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Showing posts from March, 2007

The US Embassy in El Salvador

There is little doubt about the enormous influence which the United States has in El Salvador. Presidents of El Salvador have been regular visitors to the White House. The US is the largest exporter to El Salvador and is El Salvador's largest market. US-based franchises such as Pizza Hut, Sherwin Williams, Coca-Cola and Tony Roma appear in commercial districts. Television shows and movies made in the US dubbed into Spanish are on the airwaves and in the stalls of pirated DVD vendors. Salvadorans in the US, both documented and undocumented, send home more than $2 billion, representing one sixth of the Salvadoran economy. Salvadoran troops fight in the US war in Iraq.

As a consequence, the activities of the US Embassy in El Salvador and its new Ambassador, Charles Glazer have tremendous significance in the country, both real and symbolic. And somewhat to my surprise, I've come to learn that some of the staff at the embassy are among the readers of this blog. So they told m…

Founding director of Tutela Legal dies

María Julia Hernández, the founding director of Tutela Legal, died today of a heart condition at the age of 68. Tutela Legal is the human rights office of the Archbishop of San Salvador. She studied philosophy and law at the University of Central America in San Salvador. She worked with Archbishop Oscar Romero during his three years at the head of El Salvador's Catholic church from 1977-1980. From that time forward, Tutela Legal and María Julia Hernández have been some of the most credible and consistent voices regarding the protection of human rights in El Salvador.

From a 2003 forum:

Tutela Legal was organized during 1978 as part of the efforts by the archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero, and his successor, Arturo Rivera y Damas, to create commissions and organizations to defend human rights. Hernandez said that in the late 1970s and 1980s, human rights activists in El Salvador knew they needed to have strong, scientific evidence as the basis to denounce abuses. At the time,…

Signs of the times

Some messages seen recently on signs around El Salvador:
In a globalized world -- success is in English -- on a sign for courses at a local college.

Be builders of Social Peace -- painted on a brick wall topped with razor wire.

When you pay your taxes, you win. San Salvador - We're moving forward! -- message of municipal government on signs all around the city.

We're waiting for you in Houston and Los Angeles -- billboard of a Salvadoran chain of stores selling furniture and appliances.

We are working on the damage caused by Hurricane Stan -- regarding flood and landslide damage which ocurred in October 2005.

You chose her. Protect her. Think, Control Yourself, Be Faithful -- sign promoting government AIDS prevention campaign.

FMLN 2009 -- getting an early start on the campaign.

The conflict over gold

Passions run wide and deep when it comes to the question of gold mining in El Salvador. In a discussion I had with community leaders in Chalatenango province yesterday, no topic provoked as much vehement discourse as their opposition to the plans by gold mining companies to explore for gold and commence operations. With their voices still ringing in my ears, I looked on the internet and was confronted by today's press release by Pacific Rim, one of the Canadian gold mining companies operating in El Salvador. The release said in part:
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA -- (MARKET WIRE) -- March 27, 2007 -- Surface mapping and sampling at Pacific Rim Mining Corp.'s ("Pacific Rim" or "the Company") Zamora gold project in El Salvador has greatly expanded the size of the epithermal vein system on this project and identified bonanza gold grades...

The Zamora epithermal vein system has been traced over a strike length of approximately 21 kilometers, with high grade gold…

Religion and politics mix in El Salvador

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The legacy of a murdered archbishop and a polarized political situation creates a unique mixture of religion and politics in El Salvador. As I described in Saturday's post, Salvadorans commemorated the 27th anniversary of the assassination of archbishop Romero this weekend. The assassination was ordered by Roberto D' Aubuisson, founder of the ruling ARENA party.

Sunday night I observed in several localities that local FMLN organizations were conducting rallies to commemorate the anniversary of Romero's death. They sponsored public showings of films about Romero and band concerts. Shouts of "Que vive Romero! Que vive Farabundo Marti!" filled the air. The photo at the top of this post is from one of those rallies.

This prompted at friend who was with me to remark that the Romero "trademark" is a powerful one that many groups make use of. I have seen T-shirts for sale, for example, which include together the portraits of Che Guevara, Farabundo Mar…

27th anniversary of assassination of Oscar Romero

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March 24 is the 27th anniversary of the assassination and martyrdom of El Salvador's archbishop Oscar Romero. There were many events in commemoration throughout El Salvador and the world, and the following words from Romero's last homily rang out from many loudspeakers today:
I would like to appeal in a special way to the men of the army, and in particular to the troops of the National Guard, the Police, and the garrisons. Brothers, you belong to our own people. You kill your own brother peasants; and in the face of an order to kill that is given by a man, the law of God should prevail that says: Do not kill! No soldier is obliged to obey an order counter to the law of God. No one has to comply with an immoral law. It is time now that you recover your conscience and obey its dictates rather than the command of sin. The Church, defender of the rights of God, of the law of God, of the dignity of the human person, cannot remain silent before so much abomination.

We want the gover…

What Salvadoran bloggers are saying -- about the passing of a witness

If your only source of news was the main Salvadoran newspapers, you might have missed the story. The sole survivor of a notorious massacre of civilians during El Salvador civil war passed away on March 6. On December 6, 1981, Rufina Amaya, had somehow managed to escape from the government troops who systematically rounded up and savagely murdered the elderly, the women, the men, the children and the babies in her village, including her 8 month old child who was ripped from her arms. This war crime, known as the El Mozote massacre, led to the deaths of as many as 1000 campesinos in and around the village of El Mozote in Morazan province.

Both the Salvadoran government and the US government which was supporting the regime in 1981, denied that a wholesale massacre of civilians had taken place. After the war, the UN Truth Commission validated the details as have subsequent investigations. The story of the massacre and the subsequent denials were detailed subsequently by journal…

Museums of San Salvador

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In the past two days, I visited two museums in San Salvador. The first was the David Guzman National Anthrpology Museum. Once you go past the unimpressive entrance, you will find a very interesting collection of materials showing the evolution of Salvadoran culture beginning with indigenous cultures of the Mayans and other peoples. The museum is organized thematically, showing first the locations of human settlements in El Salvador, and then focusing on areas such as agriculture, religion, art, commerce and artisanship. There is a large collection of artifacts from archeological sites in the country. I recommend it to anyone visiting El Salvador.

Next was the Museum of Art of El Salvador. This museum has a small permanent exhibition devoted to Salvadoran painters of the twentieth century. It provides an overview of various trends in modern Salvadoran art, but omits, somewhat surprisingly to me, the painter Fernando Llort.

Photos from my visits:

David Guzman National Museum of An…

Update on slayings in Guatemala

Guatemalan authorities have arrested four persons whom they say are drug traffickers, linked to the killings of three Salvadoran politicians and their driver in Guatemala a month ago. From the Associated Press:
Four people tied to drug trafficking were arrested Tuesday on suspicion of being among those who orchestrated the killings of three Salvadoran politicians and their driver, Guatemala's interior minister said.

Carlos Vielman said the four suspects ordered corrupt police officers to kidnap the lawmakers in February and bring them to an isolated, rural area outside of Guatemala City.

Four police officers arrested in the case were later killed in jail. Another officer is still in custody, and a sixth is at large.

Vielman said the four new suspects - three men and one woman whom he called drug traffickers - helped police search the parliamentarians' car for drugs and bought gasoline used to torch the vehicle and burn the four bodies.

"They were the ones that took apart the …

Biogas in El Salvador

Finding sources of energy which are renewable and do not have negative environmental consequences is an important goal for El Salvador's future development. Raúl Gutiérrez at IPS describes how growing use of "biogas" can provide an alternative energy resource and reduce deforestation in El Salvador:
This biofuel is obtained through the fermentation of organic matter including manure, sewage sludge, municipal solid waste, biodegradable waste or any other biodegradable feedstock, under anaerobic conditions. Biogas is comprised primarily of methane and carbon dioxide.

Installing a biodigester does not require in-depth technical knowledge or a major investment, as the cost runs to no more than 300 dollars. The equipment can be homemade, poses no health risks, and does not produce offensive odours, while it helps cut family fuel expenses.

Biogas can be used as a fuel for vehicles or to generate electric power, and can also be burned directly for cooking, heating and lighting.

Economic growth is necessary but not sufficient

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) had a delegation visit El Salvador last week, and at the end of the visit, it issued a press release. Here are some excerpts:
The Salvadoran economy has strengthened during the last year, with output growth of 4¼ percent in 2006. Inflation rose to 5 percent, reflecting a sharp mid-year increase in the prices of petroleum products. Robust growth in nontraditional exports and remittances offset a decline in maquila exports, a higher oil import bill, and rising capital goods imports, thus maintaining the current account deficit at 4¾ percent of GDP.

The outlook for 2007 is favorable, with growth expected to be supported by investment and non-traditional exports. Lower oil prices should help bring along a reduction in inflation. The external current account deficit would be stable, with a reduction in the oil import bill compensating higher imports of investment goods.

The mission concurred with the authorities that a core challenge is sustaining a high…

Deadbeat parents from El Salvador

This is an aspect of Salvadoran emigration to the US which you do not often read how about -- what happens if a parent stops providing support to children left behind in El Salvador? NorthJersey.com describes how the Salvadoran government is pursuing deadbeat parents:

The Salvadoran government is hunting down deadbeat parents who immigrated to the United States but failed to support the children they left behind.

Calling unpaid child support a problem that devastates families in the Central American nation, El Salvador recently became only the third country in the Americas -- after Canada and Costa Rica -- to sign a bilateral agreement with the United States aimed at collecting money from deadbeat parents.

Salvadoran officials hope that deadbeat parents might face serious consequences, such as deportation. They also are seizing property the parents own in their homeland and providing their names to immigration officials so they can be flagged if they try to re-enter El Salvador.

"Th…

Vatican's notification to Fr. Jon Sobrino, S.J. made public

You can now read for yourself the notification from the Vatican to Father Sobrino declaring that certain propositions in his writings "are not in conformity with the doctrine of the Church."

There does not appear to be any sanction, punishment, or declaration that Fr. Sobrino may not teach or write in the future as had been previoiusly reported.

The full text of the Notification can be found here. An Explanatory Note which accompanies the Notification can be found here.

Update:

You may also want to read this comprehensive and balanced article by the LA Times.

Update on Sobrino story

Grant Gallicho, an associate editor of Commonweal magazine, has written on the magazine's blog that prior news reports have gotten the story wrong:

Jon Sobrino, SJ, put on notice.
March 13, 2007, 11:34 am
Posted by Grant Gallicho

The story hasn't made much of a splash Stateside, but Fr. Jon Sobrino, SJ, a well-known liberation theologian, is the subject of a "notification" by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which takes issue with several aspects of his Christology. The Spanish newspaper El Mundo broke the embargo on the document, and Catholic World News has run two stories on the matter, both of which contain a serious error. Their most recent story again claims that Sobrino has been sanctioned:
The disciplinary notice will reportedly stipulate that Father Sobrino should cease publishing theological works and cannot teach at a Catholic university while he maintains the positions that the Vatican has identified as clashing with Catholic doctrine.

Calling the…

SV Days -- great El Salvador photos

I am happy to report that David Mejia is once again maintaining his SV Days blog where he collects great photos from of El Salvador from Flickr and elsewhere. Make sure and visit it.

30th anniversary of murder of Rutilio Grande, S.J.

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Has the wealthy minority - who hold in their hands the economy, the power of decision, the control of the press and all the media - been transfigured? There are many baptized in our country who have not completely ingested the demands of the gospel: a total transfiguration. The Christian revolution is based on a love which excludes no single human being. Jesus, after all, enfleshed himself as one of our peasants to share their miseries. Can we call ourselves his followers and not do the same?
-Rutilio Grande, SJ-
Today, March 12, is the 30th anniversary of the martyrdom of Father Rutilio Grande, S.J. Rutilio Grande was a Jesuit priest working with poor campesinos in the area around El Paisnal, El Salvador. On March 12, 1977, while driving on the road between El Paisnal and Aguilares, unknown assassins killed Father Grande, as well as two of his campesino parishioners, Manuel Solorzano, 72, and Nelson Rutilio Lemus, 16. Rutilio Grande was a friend of Archbishop Oscar Romero…

Saca's approval ratings positive but dropping

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Polling by La Prensa Grafica shows Salvadoran president Tony Saca with positive approval ratings, but they are at the lowest point of his 2 1/2 years in office. The poll results show Saca with a 57% approval rating, down from 74% at the beginning of his term, and an average grade of 6.1 out of 10, down from 7.5. The responses show that crime was the item of greatest concern of those Salvadorans polled, and fully 70% believed that Saca was not achieving anything in reducing crime.

Jon Sobrino, Jesuit theologian, to be disciplined by Vatican

Father Jon Sobrino, is a prominent Roman Catholic teacher and proponent of liberation theology who teaches at the University of Central America in San Salvador. Now, according to published reports, the Vatican has moved to silence him:
A Jesuit theologian who is a leading exponent of liberation theology will soon be disciplined by the Vatican, according to the Spanish newspaper El Mundo.

Father Jon Sobrino will be barred from teaching in Catholic schools and instructed not to publish written works, El Mundo reports, citing informed sources at the Vatican. The newspaper claims that the disciplinary measures will be announced by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith within the next two weeks.

Father Sobrino’s work was cited as distorting the role of Jesus in the plan of salvation, the Vatican sources said. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reportedly found that his theological works placed an undue emphasis on the figure of Jesus as a human actor involved in social …

Cruz Hernadez, oldest Salvadoran, dies

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Although I write about topics like justice, economics, politics and trade on this blog, the most-read entries, by far, have been those entries about Cruz Hernandez. Doña Cruz, was purported to be 128 years old before she died yesterday, which would have made her the oldest person who ever lived anywhere in the world. Although there are good reasons to doubt that she was quite this old, her life story is still a rich one of growing up and living an entire life in rural El Salvador.

State Department Human Rights Report for El Salvador

The US State Department has released its 2006 report on human rights conditions worldwide. The summary for El Salvador states:
Although the government generally respected the rights of its citizens, protection of human rights was undermined by widespread violent crime, including gang-related violence, impunity, and corruption. The most significant human rights problems included harsh, violent, and overcrowded prison conditions; lengthy pretrial detention; inefficiency and corruption in the judicial system; violence and discrimination against women; abuses against children, child labor, and forced child prostitution; trafficking in persons; discrimination against persons with disabilities; discrimination against indigenous persons; discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation; and lack of enforcement of labor rights.
Read the complete report on El Salvador here.

Peace Corps volunteers in El Salvador

A week ago, the Miami Herald ran this story about US Peace Corps volunteers in El Salvador:
On a parched corner of this Central American nation where searing heat and dust punish those who live here, Brendan McCleary leads a group of youngsters on a hike for an up-close look at the hemisphere's second-most deforested country.

"It's hot here, right? Why?" McCleary, 24, asks the nodding children at a clearing in the sparse woods.

"Because there are no trees," several shout.

McCleary and Nathan Dollar, stationed at another community in the same region, are part of a reviving U.S. program that was launched by President Kennedy in 1961: the Peace Corps.

The agency rose to 15,500 volunteers in the mid-1960s, then dropped to about 5,000 in the Reagan era. With little fanfare or publicity, the Peace Corps has grown again to some 7,750 volunteers, mostly single young adults involved in everything from health to agriculture assistance programs in 139 countries. Once vie…

Rufina Amaya Presente!

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Sad news from El Salvador in this communication from Voices on the Border, about the death of Rufina Amaya:

March 6, 2007

Dear friends,

We are sorry to bring sad news. Today, at 12:30 PM, Rufina Amaya, known around the world as the sole survivor of the infamous massacre at El Mozote (December 11, 1981), drew her last breath. She had gone into the hospital with respiratory problems and later a stroke. Due to complications with her diabetes and hypertension, she suffered multiple heart attacks and strokes in her final moments. Rufina gave birth to 11 children, only 2 survived, the oldest, Fidelia, and the youngest, Marta. The rest died either in the massacre or during the war.

The massacre at El Mozote Dec. 11th, 1981, orchestrated and carried out by the Salvadoran military with the backing of the U.S. government, claimed over 1,000 lives. Rufina´s survival and escape was miracle, even as she heard the screams and cries of her townspeople, and even her own children, as they were bruta…

News and blog coverage of the murders in Guatemala

What Salvadoran bloggers are saying:

Recent events involving the murder of four Salvadorans in Guatemala have dominated the blogosphere in El Salvador. On February 19, three members of the Central American parliament (PARLACEN) from El Salvador's ruling ARENA party were found murdered in Guatemala along with their driver. The group had been traveling to a working group meeting of PARLACEN. The bodies were found in a rural area outside of Guatemala City, in the burned out shell of the vehicle in which they had been driving. Among the dead was Eduardo D'Aubuisson, son of the founder of ARENA.

Initially the reaction in the Salvadoran blogosphere was to call for restraint[ES], avoiding a rush to judgment, and calling for an in depth investigation[ES]. Jjmar wrote that no one should seek to take advantage of the murders[ES] for political gain, whether to further the political polarization in El Salvador or to gain a benefit in the 2009 election campaign.

Fears of a political motive we…

Sightseeing with Google Satellite Maps

Here's an interesting website that has collected links to satellite images of well-known locations in El Salvador:

www.satellite-sightseer.com/country/El_Salvador.

CAFTA's one-year anniversary

This week marked the one year anniversary of the effective date for El Salvador of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). As was true when the treaty was adopted, the views of whether the agreement is benefiting El Salvador are sharply split. US and Salvadoran government officials praised perceived benefits of the treaty, saying that 29 new businesses have opened in El Salvador since CAFTA went into effect, and another nine have expanded their operations.

According to figures from the El Salvador's Central Reserve Bank, exports to the US market totaled $2.005 billion in 2006, a little less than the $2.057 billion in 2005. However, Salvadoran authorities pointed to "excellent" growth in exports of El Salvador's traditional products -- coffee, sugar and shrimp -- and in non-traditional products -- artisan objects, ethnic foods, medicines, fruits and vegetables. Those traditional and non-traditional areas grew by 68% or $403.7 million over 2005. Howeve…

The politics of international loans

Under El Salvador's constitution, obtaining an international loan requires a 2/3rds vote in the National Assembly. The FMLN lacks a majority in the National Assembly, but its legislative block has more than the necessary third to stop loan approvals.

Currently the government has international organizations lined up to loan El Salvador $436.4 million. The loans, from the World Bank and the InterAmerican Development Bank, are designated for such purposes as basic education, improving rural roads, public safety, and Solidarity Net, the Saca government's anti-poverty program. The FMLN has so far blocked approval of these loans, insisting that it wants the results of audits of 16 prior international loans and scrutiny of how money which was previously borrowed has been spent.

Tony Saca is turning up the heat on the FMLN, warning that the opposition leftist party will be responsible for blocking programs designed to make investment in vulnerable sectors of society. The head of t…