Salvadorian Ecological Leader Targeted For Opposing Construction Of Hydroelectric Project

February 9, 2002

Jacobo Martinez, leader of an ecological group that was formed by the citizens of the municipal region of Carolina, was the target of a murder attempt in the early hours of the 18th of January.

According to Jacobo and three witnesses, the attempt took place at 5:40 am while beginning his ranch work. During the ambush style assault, three shots were fired, which Jacobo evaded by rolling toward cover.

Jacobo Martinez has been one of the key community leaders that have rallied opposition to the construction of the "El Chaparral" hydroelectric project in Carolina, San Miguel by Central Hidroeléctrica del Rio Lempa (CEL).

The project would directly affect the municipalities of San Luis de la Riena, Carolina, and San Antonio del Mosco, but would predominantly burden the 18,000 residents of Carolina. As many as 1,500 families may require relocation due to the profound changes in their social and cultural lifestyle, as well as their economic opportunities.

Impacts Caused By Construction Of The Dam

The construction of the hydroelectric project generates an environmental impact in all the natural resources existing in the region. Alterations and modifications of the flora, fauna, and soil cause a profound loss of biodiversity due to the flooding of the area. Likewise, the hydrological resources of the river would suffer damaging alterations along its entire course.

The damming of the river causes sedimentation, depriving the riparian ecosystem of vital nutrients while causing excessive contaminant build up from fertiliser and pesticide runoff. Likewise, there would be an extensive loss of agricultural and arable land in the area.

Another detrimental affect caused by stagnating river flow is a noticeable increase in the amount of mosquitoes causing dengue and malaria that are prevalent in tropical areas.

Who Carries Out The Studies

CEL with the assistance of the Japanese firm EDPC has initiated a feasibility study of the project, which includes an environmental impact assessment in line with standards set by the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources. Moreover, the Japanese firm has contracted the American firm HARZA and Eco Engineers of El Salvador to carry out the studies.

However, the report issued by CEL illustrates the limitations of the project: risk of flooding, loss of habitat, relocation of the population, loss of cultural sites, and change in the flow rates of the river

CEL projects that the construction of the "El Chaparral" dam will cost US $92.5 million.

The Community Is Willing To Impede The Project

The Carolina Ecological group in conjunction with CESTA (Friends of the Earth, El Salvador) has coordinated on several occasions to protest and oppose construction of the dam. They are willing to exhaust all available legal recourses necessary to impede the project.

The community¹s opposition has put their very lives at risk, limiting their capacity for free expression in an effort to defend their livelihoods. As is the case when Jacobo Martinez received a written threat signed "The Company", which solicited him not to continue his opposition to the project. As he did not obey the threats, he suffered the attempt on his life, evidencing the seriousness of those with strong economic interest behind the project.

As part of the effort to back the interests of CEL, Mr. Raúl Beltrán Bonilla, a radio reporter, characterised the farmers of the Carolina region as cattle thieves and accused members of CESTA of instigating subversion.

Mr. Martinez, has never had known enemies. On the contrary, he is a beloved and respected member of his community. As such, he lays responsibility of any attempt on his life on the institutions interested in constructing the dam.

From the onset, the community members of Carolina have stated their opposition to the development of the project, due to its grave social and ecological impacts.

For further information contact:

CESTA/ Friends of the Earth El Salvador
Ph: 503 2 200 046 / 206 480
Fax: 503 2 203 313
E-mail: cesta@es.com.sv