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Showing posts from February, 2005

El Salvador, the environment and CAFTA

Yesterday I quoted from the findings of the Congressional Research Service report on CAFTA which dealt with labor protections in El Salvador. Here is the section on environmental protection:

Environment. In May 1997, the government of El Salvador passed an Environmental Law to complement its existing domestic environmental provisions protecting the country’s remaining flora and fauna. El Salvador is also a signatory of more than 51 international environmental agreements, including the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, and the Kyoto Protocol. Despite these conservation measures, some observers argue that El Salvador has the worst environmental situation in Central America. According to this report, El Salvador is the second most deforested country in Latin America, 90% of its river water is contaminated, soil erosion is pervasive, and air pollution is increasing. A lack of forest cover has increa…

More on CAFTA

The AP has an article this weekend which ran in several papers regarding the prospects of CAFTA's passage in the US Congress. The conventional wisdom has not changed -- the vote is too close to call and the opposition of Democrats, the sugar and textile industries may be enough to block passage. The Arizona Republic carries an article describing the split in Arizona's Congressional delegation over the issue.

Another good source of facts and statistics about CAFTA is a report issued by the Congressional Research Service in November 2004. This 70 page report is certainly more balanced than the material on the US Trade Representative's web site. Here is a sample:
Human Rights Watch recently reported that only 5% of the labor force in El Salvador is unionized, and even those that are unionized are minimally protected by a weak Ministry of Labor (MOL) and a corrupt judicial system. In June 2001, the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association noted that the country’s existing lab…

The Channel 12 Affair

The firing of Mauricio Funes, and several of his co-workers at El Salvador's Channel 12 continue to stir protests and concerns about the freedom of the press in the country. Funes hosted a daily interview show which asked tough questions of those in power, and was fired at the insistence of the station's owners, the Mexican company AZTECA. Reporters Without Borders has a good article about the situation:
The decision by Salvadorean TV station Canal 12 to fire news director and presenter Mauricio Funes and seven other journalists continues to elicit criticism from many quarters, including President Antonio Saca.

"As someone who supports free expression, I regret that his programme has been stopped," said President Saca, a former sports journalist and radio producer, on 19 February, while stressing that he could not "meddle in company decisions as President of the Republic."

Herminia Funes, the president of the Association of Journalists of El Salvador (APES),…

Is the Left right to be paranoid?

The rhetoric of the left-wing in El Salvador in recent months continues to echo a refrain that violence is being perpetrated against activists in popular social movements as part of an ultra-right-wing campaign. Unexplained murders raise the spectre of the return of "escuadrones de la muerte," the Death Squads of the 1970s and 1980s. Such rhetoric is useful for rallying the faithful, but does it reflect a reality in El Salvador? Here are some of the events to which persons on the Left point in support of their fears:

Salvadoran-born American citizen and labor activist, Gilberto Soto, is murdered while visiting El Salvador to discuss unionizing container truck drivers in the country. More here.

The Procurator for the Defense of Human Rights receives death threats after reporting irregularities in the investigation of the Gilberto Soto murder. More here.

The security guard of the Salvadoran Lutheran University is murdered, after being tortured, bound, and hung from a tr…

The Romero trial in a U.S. court

With one month until the 25th Anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador, the Chicago Tribune ran a story today about the trial in a U.S. court which held an ex-Salvadoran military officer liable for the murder. On September 3, 2004, a judge in Fresno, California, found Alvaro Saravia had been part of the plot to kill Romero.

It was the first time that the case of Romero, a beloved defender of the poor, had been heard in a courtroom. And as the country prepares to mark the 25th anniversary of the archbishop's death March 24, it provided what many consider the first bit of justice in the case....

Five days after the United Nations truth commission's report was published, the Salvadoran president, Alfredo Cristiani, pushed the blanket amnesty law through El Salvador's Congress....

The Fresno verdict has rekindled debate over the amnesty at a time when other countries in Latin America, such as Chile and Mexico, are witnessing new attempts to pu…

US and El Salvador cooperate on gangs -- but no terrorism link

Traci Carl of the Associated Press writes an article about the recent three day anti-gang conference held with US and Central American law enforcement authorities in San Salvador. The conference included a "made for TV" round-up of suspected gang members:
Shirtless, handcuffed and bathed in the searchlights of a helicopter, 14 newly arrested Central American gang members were lined up along a chain-link fence Wednesday and studied by officials from the FBI, Homeland Security and California police looking for help with gang problems back home.

As armed SWAT officers stood guard, the Americans grilled the gang members on their U.S. ties and snapped photos of familiar tattoos, the start of a cross-border effort to stop the gangs from moving between Central American and U.S. communities.

Some 50 officials from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and the United States - including nearly 20 U.S. federal agents - were taking part in a three-day conference that included talking to refo…

CAFTA -- The Bush Administration Position

My postings here have generally been in opposition to the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) as representing the elevation of business interests over the interests of the populations of the Central American countries. It is important, however, that persons who oppose CAFTA, take a serious look at the arguments being made by its proponents so that the arguments for and against can directly address each other. (I may be a little optimistic in assuming that political debate ever functions this way).

Perhaps the best source for learning the arguments which the Bush administration will make to push the treaty through Congress in the next few months is the United States Trade Representative's CAFTA-DR Briefing Book. All of the major arguments over the treaty are addressed here from the viewpoint of the pro-CAFTA supporters.

For opposing viewpoints try some of my earlier postings here, and here, and here.

Portrait of Impunity

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Former Major Roberto D'Aubuisson gave the order to assassinate Archbishop [Oscar Romero] and gave precise instructions to members of his security service, acting as a 'death squad', to organize and supervise the assassination. From Madness to Hope: the 12-year war in El Salvador: Report of the Commission on the Truth for El Salvador, 1993, 127-138.




President of El Salvador and ARENA party leader Tony Saca lays a wreath at the tomb of former Major Roberto D'Aubuisson, founder of the ARENA party. Saca was commemorating the 13th anniversary of D'Aubuisson's death on February 21, 2005. Saca commemorated D'Aubuisson as one who left "a true party for the defense of the people. It is for that that we will remember him."


With images like this, one month before the 25th Anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Romero, is it any wonder that there has not been true reconciliation in the 13 years since the conclusion of the civil war in El Salvador?

Caribbean nations leave Flores in the cold

La Prensa reports that Caribbean nations cannot agree whether to give their votes for the head of the Organization of American States to Mexico's Derbez, or Chile's Insulza, but they do agree that they are not voting for Salvadoran ex-President Francisco Flores. Since the 15 Caribbean countries hold the swing votes in the upcoming one country - one vote election, this would seem to eliminate Flores' prospects. Flores was the preferred candidate of the United States. According to the Miami Herald, that endorsement did not mean much in the Caribbean:

U.S. relations with Caribbean countries have been strained since the United States refused to support a Caribbean call to send troops to Haiti to support former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide against a rebellion one year ago.

Instead, U.S. troops flew to Haiti the day Aristide fled. Caribbean leaders have accused the United States of regime change.

Reaction to Negroponte nomination in Central America

The nomination of John Negroponte to be the first National Intelligence chief in the United States received generally favorable reaction in the US press, but many voices in Latin America voiced dismay. Negroponte was ambassador to Honduras during the Reagan administration, at the height of American military aid to fight left-wing insurgencies and support of the Contras in Nicaragua.

La Prensa Grafica in San Salvador, certainly not known as an anti-US paper, wrote this about Negroponte:

Hated in Latin America

John Negroponte has been linked to military coups, violators of human rights and death squads in the terrible days of the armed conflicts in various Central American nations two decades ago.....

The Committee of Families of the Detained and Disappeared of Honduras (COFADEH) criticized the nomination of John Negroponte.... "What a barbarity!" said the coordinator of COFADEH, Bertha Oliva.

On September 7, 2001, before the "war on terror" and the invasion of Iraq, li…

What Salvadorans are thinking

Additional results from the recent public opinion poll conducted by the Technical University of El Salvador Center for Public Opinion Research:

60% of Salvadoran households have at least one member who is unemployed, and the majority of those persons have been unemployed for more than a year.

7 of 10 Salvadorans would emigrate from the country if they had the opportunity; more than three quarters of them desiring to emigrate to improve their economic well-being.

72% of Salvadorans do not approve the replacement of the colon by the dollar, three years after "dollarization" was adopted by the national government.

45% of Salvadorans believe the National Police (PNC) are doing a good job fighting crime, but 51% disagree. Of those who disagree, more than 40% blame the lack of effectiveness on corruption within the PNC.

When asked why the FMLN cannot win elections, 44% pointed to the FMLN's choice of candidates and 29% believe the people still have a fear of the party of the for…

Loss of an independent voice in El Salvador

El Salvador struggles to have an independent press free of overt political bias to report on the issues facing the country. One television program which stood out for its independence in El Salvador was the interview show La Entrevista al Dia (Daily Interview) , hosted by Mauricio Funes. The show airs in the early morning in El Salvador. On Wednesday, February 16, as the show was starting, Channel 12 yanked the show from the air, with that day's guest already on the set. As reported on the web site of Probidad , Channel 12 is owned by the Mexican TV giant Azteca, and the word came down from management at the television station to pull the plug on the Funes interview show.

This is certainly not the first time Funes has been faced with Azteca pulling the plug. After the 2001 earthquakes, Funes reported on problems with how the government was handling international aid. Then president Francisco Flores complained to Mexican president Vicente Fox, who then complained to Azteca. …

New Poll -- Not Surprisingly, Salvadorans Worry About Economy

The Center for Public Opinion Research at the Technical University of El Salvador released a wide ranging public opinion poll today. The entire text of the report on the polling (in Spanish) is available here. . Over the next few days I'll comment on some of the findings of the poll.

The highlights -- Salvadorans view unemployment and the cost of living as the biggest problems facing the country. Crime and gangs are a distant second. Salvadorans do not believe that the government is working to improve their economic situation, and the majority believe that their economic situation worsened in the past year. Despite this, President Tony Saca continues to be personally very popular. The FMLN is essentially viewed by most Salvadorans as not offering a viable alternative to the ARENA government, despite the fact that those polled blame ARENA for not fixing the economic problems in the country.

The Complications of Trade

The debate over the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) shows the interconnection of workers' fates in factories around the globe. On the Bloomberg financial web site today is a story the President Bush is making inroads in getting the US textile industry interests to support CAFTA. Central America, including El Salvador, is a significant export market for US textile makers. Why Central America? Because workers in maquiladora factories there turn the textiles into clothing which is then re-imported into the United States. As I noted a month ago, El Salvador is the leading exporter of cotton underwear to the United States. President Bush is arguing that CAFTA is necessary for the Central American economies to keep those clothing factories and to keep buying textile from the U.S. But as pointed out here, there is little reason to believe that CAFTA will protect the Salvadoran clothing maquiladoras from the low wage production juggernaut which is China.

UNICEF Report on Children

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Each year UNICEF publishes a report on the State of the World's Children. One of the features of the 2005 report on UNICEF's web site is a statistical tool which allows comparison of several statistics for multiple countries. Using that tool I pulled out a set of statistics on poverty and healthcare. The statistics set out below compare five Central American countries and the average of all the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.


Infant Mortality per 1000 (2003)

Costa Rica -- 8
El Salvador -- 32
Guatemala -- 35
Honduras -- 32
Nicaragua -- 30
Latin America -- 27
and Caribbean

Under age 5 Mortality per 1000 (2003)

Costa Rica -- 10
El Salvador -- 36
Guatemala -- 47
Honduras -- 41
Nicaragua -- 38
Latin America -- 32
and Caribbean

Life Expectancy (2003)

Costa Rica -- 78
El Salvador -- 71
Guatemala -- 66
Honduras -- 69
Nicaragua -- 70
Latin America …

Poverty statistics

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Poverty continues to be an intractable problem in El Salvador. The most recent statistics avilable about the levels of poverty in the Salvador are from 2003. 36.1% of Salvadorans live in poverty, and 14.4% of Salvadorans live in extreme poverty. The situation is worse in the countryside, where 46.2% of the households fall below the poverty line and 22.1% in extreme poverty. The map above shows the distribution of levels of extreme poverty among the different departments in the country.

The poverty levels have declined since the end of the civil war in 1992, when almost half of all Salvadorans lived in poverty and 27% in extreme poverty. A report from the UCA, points out, however, that perhaps as much as half of this reduction in poverty comes from the remittances sent back into the country by Salvadorans who emigrated to the United States, legally or illegally. Remittances make up as much as a sixth of the Salvadoran economy.

La Prensa reports that the Saca government is pre…

Proceso - On Poverty and 13 years since the peace accords

The 13th anniversary of the Salvadoran peace accords was in January 2005.
Proceso, a newsletter of the Jesuit-run University of Central America, published an article to commemorate the anniversary which looks at the political and economic progress in the country since 1992. Proceso is no fan of the current ARENA government, but will also criticize the FMLN party of the left:


In order to come closer to the actual meaning of the Peace Accords, it is necessary to take a closer look at its most important achievements.

1. The civil war ended. No one will be able, ever, to say how good it was for the society to end with the civil war.

2. The Armed Forces were purged and now they are no longer a part of the political life.

3. The FMLN dissolved the guerrilla structure, and it became a legally established political party.

4. The Office for the Defense of the Human Rights and the National Civilian Police were created.

5. The reform process of the judicial system began.

All of these important achiev…

El Salvador Sends Fourth Contingent of Troops to Iraq

El Salvador agreed on Thursday to send its fourth contingent of troops to Iraq in support of US efforts there. Salvadoran troops have suffered 13 casualties in Iraq, with 12 injured and one dead. The Prensa Latina reports that a CID-Gallup poll shows that 60% of Salvadorans oppose sending the troops. The FMLN has always opposed the Iraq war.

Caribbean 'kingmakers'

Former Salvadoran President Francisco Flores continues his search for votes in his bid to head the Organization of American States. The Globe and Mail reports that the race is coming down to the votes of the 14 Caribbean nations in the 34 member organization. Countries like Suriname and Dominica are swing votes. Francisco Flores has been criss-crossing the Caribbean reports La Prensa in a search for more supporters. At the same time, he has acknowledged that El Salvador's neighbor Honduras is giving its vote to Mexico's Derbez.

Rotavirus outbreak

Salvadoran health officials have declared a state of emergency as a result of a wave of cases of diarrhea affecting the children of the country. More than 43,175 cases have been reported, and the outbreak has taken the life of at least 20 children reports La Prensa. There is more information in this article at the web site of the Tropical Medical Bureau.

Most of the cases of diarrhea in El Salvador are cause by the rotavirus. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the highly infectious disease can cause severe diarrhea and vomiting, leading to dehydration. Rotavirus is transmitted through ingestion of contaminated water or food and contact with contaminated surfaces. It is very common in both the developed and the developing world, but only in poor countries like El Salvador, where access to medical care may be limited, is it often fatal.




ELCA Presiding Bishop Appeals To Saca Regarding University Slaying

Mark Hanson, the Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and President of the Lutheran World Federation, appealed to Salvadoran President Tony Saca to ensure a thorough investigation of the robbery at the Salvadoran Lutheran University in San Salvador and the vicious murder of the campus security guard, Manuel de Jesus Martinez. The ELCA press release states:
"We are concerned about the future safety of this entire university community, those employed there as well as faculty and students," Hanson said, asking the president of El Salvador to "direct the Policia Nacional Civil to provide increased protection to the university and the surrounding area. We are concerned that further violence could be directed toward the university, which will make it impossible to fulfill its educational mission."

In September 2004 Hanson visited the university. The ELCA "has strong relationships with both the Salvadoran Lutheran Church an…

Squadrons of Social Cleaning

The wave of homicides in El Salvador continues to generate theories about the causes and solutions in the Salvadoran press. The newest theory, advanced by the office of the Catholic archbishop in San Salvador, is that dozens of recent murders of gang members have been conducted by squads conducting "social cleaning." Contrary to the assumption that many gang members are murdered by rival gang members, some have raised the possibility that there are persons conducting extra-judicial executions to rid El Salvador of the gang scourge. This theory asserts that a large number of recent killings of gang members have been conducted with the victim's hands and feet tied and a bullet through the head, in a style reminiscent of death squads, and not of gang wars and drive-by shootings.

Diario CoLatino reports that the Human Rights Procurator will open an investigation into the possibility that groups are conducting their own vigilante justice within El Salvador.

Meanwhile La …

Public Opinion

Public opinion polling at the end of 2004 contains some interesting insights into the feelings of the Salvadoran populace. The poll was taken by the Institute of Public Opinion (IUDOP)at the University of Central America. President Saca continues to receive a favorable approval rating, and the ARENA party is favored over the FMLN by a 2-to-1 margin. Economic problems are of the greatest concern to the population, including unemployment, poverty and the general progress of the economy. Crime and the gang problems come in fourth. The population continues to favor the "Super Firm Hand" gang policy and believes that the level of crime in the country is decreasing. (This belief seems at odds with the significant increase in the homicide rate during 2004).

The most trusted institutions in Salvadoran society are the Catholic church, the evangelical churches, and the National Civil Police. The courts, the legislative assembly and the political parties are the least trusted.

T…

World Bank Conference in San Salvador

The World Bank held a conference this week in San Salvador to discuss the issues facing Central America. The US State Departments has a summary of the World Bank views. It is fairly summarized as Central America needs to do more to make it easier for corporations to do business in the region, and attracting foreign investment is the way to alleviate poverty. There was no mention of improving education, healthcare, workers' rights, or addressing the increasing inequality in the distribution of wealth in the region. But that's probably not surprising in a State Department summary of a World Bank conference.

There was an interesting snippet about corruption:
The bank said that even though Central American countries struggle with the problems of corruption that affect many developing countries, the region compares well with other developing areas of the world regarding the costs associated with corruption. Private firms in Central America spend an average of 2.1 percent of …

The Gilberto Soto Murder Mystery

The Gilberto Soto murder case continue to be a rallying point for labor and other activists in El Salvador. I have not seen any new comments from the Salvadoran authorities, but El Salvador's Procurator for Human Rights, reports that she is receiving death threats since she issued a report criticizing the police investigation of the murder.

There is a fairly new article at American Prospect Online which does not shed any new light on the crime, but does provide some background about Soto's emigration from El Salvador and how he became an organizer for truck drivers in the container shipping industry.

You can find many articles in my archives about how this story has developed since the murder last November.

U.S. Wants Salvadoran Troops to Stay in Iraq

Reuters reports today that the United States has asked El Salvador to continue to have troops in Iraq after the current contingent of the Cuscatlan Battalion rotates home in February. The report indicates that U.S. Southern Command chief Gen. Bantz Craddock informed reporters of this request during his visit to the Ilopango military base in El Salvador. In addition, George Bush called Tony Saca on February 2 to thank him for his support in Iraq.

Lutheran University Suspects Apprehended

La Prensa Grafica reports that police have captured suspects in the slaying of Manual de Jesus Martinez, security guard at the Salvadoran Lutheran University. In addition, most of the computers and other electronic equipment stolen from the University were recovered. La Prensa reports that police were led to the suspects by an informant. Another member of the criminal band was murdered Tuesday night, and it is suspected that his slaying occurred in a dispute over how to divvy up the cash which was stolen from the school.

Political Violence or Common Violence -- 2

As a follow-up on my post yesterday about political violence or common violence, two articles in Salvadoran papers today struck my interest. The first, in La Prensa, looks at the surging homicide statistics in the first month of the year. The statistics are depressing: 290 homicides in the month of January, an average of more than 9 per day and a 54% increase over January of the year before. According to the PNC, the majority of the victims were middle aged men in urban areas. La Prensa notes that El Salvador's murder rate is comparable to the rates in Guatemala and Honduras, but much higher than the rates in Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Costa Rica's total number of murders for all of 2004 was less than the January 2005 numbers for El Salvador.

The second article, in Diario Co Latino, describes a press conference of representatives of 5 Salvadoran human rights organizations, including CRIPDES, COMADRES and others, expressing concern about murders of members of their organiz…

Political Violence or Common Violence?

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The Bishop of the Lutheran Church in El Salvador, Medardo Gomez, stated yesterday that the murder of the night watchman of the Salvadoran Lutheran University on January 30 could have political motives. The Bishop's statements at his Monday morning press conference were reported in the left-leaning Diario Co Latino. According to the Bishop, the murder was in a style reminiscent of the death squads which had operated in El Salvador in the past. He stated that the murder could have been directed at the Lutheran church and its university because of its criticism of the structures of Salvadoran society and its engagement on behalf of the most unprotected members of the society.

Bishop Gomez certainly has a basis from which to speak about signs of the death squads. In 1984, during the Salvadoran civil war, he was kidnapped by a right wing death squad and tortured before international pressure resulted in his release. His fellow Lutheran pastor, David Fernandez was kidnapped and m…