Property Titles Empower Rural Salvadoran Women Land Bank Financing Gives Rural Poor in El Salvador a Small Victory by Helping Them Own Their Own Land

By Claudia Kolker, Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, February 2, 1993 | Go to article overview

Property Titles Empower Rural Salvadoran Women Land Bank Financing Gives Rural Poor in El Salvador a Small Victory by Helping Them Own Their Own Land


Claudia Kolker, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


EXCEPT for its mountain view, Lilian Arriola's place is a bit grim. Two hours from Santa Ana, El Salvador's second largest city, the tiny plot of land is accessible only by four-wheel-drive vehicle. In front of the stick-and-mud house, a man stands in a pit of black muck, mixing plaster to fill in the walls. Inside, Ms. Arriola pats tortillas of home-grown maize.

But there is something extraordinary about this home: It is owned by a woman.

In the last year, 42 women squatters in Pinalon - a community of 1,500 people scattered over several square miles - have bought their own land. Benefiting both from El Salvador's violent past and the peace-minded present, each woman contracted to buy two to three manzanas (one manzana is about 1.5 acres) of land on the plantation where they have lived for years. The terms: 6 percent interest, 5 percent down payment, and up to 3,000 colones ($350) per manzana, payable over three decades.

Traditionally, peasants could not dream of owning land; the countryside belonged almost entirely to the wealthy, with many campesinos exchanging crops or farm labor for homesteads. Shrinking living space

Under this system, living space and work possibilities shrink with each generation, and children often leave the crowded family plot for precarious squatters' lives elsewhere on the same plantation. And those campesinos who own land are male; the mostly housebound women earn little cash and do not inherit land.

Twelve years of war did little to change the rules. But indirectly, El Salvador's civil crisis produced the key players in Pinalon's land deal: a female doctor, a group of rural women, and a land bank.

When Vicky Guzman left her middle-class medical practice to teach health care to El Salvador's rural poor 20 years ago, the Army accused her of subversion. Dr. Guzman insisted she was simply fighting a war that both guerrillas and government ignored.

In this "other war" - against rural disease and poverty - Guzman applied her energies in 1986 to Pinalon. The Salvadoran Association for Rural Health she founded started a clinic, a village council, and a women's group in Pinalon, as it had in numerous other poor communities before.

In 1990, a new government entity called the Land Bank was formed, funded by the United States, the United Nations, and El Salvador's government. Its $3.5 million budget was meant to finance market-rate, long-term land purchases for campesinos. …

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