Saturday, October 27, 2007

The struggle in Cutumay Camones

The YouTube videos at the beginning of this post are from events which took place in the community Cutumay Camones on Thursday, October 25. In scenes recorded by television news, riot police with shields, tear gas, and rubber bullets confront the local residents who have been protesting a new landfill. Some persons are throwing rocks at the police and burning tires. Three journalists were injured and vehicles damaged. Who was to blame is a subject of dispute.

For months now, people in the 11 communities of Cutumay Camones, near Santa Ana, have protested against the decision to construct a new landfill in their community. They believe that the waste in the landfill will contaminate an aquifer which provides drinking water for thousands of families.

The landfill is being built to comply with a law which requires that existing open air dumps be closed and all trash go to new "sanitary" landfills. But whether this landfill will be sanitary is being challenged by many. From an article on the IPS news service

The Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDDH) entered the fray in early September, recommending "precautionary measures" against building a sanitary landfill site in Cutumay Camones, in the western department (province) of Santa Ana.

Local people have pointed out that the authorised site is only 700 metres from a spring used by the 8,000 residents for drinking water.

The PDDH found that the site was indeed located on an aquifer, and recommended that another site be selected.

Ombudsman Oscar Luna recommended that the Ministry "suspend the sanitary landfill project immediately," and asked Santa Ana Mayor Orlando Mena to take steps to protect the environment.

The conflict puts the community members in opposition to the wishes of Santa Ana mayor Orlando Mena. Mena has pushed forward construction of the landfill even though the environment ministry has not granted an operating permit or completed environmental studies of the location. This week the Court of Accounts declared that the contracting process between Santa Ana and the private business which will operate the landfill was illegal, reported El Mundo.

On multiple occasions Mena has called out the police to forcefully remove community protesters who are keeping vigil, trying to prevent what they view as the illegal construction of the new landfill. Sixteen people were injured on October 12, according to Diario Colatino, when riot police moved through the community.

The Lutheran Church in El Salvador issued a news release regarding Thursday's events. The Lutheran Church in El Salvador has been accompanying the local communities. Included was this statement from the local community association which has been leading the opposition to the landfill:
This morning at 4 a.m. about 500 police made up of public security agents and the Unit for Maintenance of Order [riot police] made a violent incursion, as they had done previously on September 15 and October 12, attacking the persons whom they came upon in the community, without respect to whether they were women or children, with the objective of providing security to the trucks with building materials and earth moving machinery from Presys S.A. [private contractor building the new landfill] without the community putting up resistance.

When the police contingent retreated, infiltrators who answer to the interests of Orlando Mena, mayor of Santa Ana, began to throw stones at the police agents, attacking as well as a journalist, who was escorted by members of our community towards a vehicle of the Human Rights Ombudsman and a vehicle owned by TCS, which were then damaged...

The Source of Blessing Community Association and the communities of Cutumay Camones lament and condemn these events that do not correspond to the peaceful organized struggle that we are carrying out. We share our solidarity with the journalists who were attached and with the businesses TCS and Megavision as well as the Human Rights Ombudsman for the damages inflicted on the vehicles belonging to their institutions.
Orlando Mena, mayor of Santa Ana, denies that outside instigators provoked the confrontation and asserts local community members were at fault reported La Prensa. President Tony Saca apologized for the beating of the journalist by police, adding that it was the action of one individual member of the riot police who was not following orders.

The Human Rights Ombudsman, Oscar Luna censured the aggression towards journalists and protesters. "It appears to be that the PNC let things get out of control and that is worrying, because it gives one the impression that we do not have a police force appropriately prepared. He added that the action against three journalists "has to be denounced at all levels because it demonstrates the lack of professionalism and demonstrates the lack of capacity to manage these conflicts. (original in Spanish in La Prensa)

Lutheran Bishop Medardo Gomez had these words for the local community afterwards:
We have come because we are with you. This struggle is blessed because you defend the interests of the common people. Water is sacred, and for that reason, to defend water is the task of everyone.
There is also a photo gallery from El Diario de Hoy of the events of October 25.

No comments: