Research Presentation by Dr. Diaz-Combs, Syracuse University
Los Radicales: the Salvadoran environmental movement and the limits of legislating water justice
Since 2006, Salvadoran environmentalists led a protracted struggle to establish a community water law addressing chronic water service interruptions, contaminated tap water, skyrocketing costs of water, and encroaching threats of privatization. This fifteen-year long battle subsequently came to an end on December 21, 2021, when President Nayib Bukele codified El Salvador’s first comprehensive water policy, called the Law of Water Resources. Deputies in Congress praised it as a tool to address the water crisis, but environmentalists denounced the law as de-facto privatization and an assault on the human right to water. Furthermore, one year after its implementation, water issues in El Salvador have worsened. Through an examination of their strategies to codify a water law, I argue that the environmental movement, colloquially known as los radicales (the radicals), deployed an activist strategy centered on appeals to morality in pursuit of reforms to legislate water justice. Los radicales heavily relied on education and awareness campaigns, discussion, debate, and public demonstrations on the human right to water, tactics that failed to produce an urgency amongst policymakers addressing the water crisis, despite its severity on working-class Salvadorans. While my entry point is policy, my analysis extends to understanding how notions of water justice are interpreted, and how these interpretations inform approaches to governance.