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Showing posts from March, 2005

On Vacation

My wife deserves a vacation. So there won't be any new postings until April. Happy Easter!

25th anniversary of assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero

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Óscar Arnulfo Romero
1917-1980

25 years ago today, Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Romero was gunned down while saying mass. The wealthy and powerful forces of the ultra-right in El Salvador had murdered this man of God who dared to speak truth to power and who decried the evil committed against the poor people of El Salvador with a voice of love.

From one of Romero's last sermons:

If we could see that Christ is the needy one,
the torture victim,
the prisoner,
the murder victim,
and in each human figure
so shamefully thrown by our roadsides
could see Christ himself cast aside,
we would pick him up like a medal of gold
to be kissed lovingly.
We would never be ashamed of him.

How far people are today –
especially those who torture and kill
and value their investments more than human beings –
from realizing that all the earth’s millions
are good for nothing,
are worthless, compared to a human being.

The person is Christ,
and in the person viewed and treated with faith
we look on Christ the Lord.
MARCH 16, 1…

Research on Mara Salvatrucha

The Heritage Foundation issued an extensive research report this week regarding the problem of "transnational youth gangs." The report is filled with statistics and thorough research and presents an in-depth look at the origin of the gangs and their current reach from Central America to areas throughout the United States. The report emphasizes the impact of US deportations of young males, illegally in the country, who had already spent time in prison:
After free elections brought peace to Nicaragua in 1990 and a negotiated settlement ended El Salvador's conflict in 1992, the United States started sending Central American refugees and migrants home. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service deported 4,000 to 5,000 people per year to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. According to official figures, roughly one-third of these individuals had criminal records and had spent time in American prisons. In 2003, the United States forcibly removed a total of 186,151 p…

El Salvador's economic problems -- the view from the left

An article appears on the ZNet web site this week providing a comprehensive picture (in English) of the FMLN's vision of the economic problems facing El Salvador. The article, written by a CISPES representative in El Salvador, points to the problem of inflation and its impact on the cost of basic foodstuffs, which the article blames partly on the conversion to the US dollar as the national currency. Combined with inflation, the country is faced with stagnant economic growth. The article faults the ARENA government's reliance on foreign borrowing to finance the national budget and the unwillingness of the government to place any increased tax burden on the wealthy and those with property.

As a consequence, the article predicts a coming economic collapse in El Salvador. The article concludes:
The economic difficulties facing El Salvador right now are the result of 16 years of loyal implementation of a U.S.-backed neoliberal model that has resulted in increased wealth for the w…

Saca interview in Miami Herald

The Miami Herald runs an interview of Salvadoran president Tony Saca today. Here are a couple of soundbites:

Saca was asked why El Salvador's economic growth lagged the rest of the countries in the region:
The low prices of our principal export products, such as coffee and sugar, over many years have severely affected our economy, in addition to the rising cost of oil. Over the past 10 years, El Salvador never had an inflation rate of more than 5 percent as we do now because of the high price of oil.
But don't those same factors affect the other countries in the region?

Saca was asked about the benefits CAFTA would purportedly bring to the region. One of the benefits Saca listed was a new one:
CAFTA is also important because it allows us to export ethnic products to the natural market we have of 2.5 million Salvadorans who live in [the United States]. CAFTA has a very important future in the generation of new jobs for Central America.
Now I understand. Salvadorans leave the count…

Towards Saint Romero

As the 25th Anniversary of Archbhisop Oscar Romero's assassination approaches, Catholic World News reports that the Catholic curch is moving forward on possible sainthood for the murdered cleric.
Bishop Vincenzo Paglia of Terni, Italy, who is now the postulator for the Romero cause, says that he expects soon to complete a "position" that will be presented to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, making the case that Archbishop Romero was a martyr for the faith. This "position" would then be studied by a panel of theologians, who in turn would submit their judgment to the prelates who serve on that Congregation. That process could take roughly six months, the postulator estimated.
Here is another of my series of quotations from Romero:
These homilies try to be this people’s voice.
They try to be the voice of those
who have no voice.
And so, without doubt, they displease those
who have too much voice.
JULY 29, 1979
From The Violence of Love, available for download.

Improvement in the coffee market

The coffee crisis may be ending for El Salvador and other coffee growing countries in Central America. The International Herald Tribune reports that coffee prices for the arabica bean grown in Central America have more than doubled from their 2001 lows. Prices are up 28% in the past year. Fair Trade certified coffee has increased its market share by 75% a year for the past few years. To explain the price rise, the article points both to contractions in the supply of coffee and to the expanding appetite in the US and elsewhere for gourmet coffees. (Another interesting fact in the article -- coffee is the second most extensively traded commodity after oil).

But is this rebound too late to reverse the structural changes in the rural areas where coffee is grown? The coffee crisis cost 260,000 small farmers in El Salvador, Costa Rica and Nicaragua their farms. People who were dependent on the coffee harvest were forced to migrate to the cities or to try to emigrate illegally to the …

Words of Oscar Romero

March 24, 2005 is the 25th anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, killed while celebrating mass because he spoke truth to power. To commemorate the event I have been posting selected passages from Romero taken from the book, The Violence of Love, available for free download from the Bruderhof Communities.

From 27 years ago today:
Holy Week is a call to follow Christ’'s austerities,
the only legitimate violence,
the violence that he does to himself
and that he invites us to do to ourselves:
“Let those who would follow me deny themselves,”
be violent to themselves,
repress in themselves the outbursts of pride,
kill in their hearts the outbursts of greed,
of avarice, of conceit, of arrogance.
Let them kill it in their hearts.

This is what must be killed,
this is the violence that must be done,
so that out of it a new person may arise,
the only one who can build
a new civilization:
a civilization of love.
March 19, 1978

Chicken leg quarters and CAFTA's prospects

The reason CAFTA faces uncertain prospects of passage in the US Congress is that a wide variety of special interest groups have found one provision or another to upset them. If Congress does not pass CAFTA, it will not be out of a concern for poor campesinos in Central America, but because specific economic groups have applied pressure to stop the treaty.

Today in the farm press comes the news that the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture has passed a resolution asking Congress not to ratify the treaty. The vote came despite the Bush administration sending its top trade representative to speak to the group. The agricultural commissioners believe that imports from Central America will threaten various sectors of the US farm economy.

The example a spokesman gave was chicken leg quarters:
"Take a look at poultry, for example,” he said. “Under the agreement, the tariff on chicken leg quarters will be eliminated in 17 years in Costa Rica and 18 years in the other C…

Gilberto Soto Murder Case

There don't seem to be any developments on the Gilberto Soto murder case. Soto, a U.S. citizen born in El Salvador was a labor organizer for the Teamsters in New Jersey. Mr. Soto was killed outside his family'’s home in Usulutan, El Salvador on Friday, November 5, 2004. Law enforcement authorities in El Salvador continue to insist the murder was a "common" crime orchestrated by Soto's mother-in-law. Soto's family and Teamsters colleagues don't believe it.

Telemundo broadcast a story in February about the case featuring interviews with several witnesses and Soto's mother-in-law. A transcript in English is availablehere.

The web site of the US Embassy in El Salvador continues to list a hotline for information about the case and a $75,000 reward.

The Serrano Sisters -- an international judgment against El Salvador

This week saw more developments in the struggle for accountability of persons responsible for the worse atrocities of the decade of the Salvadoran war. First, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued its first ever judgment in a case brought against El Salvador. The case involves the disappearance of Ernestina and Erlinda Serrano, who were just seven and three years old when last seen by their family. The two girls were taken away by soldiers on June 2, 1982, during a major military operation in the department of Chalatenango, which had forced the civilian population to flee their homes to escape capture or death at the hands of government troops. Some of the story of the case is available in this article by Margaret Popkin.

The government has fought the Inter-American Court prosecution all the way. It suggested that the girls never existed and that their mother was lying. It denied the jurisdiction of the court. It refused to conduct any investigations into the situatio…

Export-focused policies don't improve Salvadoran economy

The Financial Times reports on the potential difficulties in obtaining passage of CAFTA in the US Congress. The article points out that the policies on which CAFTA is based have not promoted economic health for El Salvador:
[The] so-called Washington Consensus policies that advocate export-led growth have largely failed.

El Salvador, which has adopted the most rigidly conservative fiscal policies in the region, last year saw gross domestic product grow by 1.5 per cent, the lowest rate in 15 years and less than the population grew.

In President Tony Saca's first year, interest rates lagged inflation, undercutting plans to increase national savings.

The 2 million of its 8 million citizens already living abroad, mostly in the US, send home remittances equal to 16 per cent of GDP.

William Pleitez, head of the UN Development Programme in El Salvador, said CAFTA would "do nothing to change the competitiveness of the Salvadorean economy". He has recommended that the country "re…

Words of Oscar Romero

Even when they call us mad,
when they call us subversives and communists
and all the epithets they put on us,
we know that we only preach
the subversive witness of the Beatitudes,
which have turned everything upside down
to proclaim blessed the poor,
blessed the thirsting for justice,
blessed the suffering.
MAY 11, 1978
From The Violence of Love, available for download.

For everything related to the 25th anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Romero, visit the SanRomero Group, with listing of events in El Salvador and throughout the world as well as many resources related to the prophetic voice of Romero.

US round-up of Mara Salvatrucha members

The AP reports on the announcement in Washington that federal authorities have arrested 103 members of the Mara Salvatrucha gang, also known as MS-13. The Central American gang has thousands of members in El Salvador.

Despite repeated assurances by the FBI and others last month that there are no ties between the gang and al-Qaida, the article once again resurrects those fears:Last month, former Homeland Security Deputy Secretary James Loy called MS-13 an emerging threat to the United States, referring to the gang and the al-Qaida terrorist organization in the same breath in testimony to Congress. Garcia said Monday that while there is no definitive link between MS-13 and al-Qaida, the gang’s operations show that “you have to accept that as a homeland security risk as well.”
I think the better phrasing would be "Homeland Security is going to go after all bad guys, whether they are al-Qaida terrorists or whether they are vicious gang members of Mara Salvatrucha."

Chapter 11 and CAFTA

As the US Congress prepares to debate CAFTA, this is another of my occasional posts on the provisions of the treaty.

One provision of CAFTA which gets little mention is its investor protection sections. These provisions give foreign investors the right to sue the governments of CAFTA countries if government action threatens the investor's ability to make a return on its money. Such suits are brought in international arbitration tribunals, not subject to the jurisdiction of national courts.

This provision in CAFTA is based on a parallel provision in NAFTA. Public Citizen has now published an extensive summary of cases brought under Chapter 11 of NAFTA. The study finds that Chapter 11 has provided a significant tool for multinational corporations fighting government action.

To date, foreign investors have been granted monetary compensation in five cases and in six cases, investors’ claims have been rejected. Although the number of concluded cases is small it is notable that a…

Words of Oscar Romero

A civilization of love
that did not demand justice of people
would not be a true civilization:
it would not delineate genuine human relations.
It is a caricature of love to try to cover over
with alms what is lacking in justice,
to patch over with an appearance of benevolence
when social justice is missing.
True love begins by demanding what is just
in the relations of those who love.
APRIL 12, 1979
March 24, 2005 is the 25th anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, killed while saying mass because he spoke truth to power. To commemorate the event some of my postings in the coming days will include passages from Romero taken from the book, The Violence of Love, available for free download from the Bruderhof Communities.

Progress of CAFTA

Guatemala became the third Central American country to ratify CAFTA on Thursday. Honduras and El Salvador had previously ratified the treaty. As was true in those countries, protesters attempted to block the vote, asserting that the treaty elevates business interests over the interests of the poor. According to the AP:
Shrugging off rowdy protests in the streets, Guatemala's Congress voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to ratify a Central American free trade agreement with the United States. The 126-12 vote had been delayed by days of street protests that had kept lawmakers from reaching their chambers for some sessions.

El Salvador and Honduras had earlier approved the agreement, which is still pending before the U.S. Congress.

Hundreds of police ringed the area around the legislature in downtown Guatemala City, with water cannons and truncheons to hold back 600 union members, farmers and students who were demanding a national referendum on the deal, which they said would hurt t…

Salvadorans living outside the country

A recent poll by La Prensa Grafica looked at Salvadoran emigration. Here are some of the results: 73.8% of those polled have relatives living outside of the country; 90% of those in the United States.
21.3% of the respondents answered "yes" when asked if they or a family member had plans to emigrate from El Salvador during the next year.
40% of Salvadorans believe that "coyotes" who transport illegal immigrants should be punished with jail time; 50% disagree.

Opportunities

On February 28, Salvadoran president Tony Saca unveiled his government's new anti-poverty program "Opportunities." There is an extended article in El Faro online about the new program (in Spanish). The program is directed at the areas in the country with the greatest percentage of the population in extreme poverty. It includes both direct payments to poor families as well as a "solidarity net" of programs in health, education and water/sanitation.

The FMLN has denounced the program as "propaganda" of the ARENA government and as an attempt to buy votes prior to the next round of elections in the country in 2006.

It will be interesting to see if the Saca government actually finds a way to put resources behind these proposals, and whether the FMLN could ever bring itself to say something favorable about a proposal to aid the poor in the country.

Corrupt official to be extradited from France

An appeals court in France today permitted the extradition of Carlos Perla, the former president of ANDA, the Salvadoran national water authority. Perla is accused of corruption and illegally enriching himself with millions of dollars from the coffers of ANDA. Perla had fought the extradition back to El Salvador, claiming he would not be treated fairly. The case will be a test of the ability of the Salvadoran court system to deal with a corruption prosecution of a former high government official.

Human rights inquiry into El Mozote massacre

The New York Times reports today that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a part of the Organization of American States will reopen an inquiry into the massacre at El Mozote, El Salvador in 1981.
Recent efforts by lawyers in El Salvador to reopen the case, which was shelved in 2000, had repeatedly failed, even after a court ruling that year stripped protection under the national amnesty law from suspects in the most egregious human rights violations. "They say that we should put this behind us," said Rufina Amaya, the only resident of El Mozote known to have survived. "But we cannot forget what happened."

The evidence in the case comes from the work of an Argentine team of forensic anthropologists that completed its work in 2003. "What we found proved to be highly consistent with witness testimony of the incident," said Mercedes Doretti, a member of the forensic team.

She said 811 people were killed at El Mozote and surrounding hamlets. Most of …

PDDH initial report on Lutheran University slaying

The Procuradora para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos (PDDH), El Salvador's Human Rights Ombudsman, issued an initial report on the slaying of the watchman of the Salvadoran Lutheran University and subsequent police investigation. The report is highly critical of the police and prosecutors' investigation of the crime.

Earlier I noted the reports that two suspects had been arrested and the stolen computers and other equipment recovered. When brought before a court, however, the charges were lowered to possession of stolen goods because of insufficient evidence to tie the suspects to the robbery or murder. The court noted a large number of unanswered questions and chastised the police for relying only on a confidential informant.

Some of the conclusions of the PDDH report include:
It is highly probable that the murder and robbery of the university were intended to create terror in the Lutheran religious and academic communities.

The PDDH noted that the Lutheran Church had been cha…

Salvadorans on Temporary Protected Status

The Boston Globe ran a story this weekend about Salvadoran immigrants in the United States. The story coincides with the expiration Tuesday, March 8, of the time period to sign up for an extension of Temporary Protected Status (TPS). TPS is the program which allows Salvadorans illegally in the country before 2001 to remain in the country without deportation, if they register, pay taxes and do not commit crimes. The stated reason for TPS is a humanitarian gesture to not deport people to a country recovering from natural disasters such as the 2001 earthquakes.

According to the Globe story, approximately 12% of the Salvadorans in the United States are enrolled under TPS. The Salvadoran government has conducted a large scale publicity campaign to ensure that persons in the program register to extend their eligibility and avoid deportation.

Anti-gang vigilante justice

Last month I noted that the office of the Catholic archbishop in El Salvador had expressed a concern that "squadrons of social cleaning" were conducting vigilante executions of gang members in El Salvador. Today Reuters reports that such activities are becoming widespread in Honduras and Guatemala:
The U.S. government, an ally of Central America's leaders, said in an annual human rights report last week that vigilante groups and police forces in Honduras and Guatemala have summarily executed youths and gang members.

On the streets of Central America, rights activists say it is an open secret that rogue cops are using torture and murder to try to wipe out the gangs, known as "maras".

"Everybody here talks about the executions -- men in blue, black and gray cars shooting at kids in poor neighborhoods, kidnapping them and taking them to lonely sites where they tie their hands and shoot them in the head," Honduran activist Berta Oliva said.

Recruiting Salvadoran police to work in Iraq

El Salvador has 338 soldiers in Iraq. But an equal number of Salvadorans, have been recruited by private US contractors, to work in Iraq as well, usually at much lower wages than are paid to their US counterparts. USA Today reports:
A police sergeant here, speaking on condition of anonymity, says there have been more than 800 requests in the past three months by policemen [in El Salvador] asking to leave in order to accept jobs with two different contracting firms, mostly with Triple Canopy. He says 32 people have been given permission by the department and maybe 10 more, he says, have gone without permission.

Pay depends on the recruit's experience and the job to be performed, but can also be determined by his country of origin. While some firms offer U.S. and European recruits up to $700 a day, companies like Blackwater, based in Moyock, N.C., reportedly pay Latin Americans and others from less developed countries $1,200 to $5,000 a month. Uniforms, housing, transportation, food…

Where remittances go

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Remittances sent by Salvadorans living in the United States back to their families in El Salvador hit a record $2.55 billion in 2004. These remittances make up more than 16% of El Salvador's GDP.

A new poll from the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute at the University of Southern California sheds light on the reasons people send those funds back to their home country. While governments and development organizations hope that this large flow of cash might be channeled into development projects and investment, the reality is that most remittances are sent for basic human needs such as food, education and health.

As this table from the study shows, some 80% of family remittances go to basic family maintenance needs. According to the study, the average Salvadoran remitter sends back $1664 annually to support family in El Salvador.

More perspectives on gangs in El Salvador

The law enforcement conference on gangs last week in El Salvador has prompted a round of news stories looking more closely at gang culture in the country.

The Christian Science Monitor has a story describing the difficulty for Salvadoran law enforcement in securing convictions of the thousands of gang members they arrest under the Super Firm Hand Policy:
The problem, say officials, is that the police are unable to make proper cases against the arrested gangsters, and they quickly end up back on the streets, increasingly defiant and violent. Of the 4,000 young men arrested, less than 40 have been prosecuted, says Ms. Polanco. Similarly, under former President Francisco Flores's 2003 "hard hand" plan, the precursor to the current program, 19,275 gang members were arrested, with less than 1,000 of them jailed....

At a joint US-Salvadoran conference here last week to discuss combating the gangs, several reasons were put forward to explain the difficulties in getting convictions…

US State Department 2004 Human Rights Report on El Salvador

The United States government issued its 2004 Human Rights Report this week. Here are the conclusions regarding El Salvador:
The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were significant problems in some areas. There were no politically motivated killings during the year; however, courts dropped charges from some 2003 cases. Some police officers used excessive force and mistreated detainees; at times police arbitrarily arrested and detained persons without adequate cause. Prison conditions remained poor, and overcrowding was a continuing problem. During the year, the Government took steps to improve prison conditions. Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem. The judiciary remained generally inefficient and hampered by corruption, although the Supreme Court and the Attorney General's office (AG) took some steps during the year to address both inefficiency and corruption. Impunity for the rich and powerful remained a problem, as did violen…

Closing doors of US courthouses to Salvadoran civil war victims

The decision of a federal appeals court to bar a claim against two retired Salvadoran generals will close the door to future lawsuits in the United States arising out of the events surrounding the civil war in El Salvador. In the case Arce v. Garcia, the appellate court ruled that a 10 year statute of limitations applies. Although this time limit can be extended by a doctrine called "equitable tolling," the Court refused to use this doctrine to permit the suit. The court found that the 10 years began at least by 1989 when the generals moved to Southern Florida, and so the lawsuit brought 11 years later in 2000 was brought too late. The court rejected the claim that the 10 year limit on a claim should start no earlier than the end of the civil war in 1992.

The decision in Arce v. Garcia is more restrictive than decisions in some other cases which have permitted lawsuits against Ferdinand Marcos and against officials implicated in torture and murder in the Pinochet gove…

$54 Million Verdict Against Salvadoran Generals Reversed

The United States Court of Appeals in Atlanta yesterday reversed a 2002 verdict which awarded $54.6 million in damages to three victims of torture during the civil war in El Salvador. In July 2002, a federal jury in Miami found that Gens. Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova and Jose Guillermo Garcia ignored massacres and other acts of brutality against civilians during the war. The two now live in the United States. This AP story provides some background on the trial.

The decision voided the judgment based on grounds of the 10 year statute of limitations for the Torture Victims Protection Act. Because the lawsuit was brought in 2000, more than 10 years after the torture and after the generals had moved to the United States, the appellate court found that the claim was too late.

The Court was clearly concerned that a different ruling would open the floodgates to a variety of claims from earlier wars. The Court stated:
We conclude by noting the dangerous precedent that this case could set…