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Showing posts from March, 2009

Iceland comes to El Salvador

A small article in the IcelandReview showed up in my searches for stories about El Salvador in the world's press. The article describes the start up of a small geothermal electricity plant in the area near Berlin, El Salvador:
The first Icelandic geothermal power plant to be built on foreign ground has launched operations in the geothermal area of Berlin in El Salvador, as announced by Icelandic geothermal energy company Enex on Saturday.

“This is a significant milestone for Icelandic geothermal knowledge,” managing director of Enex Thór Gíslason said in a statement, adding:

“Progressive operations on geothermal power plants in Iceland for the past ten years along with the development of new and improved technology have created a strong basis for exporting knowledge that is sought-after in many foreign countries.”

Once fully operational, the power plant will produces 9.3 MW of electricity. It is operated in partnership with local energy company LaGeo. The agreement between LaGeo and…

El Salvador 2 - USA 2

The national soccer teams of El Salvador and the USA fought to a 2-2 draw in an exciting game in San Salvador's Cuscatlan Stadium. The home team managed to get a 2-0 lead with 20 minutes to go before 50,000 screaming fans, but could not hold off a strong US rally to tie the game.

Going into the match, the USA was ranked 17th in the world and El Salvador 106. The 2 Salvadoran goals were their first scores against the US since 1997. El Salvador will play its next match in World Cup qualifying Wednesday against Costa Rica in San Jose.

The Economy -- Fruit of the Loom in El Salvador

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Underwear maker Fruit of the Loom is the largest employer in El Salvador according to the US embassy. So it is not good news when the company announced today that it would temporarily layoff some 3000 of its 12,000 employees. The layoff was blamed on declining orders from the company's customers due to overall economic conditions. Despite the layoffs, the company reiterated its commitment to its factory operations in El Salvador.

Fruit of the Loom is based in Kentucky, and is a subsidiary of Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway. A 2005 story from a Kentucky newspaper describes the company's El Salvador operations and the role of the maquiiadora sector in El Salvador's economy.

According to La Prensa Grafica, the overall textile sector in the country employed 104,000 workers in its maquila factories at the end of 2008, down 6,000 from the prior year.

US v. El Salvador in World Cup qualifying match

El Salvador continues its quest to qualify for the 2010 World Cup soccer championships in South Africa in a match against the US team Saturday night at Cuscatlan stadium in San Salvador. The ESPN web site has a preview:
Are the Blues the weakest team in the Hexagonal? Probably. Are the Americans heavy favorites to triumph against El Salvador this Saturday? Without question. But that doesn't mean the proceedings at the Estadio Cuscatlán will be straightforward. True, the Americans own a 2-0-1 record against the Cuscatlecos in World Cup qualifiers played outside the U.S., and they're 2-1-2 all-time in San Salvador. But despite these marks, the Americans know a difficult night -- similar to their 1-0 win at Guatemala in the semifinal round -- awaits them. After all, we're talking about a venue where the behavior of the fans in last month's 2-2 draw with Trinidad & Tobago led FIFA to impose over $25,000 in fines to the El Salvadoran Football Federation. "The crow…

Top Romero Quotes

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Today is the 29th Anniversary of the assassination of Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Romero. To commemorate the day, I am republishing one of the most popular posts on this blog, a listing of the top 10 quotes of Romero, compiled by the San Romero Discussion Group.




The San Romero Yahoo! Discussion Group has made its selection of the TOP TEN OSCAR ROMERO QUOTES of all time, and the slain Salvadoran archbishop's impassioned assassination-eve plea to his country's military to "Stop the repression!" has topped the selections. Romero was Archbishop of San Salvador from 1977 to 1980, raising his voice to defend the interests of the poor masses and to stave off a civil war that finally exploded after his March 24, 1980 assassination in a San Salvador suburban church. The previous day, the popular cleric had delivered a stinging rebuke that culminated in a fervent entreaty, the quotation topping the list. "In the name of God, then," Romero had said, "and in the …

Arrests made in case of Katya Miranda

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Law enforcement authorities in El Salvador made arrests this weekend in the case of Katya Miranda. A year ago I described how Salvadoran bloggers and others had begun a campaign demanding justice in the 9 year old case which symbolized the problems of impunity in the country.

The facts of the case are heinous: Katya's mother left her two daughters at the home of her paternal grandfather along El Salvador's coast with a promise to pick them up in the morning. Yet when morning came, nine-year-old Katya was dead -- raped, beaten and murdered. Despite the presence of members of her father's family and their employees at the home, nobody claimed to have seen or heard anything. The father, grandfather and other male relatives are high-ranking officials in El Salvador's military and the National Civilian Police.

Most believed that because of the positions of the suspects, the prosecution was abandoned by the attorney general's office for lack of proof in 2000. Subsequen…

Guerrilla ecotourism

In the north of El Salvador, in the department of Chalatenango, attracting tourists to see sites of guerrilla struggle during El Salvador's civil war, is a way of preserving a forested environment. Raúl Gutiérrez describes the efforts in an article on IPS titled Guerrilla Ecotourism:
La Montañona, a forested mountain in northern El Salvador that reaches 1,800 metres above sea level, was a stronghold of the FMLN guerrillas during the country’s armed conflict. Today, its forests and stories of bombings and rebel hideouts have begun to draw ecotourism.

At the top of the mountain, the view is spectacular. A chain of volcanoes and mountains stretches towards the horizon, obliterating the border with neighbouring Honduras. The fresh mountain air makes it easier to forget the poor state of the road leading to La Montañona, in the department (province) of Chalatenango, around 100 km from the capital.

An ecotourism area was designed on 300 hectares of land on the mountain, with hiking trails…

Worth reading

As you might imagine, a lot has been written in the past two weeks about El Salvador in the press around the world. Usually when there is something written in the English language press about El Salvador, I can bring it to your attention but there is way too much right now.

Instead, I'd like to point you to some essays which merit reading because they go a little bit deeper than the standard story-line of the television journalist turned candidate for the former Marxist guerrillas who campaigns against the conservative governing party which relied on fear as a campaign theme.

A pair of articles, one before the election and one after, written by Roger Atwood for Mother Jones, benefit from the fact that he lives in El Salvador. His understanding as a resident of the country are apparent in El Salvador's Left Turn and El Salvador's Quiet Revolution.

Make sure and read the series of blog posts by Roberto Lovato, who returns to the homeland of his family to write about the…

Salvadoran bloggers reflect on the elections

Salvadoran bloggers brought an independent voice to politics in El Salvador over the past 5 years, a voice which was not present in the last presidential election. David Mejia was part of live coverage given to the elections and the tallying of the votes by the Salvadoran blogosphere. He reflected on the importance of the internet and the election results:

Esta vez me atrevo a decir con propiedad, el internet ha sido muy importante esta vez en las elecciones, debido a que el público joven, lo ha utilizado en vez de los medios tradicionales, y quiero felicitar a los partidos políticos por habernos tomado en cuenta en muchas ocasiones.

No hay que olvidar que El Salvador esta vez tiene que estar más unido, dejar las diferencias, aferrarse a Dios para poder tener un mejor país, ya que todos unidos lo podremos lograr, y así poder lograr el verdadero CAMBIO, no solo cambio de gobierno, sino cambio de actitud.

This time I dare say with propriety, the internet has been very important in the el…

Post-election interview with Mauricio Funes

Roberto Lovato at New American Media interviewed Mauricio Funes shortly after the election victory and the translation of the interview into English is available here. Among other things, Funes discussed the change in focus his new government will bring:
Where will the effects of the transition in power be felt most immediately?

We're going to change the way we make policy. And one of the most significant changes is that we will no longer have a government at the service of a privileged few. And we will no longer have a government that creates an economy of privileges for the privileged. Now, we need a government like the one envisioned by Mons. Oscar Arnulfo Romero, who in his prophetic message said that the church should have a preferential option for the poor.

Paraphrasing Mons. Romero, I would say that this government should have a preferential option for the poor, for those who need a robust government to get ahead and to be able to compete in this world of disequilibrium under…

Torture verdict against Carranza upheld

A federal appellate court in the US today upheld the civil judgment against Nicolas Carranza. In 2005, a jury in Memphis found that Carranza failed to stop crimes against humanity when he was a top commander of El Salvador's security forces. He was held responsible in civil claims by four Salvadoran victims who said they were tortured or that their family members were killed by soldiers under Carranza's command. The appeals court's opinion rejects arguments Carranza made based on the statute of limitations, the Salvadoran amnesty law, and various evidentiary rulings.

The decision continues the impressive string of favorable court rulings achieved by the San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability which is also involved in bringing the case of the Jesuits into the courts in Spain.

Post-election edition

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Election night in San Salvador

The front pages of today's newspapers in El Salvador:





It was interesting to see today this picture on the US Embassy website of Mauricio Funes and US Chargé d'Affaires Robert Blau with their wives taken last night after the Funes' victory speech:



The news story on the Embassy website was also of interest:
The election campaign was heavily marked by attacks and aggressive accusations between the two parties. The debate also was focused on the doubts whether the possible FMLN victory would trigger a change in the bilateral relations with the US. However, Charge Blau congratulated the people and the government of El Salvador for building a democracy where calm elections were celebrated: “Mauricio Funes has won in a fair and free election. We have said many times that our intention is to continue with the good relations with El Salvador from government to government, and from people to people”, said Mr. Blau.

During the State Department’s daily press …

Funes speaks of reconciliation; Avila accepts defeat

On the evening of his historic election as the first president from a leftist party in El Salvador, Funes came to the microphone in the Sheraton Presidente Hotel in San Salvador to declare himself the winner of the elections. After thanking the party members and family who had worked for his election, Funes immediately struck a note of reconciliation, calling to renew the spirit of reconciliation which had been the basis for the 1992 Peace Accords. Noting that ARENA had now "passed into the opposition," Funes also let it be known that he intended to listen to them and they would be "respected and heard." Funes indicated that he would seek to work together with president Tony Saca for a smooth transition of government. Funes struck the moderate leftist themes which had marked his campaign, assuring small, medium and large business owners that he understood the need to have a vibrant economy and a government which was respectful of contract/property rights. Bu…

Mauricio Funes wins historic election in El Salvador

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All indications tonight are that Mauricio Funes, the former television journalist, achieved victory today in the presidential elections in El Salvador. Very early on, the election returns being reported by the media showed that the candidate of the leftist FMLN had garnered support throughout the country sending red clad FMLN supporters into the streets to celebrate and sending the conservative ARENA party to defeat for the first time in two decades. By 8:45pm El Salvador time, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal had released results showing Funes with 51.6% of the vote and Avila with 48.4%. This reflected a tally of 73% of the votes.

Funes will assume the presidency of a country with many problems. Among those problems are high levels of crime and violence and an economy that does not provide jobs sufficient to support a large percentage of Salvadoran families. He will have a divided government -- the FMLN will have a plurality in the National Assembly, with conservative ARENA and PC…

Presidential election day 2009

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8:40 p.m. -- TSE just released its latest tallies: FMLN 51.60% ARENA 48.40% (73% tabulated)

8:30 pm -- still waiting for the TSE to release more official results. ARENA was just on TV asserting that their data is favorable.

7:45 p.m. -- The TSE just released its first preliminary results:

With 33.26% of voting table reports tabulated:

Arena: 426,108 48.72%
FMLN: 448,554 51.28%

Stay tuned.

6:45 pm Channel 21 Megavision has a preliminary count showing the FMLN winning 57% to 43%. TCS shows the FMLN with 53%. It's not looking good for ARENA.

6:30 p.m. -- Preliminary results from the government won't be released for another hour. Looking at the Channel 21 and some results they are displaying on the screen, it looks like the FMLN and Funes have the advantage in the early counting.

5:00 p.m. -- The polls in El Salvador are closed. People in line to vote at 5 will be allowed to vote. Then the votes are counted at each table with respresentatives of each party and election obse…

The transparency of Salvadoran elections

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It is the eve of El Salvador's fourth presidential election since the end of the civil war in 1992. The former warring factions are now the country's leading political parties. If Mauricio Funes of the FMLN wins, it will mark the country's first transfer of power to a leftist government.

The elections in El Salvador, in my view, have a great deal of transparency. The reason is that the political parties are permitted to have observers, "vigilantes," at every single voting table in the country. They scrutinize each step from the verification that a person's name and ID appears on the election roll, to the counting of the votes. In addition, some 4000 observers, both national and international, have been accredited to watch every step of the process. Besides that, the office of the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDDH), will also have 1500 observers in the field at polling places.

To see how the process works at each individual polling place, you may want to r…

Keys to the presidential election

Lots of articles are being written with predictions of what is key and important in this Sunday's election. (They can't all be right).

The Christian Science Monitor writes that evangelicals are key to El Salvador elections. The articles describes a movement of the evangelical Christian population of El Salvador towards the left, compared with a strong preference for ARENA in 2004.

The Associated Press has an article stating that the difference could be Salvadorans who live in the US:"Potentially, the people who send remittances have a privileged status over those who receive the remittances, who could listen to the political message that their family members want to give them," said sociologist Gaspar Rivera-Salgado, professor of immigration and labor at the University of California, Los Angeles. "It's an interesting political exercise—an indirect influence." In an article titled A win for El Salvador leftist appears less certain, the Los Angeles Times…

Watch El Salvador's two presidential candidates

There was never a debate between Mauricio Funes and Rodrigo Avila, but you can compare them in these two interviews conducted by Jorge Ramos of Univision:


Funes interview video.


Avila interview video.

The Official US Government Position

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The US State Department has responded to the outcry created by statements by certain Republican lawmakers:

Thank you for your concern regarding the elections in El Salvador.

The Government of the United States reiterates its official position that it does not support either candidate in the upcoming presidential election in El Salvador on March 15. The Embassy of the United States in El Salvador has stated this position publicly and repeatedly since November of 2007.

The separation of powers and freedoms in the United States allows the debate in which members of the U.S. Legislature have expressed their opinions, which do not reflect the official position of the United States.

Alberto Rodriguez
A/Public Affairs Officer
Agregado de Prensa/Press Officer
Embajada de Estados Unidos
San Salvador, El Salvador
It is doubtful that El Salvador's far-right El Diario de Hoy will give this statement the same bold, front page headlines it gave Rep. Rohrabacher's and Florida Congressman Connie Mack…

Congress members ask for neutrality and one idiot does the opposite

Thirty-three members of Congress signed a letter last week asking the Obama administration to make it clear that the US will be neutral and respect the outcome of the presidential election. In part, the letter states:
As Members of Congress, we reject the threats of 2004 and any effort to instigate another US intervention in Salvadoran politics. We feel that U.S. immigration policy should not be made into a political instrument used to influence foreign elections. Similarly, we reject the suggestion that the US government would seek to financially punish Salvadorans, in this country or in El Salvador, for exercising their right to elect a government of their choosing. As members of Congress, we will not support any such measure.

We believe that the proper position of the U.S. Congress and government is one of neutrality and respect for El Salvador’s independent democratic process, thus allowing the Salvadoran people to make a free choice of personal conscience, a choice which can only …

Last day of the campaign

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Today is the last day El Salvador's political parties are permitted to campaign prior to the presidential election on Sunday.

Greg from the SHARE Foundation, sent me this note:

As the SHARE Foundation prepares to guide International Observers, mostly from all over the United States, the propaganda has taken over the streets of San Salvador. Just from my first few days back in the country since 2007, there have been more electricity poles splashed with FMLN red and white masking the blue of ARENA. This technique actually making it pink and white, which is just more symbolism of the desperate campaigning techniques of both sides. There are no laws or boundaries of respect for campaign materials. ARENA clearly has more money for campaigning in San Salvador taking more space than the FMLN on the radio.

The anxiety and energy are felt everywhere, either in the grocery story or a pupuseria. There are multiple stories in Diario de Hoy or Prensa Graffica trying to smear the FMLN campaign. It…

The gangs of El Salvador

Friend of this blog, Ethan James, has a gallery of his photographs of gang activity in El Salvador published on the website of the Miami Herald this week. Click here to view The faces of El Salvador's gangs.

These images are an appropriate illustration to this week's appalling news that the first two months of this year were the bloodiest January and February in the past 5 years. There were 689 murders in the first two months, an average of more than 12 per day. The government blames the high murder rate on the gangs in the country. For more, check out this story on El Salvador's violence from National Public Radio.

It is worth noting that Rodrigo Avila was head of the national police or otherwise involved in government safety efforts throughout the current ARENA government's completely ineffective attempts to reign in the violence.

What's in a political slogan

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I have noticed in the past few weeks that the Funes and Avila campaigns have started to emphasize new slogans. The new slogan for ARENA is "Vota con Sabiduría" -- Vote with Wisdom. There is a de-emphasis on the original campaign slogan "Pais Mas Justo" -- A More Just Country. This new slogan goes hand in hand with advertising by ARENA and its political allies which emphasizes fear of the FMLN as communist guerrillas responsible for years of conflict in the country. The new message is -- think about that violent past before you cast your vote -- vote wisely.

The new campaign slogan being emphasized by the Funes campaign is "Esta vez es diferente" -- This time is different. You can listen to a jingle with this slogan at www.mauriciofunespresidente.com I can't say that I am a real fan of this slogan, because it rings a little defensive. It seems to be saying -- let's forget about our big loss in the 2004 presidential election, now we finally ha…

What others are writing

A young friend from Germany wrote the following about the parties' campaign closing rallies this weekend:
Yesterday we were on the Alameda Juan Pablo II to observe the final event of the campaign of the FMLN. It was really an incredible feeling, 200.000 people in the street, a sea of red. Usually you only see people waving flags of Che Guevara, Fidel Castro and Karl Marx in history books, but here history is living!
And then they all together sang the ode to joy from Beethoven and I put the hand on my heart and sang the hymns of Europe on the top of my voice.

Today in the Estadio Cuscatlan ARENA put an ARENA Cap, a bag of water and a flag on every single seat!

The difference could not be bigger...

From around the web, there are a number of new articles written in English about El Salvador's elections. The basic theme is that the upcoming election is a big opportunity for the left:

The Washington Post has a story today, In El Salvador Vote, Big Opportunity for Leftists.

Alexandra Ma…

Parties close their political campaigns with rallies

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On the final weekend before El Salvador's presidential elections, the political parties held big rallies in San Salvador to energize the party faithful. The FMLN conducted its rally on Saturday, taking over the Avenue Juan Pablo II, with a large stage and thousands of red-clad partisans waving FMLN banners. "Todos queremos cambio" -- we all want change -- was a refrain from the musicians energizing the crowd. Then Funes took the stage to talk about change, hope, and the necessity for his supporters to go to the polls next Sunday. The Funes campaign asserted on its website that more than 300,000 people filled the avenue to attend the rally, while some 200,000 were watching over the internet and more on television. You watch a videoon YouTube of caravans arriving with FMLN followers for the rally.

ARENA conducted its Festival of National Unity Sunday morning at Cuscatlan Stadium in San Salvador. ARENA faithful marched to the stadium dressed in the tri-color red, whit…

The candidates and the churches

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One aspect of the campaigns of El Salvador's presidential candidates is their interaction with the country's churches, particularly the evangelical churches which are the fastest growing segment of churches in the country.


Rodrigo Avila meeting with evangelicals in Santa Ana.



Funes meets with 600 evangelical pastors.

From what I can observe, the FMLN appears to be more intentional in its outreach. This may reflect the fact that at least some observers felt the evangelical vote in El Salvador went primarily to Tony Saca and ARENA in the 2004 elections. I recently received a copy of an FMLN document distributed to the country's churches. The document is titled "Moral Rescue Plan" with a subtitle "God as the center and engine of the change that is coming. Without morality, there is no hope." The objective of the plan is described as joining hands with the moral forces in the country to confront the evils that afflict the society. The plan describes effor…

Saca says "no" to Pacific Rim

Next week, with El Salvador's presidential election looming, the Canadian gold-mining company Pacific Rim may commence a multi-million dollar international arbitration against the government of El Salvador under the DR-CAFTA trade agreement. As the SHARE Foundation's blog reports, the current president, Tony Saca, has no intention of settling with Pacific Rim:President Antonio Saca recently declared that he will not grant extraction rights to Pacific Rim, a Canadian-based mining company that has been exploring gold mining options in El Dorado, El Salvador. His announcement comes just before the three-month period for the amicable negotiation between the government and company ends and the dispute goes before international arbitration. President Saca added, “I want to make something clear, I prefer to pay the $90 million dollars [for arbitration] than to give them a permit.”

President Saca stated that he wants a business that can demonstrate that its practices will not harm th…

Amnesty and impunity in case of the Jesuits

An article this week from the Chicago Tribune looks at El Salvador's amnesty law passed after the end of the civil war and its effect of preventing justice in the case of the six Jesuit priests slain in 1989:
El Salvador is still wrestling with how to achieve justice after a 12-year conflict between Marxist rebels and a military regime propped up by the Reagan administration.

While international human-rights groups say prosecution is the only logical avenue, both leading candidates in March's presidential election have taken the opposite approach, vowing to keep the amnesty law in place.

That angers [Jesuit Father Jose Maria] Tojeira, now rector at Central American University, which houses a shrine to the slain priests. "We call it an insult to the victims of El Salvador," he said. "The amnesty law attempts to say that nothing happened here, that the living are the ones who count and the dead don't matter. It is a lack of respect to human dignity."

The fact…

Report on issues facing El Salvador

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Three organizations with an interest in El Salvador have teamed up to publish the report, The 2009 El Salvador Elections: Between Crisis and Change.

Topics in the report range from the campaigns and the economy, to militarization and the diplomatic front, and much more. These sections are, in turn, divided into more specific issues, such as free trade, water privatization, Plan Mexico, regional integration, and potential relations with the new Obama administration. This timely report seeks to reflect on El Salvador’s current situation as well as the possibilities and challenges ahead at this pivotal moment for the nation’s future.

The Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA), and Upside Down World collectively edited the report. As one would expect, the report is supportive of Mauricio Funes and the FMLN and reflects the left-leaning views of the sponsoring organizations.

While I have often taken issue with the…

Invitation to contributors

As many of you know, I fractured my knee while in El Salvador as an observer for the January elections. The knee is healing fine, but my biggest disappointment is that I will not be able to travel to El Salvador for the presidential election. So I am looking for contributors who are, or will be, in El Salvador for the presidential elections two weeks from today. As I try to make available comprehensive coverage of the presidential election, write up your observations of election day and the days leading up to March 15 and send them to me using the link in the right hand column. I can't promise I'll post everything I receive and I reserve the right to edit, but I look forward to anything you care to send. Thanks.

Families continue search for missing migrants

In January I wrote about COFAMIDE, the Committee of Family Members of Migrants who have Died or Disappeared, formed to get answers about the disappearances of migrants lost on the way north from El Salvador to the US. The group has now been able to conduct a trip to Mexico to seek information about the missing, as this article from IPS reports:

The Caravan of Hope held a five-day march earlier this month, with economic support from two U.S.-based organisations: the Central American Resource Centre (CARECEN), which provides assistance to migrants, and the Catholic group Nuestros Lazos de Sangre.

The members of the Caravan of Hope met with officials from the federal police and the National Migration Institute (INM) in Tapachula, the capital of Chiapas.

The officials promised to meet with the activists again on Mar. 10, to present them with a list containing all of the available information on Central Americans who have been arrested or killed, or who have gone missing, in Mexico, as well…