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Showing posts from January, 2006

Demonstrations everywhere

Protesters took to the streets and blocked traffic in many regions of El Salvador today. In many parts of the country demonstrators blocked streets to show opposition to implementation of the CAFTA treaty. Street vendors who sell pirated CDs and DVDs protested against heightened copyright infringement penalties which are part of CAFTA implementation. Health workers demonstrated near certain hospitals to demonstrate for increased wages and better working conditions. Elsewhere in the country, demonstrators blocked highways to demand that potable drinking water be brought to their communities.

Diario CoLatino and El Diario de Hoy have coverage from the left and the right respectively. Photo galleries of the protests are online here and here.

Showing that the gloves are off following a one week truce during funeral ceremonies for Schafik Handal, president Tony Saca, accused the FMLN of "radicalizing" the population with protests following Handal's death. He repeated …

Schafik's funeral

Crowds of more than 100,000 people filled the civic center of San Salvador for the funeral of Schafik Handal. The BBC reports that it was the largest such demonstration since perhaps the funeral of archbishop Oscar Romero. See photos of the day's events from Diario CoLatino and La Prensa Grafica.

Foreign gold mining companies have high interest in El Salvador

Foreign gold mining companies have big plans to explore and exploit gold deposits in northern El Salvador. Australian gold mining company Condor Resources has this statement about its plans in El Salvador:Condor Resources has a number of projects in Central America with the potential to host world class high grade epithermal gold deposits. Both the El Potosi and El Pescadito projects in El Salvador have plus million ounce potential. There is also the potential to rapidly delineate resources on the San Albino project in Nicaragua with the planned exploration programs, raising the real possibility of early gold production. All these projects lay within major epithermal gold belts hosting world class gold deposits....

Condor Resources is one of an increasing number of companies actively exploring in Central America. Central America contains a mosaic of tectonic plates and plate boundaries that represent prime hunting ground for precious metal deposits and in particular gold and– silver d…

The Salvadoran blogosphere

For those who read Spanish, there is a growing universe of blogs written by Salvadorans about life, culture, politics, etc. in their country.

Here is a partial list:

Hunnapuh - Commentarios -- This blog of commentary on the news and society is currently my favorite Salvadoran blog.

El Salvador visto por un Salvadoreño -- A blogger who writes under the name "Soy Salvadoreño" (I am Salvadoran).

Tribulaciones y asteriscos -- blog written by author Rafael Menjivar Ochoa, who recently published a book titled Tiempos de locura. El Salvador 1979-1981 (Times of Madness. El Salvador 1979-1981) .

Periodismo Cultural -- blog of Jasmine Campos dedicated to cultural activity in El Salvador.

El Salvador, o algo por el estilo -- In English, the blog title means "El Salvador, or something like that," a blog written by a university student filled with social commentary.

Tierra de collares -- Salvador Canjura covers a little bit of everything in this blog.

New polling numbers

The latest poll results for the upcoming March elections are out. The La Prensa Grafica poll shows ARENA continuing to lead, but its lead is down a few percentage points from December:

Mayoral races:

ARENA 25.9%
FMLN 15.1%
PCN 7.2 %
PDC 3.3%
Other 0.9%
47.6% undecided

Legislative races:

ARENA 26.6%
FMLN 17.2%
PCN 4.8%
PDC 2.2%
Others 0.7 %
48.5% undecided

As usual, "I don't know" and "I don't care" are the overwhelming responses, although La Prensa did report that 78% of those polled do plan to cast a ballot on March 12.

The poll took place before Schafik Handal's death, so the results do not reflect any movement much might arise from his death and leadership changes in the FMLN.

Outpouring of tributes for Handal

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All sectors of Salvadoran society have been giving honor to the memory of Schafik Handal. The National Assembly unanimously voted to declare a three day national period of mourning. Today, Handal's body was transported to the hall of the National Assembly where he had been a legislator and leader of the FMLN contingent. Fellow deputies of all political parties paid their respects to this chief of El Salvador's Left.

Tributes came in from leftist leaders throughout Latin America including Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales and Fidel Castro. I have not seen any comment from the US government, however.

Memorial services will continue through Sunday.

The passing of a leader

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El Salvador is mourning today the sudden death of Schafik Handal, the long time leader on the left in El Salvador.

Handal was born in 1930 in El Salvador, the son of Palestinian parents, two years before La Matanza, the massacre of more than 30,000 campesino and indigenous peasants by the Salvadoran military after an uprising led by Farabundo Marti. Handal was involved in political activities from an early age. From 1959 to 1994 he was the Secretary General of the Salvadoran Communist Party. He was forced into exile during much of this time.

Handal participated in the unification of four leftist opposition groups to form the FMLN in 1980. He led military operations of FMLN guerilla forces throughout the civil war and was one of the council of FMLN leaders throughout that time. He was one of the negotiators and signers of the peace accords in 1992.

In 2004 Handal was the FMLN's candidate for president of El Salvador. He was defeated by Tony Saca by a wide margin, in an election …

FMLN leader Schafik Handal dies of heart attack

Schafik Handal, the ex-guerilla commander who was the FMLN candidate for president of El Salvador in 2004, died of a heart attack today. Here is the report from Reuters:

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Former Salvadoran guerrilla commander and ex-presidential hopeful Schafik Handal died of a heart attack on Tuesday at the age of 75, his party said.

Handal was a senior member of the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN, rebel group that fought a 12-year civil war with right-wing governments that ended in 1992.

Handal had a heart attack at San Salvador airport while returning from the weekend inauguration of new Bolivian President Evo Morales, FMLN officials said.

Once the Central American country's Communist Party leader, Handal headed the rebels' negotiating team during peace talks in the early 1990s.

Gray-bearded and feisty, he lost heavily to conservative Tony Saca at presidential elections in March 2004. The veteran leftist had promised to wi…

Massacre on soccer field

Senseless gang violence struck a soccer field in El Salvador on Sunday. According to the BBC:
Ten members of a notorious street gang, or mara, have been arrested after six people were shot dead at an amateur football game in El Salvador on Sunday.

The gang members forced the players and about 100 fans to remove their shirts and lie on the ground before separating the six and shooting them in the head.

Discussing CD and DVD piracy in poor countries

On January 5, I wrote a post about new penalties for CD and DVD piracy imposed by El Salvador as part of the implementation of CAFTA. Street vendors who made a living selling such illegal copies had taken to the streets of El Salvador in protest. That post has generated a lively discussion in the comments on my blog as well as on the Afterdawn web site which picked up my story and reported the issue.

Here are some of the themes in those comments:

CDs and DVDs cost too much and we should not be protecting greedy Hollywood studios.

Violating the copyrights of artists is just another form of stealing and should not get much sympathy.

The only way the poor in El Salvador and other countries can get to experience music and movies is through the bootleg market. When you only make a few dollars a day, you can't afford $24.95 for a DVD.

Respecting intellectual property rights is an important part of participating in the world economy.

The US is imposing a corporate agenda on El Salvador. S…

Electoral campaigns in El Salvador

The election season in El Salvador is in full swing. Here are some themes I plan to watch for as the campaigns develop:

Does the fracturing on the left lead to ARENA victories? One of the top stories of left year was the departure of reformers from the FMLN as the party was unable to manage internal divisions. The leading example is the mayoral race in San Salvador where the current mayor, Carlos Rivas Zamora, is running as a candidate of a center left coalition. This might split the vote which traditionally has given the FMLN control of San Salvador's municipal government and turn it over to ARENA.

Do Salvadorans vote for the party or the candidate? When I was in El Salvador at the end of the year, two friends had a spirited discussion on this topic. When a popular figure leaves the FMLN, like Nejapa mayor Rene Canjura, will the strongly FMLN voters of his city vote for him or vote their traditional loyalty to the party under the red banner?

Is political violence under contro…

Celebration of Santa Ana cathedral

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Today is the 100th anniversary of the start of construction of the cathedral in Santa Ana, El Salvador. Salvador Canjura describes the background of the church on his blog. In the early 20th century, Santa Ana experienced a bonanza of investment from some of the richest families in the country, who were making a fortune in this coffee-rich section of the country. The gothic-style church, which was dedicated as a cathedral in 1913, is one of the visible reminders of Santa Ana's former prosperity.

El Diario de Hoy describes a restoration project which has been proceeding since 1993, funded only by donations. $1.5 million are still needed to complete the project. The church was also damaged in the 2001 earthquakes and not all of the damages have yet been repaired.

Sea turtle mystery

The death of more than 100 rare sea turtles continues to be a mystery in El Salvador. Reuters reports that a total of 119 dead turtles have been found at different points along El Salvador's coast since the start of the year. The turtles belong to the Olive Ridley, Hawksbill and Green turtle species.

The leading hypothesis is that toxins from red tide have poisoned the turtles. Last month I erroneously reported that red tide had dissipated and that the ban on the sale of mussels, oysters, clams and other shellfish had lifted. In fact, that ban, which began last November, continues in effect.

La Prensa Grafica has a special section devoted to the sea turtle story, including graphics and photos.

Immigration and conditions in Latin America

The National Catholic Reporter had a recent viewpoint article which captures well a central issue in talking about immigration:

So many Americans are now nearly hysterical about the "“immigration problem,"” suggesting remedies like a high wall along the entire border, stricter enforcement, tougher punishments, and so on. What doesn't seem to be understood is that when your children are dying of malnutrition, when you have no hope of improving the miserable conditions in which you and your family are forced to live, no wall, no amount of enforcement, no punishment will keep you from doing what provides hope.

As well-known as are the problems of Latin America, many Americans fail to see the relationship between those problems and immigration. Yet it seems obvious that if we want to curb immigration, we have to help give people a reason to stay where they are, which is what they want to do. Chronic poverty and other problems among our neighbors in Latin America represent a pe…

Riding Tony Saca's coattails

If you read Spanish, some of the best commentary, delivered with wit and insight, is on the Hunnapuh blog. An example is yesterday's post with observations on the current election process. The blog notes since the start of the public electoral campaign for mayorships and the National Assembly, the candidates of ARENA have disappeared from the public airwaves. Instead, Tony Saca is everywhere, and ARENA is clearly trying to elect its people as the candidates of Tony Saca's party. Rather than have the electorate consider the qualifications of the actual candidates, ARENA is counting on the popularity of the president.

14 years since the peace accords

From US-El Salvador Sister Cities:

January 16th marks the 14th anniversary of the signing of the Peace Accords in El Salvador. To reflect on what this means for the reality of the Salvadoran people and the changes of the last 14 years, a few quotes:

"Watch your children and prohibit their participation in subversive acts ... that is where violence is generated, that is where subversive propaganda is printed, there... is the base of unrest in our country."

General Humberto Romero, President of El Salvador from 1977-1979


"Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the product of violence and repression... True peace is only achieved through justice... by sharing fairly the richness of our country between all Salvadoran men and women."

Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, 1979


"“One fundamental element of these agreements, and one which is critical for El Salvador's democratic future, is the unreserved, unconditi…

TPS may end

As many as 220,000 Salvadorans live in the United States illegally, but are immune from deportation under "Temporary Protected Status" or "TPS" as it is known. TPS protects Salvadorans from deportation as a form of relief to their home country as it struggled to rebuild from the 2001 earthquakes.

The Miami Herald now reports that it is increasingly likely that TPS will not be renewed after it expires in the fall, making all 220,000 Salvadorans susceptible to immediate deportation:
One senior administration official involved with Latin American issues said that DHS officials he described as ''criminal justice types'' have decided that TPS for the Central Americans must end.

''It's a decision that can yet be changed, but really it's almost at the last stages,'' the official said. He and other administration officials interviewed for this story requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Another official said s…

Looking back and looking forward

The Past. Today was the 14th anniversary of the signing of the peace accords ending a bloody civil war in which more than 75,000 died.

The Future. Today was the first day of the new school year in El Salvador. 1.9 million students are enrolled in the 5,119 public schools in the country.

Some predictions. US-El Salvador Sister Cities has a recap of 2005 and predictions for 2006 at its website.

El Salvador's pain -- murder rate highest in Latin America

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The statistics on the homicide rate in El Salvador in 2005 compared with the rest of Latin America are truly shocking. As reported today by La Prensa Grafica, the country's murder rate of 54 murders per 100,000 in population is by far the highest in Latin America. No other country has a rate higher than 40 per 100,000:

The causes are many -- gangs, poverty, the proliferation of guns, an ineffective court system, organized crime, family violence, and more -- and the solutions are elusive. The only thing which is clear is that this tragic situation requires efforts at all levels of society from the government, to the churches, to the schools, to the media, to business and community leaders.

The auxiliary bishop of San Salvador, Gregorio Rosa Chavez, declared today, that to solve the problem of the violence in El Salvador it will be necessary "to depoliticize it" and to see it in more global terms. "Laws we have enough, but there is not a culture of respect for the law…

Sea turtles dying off El Salvador's coast

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The Los Angeles Times reports that hundreds of endangered sea turtles have been mysteriously dying off the coast of El Salvador. Biologists do not know the cause of the deaths, but speculate it could be red tide, pollution, or a bacterial infection.

Missionary to gang members

While the government of El Salvador stresses heavy handed policies to deal with gangs like Mara Salvatrucha, there are efforts in the neighborhoods of El Salvador to work with youth to offer options and another way. The Catholic Telegraph has two in depth articles this week regarding persons working to break the cycle of violence. The first article describes the work of Matt Eisen of Cincinnati and Father Antonio Rodriguez of Spain, who work with nongovernmental organizations helping youth in some of El Salvador's toughest neighborhoods.

The article quotes Father Rodriguez on his concerns about the culture of violence and the government's role in perpetuating it:
"The economic situation in El Salvador is not good right now," he said. "It's an economy that is held up by strings," where the vast majority of income comes from Salvadorans who have escaped to the United States for work, sending money back home. "I see more and more fear in the communi…

5th anniversary of 2001 earthquakes

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On January 13, 2001, a massive earthquake struck El Salvador. A BBC report from the time provides accounts of the devastation. Exactly one month later, a second quake hit the beleaguered country. All told the 2001 quakes killed more than 1200 people and left more than one million homeless.

Today the Salvadoran press reflected back on the tragedy. La Prensa Grafica reports on families still waiting for reconstructed homes, five years after the tremors. Government officials quoted in the story state that 126,000 houses out of 163,000 houses destroyed have been rebuilt. Meanwhile the story describes various communities named "13 de enero" or "January 13th" where hundreds of families live in poverty, hoping to someday get a new dwelling.

El Diario de Hoy has a photo gallery of damages to hospital buildings caused by the 2001 quakes that have been left unrepaired because of a lack of funds.

Diario Co Latino reports on family members visiting the site of the landslid…

US immigration policy

Some thoughts on the recent proposal for immigration "reform" in the US and the construction of a high tech fence along the border. As described in the Washington Post:
When the House of Representatives passed the Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act last month, it bowed to the narrowest possible thinking on immigration. The bill, one of the harshest in decades, would fund the building of nearly 700 miles of new high-tech fences along the U.S.-Mexico border and make illegal immigration a felony. Any U.S. citizen found driving an immigrant anywhere -- even to a hospital or school -- could be arrested as an "alien smuggler" if the immigrant were determined to be here illegally.
Marcela Sanchez goes on to describe the politics of the bill and argues that the House may have made a miscalculation of US politics.

Boz argues that any immigration reforms should consider protecting the lives of immigrants who take extraordinary risks at …

Short takes

The election season officially started today with rallies by the major parties in various parts of El Salvador.

Seven hospitals in the eastern part of the country were paralyzed by a strike of healthcare workers seeking increased salaries.

The FMLN announced that it is forming a commission to officially seek low cost oil from Hugo Chavez and Venezuela.

Latin American countries unite against US immigration proposals

Possible changes in US immigration policy have unified El Salvador and the other Central American countries and Mexico in opposition:
Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Belize, Panama, Colombia and Dominican Republic officials said that U.S. policymakers must accept the principle that immigrants, even those without visas, "are not, and should not be treated as criminals".

The one day meeting ended with a declaration demanding "“full protection of human rights"” and "“observance of labour legislation" for all migrants, regardless of their legal status. They urged the US to set up a guest worker programme and to give legal recognition to the millions of illegal migrants already inside its borders.

Read more details about the meeting of the foreign ministers here.

Economic freedom in El Salvador

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative US think tank, recently released its 2006 Index of Economic Freedom. El Salvador ranks 34th in the world for economic freedom in this index. Among Latin American countries, only Chile ranked higher at 14th. Some of the Heritage Foundation's comments about El Salvador:
Despite ongoing security problems caused by gang activity, transnational crime, and kidnappings, El Salvador continues to enjoy stable democratic government, modest economic growth, and declining poverty rates. Like previous governments, the administration of President Elias Antonio Saca views increased trade and private investment, both domestic and foreign, as essential to economic growth. With one of Latin America's most open trade and investment environments, comparing favorably to Chile and Mexico, El Salvador stands to gain considerably under DR-CAFTA: not only assured access to U.S. markets, but also liberalized trade among Central American countries, among which El…

Political paint wars

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A large sign advertising Sherwin Williams Paint hangs over the highway as you approach San Salvador from the airport. No doubt the sales are booming of Sherwin Williams paint in red, white and blue colors as El Salvador's election campaigns for mayors and legislators heat up. Although the elections are in March, it seems that every light post, highway barrier and curb is painted with the colors of the various political parties. And the layers of paint build up, as partisans of one party paint their colors over the colors of a rival. (Since ARENA's colors are blue, white and red, and the FMLN colors are red and white, the battle consists of painting over and re-painting the blue).



Based on my unscientific observations, ARENA is dominating the paint wars. The blue white and red of the ruling party is seen painted everywhere along the country's roads. The party of the rich and powerful evidently has a very large campaign budget for buying paint.

El Salvador Clean

El Salvador has a trash and litter problem, but a new government program wants to change that. Diario Colatino reports that "El Salvador limpio" or "El Salvador Clean" is the name of a new pilot project in the municipality of Cuscatancingo. The project is a prelude to a national campaign with a goal to make the country the cleanest in Central America. The campaign will try to raise the consciousness of the population of Cuscatancingo to put trash in its place, will locate trash receptacles throughout the community, and will attempt to increase sensitivity to issues of cleanliness.

Salvadoran generals verdict reinstated

One of the most watched cases seeking to have Salvadoran military leaders held accountable for torture and human rights abuses during the civil war has been Arce v. Garcia, often known simply as the case of the Salvadoran generals. In 2002 a jury awarded $54.6 million in damages to three victims of torture during the civil war in El Salvador. The federal jury in Miami found that Gens. Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova and Jose Guillermo Garcia ignored massacres and other acts of brutality against civilians during the war. The two now live in the United States.

In February of 2005, a US Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Georgia set aside that verdict, finding that the plaintiffs sued too late and their claim was prohibited by a 10 year statute of limitations. This week, in a very rare move, that same appellate court reversed itself and reinstated the verdict, as reported in the Miami Herald.

In its new decision, the Court of Appeals found that it would have been impossible to bring a claim a…

Pirated DVDs disappear from streets of San Salvador

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Last week I watched as the driver of a bus in San Salvador flipped through his collection of CDs, looking for something to play. Every CD was clearly a copy burned on a computer. While he may have ripped those songs on his own computer from legitimate CDs, it is much more likely the he bought those CDs from one of the many street vendors hawking cheap, bootleg copies of CDs and DVDs.

This week, the majority of those vendors have closed up shop. As part of the process of implementation of CAFTA, El Salvador passed tough new laws against copyright infringement. CAFTA provisions on intellectual property required El Salvador to increased penalties including criminalizing end user piracy. Now selling pirated software, music and movies in El Salvador carries a mandatory jail sentence.

On his blog, Salvador Canjura describes end of the year sales of CDs and DVDs prior to the effective date of the new penalties on January 1. DVDs which use to sell on the street for $3 were being closed ou…

Top El Salvador Stories of 2005

Here is my round-up of the top news stories affecting El Salvador in the past year:

Hurricane Stan and the Ilamatepec volcano -- On October 1, the Ilamatepec volcano exploded with ash and hot rock. Then the rains from Hurricane Stan inundated the country for a week causing flooding and mudslides. 71 people died and more than 70,000 ended up in shelters for weeks. The disasters highlighted the plight of the poor in the country, forced to live in areas of highest risk from such disasters.

Passage of CAFTA -- following a close vote in the US Congress, the Central American Free Trade Agreement was ratified. The treaty was opposed by a variety of labor, religious, civil society and environmental organizations.

Wave of homicides -- murder surged by more than 30% in El Salvador over 2004. The country is now one of the most dangerous in Latin America, and none of the anti-crime measures of the Salvadoran government appeared to have any effect. The Catholic bishops of El Salvador issued a pastor…

ES Blogger Summit

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Marie, Meg and Tim in San Salvador

Last week I had the opportunity to meet in San Salvador with Marie who writes the Hameno blog and Meg who writes the A Different View of a Good Life blog. Thanks to both of them for meeting with my group. Unfortunately, we are losing Marie from the El Salvador blog universe as she returns to living in the US. (Maybe we can coax her into writing more thoughts about El Salvador from Chicago).

End of the year statistics

Some statistics from the end of 2005 in El Salvador:
114,485 Salvadorans living abroad returned home for the holiday season, an increase of 43% over the previous year.

46 people were killed and 255 injured in New Years celebrations in El Salvador. This was a 10% increase over the previous year, according to El Diario. This finished a bloody year which saw the homicide rate increase by more than 30%, as 3,785 murders occurred in the country.

The first babies of the New Year in El Salvador, were twin girls born to Guadalupe Veronica Guardado, at 5 minutes after midnight on New Years Day.

71 children were burned badly enough by fireworks that they needed a hospital visit, a slight decrease from the year before.