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Showing posts from June, 2005

Last chance to block CAFTA

The US Senate voted 54-45 to approve CAFTA this afternoon. Opponents' last hopes are in the US House, where the vote is thought to be very close. A vote is expected there during the week of July 11.

Administration promises aid to Central America to sweeten CAFTA vote

The US Senate is expected to vote and narrowly approve CAFTA this week. The House vote will not happen until mid-July. Reuters reports that the adminstration is promising aid to Central American countries to help make the treaty palatable to Democrats:Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat who serves on the Finance Committee, said on Wednesday he had decided to vote for CAFTA after the administration pledged to support $40 million in annual funding through 2009 to help the CAFTA countries enforce their labor and environmental laws.

The administration also pledged to support $30 million to help subsistence farmers in El Salvador, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic who might be hurt by more U.S. farm imports. It said more aid was possible under the Millennium Challenge Account, the flagship U.S. foreign aid program.

Quick news items

A few unrelated items from today's papers:

1. La Prensa Gráfica reports on the second Salvadoran soldier to die in Iraq. Carlos Armando Godoy Castro, of Apopa, died in a vehicle accident while serving with the Cuscatlán battalion in Iraq. El Salvador is the only country in Latin America providing troops to support the US effort in Iraq.

2. William Eliu Martinez, a former Salvadoran legislator was convicted in a US federal court on charges of drug-trafficking.

3. Most of the deaths Sunday night's floodwaters occurred when storm waters overturned a bus carrying 40 players and fans returning from a soccer match.

At least 35 dead in El Salvador rainstorms

Heavy rains produced flooding in El Salvador. As of Monday afternoon the death toll was 35 according to La Prensa Grafica. From Reuters AlertNet CUISNAHUAT, El Salvador, June 27 (Reuters) - At least 23 people have died and more than 17 are missing after rainstorms lashed El Salvador over the weekend, swelling rivers and triggering mudslides, authorities said on Monday.

Twenty of those killed were traveling in a bus that was swept away on Sunday night by an overflowing river in a rural area near the town of Cuisnahuat, southeast of the capital San Salvador, national emergency services committee COEN said.

Rescue workers, who were still searching for other passengers, said the bus had been carrying more than 40 people including members of a soccer team and their supporters.

'We have managed to find 20 bodies, 10 last night and 10 today, and there are 17 that we have not found,' Jorge Abrego, mayor of Cuisnahuat, told local radio.

COEN said a mother and two young girls also died when…

Troubles for Salvadoran bus operators

The bus is the means of public transportation in El Salvador, and the only option for most of the population. This makes the private bus operators an important force in the country. Those operators have a range of problems they are currently facing:
The high price of gas and diesel fuelThe negotiation of contracts by which the government subsidizes the industryThe government's insistence that buses 25 years old and older be retired from service because of safety concernsGangs which imposes "taxes" on certain routes and kill bus operators who don't pay.

Hunger strike continues

Government workers who lost their jobs continue their hunger strike into its second month. An article on the Common Dreams web site puts the strike in the context of larger changes to the Salvadoran economy:114 public employees lost their jobs in December 2004 when their contracts expired, the result of legal reforms implemented gradually over the past decade to create a more "flexible" labor force.

These reforms have eaten away at protections and benefits previously enjoyed by workers, making it more difficult to effectively unionize or pursue grievances against employers. Prior to the reforms, public workers were ensured a minimum wage, severance pay, and a range of benefits, and were not required to work under contract.

The workers mounting the hunger strike, many of whom were public employees for nearly 20 years, were given contracts of 6 months to 1 year after the reforms. When their contracts expired, the workers were hastily and arbitrarily dismissed from their jobs wi…

William Eliu Martinez Trial

The Washington Post carries a story about a lengthy trial concluding in Washington D.C, involving Salvadoran legislator William Eliu Martinez. Martinez is accused of assisting Colombian drug cartels in smuggling tons of cocaine into the US between 1998 and 2002:
Former El Salvador congressman William Eliu Martinez was the perfect frontman, according to prosecutors: a seemingly upstanding politician who, behind the scenes, worked as an operations manager for one of Central America's most notorious cocaine-trafficking rings.

In their closing arguments in Martinez's trial, government attorneys told a federal court jury in Washington yesterday that he helped a drug kingpin smuggle 36 tons of cocaine into the United States from 1998 to 2002 by renting waterfront properties used to ship the cargo and quelling police suspicions about the late-night boat trips.
The trial has had daily coverage in El Salvador's newspapers.

CAFTA pressure mounting in US Congress

It appears likely that the final showdown over CAFTA in the US Congress will occur very shortly. On June 23, the White House finally submitted the treaty to Congress. Submitting the treaty requires action within 90 business days, but the vote could come as early as next week.

The Washington Post runs a story on the political maneuvering, pressure, vote trading and negotiating occurring in the halls of Congress as the Bush administration tries to eke out a victory. According to the AP, the administration has made assurances that it will take strong measures to protect the US sugar industry from competition from Central America:
In meetings this week on Capitol Hill, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns promised to use his authority to keep Central American sugar off the U.S. market.

"I've talked about an idea that literally says, `Look, in the powers I have today, which I will commit to using, we could hold sugar harmless,'" Johanns told reporters Thursday....

Johanns sa…

Murder in El Salvador

The wave of murders rolls on unabated in El Salvador. This week there were twenty-three murders recorded in a single day, Saturday, June 18. Then William Lopez, striker for the Allianza football team was murdered by suspected gang members. Bus drivers have been shot for refusing to pay taxes demanded by gangs who control their routes. Even the conservative El Diario de Hoy admits that El Salvador is now one of the most violent countries in Latin America as measured by its murder rate.

The government appears to have no idea what to do to stem the violence. A plan was proposed on Tuesday to treat as "terrorists" anyone who commits a murder for the purpose of striking terror into families or communities. It is not clear how this step would impact the crime problem.

El Diario reports that murders are committed almost with impunity in the country, because only 20% of murders ever result in arrests. The overwhelmed police and prosecutors cannot begin to do an adequate job of …

Lives of Salvadoran workers

The Courier-Journal of Louisville, Kentucky ran a series of stories over the weekend about globalization and its impact on farmers and workers in both Kentucky and El Salvador. The series is a little weak in its description of the economic problems in El Salvador, but there are a number of interviews with Salvadoran workers which help shed some perspective.

Religious groups in opposition to CAFTA

Religious leaders continue to come out in opposition to CAFTA. The Chicago Tribune writes about Guatemalan Catholic Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini who was meeting this weekend with Mexican and Central American immigrants in the Chicago area. Bishop Ramazzini urged them to speak to their Senators in opposition to CAFTA, predicting that CAFTA's passage would be devastating to the region's rural regions and indigenous peoples.

The current issue of US Catholic contains an opinion piece by Kevin Clarke which argues:
Comprehensive trade deals like NAFTA and CAFTA reflect the culmination of years of painstaking negotiation. The trouble is virtually all of that massive and in CAFTA's case, mostly secretive dialogue is focused on liberating capital from most reasonable social restraints, leading to diminished food security in weaker nations but new vistas of profit opportunism for large corporations and agribusinesses.

Left out of these deals are responsible side agreements to protect fr…

This is profane

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Enough said.

CAFTA fight intensifies

The battle in the US Congress over the ratification of CAFTA is reaching its final stages. The AP has a story about strategy sessions being conducted on both sides of the debate. Business leaders and government officials in Central America are planning on a final big push. Meanwhile opponents remain optimistic about their chances to block ratification.

Meanwhile, Marcela Sanchez at the Washington Post notes that El Salvador's neighbor Honduras has won the lottery for potential poverty reduction. Honduras is one of the 18 world nations which will have its foreign debt forgiven. The country will also receive $215 million from the US Millennium Challenge Account to aid rural farmers. Finally it may receive the purported benefits of CAFTA. Sanchez notes that this is an unprecedented opportunity for Honduras, but whether poverty reduction becomes a reality will depend on whether Honduras is able to combat the corruption which has diverted so much aid in the past.

Sister Cities

Bangor, Maine and Carasque, El Salvador are sister cities. A reporter from Bangor wrote a recent article about her visit to Bangor's sister city. The article begins this way:
The road from San Salvador, El Salvador's bustling capital city, to Carasque, a remote mountain village near Honduras, is potholed and hot. The climb is through jungles and farms, settlements and streams. Women carrying laundry in baskets on their heads, men herding cows, and carts toting vegetables are common sights along the way. When the sun hits its peak, the temperature nudges toward 100 degrees. The air is tight, and brown clouds waft up from the dirt road as a clunky truck carrying standing riders in the flatbed bounces into town.

The contrast with Bangor is stark.

Yet the road from Bangor to Carasque is shorter than you might imagine....
Read more.

The yearly return of dengue

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As certainly as the rainy season arrives each year, El Salvador is facing the return of thousands of cases of dengue fever. El Diario de Hoy reports that the number of suspected cases of dengue fever in the country is 3000 and rising. Dengue is a virus transmitted the bite of the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Most cases produce fever and other nonfatal symptoms, but a small percentage of cases produce dengue hemorrhagic fever which is sometimes fatal.

The US Centers for Disease Control points to various factors which have led to dengue becoming a major public health problem in the Americas, including:
Uncontrolled urbanization and concurrent population growth ... have resulted in substandard housing and inadequate water, sewer, and waste management systems, all of which increase Ae. aegypti population densities and facilitate transmission of Ae. aegypti-borne disease....

Lastly, in most countries the public health infrastructure has deteriorated. Limited financial and human resources an…

Innocent Voices wins Seattle film award

Innocent Voices, the movie about a boy caught between the warring factions in El Salvador's civil war, won the best picture award at the
Seattle International Film Festival. Now if the film could just find a US distributor so that it can appear in more places than the occasional film festival.

Hunger strike by laid off government workers

For three weeks, hunger strikers have publicly demonstrated against the layoff of workers in the postal and prison administrations of the Salvadoran government. They have given up food in an attempt to get the Saca administration to negotiate over reinstatement of the government workers. They have been carrying out their hunger strike on the steps of the metropolitan Cathedral in San Salvador.

The government has steadfastly refused to acknowledge the hunger strikers. Today, in an attempt to get the government's ear, Diario Colatino describes a march in which the weakened strikers were carried on stretchers from the cathedral to the Legislative Assembly. Various social organizations have demonstrated in support of the strikers.

CAFTA moves forward in US Senate

The US Senate moved CAFTA a small step forward towards ratification on Tuesday. The Senate Finance Committee passed the treaty, although the committee did not address the interests of the powerful sugar lobby which is the biggest obstacle to ratification. The treaty will next be reviewed by the House Ways and Means Committee. Observers have indicated that prospects of passage are tougher in the House than in the Senate.

El Salvador's progress towards the Millennium Development Goals

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In September 2000, world leaders met and established a lofty set of goals for improvement of the situation facing the poor of the world. On that occasion they identified goals for their efforts to combat poverty and hunger, reverse environmental degradation, achieve improvements in the fields of education and health, and promote gender equality. The world leaders committed to meet the "Millennium Development Goals," including a reduction by half of the number of people living in extreme poverty (less than $1USD per day), by the year 2015.

Now a little less than five years later, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), a United Nations organization, released a report on the progress towards achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. The report provides an in-depth look at Latin America and the Caribbean. The overarching conclusion of the report is that inequality remains entrenched in Latin America and stands as an obstacle to achievi…

FMLN loses power in National Assembly

Defections from the FMLN last week cost the leftist party key strength in the National Assembly. On Wednesday, June 8, two FMLN deputies in the National Assembly, as well as two mayors, and more than three hundred other members resigned from the party. The departing members cited differences with the FMLN leadership controlled by the hard line orthodox faction of Schafik Handal.

The defection of two deputies in the National Assembly meant that the FMLN, already in the minority, is no longer able to block votes which require a supermajority vote of 60 percent. The most important votes requiring a supermajority are those which authorize government borrowing. The departing deputies announced that for now they will be independents not aligned with any party.

Items worth reading

There was a lot of coverage of El Salvador this week. I recommend the following articles:
Business Week had coverage of the CAFTA ratification fight in the US Congress and an interview with Tony Saca. The consensus is that the Bush administration still does not have enough votes to ratify the treaty.
Children and Youth in Organized Violence is an international research project concerning children in violent organized structures such as gangs. The project issued a global research paper which has an lengthy section concerning the "maras" of El Salvador which offers many insights into gang culture in the country.
The Santa Barbara Independent carries a long article chronicling the visits of an American doctor to some of the poorest areas of El Salvador.

US to open law enforcement academy in El Salvador

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced at the meeting of the Organization of American states this week that El Salvador would be the location for a new International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) for the training of police personnel from throughout the western hemisphere.

The ILEA was an idea first advanced by President Clinton in 1995. There are currently academies located in Europe, Asia and Africa. An academy for the Americas was proposed to be located in Costa Rica in 1997 and an agreement for the Costa Rica location was signed in 2002. Opposition from social and human rights organizations, however, prevented the academy from ever being established in Costa Rica. Now it appears that the ARENA government has convinced the US that El Salvador would be a friendly site.

The Human Rights Ombudsman for El Salvador, Beatrice Carrillo, has issued a sharply worded statement criticizing the proposal. She decried the threat to El Salvador's sovereignty represented by the pr…

Unsafe building practices in El Salvador

In January, a Wall Street Journal article described how US funds designated for reconstruction of buildings following the 2001 earthquakes, often financed shoddy construction:Four years ago, a pair of powerful earthquakes crumbled whole villages of small brick homes in the lush river valley of La Cruzadilla de San Juan, El Salvador. Millions of dollars in U.S.-government aid poured in to handle the initial crisis, followed by many more millions to help rebuild.

The result is more than 25,000 homes, 53 schools and dozens of clinics and other facilities. But in some cases, the design and construction of the buildings are flawed, making them potentially dangerous in the event of another disaster in this earthquake-prone region.

In some homes, the ceilings are improperly attached to the walls. In others, concrete blocks are too small and the reinforcing metal rods used to add strength are too thin.

A new U.S.-funded grammar school in the town of Jiquilisco has dead-end corridors that are 120…

Relief project following Adrian

Action by Churches Together ("ACT") has issued a request for donations to support a relief project in El Salvador following Tropical Storm Adrian. ACT has finished its assessment following the storm. In certain communities it finds:
The main problems faced by these people are:

- They must return to areas that are extremely vulnerable and at imminent risk.

- They have also lost their possessions and equipment for making a livelihood.

- Many suffer from depression, nervous breakdowns and violence.

- Due to the continual rains there is a problem of humidity and propensity to infection as a result. It is imperative that there is a general cleaning up of the environment of the affected communities to prevent the outbreak of water-borne diseases and malaria.
The relief project proposes to help:- 200 fisher families from two communities that are unable to return to their communities and livelihood in the near future.

- 1,000 families in 15 rural communities presenting health problems du…

Condoleezza Rice on El Salvador

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke to reporters from Latin America in connection with the meeting of the Organization of American States this week in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Here is her response to a question about US relations with El Salvador:Well, the government of El Salvador and the people of El Salvador have been so supportive of what the Iraqi people are trying to achieve now in their march to democracy, and we're just very, very grateful for that. And if they choose to extend, and it's for El Salvador to decide -- if they choose to extend, I hope that they will because the Iraqis now have to write a constitution and then they have elections to take place at the end of the year.

But, of course, the CAFTA we are doing because we believe it is good for the region, we believe it's good for El Salvador, we believe it's good for the United States. And we couldn't work any harder than we're working to try to get CAFTA passed.

Similarly, on the imm…

Sustainable coffee production

An article from The Guardian describes how some coffee growers in El Salvador are turning to certification from the Rainforest Alliance to differentiate their crop and provide a long term market at potentially higher prices. (A month ago I noted an article from the BBC regarding Rainforest Alliance goals to have coffee farms help provide ecological diversity). Certification from the Rainforest Alliance requires coffee farmers to develop sustainable practices:The alliance has developed standards for sustainable agriculture, which apply to bananas, cocoa, citrus fruit and flowers as well as coffee. These include community relations and labour conditions as well as environmental aspects such as agrochemical use, water conservation and waste management. It wants to reverse the trend towards monoculture which has seen the destruction of many forests, with repercussions for wildlife, soil and water systems as well as communities.
According to the Guardian article, one of the large buyers f…

Trafficking in persons

The US State Department issued its 2005 Report on Trafficking in Persons on Friday, June 3. The entire text of the section of the report relating to El Salvador is reproduced below:

El Salvador is a source, transit, and destination country for women and children trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. El Salvador is also a source country for forced labor. There are no firm estimates on the size and scope of trafficking in El Salvador. However, there are reports of Salvadorans trafficked to the United States, Canada, Mexico, and other countries in Central America. Salvadoran women and children are trafficked internally for prostitution from the rural and eastern part of the country to urban areas. The vast majority of foreign victims are women and children from Nicaragua and Honduras. There have been past reports of Salvadorans being trafficked to the United States for agricultural labor exploitation.

The Government of El Salvador does not fully comply with the minimum standa…

Luis Posada Carriles to El Salvador?

The Associated Press reported that a Salvadoran court has requested information from US authorities in connection with a possible request to extradite Luis Posada Carriles to El Salvador. Posada Carriles is implicated in a series of terrorist acts including (a) the 1976 bombing of a Cuban jetliner which killed 73, (b) a string of bombings of hotels in Cuba in 1997, and (c) a plot to assassinate Fidel Castro in 2000. He snuck into the US earlier this year, but was taken into custody by immigration authorities in May. Both Cuba and Venezuela have been loudly demanding that the US extradite Posada Carriles to those countries for trial for his actions.

According to the AP,
Posada, who was arrested May 17 on immigration charges in the United States, is implicated [in El Salvador] in three cases of use of false documents. Posada, a Cuban-born former CIA agent, lived in El Salvador for several years under an assumed name.

[Salvadoran] court spokesman Jose Luis Funes said Judge Alba Estela Z…

Shopping centers in El Salvador

Proceso, the publication of the University of Central America, has some interesting things to say about the proliferation of shopping centers in El Salvador. Here is an excerpt:

The main cities of El Salvador have been invaded by shopping malls. In San Salvador, they have multiplied themselves like fungus; they have become important areas not only for recreation and consumption, but for the massive dissemination of transnational symbolic-cultural ideas. With the shopping malls -- especially with the largest ones -- the urban appearance has been transformed (and it keeps transforming itself) taking quick and gigantic steps; the economic, social, and the cultural life revolves -- or so it seems -- around them. What seems to be overwhelming about them -- the enormous billboards, the bright lights, and the large display windows -- points at a kind of prosperity and to a kind of progress that just recently were considered unattainable and that now are apparently within most peopleÂ’s reach…

Competing views of Saca's first year

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Tony Saca delivered a report to the country on the first year of his administration, while thousands of demonstrators in various cities across the country sent a different message. Basking in polls showing that he has high approval rates among the population, Saca delivered the upbeat message which is his trademark. He claimed that policies like Super Firm Hand were improving the security of the people. The president repeated his call for opposition parties to meet him around the table to discuss problems of the country. He emphasized the importance of continuing strong relations with the US. Although acknowledging that CAFTA alone would not be a panacea, he predicted an improvement in economic development.

Outside the demonstrators painted a different picture. Demonstrators protested over the economic conditions in the country, particularly high levels of poverty, unemployment and the rising cost of living in the country. They pointed to the thousands of Salvadorans who seek to emigra…

Plaza named for Arafat in San Salvador

The BBC reports on a diplomatic tiff between El Salvador and Israel after a city square in San Salvador was renamed for former PLO chief Yasser Arafat:
Many among El Salvador's business community are descendants of Palestinian immigrants who emigrated to Central America during the 19th century and early 20th century, before the establishment of Israel.

[Tony] Saca and the rival he defeated in a presidential election last year, Schafik Handal, are both descended from migrants from the Palestinian town of Bethlehem.

San Salvador's Palestinian business community privately erected a bust to Mr Arafat on the city's Jerusalem Street, and inaugurated the Arafat Park nearby.

Last year, the same businessmen dedicated Palestine Square in the city, and unveiled a map that placed Israel inside a larger country of Palestine.

Israel called the businessmen "people of ill will" and said it would delay the return to San Salvador of ambassador Yonatan Peled in order to express its disp…