Development v environment -- where will new government position itself?

Six months ago I described how a proposed high density residential project to be built just northeast of the San Salvador metropolitan area will be an early test of the priorities of the new government of president Nayib Bukele.  We may see the results of that test soon.

The development is called "Valle El Ángel," a project of real estate developer Urbánica.    The owners of Urbánica are the ultra-wealthy Dueñas family in El Salvador, and they plan a mega-real estate project in the municipality of Apopa, just northeast of San Salvador at the base of the San Salvador volcano. The proposed urbanization development of  8000 houses, shopping centers, churches and more would threaten the available water resources in the region, according to environmental and community groups.  Most of the land, located along the Pan-American highway, is currently used to grow sugar cane.

Opponents to Valle El Ángel argue that this mega-project will cause the over-exploitation of already stressed aquifers which provide water for the surrounding region; that the project will prevent the re-charging of the aquifer as large areas of pavement prevent rainwater from infiltrating the soil; that the project will lead to discharge of waste waters into local surface streams; and that it will add to the traffic chaos which already exists in this area of greater San Salvador.
Opponents deliver letters to MARN this morning

The government now must decide how it evaluates economic development when such development threatens to have adverse impacts on the country's water resources.  In the past two days, more than three thousand letters were delivered to the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARN for its initials in Spanish) voicing opposition to the necessary environmental permitting for the project.   An online petition had more than 1350 signatures as of this writing.

Meanwhile the Roman Catholic church has renewed and strengthened it opposition to the project.   In his weekly press conference, archbishop Escobar Alas called for the government not to permit construction of the project,  and also urged the Legislative Assembly to pass the long-delayed General Water Law for the protection of hydric resources in the country.

In addition, a little more than a month ago, an environmental group, ECOS El Salvador, filed a complaint against the former president of the national water authority ANDA, Marco Fortín, for illegally signing an agreement with the Dueñas family to allow the developers to drill 8 wells extracting 200 liters of water per second for the exclusive use of the Valle El Angel development. 

El Salvador's new head of MARN, Fernando López, has told the Legislative Assembly that his ministry is going to make more flexible the process of granting economic permits and that permits for projects with large-scale impact would be decided in a maximum of 60 days.  "Flexibility" is often a code-word for "easier for business to get what it wants."

Beyond "flexibility," we have little insight into how the current government will approach this kind of question.   Civil society in El Salvador, represented by churches, environmental groups, human rights organizations and universities, has become an increasingly important political force in the country.  The growing influence of civil society started with the movement which achieved a ban on metallic mining in the country and continued to grow with opposition to a proposed national reconciliation law which would have granted virtual amnesty to human rights violators. Now that civil society groups are making opposition to the Valle El Angel project their next cause, Bukele will need to decide whether he wants to honor the concerns of civil society or to reward a real estate development group owned by a family of the oligarchy of the rich in El Salvador.