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Showing posts from January, 2005

Murder and Robbery at Salvadoran Lutheran University

News comes from San Salvador of a tragic crime. The watchman of the Salvadoran Lutheran University was found hanged, with his wrists and knees bound, on the grounds of the University. The University had been robbed with more than 30 computers, televisions, sound equipment and cash stolen. Here is an English translation of the initial statement from the University:

Dear Brothers and Sisters:
The blessing of God be with you.

We want to take this opportunity to comunicate with you concerning painful and tragic events and concerns. The cruelty of the violence always present in our country has come (in the form of violent blows) to the Salvadoran Lutheran University. What has happened is the murder inside the university campus of the guard, Manuel de Jesus Martinez, an act done with the lust for barbarism which reminds us of the forms of action by the Death Squards. Manuel was found hanging from the limb of a tree, but his feet were barely touching the ground, which caused him to suf…

Milwaukee Lutherans Support Salvadoran Catholic Church Project

A story about solidarity:

JS Online: Lutherans embrace Salvadoran Catholic church project

By TOM HEINEN
MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL
Posted: Jan. 29, 2005

In a spirit of ecumenical cooperation, three Lutheran congregations
in Wisconsin have paid more than half the cost to build a Roman
Catholic church in El Salvador.

The church was dedicated in December and serves the community of
Rutilio Grande, one of a number of villages built for refugees who
fled to Nicaragua or Honduras during El Salvador's civil war and
began returning before the 1992 peace accords.

About $10,500 of its $20,000 cost was paid by congregations in the
Greater Milwaukee Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in
America with the blessing of the denomination's local bishop. After
All Peoples Church in Milwaukee started the campaign, contributions
also were made by a Catholic church in Waukesha County, Lutherans in
Germany and several international groups, said Mary Campbell, who
served five years as…

US Endorses Flores to Become Secretary General of OAS

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The United States this week endorsed Francisco Flores, the former presdient of El Salvador in his campaign to become the next Secretary General of the Organization of American States. Prior to now, the United States had only said it favored a consensus candidate from Central America. Flores was a steadfast ally of the United States throughout his presidency, including sending Salvadoran troops to join the coalition in Iraq.

Flores still faces stiff competition in the race. The other candidates for leadership of the OAS are Chilean Minister of the Interior Miguel Insulza and Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Derbez, endorsed by Canada and Belize. The trial balloon of a candidacy of Guatemalan human rights activist and Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchu, was apparently only idle talk by the Guatemalan president.

Rubbish From the Right

Conservative commentators on the right continue to assert that El Salvador is a model for elections during an insurgency leading to democratic outcomes. The latest is a fairly outrageous statement from Fox. David Asman of Fox News states:

Iraqis vote on Sunday. So what difference will it make?

Folks were asking the same thing in 1989 when voters in El Salvador (search) went to the polls in the middle of a nasty civil war. And as usual, the press was just reporting the bad news. "I expect it will only make the violence worse," one observer told the Atlanta Constitution (search).......

So what happened?

The elections went off on time. There was violence on Election Day. But the sight of long lines at voting booths overshadowed the violence. A couple of years later there was another election that the San Francisco Chronicle (search) (which had some of the gloomiest predictions in ’89) described as "a surprisingly quiet affair…it was relatively calm. And the election itse…

Salvadoran Democracy

Readers of this blog will be interested to read David Holiday's article at this link in the February 2005 issue of Current History. David reviews the positives and negatives of the Salvadoran electoral process ushered in by the UN-mediated peace accords of 1992. Certainly we should not downplay the significance of three straight peaceful presidential elections, but neither should we portray the Salvadoran experience as a successful example of US efforts to build a model democracy out of a civil war/insurgency.

The opening quote to David Holiday's article states:

“In the immediate aftermath of the 1992 peace accords, El Salvador was cited frequently by the United Nations and even the World Bank as a country that, with the international community’s help, effectively managed its transition from civil war to peace and reconciliation. Thirteen years later, only the US government views the Salvadoran model so favorably.”


CAFTA And Textiles

My recent post on cotton underwear explained the threat that the expiration of the world system of quotas in the textile industry posed to El Salvador. Some persons have argued that CAFTA is necessary to help El Salvador weather this storm through lowering trade barriers. In an article on the IRC Americas Program web site Todd Tucker argues that the help CAFTA would provide the garment industry in El Salvador is mythical. He points out that China's massive cost advantages dwarf the cost of production in El Salvador even under a CAFTA regime. Although El Salvador is closer to the United States and with lower shipping times and costs, that advantage is narrowing with improvements in super-ships and technology which lowers the the trans-Pacific shipment time to 11 days. Any advantage Central America has by virtue of its location is likely to be insignificant, Tucker argues. In the end, the economic damage to El Salvador from the elimination of the quota system is real, but prop…

US Troops to Build Schools and Clinics

US troops arrived in El Salvador this week for a project to build two schools and three clinics in towns in San Vicente according to articles in the Salvadoran press. The project is called New Horizons 2005, and is a joint exercise of the US and Salvadoran militaries. 250 American reservists will arrive in February to work on the projects which are scheduled to be completed by May. The total cost for the construction is estimated to be $5.1 million.

Cotton Underwear

Some new statistics indicate that El Salvador may be one of the victims of liberalization of trade rules around the world. On January 1. 2005, the last elements of a 30 year-old quota system for the global apparel trade were eliminated. The old system had provided quotas for the apparel goods which each country could sell in international trade. An article from the Los Angeles Times describes the working of that system. With quotas in place, many third world countries, including El Salvador, were able to develop apparel industries, because companies in the United States and elsewhere in the North had to purchase from a wide variety of countries. (This does not mean that the jobs created were good jobs -- the abuses of workers' rights in the garment maquiladoras in El Salvador are well-documented). With quotas eliminated, retailing giants like Wal-Mart and J.C.Penney are free to purchase from a much smaller number of countries where the labor is cheap and the factories are e…

Mara Salvatrucha and Plan Mano Amiga

The US press has run several stories in the past few days about Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13, the Central American gang with Salvadoran roots which has spread throughout the United States and other areas. Teresa Borden of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, writes a story about the impact of the gangs in El Salvador. The description of the problem is familiar, but Borden also includes a little description of the Saca government's new "Plan Mano Amiga":

But the criticism also has led Saca's government to begin a new effort that, along with the punitive measures, also makes a stab at rehabilitation and job placement for former gang members. It is called Plan Mano Amiga ("Operation Helping Hand"), and [Interior Minister] Figueroa said it aims to incorporate a safety net of government institutions, churches, associations, private enterprise and non-governmental organizations to rehabilitate gang members and give them jobs.
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When asked about a budget…

Traitors to the FMLN?

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Yesterday I described the fact that two FMLN deputies in the National Assembly switched their votes to support Tony Saca's proposed budget, and I mentioned that the FMLN was reacting pretty forcefully. The picture above gives a good idea of how badly the FMLN is taking the news.

You can get more of a feel for the FMLN's reaction, and its current hard left orthodoxy at Simpatizantes del FMLN En El Exterior.

Anniversary of La Matanza

Today is the 73rd anniversary of "La Matanza", the massacre of 10,000 to 40,000 peasants by the armed forces of General Martinez. An uprising of Indians and campesinos revolted against oppression by the land-owning elite. Led by Farabundo Marti (for whom the FMLN is named) the revolt was brutally put down in January 1932 by the military.

Yesterday I wrote about the deep divisions and rigidity of ARENA and the FMLN in dealing with each other. The memory of La Matanza still influences how the parties of the right and of the left view each other:


The "matanza" of 1932--the massacre of 10,000 to 40,000 peasants in response to an uprising organized by Communist leader Augustin Farabundo Marti...was a central turning point in the history of the country, an event that deeply influenced the Right and the Left's view of their enemies in the violent decades to come. The massacre demonstrated the brutal lengths to which the regime that was established over the precedi…

Governing El Salvador

For weeks and weeks, the 2005 budget in El Salvador has been stalled. Approval of the budget and of the bonds to finance the budget requires a super-majority vote of the Salvadoran National Assembly. Although the FMLN's 30 seats are not a majority, they are sufficent to prevent ARENA and its allies in the center parties from passing the budget. There has been a battle of words with Schafik Handal of the FMLN accusing president Tony Saca of waging a dirty smear campaign, and Saca alleging that the FMLN is being obstructionist.

Now comes the news that two FMLN deputies in the National Assembly will give their votes to approve the budget. According to La Prensa , the FMLN leadership has reacted forcefully, denouncing the defecting deputies as "traitors" and asserting the deputies had sold their votes to ARENA. There is apparently no room for compromise, dissent or independent thinking apart from the leadership of the FMLN.

A recent issue of Proceso, the publication of…

CAFTA -- A Winnable Fight

John Nichols, writing in the current issue of The Nation looks at the political landscape in Congress and concludes that it is possible for CAFTA not to obtain the neccessary votes in the US House of Representatives. The time for anti-CAFTA groups to make their case to legislators is right now:

Representative Sherrod Brown, who wrote the book Myths of Free Trade and who is expected to lead Congressional opposition to CAFTA, says, "The key is to make sure that members who are on the fence feel heat early." This means that foes of the corporate free-trade regimen are in a race against time. The US Chamber of Commerce and other business lobbying groups are preparing a major campaign to pressure House members to back CAFTA; members from both parties can expect to be reminded that backing CAFTA will put them in the good graces of groups that write big campaign-contribution checks. But recent developments, including the Melancon victory and the easy re-election of Wisconsin Senat…

More on Death Squads, Iraq and El Salvador

The Newsweek article which asserted the Pentagon was considering a "Salvador Option" for use of special units in Iraq touched off a number of re-examinations of the US armed forces role in El Salvador during the civil war. David Holiday provides much thoughtful analysis and quotes from Dean Brackley at the UCA, among others, at this link.

Terrorists and Gangs Hysteria

There is a lot of buzz on websites about the possible links between al-Qaeda and Central American gangs. I wrote about it myself a few weeks ago and expressed my doubts about such links.

Some of the recent speculation comes out of this story in the Brownsville Herald that a Bangladeshi national named "Islam" was picked up with a group of 13 other illegal immigrants, and one of the other border crossers was a Mara Salvatrucha gang member. Some people are now making the enormous logical leap to conclude this shows cooperation between the gangs and Islamic terrorists.

A bit of sanity was injected in this article by Carlos Mauricio Pineda Cruz, a former Salvadoran diplomat, writing in the Terrorism Monitor on the Jamestown Foundation web site. Cruz takes seriously the reports that al-Qaeda figures may have been spotted in Honduras, but notes that there are several reasons that make such an unholy alliance unlikely:

"Firstly the Maras are not a centralized organization…

Women, Identity and Power

Another of the terrific series of radio programs produced by Public Radio's LatinoUSA is available at this link. The program looks at the situation of women in El Salvador after the civil war era.

European Union Pressures El Salvador on Labor Accords

In a move heralded by union and social activists in El Salvador, the European Union announced that it would not give Salvadoran goods preferential trade treatment if the country does not ratify the two key International Labor Organization conventions governing freedom of association. The conventions are ILO Convention 87 concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize and ILO Convention 98 concerning the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining. The Salvadoran government asserts that it cannot sign the accords without amending the Salvadoran constitution. The international agreements are broad enough to include the right of government and other public sector employees to organize, but the Salvadoran constitution does not accord such rights.

The European Union's use of trade advantages for Salvadoran exporters as a lever to push for recognition of basic labor rights in El Salvador contrasts sharply with the Bush Adminsitration push to award trade ad…

Bread and Chocolate

I came across an uplifting AP article today about an outreach program of the Friends of Israel Central Baptist Bible Tabernacle in San Salvador. The program, called Bread and Chocolate, works in San Salvador's worst neighborhoods to bring meals and encouragement to the homeless. Here's an excerpt:

"The Friends of Israel teams go out, Bibles in hand, to areas where people sleep covered in tattered cardboard and newspapers.

"We do it because it is the command of the Lord and because we want them to know that someone loves them, that someone is worried about them," Monterrosa tells a reporter.

The Bread and Chocolate deliveries reach about 600 people twice a week, most of them homeless, some sleeping in government shelters and a few in jail.

After Reyes and her children join others in sharing chicken, rice, bread, chocolate and chapters of the Bible, the church caravan moves on to an area where about 15 homeless people, young and old, have gathered behind governm…

Campaign for TPS Registrations

The Salvadoran government is putting on a major publicity campaign among the Salvadoran community in the United States to make sure that persons on TPS status re-register to maintain their ability to stay in the United States. TPS stands for Temporary Protected Status and is a form of temporary work permit which allows Salvadorans who would otherwise be deported to stay in the country. The program is based on a finding that a catastrophe (the 2001 earthquakes) justifies not forcing people to return to their home country.

As the Washington Post reports, the Salvadoran government is mailing 350,000 booklets about TPS to immigrants' homes and also phoning immigrants with a pre-recorded message from president Tony Saca.

This week also saw the release of the final figures for remittances back to El Salvador for 2004, with more than $2.5 billion flowing back into the country from Salvadorans in the United States. It is little wonder that the Salvadoran government wants its countryme…

Voces Inocentes

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Voces Inocentes (Innocent Voices), the movie based on the experiences of a boy enlisted by the warring factions in the Salvadoran civil war, continues to garner favorable press.

For example, National Geographic has an article about the film which goes on to talk about the problem of child soldiers worldwide. Raices, a Salvadoran e-zine has two articles. The Internet Movie Database has reviews from many viewers.

And now you can see the trailer, pictures from the movie, a plot synopsis and more at the official Web site for the film.

Now if it would only be released in the US so I can see it.

Earthquakes and Tsunamis

Today an earthquake measuring 5.1 on the Richter scale rumbled off the coast of El Salvador. There were no injuries or damage reported. The quake comes, however, exactly 4 years after the first of the two major earthquakes in 2001 which destroyed tens of thousands of homes in El Salvador on January 13, 2001.

As the world knows all too well, an undersea earthquake triggered the massive Indian Ocean Tsunami. This article on the IPS News web site describes the relative lack of preparation for tsunamis among the nations in Latin America. The last tsunami to hit Central America killed 116 people in Nicaragua in 1992.

Lutheran Bishop Condemns Beating of Pastors by Riot Police

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Lutheran Bishop Medardo Gomez spoke out Monday against the beating of two Lutheran pastors last December 17. The two pastors, Ricardo Cornejo and Roberto Pineda, were beaten by riot police breaking up a protest against CAFTA. The protest had been called by the Popular Social Block (BPS). The bishop rejected the idea that the church was working with ties to any political party, declaring "Somos del pueblo y para el pueblo" (We are of the people and for the people). The bishop declared that the church had a mission to accompany its people in working for a reign of peace, truth and justice.

Rev. Cornejo received medical treatment in the United States for his injuries.

El Diario de Hoy showed its feelings about Cornejo. It ran a story about the vote for CAFTA in the National Assembly and the protests outside and carried the picture you see above. But there was no mention in the paper of the actions of the riot police, instead the paper ran another picture of Cornejo, a…

Another Candidate for OAS Leadership

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Guatemala has announced that it may put forward 1992 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchu as a candidate for the position of Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS). Menchu was born to a poor Mayan family in Guatemala. During the bloody civil war in Guatemala, many of her family members were arrested, tortured, and killed by the army. She played a leadership role in the Guatemalan opposition. Since the conclusion of hostilities in Guatemala, she has been an advocate for the rights of indigenous peoples throughout the Western Hemisphere

The candidates for leadership of the OAS so far are Chilean Minister of the Interior Miguel Insulza, who is backed by Argentina and Brazil; Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Derbez, endorsed by Canada and Belize; and the former president of El Salvador, Francisco Flores, backed by Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama. Before announcing the possibility of a Menchu candidacy, Guatemala appeared to be backing Flores.

The Inter Pre…

Death Squads, Iraq and El Salvador

The Newsweek article regarding the "Salvador Option," a Pentagon proposal to train paramilitary squads in Iraq to carry out kidnappings and possible assassinations, has received wide play around the world today. Everyone from Reuters to al Jazeera to The Guardian was running the story.

I'm interested in some of the reaction by people to the "revelation" that the U.S. had trained persons who participated in death squads in El Salvador. From the left, Democracy Now! runs an interview with Allan Nairn. Nairn recounts his interviews with Salvadoran military figures in the 1980's in which they told him that US military advisors were aware of and actively trained the death squads in techniques including torture. Nairn calls for US officials who participated in setting up the death squads to be prosecuted for murder and seeks the declassification of a 1984 Senate Intelligence Committee report which he says will establish the US involvement with the death squ…

What are they thinking??

The hawks in the Bush administration have apparently found another (faulty) parallel in the Salvadoran war to apply to the conflict in Iraq. Earlier I critiqued the view of Vice President Cheney and others that elections during the 1980's in El Salvador were a model for how elections during a civil war would "take the winds out" of an insurgency. Now Newsweek reports on its web site today that the Bush Administration is considering the use of Special Forces to train Iraqi paramilitary squads to engage in targeted kidnappings and possibly assassinations of Sunni insurgents and "sympathizers." Newsweek reports that some in the Pentagon refer to this as the "Salvador Option":

Now, NEWSWEEK has learned, the Pentagon is intensively debating an option that dates back to a still-secret strategy in the Reagan administration’s battle against the leftist guerrilla insurgency in El Salvador in the early 1980s. Then, faced with a losing war against Salvador…

CAFTA Fight in US Congress

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The various factions are beginning to prepare for the CAFTA ratification fight in the US Congress. You can tell from the variety of press stories starting to appear on a regular basis.

All of the stories predict a very close battle in the U.S. Congress. As this article points out, Democrats are expected to line up squarely against the pact and the powerful sugar industry may sway enough Republican votes to prevent passage. The sugar interests fear the provisions which would allow greater imports of sugar into the US. (These are the parallel to the fears of those in Central America who fear that cheap imports of corn from the subsidized US agricultural sector will harm the small rural farmer).

The CAFTA debate is presented from the business point of view on Bloomberg.com. Why does it not give me comfort that the spokesmen in favor of CAFTA quoted in this article are from Caterpillar Industries, Proctor & Gamble, and the American Insurance Association?

For those of you who w…

Salvadorans' Stay in U.S. to Be Extended

Salvadoran papers trumpeted the decision of US authorities to extend again Temporary Protected Status for some 248,000 Salvadorans living and working in the United States. The LA Times, noting that half of the Salvadorans in the United States live in California, provides this article describing the importance of the decision for Salvadorans. The TPS program is important enough that Salvadoran president Tony Saca had scheduled a trip to Washington, D.C. in conjunction with the pending expiration of TPS and will have a press conference on Friday at the National Press Club.

Approximately 2 million Salvadorans live in the United States.

Mara Salvatrucha -- al-Qaeda Link?

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The Boston Herald ran a story today which states that police have increased their efforts against Mara Salvatrucha gang members in the Boston area because of alleged ties to al-Qaeda. According to the story:
In recent months, intelligence officials in Washington have warned national law enforcement agencies that al-Qaeda terrorists have been spotted with members of MS-13 [Mara Salvatrucha] in El Salvador, prompting concerns the gang may be smuggling Islamic fundamentalist terrorists into the country. Law enforcement officials have long believed that MS-13 controls alien smuggling routes along Mexico. .
This story resurrects reports from the August/September 2004 time frame about possible connections between the Central American gangs and al-Qaeda. According to the stories at that time, Adnan G. El Shukrijumah, a key al Qaeda cell leader for whom the U.S. government has offered a $5 million reward, was spotted in July in Honduras meeting with leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha gang.

Prison Conditions in El Salvador

I received a copy of this press release which offers insight into the Salvadoran prison system and efforts to improve it.

EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH IN CANADA
NEWS RELEASE
From Mission in the World, ELCIC

UPDATE ON PRISON CONDITIONS IN EL SALVADOR

Winnipeg, Dec 21, 2004 (ELCIC)--Last September ELCIC Information forwarded a request from Christians for Peace in El Salvador (CRISPAZ) which asked for support in the way of letters to Salvadoran President Antonio Saca. At that time, conditions throughout El Salvador's prison system were critical and required urgent attention to prevent further violence.

Recently Rev. Brian Rude, pastor / missionary of the ELCIC, serving in El Salvador sent this update and his thanks:

Dear friends and supporters:

The massacre of 31 inmates in "La Esperanza" (Mariona) prison on 18 August, 2004, and the ensuing urgent action campaign, have led to some positive changes in the Salvadoran prison system. The immediate response was to complete the s…

Vacations and Homicides

Holiday vacations with passions, idle times, emotions, crowds and alcohol produce deadly results each year in El Salvador. In the time I have been following the news out of El Salvador, I am always saddened by the tragic scorecard which the Salvadoran press keep of the number of violent deaths over the Christmas holidays. As reported in La Prensa there were 85 homicides between December 23 and December 31, 2004, a 28 percent increase over the prior year. The week concluded a year which saw more murders in El Salvador than any of the preceding 5 years. According to the paper, "violence and the old vices of speed and alcohol returned to cause pain and mourning at the end of 2004 and the start of 2005." The annual scorecard always includes as well the dozens killed and injured in traffic fatalities over the week.

It is a sad irony that the biggest religious holidays in El Salvador produce these statistics. The other times which see these spikes in the rates of homicide…

The Struggle to Organize

The LA Times runs a story today about the Soto murder case. There is nothing new in the article about the murder, but the piece puts this case into the broader context of the Teamsters and other American unions forming alliances with union organizing efforts across the world:

Soto's work and brutal death exemplify two larger trends: U.S. unions are increasingly forming global alliances to match broader changes in the economy, and those alliances are bringing them face to face with the reality of violent union repression in some parts of the world.

About 100 union activists are murdered every year for their work, mostly in Latin America, according to the Geneva-based International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. Hundreds more receive credible death threats, the group said.

Latin America's Food Chain

The relationship between supermarkets, the chain of distribution, globalization and the small rural farmer is a complicated one. As a follow up to my earlier post regarding a New York Times story on the impact of multi-national grocery chains, it is worth considering this earlier piece from the Washington Post: Reordering Latin America's Food Chain. The economies of scale brought by the large super market chains may allow food to be distributed more cheaply and reduce hunger. This does not diminish the threat to the rural farm economy if farmers cannot adapt, but it helps us remember that these are complicated problems with competing risks and benefits. You can also read this academic article on the growth of supermarkets which is cited in both the New York Times and Post pieces.