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Showing posts from June, 2006

CAFTA proceeds

CAFTA goes into effect in Guatemala today. Guatemala joins Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador as countries where the free trade agreement with the US is fully in effect. The Dominican Republic has not yet adopted implementing legislation and Costa Rica's legislature has not ratified the treaty.

The delay by other countries in implementing the treaty has hurt El Salvador as this article from the Dallas Morning News pointed out:
Apparel with thread or other materials from countries not yet certified to participate in CAFTA, such as Guatemala, faces hefty duties upon entering the United States – even if they contain U.S.-made fabric and were sewn in a CAFTA country.

In one example, the average duty on apparel from El Salvador suddenly jumped to 14 percent in March from 5 percent in February, according to the American Apparel & Footwear Association.

The reason: In March, more of the garments contained materials from countries not yet operating under CAFTA rules, subjecting them to…

600 tuna processing jobs lost

Image
There are two ways I could start this post:
El Salvador's refusal to ratify international conventions on labor rights cost 600 Salvadoran workers their jobs.
or
The European Union, using trade as leverage to try and protect Salvadoran workers, actually caused the firing of more that 600 workers in the country.

You decide. Here are the facts:


The Spanish company Grupo Calvo, terminated the jobs of 600 workers on Monday at its tuna processing plant in Punta Gorda, in the eastern part of El Salvador. The company says its decision was necessary because El Salvador is losing the ability to ship goods duty-free into the European Union under a program called SGP Plus. Tuna from Calvo's El Salvador operations will now be subject to a 22% tariff, which prices Calvo out of the market. (Calvo primarily markets its tuna in Europe and Latin America).

El Salvador is losing its duty free status in trade with the EU because it has failed to ratify the two key International Labor Organization con…

Temporary Protected Status

The US government announced in February that Temporary Protected Status or "TPS" will be extended for another 12 month period from September 9, 2006 until September 9, 2007. Salvadoran nationals are eligible for this status if they have been continually in the US since February 13, 2001, have committed no crimes and have registered during each preceding 12 month period. Persons registered under TPS are not subject to being deported back to El Salvador, even if their original arrival in the US was illegal. TPS includes work authorization from the federal government allowing TPS enrollees to be legally employed. The time period for registering for the extension begins Monday, July 3, and lasts for sixty days until September 1, 2006. The Salvadoran government has information in English and Spanish on its US embassy website, and will make a big push to get the 225,000 eligible Salvadorans in the US to re-enroll.

The TPS program is justified as a humanitarian measure for count…

Gay issues in El Salvador

Dozens of gay and lesbian protesters marched today in a Gay Pride March in San Salvador. The marchers demanded an end to discrimination and equal opportunities in employment and education. On the same day, El Salvador's Roman Catholic archbishop, Fernando Sáenz Lacalle, used his weekly press conference to urge the legislature to pass an amendment to El Salvador's constitution which would ban same sex marriages.

For some background about GLBT issues in El Salvador, you may want to read this post by Meg about Entre Amigos, a group which sponsors the Gay Pride marches and works with the GLBT population in El Salvador, or this background article.

UPDATE

Shortly after I wrote this post, Meg updated her own blog with a post on Salvadoran Gay Pride, which provides much more insight.

What Salvadoran bloggers are saying -- World Cup and d'Aubuisson

There is only one subject that almost all Salvadoran bloggers have mentioned recently -- the World Cup. Although El Salvador had no team in Germany, that did not matter as blogging fans noted the start of the great world tournament. Ligia at Que Joder has perhaps the best post (es) as she describes the deserted streets when the games are on TV, the necessity of always knowing the score in case someone asks you, and the positive feelings of everyone united in watching the world's favorite sport.

Similar feelings of fraternity are not generated by the newly inaugurated monument (es) to Roberto d'Aubuisson, founder of the ruling ARENA party. Following the Salvadoran civil war, the UN Truth Commission found d'Aubuisson to have been responsible for the 1980 murder of archbishop Oscar Romero. D'Aubuisson organized and directed deathsquads which killed thousands of civillians during the war years. The blogger Hunnapuh responds (es) to news of the monument with disdain and …

Dam project on Lempa River

A hydroelectric dam to be built on a river between Honduras and El Salvador raises the common tensions between large infrastructure projects and the disruption to the lives of local landowners.

A story carried by the Inter Press Service describes the project and the controversy it creates:
The construction of El Tigre dam on the Lempa River, which forms a border between Honduras and El Salvador, has unleashed a wave of contradictory opinions. Some claim there will be a loss of sovereignty over natural resources, while others say the resulting reservoir will prevent another war between the two countries, this time over water.

The first efforts towards building this 1.5-billion dollar hydroelectric megadam, which would be 100 metres tall and flood 72 square kilometers, began three weeks ago. And border communities are demanding more information and greater participation in decisions on the project's scope.

The idea to build the dam, which will have the potential to supply energy to 70…

Bus fares may rise

The Salvadoran press reported today that the government may allow bus fares to rise to 30 cents from the current maximum of 25 cents on urban routes. The rising cost of diesel fuel, which is subsidized by the government for the bus lines, is forcing the fare increase. When bus companies acted unilaterally to raise fares last July, violent demonstrations broke out. Buses are the primary form of transportation for the poor in El Salvador, and a 20% increase in fares for persons who often make only a few dollars a day is a real hardship.

Tall waves batter coast

A powerful storm in the South Pacific sent towering waves battering El Salvador's Pacific coast on Monday. According to the AP:
The waves resulted from a particularly intense low pressure system several hundred miles off New Zealand that caused hurricane force winds and rare snowfall at sea level. Masses of water were shoved eastward, creating unusually big waves when the swells hit the Americas....

At least 30 people were evacuated Monday in El Salvador, where waves up to 20 feet damaged some 20 corrugated-metal homes in Playa El Mahajual, about 15 miles west of the capital of San Salvador, said Salvador Rosales, director of civil protection. Beach huts also were lost along the coast.

Officials said waves in El Salvador had subsided to about 10 feet Tuesday.

El Diario de Hoy has a photo gallery here.

Defending the ILEA

Many organizations which form the opposition in El Salvador are steadfastly opposed to the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) which will use US personnel to provide training of police, judges and prosecutors from around Latin America. Critics like CISPES and others, argue that the ILEA is simply a reincarnation of the discredited School of the Americas, where the US trained Latin American military forces in counter-insurgency tactics which often led to human rights abuses when the trainees returned home.

But the issues are not so simple. El Salvador needs police with more training and professionalism if it is to solve its crime problems. And an important voice for human rights in El Salvador, the Human Rights Institute at the University of Central America is participating in the ILEA. Benjamin Cuellar, director of the Institute, was asked:

Q. What do you say to people who criticize the institute for collaborating with the ILEA?

There are two levels, the people who are not…

DNA bank to assist search for El Salvador's missing children

An article in the Contra Costa Times describes how DNA technology is being employed to assist in the reunification of families with their children who disappeared during the Salvadoran civil war:
With help from UC Berkeley's Human Rights Center and the California Department of Justice DNA lab in Richmond, Perez Navarrete and his group in El Salvador hope to identify more children who were taken from their families by force during the civil war that engulfed the country in the 1980s and '90s.

"It's like a rule in this country to forget," said Perez Navarrete, a psychologist with the Asociación Pro-Búsqueda de Niñas y Niños Desaparecidos, a group that seeks to reunite kidnapped children with their families.

"We're trying to do it for 12 years, especially because the government is always trying to erase all the memories in this country, especially of the war."

Pro-Búsqueda has identified more than 700 families who want to locate the "disappeared"…

El Salvador's application to the Millennium Challenge Account

One of the primary foreign policy goals of the ARENA government in El Salvador is to obtain funding from the US Millennium Challenge Account. The Millennium Challenge Account is a US foreign aid program designed to provide funding for poverty reduction programs in developing countries.

El Salvador recently submitted its completed project application to the Millennium Challenge Corporation which oversees the account. The plan calls for MCA funds to be used to support development across the northern third of El Salvador. Here is a description on the Salvadoran government's website devoted to obtaining these funds:
The Commission'’s consultations have confirmed the existence of a broad consensus among Salvadorans that the integration of the Northern Zone into the mainstream of El SalvadorÂ's economic and social development is a national priority.

This region includes 92 municipalities that, together, make up one-third of the national territory. More than one-half of its hou…

Are death squads conducting "social cleansing"?

From Reuters as reported in the Washington Post:
A spike in the number of murders of gang members and criminals in El Salvador is raising concern that resurgent death squads are carrying out "social cleansing," the Catholic Church said on Thursday.

Last year, 3,812 people were murdered in the Central American nation where a civil war between Marxist guerrillas and the right-wing government raged from 1980 to 1992, up from 2,993 killed in 2004. Church lawyers said in a report that the killings "systematically" targeted criminals, and recalled the brutal murders of rebels and sympathizers carried out by right-wing death squads during the war.

"The systematic nature of the cases leads one to believe that they have been committed to sow terror and carry out social cleansing," the report said.

The Church did not say who might be responsible for the killings, but during the conflict it was mostly members of the security forces.

The season of rains

El Salvador is nervously greeting the regular storms of the rainy season. The country is currently under a "green alert", for caution, because the soils are already saturated from previous rains and storms are predicted on Thursday. This year La Prensa Grafica has inaugurated a special section devoted to the rainy season with weather forecasts, news stories, and information on shelters and any damage which might occur. Flooding and mudslides from rains produced by Hurricane Stan in fall 2005 left thousands homeless and killed more than 70.

Saca speaks out against "socialist experiments"

In an interview in the Financial Times, El Salvador's president Tony Saca recently spoke out against the policies being implemented in leftist governments in South America, such as Bolivia and Venezuela:
"Socialist experiments, state experiments end up bankrupting countries," said Mr Saca. "We [in El Salvador] have already lived through it. We had an agricultural reform that was a disaster, we had a state takeover of the banks which was mired in corruption. The state should be small but strong. It should not get in the way."

Mr Saca, of the centre-right Nationalist Republican Alliance (Arena), said political changes in Bolivia, for example, were not the best option for growth and development.

"I have to respect [the results of Bolivia's recent elections]. But you are asking me my opinion about whether I believe in that [model]; I don't . . . I believe in open economies, in free trade. I believe in justice."

He also criticised Mr Chavez's polic…

Cup of Excellence winners

The Cup of Excellence competition has given its 2006 awards to the
winning coffee farms in El Salvador. This year, 23 farms had the necessary score of 84, up from 17 farms in 2005. The highest rated coffee, with a score of 94, was a rainforest-certified bean of the bourbon variety from the Las Mercedes farm in Usulután. International coffee buyers will participate in an internet auction of these prize-winning coffees later this month.

What Salvadoran bloggers are saying -- about Tony Saca

The president of El Salvador, Tony Saca, presented a report on the first two years of his administration to the Salvadoran National Assembly on June 1. Jjmar at the Hunnapuh blog watched the proceedings and wrote with disappointment (es) about the conduct of the opposition FMLN legislators listening to Saca. Describing the atmosphere as more of a circus, than a solemn plenary session of the legislature, Jjmar told how ARENA deputies applauded at every pause in Saca's address and the FMLN deputies jeered and showed their disagreement. This led Jjmar to plead:
In a solemn plenary session, Mr. and Ms. Deputy, one has to listen with attention and respect to the principal speaker. It could be that you like or don't like what is being said, but the correct thing is to learn to listen. It would appear that we Salvadorans only hear that which we like and accept it with enthusiasm, but we jeer at and do not listen to that which we do not like.

To learn to listen to others is vital fo…

Protests at US annual meeting of mining company

According to a story in the Denver Post, activists from the US-El Salvador Sister Cities Network plan to protest at the annual shareholder meeting of Au Martinique Silver in Denver on June 9. Au Martinique Silver is one of the gold mining companies undertaking exploration for gold deposits in the Salvadoran countryside. Activists assert that gold mining will cause environmental damage outweighing any economic benefit to the country.

John Nichols writes about the opposition on the website of The Nation:
An example of how the U.S.-El Salvador Sister Cities Network's solidarity model works will be seen Friday at the annual shareholders meeting of Au Martinique Silver Inc., a Canadian-registered mining exploration firm that is promoting development of a gold mine in the Salvadoran department roughly equivalent to a state of Chalatenango. The mining scheme has stirred broad opposition in Chalatenango, where farmers fear that waste from the mining operation will pollute local rivers and…

Saca's critics

Civil society organizations which are critical of the presidency of Tony Saca have released a critique of his first two years. The following statement of the coalition MPR-12 was republished on the website of US-El Salvador Sister Cities:
Two years of Mr. Saca: A Failure to Solve the Social and Economic Problems of the Salvadoran People

1. After two years of Mr. SacaÂ’s Presidency we consider that the current administration has not had the capacity to move the country toward economic growth, social equality or a stronger democracy. On the contrary, the economy has stalled, the concentration of wealth has grown, and there are worrisome signs of reversal in the democratic spaces negotiated through the peace accords.

2. During the last two years, the economy of the country has had minimal economic growth rates, 1.8% in 2004 and 2.8% in 2005Â… This stalled out economy is the result of the faithful application of neoliberal economic policy that favored the concentration of wealth and income,…

Two years of Tony Saca

The first two years of the presidency of Tony Saca are complete. He is the third president from the conservative ARENA party since the 1992 peace accords which settled El Salvador's civil war. Here are some of the major themes of his administration to date.

CAFTA adopted. The Central American Free Trade Agreement was ratified and became effective in El Salvador. Saca promotes it as a key force to help El Salvador rise from its economic doldrums, while civil society organizations worry about the impact on small farmers and the belief that El Salvador is ceding its economic sovereignty to multinational corporations.

Violent crime steadily increases. Month by month the murder rate in El Salvador has steadily increased. Saca has primarily pushed law enforcement approaches to the problem, and has added the military to police patrols, but nothing the government tries seems to work.

Close relations with US maintained. Tony Saca prides himself on being one of George Bush's closes…

The country's problems lower Saca's approval ratings slightly

June 1 marked the two year anniversary of the presidency of Tony Saca in El Salvador. In coming posts I will look at some of the events of those 24 months, but will start with the public perceptions of this president. Paradoxically, Tony Saca remains a popular politician, despite the problems facing the country.

In one poll taken by La Prensa Grafica, Saca's approval rating has fallen from 6.8 in August 2005 to 6.4 in May 2006 on a scale of 1 to 10. At the same time, the number of Salvadorans who believe the country is on the wrong track has risen from 52.9% to 62.3%.

Meanwhile, a poll from the University of Central America found Saca's approval rating fall from 7.27 to 6.23 between August 2004 and May 2006. While this has been a decline, it is still quite favorable compared to the ratings of another president, George W. Bush.

According to the La Prensa poll, Salvadorans believe the chief problems facing their country are:
Crime -- 26.1%Unemployment -- 18.1%Economy -- 9.2%…

The coyote who became a mayor

The Washington Post has a recent story about Narciso Chicho Ramirez, the former "coyote" or immigrant smuggler who won election to the post of mayor in Cara Sucia, El Salvador. Here is an excerpt:
The exact role Ramírez played in helping people reach the United States could not be determined through interviews. Still, his election in the municipality of San Francisco Menendez, which includes Cara Sucia, underscores the respect accorded here to reliable members of a profession generally considered callous and criminal in the United States. To many in Cara Sucia, Ramírez also serves as a reminder of a gentler, simpler time before the debate over immigration in the United States reached a fever pitch -- when the trip north was less dangerous and expensive, and trustworthy coyotes were easier to find.(more).

A disgraceful monument

Former Major Roberto D'Aubuisson gave the order to assassinate Archbishop [Oscar Romero] and gave precise instructions to members of his security service, acting as a 'death squad', to organize and supervise the assassination. From Madness to Hope: the 12-year war in El Salvador: Report of the Commission on the Truth for El Salvador, 1993, 127-138.

In the municipality of Antiguo Cuscatlan, neighboring San Salvador, they plan to erect a monument to this gross violator of human rights. An article in La Prensa Grafica describes how in this plaza, they will memorialize, Roberto d'Aubuisson, a sponsor of death squads and the man who directed the assassination of archbishop Oscar Romero. Construction has already begun on the monument.

The plaza is a tribute to the founder of the ARENA party and there are plans for a celebration by the party faithful. "We have been much delayed in recognizing the role that Roberto d'Aubuisson had in our country. We are very happy …