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Showing posts from January, 2009

Half the shirts and towels bound for El Salvador

Prior to the Super Bowl, tens of thousands of shirts and towels are being printed proclaiming that the Arizona Cardinals won the game and tens of thousands are being printed proclaiming that the Pittsburgh Steelers won. Only half the shirts will turn out to be true -- and the other half are going to El Salvador:
SEATTLE--(BUSINESS WIRE)--The winning team in Super Bowl XLIII remains to be seen, but one thing is certain – either outcome will spell excitement for children and families in El Salvador. Whether the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Arizona Cardinals win, shirts, hats, and towels will be given to people living in extreme poverty, as the National Football League and World Vision team up for the 17th year.

Prior to championship games, Reebok produces shirts and caps and, for the first time this year, McArthur Towel & Sports is producing Trophy Towels, announcing each team as the winner. These items are kept on hand for the victorious players to wear immediately following the game…

Presidential race tightens

An AP story describes a new opinion poll finding that the leading candidates for president in El Salvador, Rodrigo Avila of ARENA and Mauricio Funes of the FMLN are tied, suggesting a post-January elections bounce for Avila:
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador -- El Salvador's presidential race has tightened, with the leading candidates in a virtual tie and likely facing a runoff election, according to a poll released Friday.

Mauricio Funes, a TV journalist who would become the first leftist president of El Salvador since the country's bloody civil war, had about 50 percent support in other previous polls. Now he has 38 percent, compared to 35 percent for Rodrigo Avila of the ruling conservative Arena party, according to Consulta Mitofsky.

The survey had a margin of error of 2 percentage points, meaning it is possible that Funes could be trailing slightly.

Funes represents the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, a guerrilla group-turned-political party.

Other respondents preferred dif…

My meeting with the ambassador

On January 15, I met with Charles Glazer, the US Ambassador to El Salvador at the US Embassy. The meeting took place 5 days prior to the end of his tour on January 20, coinciding with the transfer of power to the Obama administration in Washington.

We spoke for about 30 minutes, and in some sense it was like an exit interview, remembering that I had first met the ambassador a few months after he arrived in El Salvador.

On the question of whether the relationship between the US and El Salvador will change if the FMLN wins the presidency, Glazer stated that it would depend on the actions of the FMLN. The US would not alter its relationship with the country simply because one political party or another took power. Instead, the US would react to concrete actions taken by a governing party which are contrary to the ongoing relationship between the countries.

Mauricio Funes is "very bright, an accomplished communicator." Glazer commented that, "A lot of what he says ma…

Final election results

On Friday, the TSE released the final election results for the election of deputies to the National Assembly. The FMLN will have 35 seats (a gain of 3), ARENA will have 32 seats (a loss of 2) and the PCN will have 11 seats, making the PCN the swing voting bloc in the legislature. The Christian Democrats won 5 seats and Democratic Change scored one. The FMLN obtained 42.5% of the valid votes cast and ARENA earned 38.4%. Some 2.2 million Salvadorans turned out to vote, a participation rate of 54%.

In San Salvador, Norman Quijano of ARENA obtained 86,569 votes (49.8%) and incumbent mayor Violeta Menjivar received 80,789 votes.

If you want the election results boiled down all the way to the individual voting table, you can see them at the TSE web site.

Aiding the families of missing migrants

For dozens of years, Salvadorans and other Central Americans have made the perilous journey north seeking jobs and relief from the poverty in their home country. The path northwards is a dangerous one as the article Perilous Journey, from the National Catholic Reporter pointed out:
An alarming number of migrants never make it. In the last three years, the number of migrants who disappear en route has increased as a result of the Mexican government’s tightening of its southern border. An initiative of President Vicente Fox to appease Washington and in exchange ease the entry of undocumented Mexican migrants into the United States, Mexico’s Plan Sur has captured record numbers of Central American migrants and bused them back to their country of origin. Previously they were simply dumped unceremoniously across the border into Guatemala. The move has forced migrants to take greater risks to avoid capture, including traveling farther out to sea in overloaded boats that too often capsize. …

The primacy of the party

The Salvadoran electoral system is significantly tilted to give power to political parties and their leaderships over the roles of individual political leaders. This is particularly evident in the way that El Salvador elects deputies to the National Assembly. Each department within the country is allocated a certain number of seats in the 84 seat National Assembly according to its population. (In one criticized move, the election authorities did not reallocate those seats based on the results of the 2007 census for the 2009 elections, but continue to use the older allocation from the census taken during the 1990s). So, for example, the populous San Salvador department has 25 deputies and the less populous San Miguel department has 6 deputies.

Each seat in the department has a vote quota equal to the total number of votes cast in the department divided by the number of seats. To use round numbers, if 1 million votes were cast in San Salvador department to allocate 25 seats, the…

The January 2009 elections

The final count from Sunday's elections is not yet in, but the results are different than I (and many others) predicted.

Here are some of the major points to take away from the elections:

1) The balance of power in the National Assembly is staying the same. The FMLN increased its seat from 32 to 35-37 seats. That leaves it short of the 43 seat majority. It appears that ARENA will have 32 seats (down from 34) but since its traditional ally the PCN should have 11 seats, the right wing should continue to have majority control of the National Assembly.

2) The FMLN is the most popular political party in the country. If we look at the votes for deputies to the National Assembly which are allocated on a party basis, we get the best look at the population's preference. In the most recent results posted on the Supreme Electoral Tribunal website, the FMLN received 49.5% of the votes for deputy, ARENA received 40% and no other party received more than 3.1% of the vote. That s…

Cutumay Camones struggle goes to the courts

A recent article from Upside Down World describes a new lawsuit in the Salvadoran courts on behalf of residents of Cutumay Camones, whose drinking water is threatened by the placement of a new landfill outside Santa Ana:
On November 20, 2008 ten members of the Santa Gertrudis community of Cutumay Camones filed a class action lawsuit against the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) for refusing to conduct a fair and impartial assessment of community concerns over the placement of a garbage dump. The government’s proposal is to construct the dump on a hill above a 10-hectare crop plantation and at a 700-meter distance from an aquifer that delivers water to the homes of more than 3,000 families. Construction began in June 2007 without community consultation and an adequate environmental impact statement to the MARN....

Lawyers with the University of Central America’s Human Rights Office will try the Supreme Court case, which could take two or more years to review. The Court…

17th Anniversary of Peace Accords

Today, January 16, is the 17th anniversary of the signing of the 1992 Peace Accords which concluded the civil war in San Salvador. Although there has not been war for 17 years, El Salvador still lacks peace. The level of polarization in the country is great, and the antagonisms between left and right run deep.

As Ernesto Rivas-Gallont commented to me earlier today, it is a sad statement that Salvadorans cannot celebrate the end of armed conflict in a united fashion, as one country. Instead, the FMLN held its commemoration in one part of San Salvador, and the ARENA-led government held official commemorations elsewhere.

The country is going to have national elections for mayors and legislative deputies in two days. One can hope for a peaceful and transparent process and that with each new democratic election, the chances that the left or right will seek to impose their will by force of arms will continue to fade into the past.

Some election predictions

I am in El Salvador talking to people about the elections and preparing to be an election observer. The conversations inevitably turn to what we think might be the outcome. I am willing to put my own predictions out publicly and you can judge how I do after the results are available Sunday night.

In the National Assembly, my prediction is that the FMLN will pick up 6 seats from its current 32, ending with 38 or 5 short of a 43 seat majority.

For mayor of San Salvador, Violeta Menjivar of the FMLN will be reelected. Unlike in 2006, there is not a strong minor party candidate to siphon away votes from Menjivar. The election will not be as close as her slim 43 vote victory in 2006.

For mayor in other municipalities across the country, the FMLN will recover many of the mayors offices it lost in the 2006 elections.

There will be rumors, but no significant instances of any voting fraud affecting the elections.

If you have different predictions, submit them in the comments to this post…

Spanish court to prosecute Jesuit killings case

The Center for Justice and Accountabilityannounced today that a judge in Spain has agreed to initiate prosecution of in the case of the 1989 murder of the six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter:
Madrid January 13, 2009 – Today, the Judge of the 6th Chamber of the Spanish National Court agreed to initiate a criminal prosecution in the “Jesuits Massacre,” a crime which has gone unpunished for nineteen years, in which members of the Salvadoran military murdered six priests, their housekeeper and her 16-year-old daughter. Fourteen former officers, including General Ponce, Head of the Armed Forces Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General Rafael Humberto Larios, former Minister of Defense, are now formally charged with crimes against humanity and state terrorism for their role in the massacre. Additionally the Judge reserved the right, during the course of the investigation, to indict former Salvadoran President and Commander of the Armed Forces Alfredo Cristiani for his role in co…

Election resources

In the midst of this election season in El Salvador, there are a number of resources you can use to stay on top of the latest developments. Even though most of these resources are in Spanish, using tools like Google translation, you can certainly get the major points of any of these sites and publications, even if you only speak English.

Public Opinion Polling

LPG Datos, the polling arm of La Prensa Grafica. See their latest polling results throughout the election season.

El Diario de Hoy2009 election section with coverage of the polls published by the paper.

Public Opinion Institute at the University of Central America with all its polling results.

Center for Public Opinion at Francisco Gavidia University.

News Media Sites

2009 Election coverage of El Faro. Site where the excellent digital periodical El Faro makes available its coverage of the 2009 election.

Election coverage at digital periodical ContraPunto. This independent site is one year old and offers a great deal of political …

One week to legislative and municipal elections

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January 18 is the date for El Salvador's triennial elections for mayors and deputies to the National Assembly. Depending on the poll, the FMLN is leading by 6-15% nationwide in the preferences for deputies and by smaller margins in the mayor's races. These elections could foreshadow the outcome of the presidential election on March 15. And given Mauricio Funes' popularity and double digit lead in several polls, there could be a "Funes effect" which sweeps FMLN candidates into office in many races.


The chart above shows the seats held by the different parties in the National Assembly over the past two decades. There are 84 seats in the National Assembly, so an effective majority requires 43 deputies. No party has held 43 seats in any recent term, so coalitions must be built. Generally the majority coalition has been the conservative ARENA and PCN parties, to go along with ARENA's control of the presidency.

A question for this week's elections will …

Minimum wage increased in El Salvador

An increase in El Salvador's minimum wage went into effect at the beginning of 2009. Monthly wages increased from $192.30 to $207.68 in the commercial section, from $167 to $173.78 in maquila factories, and from $90 to $97.20 in the agricultural sector.

As a daily wage, the wages range from $2.70 to $3.54 in the agricultural sectors (depending on the crop) and from $6.77 to $6.92 in commerce and manufacturing.

These wages only apply to workers in the formal sector. There does seem to be a correlation between the approach of an election and the minimum wage increasing.

Top 10 El Salvador News Stories of 2008

My annual list of the top 10 stories of the prior year:

Economic woes face Salvadoran families. Economic conditions in 2008 saw a worsening of the circumstances of many Salvadorans. High food prices, high gasoline prices and continued rates of sub-employment caused an increase in the level of poverty in the country. One lifeline, remittances from Salvadorans abroad, continued fairly strong, but was beginning to shows signs of weakness towards the end of the year as the economic crisis in the US deepened.

End of the terms of two allies. Tony Saca and George Bush were both in the final years of the presidency during 2008. Saca has visited the White House more than any other leader from Latin America over the past 5 years. Saca supported Bush with troops in Iraq, and kept El Salvador's economic policies aligned with the free trade "neoliberal" strategy favored by the administration in the US. Both presidents saw election campaigns for their successors where the t…

El Salvador's image problem

The Toronto Star finished 2008 with a story listing the world's 10 worst places to live. Unfortunately for El Salvador, it made the list. The Canadian paper came up with a 10 categories -- pollution, corruption, gender gap, life expectancy, literacy, freedom of speech, dictatorship, personal security, inflation and homicide rate -- and picked a loser for each category. The countries on the list included places like Eritrea, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Yemen, Iraq and ... El Salvador. It was that last category, homicide rate, which brought El Salvador into the 10 worst places list.

The paper wrote:Homicide rate: El SalvadorLatin America has the highest murder rate in the world for young adults, 15-24. But El Salvador tops the list of the world's most dangerous countries for the young – and has one of the highest murder rates for people of all ages, according to the Latin American Technological Information Network.It's hard to get people to invest, to come as tourists, to do bu…

Joaquin Villalobos interview in Miami Herald

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Today the Miami Herald published an interview with Joaquin Villalobos, a former guerilla commander of the People's Revolutionary Army ("ERP") segment of the FMLN during El Salvador's civil war who now lives in Oxford, England:
Q. Is the situation in El Salvador cause for concern?

A. It is. Some called me a traitor and others called me a fool when I warned about the dangers of polarization. The right and this government have made many mistakes. I said to myself: The Frente will come to power and it will last five years. I supported the idea that ARENA should be punished. But because of my work, I am asked to comment on what is happening in Venezuela, in Ecuador, in Nicaragua. And I made an association with what was happening in my country and these other countries. And then I worried: This is going to be much longer than five years, when you look at it in context. It is not just a situation that can alter the political balance in El Salvador, but it can become the situa…

Video -- images of 2008

La Prensa Grafica has posted this video of scenes from 2008 in El Salvador.

Salvadoran living in Boston runs on national ticket in El Salvador

The Boston Globe ran a recent story about Merlin Pena, a Salvadoran who has been living in the Boston area since she fled El Salvador in 1980 at the beginning of the civil war. She has been selected to be the the vice presidential candidate for the Christian Democratic Party. Carlos Rivas Zamora, the former mayor of San Salvador, is the party's candidate for president.

The choice of Mena is another sign of the importance of the Salvadoran diaspora to what happens back in El Salvador. Although Salvadorans living abroad cannot vote unless they return to El Salvador to cast their ballots, their economic impact through remittances is immense. A video with Mena on the front page of the PDC website has her talking about the importance of the Salvadorans living outside of the country.

From the Globe story:
Merlin Pena is a resource specialist at the Massachusetts General Hospital clinic in Chelsea. Next year, she could be vice president of El Salvador. Pena, 51, is known ... for her…