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Showing posts from April, 2007

More on the ILEA

My post concerning the ILEA a few days ago was more of a position piece than what I usually write. To help even things out, here is a report from a visit to the ILEA by representatives of the School of the Americas Watch:
VISIT TO INTERNATIONAL LAW ACADEMY (ILEA) San Salvador

By SOAW/CISPES Delegation - March 21, 2007

Report written by Lisa Sullivan, SOAW Latin America Coordinator

Background on visit

In March 2007 a delegation of the School of Americas Watch visited El Salvador as part of the SOAW Latin America initiative. El Salvador was the twelfth country visited by an SOAW delegation, part of a series of visits to all Latin American countries that are currently sending students to the SOA. The goal of the initiative is to encourage governments to reconsider their participation at SOA and to engage local organizations in the campaign to close the school.

Prior to the visit to El Salvador, members of the delegation had heard numerous concerns expressed about the new Latin American I…

Walking in the shoes of a migrant

My friend Meg Marshall spent the past 18 months as a volunteer with Catholic Relief Services in El Salvador. Her time in the country now over, Meg returned to the US by land, following the route of so many Salvadoran migrants. She details what she learned on this journey in an article titled Walking in the Shoes of a Migrant on the Catholic Relief Services web site:
I decided to travel by land from El Salvador to Mexico, not as a tourist, but as an engaged person of faith, open to the unknown that I might encounter. As I grew to love El Salvador and her people, their struggles also became a part of my heart. For me, the decision to leave El Salvador by land through Mexico (the way most Salvadorans do), became a spiritual pilgrimage in the making.

The United Nations estimates that 700 Salvadorans leave their homes each day and begin traveling north, mainly to the Unites States, to search for jobs so they can support their families back in El Salvador. While CRS is working to improve ec…

Opposition to ILEA has faulty premise

Reviewing news articles this week, I came across an article in Upside Down World calling for protests to close the US-sponsored International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) in El Salvador. The article, written by J.L. Heyward of CISPES, is an unfortunate collection of unsupported allegations, irrelevant connections, and logical fallacies.

Heyward's basic position is:
The project is a US attempt to continue militarizing Latin American police and to essentially "export" the US's criminal justice system to Latin America from a base in El Salvador.

It can also be thought of as a last ditch attempt of the US government to maintain dominance in the Latin American region, as socialist movement and electoral revolution is on the rise.
I would think most people would think that exporting the US criminal justice system -- where judges and prosecutors are not corrupt, where the rights of the accused are respected, where police are experts at investigating crime -- would be a s…

Anti-gang conference in El Salvador

Law enforcement officials held a two day conference in San Salvador to discuss methods for combating transnational gangs. An article describing the conference from WorldNetDaily does not really identify any new strategies or plans that the assembled officials have devised to deal with the problem.

One theme was the ability of the gangs to communicate with members throughout the world:
Members of Hispanic gangs such as MS-13 and the 18th Street Gang are mobile, both within the United States and back to their home countries.

"With the Internet and cell phones, the Hispanic gangs are now international gangs," he continued. "Gangs operate from prison and deportation simply returns the gang member back home, where gang membership just continues."

Several conference attendees mentioned that Hispanic gang members use MySpace.com to post personal information and brag about their exploits.

"MySpace.com is huge," Frank Flores, an LAPD detective in the Gang Information …

The university and the maquila

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The University of Wisconsin is trying to decide what to do about the fact that sportswear with its logo was produced by an Adidas contractor in El Salvador which exploited its workers. And after that maquila factory owner absconded with funds owed to workers and shut his factory, the workers in a trade union have been blacklisted from finding other employment at other Adidas contractors.

The maquila factory where the workers had been employed was Hermosa Manufacturing in Apopa, El Salvador. Hermosa was a contractor for Adidas and other brands. The violations of workers rights which occurred at the factory have been the focus of anti-sweatshop activists for several years. Now activists are pressuring universities like Wisconsin to cut their licensing deals with Adidas for the actions of Adidas' contractor.

UW sent a fact-finding mission to El Salvador, and the UW officials are now expressing their concern over the blacklisting of former Hermosa workers: Crim said she met with…

Jingles and more

There isn't anything you can't find on the Internet it often seems. If you want to see jingles from Salvadoran TV channels, as well as the 1975 Miss Universe pageant in El Salvador, or a Salvadoran telethon, the blog Television, Advertising and Videos of El Salvador is for you.

The road north

Debates about immigration reform in the US must always keep in mind that migrants are real people with families and hopes and dreams. One such life story is told by Debbie in The Story of Me I Didn't Know.

After I wrote this post, Armano directed me to this video tribute to Salvadoran migrants which he created:


Roque Dalton, El Salvador's tragic revolutionary poet

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“Poetry, like bread, is for everyone.”
— from the poem “Like You”
by Roque Dalton.

Throughout the 1960's and the first half of the 1970's, the muse of revolutionary movements in El Salvador was poet Roque Dalton. Using the pen, while also committed to armed struggle, Dalton captured the spirit of a generation of intellectuals committed to the overthrow of the oligarchy in El Salvador. Inspired by the Cuban revolution in 1959, Dalton was a pre-eminent literary voice of the movement.

Dalton's influence is described by Curbstone, the publisher of some of his poetry in English translation in this way:
Roque Dalton (1935-1975) was an enormously influential figure in the history of Latin America as a poet, essayist, intellectual and revolutionary. As a poet who brilliantly fused politics and art, his example could be said to have permanently changed the direction of Central American poetry. Author of eighteen volumes of poetry and prose, one of which (Taverna y otros poemas) recei…

Raul Moreno on Chicago Public Radio

A harsh critique of DR-CAFTA and neoliberal economic policies from a leftist viewpoint was recently presented to public radio listeners in Chicago by Salvadoran economist Raul Moreno. After studying economics in Madrid and El Salvador, Raul Moreno worked as an economist and economic consultant for the Central Bank of El Salvador as well as for numerous international organizations and foundations. Among them were CEPAL (Comision Economica para America Latina y el Caribe), Save the Children Sweden, Consumers International and the Centro de Investigación para la Paz in Madrid, Spain. In addition to serving as president of the Centre of Defense of Consumer’s Rights (CDC), he lectures at the department of economics at the University of El Salvador.

His remarks, translated into English, can be heard at this link.

Calvo Tuna and labor issues

In the summer of 2006, the European Union was going to eliminate El Salvador's preferred trade status because of El Salvador's failure to approve certain conventions of the International Labor Organization. It was pressure from Grupo Calvo, a Spanish company which processes tuna in El Salvador, which got El Salvador to ratify the worker protection measures and avoid loss of those trade benefits.

Raul Guttierez of IPS now reports that Grupo Calvo is flouting labor laws in El Salvador by terminating employees involved in forming a union at the plant:
Gilberto García, vice president of the Centre for Labour Studies and Support (CEAL), said Calvo's campaign for better labour laws was motivated "more by commercial considerations than concern for working conditions." The Spanish company's actions belie its words, he told IPS.

"It's a scandal that Grupo Calvo should fail to fulfil the ILO conventions, after exerting pressure in favour of their ratification,…

Foreign minister at immigrant detention center

This weekend El Salvador's foreign minister, Francisco Laínez, is in southern Texas, visiting facilities where Salvadorans are being detained for being in the US illegally. On Friday, April 13, the foreign minister visited the Willacy County Detention Center in Raymondville, Texas to "see first hand" the conditions in which Salvadorans are being held, and to emphasize the risks to Salvadorans who try to enter the US illegally.

The Willacy County Detention Center was built in the first half of 2006 to house 2000 undocumented immigrants prior to their being deported from the US. According to El Diario del Hoy, the center currently holds 1129 Salvadorans including 338 women. The Democracy Now website has an interview with an immigration lawyer who represents clients held in the facility and describes the conditions there.

Head of the Department of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff described the reason for the growing number of Salvadoran detainees:
[T]here's one popul…

2009 electoral politics

The leading parties in El Salvador are already talking about how they will choose their candidates for the next presidential election to take place in March 2009.

The right wing ARENA party announced recently that it will use internal party elections to chose a candidate. The elections will not use a secret ballot, but will consist of party members raising their hands to vote for a candidate.

Meanwhile Diario CoLatinoreports that FMLN party coordinator Medardo Gonzalez confirmed that Mauricio Funes is one of the persons with a "strong possibility" of being the FMLN's presidential candidate in 2009. The other name mentioned by Gonzalez as having a strong possibility was Salvador Sánchez Cerén, secretary general of the FMLN, and deputy in the National Assembly elected from San Salvador. Gonzalez stated that the party would know the identity of its presidential candidate by the end of 2007.

Mauricio Funes is widely considered to be the best interviewer on television new…

More ethanol jeopardizes food security worldwide

I have previously mentioned the plans to locate an ethanol plant in El Salvador, as part of a joint project with Brazil and the US. Although the plant planned for El Salvador will process sugar cane, US ethanol plans focus on the use of corn. This demand for corn for fuel is driving up the price of basic foodstuffs for the poor throughout the world, according to the International Monetary Fund.

A very thorough description of the ethanol/food costs tradeoff appears in Foreign Affairs, in an article titled How Biofuels Could Starve the Poor. I recommend the article to anyone who wants to explore the issue. Here is one passage from the article:
The World Bank has estimated that in 2001, 2.7 billion people in the world were living on the equivalent of less than $2 a day; to them, even marginal increases in the cost of staple grains could be devastating. filling the 25-gallon tank of an SUV with pure ethanol requires over 450 pounds of corn -- which contains enough calories to feed …

Waves batter El Salvador's coast

Storms far out in the Pacific Ocean resulted in damaging waves reaching El Salvador's coast today. According to the AP:
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) - Unusually high Pacific waves battered beaches from El Salvador to Mexico and carried people out to sea, prompting authorities in some places to order swimmers out of the water Tuesday.

At least two people were killed.

Waves topping three metres swept away a dozen swimmers near La Libertad on Monday, 10 of whom were plucked from the water by boats and a helicopter, Green Cross emergency worker Jose Larin said. A 35-year-old man and a 16-year-old boy were killed.

El Salvador's government advised people "to avoid swimming at our beaches due to the risk," Interior Minister Miguel Bolanos told a news conference Tuesday.

Hundreds of kilometres to the north in Mexico, 16 people were rescued after being carried away by high surf in the resorts Acapulco and Mazatlan. Lifeguards in Mazatlan ordered swimmers out of the water, loca…

Cell phones in El Salvador

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Source SIGET


Any casual observer in El Salvador will notice that cell phone use is booming throughout the country. The result is access to communications for many persons and families who did not have such access only four or five years ago. The most recent statistics (through first half of 2006):

Total land lines: 985 thousand
Total mobile lines: 3.12 million
Prepaid mobile phones as % of total: 85%
Here is a description of El Salvador's market from one telecommunications consulting firm:
El Salvador: The country's telecom market is among the most open in Central America. The government's liberal approach has allowed new technologies to flourish. Fixed-line teledensity, however, remains low. Despite growing steadily, phone lines, mainly in rural areas, are insufficient to meet local demand. Mobile telcos have capitalised on the underdeveloped fixed-line network by emphasising their ability to offer a fast, high-quality service with nationwide coverage. At more than 42…

Happy Easter

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The beaches of El Salvador are full with vacationers as this picture from La Prensa shows. See all of the beach action at this La Prensa photo gallery.

Happy Easter everyone!
¡Feliz Pascua a todos!

Reuniting families separted by the civil war

Several papers had feature stories this week about Suzanne Marie Berghaus, who as a baby had been adopted by parents from Massachusetts, who never knew that she had been forcibly taken from her birth parents by soldiers during El Salvador's civil war. This week Ms. Berghaus was reunited with her birth parents in El Salvador:
Ms. Berghaus, a 26-year-old from the Boston suburbs, walked into a humble homestead here in rural El Salvador on Tuesday and spotted someone a generation older with a face that resembled her own but whom she did not know. Then, mother and daughter embraced.

Soon after, others came for hugs of their own. Confronted with siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews — strangers all — Ms. Berghaus wiped tears from her cheeks. “Hola,” she said, one of the few Spanish words she knows.

This was a family reunion of a most unusual sort. Wrapped in it was a profound personal story as well as that of El Salvador’s bitter civil war, which long ago came to a formal end but still …

Semana Santa

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Throughout the Christian World it's Holy Week. In El Salvador, "Semana Santa" is a time of religious celebrations, trips to the beach and family reunions as the whole country goes on vacation. From the web sites of La Prensa and El Diario, you can see and hear many of the activities of the week throughout the country. For example, here is a collection of photo galleries of religious processions:
Palm Sunday in Panchimalco. Photo Gallery.Procession of "Jesús en la sombra." Photo galleryThe Way of the Cross in San Salvador Photo Gallery.Procession of the Resurrected Christ in San Salvador Photo Gallery.La Prensa's Semana Santa section is here. El Diario de Hoy is here.

Amnesty and the ex-Ambassador

The 1993 amnesty law, passed after the conclusion of El Salvador's 12 year civil war, has meant that many crimes committed by death squads, government troops, and guerilla forces have gone uninvestigated and unjudged by El Salvador's government. Human rights' activists continue to call for that law to be repealed, as a recent article on the IPS news service reminds us:
Many voices [are] calling for the repeal of a 1993 amnesty law seen by activists and United Nations experts as the biggest hurdle to achieving respect for human rights, as the country's homicide rate soars and forced disappearances are occurring once again.

Salvadoran Human Rights Ombudswoman Beatrice de Carrillo reported a further rise in the murder rate -- already one of the highest in the world -- and a resurgence of forced disappearances in recent months.

She also complained that the amnesty law has created a climate of impunity and is blocking investigations into the whereabouts of the remains of tho…

El Salvador to be involved in ethanol project

As part of a new biofuel/ethanol initiative sponsored by the US and Brazil, El Salvador will apparently be the location for an early demonstration according to reports:
Ethanol heavyweights Brazil and the U.S. have chosen El Salvador as the site of a biofuels feasibility study, President Tony Saca said Sunday.

Saca said the governments of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and U.S. President George W. Bush sent him word that they had chosen El Salvador for the pilot program during their meeting Saturday at the Camp David presidential retreat. It was not clear what the pilot program would entail.

"This ratifies El Salvador as the best prepared country in the region to develop a platform and be an alternative energy model," Saca said.

Saca expressed hope that ethanol and other biofuels can create opportunities for this Central American country's sugarcane industry and decrease dependence on oil.
Additional coverage of the announcement in La Prensa Grafica is found he…

Community Radio in El Salvador

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Radio Sumpul is noncommercial, community radio broadcasting from Guarjilla in Chalatenango province. It is part of a network of community radio stations stretching across El Salvador known as ARPAS.

Radio Sumpul, like other stations in ARPAS, plays a variety of music, news and educational programs for all ages of listeners. The operation at Radio Sumpul is staffed by volunteers. One of the staff explained to me that the volunteers, most of whom are women, work at the station because they are commited to the project and because they are able to gain experience working with the technology of an actual radio station.

Radio Sumpul and the other radio stations do not accept political ads from any political party. Accepting ads or endorsing candidates could jeopardize their ability to function independently.

Radio Sumpul has a sister radio station at WERU in Blue Hill and Bangor, Maine. On the website archives at WERU you can listen to a variety of reports broadcast originally by Radio…