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Showing posts from December, 2005

Feliz Navidad

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Photo of art work in La Palma, El Salvador,
taken February 2004

I extend my wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all the readers of this El Salvador Blog. I will be travelling in El Salvador between Christmas and New Years, so there will probably not be any updates to the blog until 2006.

Christmas words of Oscar Romero

God keeps on saving in history.
And so, in turning once again
to the episode of Christ’s birth at Bethlehem,
we come not to recall Christ’s birth twenty centuries ago,
but to live that birth here,
in the twentieth century, this year,
in our own Christmas here in El Salvador.
By the light of these Bible readings
we must continue all the history
that God has in his eternal mind,
even to the concrete events
of our abductions,
of our tortures,
of our own sad history.
That is where we are to find our God.

Archbishop Oscar Romero
December 24, 1979

From quotations of Oscar Romero collected in The Violence of Love.

Gang assassinations of bus drivers continue

For the second time this month, bus operators on Route 29, which goes between Ilopango and San Salvador, refused to drive their routes. This work stoppage occurred after the fourth murder this month of a bus driver or conductor on Route 29. The murders are all blamed on gangs imposing a penalty for transportation companies which do not pay the "tax" imposed by the gangs. The authorities report more than 100 murders of bus drivers and conductors during the course of 2005. The bus operators are demanding that the government provide greater security on these routes.

Short news updates

El Salvador's National Assembly adopted a budget and approved government borrowing for 2006. The approval of the 2006 budget shows the waning power of the FMLN and the influence of the center-left legislators known as the G-14, some of whom are ex-FMLN members. With the support of the G-14, no votes of the FMLN were needed to approve the measure, even though it required a super-majority vote.

Tony Saca spoke out against immigration measures making their way through the US Congress. After the US House passed a measure which increases the penalties on undocumented workers and funded building a $2 billion wall along the Mexican border, Saca described an attitude of hostility and intolerance in the US. Saca declared that immigrants had human rights, including a right to search for work, which were threatened by developments in the US.

The toxic algae bloom known as red tide began to recede from the Salvadoran coast raising hopes that the ban on the sale of shellfish can soon be lift…

Las madres -- still lacking justice in El Salvador

During the recent past, when oppressive military regimes ruled in many countries of Latin America, organizations of mothers of "the disappeared", las madres de los desaparecidos, were some of most courageous voices asking what happened to their sons and husbands. They sought to hold governments accountable for kidnappings, tortures and murders.

The Los Angeles Times carries a story showing that in some countries in Latin America, impunity is slowly being overcome, and the mothers are getting a little justice. But the paper points out that this is not the case in El Salvador:
No one is investigating the deaths of [Alicia de Garcia's] two brothers and two sons, who were kidnapped by soldiers. No one is searching for their missing bodies. Their executioners remain free. Sometimes, Garcia and other Salvadoran mothers of the disappeared say they spot the killers on the street.

"We've always worked and searched for justice," Garcia said. "Here, impunity has…

Images of Christmas

You can see images of Christmas in El Salvador at the web sites of the two major Salvadoran newspapers. Visit La Prensa Grafica or El Diario de Hoy.

US House votes tougher laws against undocumented workers

The US House of Representatives voted for tough new measures against illegal immigration into the United States. The Washington Post has good coverage of the measure which is being closely watched in El Salvador because of the large number of undocumented Salvadorans in the US.

On Friday, December 16, the House passed the measure toughening US immigration laws:
Under the House bill, employers would have to confirm the authenticity of employees' Social Security numbers against a national database of legitimate numbers or face stiff new fines of as much as $25,000 per violation. The measure would end the "catch and release" policy for immigrants other than Mexicans who are caught entering the country illegally and then released with a court date. All illegal immigrants apprehended at the border would have to be detained, and deportation processes would be streamlined.

Criminal penalties for smuggling immigrants would be stiffened, with new mandatory minimum sentences. Immig…

Political fanatics

El Salvador's political discourse is marked by extremes on both the right and the left. The November 9 edition of Proceso is now available in English on the web, and has a strong critique of the rhetoric of both ARENA and the FMLN. Here is the conclusion:
The fanaticism of the right-wing as well as the fanaticism of the left-wing follows the slogan "“either you are with me, or against me"”. In the case of the fanaticism of the right-wing, the enemies of ARENA are all of those that do not see the FMLN as an enemy. On the other hand, for the left-wing, those who do not see the government or ARENA as the source of all evil can be nothing but the friends of the right-wing and the enemies of the FMLN. In either case, the enemies have to be treated as such: in the post-war period, the insults, the denigration, and the threats became - since there is not a more drastic solution - the favourite resource of the fanatics of both sides. For them, democracy -– the little democracy …

El Salvador lags region in growth

El Salvador lags the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean region in economic growth according to the UN Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean. Regional economic growth was 4.3% for 2005. In comparison, El Salvador had the second lowest economic growth rate of 2.5%, only Haiti was lower with a rate of 1.5%. (Yesterday the government of El Salvador reported its calculation that the 2005 growth rate was slightly better at 2.8%, but that rate still trails the rest of the region). Without growth, the country has less ability to stem the flow of emigration, to increase social spending, or to improve health and water infrastructures.

More on maquiladora factories

Workers have been protesting at a maquiladora clothing factory run by Evergreen / Formosa since late November. The plant appears to be closing to move to a lower cost country, perhaps Honduras. From Students Against Sweatshops campaign:
Evergreen management in El Salvador told all of its 550 workers on Thanksgiving that they were being suspended without pay for 3 months because the factory didn't have orders. Workers knew that there were orders in the factory and decided to take matters into their own hands. Since the weekend of November 25th, workers have been maintaining a peaceful protest outside the factory, making sure that none of the materials or machinery are moved to another nearby factory that is now producing for the same client, Columbia Sportswear. So far they have kept up their good spirits, but as the holidays draw closer, the workers and their families are desperate to see the Labor Ministry declare that they have in fact been illegally fired and that the factory …

Red tide continues to plague El Salvador

Salvadoran newspapers reported today that the toxic algae bloom known as "red tide" continues off the coast of the country. The ban on the sale of shellfish -- clams, oysters, and mussels -- continues for at least two more weeks. At least twenty-one people have been poisoned by eating shellfish affected by the red tide toxin and one person has died.

Authorities are concerned that the population is not getting the message about the risks of eating shellfish and that shellfish are still being openly sold and served in foodstalls across the country.

Just Garments

A provider of many jobs, although not good jobs, in El Salvador is the maquiladora textile industry. Thousands of Salvadorans are employed in sweatshops sewing garments for export. A 1999 article from the National Labor Committee illustrates that wages paid in Salvadoran maquila factories are not livable and certainly won't lift workers out of poverty.

One factory tried to break the sweatshop mold. Just Garments operates a unionized factory in El Salvador which attempts to pay a living wage to workers and respect worker rights. However, this model has not allowed Just Garments to compete effectively. The factory, which has never made money, may close if it cannot raise $20,000 from friends and supporters before the end of the year. Go to its web site to learn more.

One small way to help would be buying Just Garments' T-Shirts from Crispaz, or Just Garments khaki pants from No Sweat Apparel.

The current state of maquiladora production does not help workers in any country…

Fr. Jon Cortina dies

Jesuit priest Jon Cortina, who long worked tirelessly on behalf of the poor and oppressed in El Salvador, died today in Guatemala. His lifelong work was summarized in this biographical sketch on the Seattle University web site:
Since he was assigned to El Salvador in 1955 as a Jesuit novice from Bilbao, Spain, Fr. Cortina has been a servant of the Salvadoran people. He attained a Doctorate in Engineering from the Polytechnic University in Madrid, Spain in 1973 and has since taught at the Jesuit Catholic University of Central America (UCA) in the capitol city of San Salvador.

In March of 1977, Fr. Cortina was instated as priest of the Aguilares Parish by the holy martyr Archbishop Oscar Romero after Rutilio Grande—the first Jesuit martyr of El Salvador— was killed by the military. Before Fr. Grande was murdered for standing with the poor, Fr. Cortina worked closely with him; he also spent a great deal of time with the four U.S. women martyred on December 2 of that same year and with…

Who do Salvadorans trust?

Public opinion polling by the IUDOP at the University of Central America provides insights into the views of the population on a wide variety of issues. One question asks Salvadorans to identify the institutions in Salvadoran society and government in which they have great confidence. Churches are the most trusted institutions; political parties, unions and business are the least trusted. Percentage of respondents who indicated they placed much confidence in an institution:
Catholic church -- 45.7 %Evangelical churches -- 32.1 %Communications media -- 26.8 %City government -- 26.4 %National Civil Police -- 23.3 %Armed Forces -- 22.9 %Human Rights Procurator -- 22.9 %Central Government -- 20.1 %Counsel General of the Republic -- 15.7 %Attorney General of the Republic -- 10.9 %Supreme Court -- 10.1 %Supreme Electoral Tribunal -- 10.0 %Legislative Assembly -- 9.2 %Business -- 8.6 %Unions -- 7.8 %Political parties -- 5.7 %

High threat of new volcanic eruption

El Salvador's National Earth Studies Service (SNET) issued a bulletin today stating that the level of activity at the Ilamatepec volcano is very high and at any moment could evolve towards a new eruption. In the coming days, there exists the possibility of an eruption being produced which could be similar to the eruption which occurred October 1, and so the danger in the 5km zone around the volcano remains very high.

Remittances fuel consumption, not growth

In the Washington Post, Marcela Sanchez takes a look at the two-edged sword of Salvadoran emigration and remittances with statistics from the recent UN Development Program report. Here is an excerpt:

Money coming from abroad, however, has handicapped a part of El Salvador's economy at home. Far from becoming an export economy, Salvadoran consumption of foreign goods has increased dramatically. In other words, as soon as remittance money comes in, it leaves, tilting the economy more toward consumption and imports, and away from local production and exports.

Economic growth has slowed to a trickle over the last few years -- 1.8 percent in 2003, 1.5 percent in 2004 and 2 percent in 2005 -- lower than any other Central American country.

If remittances stayed longer in the country, they would have what the UNDP report coordinator William Pleitez calls a "multiplying effect" that would allow the money to touch more hands than those of retailers and importers. Pleitez argues that…

Christmas shopping

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Street vendors fill the streets of San Salvador with hopes of Christmas sales. El Diario de Hoy describes thousands of vendors in the streets offering an infinite variety of products. Hundreds of additional vendors are permitted to set up stands for the Christmas season.

If you want to buy items from El Salvador online this Christmas, here are some options:
The People's Market -- from Crispaz. Global Exchange -- Fair Trade giftsLaTienda.com

Report on human development in El Salvador

The United Nations Development Program issued an important report last week reviewing economic and human development indicators in El Salvador. In a statement, the UN described the report this way:
San Salvador, 30 November 2005: While conventional wisdom says that international migration is the antithesis of a country's human development -- because it hemorrhages its most valuable resource, its people --– El Salvador's 2005 National Human Development Report paints a contradictory picture. Thanks to the ever-increasing links between those living abroad and those living inside the country, international migration is becoming El Salvador's ticket into the club of 'high human development' countries worldwide.

"Una Mirada al Nuevo Nosotros: El Impacto de las Migraciones" (in English, "A Glance at the 'New Us:' The Impact of Migration"), is the fourth National Human Development Report published by the United Nations Development Programme (UND…

New public opinion polls

Recent polls released this week show the Salvadoran public is pessimistic about the problems facing the country, but likes president Tony Saca. Only a third of the country favors the ruling party in upcoming elections, but the population does not see that the opposition offers a compelling alternative. Despite the spin which Salvadoran media outlets may put on poll results, the Salvadoran populace is disenchanted with politicians of all stripes.

Public opinion researchers at the University of Central America, as reported in DiarioCoLatino, found pessimism about the country' economic situation. Among those polled:
53.5% believe the economic situation worsened in 200572% believe that the cost of living increased greatly in 200550.4% believe the country will get even worse off in 2006The top three national problems identified by those polled are crime, poverty and unemployment.

The same poll asked about preferences for candidates in the upcoming 2006 National Assembly elections:
AREN…

Pacific Rim El Dorado gold mine to expand

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In my last post, I described opposition to exploration by a gold-mining company in Chalatenango department. To the east of Chalatenango, however, are the more advanced activities of the Canadian gold mining company Pacific Rim at its El Dorado gold mine. I described opposition to that mine in an August post.

Pacific Rim announced today a significant expansion of its activities in connection with the El Dorado operation. Some of Pacific Rim's statements included:
Over the past year Pacific Rim has identified a number of new, high-priority exploration targets on the El Dorado project, in addition to its high-grade surface discovery at the nearby Santa Rita gold project....

Our goal is to double the 80,000 ounce per year production rate documented in this study....

Pacific Rim recently applied for and was granted new, significantly larger exploration licenses for the El Dorado project area. El Dorado had been protected by a 75 square kilometer exploration license. The Company has appl…

Gold Fever

Sean Donohue, in an article on the NarcoNews web site titled "Resisting the New Conquistadors" describes the organizing efforts of small communities in Chalatenango department against the arrival of Canadian gold mining companies. Here is an excerpt:
Earlier this year, the Salvadoran government granted two Canadian companies, Au Martinique Silver and Intrepid Minerals,– licenses for gold exploration in the department of Chalatenango, near the Honduran border. Au Martinique's website promises investors that "“El Salvador has the lowest risk profile for investment in all of Central America." But what they haven'’t taken into account is the region'’s strong history of community organizing, and the lengths its people are willing to go to defend their land and their livelihood.

According to Oxfam America, "Gold mining is one of the most destructive activities in the world. The production of one gold ring generates 20 tons of waste." Cyanide, used to…

The new center-left coalition in Salvadoran politics

A coalition of political parties from the center and left is emerging as a force in Salvadoran politics. The Democratic Revolutionary Front (FDR), Democratic Change (CD) and Democratic Christian Party (PCN) are working together in the center between the two major forces of modern Salvadoran politics, ARENA on the right and the FMLN on the left.

In the National Assembly, La Prensa Grafica has named the center-left coalition the "G-14." With 14 deputies, the G-14 coalition has key negotiating power. If the Saca administration gets the votes of the coalition, it can pass a national budget through the assembly without the need for any votes from the FMLN. In 2004, passage of the budget was delayed for months until two FMLN deputies broke with their party and voted for the budget. Since that time, defections of deputies from the FMLN to the center-left coalition have deprived the FMLN of its unilateral ability to block the budget.

In upcoming elections for mayor, the cent…

25th anniversary of slaying of the 4 churchwomen

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Twenty-five years ago, four American churchwomen were murdered in El Salvador:

On a December morning in 1980 a small assembly of priests, nuns and peasants gathered in a cow pasture in El Salvador to witness the exhumation of four North American women. One by one their broken and disheveled bodies were dragged from the shallow grave: Maura Clarke and Ita Ford, both Maryknoll Sisters; Dorothy Kazel, and Ursuline Sister, and Jean Donovan, a lay missioner both from Cleveland. They had been missing since 2 December when Dorothy and Jean, in their distinctive white minivan, had left for the airport to pick up Maura and Ita on their return from a meeting in Nicaragua. Two days later some peasants alerted church authorities and led them to the site of this hasty burial.

Each woman had followed a different path. Maura and Ita had spent many years in missions in Nicaragua and Chile. Dorothy Kazel was the longest in El Salvador. Jean Donovan, only twenty-seven, had wrestled with the possibility o…

El Salvador's National Assembly approves International Law Enforcement Academy

The Salvadoran National Assembly yesterday approved the agreement with the US for establishment of an International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) in El Salvador. The ILEA will use US personnel to provide training of police, judges and prosecutors from around Latin America.

The establishment of the ILEA has been vigorously opposed by the opposition in El Salvador and civil society organizations. Voices on the Border sets out well the grounds for the opposition to the ILEA:
While no one argues that more training and professionalization would help the Salvadoran security forces; which since being re-formed after the war, have been plagued by accusations of corruption, arbitrary detention, and abuse; many question the ILEA as the ideal tool to accomplish that goal. Section 660 of the U.S. Foreign Aid Bill prohibits aid to foreign police forces except in democratic countries with exceptional human rights records. Although we cannot conflate todayÂ’s Salvadoran civilian police force with…