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Showing posts from September, 2005

Prison protests and uneaten food

Protests by inmates in El Salvador's prisons have created chaos in the penal system. Throughout this year there have been ongoing protests in La Esperanza prison (Mariona) and other prisons in the country. Prisoner protests have focused on restrictions on family visits and transfers of prisoners from one prison to another. An article from Crispaz in March 2005 describes some of the prisoners' demands.

Salvadoran prisons are overcrowded and tense. During August 2004, 31 prisoners in La Esperanza were massacred in rioting involving a clash between rival gangs. The government's "Firm Hand" anti-gang policies have filled the prisons past capacity. Some current prison conditions were described in this January 2005 post.

In the most recent round of protests, for the past month prisoners have refused to go to appear at court hearings. Hundreds of hearings have had to be postponed because prisoners do not shown up.

These protests include hunger strikes. La Prens…

Ana Vilma de Escobar

Ana Vilma de Escobar, vice president of El Salvador, has been visiting South Carolina on a trade mission. She answered questions put to her by a South Carolina paper:
QUESTION: What are the greatest growth opportunities for El Salvador?

ANSWER: The biggest challenge we have in El Salvador now is economic growth. We have succeeded in stabilizing the country politically.

QUESTION: What areas of the economy do you expect to expand, and what are you hoping to find in your visits here?

ANSWER: We have identified strategic sectors. The first one is logistics and distribution. ... Textiles is also one of the most important sectors. We presently have 90,000 jobs in that. We’re seeking investments in textile mills to produce the fabric that we’re currently importing. We’re importing about 90 percent of the fabric we use in the region, so there’s a big opportunity there.

QUESTION: This is 25 years since the death of Archbishop Oscar Romero and more than a decade since the civil war ended. How has t…

Volcano refugees

There is more news about the fears raised by the recent activity at the Ilamatepec volcano. Diario CoLatino reports that the community of Cantón Palo Campana, located at the foot of the volcano, has evacuated. The community is being supported by a variety of church and non-governmental organizations who are provding food and shelter to the fleeing residents.

This is the second community to pick up and leave the area around the volcano. Approximately two weeks ago, the community of Finca San Blas also evacuated. The government refuses to provide support to thse voluntary evacuees. The government asserts that the danger level does not justify evacuation and that it need not provide support to people who voluntarily decide to leave.

Report finds evacuation preparation lacking

In a recently published investigation, La Prensa Grafica reports that the Salvadoran government has done little to prepare to evacuate the 12,700 people who live beside the Ilamatepec (Santa Ana) volcano:
15 days ago, the authorities of the National Service for Earth Studies (SNET) talked for the first time that the volcano had the conditions for suffering an eruption. To this date, however, a plan of evacuation, that includes routes, systems of communication and means of transportation, is little more than ideas. For example, there are not inventories of evacuation vehicles, some of the escape roads are impassable, and the population doesn't know what would be the most expeditious escape route.
When asked about evacuation plans, a government official told La Prensa that authorities were putting the final touches on a plan and that completion would be easy. When asked to see the list of evacuation vehicles, he produced a list of 14 pick ups. According to La Prensa, that would b…

Solidarity from the south

In his El Salvador blog, Chuck Stewart reports that the Anglican churches in El Salvador will dedicate all of the Sunday offerings in September to relief efforts for Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the US:
Bishop Martin Barahona of El Salvador and Archbishop of the Anglican Church of the Region of Central America (IARCA), said, "We wish to let the Episcopal Church know of our sadness, accompaniment, and our solidarity. We share your pain. We pray that God will give people the strength to surmount the current difficulties. We are particularly saddened by what happened in New Orleans." He added that Salvadorans are ready to come to the United States to help with relief efforts in Spanish-speaking communities.
Dios les bendiga a la gente de El Salvador.

A new look

After more than 300 posts to this blog, it was time to change its design. I hope you like the new look. There will probably be some other smaller changes in the coming weeks when I get time to make them. Let me know what you think.

Flooding from rains

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El Salvador continues under an "orange alert" as a weather system, indirectly caused by Hurricane Rita continues to drop rain in the country. Much of the flooding has been in low-lying areas of San Salvador. The problems stem from an inadequate system to carry away rain water, and trash which clogs drains in the streets. As a result, some streets become surging rivers.

Mudslides have killed three people in the country in the past few days. 490 persons were evacuated from homes in areas at highest risk. The most effected areas are San Salvador and La Libertad.

La Prensa has a detailed explanation of the causes of flooding in low-lying neighborhoods of San Salvador at this page.

You can see a gallery of photos of the current flooding at this link.

Piropos

A while ago I wrote a post about machismo and its effects. Marie now writes in her Hameno blog about "piropos," the lewd "compliments" thrown by Salvadoran men at women walking by, "It's like construction workers out of control." This is another of Marie's regular, insightful posts about life as a Peace Corps worker in El Salvador.

Wal-Mart to enter Central America

The Miami Herald and many other papers carried the news that Wal-Mart has purchased a major interest in Central America's largest retailer:
Wal-Mart Stores, the world's biggest retailer, is buying a one-third stake in Central American Retail Holding Co. from Dutch retailer Royal Ahold NV and could eventually become a majority owner.

Terms of the deal announced Tuesday were not disclosed.

Central American Retail is the largest retailer in the region with 363 supermarkets and other stores spread among Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. It has 23,000 workers and had 2004 sales of $2 billion.

The pact states Wal-Mart will buy a greater interest in the company with the goal of becoming a majority owner.
La Prensa Grafica carries a long article about the announcement, with a focus on Wal-Mart's statements that it will bring the Wal-Mart's expertise in logistics and distribution to the operation, and that consumers would eventually see lower prices as a r…

Hurricane Rita and El Salvador

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Hurricane Rita is having an impact on Salvadorans living in Texas and in El Salvador. There is a sizeable Salvadoran population in the Houston area, in the path of the hurricane. El Salvador has set up an emergency center at its Dallas consulate to help its estimated 150,000 citizens living in Louisiana and Texas. Salvadorans in the US can call the Dallas consulate at 214-637-1018 or the Foreign Ministry in El Salvador at 503-223-11330 or 503-223-11316.

Meanwhile, a tropical depression influenced by Hurricane Rita's path in the Gulf of Mexico is threatening to bring days of torrential rains to the country. The Committee on National Emergencies in El Salvador has declared a yellow alert as the torrential rains may bring floods, landslides, and rivers overflowing their banks.

UPDATE -- 23 Sept.

Because of the heavy rains today, the alert level has been raised to Orange. If you have a high speed connection, you can see satellite images of today's storms at this link.

A painter and 30 photographers

Here are two articles involving El Salvador and the visual arts:
C&#233sar Men&#233ndez is a very successful contemporary painter in El Salvador. The Los Angeles Times profiles his work:
A Men&#233ndez painting can lure you into a shadowy realm of enigmatic symbols and sensual encounters. It can bring you face to face with a grotesque bestiary of truncated horses, glowering dogs, sawed-off torsos. It can plunge you into nightmarish visions of ghostly steam engines and sinister merry-go-rounds. It can make you want to run for your life.You can see a group of Menedez works from a Google search at this link.

The International Center of Photography in New York City has a current exhibition of the work of 30 photographers during the Salvadoran civil war. You can read the description of the exhibition and see some of the photographs here.

What is impact of remittances?

El Salvador has a population of 6.7 million, but approximately 2.5 million of those citizens live in foreign countries, primarily the US. Those emigrants send back more than $2.5 billion annually in family remittances ("remesas" in Spanish), an amount which constitutes almost a sixth of El Salvador's economy.

What is the impact of such an inflow? All sides appear to agree that remittances have played a major role in the reduction of extreme poverty in the country over the 13 years since the end of the civil war. Government programs have not reduced poverty in the country, but the industriousness of Salvadorans who make their way North and send money back to their homeland has.

Recent news reports have asserted that some business owners and others in the government believe that remittances are having a detrimental impact on the labor force in El Salvador. La Opinion has an article this week citing business owners complaining that they cannot obtain workers because the …

El Salvador battles China in cotton underwear exports to the US

Some recent articles in the textile industry press are reporting that El Salvador is holding its own as the leading exporter of underwear to the US, confronting new competition from China.

EmergingTextiles.com reports that El Salvador was able to increase its exports to the US by 9% so far this year. (Chinese imports increased 125%, but started from a much smaller position in the market). El Salvador maintained its position by being the lowest cost producer of underwear and lowering its prices by an average of 6%:
Prices for Salvadoran textile items have come down by an average of 6.12 percent. This is half the price decrease of Chinese items which have seen a decline of over 12 percent since January 2005, however. Average prices for Salvadoran apparel still remained lower than those for Chinese apparel, nevertheless. For example, the average Salvadoran cotton apparel price stood at $1.74 per unit compared to $2.65 for Chinese Cotton. However, El Salvador has still been hit by com…

Optimism about Romero beatification

The buzz from the Vatican. Catholic News reports that the there soon may be "good news" about progress towards the Catholic church declaring martyred archbishop Oscar Romero a saint. Pope Benedict is reported to view the matter "very favorably."

Machismo and its effects

The UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) has issued a report (in Spanish) regarding machismo in Latin American societies. As described in El Mundo, the report finds that El Salvador has the second highest percentage of men who describe a man's role in the most patriarchal and traditional terms. 60% of Salvadoran men view the father as the "indisputable head" of the household. In this conception, the father's role is to provide resources and to be the disciplinary authority in the home. The woman's role is one which is passive and submissive.

El Mundo notes, however, that these views of a man's traditional role of father and head of household often vary from the actual structures of Salvadoran households. Because of the dislocations created by the civil war, and social influences like migration to the United States, most Salvadorans do not live in traditional households, and households headed by a single woman are very comm…

Could a party in the center emerge?

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Political polling in El Salvador shows that the ruling ARENA party and the leftist FMLN party hold the allegiance of a declining number of Salvadorans. However, no other party attracts as much as 5% of possible voters, and the new Democratic Revolutionary Front (FDR in Spanish) party has not even been certified yet. Recent poll results from Gallup regarding next year's mayoral and National Assembly elections show 48% of Salvadorans have no preference, followed by 31% supporting ARENA and 16% supporting the FMLN. This was similar to earlier polling by La Prensa.

Meanwhile, the defections from the FMLN have continued. More mayors and deputies have left the party including Rene Canjura, the popular mayor of Nejapa and Carlos Rivas Zamora, mayor of San Salvador.

But so far, none of the smaller parties have earned the allegiance of any significant part of the population. When the elections actually take place next spring, the smaller parties lack the cadres of party faithful …

More from UN report on Central America

This week's UN report on the situation in Central America highlighted the violence plaguing these countries and El Salvador in particular:

Lack of public security has become a central concern for Central America, affecting day-to-day life as well as national politics. The public-security crisis can largely be ascribed to prevailing social inequalities, geopolitical factors and the weakness of the judicial sectors. The measures being used to combat the crisis are for the most part repressive.

Violence in the region is widespread. For example, while the World Health Organization considers a homicide rate of more than 10 per 100,000 inhabitants per year to be an epidemic, El SalvadorÂ’s 2004 homicide rate is 43 per 100,000 inhabitants....

The public-security crisis requires a multi-pronged response focusing on prevention as well as suppression and interdiction. I recognize that efforts are being undertaken to implement preventive programmes directed at youth. Nonetheless, I am concerned…

UN finds political polarization growing in El Salvador

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued a report yesterday summarizing the progress, or lack of progress, which El Salvador and other Central American countries have made in building peaceful, democratic and equitable societies. The report is a very good summary of current situations in these countries, and in coming days I will highlight several sections of the report.

Two conclusions from the report -- polarization is increasing in El Salvador and further political reforms are needed:
During the reporting period, both El Salvador and Guatemala saw presidential elections in which former actors in the countries'’ civil wars played a principal role. The electorates expressed their will peacefully and in great numbers, an illustration of the high stakes involved in the elections. However, the political parties in both countries showed deficiencies that prevented them from being effective vehicles for citizen participation. And while the Supreme Electoral Tribunals in bo…

No black shoes? Then no schooling

Human Rights Watch has issued a report on barriers to the right to education across the globe. One of the countries HRW studied was El Salvador, where it found that various fees imposed by schools frustrate the supposed right to a free education in the country:
In El Salvador, state schools must by law provide basic education, first through ninth grade, free of charge. Nevertheless, many schools charge matriculation fees or "voluntary"” monthly assessments. Although schooling is free in theory, in reality, the costs for families can be prohibitive. Taking into account all costs associated with education, —matriculation fees, "“voluntary"” contributions to school events, and the cost of uniforms, school supplies, and transportation to and from school, —ILO-IPEC has estimated in 2002 that the annual cost of schooling in El Salvador was 2,405 colones (US$274.86) per child -- —or nearly four times the minimum monthly wage for an agricultural worker.

Most schools in El…

New volcano warnings

According to the Associated Press, Salvadoran authorities issued new warnings today about the prospects of an eruption of the Santa Ana volcano (Ilamatepec):
Officials said Tuesday they are stepping up emergency preparations after a study by experts indicated that the rumbling Ilamatepec volcano is likely to erupt soon.

Interior Minister Rene Figueroa said officials are starting to practice evacuations and are preparing shelters for the estimated 10,000 people living near the volcano, some 30 miles west of the capital.

"The studies by the scientists tell us that in the coming weeks or months we could have some type of eruptive manifestation," Figueroa told a news conference.

Saca poll numbers

Recent public opinion poll results show that President Tony Saca's approval rating is slipping and a majority of Salvadorans believe the country is headed down the wrong track:How would you rate the performance of Antonio Saca as president?
Sept. 2005May 2005Feb. 2005
Good / Very Good
57%62%70%
Bad / Very Bad
29%24%16%

Do you think the country is headed in the right direction, or is it off on the wrong track?
Sept. 2005May 2005Feb. 2005
Right direction
36%41%54%
Wrong track
52%46%29%

Little progress on poverty

The United Nations Development Program issued its 2005 Human Development Report last week. The report provides a comprehensive statistical analysis of poverty and human development across the globe. El Salvador, like its neighbors Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras, does not fare well in the rankings. El Salvador is ranked 104th among world nations on the UN Human Development Index, towards the bottom of countries ranked as having "medium human development."

In the news

Some short news items from this week in El Salvador:

Gang round-up. Law enforcement authorities conducted a massive anti-gang operation on Wednesday and Thursday in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and the United States. Simultaneous raids utilizing more than 6700 police resulted in the capture of 660 gang members. 237 of the arrests were in El Salvador. Law enforcement authorities lauded themselves for the inter-government cooperation which made the operation successful.

Landslides. Six people died across El Salvador in landslides caused by heavy rains. El Salvador's ground is soaked and rivers swollen from weeks of intense rains, causing danger for neighborhoods built on steep mountainsides and riverbanks.

DR-CAFTA. The Dominican Republic became the fifth country to ratify the DR-CAFTA trade agreement, joining El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and the United States. Nicaragua and Costa Rica have not yet ratified the treaty.

Maybe not so old

I asked the Los Angeles Gerontology Research Group about the report that Cruz Hernandez of El Salvador is the oldest living human at 127 years old. Their reply sheds real doubt on the claim:

This case is highly suspicious. It is almost certainly a mistake. For example, it was claimed that Cruz Hernandez had 13 children, and her oldest, if still living, would have been 90 years old.

Sorry, that doesn't add up. 127-90=37 years. So she had her first child at 37, before having 12 more? Extremely unlikely. In fact, astronomically unlikely: the odds of living to age 120 is about 1 in 10 billion. The odds of reaching 127? About 1 in a trillion. Simply impossible...

Most likely, Cruz Hernandez would be about 110 years old (90+20=110). At the time before adequate birth control, most women began having children around age 18-20.

Of course, we don't have proof that her son really lived to 90, either, or that the woman alive today is the one recorded in the documents. That the mos…

A surge in popularity

There has been a dramatic surge in popularity of this blog in the past week. Before September there had never been more than 100 people read this blog on a single day, yet on September 2, there were more than 1000 visitors.

Why?

On September 1, 2005, the oldest person on earth, 115 year old Hendrikje Van Andel-Schipper of the Netherlands, died. At least she was the oldest person as recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records. A very popular German blog, BILDblog, linked to my post about Cruz Hernandez. Cruz Hernandez is 127 years old, born in 1878, according to the Salvadoran registry of natural persons. She reportedly worked as a midwife until finally retiring at the age of 124. She has 178 descendants.

As far as I can tell, my blog post was the first English language article about Cruz Hernandez. And apparently many, many people want to read about who might be the oldest person on earth.

Sugar for oil from Chavez?

When the FMLN proposed the idea of obtaining subsidized oil from Hugo Chavez's Venezuela in the past, the ARENA government rejected the idea. But high oil prices can change anyone's mind, and now El Salvador is planning to speak to Venezuela about oil deals reports El Universal:
The Salvadorian government has reportedly changed its stance and now is favoring an agreement to purchase oil from Venezuela under preferential terms, even though officials had rejected this proposal from the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front.

'We are on the fringe of extreme situations, and we can no longer stand by,' said Salvadorian Vice President Ana Vilma de Escobar. She explained that El Salvador is to seek, through the commission of Centro American Ministers of Economy, a preferential price to purchase oil from Venezuela, Prensa Gráfica reported.

She added they are facing 'a extremely serious' situation, and indicated that 'creative moves' would be adopted, such as…

Police to monitor lawyers for gangs

According to El Diario de Hoy, the National Police are going to direct efforts towards identifying lawyers who are profiting from representing gang members. The PNC asserts that fees paid to such lawyers are the product of gangs extorting bus drivers, small business people and prostitutes. The PNC rejected the argument that its focus on defense lawyers was an attempt to divert attention from the failures of the PNC to investigate crimes and to develop evidence which will stand up in court. The PNC went so far as to question the morality of lawyers who would agree to represent gang members arrested for homicides or other serious crimes.

Mayor of San Salvador quits FMLN

Carlos Rivas Zamora, the popular mayor of San Salvador, has resigned from the FMLN. Pravda carried the story:The mayor of San Salvador, capital of El Salvador, announced Saturday he has resigned from the leftist FMLN party, complaining the party's leadership has been unresponsive and unyielding.

Mayor Carlos Rivas Zamora become the latest in a stream of reform-minded politicians to quit the FMLN, arguing the party has been dominated by old-guard leaders who led the organization when it was a leftist guerrilla group fighting the government during the 1980-1992 civil war.Last May, Rivas Zamora announced that he would not run for mayor of San Salvador after the FMLN leadership announced it was backing Violeta Menjivar as its candidate for mayor.

(This is the first time I have used the Russian paper Pravda as a source for a blog post, but it had the only English language coverage of this event).

Renewed calls for accountability

Legislators from three of El Salvador's political parties last week renewed a call for a process to hold members of the armed forces accountable for atrocities committed during the 1970's and 1980's. The legislators from the FMLN, the Christian Democratic Party, and the Democratic Change party were reacting to current proceedings in Chile which seek to hold accountable the regime of Pinochet for crimes against humanity.

As reported in Diario Colatino, leaders from ARENA rejected any call to set aside the 1993 amnesty law, arguing that the example of Chile was not appropriate because Pinochet was a dictator and events in El Salvador occurred during an armed conflict.

The ARENA government has so far rejected even the judgments of international courts placing responsibility for crimes against civilians during the civil war. In March 2005, the Inter-American Court for Human Rights issued its judgment in the case of the Serrano sisters. The Court found the Salvadoran governme…

Katrina's impact felt in El Salvador

Hurricane Katrina's damage to the oil industry is having a serious impact on gasoline prices in El Salvador. Prices are rising by 70 cents per gallon in the country. Such a cost increase will again create pressure by the owners of bus companies to raise fares. A significant percentage of Salvadorans rely on the buses for their transportation, and attempted fare increases at the beginning of July led to violent protests.

The monthly homicide toll

At the end of every month, the Salvadoran press reports the grim statistics of this year's wave of homicides. August continued the trend with 324 homicides in the country, the fourth month with more than 300 murders. The first eight months of the year have seen 32% more murders than the same period in 2004.

President Tony Saca called for all elements of society to close ranks against gang violence. His administration blames the wave of homicides on intra-gang rivalry. The Saca administration announced that it will send 1000 troops to work with police on anti-gang patrols. Teams of three soldiers carrying automatic weapons patrol dangerous neighborhoods along with two officers of the PNC. Saca also called on businesses to invest in their communities to create jobs.

El Salvador offers troops for Katrina aid

Salvadoran papers report that the National Assembly passed a measure Wednesday night recommending that the government send a contingent of troops to the region affected by Hurricane Katrina. The troops would work on rescue and reconstruction projects.