Posts

Showing posts from February, 2006

DR-CAFTA becomes ESFTA

DR-CAFTA is the acronym for the free trade agreement between the United States, five Central American countries and the Dominican Republic. But when it becomes effective on Wednesday, March 1, it will only apply to trade between El Salvador and the United States. As the International Herald Tribune reports:
Two months after the Central American Free Trade Agreement was supposed to go into effect, only El Salvador is ready to join, frustrating Washington after a hard-won victory in its push toward free trade.

Of the five other countries that agreed to participate, four have yet to change a host of laws to bring them into line with the agreement, which requires them to open up their economies to American trade and investment, dismantle protections for many local industries and enforce intellectual-property rights. The fifth country, Costa Rica, has yet to ratify the agreement.
President Tony Saca has pointed to El Salvador's status as the first to fully implement CAFTA as a symbol of …

US increases deportations to El Salvador

Deportations from the US back to El Salvador have increased since the beginning of the year. According to a report in Diario El Mundo, there has been a 61% increase over the same period the year before. Of the 1387 persons deported so far in 2006, 327 have criminal records. The report attributes the increase to a hardening of US immigration policy, notwithstanding the recent extension of TPS which protects undocumented person who have been in the US since 2001 and have not committed any crimes.

El Salvador's Palestinian connection

There is a sizable population of persons of Palestinian heritage who live in El Salvador, including president Tony Saca and former FMLN leader Schafik Handal. El Salvador's ambassador to Israel explained the connection in an interview posted on Haaretz.com:

Asked about the connection between Palestine and El Salvador, the ambassador explains that "during the Ottoman Empire, the Christians of Bethlehem sent the young people of the community to other countries, in order to prevent them from being drafted into the army. Some of them reached El Salvador, and today there is a community there of 70,000 Palestinian Christians, most of them from Bethlehem. They generally send their sons to find a bride in Bethlehem and to bring her to El Salvador, and they send their daughters to find a bridegroom in Bethlehem, and they remain there. All the descendants of the women are El Salvadorians by law, so that we have a community of 400 Palestinian Salvadorians."

What Salvadoran bloggers are saying - politics and nostalgia

El Salvador is in the midst of a very spirited campaign season leading to the election of mayors and National Assembly deputies on March 12. The campaigning has produced a great deal of commentary in the Salvadoran blogosphere in the past two weeks.

Blogs in Spanish

Ligia at El Salvador o algo por el estilo is particularly incensed by the political campaigning of president Tony Saca for ARENA party candidates. She provides a rundown of recent television appearances of the president which she labels "tele-corruption" and SacaVision. Two arguments are advanced that Saca's campaigning is illegal -- one is that members of the armed forces are prohibited from partisan political activity and Saca is the commander in chief of the armed forces. The second is a legal prohibition on government officials using their office to favor a particular political party.

At the Hunnapuh blog, they are also reacting to the coverage of Saca on television with poetic satire noting that o…

TPS to be extended

Temporary Protected Status, the US program which protects some 220,000 Salvadorans illegally in the US from being deported, is being extend through September 2007, according to
news reports. The program is a humanitarian measure based on a policy decision not to return people to a country suffering from natural disasters. For Salvadorans, TPS only applies to Salvadorans in the US as of the time of the 2001 earthquakes who obtain the necessary registration.

Half of jobs in El Salvador in the informal sector

El Salvador's government statistics show an unemployment rate of less than 10%. But, as shown by a La Prensa Grafica story this week, these statistics do not tell nearly the whole story. Fully one half of the work force is employed in the informal sector. The woman who sells pupusas along the side of the highway, or the man who wheels a cart through the poor neighborhood hawking frozen treats, or the vendor selling stereo headphones on the median of a boulevard in San Salvador, are all part of this sector. As La Prensa notes, the government receives little or no taxes from this sector of the economy, income is low, and these workers are not protected by laws and not part of the social security system in the country.

Latest election polls

The latest election polls are out and now show the FMLN leading ARENA nationally and in San Salvador. The minor parties are not showing any improvement in their position. The most recent poll by the Technological University of El Salvador shows:
Preference for deputies to the National Assembly:
FMLN -- 40.2%ARENA -- 38.1%PCN -- 11.6%PDC -- 6.9%This is a dramatic change from polling last November which showed ARENA leading the FMLN by 20 points.

The FMLN candidate for mayor of San Salvador, Violeta Menjivar, is starting to pull ahead of Samayoa of ARENA, lessening the possibility that the thrd party candidacy of current mayor Carlos Rivas Zamora would split the votes on the left and allow an ARENA victory.
Preferences for mayor of San Salvador:
Violeta Menjivar (FMLN) 27.27%Rodrigo Samayoa (ARENA) 22.73%Carlos Rivas Zamora (CD/FDR) 15.73% Other polling results published in El Diario de Hoy show that in mayoral races, incumbents are usually in the lead and the major parties are splitting c…

The reality of gang violence

In this blog, I have often relayed the headlines about gang violence in El Salvador, including attacks on bus drivers and conductors who don't pay the tribute demanded by the gangs. There are human stories behind these headlines. The following story was submitted by a blog reader who was in El Salvador last week:

We first heard about trouble late in the night, when our friend hurried into the house to tell us that his son and son-in-law had not come home. The family had looked for them, and found out that they had been picked up by the police who were investigating a gang-related murder that had taken place on a bus earlier that day, on the road just outside of the community. The family was upset and scared, and before we went to bed, we held hands and prayed that the boys would have a peaceful night.

The next morning, the father had to travel to another city to collect a document which proved that his son was a minor, aged 16. The other boy is 18. The pastor assembled a littl…

PDDH Censures Judge in Soto case

Following Saturday's verdict which convicted only one person of the Gilberto Soto murder, El Salvador's human rights ombudswoman, Beatrice de Carrillo was highly critical of the presiding judge. Diario CoLatino reported that the PDDH issued a public censure against the judge for blocking access to the investigative material in the case and not pursuing the theory that Soto was murdered for his union activities. The public censure is the highest form of sanction the office of the PDDH can issue and has only been issued twice before by Carrillo.

In the US, officials of the Teamsters union were highly critical of the investigation and prosecution. As quoted on North Jersey.com:

The Teamsters Union called for a new investigation Monday into the 2004 murder of a Cliffside Park labor leader in El Salvador after a jury there acquitted two of three people charged in his death.

The verdict, reached Saturday, bolsters claims that Teamster Gilberto Soto was killed not in a domestic di…

ARENA campaigns with Saca and fear

Image
Similar to the strategy that worked in the 2004 balloting which elected Tony Saca, ARENA's current campaign is marked by use of explicit fear tactics and the smiling face of the popular Tony Saca. Campaigning across the country for mayors and legislators, Saca explicitly plays to the fears of Salvadorans.

One of the themes of the 2004 election was the warning that if the FMLN won the presidency, Salvadorans living in the US would be deported. That theme is being used again. This weekend, La Prensa reported that Saca played on the current uncertainty over the status of the TPS program which protects more than 200,000 Salvadorans from deportation. As he heads to Washington this week to meet with George Bush, Saca asserted that he will achieve stability in migration matters, but warned his listeners that "If they vote for the FMLN, it is sure that their family members will be deported."

On the campaign trail, Saca has been quick to assert that street protests in the country a…

Conviction in Soto murder trial

Only one defendant has been convicted for the murder of US Teamster Gilberto Soto. The verdict is reported in La Prensa Grafica. The court did not convict the other two defendants, including Soto's mother-in-law who had been accused of ordering the killing.

Gilberto Soto was gunned down outside his mother's home in Usulutan, El Salvador. Soto was a US citizen and a Teamster. Soto had gone to his native El Salvador to investigate the working conditions of truck drivers at the ports. He was shot in the back as he talked on a cellphone outside his boyhood home.

Salvadoran authorities eventually arrested some gang members and Soto's mother-in-law, the supposed "intellectual author" of the crime, and called the murder a family dispute. This theory has never satisfied Soto's family or the Teamsters, and many questions have remained.

The La Prensa Grafica story does not have a description of the testimony in the trial or an explanation of what role the convicted d…

Two videos with a taste of El Salvador

Image
Two videos which recently appeared on the web offer a taste of El Salvador. Each is different, both are distinctly Salvadoran.

The blogger Soy Salvadoreño has a tribute to Kolashanpan, the soda bottled in El Salvador from a uniquely Salvadoran recipe. The soda was just released in aluminum cans, and the video from the advertising campaign has the old jingle for the "gaseosa." Soy Salvadoreño points out that Kolashanpan is a popular product in the nostalgia market for Salvadorans in the US wanting a unique taste from home.

On a different note, La Prensa Grafica has placed on its web site a video montage of images reflecting the news from 2005 in El Salvador. Unfortunately it was a year of news dominated by natural disasters and violence.

(Both videos require Windows Media Player to play which you can download here).

Coffee farmers hopeful, not so henequen farmers

Two stories from the Houston Chronicle demonstrate that Salvadoran farmers, like farmers everywhere, are often subject to market forces and government policies beyond their control. The first story describes how the Salvadoran coffee industry is trying to develop a raise its profile for excellent coffee. The country's reputation for coffee was overshadowed for years by the civil war, but now a growing world market for gourmet coffees and the bourbon variety of coffee bean, offer opportunity for some coffee plantations.

Traditionally coffee pickers place the harvested beans in bags made from henequen fibers. The second story highlights the plight of the henequen farmers, whose market is shrinking as synthetic fibers replace henequen. In 2008, a tax on plastic will expire, making it more economical to make bags for coffee out of plastic and destroying the henequen market even more.

The gang problem and the elections

Carlos X, moderator of the San Romero mailing list, recently shared these thoughts and authorized me to republish them here:

El Salvador's "mara" (violent gang) problem is feeding the silent
violence of old war grudges and antagonism between El Salvador's left
and right in troubling ways. Today, I received an email from an
ARENA (official rightwing party of President Tony Saca) activist
stating that the FMLN (the former rebels and now opposition party) is
forging alliances with gang members and prison inmates in a
deliberate campaign to destabilize the country. He cited recent
newspaper articles supporting his position. On the other hand, an
article in the left-leaning DIARIO CO LATINO yesterday cited FMLN
sources stating that the right is promoting the gang conflict "with
all its strength" in order to boost gun sales that benefit wealthy
gun distributors who belong to the official party, and to give the
official party a Splendid Little War against gangs to tout in a…

Red Solidaria increases school enrollment

There are some initial indications of some very positive results of Red Solidaria, the Saca government's anti-poverty program. Under the program, poor families in the most poverty-stricken areas of the country receive $15 or $20 per month, provided they make sure children attend school and are enrolled in health clinics.

Both the conservative La Prensa Grafica and the left-leaning Diario CoLatino reported the impressive gains in school enrollment in the regions where Red Solidaria is in place. Enrollment has increased 19% over the year before, leaving schools with a shortage of space and teachers.

Interview with Leslie Schuld

An organization doing good work in El Salvador is the Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad. Its executive director, Leslie Schuld, was interviewed on Chicago Public Radio about the current economic and political situation in the country. You can listen to the interview at this link.

US policy towards El Salvador

Signals coming out of the Bush White House cannot look favorable to El Salvador. First, the administration is slashing its foreign aid to the country. As the Miami Herald reports:
The administration's fiscal year 2007 request to Congress includes a 28.5 percent cut in development assistance for Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the figures issued by the White House earlier this week....

The reductions include $15 million in cuts to El Salvador, from $22.5 million this year to $7.5 million next year, and a drop of $7.8 million to Nicaragua, from $20.8 million to just under $13 million. Support for the 34-country Organization of American States is cut by $7 million, from $64 million to $57 million.
Next, US Department of Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff holds a press conference where he describes illegal immigration from El Salvador as a "significant challenge" and describes the administration's goal to increase its ability to deport Salvadorans i…

What Salvadoran bloggers are saying

This is the first in a new series of biweekly articles I am writing for Global Voices and which I will also post here. Every two weeks I'll take a look at what you can find in the Salvadoran "blogosphere."

The universe of Salvadoran blogs is fairly young. One of the best established blogs based in El Salvador is Hunnapuh which just enjoyed its one year anniversary. The Soy Salvadoreno blog celebrates the one year anniversary of Hunnapuh as part of its own ongoing review of the Salvadoran blogosphere. Recently Hunnapuh has had a three part series questioning the safety of school transportation in El Salvador in which private, unregulated micro-buses take children to and from school.

Crime, violence and the National Police (PNC) are an ongoing topic for Salvadoran bloggers. There is a new head of the National Police, who has a very high approval rating as Salvadorans hope he can control crime, but Salvadoran bloggers are not so sure. Salvador Canjura at Tierra de Colla…

Medical missions to El Salvador

Each year many doctors, nurses, and other people donate their time and talents to provide medical services in underserved areas of El Salvador. (My wife is making such a trip tomorrow, as she has in past years, and so this post is dedicated to her and her team).

Two stories appeared in the press this week about a recent medical mission trip by volunteers from the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York. Volunteers provided medical services in El Salvador and then brought back with them a young girl who will receive surgery to correct leg deformities caused by rickets. Read more about their trip here and here.

I also received recently an e-mail through this blog which seeks assistance in El Salvador supporting surgical missions. While I don't know much about this organization, I'm willing to spread the word about their efforts:

I am Bobbye Krehbiel, president of a local chapter of Healing the Children (www.htcsw.org) which is part of a national organization (www.healingchildren…

Migrating to find work in El Salvador

While Salvadorans regularly speak of wanting to emigrate away from their country, poor Nicaraguans and Hondurans are eager to come to El Salvador to work in its sugar cane fields. The Los Angeles Times has the story today of Honduran workers who come to fill a shortage of agricultural workers in El Salvador. The Times story explains the economics of the situation: In November, Salvadoran Agriculture Minister Mario Salaverria announced that 15,000 foreign workers would be needed to complete the cane, cotton and coffee harvests here.

The labor shortages are being felt across the region. Mezcal producers in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, coffee plantations in Nicaragua and chile farmers in the central Mexican state of Zacatecas have found themselves in a similar predicament because so many local people have left to seek better wages elsewhere.

"The problem is that remittances [from the U.S.] have made Salvadorans comfortable and they don't want to work cutting cane," said It…

Election analysis

With little more than four weeks to go before elections in El Salvador, the Salvadoran press is full of new public opinion polls and political analysis. First, a La Prensa Grafica poll presents additional evidence that the FMLN has pulled into a virtual tie with ARENA in races for mayor and assembly in the San Salvador area.

At the same time, however, a poll released by El Mundo finds that president Tony Saca's approval rating is climbing to a point where 76% of the population rates him favorably. El Mundo asked Salvadorans about a variety of personalities in the country. The top 5 approval ratings went to:
Tony Saca -- 76% favorable, 16% unfavorableAna Ligia de Saca (first lady) -- 69% favorable, 12% unfavorableRodrigo Avila (new head of PNC) -- 51% favorable,18% unfavorableOscar Ortiz (FMLN mayor of Santa Tecla) -- 34% favorable, 19% unfavorableCarlos Rivas Zamora (mayor of San Salvador) -- 34% favorable, 24% unfavorableA good source in English of background information ab…

More on gold mining

I have written a fair amount about gold mining activities in El Salvador in the past. (Just use the search tool at the top of this page and search the blog for "gold mining"). And I'm going to keep writing about it because I foresee conflict with foreign gold mining operations becoming a major tension point in El Salvador in the coming months and years.

On the one hand, we have gold mining companies continuing to show with their regular press releases that they have a great deal of excitement about the prospects of extracting mineral wealth from El Salvador. For example, take today's press releases by Au Martinique Silver Inc. (PDF) describing the progress of its exploration in the Potonico district in north central El Salvador, and Pacific Rim which told investors "The Company is currently conducting an intensive reconnaissance-style project generation initiative within El Salvador to capitalize on its unique geological knowledge and continue to build its po…

CAFTA is not yet effective

The Central American Free Trade Agreement was supposed to have become effective on January 1 of this year. But opposition to the treaty continues to delay its start, which is now scheduled for March 1 at the earliest. Costa Rica still has not ratified the treaty, and in this weekend's presidential election in that country, Otton Solis, a candidate opposed to CAFTA, has come within votes of defeating pro-CAFTA (and Nobel Peace Prize winner) Oscar Arias. In El Salvador, on January 31, protesters clogged the streets to protest law changes necessary to implement the treaty, and the FMLN campaigns in upcoming elections with an anti-CAFTA platform. Other countries have been slow to pass the legislation necessary to implement CAFTA. Meanwhile the US is threatening to delay implementation unless the other CAFTA countries recognize the US meat inspection system as equivalent to their own regimes.

Fears about politicization of National Police

Last December 21, Ricardo Meneses, head of the National Police (PNC) was removed from his post and replaced with Rodrigo Avila. The English version of Proceso's January 11, 2006 edition is now available and expresses serious concerns about the appointment of Avila:
Someone had to be blamed for the bad handling of violence: Meneses was the chosen one. Someone had to be the savior: Avila was the one and the government pretends to surround him of an undeserved aura of efficacy. If the first time he ran the police he arrived as a person whose political affinities were not evident, now he arrives as a professed member of the ARENA party. In other words, with Avila in the head, the ARENA party took the police; with him, the police is becoming subordinated, not to the government or to the president, but to a political party. Only one step is left to the open politicization of an institution that was created, not to serve any party or power group in particular, but to the society as a who…

Ethical certifications on coffee

Multinational corporations have gotten into the fair trade coffeee market. Each of the Big Four coffee roaster (Nestle, Kraft, Sara Lee, and Procter & Gamble) has a brand or brands which are certifed under one or another seal. Nestle has a Fair Trade certified brand, Kraft and Procter & Gamble have brands which have been certified by the Rainforest Alliance. Meanwhile Sara Lee has a brand certified by a Dutch organization.

The Observer has a lengthy article this week regarding the coffee market and the proliferation of ethical marketing certifications. The second half of the article looks at Kraft's purchases of Rainforest Alliance certified coffee in El Salvador and the benefits communities have achieved where they have converted to the agricultural and labor practices required for the certification.

Status of El Salvador's indigenous peoples

Indigenous people are almost invisible in El Salvador. This comes from a history of repression throughout the 20th century. From a World Bank report:
Salvadoran Indigenous People are descendants of the Pupils, a nomadic tribe of the Nahua of Central Mexico, the Mesoamerican Lenca and the South-American Chibcha. From the beginning of the Spanish conquest in El Salvador, the Indigenous and the Spaniards lived in the same areas. Racial mixing known as mestizaje began in the XVI century. With the development of the indigo plantations in the early XVII century, many indigenous villages were destroyed, and many were forced to farm and work on these plantations. In the infamous la matanza, masacre of 1932, 50,000 indigenous were killed in retaliation of an indigenous upheavel to protest government policies. After this event, the indigenous began to hide their traditions and to assimilate to the dominant ladino society quietly.
The World Bank performed a "social assessment" in El Sa…

Virginia resident runs for mayor of Salvadoran city

Intipuca is a city of 17,000, close to the Pacific Ocean in far eastern El Salvador. Two articles this week highlight the unique race for mayor which is currently being conducted there. Its unique nature comes from the very close ties between this city and the Washington, D.C. area. Thousands of Intipuquenos live in the US and the election is a measure of their influence back in El Salvador. Residents of the city receive an average of almost $50 per month in remittances from the US.

The Washington Post has a profile of Hugo Salinas, a Salvadoran community activist from Arlington, Virginia who has returned to Intipuca to run for mayor. The Washington Post story states:
Intipuca has changed from a sleepy village into a modern city of three-story colonial brick houses. A prominent sign says brightly, in English, "Welcome to Intipuca." The streets are named for U.S. presidents and Arlington's Columbia Pike. In the early days, so many residents had new televisions and othe…

FMLN surges in new opinion poll

The first results from any public opinion poll conducted after Schafik Handal's death show that the FMLN may be enjoying a bump in popularity following the death and funeral services of its historical leader. The poll by the Technological University of El Salvador, Center for Salvadoran Public Opinion Research revealed that the FMLN and ARENA are in a statistical tie leading into the March 12 elections:
Nationally for mayor 29.21% favor ARENA to 27.8% for the FMLNNationally for National Assembly 28.60% favor ARENA to 29.78% FMLN
This is a fairly dramatic swing from a La Prensa Grafica poll conducted earlier in January which had ARENA leading by 10 points in both categories.

The new poll also shows a very interesting race developing for mayor of San Salvador:
Violeta Menjivar (FMLN) -- 24.92%Rodrigo Samayoa (ARENA) -- 24.62%Carlos Rivas Zamora (CD/FDR/PDC)-- 15.85%
This is the strongest showing for the current mayor, Rivas Zamora, in any poll since he left the FMLN.