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Showing posts from September, 2007

It's official -- Mauricio Funes is FMLN candidate for president

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In a surprise announcement on Thursday, September 27, the leadership of the FMLN announced that its candidate for president of El Salvador in 2009 would be journalist Mauricio Funes. Joining Funes on the FMLN ticket will be Salvador Sanchez-Ceren, the ex-Coordinator General of the FMLN, and part of the hard line, orthodox leadership of the left wing party.

Funes' fame in El Salvador comes as an interviewer of public and political figures on television news shows aired in El Salvador. Learn more about his career in this article on the Global Journalist web site. In February 2005, his firing from Channel 12 caused an outcry throughout the country. (For a contrary view on the Channel 12 incident, read this opinion piece by Paolo Luers in El Faro (in Spanish)).

It's still 17 months before the presidential election in March 2009. The question for the FMLN is whether having Funes at the head of the ticket will attract enough voters from the center, outside of the party's c…

Murder of a journalist

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On September 20, a young Salvadoran journalist was gunned down outside his family's home in Soyapango. Salvador Sánchez was a radio journalist for alternative media including Radio Maya Vision, YSUCA, and Radio Cadena Mi Gente. Sánchez reported on a variety of topics on the radio, including the protests and arrests in Suchitoto, gang activity, and political demonstrations. The killers and their motives are unknown.

But as happens whenever a prominent person is killed in the violence of El Salvador, there was no lack of suggestions as to what the motive might have been. As usual, the coverage of the story by El Faro is comprehensive and wisely refuses to jump to conclusions. The police made initial statements indicating that the murder could be the work of gang members, but the statement was made before any investigation was conducted. Sánchez's mother suggested in the El Faro article, that the murder may have been the work of criminals who had committed a murder 6 months…

Record Batteries factory closed by health ministry

In an action which surprised El Salvador's business sector, on Monday, September 24, the Ministry of Health closed the Record Batteries factory where used lead acid batteries are recycled. The closure is based on lead contamination poisoning the population living around the factory. Management of the company is protesting the closure, asserting that due process was not followed. 350 employees of the factory are left with an uncertain future. El Diario de Hoy has a photo gallery here.

Talking about Oscar Romero

Another article has appeared speculating about internal Vatican theological politics and its impact on whether slaim archbishop Oscar Romero will be declared a saint by the Roman Catholic church:
When Pope Benedict XVI visited Brazil earlier this year, he told local journalists that "Romero as a person merits beatification", a remark Vatican officials deleted from official transcripts. Romero's supporters suspect that a favourable report from the church body responsible for reviewing his doctrinal credentials may also have been suppressed.

They argue that far more controversial figures have been made saints in the recent past, among them Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, head of the secretive Opus Dei organisation which many liberal Catholics regard as a cult, and the Italian mystic Padre Pio, who claimed he could cure the blind and was able to appear in different places at the same time.

As a journalist who reported frequently from the region, I interviewed Romero on several…

Tony Saca in the US

Tony Saca was touring the US last week. One stop was at a conference in Miami. As quoted in the Miami Herald Saca contrasted his government with "dangerous" movements in other parts of Latin America:
Saca also warned against ''a very dangerous current in Latin America,'' but said he couldn't mention any names in order to avoid interfering in another country's internal affairs.

''While other countries close businesses, confiscate businesses and shut down freedom, El Salvador has been going the other way over the past 18 years,'' Saca said.

It was an apparent reference to a bloc of political leaders led by Venezuela's Hugo Chávez -- but also including Bolivia's Evo Morales and Ecuador's Rafael Correa -- who are seeking increased state control over the economy.

Even before the civil war ended, El Salvador's leaders set that country on the path of freer markets and a smaller government, a path that Saca has continued and that…

The anecdotes of CAFTA's impact

A recent article in the Miami Herald takes a look at the impact of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) on El Salvador. While citing the figures the Salvadoran government uses to proclaim the treaty a success, the article also speaks with business owners who believe they see benefits and those who see none:
El Salvador was the first Central American nation to implement the CAFTA-DR accord, in March 2006, followed by Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala. The Dominican Republic implemented the accord this year, and Costa Rica is awaiting ratification. The agreement eliminates most tariffs on two-way trade between the United States and the five nations that have ratified the accord.

While experts say it is too soon to effectively measure the impact of CAFTA-DR, both exports and investments have clearly climbed in El Salvador. The United States is El Salvador's largest trading partner outside of Central America, and the region is now the second largest U.S. export market in L…

Indigenous Salvadoran spiritual leader dies

The Washington Post has the obituary of Adrián Esquino Lisco, a spiritual leader of Salvadoran indigenous peoples who died earlier this month:
Adrián Esquino Lisco, 68, who rose to prominence in El Salvador as a spiritual leader of the indigenous community and who called attention to atrocities committed during the 1980-92 civil war, died Sept. 8 at a hospital in San Salvador. He had kidney failure and other complications of diabetes.

El Salvador's small indigenous population, about 1 percent of the 7 million who live there, long endured bloody conflicts with the government, which has been led mostly by army officers or oligarchs.

A farmer and artisan, Mr. Esquino Lisco made international news by publicizing the Feb. 23, 1983, army-led attack on an indigenous farm cooperative in Las Hojas, a village in the western end of the country. He said the soldiers rounded up 74 men, tied their thumbs behind their backs and shot them in their skulls. A federal judge reported 18 deaths.

Mr. Esqu…

Lead in the Place of the Child

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The name of the community is El Sitio del Niño, "the Place of the Child," but a better name might be "the Place of the Poisoned Child." Sitio del Niño is the location of the Record Battery factory, a place where used lead acid batteries are recycled to recover the lead inside them. Repeated tests and reports in recent years have shown that the lead does not stay inside the factory -- it is found in the air, soil and water around the factory, and most tragically, in the bloodstreams of the children of the surrounding area.

El Faro captured the frustrated anguish of a mother recounting her family's story to yet another reporter:
I ask myself: And for what? What reason do I have to tell the same thing yet another time. It makes me tired to tell that my children, when they go out picking cherries on their bicycles, always return with dead birds. I am tired of telling that my children have it in their blood.... that my daughter will have repercussions on her ab…

Photojournalism in El Salvador

An exhibition of the work of Salvadoran photojournalists is currently showing in San Salvador. You can see a collection of the photos from the exhibition at this link. Click on the name of a photographer to see an example of that photographer's work.

You can also view the photos in the online gallery.

How Tim does it

This weekend I helped lead a workshop in Milwaukee as part of the 25th anniversary of the SHARE Foundation. The subject of the workshop was staying abreast of current events in El Salvador, and I promised the group that I would write a post about how I get the information I share in the blog.

First, if you read Spanish, all the major daily Salvadoran newspapers are available online, and most of them have recently updated their websites. Those papers are:
La Prensa Grafica
Diario CoLatino
El Diario de Hoy
El Mundo
Tips -- (1) Sign up for the daily e-mail news alert from La Prensa Grafica to get a basic listing of the day's stories. (2) All the papers except El Mundo have "RSS" feeds if you use a newsreader. (3) All the papers make available in PDF form the complete version of the paper complete with photos and advertisements.

Second, also requiring Spanish, are three sites of news and analysis which provide information weekly:
El FaroRaicesCommunicacion Social Tip -- El Far…

Letter of Salvadoran Ecumenical Movement

A call from the religious community to work for a better future in El Salvador:



Pastoral Letter from the Historic Churches

(La letra original en español aquí).


SALVADORAN ECUMENICAL MOVEMENT

San Salvador, 3 September 2007

ALERT IN EL SALVADOR
The people are forsaken and scattered.
“When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
Matthew 9:36

Pastoral Letter from the Historic Churches

To: All Salvadorans of good will
To: The three powers of the Salvadoran state: the executive, legislative and judicial branches
To: Churches throughout the world
To: Accredited Governments and Diplomatic Corps
To: The United Nations, the Organization of the American States, international organizations, and international solidarity groups

From this small country, the home of the prophet Oscar Arnulfo Romero, as historic Christian churches and Christian-ecumenical groups, we send this message to world-wide churches and religions and to men and…

El Salvador goes for Quime -- a Latin American Idol

El Salvador has one of its own among the 4 finalists in Latin American Idol. Arquímedes Reyes, known as "Quime," is a 26 year old singer from San Alejo, La Unión.

Watch one of Quime's performances on this YouTube video:

A (not surprising) lack of confidence in the government

As El Salvador gets a very early start on the 2009 elections, studies of the electorate in the country show that people lack much confidence in the national government and its insitutions:
The Latin American Public Opinion Project released a comparative study in San Salvador, titled La Cultura Política de la Democracia en El Salvador: 2006. Findings include strong citizen support of democratic governments: 87.6 percent prefer electoral democracy and 72.7 percent choose a democratic government over authoritarianism. Yet, compared to 2004, there was an increase in the number of people favoring authoritarian values and higher mistrust of public institutions.

In El Salvador, security levels are low, the study says: 47.1 percent of those surveyed feel unsafe or somewhat unsafe because of the prevalence of crime in the country. Even more disturbing is that 70 percent of crime victims still do not report criminal acts because of fear of or mistrust in government institutions. As a result, ther…

Closure of open air dumps

Two weeks ago I wrote about the problem of solid waste disposal in El Salvador and protests involving the creation of a new sanitary landfill for Santa Ana.

This week all of the open air dumps must be closed, and environmental inspectors went out across the country to ensure that municipalities were complying with the law. Protests continued in Santa Ana over the new landfill which may not comply with environmental regulations. More than 100 municipalities have signed contracts to send their solid waste to the sanitary landfill at Nejapa .

The new law also means the end of an era for the thousands of persons who make their livelihoods in these open air dumps, searching for items of value amidst the discarded rubbish of Salvadoran society. According to today's edition of the digital magazine El Faro, in the six months since the dump closure law was passed, no representative of any institution ever came and told those people depending on working in the dumps that this week the g…

The official image of the Movement Against Violence

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A group of Salvadoran bloggers have started an effort, called the Movement Against Violence, to rally Salvadorans against the homicides affecting so many in El Salvador. The movement centers around a web site titled "Basta!" or "Enough!" which partly acts as a memorial to murder victims in El Salvador by recording the news of each violent death on the Basta! blog. It is an effort inspired by another blog, 100 Days in the Republic of Death, by Salvadoran artist Mayra Barraza.

The drawing above has been taken as the official image of the Movement Against violence. As its website explains, Wilber Geovanni Cruz Rivera was a 6 year old boy murdered in the town of Chalchuapa. His kindergarten teacher asked his little companions to draw something which represented the violence. One girl made this impressionistic drawing, which has now become the official image of the movement.

Organized killers

The phrases "death squad", "extermination group" and "hit men" have appeared with prominence in recent news from El Salvador. In separate settings in San Miguel in the east and Chalcuapa in the west, the spectre of death squads and extra-judicial killings raises new fears.

Recent revelations have filled the Salvadoran press about a syndicate of hitmen working within the San Miguel section of the National Civilian Police (PNC). The story started on July 28, 2007 when men dressed in black drove up in an SUV and shot and killed 42 year old Amado García Amaya. Family members flagged down a military patrol which was engaged in an anti-crime exercise and the soldiers managed to locate and take into custody three armed men, two of whom were policemen in San Miguel.

As the story has unfolded, as many as 6 PNC officers from the San Miguel district have now been arrested for a total of 4 murders, and as many as 31 murders with similar execution-style character…

2009 Presidential politics

Recently two public opinion polls were released which asked voters which political party they were planning to vote for in the March 2009 presidential elections. Here were the results:

Poll by TCS

ARENA 28.2%
FMLN 21.0%
PNC 3.8%
PDC 2.3%
CD 1.0%
FDR 0.7%
Undecided/refused to answer 43%

Poll by La Prensa Gráfica,
ARENA 26.9%
FMLN 16.5%
Other/no answer 56.6%
If you have been following political public opinion polls over the past 5 or so years in El Salvador, these numbers will look pretty familiar. The results for ARENA and the FMLN represent each party's hard core support. These are the persons who are going to vote for that party's candidate no matter who it is and no matter what else happens before election day. But the biggest segment, up until shortly before the election is always the undecided segment.

Obviously the biggest thing people will want to know -- who will be the candidates of each party and will there be any viable candidates other than the ones put forward by ARENA…

Hurricane Felix peters out

After coming ashore in Nicaragua as a Category 5 hurricane on Tuesday morning, Hurricane Felix rapidly lost strength until now it is only a tropical depression. El Salvador maintains a cautionary orange alert today and schools are closed across the country. The open question is how much rain will the weather patterns created by Felix bring. There were no reports of major problems caused by the rains overnight. You can see a current satellite image of El Salvador's weather at this link.

El Salvador on alert for rains from Hurricane Felix

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As Hurricane Felix makes its way through Nicaragua after coming ashore this morning, El Salvador braces for potentially heavy rains. The government has put the country under "orange alert" for the possible serious weather. The greatest risk is from flooding and mudslides. The current forecast predicts that the rains will start in the early evening in the eastern part of the country.

Lending across borders

In many ways, families in El Salvador who have family members in the US working and sending back remittances should be considered as a single economic unit, despite the borders which separate them. A recent article in Financial Times describes how banks are starting to awake to this reality and the possibility of extending consumer banking services to these cross-border families:
Now 47, José Antonio Reyes has worked for years as a builder in his native El Salvador and has never once thought about opening a bank account.

On the face of it, he and his wife Edith Portales seem like some of the most unlikely people to have their lives transformed by innovations in trans-national finance. The couple live in a cramped and airless house in Soyapango, near the country's capital, San Salvador, which they share with their son Fernando and their nephew Gerardo Alfaro's three children. They are dependent on the $600 (£299, €440) or so that Mr Alfaro sends them each month from the US.

Mr Re…

Tourism and safety

An article on the In the Know Traveler web site points to statistics showing an increase in tourism to El Salvador in 2006 and quotes government officials who claim the growth is due to an improved public security situation in the country:
A study conducted by the World Tourism Organization shows that the number of visitors to El Salvador increased by 17 percent in 2006, compared to the previous year.

[El Salvador's Minister of Tourism José Rubén] Rochi attributes this growth to the government’s 2014 National Tourism Plan, which includes holistic measures to ensure a safer environment to both locals and foreign visitors.

This year, the number of U.S. tourists traveling to El Salvador has increased by 24 percent and the number of Canadians by 51 percent, said Rochi. Additionally, international visitors’ average daily spending has increased from $91.30 in 2005 to $93.90 in 2006 due to an increase in daily consumption, as well as in the number of days per visit, which is averaging 6 to …