Top El Salvador Stories of 2006
Here's my round-up of the top El Salvador stories of 2006:
- Death of Schafik Handal. The long-time leader of the FMLN died suddenly of a heart attack in January. Schafik Handal's funeral brought tens of thousands to the streets of San Salvador.
- Elections for legislative assembly and mayors. Salvadorans went to the polls on March 12 to vote for deputies in the National Assembly and the mayors of towns and cities. ARENA and the FMLN ended up with almost a 50-50 split in the National Assembly, with the balance of power being held by the minor parties who tend to form alliances with ARENA. The FMLN lost control of a significant number of municipalities and almost lost the mayor's race in San Salvador.
- Wave of violence rolls over country. El Salvador is now known as the most violent country in Latin America, and nothing the government has attempted to do has had any impact in reducing the murder rate.
- DR-CAFTA in first year of implementation. El Salvador was the first country to fully implement the Central American free trade agreement with the US. The impacts are difficult to measure. As required by the treaty, the government cracked down on sales of pirated CDs and DVDs causing protests by street vendors, and there was some sign of negative impacts on El Salvador's agricultural sector.
- July 5 protest shootings. Street demonstrations turned deadly violent on July 5 outside the University of El Salvador. Two policemen were killed and several wounded by a sharpshooter among the protesters, provoking a strong clamp down by the police and raising fears that the political polarization in the country might be leading to violence.
- Remittances are dominant economic force. Money flowing back into the country from the Salvadorans who have flowed out of the country over the past 25 years has a dramatic impact in shaping the country's economy.
- US immigration policy. With an estimated 2.5 million Salvadorans in the US, legally and illegally, efforts at US immigration reform are closely watched. Another extension of Temporary Protected Status allowed more than 200,000 to remain in the US, while the debate in the US Congress over building a border fence or creating a guest worker program is still hanging in the air.
- Protests against gold mining. The price of gold is at record levels and this has prompted gold mining companies from Canada and elsewhere to step up plans to prospect and exploit El Salvador's mineral resources. Fears of environmental disaster have prompted several grass roots protests in the mining regions.
- Impact of rising oil prices. Since El Salvador imports almost all of its petroleum products, the rise in world oil prices in 2006 was felt keenly by the poor in El Salvador, especially as the price of basic bus fares was increased.
- Growth of Salvadoran blogosphere. Over the course of this year, the number and quality of Salvadoran bloggers has continued to grow, offering an alternative look from multiple viewpoints of the reality in El Salvador.