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Showing posts from March, 2006

El Salvador wants to increase tourism

El Salvador would like to increase tourism in the country. Foreign tourists, with their dollars to spend, represent a possible source of positive economic growth, and the country has many assets to showcase if it could figure out how to package them.

A couple of stories recently make this point. The first is a story titled El Salvador puts out a welcome mat by a travel writer on Canada.com. The story begins:
This Central American country is cautiously emerging from a civil war and devastating earthquake to take its first steps as a tourist destination.and ends with:Do I recommend El Salvador? Yes. Highly. However, as in any situation anywhere, let caution and discretion be your first guide.
The Associated Press recently ran this story about the efforts of Central American countries to promote tourism. Included are statistics about El Salvador's tourism industry:
For El Salvador and Guatemala, two countries that survived years of civil conflict, tourism has become the countries'…

Special Olympics

The opening ceremonies for the first Special Olympics Latin America games occurred in San Salvador last night. The games bring together more than 600 athletes from 18 Latin American countries to compete in a wide variety of events over the next week. La Prensa Grafica has special coverage on its website. A gallery of images from the opening cermonies can be found here.

The side effects of remittances

As the US Senate debates immigration reform, mention is often made of the money which migrants send home to their families. In a recent article titled
Latin America's Faulty Lifeline, Catherine Elton at the MIT Center for International Studies argues that an economy propped up by remittances may be hiding deep structural problems. She points in particular to El Salvador:
In El Salvador, where studies show that anywhere from 10 to 40 percent of the population has emigrated, remittances are an astounding 16 percent of the GDP. They are 133 percent of all exports, 655 percent of foreign direct investment, and 91 percent of the government budget.

While El Salvador's migration patterns to the United States are usually linked to the nation's bloody civil war in the 1980s, migration rates during the late 1990s and first half of this decade were higher than during the armed conflict. Once celebrated, along with Chile, as the honor roll student of the Washington Consensus, El Salva…

Some final election coverage

Two weeks after Salvadorans went to the polls in polarized elections, here are some additional observations about the process:

Joe DeRaymond is an activist who has been an election observer several times in El Salvador. He writes a lengthy account of his observations and experiences in Counterpunch. The whole article is worth reading, but one interesting section is his description of the role of the US:
Also, the role of the United States cannot be underestimated in a critical election. This year, the US played a relatively reduced role, yet still managed to extend Temporary Protective Status to 250,000 Salvadorans living in the United States on February 24, with the well publicized lobbying of Tony Saca. On election day, the US Ambassador to El Salvador, H. Douglas Barclay, personally accompanied the ARENA Vice President of El Salvador, Ana Vilma de Escobar, to a busy polling center in San Salvador, making clear his sympathies toward ARENA to the voters at the polls.
El Faro is a week…

Salvadoran government's non-apology to the Serrano family

One of the atrocities of the Salvadoran civil war was the abduction of children from their families. Most prominent was the case of the Serrano sisters, abducted by government forces during the early years of the civil war. In the aftermath of the civil war, lawyers for the family sued the Salvadoran government for redress, including requiring the government to search for the sisters as well as the hundreds of other missing children. After years of denials and legal wrangling, the government lost and the judgment of the Interamerican Court of Human Rights in March 2005, among many other things, required the Salvadoran government to make an act of public apology in the presence of high officials and members of the Serrano family.

After dragging its feet for more than a year, the Salvadoran government took actions it said complied with the judgment. An account from US-El Salvador Sister Cities, describes what happened:

Salvadoran President Tony Saca sent administration representativ…

26th anniversary of martyrdom of Oscar Romero

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On March 24, 1980, archbishop Oscar Romero was murdered while saying mass, a crime which remains unpunished. His example and love will never be forgotten in El Salvador. From the Religious Task Force on Central America web site:
In seeking to explain the real purpose, the motivation that animates the celebrations in El Salvador, the need of the poor to come together on March 24 each year, the editors of Letters to the Churches, a publication of the Central America University, write: 'Msgr. Romero remains alive and continues to be a real point of reference for many Salvadorans...He continues to offer hope, courage, inspiration, direction and dignity to those who suffer the most. His importance doesn't lie so much in the fact that he offers concrete solutions to contemporary problems but rather that his vision, attitude and fundamental commitment were based in the reality of El Salvador. When he spoke the truth clearly, fearlessly denounced atrocities, visited and accompanied…

Conspirator in Romero assassination speaks out

Twenty-six years after Archbishop Romero's assassination, one of the men involved in the plot has begun to speak to the press and to ask for forgiveness from the Catholic church. Alvaro Saravia gave an interview published today in El Nuevo Herald, where he acknowledges his role and says that he is writing a book where he will name others responsible in the assassination plot.

On September 3, 2004 a court in California issued a judgment holding Alvaro Saravia responsible for his role in the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero and ordered him to pay $10 million to the plaintiff, a relative of the Archbishop. Saravia had not attended the trial and did not put on a defense and had apparently already fled the US.

Excerpts from the El Nuevo Herald article follow:

BY GERARDO REYESEl
Nuevo Herald

A former Salvadoran air force captain accused in the 1980 assassination of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero has broken a 26-year silence to ask the Catholic Church for forgiveness and promises t…

Media coverage of Salvadoran elections biased

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The press in El Salvador may be free, but it certainly is not unbiased. A recent study by the Latin American Association for Social Communication, showed a significant pro-ARENA bias in media coverage leading up to the elections in both television and newspaper coverage. The study is comprehensive, but one set of its data is set out in this chart:



This chart is a little bit complicated to read, so some explanation is in order. The study looked at the times in which the political parties were mentioned in the television, radio and newspapers. Each mention was characterized as to whether the mention was P - positive, NG - Negative, or NT - neutral. For example, on television, 63% of mentions of ARENA were positive, 10% negative and 27% neutral. In contrast, when FMLN was mentioned on television, 18% of mentions were positive, 62% were negative, and 20% were neutral. The ratios were very similar in the newspapers. Only on radio were the treatments of the parties more comparab…

FMLN mayors get cheap Venezuelan fuel

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez is engaging in his own brand of petro-politics, as he agrees to send oil at discounted prices to municipalities in El Salvador run by FMLN mayors.

From the Miami Herald:
Venezuela agreed Monday to sell fuel oil under preferential terms to an El Salvador association created by a group of leftist mayors.

Details of the amount of fuel that will be sold to the Intermunicipal Energy Association for El Salvador were not immediately available, but shipments were to begin ''as soon as possible,'' said Violeta Menjivar, mayor-elect of San Salvador.

The Venezuelan state oil firm subsidiary PDV Caribe reached the agreement with the El Salvador association, formed by mayors belonging to the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front party.

Under the agreement, cities headed by the FMLN will pay 60 percent of their oil bill within 90 days, while paying for the rest in-kind through agricultural products and locally made goods, Soyapango Mayor Carlo…

One human face on the immigration debate

To follow up on yesterday's post about immigration reform legislation, you may want to consider reading this article from the UCLA newspaper about the situation of one undocumented student from El Salvador, Mario Escobar, who faces deportation if his asylum claim is turned down by US courts. Escobar fled to the US at a young age after the civil war which left several of his family members dead. The article describes the uncertainty which this student author faces, not knowing whether he will be tossed from the US in coming weeks.

Immigration reform action needed

Two million or more Salvadorans have migrated from El Salvador to the US seeking to improve their lives or the lives of their family members. Hundreds of thousands are in the US illegally, although most who came in 2001 or before are protected by "Temporary Protected Status." The money Salvadorans send back home is 1/6th of El Salvador's economy.

Currently the US Congress is considering immigration "reform." The House of Representatives passed H.R. 4437, also known as the Sensenbrenner bill, in December 2005. Now the US Senate is considering its own version of immigration reform.

The Sensenbrenner bill is a punitive, "enforcement only" piece of legislation. It is marketed as an anti-terrorist, security measure. The legislation would immediately criminalize the ongoing presence of any undocumented migrant in the country and make him or her guilty of an aggravated felony. The legislation would also potentially criminalize the actions of many church and …

What Salvadoran bloggers are saying -- post-election edition

El Salvador held elections on Sunday, March 12, and almost every Salvadoran blogger has had something to say about the process. The elections saw ARENA make gains in the national legislature while the FMLN held its own. ARENA also made gains in controlling the mayor's office in many cities. But the highest profile race was for mayor of San Salvador, which FMLN candidate Violeta Menjivar won by only 44 votes. Both Menjivar and ARENA candidate Rodrigo Samayoa initially "self-proclaimed" themselves winners, and FMLN demonstrators clashed with police around the hotel where ballots were being scrutinized.

Jjmar at the Hunnapuh blog, as translated on Global Voices, offered post-election analysis. There were positives and negatives for both of the major parties, but on balance ARENA showed itself best able to play the politics of polarization. The FMLN finds itself a minority party in the legislature again, with only the "right of the pig," to scream as it is be…

Slate commentary on Salvadoran elections

For a different view on the Salvadoran elections, read this article on the Slate web site. The article concludes:
The optimism that followed the 1992 peace agreement, which converted the FMLN from an armed force into a political party, has left a sour taste in the mouths of many. The FMLN still talks a good line and is still incredibly well-organized, but the buck speaks louder than words. And it's the global economy—not political idealism—that has transformed their country.

Report of an election observer

I received the following report from Whitney Haring-Smith, one of the international election observers who observed Sunday's elections and the process of determining the outcome of the mayoral election in San Salvador:

I am a TSE-accredited international observer here in El Salvador, traveling as a member of the observer team from the Yale International Relations Association (YIRA). Here is my account of the elections, if you would like to post it.

Last night, I was stationed at the Radisson during the protest and the counting of ballots.

On Election Day, which I observed at the Olocuilta municipality in the department of La Paz, the polling place resembled a town fair, with hundreds of people milling about polling locations throughout the day.

There were a wide-range of technical problems with the election process but there were few systemic problems on Election Day. The technical problems included:

most polls monitored opened an average of an hour late, creating long lines in som…

FMLN candidate Menjivar finally declared winner

San Salvador finally has a new mayor. Violeta Menjivar, the candidate of the FMLN, became the first woman mayor of the capital city after the recount was concluded. The announcement came late last night after tense situations when FMLN activists marched on the Radisson Hotel in order to put pressure on election officials conducting the recount. Menjivar's margin of victory was a slim 61 votes.

Be sure and read the comments to this post, including discussion of the confrontation between police and FMLN demonstrators and a clear description of how votes are counted in a Salvadoran election.

Election re-cap

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There is still no official result for may or of San Salvador. Depending on which news source you read, Violeta Menji­var is leading by approximately 60 votes, but 80-100 votes are being challenged and still being reviewed.

The very close race in San Salvador has convinced the FMLN supporters in the streets that ARENA is trying to steal the election through fraud, particularly since the population has a low opinion of the TSE (Supreme Electoral Tribunal) which oversees the elections and the vote counting. This belief will increase the bitterness towards ARENA felt by FMLN supporters in the capital. The longer the vote tabulation takes, the greater will be the suspicions that ARENA is manipulating the system.

In San Salvador, the candidacy of Carlos Rivas Zamora clearly siphoned off enough FMLN votes to potentially give the election for mayor to ARENA. If the FMLN did not insist on its rigid party orthodoxy and was sufficiently inclusive for Carlos Rivas Zamora to stay in the party…

Review of San Salvador's mayoral election continues

As of late afternoon Tuesday, 48 hours after the polls closed, no one has officially been named the mayor of San Salvador. The FMLN yesterday called its supporters to rally in the city to celebrate the election of Violeta Menjivar. The scrutiny of the ballots is being conducted in the Radisson Hotel, and demonstrators are filling the street around the hotel.

I will round up commentary about the election in the next day or so. It is fair to say that ARENA made gains, particularly in elections for mayor throughout the country. But what increased the most was the political polarization in this already polarized country.

15 votes separate Menjivar and Samayoa

According to El Diario de Hoy, the latest election results, with 83% of the vote in San Salvador reviewed as of 10:40 a.m., now give Samayoa of ARENA a 15 vote lead in the race for mayor of San Salvador. Samayoa has 57,201 votes (44.96%); Menjivar has 57,186 votes (44.95%).

The race for the National Assembly seats has not changed from my last post. El Diario does point out that total votes for ARENA deputies exceeded total votes for FMLN deputies by less than 1000 votes.

Initial results -- a split electoral decision

As of 7:00 a.m. --- The race in San Salvador is still not settled with Violeta Menjivar holding a lead of less than 1% over Rodrigo Samayoa. Across the country, ARENA appears to have won 33 seats in the National Assembly versus 32 seats for the FMLN.

Preliminary election results

Here are preliminary election returns as of 10:40 p.m.

Tony Saca has declared that ARENA has won 35 of the 84 seats in the National Assembly, and the FMLN won 31 seats. In addition, ARENA's traditional ally, the conservative PCN won 13 seats which gives ARENA and PCN a strong ruling majority.

The election in San Salvador is exceedingly close, both Violeta Menjivar of the FMLN Rodrigo Samayoa of ARENA have declared themselves winners.

In mayoral contests, there is not yet a total count of the different municipalities. The FMLN appears to have won in most of the municipalities which neighbor San Salvador and are part of that urban area. Incumbent mayors were reelected in Santa Ana and Santa Tecla. In a result that surprised me, the ARENA candidate won the mayorship in Chalatenango, which is a traditional FMLN stronghold.

Update 11:24 p.m.

El Diario de Hoy has now reduced the margin in the Assembly from to 33 seats for ARENA and 32 seats for the FMLN. The PCN total is now 12. San…

A Salvadoran mother protests the war in Iraq

El Salvador is the only country in Latin America with troops supporting the US intervention in Iraq. Two Salvadoran soldiers have been killed in Iraq, and one of them is then son of Herminia Ramos of Guayamango. I've described her story before on this blog.

Now the Los Angeles Times has published an article describing her efforts protesting the Iraq war:
The only thing Herminia Ramos wanted from the army was her son's pension — exactly $200 a month. She figured she deserved the money now, seeing how he gave his life wearing an army uniform, fighting in a war halfway around the world in Iraq.

The Salvadoran army said no.

Ramos said she felt abandoned. Left with her thoughts in her sparse cinderblock home, and five other children to support, she quickly came to a conclusion: No other parent should have to feel this way.

She signed her name to a letter demanding that El Salvador remove its troops from Iraq. Then she personally delivered it to the national legislature and the office…

What Salvadoran Bloggers are saying -- pre-elections

National elections for mayors and deputies to the National Assembly will be held on March 12, so much of the commentary in the Salvadoran blogosphere was political in the past two weeks.

Blogs in Spanish

One theme of bloggers was a plea for voters to disregard propaganda and television advertising and to use their minds as they go to the polls. A contrary view is expressed by Soy Salvadoreño who explains that he has decided that he will not vote for any politician in this election because the campaign propaganda has disgusted him so much. The writers at the Hunnapuh blog used two separate posts to educate readers that ballots are secret, no one would know their vote, and they could vote without fear.

Blogger Oscar Miguel described his recent experience with taking a child to a hospital in the public health system, a system which he blames for not addressing preventable diseases like diarrhea, and a system which president Tony Saca would not use. His description of the experience o…

First Latin America Special Olympics to be hosted in El Salvador

Two weeks from now, the first Latin America Special Olympics will be held in El Salvador. This will be the first time that regional Special Olympics Games are held in Latin America. More than 30,000 spectators are expected to gather and watch 600 athletes from 17 countries compete in nine sports.

The games run from March 25 to April 2. This is an event everyone can support.

US Human Rights Report criticizes Salvadoran judicial system

The US State Department has released its annual report on the human rights conditions in countries around the world. And while one can fault the US for not evaluating its own record on human rights (consider Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib), this annual report does a good job of providing an overview of conditions around the world.

The report for human rights conditions in El Salvador is summarized this way:
Although the government generally respected the rights of its citizens, protection of human rights was undermined by widespread impunity, corruption among the security forces and other governmental authorities, and gang violence.

The most problematic area according to the report were the inadequacies in the justice system:
Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, the judiciary suffered from inefficiency and corruption. Corruption in the judicial system contributed to impunity from the country's civil and criminal laws. Impunity remained a significant problem, underminin…

Election predictions favor FMLN

The official political campaigns closed at midnight on Wednesday. Campaigning is not permitted between now and the elections on Sunday. In my informal poll of readers of this blog, respondents predicted the FMLN would win the most seats in the National Assembly, would win the most mayorships, and would win in San Salvador.

I also asked five Salvadoran bloggers what they predicted. They unanimously agree with the prediction of an FMLN victory in the legislature and San Salvador, with one blogger abstaining. However, three of the five bloggers predicted that ARENA would control more mayorships than the FMLN.

I will take a risk and make my own predictions. I forecast that the FMLN will have more seats than ARENA in the National Assembly, similar to the situation after the 2003 elections. However, neither party will have a majority and will be forced to deal with the smaller parties in order to achieve anything.

ARENA will be in the mayor's office in the greatest number of munici…

El Salvador Blog readers predict outcome of March 12 elections

Tell us who you think will prevail in the elections on March 12. Please vote only once.


Who will win the greatest number of seats in El Salvador's National Assembly?ARENAFMLNOther PartyDon't KnowFree polls from Pollhost.com




Who will win the greatest number of mayoral races?ARENAFMLNOther PartyDon't KnowFree polls from Pollhost.com




Who will win race for mayor of San Salvador?Rodrigo Samayoa -- ARENAViolete Menjivar -- FMLNCarlos Rivas Zamora -- CD/PNL/FDRDon't KnowFree polls from Pollhost.com

From coyote to leading mayoral candidate

"Coyote" or immigrant smuggler is a dirty word in the US. But things are more ambiguous in El Salvador, where a former coyote is a leading candidate for mayor in one municipality. The AP runs a story about Narciso Chicho Ramirez, a man formerly involved in immigrant smuggling who may be mayor of Cara Sucia and other villages in western El Salvador after this Sunday's elections:
I saw it as helping people who most need it," said Ramirez, a 44-year-old rancher who owns construction and bus companies as well as restaurants and hardware stores. Ramirez says his ties to people-smuggling make him the perfect candidate to lead a group of 10 small rural towns 60 miles west of the capital, San Salvador. They include Cara Sucia, a village of 5,000 whose name means "dirty face." It's a district where nearly everyone heads to the United States to work at some point, and where four bank branches mostly handle money the migrants send home. Recent polls make Rami…

Salvadorans abroad working to help their hometowns.

The Houston Chronicle runs an article today regarding groups of Salvadorans in the US who are banding together to support business development projects back in their hometowns. The hope is that by encouraging projects with job creation there will be less need for young people to emigrate to find work. The story also describes the efforts of the government in El Salvador to increase tourism as a means of economic growth. Most of the $644 million in tourism spending in the country last year came from tourists from other Central American countries and Salvadorans living abroad returning home.

More students -- will the resources come?

In an earlier post, I noted that the anti-poverty program Red Solidaria has led to a significant increase in school enrollment in the municipalities where the program is in effect. El Faro has published a new article looking at this situation. The Ministry of Education has measured a 19% increase in students in the Red Solidaria municipalities. This increase has left schools desperate for more resources including classrooms, teachers and school desks. So far the government has promised $3 million to provide these needed resources.

The El Faro story quotes one school director as noting that the $15 dollar monthly subsidy has "transformed the vision" of some families about the importance of education. If a child misses 4 days of school, the subsidy is cut off.

The school systems in El Salvador will need even more resources if they want to continue improving. The percentage of students who entered in the first grade and completed fifth grade increased from 58.1% in 1991 to …

Comments on the platform of the FMLN

Candidates for the National Assembly running under the banner of the FMLN promote a platform with several points including (1) jettisoning the dollar and returning to the colón (2) repeal of CAFTA, (3) greater investment in education, health and access to safe water, and (4) avoiding foreign borrowing.

While sympathetic to these aims, the February 15, 2006 edition of Proceso calls on the FMLN to have some political realism. For example, with respect to dollarization and CAFTA Proceso points out:
It is true that dollarization did not give the expected results. However, this does not mean that reversing it would be the answer. Reversing dollarization could bring more costs than benefits, because both consumers and producers make their economic decisions according to minimizing transactions and the stability of currency. It is also unsuitable to blame dollarization the price increase. Under oligopolic and monopolic conditions as those given in El Salvador, with dollars or colones, it is d…

Television reporters on the gang problem

Written commentary on the web by television reporters recently has offered some good additional analysis of the gang problem in El Salvador.

María Elena Salinas is a news anchor for Latin America network Univision. In a recent column she writes that:
The strategies used by El Salvador [to fight gangs] have their unique risks. In El Salvador, where the gang population is believed to be around 15,000, the strategy used against the maras has resulted in more violence. While the hard-line strategy is supposed to be accompanied by rehabilitation and prevention efforts, those programs have been dismal failures. They have resulted in rival gangs -- who previously were busy fighting each other -- joining forces to fight against a common enemy: the government.

Salvadoran President Tony Saca is asking for more help from the United States. He wants the U.S. to stop deporting gang members to El Salvador. Saca, a close ally of the Bush administration, will have a tough time persuading the U.S. to do…

CAFTA coverage

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The Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) became effective between the US and El Salvador today, and trade issues are receiving a lot of coverage.

La Prensa has devoted an entire special section to CAFTA on its web site, full of rosy predictions about a growth of investment and trade in the country and pictures of Tony Saca with businessmen and US officials. Interestingly, on a page called "Sites of Interest," La Prensa links to two US government sites and one Salvadoran government site and then to the web sites of three organizations -- Oxfam, Americans for Fair Trade and EconomiaJusta.org which all oppose CAFTA.

El Diario de Hoy devoted more of its coverage to the massive protests yesterday against the treaty which continued today in parts of San Salvador. The paper's web site has two galleries of photos from the protests here and here.

Part of the national campaign platform of the FMLN is a plan to remove El Salvador from participating in CAFTA.

An article publi…