchase proper medical care.

Pray tell: do you think Salvadoreans can ever overcome poverty without abundant, cheap electricity?

To oppose this dam is to deny Salvadoreans the very energy which is a pre-requisite for being able to raise from the poverty which is the natural state of man.
Gatofilo said…
Good farm land is what tiny Salvador has least of, and God isn't making any more of it.

Meanwhile, thousands of the finest acres of loam were inundaded by hydroelectric projects around the country, and the rest of the country was parceled out into checker board sized pieces that serve no purpose. In a small country, you don't destroy farm land to create housing parcels, that is the purpose for cities, towns and villiges.

If the country must have hydoelectric power, there are also and endless number of mountain gorges that could be filled with the water from every rainy season.
These small damns could together produce the equivalent of the larger dams, and would not destroy the land.

In a country with so little useful land, terraces could be built on the many mountainsides and hills around the country that could easily total more acerage than the flat lands of the costal plains.

If the country is thirsty for energy to stimulate industry and export, I'd suggest the country look into the possibility of installing solar panels on the roofs of the clusters of houses around the parceled countryside, and put more emphasis into the termal energy resources that are so abundant in Salvador.

Salvador has sunshine during most of the year and each countryside house could have it's own source of electricity through a project of solar panels that oculd be payed for by the owner over time.

The last thing a land hungry country like Salvador needs, is to inundate and lose more of it's most precious resource. The mass of the country's energy should be diverted to industry that creates exports, jobs, and properity, and not wasted in hanging light bulbs in every parcel around the country.

The country needs more electric energy, ethanol, more arable land, more forests, and a more diverse and healthy ecology. And all these projects can be accomplished within the country itself, and with the resources it already has. And what's best, it all can be accomplished without the usual finger pointing and blaming someone else for the problems.

There are institutions around the world that have solved each and every one of these situations, and who could give the country a hand and professional insight into each and every one of these these projects.

Land has been made into a scarse commodity in Salvador, and I think it's foolish to be thinging of needlessly inundating even more of it.

The new president and TV and radio commentator and outspoken analyst is finding out that it's easier to criticize than to govern. Has he given one press conference in his two months in office? A state of the union address?

I read about Salvador it in our local papers and chckle, while sending my senator hurried letters to finish our southern border fence asap.
Robinson said…
Dear Gatofilo,

Am I wrong to assume, by the last sentence of your two cents, that you are a Lou Dobbs' fan.
Jorge Ávalos said…
"Good farm land is what tiny Salvador has least of, and God isn't making any more of it."

Totally wrong.

A full 40% of farm land is not being used for anything. This is a fact and it was widely used by both presidential candidates during the last election earlier this year.

On the post: if El Salvador does not create new energy sources, at the rate businesses are growing, growth will come to a halt within 6 months. This is another fact.

By the way, this man who calls himself a priest, Confesor, he is violent and insane. The government lost a million dollars just because he set on fire the place where El Chaparral engineers kept their things while doing research: equipment, computers, their technical analysis and the whole fruit of their labors were lost when this guy set the site on fire. He's just plain crazy.

There are great political activist in El Salvador, with great projects in their hands. Confesor's idea of himself has nothing to do with liberation theology. He's bad news.
Gatofilo said…
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Gatofilo said…

Me, a Lou Dobbs fan? You must be jesting, I can't stand that little toothy fat man with his piggy bank look and stupid grin.

To respond to your question, I write my Senators and Congressmen to finish our southern border fence because we, like every other country in the world, has the right to monitor and defend our borders against illegals, terrorists, and drug smugglers.

My concern is that with the collapse of the Latin American economies, do in large part to their socialist governments, that the people of those victimized countries will ultimately flock in hoards to "El Norte."

I'm actually visualizing a tsunami size wave of desperate humanity banging on our border fences, or sneaking in at risk of life and limb, and completely overwhelming our public social services.

You see, I believe in law and order, and if we in this country ever need help mowing our lawns, doing dishes in restaurants, cleaning hotel rooms, or picking vegetables, Etc. then we can always extend limited worker visas for those that want to come here to work and make a better life for themselves.

But clearly and I'm sure thay you can understand, that we can not permit the entire Latin American population to sneak into our country, even though we all realize that their dream is to come to "El Norte." But so do many others around the world who realize that this is the grandest country ever, so get in line, OK.

No one is any more special than the next guy who wants to get ahead in the greatest country in the world.

Best wishes as you stand in line to fill out the proper and legal papers to come to "El Norte."
Gatofilo said…
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Gatofilo said…
Our friend Solava is obviously not aware of the thousands of acres of river loam that were lost to the Cerron Grande Dam in the Chalatenango Province. Also, he doesn't seem to be aware that his own government is the single largest landowner in that tiny poverty stricken country.

There are multiple recorded accounts in the Land Tenure Center of people who received land from the government, only to sell the parcels to pay the "coyote" and head for "El Norte." We've all read and seen the infamous flood of illegals that have converted Los Angeles into perhaps the biggest city, population wise, in El Salvador.

Then we read published reports of the cooperatives that were pillaged by their own members, who even stole the barbed wire fences and anything else that wasn't nailed down.

Those who then supported all this lunacy are no where to be found, perhaps they're all here in "El Norte" working the car washes, or have become gang bangers for some criminal terrorist gang.

El Salvador reminds me of the drowning man who in his wild eyed terror splashes uncontrolably toward the deepest end hoping to touch bottom.

What that country needs now and urgently is a decent overall education program for all. The intellectual and moral level of the population must be lifted, and the country needs honest and intelligent leaders with ideas and the good of the people and the country in mind.

Hopefully Mauricio Funes will be the man for the job. It usually happenes that way, at the most dire moments in history, a leader has arisen from the masses.

So far, Funes has shown that he could be that leader. I'm sure the entire country is hoping so.

And as for "Liberation Theology" that is water long gone under the bridge. That idiocy was the hot topic 30 or 40 years ago, when pseudo marxist intellectuals would discuss its merits while eating yuca and chimbolos at a Mejicanos roadside eatery.
Anonymous said…
Tim, the only people that will not want this plant created are those people Chavez is paying. This communists would do anything to keep people at the poverty level. They blew britches for a living before, what make you think this people even have the smarts to understand anything about economics and the effects in a common society.
Gatofilo said…
Lionroar992000 states that, "These communists would do anything to keep people at the poverty level."

Well of course they do, that's why they want socialism to triumph when everyone knows that it's a failed doctrine that only creates poverty and despair.

These frustrated radicals make a lot of noise, and are like the "mouse that roared" but when they start feeling the hunger pangs they themselves have helped to create, they're sure to be off to "El Norte."

If any of these frustrated losers happen to come to my town, I might give them a job mowing my lawn.
Gatofilo said…
El-Visitador said...
"Your previous post was about the dire poverty millions of Salvadoreans endure, and their resulting inability to purchase proper medical care.

Pray tell: do you think Salvadoreans can ever overcome poverty without abundant, cheap electricity?"

Hummmm, strange that I've always read that in El Salvador there are the so-called "Unidades de Salud" where anyone can receive medical assistance and medicines free of charge.

And besides, EV, you can't take away all the repetitive arguments that the left uses, because they're incapable of new ideas.

If you don't have electricity, just get a brake fluid can, fill it with kerosene, and stick an old sock into it. Light it up and whalla!
The need for cheap electricity is paramount in El Salvador, in the last year we have seen our monthly bill rise 30% while the number of power outages is increasing to a level equal to 8 years ago. The needs of the few cannot outweigh the needs of the many.

Poverty is in the eyes of the beholder, particularly in a country where a few tree branches, some plastic, and some palm leaves are all you need to make a house. Add some money sent by relatives in "El Norte" and you get a relaxed easy lifestyle. If you can include a light bulb and maybe a refrigerator life suddenly becomes rich.

Unidad de Salud does give out very basic medicines, but if they are not available, you have to purchase them. Unfortunately, doctors here own the hospitals, the pharmacies, and the drug laboratories which adds up to make ibeprophen selling for 60 cents a pill.

As far as the the great wave of latinos going north, this pattern has been slowing to a trickle. 10 years ago, when we first got here, every kid in the street wanted to go to America. Now we see most of them going to school and planning on a future here. This is in part due to the economic conditions, but most of all to those that went and returned a couple of years later with horror stories of abuse and exploitation.

El Salvador has many problems left over from the few rich exploiting the many poor but there is advancement. Cheap reliable electricity is needed to help fuel these advances.
Gatofilo said…
Livinginelsalvador, regarding your sophistic statements:

In El Salvador like most other countries there is both private and public health clinics and hospitals, which you conveniently or perhaps knowingly fail to mention. I'm thinking right now of public hospitals such as El Hospital Rosales; El Hospital San Juan de Dios; El Hospital del Seguro Social; El Hospital de San Rafael; El Hospital de Maternidad; El Hospital de Chalatenango; El Hospital de La Nueva Concpecion, Etc. just to name a few public health facilities in your country..

As for public clinics, there is the so-called Unidades de Salud throughout the country that offers medical assistance to anyone that requests it.

You mention that doctors work and make a living from their profession, but this fact is not some uncanny phenomenon exclusively Salvadoran. That’s the way it is, and if you had earned a degree as a licensed physician, I’m sure that you would be making your living that way also. I can’t imagine that this fact actually surprises you!

You should criticize where criticism is a valid expression of hope, but to accuse your own country with selective tall tails and outright misinformation is unpardonable and sordid.

El Salvador is a poor third world country with many serious problems that the populace and the government must address, but for someone like you to try and present a false image of your own country is laughable.

Instead of politicizing every circumstance and point fingers of blame which is about as counter productive and ridiculous as can be, you should learn to take responsibility for your own reality and for your own choices and mistakes.

Now that your leftist comrades are actually in power after 20 years of blaming others, who will you blaming now for the violence the crime and every other situation that has not been resolved in your languishing country? Up to now, your FMLN has done everything to avoid inquiries and press conferences where these “embarrassing” questions undoubted will require answers not simply more evasiveness.

I’d recommend that you try to let go of the squalid quagmire and silly time warped memories that don't exist anywhere except in your colorful imagination.

Best wishes.
Gatofilo said…
liviinginelsalvador: Everything has a price.

Rememeber you can't eat pork rinds without first sacrificing the hog.

But on to more fun topics, don't you just love to see the psuedo democratic socialists of the ALBA alliance squimming over the U.S. mlitary bases in northern South America.

These leftist pirates are obviously running scared and Hugo Chavez is fuming. I bet he tries to get a blood bath going in Honduras now. But it's all over, he's just the "mouse that roared."
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