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Showing posts from July, 2005

Baseball and El Salvador

Unlike many countries in Latin America, baseball is not a big sport in El Salvador. Salvadorans follow NBA basketball much closer than major league baseball, and of course nothing approaches the passion for soccer (football). But there has been some increased interest in baseball in El Salvador since the late 1990's. Now the Miami Herald runs a story about the first Salvadoran player to sign a professional contract in the United States. He is Wilmer Villatoro, a right-handed pitcher playing in the San Diego Padres minor league organization. Since being signed he has reached the AA leval in the minor leagues.

El Salvador will keep troops in Iraq

As the US House was voting to approve CAFTA, the Salvadoran National Assembly voted to keep troops in Iraq for at least another year. Young men from El Salvador will continue to risk their lives in a war zone where the only national interest of El Salvador is currying favor with the US government.

Che and Romero

Catholic New Service reports that Vatican watchers see promising signs for slain Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Romero's possible beatification. But politics might still get in the way:

Morozzo said a big, persistent problem is "the political use of Archbishop Romero."

He said in Latin America he had seen T-shirts picturing Archbishop Romero and Che Guevara, the Cuban revolutionary.

"If his (Archbishop Romero's) figure is seen as political, it is a problem for the church," Morozzo said. "They do not want a saint sharing a T-shirt with Che Guevara."

US House ratifies CAFTA 217-215

In a vote late in the night, the Bush administration managed to twist enough arms and promise enough deals to get the votes it needed to ratify CAFTA. The Washington Post describes some of the last minute pressure:

The 217 to 215 vote came just after midnight, in a dramatic finish that highlighted the intensity brought by both sides to the battle. When the usual 15-minute voting period expired at 11:17 p.m., the no votes outnumbered the yes votes by 180 to 175, with dozens of members undeclared. House Republican leaders kept the voting open for another 47 minutes, furiously rounding up holdouts in their own party until they had secured just enough to ensure approval....

The last-minute negotiations for Republican votes resembled the wheeling and dealing on a car lot. Republicans who were opposed or undecided were courted during hurried meetings in Capitol hallways, on the House floor and at the White House. GOP leaders told their rank and file that if they wanted anything, now was the …

Watching the CAFTA debate

It's approaching ten o'clock at night in Washington as the House of Representatives debates ratification of CAFTA. Some of the highlights and lowlights:

Highlight -- Hilda Solis, Democratic congresswoman from California of Nicaraguan descent speaking of the impact on the poor of Nicaragua and Central America

Low light -- Rep. Burton of Indiana, red-baiting, and claiming that a vote against CAFTA is a vote supporting communists and those who fought against democracy in the 1980s.

Highlight -- Rep. Charles Rangel, managing the anti-CAFTA arguments with a sense of humor.

Low light -- Rep. Peter Hoekstra: "A vote aginst CAFTA is a vote helping out the Cuban-Venezuela coalition of Castro and Chazez."

Highlight -- Rep. Lloyd Doggett -- "I reject an administration that thinks that arrogance alone can be an effective foreign policy."

But the real action is off the screen as deals are being made and arms are being twisted to get the votes in favor of CAFTA.

Insights into El Salvador

Here are two recent, lengthy articles available on the web which discuss the current realities and paradoxes in El Salvador: Letter From El Salvador: Peter Davis writes in The Nation about the politics and economics of El Salvador. "El Salvador is a series of issues as much as it is a country, and to the degree it is a country it is one where contradictions and extremes rule. As well as paradox."
For Two Remote Salvadorian Villages, the Iraq War Hits Close to Home: Jacob Wheeler has an extended version on Utne.com of the earlier San Francisco Chronicle story about the family of El Salvador's soldier killed in Iraq and the community where he lived.

US children citizens in El Salvador

La Prensa Gráfica reports statistics from the US State Department that approximately 15,000 children who are US citizens live in El Salvador. Most of these have Salvadoran parents, and most of them are children of undocumented workers living in the United States. Even though their parents are illegally in the US, by virtue of being born in the United States, they have US citizenship. Since their parents are Salvadoran, they are also recognized by El Salvador as citizens of that country.

Most of the children have been sent to live in El Salvador to be cared for by grandparents or other relatives because the parents must work too long and hard to care for them. Once they reach age 21, they can have their parents and siblings legally join them in the United States.

There are 2.3 million Salvadorans living in the United States.

Why I oppose CAFTA

I have had more articles on this blog concerning CAFTA than any other topic. (Here's a list if you are interested). It is fair to say that my past articles have tended to slant against CAFTA, but I have not laid out in one place my own reasons for coming to the conclusion that CAFTA is, on balance, a bad deal for El Salvador and the other Central American countries and the Dominican Republic. So here I go.

I actually start with a bias in favor of trade. Protectionism is usually a bad thing. Trade and commerce are necessary to permit development and increase the level of economic well-being for all levels of society. This includes international trade and commerce. Since tariffs will increase the price of imported foodstuffs and other goods into a country, they will have the impact of increasing prices which will impact all sectors of the country, including the poor. Protecting local industries can leave them inefficient and costly, which may benefit only local elites.

What is…

A family's suffering for another nation's war

The San Francisco Chronicle runs a heart-wrenching story about the mother and family of Natividad de Jesús Méndez Ramos, the first Salvadoran soldier to die in combat in Iraq. The death of her son, the loss of his soldier's income, and the lack of any compensation from the Salvadoran or US government has deepened their poverty. Here is an excerpt:
Even though Saddam Hussein never posed a threat to Central America, and the national security of the United States is a concern only to those Salvadorians lucky enough to survive the harrowing migratory journey to "El Norte," 35 local boys [from Ahuachapan Province] have fought side-by-side with the American armed forces near Najaf, north of Baghdad.

The war in Iraq has given them a chance to see the outside world and people far from the dusty streets of their home villages. Many have returned with the spoils of war from the deserts of the Middle East, along with eye- popping stories.

But one, Natividad de Jesús Méndez Ramos, di…

Latest CAFTA news

Forces aligned for and against CAFTA continue to jockey for position in preparation for a coming vote in the US House of Representatives. This week the Congressional Budget Office released an estimate that the deal would cost taxpayers $50 million a year in loan forfeitures by sugar producers. President Bush was stumping for passage of the bill, labelling it a "jobs program."

The US Trade Justice Campaign has a series of biblical reflections on the potential impacts of the treaty on El Salvador and other Central American countries.

Brother Toby pleads guilty

Salvadoran evangelical preacher Edgar Lopez Bertrand, known as "Brother Toby" has pled guilty to passport fraud in a federal court in Houston on Thursday. Brother Toby leads the Baptist Biblical Tabernacle Friends of Israel, which has 80,000 members in El Salvador, and is perhaps the highest profile evangelical in the country.

Brother Toby was arrested for falsely stating that a girl was his daughter on a US passport application. Press reports state that prosecutors will recommend a sentence of time served at the sentencing hearing on August 11. Brother Toby will have spent 3 months in custody by that date.

The website of the Baptist Biblical Tabernacle Friends of Israel mentions Thursday's hearing, but not the guilty plea.

International Law Enforcement Academy

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) issued a lengthy memorandum this week criticizing the Bush administration's plans to establish an International Law Enforcement Academy in El Salvador for training Latin American police forces. Here is a taste of the memorandum:
On June 10, the National Center for U.S. - El Salvador Sister Cities reported Saca'’s remarks that “all Salvadorans should feel proud that the United States has chosen us” to host the ILEA. The Center also reprinted a statement by Jaime Francisco Vigil, Director of the Salvadoran National Public Security Academy (ANSP), in which he suggested that the choice of El Salvador was made, in part, because its police force is the "most honest, nearest to the people, and is not corrupt like in other parts of the world.”" To the contrary, during the height of the Salvadoran civil conflict, tens of millions of dollars were passed under the table to senior officials of the Salvadoran security forces by U.S. embas…

End of two party system

Since the end of the civil war, politics in El Salvador has been dominated by the political parties of the former combatants -- ARENA and the FMLN. With internal issues within both parties, and recent defections from the FMLN, Proceso now wonders whether the two party dominance may be coming to an end:
The two most important parties seem to be weaker than ever. ARENA is not even able to find any decent candidates for the most important municipalities of the country. At the moment, the shadow of Saca darkens the image of the rest of the aspiring leaders. In the case of the FMLN, it is evident that the constant number of resignations of important figures, unsatisfied with the authoritarian control of the orthodox, in the end will affect the performance of the party. In fact, the incapacity of the left wing to win the presidential elections is a symptom of this reality. In this context, would it be silly to predict that perhaps the end of the oppositionÂ’s hegemony of a structure create…

Saca committed to troops in Iraq

Tony Saca stated today that he was committed to keeping a contingent of Salvadoran troops in Iraq, working on humanitarian tasks. He stated that threats of terrorist attacks would not deter El Salvador from this mission.

Reuters reports, however, that Saca is asking the US to provide stepped up assistance in combating possible terrorist attacks following the London bombing.

More people making a difference

More stories about those who walk in solidarity with the people of El Salvador:

Nursing students from Las Vegas are traveling to San Salvador to work with the Lutheran church there to do medical clinics in rural communities and do a construction project.

After criminals rob a medical clinic serving the poor in El Salvador, a nonprofit group in Santa Cruz, California steps up its support of the clinic to rescue the clinic from a financial hole.

And a big thank-you for all those who supported our recent Container of Hope project which sent a shipping container full of everything from library books for a small school, to power tools for woodworking cooperatives. The container contents will go to help several communities in poor areas across the country.

People making a difference

Here are links to three recent stories about efforts which are making a difference in the lives of the Salvadoran people:
1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005 is highlighting the efforts of women working in countries all over the globe. Six women from El Salvador are featured: Guadalupe Mejía Delgado, María Esperanza Ortega, María Eugenia Aguilar Castro, María Julia Hernández Chavarría, Marta Benavides, Victoria Marina Velásquez de Avilés. Go to the web site www.1000peacewomen.org to read short biographies of these courageous women. A program for US farmers to provide assistance to Salvadoran farmers with techniques and methods for effective agriculture. A Massachusetts eye doctor who leads a delegation of medical specialists each year to provide examinations and treatment for eye conditions to poor people living in rural El Salvador.

The Millennium Road Building Account

Salvadoran president Tony Saca met with US president George Bush at the White House on Friday, July 15. The two leaders had different agendas. For Bush, it was an occasion to have a photo-op with a Central American leader as Bush campaigns for approval of CAFTA in the House of Representatives. In fact, while Saca held a post-meeting press conference, President Bush lifted off in his helicopter to travel to North Carolina to pressure legislators there to support the treaty.

Saca, however, came to Washington, D.C., seeking to get access to funds from the "Millennium Challenge Account." According to accounts in the Salvadoran press, Saca received assurances that El Salvador will be considered for such a grant in October. Saca stated that the amount will be around $200 million and will be used to build a "dry canal" highway system crossing Central America to compete with the aging Panama Canal.

President Bush originally announced the formation of the Millennium Chal…

"Innocent Voices" set for US release

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Innocent Voices (Voces Inocentes), the movie based on the experiences of a boy enlisted by the warring factions in the Salvadoran civil war, finally has a US distributor. The movie will be released in the US on September 23, 2005.

You can see the trailer, pictures from the movie, a plot synopsis and more at the official Web site for the film. The Internet Movie Database has reviews from many viewers.

El Salvador struggles against homicide epidemic

As measured by its murder rate, El Salvador is the most violent country in Latin America. The United Nations Development Program effort to combat violence in El Salvador called Sociedad Sin Violencia notes that more than 10,000 persons were murdered in El Salvador between 2001 and 2004 compared with 75,000 deaths during the civil war. June 2005 had the highest number of murders yet this year, rising by 10% to 330 murders. The country averaged 11 murders per day in June. Murders for the year are up more than 20% above the same period in 2004.

The government is struggling to find a way to tackle the problem. This week it created a national Consulting Council on Security to come up with ideas for dealing with crime. The council is made up of representatives from the government, business, churches, nongovernmental organizations, and other sectors of society. The council has formed two working groups which will focus on gangs and homicides respectively.

There appears to be a tragic d…

On the lighter side

From Ananova:
Parrot helped catch robbers

A parrot has become a celebrity in El Salvador after it helped police catch a gang of robbers.

The robbers stole the parrot, named Paquita, in a raid on a house in San Salvador, reports Las Ultimas Noticias.

And when the getaway car was stopped by police for a routine check, the bird squawked: "Robbery! robbery!"

A police spokesperson said: "What a fantastic bird! It repeated what its owner said when she saw the robbers.

"It made us suspicious and we checked the car and found the stolen goods."

The gang was arrested and the parrot was pictured in all the country's newspapers.

Hunger strike continues

The National Catholic Reporter has a story this week about the hunger strike of laid off Salvadoran government workers. The article provides some of the background about the strike:In an effort to downsize, the Salvadoran government instituted a policy that included laying off workers or shifting them from the payroll to contract status. Contract employees receive no benefits or social security and can find themselves out of a job when their contracts -- which are generally for one year -- end.

The protesting workers were shifted to contract status when the ministries of Justice, Interior and Security were merged to form the current Ministry of Governance and Public Safety in 2001.

“The government doesn’t take into account all the years that the employee worked for the state. It’s a way to get rid of them,” said Mila Carbajal, a lawyer at the Jesuit-run Central American University’s Human Rights Institute.

Local media reports said that most of the protesters had worked for the gove…

Saca as populist

Proceso, the publication of the University of Central America, has made its assessment of president Tony Saca's first year in office as one marked by a populist image enhanced by his media skills: About the style of the Saca administration it is necessary to say that his first year at the head of the Executive power has been widely covered by the media. The President has been a marketing product in this sense: his constant presence in the news media, many interviews, many pictures, a lot of smiling. Practically everything was arranged for Saca to look his best before the cameras. The most important news media -some more than others- were part of this game of images and advertising. The President, of course, was into character, doing what he knows best: to strike a pose before the cameras, to display a friendly smile, and to say what everyone likes to hear. Certainly, to judge by the sympathy that he awakens inside a considerable portion of the population, it could be said that his…

Possible reinstatement of Salvadoran generals verdict

In February 2005, the United States Court of Appeals in Atlanta 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 had found that Gens. Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova and Jose Guillermo Garcia had command responsibility for massacres and other acts of brutality against civilians during the war. The two now live in the United States. The appeals court initially overturned the verdict, however, on the grounds that the case was brought outside of the 10 year statute of limitations of the Torture Victims Protection Act. At the time, I had some comments on the decision.

The US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit has now acknowledged that it may have been mistaken about some of the dates which led it to overturn the jury's verdict on statute of limitations grounds. The Court issued a letter asking the parties to submit briefs over the impact of the correct dates. Th…

FMLN loses more members

The FMLN suffered another large defection of members this weekend. As reported in La Opinion, more than 400 FMLN members aligned with the reformist wing of the party declared their intentions to leave the FMLN and join the Democratic Revolutionary Front (FDR). This defection follows the defection of another group of 350 members a month ago, including two deputies in the National Assembly.

Since the signing of the peace accords in 1992, the ex-guerrilla FMLN has been the strongest opposition party in El Salvador. Although it has never held the presidency, it has had a plurality in the legislature and has held the mayor's office in many cities including San Salvador. Recent disputes between the hard-line orthodox leadership of the party and the reformist wing threaten to weaken the party in the future.

It will be interesting to see if the FDR or another party can build a left-center party with any political success.

Malls and shantytowns

On our recent trip to El Salvador, a vivid image told important lessons about the gap between rich and poor in the country. We drove past the "Hipermall," a modern, enclosed luxury shopping center where most of the stores, like Benetton and the Gap, were owned by foreign retailers. In the shadow of the Hipermall was a sprawling, squalid shanty town of tin and cardboard dwellings. A naked, dirty little boy ran into the street as cars and trucks, including those from the BMW dealer nearby, drove past.

Some would argue that the Hipermall and the BMW dealer are signs of the progress being made in El Salvador. Some have pointed to the rapidly growing number of cell phones in the country (including those owned by residents of the shanty town) as indicators of growing prosperity. But until the gap between rich and poor is addressed, and the Hipermall tears down the tall brick walls with razor wire and guards which surround it, true progress has not been made.

Bus troubles

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The price to ride buses in El Salvador is creating conflict. Claiming the rising cost of diesel fuel is harming their businesses, the private bus companies have acted unilaterally to raise bus fares from 20 to 25 cents. Over the weekend, police were ticketing bus drivers for charging the fare increase. Headlines on Saturday described more than 900 fines being given out.

Wednesday, demonstrations against the bus fare increase resulted in violence. La Opinion describes Wednesday's violent protests. High school students blocked bus routes in front of the University of El Salvador to protest the increase in bus fares. Riot police arrived. A bus was stopped, its tires punctured, and the bus set on fire. The riot police attempted to break up the demonstration using tear gas and rubber bullets. As protesters fled into the University grounds, the police pursued. This has led to protests from University officials regarding the police violating the autonomy of the university groun…

Reports on labor conditions in El Salvador

As the US Senate prepared to vote on CAFTA last week, reports surfaced that the US Department of Labor had blocked for a year or more the release of a Department-funded study concerning labor conditions in Central American countries. The AP reports:
The Labor Department instructed its contractor to remove the reports from its Web site, ordered it to retrieve paper copies before they became public, banned release of new information from the reports, and even told the contractor it couldn't discuss the studies with outsiders.

The Labor Department has now worked out a deal with the contractor that will allow the labor rights group to release the country-by-country final reports - provided there's no mention of the agency or federal funding. At the same time, the administration began a pre-emptive campaign to undercut the study's conclusions.

Used as talking points by trade-pact supporters, a Labor Department document accuses the contractor of writing a report filled with "u…