El Mangle

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El Mangle

El Salvador
Project Stage:
$1,000 - $10,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

By developing a new process of horizontal democratic participation in a region of resettled war zones, Ramón Arístides Valencia is helping communities both identify their needs for reconstruction and development and find ways to meet them.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

"Along with other Central American countries, El Salvador faces the daunting task of reconstruction and development in the wake of a civil war. Having experienced a brief revolution and massacre in the 1930s prior to the more recent 12-year war, Salvadorans understand the cost of failing to build a just and equitable society where all have a political voice and economic opportunities. Ravaged by floods and earthquakes, they understand the cost of failing to develop an organized and secure society in which people are prepared to respond to emergencies and can afford to preserve the environment. Hope that had surged when the peace accords were signed quickly disintegrated as poverty prevailed and obstacles mounted. The challenges are numerous. First, communities are polarized, and violence is a familiar response to disagreements within families, among neighbors, and throughout communities with the presence of gangs of armed delinquents. These problems are aggravated in regions that house both ex-guerillas and ex-military. After the 1992 peace accords, 35,000 people–ex-combatants from both sides of the war and their families, as well as displaced persons from other regions of the country–settled on the 14,000 acres of land in the Bajo Lempa region, one of five ""conflict"" zones in El Salvador. In addition to developing their homes and lives with no established social infrastructure, the communities' citizens have had to deal with the explosive resentment between former enemies. Second, El Salvador, as well as other parts of Central America, is ill-prepared for the natural disasters common to the region. Hurricane Mitch killed 9,000 people throughout Central America. Bajo Lempa, in particular, is a high-risk area for floods, droughts, forest fires, and earthquakes. Environmental devastation of the subtropical forests due to cotton plantations damaged the ecosystem and led to periodic flooding. Only 1,200 hectares of forest remain today, and continued cutting and occasional fires put those, too, in danger. Housing construction and production techniques brought from other areas of the country have exacerbated the situation. Third, communities have had little government assistance in their efforts to reconstruct and develop production systems and development policy. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have hardly made a dent in the myriad challenges faced by such communities across the nation. The government has devoted its efforts to negotiating a free trade agreement with the United States–an opening of the economy that small producers trying to rebuild rural communities are not prepared for. The government has paid little heed to peasant interests, even in local affairs. When Ramón and the people of Bajo Lempa presented a community-developed plan to respond to emergency situations, government officials refused to acknowledge it, claiming that only ""professionals"" could develop such a plan. NGOs, while encouraging community participation and decision-making, still limit their scope of such participation to workshop attendance and project selection from ideas developed outside the community."

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

In the wake of a devastating civil war in El Salvador, Ramón has developed a model of democratic self-organization that allows communities to overcome deep divisions, fight poverty and environmental degradation, and effectively confront the ruinous natural disasters of recent years. When the 1992 Peace Accords ended years of civil conflict, the Salvadoran government transferred land to large numbers of displaced persons. In many cases this led to the creation of new communities housing combatants from both sides of the war. Ramón recognized that land distribution was only the beginning. Without organizing themselves in a cooperative way to overcome war-based divisions, the communities would never withstand the task of creating a new regional economy, particularly in a high-risk area prone to drought and flooding. Ramón cultivated a process of organization, production, and conflict resolution that provides a foundation to address common problems in a way that is applicable to war and peace zones alike. He worked with communities to develop La Coordinadora (The Coordinator), a participatory structure through which all members of the community work together to identify problems and implement solutions. At first, this democratic process did not interact with the official government, which did not reach down to the level of communities. But later, the process became the basis of how government is built in that region. The model-which has fostered peace, safety, food security, livelihood, and environmental preservation-gained national attention when, in 1998, the region organized by La Coordinadora was the only area of El Salvador without fatalities from the devastating Hurricane Mitch.