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reg.elsalvador: 143.0
Topic: SHARE Land Report: Segundo Montes
Written 5:00 PM Oct 13, 1995 by share in cdp:reg.elsalvador

Problems of Land Redistribution: The Case of Segundo Montes

By Karen Kieffer, SHARE Foundation, 12 September 1995

1. Executive Summary

The community of Segundo Montes in the department of Morazan is the most important case for resolution to the landownership issues pertaining to human settlements in the ex-conflictive areas of El Salvador. Segundo Montes was the site of a massive repatriation from Colamoncagua refugee camp at the end of 1989 and is the largest single settlement of former refugees and ex-combatants. At its height, the community was residence to 7,900 people, grouped into four villages, covering 22 sq. km. In the years following the repatriation, the residents invested an estimated $4.6 million from international grants in social and economic infrastructure on lands which had previously been used for farming.

Urbanized lands, such as those in Segundo Montes, were not contemplated in the original Land Transfer Program (PTT) mandated by the Peace Accords which focused on the transfer of agricultural land. These lands were subject to further negotiations between the government and the FMLN leading to an agreement for a "special regulation" in May 1995. However, major disagreements continue between the government and the community of Segundo Montes on the definition of what constitutes a housing plot, the ownership of productive enterprises in the community, and the government take-over of social infrastructure.

Beyond the general factors that have effected land transfers throughout the country, Segundo Montes faces special circumstances which require more focus and attention: the sheer size and scope of the community and the deficit of available land in the area, the higher level of intransigence on the part of the landowners to selling land to community members, and political divisions between the community and the former FMLN leadership from the area who negotiated the agreements. These factors affect the transfers of both human settlements and agricultural lands. The area of Segundo Montes is made up of 469 separate properties, of which only 10 had corresponding legal land titles in 1994. Of the 861 eligible beneficiaries under the PTT, only 35, ( 4%), have yet to receive title to land compared to 63% nationally.

The lack of progress in land transfers for both farming land and human settlements together with a recent increase in military presence in the area contribute to a general feeling of instability in Segundo Montes. The basic promise of the Peace Accords to provide land and the basis of making a living to ex- combatants and people living in the formerly conflicted areas is tragically not being met in Segundo Montes. The resolution to the land problems, and perhaps the survival of the community, will depend on a significant increase in will on the part of the Salvadoran government to resolve the issues, and flexibility in seeking solutions. The U.S. State Department and USAID should make known their concerns about the lack of progress to the Salvadoran government, and help to seek solutions to the remaining issues. These solutions should include:

a) A strong role for the government in encouraging landowners to sell the land, and selective expropriation of land with fair compensation where landowners are unwilling to do so;
b) A broader definition of housing plot in the human settlement which includes the yard areas used for gardens and animals behind each house;
c) A formula for the legalization of cooperative enterprises that includes rights and responsibilities for the workers and the community as a whole;
d) The establishment of a contract between the government and the community on the transfer of social infrastructure which includes the training and accreditation of local health promoters and popular teachers;
e) A clear statement by the government that no person will be removed from the land on which they are living or farming until that person has title to another plot of land.

2. Status of the Rural Human Settlement Negotiations

In spite of innumerable obstacles, some steps have been made towards the resolution of the national rural human settlement problem. In May 1995, a general agreement entitled "The Program for the Transfer of Real Estate Involved in Community-Use Infrastructure," was reached between the FMLN and the government which defined the boundaries of the human settlements, eligibility requirements and credit terms, leaving the final details to be negotiated to create a "Special Regulation for the Transfer of Real Estate Involved in Productive and Social Community Infrastructure." This final version will depend on the resolution of many outstanding and difficult issues.

The National Reconstruction Secretariat (SRN) is currently conducting a census of the landholders in Segundo Montes and plans to continue on to the rural human settlements of Chalatenango in September. Because of the size of Segundo Montes, the census has required more than three weeks of work for eight employees of the SRN. Next week, the SRN is slated to begin surveying the land in the community as a step toward defining the parcels to be transferred. The directiva of Segundo Montes considers formal agreements regarding housing in the human settlements their most urgent issue at this time.

A. Housing and Residential Lots

The parties have agreed in the course of the negotiations that residences will be considered part of the human settlement, but they have not fully defined what constitutes a residence. The housing parcels include the land on which the residence is built (solares) and the lot, or yard, surrounding the house. This lot takes a slightly different form and serves a very different function in impoverished rural communities in El Salvador. The lot may be used for a vegetable garden; a place for fruit and nut trees; a space for chickens, goats, pigs or even a cow; or a place where a small amount of corn for family consumption is grown. Any one or a combination of these uses is traditional and essential to its residents.

This larger part of the residential parcel does not fall under the category of solares nor that of agricultural land in the current definition of "human settlement," yet it is land necessary to the survival of the majority of families in the community. The basic nutrition of a large part of the population's children depend on the fruits, eggs, corn, milk, vegetables and other products that result from these residential parcels. It is one of the few ways that families without an employed adult are able to survive and cover the most basic food necessities of the family. There are more than 600 such families in Segundo Montes at present, and most supplement their level of nutrition using the resource of the residential parcel of land.

Negotiators on the part of Segundo Montes insist that the residential parcel is, in fact, a basic component of a human settlement and must be included in the transfer of land to the community and that its tenancy be legally recognized. The government maintains that the residential parcels are not "social infrastructure" and may not be included. In terms of negotiation strategy, securing the housing and residential lots would provide a stable base for the community and discourage landowners in their quest to maintain ownership and control within the community. If the landowners are convinced that their social and territorial base in the community will be extremely limited it might encourage them to make more agricultural lands available for sale.

The legalization of ownership of housing is urgent due to the current political environment and the delicate stage of negotiations. The impact of the PTT deadline in October, while it does not apply to human settlements, is stirring up landowners who hope to evict the current residents. Less directly, the community is fearful that changes within ARENA and the political climate in El Salvador could impact land transfer issues. The communities want to ensure there are concrete advances in resolving the issue and formalizing the agreements reached on housing before any political changes destroy the gains they have negotiated to date. Legalization of housing would provide an important measure of security for the population.

If the landowner refuses to sell in the context of either PTT or rural human settlements transfers, the directiva of Segundo Montes proposes that, as a last resort, the land be assigned to the community, community ownership be legalized, and that the government arrange for just recompense to the owner. This is not meant to be a generalized or universal policy nor an uncompensated expropriation. The community states that it strongly desires and encourages the owners to voluntarily make an agreement to sell and that the involuntary transfers only be carried out in cases where intransigent landowners refuse to sell.

B. Transfer of Social Infrastructure to the Government

The agreements to date stipulate that the appropriate government ministry take responsibility for maintaining the operation of schools, clinics, and other social infrastructure such as electricity and potable water systems. On the one hand, this is as it should be because the government's function is to provide such social infrastructure. On the other hand, the government does not share the same spirit of serving the community that has characterized the provision of these services to date.

The community of Segundo Montes put together its own health care system and school system after returning from the Colomoncagua refugee camp in Honduras in 1989. They attained a full-service clinic with a pharmacy, as well as two additional community health posts. The community invested in the training of health promoters and popular teachers over many years. The educational system has been legalized as the Local Educational System of the Municipality of Meanguera (SILEM). The community offers school up through technical high school education.

Since the Ministry of Public Health took over the management of the clinic in Segundo Montes, prices have risen for medical visits as well as for medicines and many community members cannot afford to go there any longer. In addition, there are fewer medicines in less quantity in stock and many people have to travel to San Francisco Gotera to get medicines which increases their expenditures. The two health posts are used one morning per week for medical consults and health education is no longer being conducted there. One elder explained that she does not like to go to the clinic now because the government workers do not treat her with respect or with any degree of kindness. The Ministry does not recognize the legitimacy of the 14 health promoters and pays them no salary, citing lack of professional qualifications. Given the continued lack of government acceptance and facilitation of the accreditation of the promoters, the situation could result in continued political confrontation and the threat of unemployment for these workers.

Segundo Montes' experience of having transferred the clinic over to the government has made the community wary of allowing the same process to happen regarding the community school system. The government had agreed to manage the schools and absorb the popular teachers as long as the teachers would gain or verify an adequate level of training in education. The diplomas of the 86 students who have completed their high school program are still not recognized by the government. Of the community's 34 teachers, the government does not recognize 32 of them.

Aside from the concerns about reduced quality and reduced commitment to the community, the government continues planning the privatization of many social institutions, including health care and education. The community does not want to "give away" its investment in the community to the government, then be subject to poor management and services, and in the end have the government privatize these institutions. The community feels that it has a right to provide services that contribute to its own well-being and development. Unless privatization is implemented in these areas, they want the government to fund the institutions and recognize the training and experience of the workers. If privatization is implemented, the community could maintain the health and education services according to the needs of their population and their own community structure.

C. Economic Infrastructure

The ownership structure of the rural human settlements themselves is a central point of contention in the negotiations. The government proposes that a community's collective productive infrastructure (such as sewing and shoemaking workshops, an animal feed mixing mill, productive agricultural land, etc.) be legalized into corporations or cooperatives. According to the proposal, these must be maintained as for-profit productive entities and legally separate from the community governance structure, the directiva in most of the settlements. The productive sector would be privatized and made into individual businesses owned by workers (i.e., they would be the stockholders, or accionistas) who have been in the same job in the same productive enterprise for at least three years.

The community of Segundo Montes does not accept this definition. They want their productive sectors to maintain a public benefit, and governing structures which able them to manage the productive resources for community benefit and development. Their current structure is legally a communal one, where the productive and social infrastructure belong to the community. They feel that their goals and methods do not fit into the categories specified by the government. They do not want to have exclusively profit- oriented enterprises operating independently of community control, nor ones that seek to concentrate ownership of the community's investment in productive resources among the extremely few individuals who might have worked in the same job in the same workshop for the past three years.

In favor of its proposal, the government has argued that individual legal entities must take responsibility for debts incurred in the community's productive sector. Representatives from Segundo Montes do not disagree; however, the community does maintain its right to decide its own legal structure(s). One idea in development now in Segundo Montes seeks to provide this fiscal guarantee and accountability while still meeting community needs and goals. The proposal being developed on the part of the community is that there be a community governing structure (directiva) and that the productive infrastructure be organized and legalized as cooperatives under the condition that the cooperatives compose their statutes and enter into a legally recognized contract that would allow a level of community control over the flow of financial resources and benefits within the community.

Specifically, the community proposes what is essentially a community tax on profits of the cooperatives that would be used for the maintenance of social needs for the community. One initial formulation proposes that profits be distributed in a manner determined by the community, such as:

This is just one example of the possibilities, but it highlights a concern by the community that their productive sector provide and receive social benefits, as well as be accountable to the community through its chosen governing structures.

D. Legalization of Other Social and Economic Infrastructure

Community institutions, specifically Radio Segundo Montes and the Banco Comunal (Bancomo), have encountered obstacles and opposition in the process of their legalization. ANTEL, more commonly known for running the telephone service in the country, also manages the nation's system of radio communications. According to ANTEL, there are no available frequencies to designate for the Radio Segundo Montes, which is community-run and has been operating "illegally." The community denies that there is any such technical problem; they assert that this is a way for the government to control both the flow of information and the development of community structures, as the radio is the only means of communicating to the entire population of this very large and widely-dispersed community.

The legalization of Bancomo, which is essentially operating in the community as a full service bank faces several obstacles. Bancomo's assets do not meet the levels required by the government for legalization as a bank, yet its operations do not entirely fit any of the other available legal structures for financial institutions. The directiva feels that if it could demonstrate 1) the organizational and financial stability; in addition to 2) a sufficient level of technical expertise corresponding and appropriate to the ultimate legal configuration, then the government should concede legal status to the community bank.

Threat of October 31 Dislocations

Even though the rural human settlements have until April 1996 to resolve the problem of land tenancy, the landowners are not respecting this deadline. They are beginning to threaten dislocations of landholders from properties yet to be transferred under human settlements agreements as of October 31. The community demands that the landowners and judges respect the legitimate deadline and that they do not start illegal dislocation proceedings as has been carried out in the past. Not only would such proceedings be unlawful and cause much hardship for the community, but they would also cause more insecurity among the population and add to the length of time it will take to resolve the issues in a substantive and legal manner.

The community is concerned about the continued operation of the conservative landowners organization MAIZ in Morazan. While activity by MAIZ has declined in recent months, they are maintaining their organized actions against both the PTT and transfer of human settlements. Presently MAIZ members are said to be legalizing their landownership and obtaining formal titles they may not have possessed in the past. This is a necessary step in the process of transfer under either program, but they evidently want to strengthen their legal position in defense of their ownership. The directiva is concerned that they are planning to buy up properties and infrastructure within Segundo Montes as way to divide the residents and to increase their control over both the community and the negotiation process.

3. Status of the Land Transfer Program for Residents of in Segundo Montes

The PTT process in the community is perhaps more fragile than the human settlements process, as the deadline for completion is coming up rapidly with no resolution of the land deficit in sight. The land deficit is significant in this zone. According to the PTT coordinator in the community, out of 816 beneficiaries in Segundo Montes, only 35 have received land. Many beneficiaries have already relocated to other sites in the same department or in nearby San Miguel. Those who remain without land in the community do not want to relocate.

The finalization of negotiations over 90-100 manzanas (mzs.) of land is anticipated in the coming weeks. The serious deficit of land may motivate more discussions around relocations. The rough estimate is that nearly 600 beneficiaries have no lands identified for them. Although this figure is imprecise, it gives a general idea of the magnitude of the problem. The community leadership expects that a community census underway by the SRN, an inventory of PTT advances in the community, and the results of the pending land negotiations will give them a more precise estimate of the land deficit.

4. The Community's Internal Political Situation

Morazan was largely the territory of the ERP faction of the FMLN during the war. With shifts in the politics of the ERP and its subsequent withdrawal from the FMLN, a situation of confusion and conflict with the base population followed. Many people were disillusioned with the benefits they received in the peace process; they had expected much more for the intense sacrifices they made during the war. They were even more disturbed by the increasingly conservative politics of the ERP, who they felt were not defending their interests. The result was that the community of Segundo Montes and subsequently its elected directiva associated themselves with the FMLN instead of the ERP. This has posed problems in the negotiations and has caused considerable friction between the ERP and the community.

The ERP no longer has the support of the community leadership, yet is still present at the negotiating table for rural human settlement discussions. The ERP claims that the accords were signed by individual persons, not representatives of the FMLN, and that therefore the original negotiators should be the only rightful negotiators with the government. Segundo Montes' directiva asserts that the communities and the beneficiaries of the Peace Accords have the right to choose negotiators who represent their interests and argues that the ERP has supported many initiatives that do not favor the residents of Segundo Montes. Particularly contentious are the ERP's support for converting community owned enterprises into privately-held for- profit businesses, and for excluding individuals from benefitting from both the PTT and human settlement transfers, in direct contradiction to the positions of the directiva.

5. Human Rights Concerns

According to the community directiva, several community leaders have been subject to illegal searches of their persons and of their homes in Segundo Montes. In several of these cases, the PNC either proceeded with a search even though the name on the warrant did not match the name of the person being searched, or they did not serve a warrant at all. The searches were carried out under the suspicion of storing illegal arms. The immediate effect of the searches, each of which were fruitless in encountering any type of arms, has been that the persons being searched have lost two or more days of work and have suffered harassment. The lasting effect is that these incidents generate problems of credibility within the community. Inside the community, people begin to doubt the integrity of the directiva members and are confused about who is telling the truth. The image of impending clandestine violence is planted, engendering negative public opinion of the community and its leadership.

In one case, the PNC arrived to conduct a search that according to the directiva had no legal basis. A community member called the Procuradur!a de Derechos Humanos (the governmental human rights commission) from the local ANTEL to inform them of the illegal search. The call was cut off. However, enough information was communicated that personnel from the Procuradur!a arrived and took photographs during the incident of those conducting the search and of government vehicles with tinted windows. Members of the PNC threatened the photographers at the time. Later, it came out that the PNC and other identified functionaries came from outside of the region and did not consult or coordinate with the local authorities. In addition, workers in ANTEL in San Miguel testified that their director had personally and intentionally disconnected the call from the community to the Procuradur!a at the time of the incident. There is a formal case currently being investigated and brought against those conducting the illegal search.

6. Conclusion

The community of Segundo Montes, precisely for its complicated nature and high level of development, is an excellent test case for the negotiations around the issue of rural human settlements. The agreements reached in the end will cover an extremely wide range of possible situations, providing a basis and precedent for other problem areas. Elaboration of an operational plan to fill in the gaps that still exist between the coverage of the PTT and human settlements agreements is a pressing need. Finalizing agreements reached to date on rural human settlements and ensuring complete implementation of the PTT is central to guaranteeing that all sectors of the community can access the basic resources they need.

Even though Segundo Montes has become renowned for its problems as a rural human settlement, the PTT coordinator of the community feels that the situation of PTT may be even more delicate due to the shorter timeline. It will be important to monitor the progress of both the human settlement negotiations and the PTT implementation in order to help support the rural human settlements in establishing a realistic basis for survival and development.

It is crucial that both of these issues be resolved within a short time period. The resolution to land ownership issues, and the stabilization of housing and productive employment for former refugees and combatants is central to creating stability and lasting peace in El Salvador. Given the scope and complexity of the issues facing Segundo Montes, the resolution to many of the problems requires greater will and flexibility on all parts. USAID should play an active role in encouraging the Salvadoran government to resolve these problems in a just and timely manner.