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Showing posts from August, 2008

El Salvador Oral History Project

Sofia Jarrín-Thomas is a freelance journalist with a focus on social movements, U.S. policy in Latin America, immigration, and indigenous rights. Currently she is working on the El Salvador Oral History Project in which she interviews and records the recollections of Salvadorans currently living in the Boston area.

Her most recently published interview is titled "Urban Guerrilla":
In the late 1970s, Mario Dávila became an urban guerrilla in San Salvador after he was exposed to the country's poverty as a church youth worker. In college, he saw many refugees--entire families who had fled the military's repression in the countryside--living in the school's classrooms and using the university's facilities. He became responsible for the armed security during marches, which were regularly repressed by the National Police and sharpshooters from buildings. Deaths were common during public protests. Students were often picked up and disappeared, including many of Mar…

WSJ on the FMLN

For the second time this week, the Wall Street Journal has turned its attention to El Salvador. An article by José de Córdoba in the August 28 edition of the business paper looks at senior FMLN party official José Luis Merino, and in particular his apparent links to Colombian FARC guerrillas. Those links were exposed when the Colombian army captured laptop computers in a raid on the FARC last March.

The WSJ article reports:
The FARC computer documents, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, include an email written in September by Iván Márquez, the guerrillas' main contact with the Venezuelan government. In the email, Mr. Márquez says he met two Australian arms dealers "thanks to Ramiro (Salvador)."

"The friends of Ramiro," writes Mr. Márquez, "have everything we need at very favorable prices: rifles, PKM machine guns, Russian Drugunovs with sights for snipers...and missiles. Everything Russian and Chinese made....They have a thermobaric grenade that destro…

Economic cost of violence

There was an extensive report released on July 22, 2008 by the Salvadoran government's National Council on Public Security which demonstrates the very high cost of violence in El Salvador. The report attempts to estimate the economic costs of violent crime on the countries in Central America. Those costs include not only the lives lost, but the resources spent on law enforcement and prisons, the resources spent on private security forces, and property which is stolen. The report indicates that the economic cost to El Salvador in 2006 when there were 3928 homicides was a staggering $2 billion. This is the highest per capita cost in all Latin America, reflecting the fact that El Salvador in 2006 had the highest murder rate in all Latin America. To look at it another way, that $2 billion was 11% of the country's gross domestic product.

Wall Street Journal editorializes on Pacific Rim situation

I've been asked to comment on an editorial which appeared today in the Wall Street Journal titled The Politics of Latin American Poverty written by Mary Anastasia O'Grady. She writes:Americans may wonder why taxpayer funds should be poured into a bucket as leaky as Latin America if the goal is curing underdevelopment. The region needs secure contract and property rights. If local leaders won't defend those rights, programs like Mr. Obama's $2 billion "global education fund" won't amount to a hill of frijoles.

A lesson in this reality is now playing out in El Salvador, where a $77 million investment by Pacific Rim Mining Corp., in one of the poorest parts of the country, has been stalled by the government of President Tony Saca.
This is the second editorial by-lined by O'Grady in recent months to focus on the issue. The first editorial, which appeared in June, also criticized El Salvador for its treatment of Pacific Rim.

In neither of the articles is the…

Head of corruption-racked National Police resigns

The head of El Salvador's National Police (PNC), Francisco Rovira, resigned on Saturday as charges were being leveled against two of his top assistants. According to a story in the Washington Post:
Two aides to police chief Francisco Rovira resigned on Friday after media investigations said one ran a private consulting firm with suspected drug traffickers as clients and the other used police license plates without authorization.

"This morning, (Rovira) told me he wanted an open and transparent investigation and that's why I accepted his resignation," President Tony Saca told a news conference. Francisco Rovira became head of the PNC after Rodrigo Avila resigned to run for president in the upcoming 2009 elections. The corruption in the PNC did not start with Rovira coming to the job. The news of Rovira's resignation spoiled ARENA's celebration of the birthday of its founder and death squad organizer Roberto D'Aubuisson.

US citizens who fought and sometimes died with the FMLN

The Los Angeles Times has a feature-length story titled An American adventurer's death in El Salvador. The article tells the story of Joe Sanderson, who joined the FMLN guerrilla movement during El Salvador's civil war:
Joe Sanderson is one of two Americans known to have fought and died with the guerrillas of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, the leftist rebels whose war against El Salvador's U.S.-backed military junta was one of the last conflicts of the Cold War.

Rescued from the battlefield by a rebel historian, Sanderson's 330-page diary and other writings lay neglected and unread for decades. The guerrilla veteran who saved the diary recently allowed me access to it, the first time an outsider had seen it.

The diary and the hundreds of missives Sanderson wrote home tell an unlikely American adventure story. They chronicle a peripatetic Midwesterner who joked and charmed his way across five continents, and eventually fought against an army backed by his…

Conde Nast Traveler on tourism in El Salvador

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There is a nice article in the magazine Conde Nast Traveler about tourism in countries recovering from wars with a focus on El Salvador. The article sees many signs for optimism about El Salvador's tourist industry:
Small hotels and mountain lodges are sprouting up around the country, including several large resorts financed by foreigners. The U.S.-based development company VisionMaker, for instance, is planning to build two hotels, a marina, and 1,500 condos on 200 acres at Lake Ilopango, a crater lake outside San Salvador, at a cost of $500 million, and La Casona's co-owner, Rene Luarca Maití, is one of several former guerrillas who are offering tours based on their experiences during the war.

In conversation after conversation, Salvadoran locals tell me how tourism has improved their lives. At the gracious restaurant La Posada de Suchitlan, in Suchitoto, waiter Marvin Escobar says that his job is paying for medical school. Juan Antonio Flamenco, a La Casona bartender who is …

Article on political division in El Salvador

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs has published a new article on its web site titled El Salvador: A Deeply Divided Country. As suggested by the title, the theme of the article is the political polarization in El Salvador:
There are still seismic divisions along ideological, political, and economic fault lines that keep the country polarized and prevent a cessation of persistent conflict. For example, on November 11, 2007, the date that marks the launching of the Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation’s final 1989 offensive in the country’s bitter civil war, the FMLN held its 23rd National Convention to nominate a candidate for the March 2009 presidential election. In response, the National Republican Alliance (ARENA)-dominated assembly declared November 11 a “day of national mourning” and put up a black flag to remind voters of the FMLN’s past as a guerrilla force.
Despite purporting to be an article about political division in El Salvador, a good part of the article is focused…

The FMLN's political convention

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The FMLN held its national political convention over the past weekend in San Salvador. The event featured the unveiling of the left-wing party's campaign platform and an address by its presidential candidate Mauricio Funes.

The overwhelming theme of Funes' discourse was that his campaign was a campaign to bring change to the country. This passage sums up his message:

Those who have denied happiness to the Salvadoran people are those who have wasted the opportunity of converting the country into a modern, democratic, equitable and supportive society. They are the same ones that now offer you a "different country" that they have not wanted to, nor been able to, construct.

If they have not been able to do it for so many years, even less are they going to be able to do it now.

To those gentlemen that are in the government, to those who have kidnapped the apparatus of the state for their own benefit and for that of a few friends, to those who have put their stingy and eg…

How El Salvador appears to foreign real estate investors

An article on the website of NuWire Investor, an educational resource for alternative investments, shows how foreigners look at El Salvador as a place to invest in real estate. The article is titled El Salvador Real Estate: Stunted by Bad Reputation, and it concludes:
El Salvador has a long ways to go before it becomes the next Costa Rica. It needs to work on its crime issues and reform its court system. Most of all, it needs to change its reputation. Until then, its potential will remain untapped and its ambitions to attract more international investment unrealized.
These are the issues where El Salvador must improve if it wants to attract more foreign capital, whether it be in real estate, tourism, or industry.

Responding to crime hurts rule of law

Raul Guttieriez at InterPress Service has a new article titled EL SALVADOR: Hard-Line Policies Vs Rule of Law. In the article, Guttierez looks at changes to criminal law in El Salvador made in response to the country's crime problems, which critics charge have weakened the institution of the courts in the country (an institution which has never had much integrity to start with):
The 1992 peace accord ushered in constitutional amendments that overhauled the justice system, with the aim of rooting out impunity and corruption and establishing the rule of law.

Congress approved the amendments, which included modifications of the penal code and criminal justice procedures "that led to the transformation from an inquisitorial system to an adversarial system," leaving behind the legacy of decades of military dictatorships, said Martínez.

But before the reforms were completely implemented, the government of president Armando Calderón (1994-1999) began to introduce modifications. A…

The El Salvador Gringo

I came across a new blog recently which focuses on El Salvador. It's called The El Salvador Gringo and has posts which focus on information for gringos traveling to El Salvador. According to the blog:
The El Salvador Gringo is a frequent visitor to Central and South America. Watch this site for the latest in rumors, news and the latest hotspots in one of the fastest growing Central American countries.
Recent posts have included residence permits, hotel and restaurant recommendations, places to visit, and local customs. The blog is part of a "Gringo" network of related blogs covering several countries in Latin America.

El Salvador and bio-tech foods

The United States Department of Agriculture issued a report earlier this summer which summarizes the state of biotechnology policy in El Salvador. The report looks at such issues as the regulation of the development, import and consumption of bio-engineered foods. Here are some excerpts:
Currently there are no restrictions on imports of agricultural biotechnology products. The only law that regulated trade of biotech products is the Planting Seed Law that became effective in September 2001. Title IV of this law – Final and Transitory Dispositions, Chapter I, Article 30 stated that it was prohibited to import, conduct research on, produce or commercialize Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) seeds. Due to over three years of pressure from the private sector and to the rising food costs, the Government of El Salvador(GOES) has decided to abolish Article 30.

The other law that addresses biotechnology is the Environment Law, effective since May 1998. Article 21 of this law provides regulat…

High fertilizer prices impact El Salvador's coffee fincas

The high price of petroleum products has made fertilizer unaffordable for many coffee farmers in El Salvador and the rest of Latin America. This Reuters report describes the problem:
SANTIAGO DE MARIA, El Salvador, Aug 13 (Reuters) - The thinning trees of El Salvador's coffee orchards are the most visible signs of strain on an industry that should be booming.

Coffee prices are near their highest since a global coffee crisis earlier this decade, but growers say fertilizer costs are rising even faster, hurting their ability nurture plants.

In Latin America, home to some 60 percent of global production, farmers say output will suffer.

"With fertilizer prices so high, we haven't been able to fertilize, and we'll feel the effects in the next harvest," said Luis Roque, an agronomist at the UNEX coffee exporting company that grows arabica beans in El Salvador.

Gazing at the coffee trees lining the slopes of a nearby volcano, in the town of Santiago de Maria, Roque points at…

School feeding programs

In a recently published interview, Carlo Scaramella, World Food Program Country Director for El Salvador describes the efforts of that UN agency to work with the government to establish school feeding programs in the country:
How many children are benefiting from the WFP school feeding programs within [El Salvador]?

The transfer of the school feeding program to the El Salvador Government (Ministry of Education) was completed at the end of 2007 as part of an agreed plan between state authorities and WFP. The plan involved a gradual transfer of funding and operational responsibilities during the final years of WFP program administration. By the end of 2007, WFP handed the last two departments (Morazan and Auachapan) over to the state.

Meanwhile, the government was able to ensure the absorption of the school feeding program funding requirements under the regular state budget, providing long term sustainability for the program. Currently, about 750,000 children receive regular school feeding…

Child labor in sugar cane fields

Concerns about child labor in the sugar cane fields of El Salvador is not a new story. A Human Rights Watch report from 2004 brought th issue into sharp focus and attracted world attention to the issue. Human Rights Watch returned to El Salvador in 2006 and reported that By 2005, in contrast, we heard of only a few children involved in the cutting and planting of sugar cane. Following the release of our report, the government and the sugar industry began to enforce El Salvador’s child labor laws. Unfortunately, they have not put in place adequate alternatives. When we visited in 2005, they had essentially fired all of the child laborers without ensuring they would be able to attend school or benefit from alternative vocational training. Still, poor families in rural areas occasionaly find that their economic circumstances drive them to have children help them in the cane fields. An activist with a video camera can still find children in the cane fields as seen in this 2007 …

Governmental publicity machines

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If one watches television in El Salvador, or travels around its cities, you cannot help but be stuck by the great amount of money which goes into advertising the accomplishments of the party in power. Here are a few examples:

Television spot promoting Solidarity Net, the anti-poverty program pushed by Tony Saca:


(View ad)

Television spot promoting the Office for the Defense of the Consumer:


(View ad)
Each of these spots ends with the tagline -- "4 years of government with a human feeling" to celebrate 4 years of Tony Saca's administration.

Yet when the online periodical El Faro asked these agencies to provide the details of the amount of money spent on these ad campaigns, they were met with a brick wall and refusals to disclose the spending.

The use of government funds to promote the image of government bodies and those who lead them is not limited to ARENA, however. In San Salvador, the administration of Violeta Menjivar of the FMLN, promotes its role under the heading "…

Treatment of women in El Salvador

Worth reading today is the post by blogger Maggie titled Fear and Ignorance in El Salvador (and how the women won't have it). It starts out like this:
The first thing people will tell you about the gender dynamics in El Salvador is that there is a lot of machismo. But it’s not always obvious and definitely manifests itself in a variety of ways, some fairly harmless, others extremely harmful. The ways in which Salvadoran women deal with this macho, patriarical culture is quite admirable.

So there are definitely degrees and types of machismo here. You find patterns in attitudes and personalities of the men here. Of course there’s grey area and contradictions, but I would say the two most obvious are: The Hero and The Womanizer. There are also a few Total F...ing Mysogynists.

The Hero is overwhelmingly courteous and hospitable. He wants to drive you everywhere or at least guards you while you ride the bus together. He opens doors and always gets the bill. He wants to teach you things: …

Foreign investment in El Salvador surges

El Salvador ranks high among Latin American nations in attracting foreign direct investment according to recent statistics in the Latin Business Chronicle. The Chronicle looked at foreign direct investment (FDI) as a percentage of a country's gross domestic product. The higher the percentage, the more successful is a nation in attracting investments, considering the size of its national economy. According to the Chronicle:
FDI in El Salvador exploded last year - going from $219 million in 2006 to $1.5 billion last year. As a result, El Salvador now has Latin America's third-highest FDI per GDP. Its FDI represents 7.4 percent of the country's GDP of $20.4 billion. Costa Rica - another Central American nation - also did well. Its FDI represents 7.3 percent of its GDP of $26.2 billion. FDI to Costa Rica reached $1.9 billion last year, a 29 percent increase.
This reflects a willingness of investors outside of El Salvador to invest in the country, and a belief that such in…

El Salvador's Olympic athletes

El Salvador is sending 11 athletes to compete in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing beginning this week. Those athletes are:
Arevalo, Rafael Tennis Cisneros, Franklin Judo Colindres, Veronica Track and Field Contreras, Mario Cycling Dimas, Eva Weightlifting Garcia, Evelyn Cycling Maida, Luisa Shooting Marcus, Golda Swimming Medrano, Ingrid Wrestling Mira, Salvador Track and Field Vargas, Camila Rowing
You can follow their fortunes during the Beijing games at the website of El Salvador's Olympic Committee or in the special section of El Diario de Hoy.

Funes continues to lead in polls

In recent public opinion polls, Mauricio Funes continues to lead Rodrigo Ávila in the voting preferences of Salvadorans. Yet many tell pollsters that they are still undecided:



Jul. 2008Jun. 2008Apr. 2008 Mauricio Funes (FMLN) 31.1% 28.4% 33.6% Rodrigo Ávila (ARENA) 24.8% 22.1% 24.7% Other / Undecided 44.1% 49.5% 41.7%