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Showing posts from December, 2007

The Angels arrive in the City of the Angels

The Los Angeles Times chronicles the arrival from El Salvador of the band named Nuestro Angeles to march in tomorrow's Tournament of Roses Parade:
A five-day trek from El Salvador to Pasadena was not supposed to be part of the Rose Parade route for the 230-member youth marching band Nuestros Ángeles de El Salvador.

But plane tickets were out of the question after a big chunk of the band's funding fell through just weeks before the parade.

What followed was an odyssey by bus that included thousands of miles on the road, plus two excruciating days in limbo on the border of Guatemala and Mexico.

But they made it, rolling into town Sunday only hours before their slot at Bandfest, the annual showcase of Rose Parade bands held at Pasadena City College this weekend. Organizers said the show drew more than 5,000 people.

"Uno, dos, tres -- brinca!" band members cried during the Salvadoran song "La Bala": "One, two, three -- jump!"

Saul Perez, one of the band'…

Salvadorans facing deportation

Several recent news stories in the US featured Salvadorans being deported from the US back to El Salvador. One story appeared in the Washington Post and described the situation of a family where the mother, who had arrived in the US from El Salvador illegally many years ago, was rounded up in an pre-dawn arrest by immigration authorities. Her husband and US-born children were left to face the holiday season without their mother.

There was a Fort Worth Star Telegram story about a Salvadoran family which fled to the US San Miguel after they were targeted by gangs. They were apprehended crossing the border in Texas. The father was deported immediately, while the rest of the family now awaits a deportation hearing. Shortly after arriving back in San Miguel, the father was murdered in an ambush by the gang. The family now waits to see if they can persuade a US immigration judge not to send them back.

In a different story involving fear of gangs and deportation, a Salvadoran gang member …

A Salvadoran inventor

The Los Angeles Times published an article this week featuring the work of a Salvadoran inventor, whose passion is creating a super-efficient, inexpensive wood stove suitable for use in poor households:
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — In a makeshift laboratory equipped with little more than a battered chair and a cheap kitchen scale, inventor Rene Nunez Suarez displays the contraption that has become his life's obsession.It's a stainless-steel cooker that uses about 95 percent less fuel than conventional wood stoves, with minimal pollution. It would seem a can't-miss technology in a country where millions still cook with wood and most forests have been destroyed.The device has garnered Nunez a prestigious environmental prize. It has earned him a U.S. patent. And it has won fans among some Salvadoran peasants who no longer spend a good chunk of their days hunting for firewood and then inhaling cooking smoke. It has also wrecked Nunez's marriage, alienated two of his three c…

Feliz Navidad

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Photo of art work in La Palma, El Salvador,
taken February 2004

I extend my wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all the readers of the blog.

Salvadoran band to march in Tournament of Roses Parade

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On New Years Day, "Our Angels of El Salvador," a marching band made up of talented youth musicians from across El Salvador will represent the country in the 2008 Tournament of Roses parade in Pasadena, California. Be sure to watch for them in the parade coverage on January 1. La Prensa Grafica has a special section devoted to the band at this link.

Zablah drops from presidential race

The presidential race in El Salvador has lost a potential candidate in the center. Arturo Zablah sought to create a center-left alliance as an alternative to ARENA and the FMLN. However the small political parties of the center (FDR, CD and PDC) could never reach agreement on whether to form an alliance, and Zablah has now withdrawn his name from consideration. I would speculate that this probably helps Mauricio Funes more than it helps the eventual ARENA candidate. A Zablah candidacy in the center had a greater potential to lure away potential FMLN supporters than it did to lure away voters for ARENA.

Impressive El Salvador

For many views of the beauty of El Salvador (and not a few beautiful women in bikinis) you can watch the program El Salvador Impresionante -- Impressive El Salvador, airing on the Spanish language version of the E! Television network. It's a full length promotion by El Salvador's tourism authorities.

Mauricio Funes in Washington D.C.

FMLN presidential candidate Mauricio Funes has been in Washington, D.C. as part of his campaign to win the presidency of El Salvador in 2009. His trip includes visits both to the sizable Salvadoran population in that part of the US, but also visits with US government officials. The Washington Post reports:Fifteen months in advance of El Salvador's March 2009 presidential election, opposition party candidate Mauricio Funes has flown to Washington to woo the region's sizable Salvadoran community.

Funes, of the Farabundo Marti Liberation Front, or FMLN, said the early start is intended to head off a repeat of the 2004 elections. That year, the governing party, the pro-business National Republican Alliance, or ARENA, launched a media blitz asserting that a victory by the FMLN, a former Marxist guerrilla group, would destroy relations with the United States. Television ads and newspaper articles said Salvadoran immigrants would be deported en masse, depriving their relatives of t…

One determined soul

The following is a translation of a letter a young woman sent to a the congregation a sister church in the US. In her words, a tremendous amount is communicated about life in El Salvador. (Names have been removed to respect the privacy of the woman and her family).

Receive a cordial and sincere greeting to all members of the church.

I am writing to you in order to tell you a little about my life. On April 22, I turned 22. I am the youngest of 7. I have 4 sisters, three have already gotten married. Of my two brothers, one has married and one is still single. He is the one that visited you. He tells me that you have a very beautiful church which has many people with good hearts.

Actually I live with my father, mother, a nephew and my sister who is 23. My mother is a homemaker and my father is a farmer and sometimes I help him with his corn.

Thanks to god I have achieved many things, one of which is to be able to study. I like to participate and help others. From 2000-2006, I was the pres…

Surviving Guazapa

A commenter on the blog pointed my attention to a new movie which premieres in January in El Salvador titled "Surviving Guazapa." The movie is an action film set during the period of El Salvador's civil war where there was fierce fighting on and around the Guazapa volcano. You can read a synopsis and view a trailer at the movie's website.

The scourge of sex trafficking

The BBC News has on its web site a disturbing article about sex trafficking in El Salvador.
San Salvador is a noisy, busy city overlooked by a spectacular volcano. The streets are crowded with bars, in many sex is for sale.

I accompanied Sgt Jose Noe Ayala on a drive around the city to see the places where police have discovered trafficked women and children. In one of the upmarket areas of the city, he pointed out a non-descript building, this was where Milagros was held.

"We rescued four girls that day," he tells me. "Three were teenagers under the age of 18, all Salvadorians. And then there was Milagros, from Nicaragua." You can read about the rest of Milagros' story in this article.

The US State Department 2007 report on human trafficking described the situation in El Salvador in this way:El Salvador is a source, transit, and destination country for women and children trafficked for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation. Salvadorans are trafficked to…

Top ten religion stories in El Salvador for 2007

Another insightful contribution from our friend Carlos X. Colorado.

TOP TEN RELIGION STORIES IN EL SALVADOR FOR 2007
By Carlos X. Colorado

Although 99.1% of Salvadorans believe in God, 10% have had doubts and 16.8% do not identify with a particular religion, according to a La Prensa Gráfica poll. The bad news is absorbed mostly by the Catholic Church, which had an 83% claim on adherents in 1992 but has seen that figure slashed to 52.4% according to the LPG poll. The winners are Protestants who have seen their ranks rise to 28.4% of souls. Despite their ascendant status, Catholic stories dominate the headlines, as attested to below.

1. DEATH OF MARIA JULIA HERNÁNDEZ

Catholic News Service placed Hernández at the top of its list of notable Catholics to die around the world in 2007. CNS recalled that, "Hernández, 68, [had] for more than two decades led the San Salvador Archdiocese's internationally recognized human rights agency Tutela Legal." The report continued, "Her…

Growing disapproval of government institutions

Recent polling by La Prensa Grafica shows growing disillusionment with public institutions over the past three years. As the poll results show, from 2005 to 2007 the number of people saying they approve of the job of various governmental institutions has declined and the number of people who say they disapprove has increased. Highest approval ratings go to schools and hospitals; the lowest approval ratings go the the National Assembly and the courts. (See the results in graphic form at this link). For some reason, LPG did not include the approval rating for president Saca's office in these poll results, but other polls show that his approval rating has also declined over that time frame.

Blood Soaked Dresses

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Blood Soaked Dresses is a recently published book of poetry by Boston area poet Gloria Mindock. The book was recently reviewed in the Boston Globe:
Every day we wake to newspapers full of new human catastrophes of all types in various places, year after year, decade after decade. Bosnia, Aceh, Sudan, Bhopal blur in our minds into a vague disaster stew. And though we are caring people, we are human and the tragedies are painful. So we ignore. We forget. Unless someone insists on reminding us, as Gloria Mindock does of the civil war that raged in El Salvador from 1980 to 1992. In her new poetry collection, "Blood Soaked Dresses," she holds up the events so we cannot look away...

Now she wants us to remember that as long as there are survivors to remember, tragedies continue to echo long after the news photographs and on-the-scene reports have faded. And even without survivors, the facts remain. And so Mindock has made it her mission to bear witness, as centuries of writers, co…

Mayor of San Salvador travels to San Francisco

Violeta Menjivar, mayor of San Salvador, was in San Francisco last week where she met with city officials and community leaders. The San Francisco Chronicle had this story about the visit:
Violeta Menjivar, the first woman to govern El Salvador's sprawling capital of 2 million people, told community leaders and city officials she is willing and eager for a collaborative relationship, but she cautioned, "It will take work."

At City Hall, Menjivar, a physician who was elected from the party of the leftist FMLN, the former guerrillas who fought the U.S.-backed Salvadoran government in the 1980s, addressed the Board of Supervisors and met with the mayor's staff.

Supervisor Tom Ammiano said he would push for a sister city relationship.

"It's goodwill. It's trade, but there are other ways to have sister cities," he said. "If we're dealing with problems around youth, this could offer a practical approach to that."

Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval talk…

Pensions in El Salvador

For the large numbers of Salvadorans who live on what they earn in the informal economy, retirement and a pension are a largely impossible dream. A paper published earlier this year by the Institute of Social Studies in the Netherlands explores the reality of pensions and retirement savings in El Salvador. The abstract for the paper states:

This paper explores obstacles and opportunities to expand social protection for informal workers in El Salvador.

It rules out the short-term possibility that old-age social protection in El Salvador will be expanded through social security measures. Workers are entitled to pension only if they fulfil certain minimum requirements that are out of reach for the majority.

Instead, micro-finance institutions (MFIs) are proposed as an alternative to social protection. This is in part because the MFIs have taken the initiative to start a dialogue on micro-pensions. A few issues however have to be taken into consideration. The most important one is the lack…

Christmas shopping

If you are looking to do good and to get something for Christmas for a lover of El Salvador (or a lover from El Salvador), here are some ideas:

People of Hope Crafts -- From the website of this organization, you can purchase fair trade craft items from 20 artisan cooperatives throughout El Salvador.

People's Market -- The People's Market is a project of CRISPAZ, and this is its last year. Buy fair trade craft items online at 25% off right now.

Plowshare Center -- For my readers in southeast Wisconsin, the Plowshare Center is a great place to be fair trade items from all over the world, including El Salvador.

Ten Thousand Villages -- Another online location for fair trade crafts from El Salvador.

Mother Earth Coffee Co. -- Buy fair trade, organic shade grown coffee here.

Another great idea is to make a donation in someone's name to one of the solidarity organizations listed in the right hand column, who are all doing great work in El Salvador.

Gas tax to subsidize transport owners

The surging price of gasoline and diesel fuel on world markets put a financial squeeze on the owners of El Salvador's buses. With the government unwilling to authorize fare increases, the bus owners threatened a nationwide stoppage. That action was averted when the government agreed to negotiate with the transport companies. What resulted was an increase in the subsidy the government pays to keep fare prices low.

The government's decision on how to pay for that subsidy, however, has been widely unpopular in El Salvador. The subsidy will be funded with a 10 cents per gallon gasoline tax. The critics contend that this tax will hurt not only those who own cars, but also the entire society as the increased cost for fuel gets passed on to consumers in the prices of basic items in the household budget.

While it is true that a gasoline tax tends to be regressive (it represents a greater percentage of the income of low income individuals), the real problem facing El Salvador…

Update on gold mining in El Salvador

Recently I have received a few e-mails asking me for updated information about the status of gold-mining projects in El Salvador. At this point, gold mines are not operating, but gold mining companies are conducting exploration drilling under permits granted by the Salvadoran government. The most prominent company is the Canadian gold-mining firm, Pacific Rim.

Pacific Rim has provided this update for its investors:
The Company expects to complete its ongoing Balsamo deposit drill program in its second quarter of fiscal 2008, and calculate an updated resource estimate for the El Dorado project by the end of December 2007. Subsequent to the completion of the updated resource estimate, the El Dorado feasibility study will resume (having been temporarily postponed during fiscal 2007 in order to gather the data necessary to include the Balsamo deposit in the mine plan), with an anticipated completion before the end of fiscal 2008. The El Dorado feasibility study will consider the economic…

Four US churchwomen remembered

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Sunday, December 2, is the 27th anniversary of the murder of the four US churchwomen in El Salvador. The United States Senate passed Senate Resolution 381, sponsored by Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin among others, which commemorated their lives:
Whereas on December 2, 1980, four churchwomen from the United States, Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clarke and Ita Ford, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel, and Cleveland Lay Mission Team Member Jean Donovan, were violated and executed by members of the National Guard of El Salvador;

Whereas in 1980, Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clarke and Ita Ford were working in the parish of the Church of San Juan Bautista in Chalatenango, El Salvador, providing food, transportation, and other assistance to refugees, and Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel and Cleveland Lay Mission Team Member Jean Donovan were working in the parish of the Church of the Immaculate Conception in La Libertad, El Salvador, providing assistance and support to refugees and other victims of violen…