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Showing posts from August, 2005

Yellow alert for Santa Ana volcano

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Salvadoran authorities have put the areas around the Santa Ana volcano on yellow alert after a recent rise in activity at the volcano. The Salvadoran government agency SNET monitored 17 small earthquakes coming from the volcano, and columns of gas and vapor reached to a height of a kilometer. Authorities are not recommending any evacuations of persons living nearby, but there will be an increased level of monitoring and tourists will be barred from the crater area.

SNET has an informative website (in Spanish) about the volcanoes of El Salvador.

Recent political polling

La Prensa has published some new polling figures:

When asked which party they would vote for in the upcoming elections, respondents answered:

27% ARENA
14% FMLN
41% no answer
18% other parties

The level of support for the FMLN has been relatively constant, but support for ARENA has declined from almost 50% to 27%.

President Tony Saca has a 72% approval rating.

A Salvadoran soldier's work in Iraq

The AP has an interview of a Salvadoran soldier who just returned from Iraq. The story emphasizes humanitarian work being done by the Salvadoran troops: It was dangerous at times, as servicemen fired their guns in the air to warn against possible attacks. But for at least one Salvadoran soldier - whose countrymen are the only Latin American soldiers left in Iraq - the six months he spent helping to build schools, drinking-water systems and clinics in Iraq were worth the time away from his family.

In an interview with The Associated Press upon returning home, Lt. Jose Rivera recalled how the Iraqi people would offer the soldiers tea and call them friends. The children would greet them with hugs.

Returning to El Salvador

The Boston Globe has a moving story today about two sisters who grew up with adoptive parents in the United States after their birth parents were killed in the Salvadoran civil war. Twenty-one years after they left El Salvador, the paper tells the story of their return to El Salvador and the strangeness of meeting family and relatives who live in desperate poverty. Their visit to relatives in Las Flores, El Salvador, speaks volumes about the relationship of North American and Salvadoran societies.

AIDS in El Salvador

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AIDS is not recent news, but its global threat must never be ignored. HIV/AIDS has progressed steadily in El Salvador over the past 20 years. As is true in many poor countries, ignorance, discrimination and an underfunded health care system create conditions where the disease can spread. The USAID Country Profile, December 2004 has statistics on the current reach of the disease in El Salvador:
Since AIDS was first identified in El Salvador 1984, the epidemic has grown steadily, especially in urban areas. More cases have been reported since January 1999 than in all previous years. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) currently estimates that by the end of 2003, 29,000 adults and children were living with HIV/AIDS, yielding an adult prevalence of 0.7 percent....

El Salvador is considered to have a concentrated epidemic, with prevalence consistently exceeding 5 percent in one or more vulnerable populations: commercial sex workers, in some cases, as high as 10 percent;…

Pat Robertson's comments have impact in El Salvador

On Monday, August 22, television preacher Pat Robertson declared:
"You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if [Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez] thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war."
That comment brought condemnation from many, and was repudiated by US government officials, but it has created a political firestorm in El Salvador. Schafik Handal, the FMLN leader, was in Cuba to attend the graduation of a class of doctors from medical school on the day Robertson's remarks were made. Hugo Chavez was also there. Handal was a guest on a call-in show "Al&#243 Presidente!" which Chavez broadcasts. In response to questions about Pat Robertson's remarks, Handal stated that El Salvador would send hundreds, even thousands of combatants to support Venezuela if it was attacked by the US.

Tony Saca immediately condemned Handal&…

Brother Toby free

Edgar Lopez Bertrand, better known as Brother Toby, was freed from custody in federal court in Houston, Texas today. Salvadoran press reported that the well-known Salvadoran preacher was "freed of all charges," but I have not seen confirmation of that statement. A dismissal of charges against Brother Toby would be unusual in light of his guilty plea entered in July.

The US Justice Department press release regarding the guilty plea can be found here.

UPDATE
The Associated Press clarifies that Edgar Lopez Bertrand was not cleared of all charges, today, but was instead sentenced to "time served" equal to the 100 days he had already spent in federal custody. In addition he was sentenced to two years of supervised release and fined.

Natural calamities

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Recent headlines out of El Salvador highlight the country's vulnerability to natural disaster. Recent strong rains have caused flooding, destructive mudslides, and collapses of roads and buildings. Yesterday one man died entombed in a mudslide; another dies in a traffic accident caused by flooded roads. Small earthquakes have been measured in the country this week; although no damage was reported. Salvadoran authorities also report a new increase in activity in the Santa Ana volcano. Fumes of smoke and vapor have been more pronounced than recently; although officials do not expect an explosion producing lava.

These headlines made me recall the words of Jesuit theologian Jon Sobrino, who teaches at the University of Central America in San Salvador:
So, to live in El Salvador is a heavy burden, but it is not borne equally by everyone. As always, it weighs more heavily on the poor majorities. The [2001] earthquake has destroyed houses, especially the ones built of mud and sticks…

Aspects of Salvadoran immigrant life in the US

The Washington Post has a lengthy story today about the impact of violent Central American gangs on the lives of Salvadoran immigrants living in the Washington, D.C. area. First and second generation Salvadorans living in the US must deal with the suspicion and fear of anglos in light of intense publicity recently given to the MS-13 gang activity:
As Latino gangs expand their influence in Maryland and Virginia, the consequences have rippled through the region's Latino communities. Many young people feel anger, humiliation and even self-loathing at the hands of those who assume that they are criminals. Parents struggle with puro miedo -- pure fear -- that their children will join or be harmed because they resist recruitment.

The pressures cross economic, class and generational lines. Latino laborers, whose wages support families here and in Central America, fear falling prey to gang crime. Second-generation Latinos of the middle class, seeking assimilation, speak of the "looks&q…

Failing to stop murders

Proceso is a weekly news bulletin published by the Center for Information, Documentation and Research Support (CIDAI) of the Central American University (UCA) of El Salvador. The July 20, 2005 edition, now available in English, has a harshly worded essay regarding the Saca administrations' failure to stem the growing tide of homicides. Here are some excerpts:

The Minister of Governance has a delusional explanation [for the increase in murders]: most of the people that have been murdered are gang members or drug dealers, victims of the gangs that keep fighting to control the traffic of drugs and their power. This is how the Saca administration disrespects the homicide victims. Most of them are not gang members, and even if they were, a murder could never be justified. It seems that, according to the government, the name tag “gang member” makes murder legal and even unimportant......

Life is not worth much in El Salvador. It is less important than the transactions of the most impo…

Blow against border vigilantes

Recent years have seen the growth of vigilante groups patrolling the southern border of the US. Angered by what they see as lax enforcement by US border authorities, groups like Ranch Rescue and the Minuteman Project, send members to border areas to "patrol" the border and discourage border crossers.

One US court has sent a message that such vigilantes can't treat illegal immigrants as lacking human dignity. In 2003, two Salvadorans, Fatima Leiva and Edwin Mancia, crossed the border illegally. There they ran into Casey Nethercott, of Ranch Rescue, who illegally detained and assaulted them. Fueled by hate Nethercott allegedly pistol whipped one of the Salvadorans. He was criminally prosecuted and convicted of felony possession of a firearm.

Assisted by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the two immigrants filed a civil law suit for damages. After the defendants defaulted, the Salvadorans were given the defendants' ranch in satisfaction of the judgment. They will pr…

Remittances surge

Banking authorities in El Salvador report that remittances are running at a pace 12% higher than 2004 according to El Diario de Hoy . Remittances, which are funds sent by Salvadorans working in the US and elsewhere back to their families in El Salvador, are an enormously important part of El Salvador's economy. The money transfers are on a pace to reach $3 billion for the entire year. The report attributes the growth to a relatively low level of Hispanic unemployment in the US and a continued flow of emigration (legal and illegal) from El Salvador to the North.

Also appearing this week is a report that criminal networks are using family remittances as a way to launder money. US and Salvadoran authorities arrested a Panamanian accused of laundering as much as $2 million a month through a scheme which used family remittances to transfer money from the US.

Gold mining in El Salvador

A new gold mine in eastern El Salvador will lead to serious environmental degradation according to the the Association for Social and Economic Development (ADES), a Salvadoran nongovernmental organization. As reported in Diario CoLatino, ADES has concluded that the waste from the mining operation will pollute local water supplies and adversely impact local agriculture and fisheries.

The mine is operated by a Canadian company, Pacific Rim. The El Dorado mine is the first commercial-scale gold mine in El Salvador.

According to ADES, the numbers speak for themselves: of a projected annual profit of $30 million for North American shareholders, 1% royalties to the San Isidro county government amount to $300,000 and 148 jobs for locals for eight years. Meanwhile, ten thousand people, mostly farmers, are left with questionable water resources and the risk of future chemical leakage and health afflictions.

The Sierra Club has written about the El Dorado mine:
In Caba&#241as, Pacific Rim'…

An American visitor

The Washington Post has been running a series of articles about El Salvador in conjunction with a trip to the country by the County Executive of Montgomery County, Maryland, David Duncan. Montgomery County is close to Washington, D.C., and has a sizable population of Salvadoran immigrants.

Today's story featured a tour of a new tuna plant run by a Spanish company and speculations of how CAFTA might improve opportunities for business in the country.

Other stories included discussions about the common gang problem, El Salvador's search for investors in its emigrant community, and the high profile reception for Duncan, who is running for governor of Maryland.

Anniversary of Oscar Romero's birth

Today is the birthday of slain archbishop Oscar Romero. If he had not been cut down by an assassin's bullet, he would have been 88 today. As El Salvador struggles today to fight a new wave of crime and homicides, Romero's words from 25 years ago are as true now as they were then:
I will not tire of declaring that if we really want an effective end to violence we must remove the violence that lies at the root of all violence: structural violence, social injustice, exclusion of citizens from the management of the country, repression. All this is what constitutes the primal cause, from which the rest flows naturally.

SEPTEMBER 23, 1979
From The Violence of Love, available for download.

Arbitration under CAFTA

One of the reasons I opposed CAFTA was its delegation of authority to international arbitration to decide if legislation or regulations treat foreign investors unfairly. Such provisions first appeared in Chapter 11 OF NAFTA and were incorporated in Chapter 10 of CAFTA.

Thanks to David Holiday for pointing out an opinion piece in the Washington Post warning that CAFTA's arbitration provisions threaten the sovereignty of local governments:
Unfortunately, with the proliferation of trade and investment agreements that hand foreign investors surprisingly broad rights, local governments are losing the power to protect their people, environment and economy. Investor protection clauses "essentially restrict the ability of governments to impose public interest or environmental regulations on corporate operations," says Keith Slack, an extractive industries expert for Oxfam America. And this hinders the very sort of development that would, in the long run, make poor countries not…

El Salvador wants investments in the homeland

The Washington Post carries a story about efforts by El Salvador to lure investment from Salvadorans who have emigrated to the US. Although significant sums (totaling a sixth of El Salvador's economy) come from emigrants sending money back to families, little money comes back for investment:
Only about 10 percent of the more than 1 million Salvadorans living abroad have any kind of business investment in their native land, according to a study released last month by Georgetown University's Institute for the Study of International Migration. The report, led by political scientist Manuel Orozco, also found that 16 percent of Salvadoran immigrants have bank accounts in El Salvador, and 10 percent are still paying off some form of debt in their native country.

In comparison, nearly 70 percent of Salvadoran immigrants regularly send money to family members in El Salvador. Last year, Salvadorans living in the United States sent $2.5 billion to their families, according to the Inter-A…

New El Salvador blog

I am happy to report that there is another person blogging about El Salvador. Chuck Stewart provides news and information about El Salvador as part of his website concerning the companion relation between the Salvadoran Anglican Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York. Visit it today and read about rising gas prices in El Salvador and several other topics.

Edgar Lopez Bertrand sentencing postponed

Looking at the log of visitors to the blog today, I saw that very many people were searching for news on Edgar Lopez Bertrand, better known as Brother Toby. Today, August 11, was the date set for his sentencing in a US federal court in Houston, Texas after he pled guilty to charges of passport fraud.

Unfortunately, there is no news today. The sentencing hearing was postponed for approximately two weeks as the judge obtains additional information before deciding whether to accept the recommended sentence in the plea bargain.

Street vendor troubles

For years, street vendors and authorities in San Salvador have been engaged in conflict. The vendors, who set up shop to sell everything from T-shirts to pupusas to illegally copied DVDs and much more, clog the streets and sidewalks in central San Salvador. Their unsanctioned stalls cause traffic congestion and irritate established merchants in nearby buildings. This informal economy, however, represents a livelihood, albeit a meager one, for hundreds or thousands of Salvadorans.

From time to time, the authorities take action against the vendors, primarily seeking to limit the locations where they can sell their goods. The conflicts with authorities have recently flared up. During the August festivals, street vendors blocked the progress of the opening parade, the Desafile de Correos, with protests.

This week street vendors caused disturbances described in La Prensa Grafica and El Diario de Hoy in the center of the city. Authorities had dislodged vendors from their stalls alo…

For a loyal ally

On August 10, the US announced that it will give $45 million over the next 5 years for a program supporting basic health and education. According to press reports, El Salvador's foreing minister stated that the funds would support 100,000 students and 3000 teachers, primarily in rural areas.

At the signing ceremony for agreement, the US ambassador thanked El Salvador for its commitment to continue the presence of 380 troops in Iraq.

Isn't that called a payoff?

Long life in El Salvador

La Prensa carried a story last week about Cruz Hern&#225ndez, a woman who may be the oldest living woman on earth. She lives in San Agust&#237­n in Usulutan department. The Salvadoran registry of natural persons has reportedly verified the age of Cruz Hern&#225ndez as 127 years, born in 1878. According to La Prensa, Cruz Hern&#225ndez worked as a midwife until finally retiring at the age of 124. She has 178 descendants.

If true, Cruz Hern&#225ndez would be more than a decade older than the woman recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest living woman, 113 year old Hendrikje Van Andel-Schipper of the Netherlands.

When asked the secret of her longevity, Cruz Hern&#225ndez told the paper that she does not bathe during the new moon. She advised that her diet included enjoying beer and meat.

The La Prensa report also states that the second-oldest Salvadoran is 120 years old, and that there are 151 Salvadoran centenarians.

UPDATE
The Gerontology…

The vacation death toll

Salvadoran media keep a running total of deaths during each of the three major vacation weeks in El Salvador -- Holy Week before Easter, Christmas to New Years, and the August Festivals. Last week's vacation totals as reported in El Faro were:

Deaths caused by --
Traffic accidents 21
Firearms 70
Knives 7
Drowning 5

These totals were similar to the totals for 2004. The week ended with a brazen attack by armed gunmen against a truck carrying small shopkeepers to market. The gunfire which raked the truck killed 4 aboard and wounded 6 others. The attack occurred on the outskirts of the municipality of Apopa. No one has been arrested.

Elim Church

Yesterday's post described La Bajada, a Roman Catholic religious observance which culminates at the doors of San Salvador's Metropolitan Cathedral. Yet that was not the only large gathering of Christians in San Salvador on August 5. As many as 50,000 youth filled Cuscatlan stadium for a rally of Elim Church. The message of the rally was that youth could make a message of peace known throughout the country.

Elim Church is one of the 6 largest churches in the world, measured by number of members. Its membership of 147,000 comes together in small cell groups: 117,000 adults plus approximately 30,000 in children's cells. It dwarfs so-called mega-churches in the United States. On November 21, 2004, Elim held a rally so the whole church could worship at once: 200,000 people, including president Tony Saca and other political leaders, gathered together.

In May 2005, pastor Steve Cordle of Crossroads Church in Oakdale, Pennsylvania visited Elim Church and its pastor Mario Vega,…

La Bajada

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The culminating religious event of the August festival days in San Salvador is "La Bajada" which took place on August 5. La Bajada, "the descent,” commemorates God in the person of Jesus Christ descending to participate in the world. The day features a procession in which the statue of El Divino Salvador, dressed in purple robes, is carried through the streets of San Salvador to the Metropolitan Cathedral. At the cathedral, the figure of Christ disappears into a giant blue globe, representing the entire world. After a few minutes El Salvador reemerges, this time dressed in white to represent the transfiguration. The statue emerges to the applause and cheers of thousands of the faithful who throng to the square in front of the Metropolitan Cathedral in San Salvador.

See a photo gallery of La Bajada.

Vacations in August

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This first week of August is a vacation week in El Salvador. In addition to the festivals in San Salvador, Salvadorans will enjoy themselves in many other ways. They will crowd the beaches. An estimated 65,000 will visit Guatemala. Thousands of Salvadorans living in the United States will return to the country.

The leading papers have web site coverage of the August festival period. Go to El Diario de Hoy or La Prensa Grafica.

The unending wave of homicides

Maybe I should not keep reporting the statistics, but the increase in the murder rate does not seem to be leveling off. If anything, it is increasing. Here are the most recent statistics: In July El Salvador saw 375 homicides, or an average of more than 12 per day. A year before the average was only 8 per day. So far this year, there have been a total of 2040 homicides, compared to 1501 for the same period in 2004. According to the Minister of Governance, 55% of the homicides were gang-related, 38% stem from personal disputes, 4% from "common crime" and 3% from narcotics trafficking. [These figures on the causes of murders are highly suspect, and subject to manipulation to fit the government's view of the problem since only a small percentage of the murders in the country are ever solved].

Art in the countryside

The San Francisco Chronicle has a story about residents of the San Francisco area who have been bringing art classes and opportunities to rural areas of El Salvador where the civil war once waged fiercely. Here is an excerpt:[Events of the war] still color life in El Salvador, presenting the Bay Area artists with a challenge on how to engage students with their own history, and let art help them transcend it.

"People have never been given any means to express what happened here," said Eicher. "Every once in awhile there is a little explosion of warfare in their drawings. Not withstanding what happened here, we brought techniques and materials to kids and teachers, and that's what we are here for. But I'm much more interested in rooting it, in getting a little bit deeper."

"Politics is the reducing of something that is far more complex," added Bernardi. "There are certain things that art can get that politics cannot."
Another example of pe…

August Festivals

Today is August 1, and it is the first day of the patron saint festivities for El Salvador del Mundo, the patron saint of San Salvador and the entire country. The country takes a vacation, and there are parades, a fair, sporting events and other festivities leading up to the patron saint's day on August 6.

ADDITION

If you have a high bandwidth connection to the Internet, you can view video of the opening parade "Desafile de los Correos" from La Prensa Grafica by clicking here.