Today we visited the community of Río de los Bueyes. We were going to talk to the Directiva about the water issues they’ve been having. Coming with us was Kristi, who works in San Salvador. You might remember that on July 22 I wrote a little bit about the company that’s taking water from Río de los Bueyes. That’s what we were going to talk to the community about. We knew it would be troubling to listen to what they had to say. And just getting to the community in the rainy season is a struggle because of the conditions of the roads. I’m kind of surprised we made it there. There were a couple times when I wasn’t sure if we were going to reach our destination. The road conditions are just one example of how difficult life is for people who live in the cantons. It is not an easy life. And it is even more challenging when someone is stealing your water.
This is part of the road to Rio de los Bueyes
(pictures do not do it justice)
I think we can make it
Standing in one of the many holes
"Fixing" the road with a machete
Everyone lended a hand
We've filled the hole with branches
Run, Kristi, Run!
We were slightly concerned that the truck would tip over
High fives are in order
The rest of the way was much better
Here’s a little background info about the water problems: A company named Aluviah is illegally taking water from a water source in the communities of Río de los Bueyes and Talpetates in the municipality of Berlín. Though the communities still have water (in the form of water pumps from the rivers to their communities) they are in danger of losing water in the future. There are several other communities in the lower zone that could also potentially lose water. Unfortunately, even though the company is stealing the water there’s not a lot that the community can do about it. There have been implications of people being paid under the table to look the other way. To make matters worse, the company has armed guards patrolling the outskirts of the communities. These men randomly shoot off bullets into the air in order to frighten the people of the communities.
When we eventually arrived in Río de los Bueyes were met by several members of the Directiva (community board). The president, vice president, síndico, secretary, a member of their water commission, a few other members, and a member of the Association of Development and Protection of the San Simón and Lempa River Basins (ADECSILEMP) who lives in the community were all in attendance. They told us their story of what’s been happening. When the water company first came in they did what many other big companies have done before them: told the community that they wanted to start a project in the area and that it would bring jobs to the community. They said that they were friends of the environment and began to draw a positive picture that they wouldn’t affect anything negatively.
Then foreigners, either from the States or Europe, came around and started taking pictures and asking questions. Soon the community started a commission to investigate what was happening with the company and the water. This is where they say the struggle began. After the community realized what was going on, that the company was stealing water and having negative impacts on the environment, they had a forum in the community. They denounced the company and created a declaration stating they were against the company. When one of the members of the community really raised his voice against the company to say that there was no permission for the company to steal the water, the company put armed men in the community and surrounding area. This began to worry people more.
The water is being taken from a private property near Rio de los Bueyes at the place where the water begins. The company is taking the water from the river and selling it under the name Agua Vitae. The community told us that, according to the law, the company has no permission to be there taking water. They have a paper that says City Hall did not give the company permission to take the water, and no company can do work without the permission of City Hall. Very little is known about the company because the owners are anonymous. It’s hard to find information about them or the company. [This I know for sure because I’ve tried searching the internet for information but to no avail.]
What the company is doing is having an effect not only on the community of Rio de los Bueyes but also several other cantons and communities. Water here is more valuable than oil. Taking away water from someone is like cutting off their feet: they can’t survive. Without water, the plants will die, the animals will die, the people will die. What the company is doing is unjust. And it is unjust that the corresponding government agencies, who are supposed to be helping, are not doing anything. To make matters worse, much of the water that the community is able to find and use is being polluted by La Geo (geothermal plant).
Some people in the communities don’t realize what’s going on. They may have water but only a few days a month and don’t know why. Other people are getting sick and having kidney problems but don’t know why. It is a great sadness that the people in the communities don’t know what’s going on. Even the people working for the company in the lower positions don’t seem to know what’s happening to them. They are wearing shorts and flip flops as they work when they should be wearing waders, gloves, etc. The company isn’t protecting their own workers. The Directiva of Río de los Bueyes wants people to know what’s happening.
The men hired by company to patrol the area with arms are another problem. Only the police have the right to carry arms in the street. The police of Berlín know that men there have guns but aren’t doing anything about it. They are not checking to see if the armed men have legal papers to carry arms. One fear of the Directiva is that if a crime happens involving the armed men in the forested area, and no one sees what happened, no one is going to investigate. So they are afraid but still need to go to Berlín. Thus, they take the roads even when the roads are guarded because they are afraid to go through the forested area. The people also worry about their children. Their kids know the stories of the war that the community lived through. People have told their children so history doesn’t repeat itself. Thus, when the guns go off at night they are all scared.
The land, the community of Río de los Bueyes, was gained at the expense of the blood of the people during the Civil War (1980-1992). Like what happened prior to and during the war, the community is hoping that when people take the initiative to realize that their water is life then maybe something will happen. Throughout the meeting the Directiva emphasized that they are doing everything they can to react legally because they don’t want another war. They believe there needs to be laws on a community level regarding water. The community is also connected and participating in various organizations, marches, demonstrations, etc. They have a couple people that they call on a regular basis outside the area for help and support. And the people who come here (like us) give them courage and encouragement to go on.
Unfortunately, as Blanca said toward the end of our meeting, these are the same kind of problems that caused the Civil War. And as someone pointed out, the last war on Earth will probably be a war for water.