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Showing posts from May, 2005

Recruiting for Iraq in El Salvador

El Salvador has 380 soldiers of its armed forces on the ground in Iraq as part of the US coalition. However, La Prensa Grafica reports this week that three thousand civilians in El Salvador are currently waiting to hear if they will be hired by private military contractors to work in Iraq. Last December reports described the hiring of between 150 and 200 Salvadorans to work as security guards and in support positions in Iraq. Those workers have apparently now returned home, and a larger work force awaits the opportunity to earn the high (by Salvadoran standards) wages of working in Iraq. According to La Prensa, the military contractors are particularly focused on hiring persons with military training from the period of the Salvadoran civil war who are familiar with the use of military weaponry.

Support Net -- Saca's anti-poverty program

At the beginning of March, Salvadoran president Tony Saca announced his multi-faceted program aimed at assisting the portion of the country's population which lives in extreme poverty. The program goes by the name "Red Solidaria" or "Support Net." A centerpiece of the program is a plan to pay subsidies of 15 to 20 dollars per month to poor families in those departments where poverty is greatest.

More details of the program were outlined in La Prensa Grafica this week. The subsidy payments are now scheduled to begin in October. Fifteen dollars a month will be paid to a qualifying family with one child twelve years old or younger. Twenty dollars if the family has two or more children.

The October commencement of the program will depend on El Salvador receiving two loans from the World Bank and the Interamerican Development Bank. Those loans are in the preliminary stages of negotiation, and there will need to be approval by El Salvador's National Assembl…

The case of Brother Toby

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A popular Salvadoran Christian evangelical minister remains in the custody of US federal authorities in Houston, Texas. According to news stories, Edgar Lopez Bertrand, known as "Brother Toby" was arrested in Houston for falsely claiming that a young girl was his daughter on a passport application. Because he is a naturalized US citizen, the false passport declaration obtained US citizenship for his purported daughter as well. He is said to be working out a plea agreement with prosecutors.

Brother Toby is one of the highest profile evangelical preachers in El Salvador. Since his May 16 arrest, his story has been front page news in El Salvador. He leads the church the Baptist Biblical Tabernacle Friends of Israel, which has 80,000 members in EL Salvador. He also heads a television channel, a radio station, and a newspaper. His ministry has spread to the Internet as well. The web site of the church reports that 12 inmates have been converted in Christianity while B…

CAFTA's potential impact on people with HIV

Rahul Rajkumar, a member of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines, wrote an op-ed piece in the Boston Globe about the potential impact of CAFTA's provisions regarding protection of intellectual property and data rights for pharmaceutical companies. He fears that the provisions will make it difficult for Central American countries to have access to inexpensive generic drugs to combat HIV-AIDS:
The office of the US trade representative maintains that nothing in the agreement prevents governments from producing generic drugs and that it will result in increased access to life-saving drugs as stringent patent protection encourages innovation in drug development.

The first of these claims is, unfortunately, false. CAFTA's protection for drug test data ensures that while countries may be able to produce generic drugs, they won't be able to use them. The second statement is partially true but so disingenuous that it verges on outright deception. Increased protection for pate…

The PDDH on Soto and ULS murders

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This is the fourth in a series of posts on Tim's El Salvador Blog regarding the work of Dr. Beatrice Alamanni de Carrillo, the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDDH) in El Salvador.

In the past 7 months, two high profile slayings took place which worry labor and social activists in El Salvador. In November, Salvadoran-born Teamster Gilberto Soto was murdered, and in February, the watchman of the Salvadoran Lutheran University (ULS) was murdered and left hanging in a tree. In each of these cases, the police arrested suspects, proclaimed the incidents to be "common crime" and declared the cases closed. In each of these cases, colleagues and relatives of the victims do not believe the crimes have been solved and fear that political motives are behind the crimes. The office of the PDDH has reviewed the investigations of both cases and issued reports highly critical of the police investigation.

In the Soto case, the PNC declared that the murder had been masterminded by Soto's mother…

Amnesty International report on El Salvador

Amnesty International issued its 2005 Report regarding human rights in El Salvador. Among the concerns raised by AI were the following:
The government persisted in its stance that seeking to bring to justice those responsible for human rights violations perpetrated during the 1980-1991 armed conflict should not be done as it would reopen the wounds of the past. Few efforts to obtain justice for murdered women succeeded and more women were murdered.Anti-gang legislation continues to raise concerns.The prison riots in August which resulted in 31 prisoners killed in La Esperanza (Mariona prison).

Rivas Zamora withdraws from mayor race

Carlos Rivas Zamora, the popular FMLN mayor of San Salvador, announced today that he is withdrawing from the race for mayor and would not seek the FMLN spot in the 2006 elections. Rivas Zamora is aligned with the reformist wing of the FMLN, and his withdrawal reflects his dispute with the leadership of the party controlled by hard-line orthodox members aligned with Schafik Handal. Mayors in other cities who are associated with the reform wing have also announced that they will not run.

The FMLN leadership will back Violeta Menjivar as its candidate for mayor of San Salvador. Its insistence on Menjivar as the orthodox candidate for the party may cost the FMLN in the mayoral race. In a poll released today by the Institute for the Study of Public Opinion (IUDOP) at the University of Central America, Rivas Zamora was the leading candidate, preferred by 32.7% of those polled, while Menjivar could manage only 14% despite her public backing by the party.

The return of Mauricio Funes

In February, Mauricio Funes and his popular morning interview show was taken off the air by Channel 12 in El Salvador. As noted then, the firing of Funes raised concerns in many circles about freedom of expression and the silencing of one of the independent voices in Salvadoran media.

Monday morning, Funes returned to the air on a different channel. He has the same 6:30 a.m. time slot, and his first interview guest was president Tony Saca.

Everyone interested in the development of a mature political process in the country should be happy with this development.

Storm-related propaganda

Carlos A. Rosales, special secretary to president Tony Saca has an opinion piece in today's Miami Herald. He tries to argue that Adrian is another reason why the US Congress should pass CAFTA:
Even though Hurricane Adrian weakened as it raced across Central America, more than 30,000 Salvadorans had to be evacuated. Still, two deaths were reported in Guatemala and one in Nicaragua. It is still too early to know what the toll on infrastructure and agricultural output will be in all three countries. But it is fair to assume that it will add even greater pressure on the already strained social and economic fabric of the region. Poverty levels could increase and disease spread.

This situation may inspire thousands, if not tens of thousands of Salvadorans, in particular, to head north, as many of their compatriots did on the heels of the destruction brought on by war and previous natural disasters. The effects of Adrian could trigger a new diaspora, unless CAFTA and more benign U.S. immi…

The PDDH on Adrian

This is the third in my series of posts regarding Dr. Beatrice Carrillo, the Human Rights Ombudsman for El Salvador.

In the aftermath of tropical storm/hurricane Adrian, the office of the PDDH, issued a report concerning the government's handling of the storm. The report criticizes the government for unnecessarily creating a sense of alarm and panic in the country as the storm approached. The report suggests that evacuations were not done effectively and that conditions in evacuation centers were poor. The report also criticizes the decision to close the schools and to send public employees home.

While the PDDH recognizes that the government has an obligation to warn the citizenry of potential natural disasters and threats to persons and property, the report suggests that the proper balance was not maintained here. That is probably an easier charge to make in hindsight, than when the country was facing the approach of its first ever Pacific hurricane and with the still-vivid …

FMLN makes gain in latest poll

The next round of elections don't happen in El Salvador until the spring of 2006, but the parties are already jockeying for position and the pollsters are taking the pulse of the voters. The 2006 elections will deputies in the National Assembly and mayors. In a new CID-Gallup poll released this week, the FMLN made some surprising gains. The poll data shows a 9% gain for the FMLN, while ARENA dropped slightly. Still most Salvadorans describe themselves as undecided:

What party would you vote for in the next legislative election?


Party May 2005Feb. 2005

ARENA31%33%
FMLN21%12%
Other / None / Undecided48%55%

The FMLN gains seem somewhat surprising considering the ongoing coverage in the major media of the split in the party between the reformers and the orthodox wing of the party. The same poll shows that President Tony Saca remains popular, but his personal popularity does not necessarily translate to favoritism for his party in next year's elections. In any event, this far ahead …

Tropical Storm Adrian Aftermath

Here are two inital assessments of Adrian's impact from NGOs in El Salvador:

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May 20, 2005

Dear Friends,

Yesterday evening Hurricane Adrian passed through El Salvador. This is the first hurricane in recorded history to hit El Salvador from the Pacific. It landed in La Libertad and passed through the eastern and central regions of the country. The immediate impacts of the storm consisted of treacherous landslides and some rivers overflowing which washed out roads. The land was left waterlogged and at risk for future flooding.

The United Nations, the Salvadoran government's national emergencies body (COEN) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) effectively evacuated 16,000 from the coastal regions. Many of those evacuated are housed in temporary emergency shelters until it is safe for them to return to their homes.

The good news is that the immediate impacts of the storm are not as destructive as predicted, but continued rains over the next few days in El Salvador a…

Hurricane Adrian approaches El Salvador

At 10 PM Eastern time on Thursday night, Hurricane Adrian was 35 miles from the Salvadoran coast according to this AP story. More than 10,000 people have been evacuated from low lying areas. There has only been one tropical depression to strike El Salvador from the Pacific ocean since 1966. The biggest risk will be flooding and mudslides from the rains brought by the storm.

Possible hurricane heads towards El Salvador

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Tropical storm Adrian is poised to strike El Salvador on Thursday. Get latest updates here.

The PDDH on CAFTA

This is a part of my series of posts on the El Salvador Human Rights Ombudswoman, Dr. Beatrice Alamanni de Carrillo.

In December 2004, as the Salvadoran National Assembly was considering ratifying CAFTA, Dr. Carrillo issued a statement questioning the treaty. Now that the US Congress is considering the treaty, those comments are worth noting again. In particular she questioned the lack of public participation in the negotiation and drafting of its provisions. She also questioned its impact on labor rights in the region:
"The Office of the Human Rights Ombudsperson has carried out a serious analysis of CAFTA, based on studies and reports by institutions such as the International Labor Organization (ILO), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and even the World Bank (WB), that reflects the serious impact of the Agreement on the right to work and to organize trade unions – despite the fact that the Agreement includes chapters on labor and the environment. The analysis al…

Addressing root causes of gangs

Some thoughtful comments appeared in the International Herald Tribune today about the need for the international community to help El Salvador and other Central American countries address the root causes of gang violence. A different approach is needed other than "firm hand" law enforcement policies:
Both El Salvador and Honduras recently introduced new draconian measures - known as "mano dura," or "firm hand," policies - that severely crack down on the gangs. These campaigns have only distracted attention and resources from the fight against the underlying ills that feed the gangs in the first place: dysfunctional politics, rampant corruption, the drug trade, poverty and overpopulation.

Central American governments have also used their highly publicized crackdowns on gangs to avoid action on another urgent priority: strengthening local democratic institutions. Since the end of the Central American civil wars in the early 1990s, judicial, legislative, and …

The PDDH -- Beatrice Alamanni de Carrillo

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One of the highest profile members of government in El Salvador has no power and no ability to make or enforce laws. Beatrice Alamanni de Carrillo holds the post of Procuradora para la Defensa de los Derochos Humanos or Human Rights Ombudswoman (PDDH). The post of PDDH was created in the constitution following the 1992 peace accords. The PDDH is to monitor and report on human rights issues in the country. But her power is only the power of persuasion and publicity. The PDDH can neither prosecute violators nor pass laws. She can only denounce the human rights violations which she observes.

After years in which the PDDH office was weak and ineffectual, Dr. Carrillo was unanimously elected Ombudswoman by the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly in July 2001. In June 2004, she was reelected for a second three-year term.

Dr. Carrillo is eminently qualified for the post. She studied law at University of Turin in Italy and practiced law in El Salvador. Together with the late Jesuit priest…

World Fair Trade Day 2005

Today is World Fair Trade Day 2005. "Fair Trade" stands in contrast to "Free Trade" as in the Central American Free Trade Agreement. According to the International Fair Trade Association, the principles of Fair Trade are:
Creating opportunities for economically disadvantaged producers: Fair Trade is a strategy for poverty alleviation and sustainable development. Its purpose is to create opportunities for producers who have been economically disadvantaged or marginalized by the conventional trading system.

Transparency and accountability: Fair Trade involves transparent management and commercial relations to deal fairly and respectfully with trading partners.

Capacity building: Fair Trade is a means to develop producers' independence. Fair Trade relationships provide continuity, during which producers and their marketing organizations can improve their management skills and their access to new markets.

Payment of a fair price: A fair price in the regional or local c…

Coffee production and environmental protection

There is an interesting article on the BBC News web site about coffee plantations providing protection for wildlife and the environment in El Salvador. The essence of the article is that appropriate coffee production techniques produce a profitable coffee crop and provide habitat which allows certain kinds of wildlife to flourish:
Chris Wille of the Rainforest Alliance, a US-based non-government organisation, explains: "The country has lost all but about between 2% and 5% of its original native ecosystems, but a good healthy 10-15% is still forested with coffee.

"So it's coffee farms that are providing the last refuge for wildlife, that are protecting the watersheds, that are buffering and extending the few parks; and that are conserving the soils and importantly providing firewood to the rural population, 80% of which depends on firewood as their chief source of energy."

But coffee growing in El Salvador is under threat as the uncertain world price for the product ma…

Tragic reality of gang violence

We walk together in solidarity with a poverty-stricken community in Tonacatepeque, El Salvador. Today the pastor of the church in the community sent us an e-mail which brings into sharp, personal focus the pain of a community plagued with gangs.
The church and community of Los Heroes is again in mourning. On Sunday, May 8th, a woman named Rosa Ramirez and her son Oscar Ramirez, sister and nephew of Angelita Ramirez Zelada, member of the Lutheran Church, "Heroes de la Fe" of Tonacatepeque were brutally killed by male members of the Mara 18 gang.

Yesterday, Tuesday, May 10th, Mother's Day (in El Salvador), in the midst of crying, sadness, and the mysteries of pain, we buried them in the cemetery of Tonacatepeque. In the midst of extreme poverty, this has been such a difficult burden of pain for Angelita, the grandmother Josefina, and children, Marta, Guadalupe, Maria, Angela, Luis, Jorge and other family members.

There is anguish, fear, confusion and uncertainty in the Ram…

Saca in Washington

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El Salvador's President Tony Saca was in Washington, D.C. today to lobby for passage of CAFTA. While he was in the White House, a red alert was sounded as an unauthorized small plane violated restricted airspace over the capital city. A photographer caught this scene of Saca being hustled away by Secret Service agents:

Congressional vote on CAFTA approaches

Salvadoran president Tony Saca is on a 5 day tour of US cities this week to promote passage of CAFTA. Saca and other Central American presidents will meet with George Bush on Thursday in an event designed to push for the passage of the treaty.

There's been a significant amount of news coverage in the last few weeks about the treaty, but most of it is fairly superficial. For a good overview of the arguments for and against (mostly against), you can read my daughter's college paper on CAFTA at this link.

Remembrance: El Salvador cathedral bloodbath

On this day, 26 years ago, May 9, 1979, government troops in San Salvador opened fire on demonstrators who were assembled outside the cathedral in the capital city. The resulting massacre left 24 demonstrators dead and many more wounded. The BBC has a story with the events of that day and video footage of the gunfire commencing and the panic of the demonstrators trying to get into the sanctuary of the cathedral.

Immigration and politics

The US and Salvadoran governments both appear to be using control over immigration in a fairly heavy handed way to discipline persons with who they disagree. First, the US revoked the visa of Schafik Handal, eliminating the ability of the FMLN leader to travel to the US. The US has not been very transparent in articulating a reason for the revocation.

Next Tony Saca, following the lead of his friends in the US, expelled Ecuadorean doctor Pedro Banchón, an advisor to the medical workers union.
The Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad has an action alert with information about the Banchón deportation:
Banchón’s colleagues as well as his lawyer have denounced his deportation as a violation of his rights, as much for the Salvadoran governments failure to take into account his family within the country, as for their failure to follow proper procedure for deportation. Indeed, the Supreme Court of El Salvador ruled on January 18, 2005 that Banchón had not been properly notified that dep…

Rick Steves in El Salvador

Rick Steves is probably best known as a travel writer who writes about Europe. He recently traveled to El Salvador for the anniversary of Archbishop Oscar Romero's assassination, and put his Journal online. Here is one insightful excerpt:

Jubilee Year: Justice or Slaughter…Choose One

There’s a pattern in El Salvador history. Jubilee massacres…every fifty years. In the 1830s an insurrection and its charismatic leader were put down. In 1881, peasants suffered a big and bloody land grab. In 1932, after the great global depression and Communist influence complicated the mix, 30,000 were massacred following an insurrection. After 1932, when a white person looked at an Indian his head would drop. Indigenous culture was outlawed, the left wing was decimated and a military dictatorship was established. In the 1980s again, the people rose up and were repressed so cruelly that a 12-year civil war followed.

In the Bible, God calls for a Jubilee Year. He figures that, with the greedy nature o…

Quick takes

Some recent items of note from El Salvador:

Reuters reported that the FBI is opening an anti-gang office in San Salvador.

More than 600 small earthquakes hit western El Salvador in the past two days causing panic. About 57 earthquakes were strong enough to be felt. Some damage to houses was reported and one death.

Salvadoran President Tony Saca will be in the US next week to lobby for passage of CAFTA.

The economic cost of violence

The United Nations Development Program released a report on the economic cost of violent crime in El Salvador. For the year 2003, the UNDP estimated that the economic cost was $1.72 billion dollars. This amount was equal to double the combined budgets of the ministries of Health and Education in the Salvadoran government. The UNDP is trying to help stem the violence with a program named "Society without Violence."

Unfortunately the tide of violence is high in the first four months of 2005. 1051 persons were murdered through the end of April, up 264 from the prior year. The epidemic of homicides led La Prensa Grafica to devote today's online edition to exploring the issues behind the violence. The entire web site was altered from its normal colorful hues to a somber black, white and gray.

Gilberto Soto case lingers without answers

There was some new reporting on North Jersey.com regarding the Gilberto Soto murder case. The Teamster labor organizer lived in New Jersey before the trip to El Salvador where he was murdered. The story writes about the unanswered questions in the minds of Soto's family and gives some new information:
The FBI is currently working with Salvadoran authorities on the case.Soto's marriage (his third) was on the rocks well before his trip to El Salvador.Soto's widow, whose mother is accused of master-minding the killing, abruptly moved to Georgia from New Jersey in January without any word of good-bye to Soto's family.Before his trip to El Salvador to organize container truck drivers, Soto had left a letter with his sister with a list of people to call "should something happen to him."

Political rhetoric in El Salvador

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The visit of Condoleeza Rice to El Salvador on Friday and the May Day protest marches in San Salvador offer the chance to look at some of the rhetoric and images used by the left and the right in of the country.

First, the Popular Social Block (BPS), a coalition of various labor, religious and activist organizations on the left, issued the following open letter to US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice:

San Salvador, 28 of April of 2005

Mrs. Condoleeza Rice:

This day you arrive in our country. We cannot welcome you. You represent a government who during the armed conflict contributed with military aid to the genocide of our people. You represent a government, the Bush Administration, that takes part in our internal affairs and threatens the life and employment of our compatriots in the United States.

Permit us to present ourselves: We are a coalition of popular sectors that includes unions that live under the threat of the repression; farmers who fight for the earth monopolized by landowne…