Environmental leader Angel Ibarra, with a career spanning over twenty years working with initiatives in political ecology and environmental management, has been named the Vice Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, MARN during the upcoming administration of Salvador Sanchez Ceren starting in June 2014 to 2019.
"Until a few days ago I was not considering joining the public service as a member of the cabinet, but I accepted the proposal of President Sanchez Ceren; and this means more commitment, greater challenges and better delivery. I do not doubt that we will make a good working team with Minister Lina Pohl at MARN" he confessed.
Physician, at age 22, he did a postgraduate degree in Public Health with an emphasis on maternal and child nutrition at INCAP in Guatemala. He then received a Masters in Development Sociology at the Autonomous University of Mexico.
He became aware of environmental problems and conflicts during the post war period of the nineties, when he was the Dean of the Lutheran University of El Salvador. This led him to study a Masters of Environmental Management and Natural Resources, at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. He is currently the president of the Salvadoran Ecological Unit (UNES).
"I joined the revolutionary struggle of the country, and was member of the FMLN during the civil war, I the left by choice the organic structures of the FMLN in 1994; and since that time I have had no party affiliation", he said.
Medical doctor, environmentalist or civil servant?
Until a few days ago. This was not in my plans for life, although I did work with over one hundred environmental professionals in developing a platform for the FMLN government, it took about twenty departmental and regional consultations on the issue of environmental sustainability.
But last week, President Sanchez Ceren invited me to a meeting and proposed that I become the Vice Minister of Environment. I accepted because in know the way he thinks, his long-term political vision for the country which has at the center the paradigm of Good Living.
I'm sure President Salvador Sanchez Ceren and Vice President Óscar Ortiz are aware of the environmental crisis we are living and the need to reconcile the protection of natural resources of the country with economic development of policies to achieve improved quality of life for people.
Overcoming poverty, job creation and improvement of the economy will ultimately improve the quality of life of the most vulnerable communities and middle class sectors in the city and the rural areas.
What does commitment mean?
As part of my commitment, I will work with social movements in order to build a Salvadoran society that is just, equitable, peaceful, democratic, and sustainable.
My main contribution will be to collaborate with Lina in building an agenda of environmental sustainability which reconciles economic, social and political processes which aim to improve quality of life of people. It is for this reason that I accepted the invitation, and I thank Oscar and Salvador for making me a part of their government.
Does formal protocol affect you?
I have full confidence in President Salvador Sanchez Ceren. He lives a life that should be imitated; he lives a simple and sober life; quite close to humility; he also has a lot of honesty and transparency.
I also live with sobriety; and I do not like pageantry. I will continue working and living in the same way I have until today. I will not change the way I dress, I will not use jacket and tie, I will keep wearing comfortable clothes, and will not change my personal vision of life.
We have been friends with Vice President Óscar Ortiz for about 30 years. When I left the FMLN, he remained as a militant; we were both young visionaries and today we continue dreaming and working for a better society.
How will you set up your work agenda?
Unlike the previous government, this government recognizes the significance of the socio- environmental crisis that this country is undergoing. Here the socio-natural disasters are a daily occurrence. Without evaluating the economic cost of natural disasters, CELA has recognized that El Salvador experiences a loss of up to 4% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) due to natural phenomena and socio-environmental vulnerability, while the World Bank states that climate change is a factor that defines the country’s economy.
We will make a good team with Lina Pohl, who has served as Deputy Minister to Herman Rosa Chavez. We will deepen and implement an environmental sustainability agenda for the next five years. Fortunately, Lina has the experience of five years of institutional know how to help us deal with this serious crisis. I will strengthen the work of the ministry and team up with her.
As requested by President Salvador Sanchez Ceren, we will look at balancing the economic agenda to generate more employment with environmental protection. We will develop a strategy to contain the environmental crisis and put significant efforts in the recovery of the fragile and damaged ecosystem, at the same time as we aim to improve the quality of life of people.
How will you articulate this new agenda for the country?
The FMLN’s Government Plan takes from the agenda that was built from civil society inputs during the development the “National Dialogue”. A public consultation procces that held many consultation meetings with different sectors of society, rural communities and communities that are suffering from serious environmental conflicts.
People have the expectation that this government will address and solve many of their problems. In that effort, we will join other institutional actors to take collective action across the government because environmental protection is not only the role of MARN.
We have to overcome the looming water crisis and foster a policy and plan for adaptation to climate change; and at the same time, we must manage the reactive, corrective and preventive vision of environmental risk management.
We must make a balance between economy and sustainability over the next five years by incorporating the paradigm of the “Good Living” for El Salvador.
How will you define your relationship with environmental organizations to which you have belonged in the past?
Knowing that this government must take into account and include all social sectors of society, a key task will be to encourage the involvement of community, environmental, farmers, and women organizations so that together we build a strategy to solve major environmental conflicts and change the course of environmental deterioration to environmental recovery.
Over the last twenty years I have been a university lecturer as well as an environmental activist in the country and the region; I have also been tracking global environmental problems; I think this will further an understanding that enhances a social agenda, which is vital for the country and necessary to move forward.
We will work within the Government Plan of Salvador and Oscar on the basis of the cumulative efforts led by the Ministry of Environment(MARN), as well as a closer, scientific monitoring of environmental problems in El Salvador which will strengthen our experience during this period.
How will you address thorny issues such as Metal Mining and the General Water Law?
Lina, the new minister has raised the possibility of implementing a national water plan, starting with key actions in the most critical regions facing water stress, in order to do this we will need to have an appropriate legal framework.
The approval of the General Water Law is a matter for the Legislature, but MARN will be more proactively involved in advocating for its approval. In the new law, water should be seen as a common good, which serves the fulfillment of the human right of access to water. We must ensure that there will be water in this country for generations to come; we need to know that we are not the last generation to live in this territory.
To ensure the supply of water for the Salvadoran population in the long term is not only a fundamental commitment of MARN, a specific request that President Salvador Sanchez Ceren has made is to address the water crisis; he has also committed not to allow metal mining in El Salvador.
* Translated by P. Cabezas