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Showing posts from July, 2007

Marvin

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This is a picture of Marvin taken when I met him 6 years ago. It was easy to remember Marvin -- he was the boy who loved to jump on the bus with us when we were in his community. Yesterday, while working as a fare-taker on a bus, teen-ager Marvin was shot 7 times and killed instantly by a robber, becoming another victim of the senseless violence in El Salvador.

I don't know what to say in the face of such tragedy -- not just the loss of Marvin, but the countless other sons and daughters of El Salvador, whose lives are cut short by criminal violence.

Perhaps there is some hope to be found in these words of another victim of a murderer's bullet, archbishop Oscar Romero:
No, brothers and sisters,
El Salvador need not always live like this.
“I will tear off the veil of shame
that covers it among all peoples.
I will wipe away the tears”
of all those mothers who no longer have tears
for having wept so much
over their children who are not found.
Here too will he take away the sorrow
of all t…

Two Visitors, Two Views

Two people from the US recently visited El Salvador and wrote reflections about those visits which were published on Internet sites. One is hopeful. One is pessimistic. Both probably capture equally valid aspects of the reality of this tiny Central American country.

Brad Andrews spent 4 weeks living in Ciudad Romero in the Lempa River valley. His article, Living Stories - Life In Ciudad Romero, El Salvador concludes this way:
The community grew to what it is today, a mix of old and new, of hope and careful optimism. Compared to what we know here in the United States, life for them is hard. The work in the fields is hot. There are few comforts. But compared to what the community has lived through, life is good. People have solid homes, running water, adequate food. They work for themselves. The land is their own. There are elders in the community who will pass along the story of their struggle to the new generations. And there are swarms of children, going off to school each morn…

Coming to El Salvador: Voluntarily or involuntarily

Two statistics caught my eye today:

17,000 -- the number of visitors El Salvador expects to have for the August holidays and Salvador del Mundo festivities.

12,115 -- the number of Salvadorans deported from the United States to El Salvador during the first six months of 2007, twice the level of deportations occurring in 2006.

Update on Suchitoto 13

The 9 detainees who remained in prison were ordered released today on conditional liberty. 4 others had been released last week. The defense had been able to convince the court that the defendants had family, home and work roots in the community and were not a risk to disappear before trial. Note, however, that this release does not drop the terrorism charges against those arrested with the possible stiff prison terms.

On July 19, the office of the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDDH) issued its report on the July 2 events in and around Suchitoto. A copy of the report can be downloaded here. Among his findings: (1) the riot police failed to attempt to mediate a peaceful resolution to clear the streets and instead used disproportionate force against the those gathered in protest; (2) the presence and actions of the armed forces violated the limits set out in El Salvador's post civil war constitution; (3) the arrests were illegitimate and the anti-Terror law should not apply to such …

Luis Ernesto Romero and Homies Unidos

Homies Unidos is an organization working with Salvadoran gang members in El Salvador and Los Angeles. Its director in El Salvador, Luis Ernesto Romero, has been recognized by the CNN television network as a "CNN Hero" and a "Community Crusader."

From the CNN web site:
There are more than 12,000 gang members in El Salvador, according to police estimates. Luis Ernesto Romero used to be one of them. Today, he is director of Homies Unidos El Salvador. Its mission: to help youths leave the gang life through education and job training.
You can view the CNN video about this Salvadoran hero at this link.

More information about Homies Unidos is available at its website (which is currently undergoing a makeover and has a number of broken links) and in this article.

San Salvador's baseball stadium

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A blog on the US Major League Baseball website focuses on baseball stadiums around the world, and this week it featured the stadium in San Salvador, Saturnino Bengoa Baseball Park, which has a unique feature for those pitching staffs which need a little help:
The baseball stadium in San Salvador has a good solution...build a church next to the bullpen area. Not only do you provide some options for the stadium staff but you also give your bullpen a little extra help! The catholic church behind the left field bleachers can be accessed through a gate in the bullpen

Different views of what constitutes "social peace"

Eight and one half months ago, president Tony Saca established a special Commission of Citizen Security and Social Peace, made up of representatives of all 5 political parties as well as representatives of churches, business and universities. Two weeks ago, the Commission issued its report titled Security and Peace, Challenge of a Nation: Recommendations for a Policy of Citizen Security in El Salvador. The report contains 75 consensus recommendations, summarized in El Faro. Among them:
Expansion of gun control rules, Revision of the criminal and juvenile codes, Greater financial support and control of the National Civil Police (PNC),Re-engineering the prosecution and police institutions devoted to fighting crime, greater emphasis on prevention, Providing a more active role for local governments.But I don't think certain legislation to be introduced in the National Assembly next week was part of the recommendations of the Commission. Tony Saca confirmed that his security cabinet…

Homicides down slightly in first half of 2007

Hopefully it's a sign of future improvements. The homicide rate in El Salvador has declined over the first six months of 2007 in comparison to the same time period in 2006. According to statistics released by the government, there were 1743 murders through June 2007, compared with 1878 the prior year. That level is still way too high, but maybe it is the start of El Salvador turning the corner on its murder problem.

Romero's a saint, but we didn't kill him

They were in Washington to respond to proceedings about irregularities in the administration of justice in El Salvador, including issues of impunity. In an odd public statement, designed to change the subject, Salvadoran officials announced their government would ask the Vatican to beatify slain archbishop Oscar Romero:

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP)—The Salvadoran government said Friday it will ask the Vatican to beatify slain Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, but it will not accept responsibility in his 1980 killing.

Security and Justice Vice Minister Astor Escalante announced the decision during a meeting with supporters of the archbishop at the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights' offices in Washington late Wednesday .

Deputy Foreign Minister Eduardo Calix confirmed the decision Friday in an interview with The Associated Press in El Salvador.

"The state can't accept responsibility because there was a clear person responsible for the killing, and that person was tri…

Solidarity

A story recently appeared on the Internet of a trip to El Salvador and how it became the basis for ten Ohio churches to have sister church relationships with communities in Chalatenango. These person-to-person, community-to-community relationships, are true examples of what is meant by the word "solidarity."

Ten years ago this week, 12 intrepid travelers from northeast Ohio packed seven four-wheel-drive vehicles with supplies and set out on a 3,500-mile adventure to Central America.

Named "Caravana," the mission of faith and love would become the foundation for many new cross-cultural relationships, outreach projects and visits that continue to multiply while strengthening the common Christian bond between Northeast Ohio and the Chalatenango area of El Salvador.(more).
I can also highly recommend Like Grains of Wheat, A Spirituality of Solidarity by Margaret Swedish for anyone who wants to explore the concept of solidarity in more depth with the stories of people c…

Human rights organizations critque government actions against Suchitoto protests

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Marchers took to the streets this week to demand freedom for the "Suchitoto 13" who are now being called political prisoners. In addition, respected human rights organizations have issued statements and reports on the protests on July 2 outside Suchitoto and the subsequent prosecution of 13 persons under the new Anti-Terrorism law.

Tutela Legal, the human rights office of the Catholic archbishop in San Salvador, investigated and released a report on the events in Suchitoto. The report is harshly critical of the actions of the government finding that:

There was a disproportionate use of force by the riot police.

The armed forces were used in violation of the consitution in an internal security matter with an intention to arbitrarily dissuade legitimate social protest.

The arrests made were arbitrary and unjustified.

Physical and psychological torture was exacted on those arrested.

"The agents of the police and high officials who ordered the arbitrary use of force against pe…

Cycling across El Salvador

If you like El Salvador, you'll enjoy the somewhat wacky tale, Cycling across El Salvador which made the short list in the 2007 Gonzo Travel Writing Contest at RoadJunky.com.

Here are the first three paragraphs:On a whim, with no previous training, I decide to ride a bicycle across El Salvador. Heck, when I look at a world map El Salvador is only about the size of my pinkie fingernail. It’ll be a piece of cake.

Mamacita Rita, my newly purchased, heavily used mountain bike has eighteen available gears but, even with serious effort, I can only make use of five. The front brakes don´t work, there are extra wires that enjoy poking me in the calf and most of the seat cover is torn, revealing pink plastic my ass can´t stand.

The fact that Mamacita Rita’s job is to move forty pounds of packs and me from the Guatemalan border to Honduran border through El Salvador makes me more nervous than the time in third grade when Mrs. Edwards said it was desk cleaning day, which meant I’d have to flip …

What Salvadoran bloggers are saying -- about protesters and terrorism

A bloody street protest one year ago led to the passage of an Anti-Terrorism Law in El Salvador. The alleged cop-killer in the disturbances outside of the University of El Salvador has been arrested, and the Anti-Terrorism Law is being used -- to prosecute protesters demonstrating against the government's water policy. The Salvadoran blogosphere has had much to say about this turn of events.

On the 5th of July 2006, a demonstration outside the University of El Salvador turned deadly violent as a sniper shot at riot police, killing two and wounding several more. (In the Salvadoran media that day's events are now known simply as 5-J). After a year long manhunt, the alleged sniper Mario Belloso was apprehended on July 2, 2007, with an orgy of media coverage in the Salvadoran press which has yet to end.

The aftermath of Belloso's capture has journalist blogger Jorge Ávalos concerned. Soon after the capture, he notes that ruling ARENA party officials were trying to make pro…

Decentralization and privatization

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Lost in some of the discussions of the arrests on terrorism charges of protesters near Suchitoto on July 2 has been a look at what they were protesting. That day President Saca planned to use Suchitoto as a backdrop to talk about his plans for decentralization of water and other public services. The various organizations assembled that day around Suchitoto assert that decentralization is really just the first step to privatizing water resources and selling them off to corporate interests.

But are decentralization and privatization necessarily linked? When he returned to San Salvador after the protests thwarted his speech in Suchitoto, Tony Saca proclaimed that there was no link:
Y quiero reiterar desde casa presidencial que mientras este servidor sea presidente del pais, jamas voy a privatizar el sistema de salud, jamas voy a privatizar el agua potable, ni la educacion, pero si vamos a descentralizar, porque los alcaldes me lo han pedido.

And I want to reiterate from the Presidential…

The tourism potential of El Salvador

El Salvador's potential as a tourist destination was recently highlighted favorably in an article in CNN Traveller:
El Salvador’s natural environment could, however, prove to be its ultimate economic saviour. And with good reason – its picturepostcard landscapes and valleys contain 25 soaring volcanoes, 321km of largely undeveloped coast line including some of the region’s best surfing beaches, Mayan ruins, inland lakes, colonial towns and colourful indigenous artesanía handicrafts.

To garner tourism investment, the Arena government of president Antonio Saca presented its National Tourism Plan in 2006, aiming to attract two million visitors per year by 2014. A new Ministry of Tourism was created and corporate support sought; Credomatic and American Express are both contributing to the tourism strategy. In April, tourism minister Ruben Rochi visited Qatar and Dubai in search of funding, and secured a deal to air a promotional tourism video on Al Jazeera. TV advertising campaigns are …

Price of white corn doubles

Last week, one of the basic foodstuffs of the Salvadoran family hit record highs in price. As reported in La Prensa Grafica, the price for a hundred pound bag of corn has doubled this year from $10-12 to a high of $22. At the retail level, corn prices went up from $0.13 to $0.25 per pound and tortilla prices have risen as much as 43%.

Why the increases? Two causes are reported. One is the ethanol craze in the US which has dramatically driven up the worldwide price for corn. The other is the weather in El Salvador, where irregular rains and a bug infestation are dramatically reducing the yields of corn per acre of land.

El Salvador smaller, more violent, than thought

Figures from the census conducted in El Salvador show a population much smaller than the prior official estimates. The census indicates there are 5.7 million people living in El Salvador, compared to the prior estimate of 7 million. That population is divided up 3 million women and 2.7 million men.

Why were the official estimates 25% too high? Officials are giving several reasons. First, the last census was in 1992 at the conclusion of the civil war and may not have been a very accurate count. Using an inaccurate base can lead to inaccurate estimates. Second, the birth rate may have declined more than was assumed. Third, the impact of the hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans who have left the country looking for work and a better life.

Having a much smaller population impacts some frequently cited statistics. For example, per capita income (total national income divided by population) increases. The murder rate (total murders divided by population) also increases. Rather…

Good intentions didn't generate business success for Just Garments

I have written before about Just Garments, the "no sweat" garment factory in El Salvador, owned by unionized workers and promising to pay a living wage to its employees. Just Garments never succeeded as a business. The Los Angeles Times now tells the story of a dream which failed to succeed in the harsh reality of the global marketplace:
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador -- It was a story of hope: a Central American sweatshop transformed into a unionized, worker-run apparel factory, thanks to nearly $600,000 in loans and donations, including help from retailers Gap Inc. and Lands' End and the AFL-CIO.

Boosters traveled to U.S. college campuses and church basements, touting the Just Garments plant in El Salvador as a company looking to do well by doing right by employees. Impoverished Salvadorans saw a chance to earn better wages and have a say in their future.

"We had a dream," said sewing machine operator Esperanza Caridad Mejia.

In the end, that's all it was.

Just G…

Guatemala not making progress on slaying of Salvadoran lawmakers

The masterminds and their motives behind the February slayings of Salvadoran legislators in Guatemala remain largely a mystery. According to a recent Los Angeles Times story, Guatemala's government has shown a lack of will to pursue the investigation and what it might uncover:
GUATEMALA CITY — The investigation into the February killings of three Salvadoran legislators here has stumbled because of obstacles and poor police work, observers say, leaving them to doubt whether authorities will uncover the masterminds of a crime that shook Central America's political establishment.

Eduardo Jose D'Aubuisson, the 32-year-old son of the founder of El Salvador's ruling party, was kidnapped, tortured and killed along with two fellow legislators and their driver while on their way to a meeting of the Central American Parliament, a regional lawmaking body.

Guatemalan officials say the principal suspects are local drug traffickers and mid-level rogue police officers.

But a U.S. offic…

Court rules against defendants on application of terrorism law

In the initial hearing today, the judge ruled against defense requests for a ruling that the anti-Terrorism law did not apply. 13 of the 14 persons arrested in the protests around Suchitoto will be held in preventive detention (in prison) under the anti-Terrorism law prior to their actual trial. The judge ruled that there was sufficient evidence of violations of the anti-terrorism law for the specialized court to continue to have jurisdiction.

Initial hearing for CRIPDES leaders accused of "terrorism"

The initial hearing for the leaders of CRIPDES before the specialized anti-terrorism court is being held this morning in San Salvador. You can read live updates of the day's events at this link. They had been arrested in connection with the July 2 protests involving Tony Saca's water policies.

Photos from El Salvador

I recently came across a terrific blog of photography from El Salvador. The photographer is Miguel Angel Servellon, and his blog says he is a 42 year old lawyer and photographer from San Salvador. His work captures some of the true soul of El Salvador. Make sure and check out Fotografia Digital El Salvador.

Government's measure of poverty called into question

El Salvador's government likes to report poverty figures by comparing household income to the supposed cost of a basic consumer food basket. Under that measure, as the government reported to the United Nations, the poverty rate is measurably declining in El Salvador. But in an article published by IPS, the UN official who wrote a recent report on El Salvador's progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals, exposed the fallacy behind the official figures:
UNDP economist Carlos Acevedo, the author of the report, told IPS that the study took a "diplomatic" approach, reporting that poverty had declined, but also pointing out that this was a result of how the economic variables were measured.

The report, based on government data, says the proportion of households in poverty dropped from 31.5 percent in 1991 to 22.8 percent in 2005, while the proportion of households in extreme poverty shrunk from 28.2 percent to 12.3 percent.

But figures from the Economic Com…

Video of this week's events

Video captured from Salvadoran TV news has now appeared on YouTube making it possible to view some of this week's events:


Protests in Suchitoto. This video footage shows scenes of the confrontations between riot police and protesters on the outskirts of Suchitoto on Monday, July 2.



Capture of CRIPDES Leaders. This video footage shows a police patrol which overtakes, stops and detains CRIPDES leaders and their driver outside of Suchitoto.


Aggressive police action. This video footage shows the confrontation between riot police and demonstrators including footage of several arrests.

Reports from El Salvador indicate that those detained are being charged under the new anti-terrorism law. You can read an update from the organization US-El Salvador Sister Cities at this link.



Capture of Mario Belloso. This video shows some of the news coverage of the arrest of fugitive Mario Belloso.


Interrogation of Mario Belloso. El Diaro de Hoy has this video of segments of the questioning of Belloso…

Protests over water policy met with rubber bullets and tear gas

Demonstrations to protest the water privatization policy of El Salvador's current government resulted in clashes with riot police outside of the city of Suchitoto on Monday. On Monday, president Tony Saca was scheduled to travel to Suchitoto to give a speech and initiate a project for "decentralization" of water systems, which many understand as the piecemeal selling off of water systems to private businesses to run. According to coverage in La Prensa Grafica, demonstrators blocked access on the roads leading into the city. Various units of then anti-riot police (Unit for the Maintenance of Order "UMO") arrived to clear the roads. Tear gas and rubber bullets were launched at demonstrators, and press photographs show demonstrators throwing rocks and buring rubbish in the streets. Two kilometers from the city, president Saca gave up his attempt to proceed into the city and returned to San Salvador by helicopter where he gave his speech from the Presidentia…

Two sets of killings -- one year later

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One year ago, two sets of murders contributed to the growing polarization in El Salvador. Today, the different way the cases have been handled since then shows the institutional weakness of El Salvador's criminal justice system.

One set of murders took place on July 5, 2006 during disturbances on the outskirts of the University of El Salvador. In actions which were photographed and videotaped by Salvadoran media, a masked shooter fired an assault rifle at riot police. After the melee, two policemen lay dead, presumably from the shooter's bullets.

Today, in an early morning raid, the PNC netted their most-wanted suspect. The alleged shooter, Mario Belloso, was arrested without a struggle in the area around Mejicanos on the outskirts of San Salvador and charged with the crime.

In contrast to the very significant police efforts and the press coverage of the search for Belloso, the double-slaying of Don Francisco Antonio Manzanares, age 77, and his wife, Doña Juana Monjarás …

Premium Salvadoran coffees get high marks

Coffees from El Salvador have again been recognized for quality in an international competition. At the Agro Gourmet / Specialty Commodities competition in June in Paris, coffees grown in El Salvador received the Gold and Silver Medals. Winning the gold medal was coffee from the La Montaña farm, produced by Raul Ochoa Hernandez, and the silver medal went to coffee farmed at La Hondurita by José Arnulfo Montiel Recino.

Both coffees also did extremely well in the 2007 Cup of Excellence Program, where La Montaña also placed first, and coffee from the farm recently received bids of $15.55 per pound in the Cup of Excellence auction. Here is an excerpts from the Cup of Excellence website describing Raul Ocoa Hernandez and his farm at La Montaña in Chalatenango:

Raúl Ochoa is the owner of Finca La Montaña which is nested in the Chalatenango department, within the coffee region known as Alotepec-Metapán mountain range. La Montaña farm is cultivated with Bourbon, Pacas and Pacamara varietie…