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Showing posts from July, 2009

Homicide rate significantly up from 2008

The online periodical Contra Punto reports the latest homicide statistics for the first 7 months of 2009 and they are troubling. Murders are up 37% in El Salvador for the first seven months of 2009 compared with the same period in 2008. So far in 2009, there have been 2428 violent deaths, compared to 1767 in 2008. These statistics come from the Attorney General's office who asserts that the majority of these murders are gang-related.

This senseless violence bringing grief to so many Salvadoran families has to stop. But no one seems able to implement a solution.

The case of the El Chaparral dam

Another water issue which could be characterized as the environment versus development, or rich versus poor, or powerful versus powerless, or progress versus obstruction is the construction of the El Chapparal dam on the Torola river in northern El Salvador. Local communities who face displacement are trying to stop the construction of the hydroelectric dam which is already underway.

The blog at Voices on the Border provides a description of the project:
Despite controversy over environmental destruction of surrounding communities, the Comisión Ejecutiva del Río Lempa (CEL) in El Salvador has began constructing a new hydroelectric dam in the Río Torola located in the northern part of the department of San Miguel in an area known as El Chaparral. Construction began at the beginning of January this year and is expected to continue for fifty months.

Proponents of the project say that the dam is in accordance with the Kyoto Protocol and has the potential to provide electricity to two hundre…

Translating pain

Today I am republishing a post written by my friend Laura Hershberger. Laura is working in El Salvador with the SHARE Foundation, and is sponsored there by the Volunteer Missionary Movement or VMM. (More about VMM below). Laura's blog post is titled Back pain:
This is a reflection on the week in June that I spent as a medical interpreter at the clinic at Maria Madre de los Pobres Catholic Church in La Chacra, San Salvador. The medical professionals who I interpreted for come to El Salvador everyone on a SHARE delegation from Visitation Parish in Kansas City.

She was a street vendor who walked around carrying a giant tub of juice cans. The pain in her heals was unbearable.

He threw his back out six years ago. He still has horrible pain. He thought it was cancer. But really it was the fact that he lifted tires everyday and put more and more strain on his back.

She lost her arm during the war. Her husband just had a stroke and is paralyzed, she now does everything for him and work to…

Schools and universities in El Salvador to close for two weeks

Beginning on Monday, July 27, classes at El Salvador's schools and universities will be suspended for two weeks until August 9 according to news reports. The measure was put in place by Salvadoran health authorities to stop the spread of H1N1 flu. (Classes would not have been in session during the week of August 2 in any event since that is the week of August vacations associated with the feast of El Salvador del Mundo, the patron saint of the country). El Salvador has 469 confirmed cases of H1N1 flu, including 6 deaths.

Story heard in El Salvador last week:

A wolf, a lion and a pig were debating who was the greatest and most fearsome animal.

The wolf declared, "I am the greatest. When I howl the people shake with fear."

The lion retorted, "No, it is I who am the greatest. When I roar, all of the people run away."

The pig then said, "That's nothing. When I sneeze, everyone dies."

Off the beaten track

From time to time, posts appear on travel blogs praising the beauties of El Salvador and its people, as the travel writer goes "off the beaten track." This week I ran across a beautifully photographed example in a blog by authors named David and Vladi. In a post titled El Salvador, a dangerous country?, they write:
Vladi and I spent a wonderful week in some little villages located in the highlands, far away from big cities and their safety problems. Come with us to get to know El Salvador better...

After a long day of bus(es), we arrived at night in Juayua, a pretty town surrounded by volcanoes and coffee plantations. We found thanks to a local guy a great hotel with private bathroom & TV for 15$, breakfast included. In El Salvador, prices are more expansive than in Nicaragua or Guatemala, and believe me, that was quite a good deal! So we stayed there 6 nights, using the chicken buses to visit the nearby villages rather than changing every 2 days our accomodation.

Wit…

Roadblocks to gold mining remain in place

An essay at Foreign Policy In Focus titled El Salvador's Gold Fight presents a viewpoint sympathetic to the efforts to block gold-mining in El Salvador. The article focuses on gold-mining company Pacific Rim and that company's arbitration against the government of El Salvador. Popular resistance to mining continues:
The combined effect of local resistance and religious backing had a decisive impact on government decision-making. With public opinion polls showing a clear majority in opposition to gold mining, and despite its initial enthusiasm for Pacific Rim's mining proposals, officials from the ruling conservative ARENA party refused to issue the company permits to begin extracting gold from underground deposits. In essence, the government ceased to acknowledge Pacific Rim's existence. Repeated complaints and applications for permits were filed by the company with government ministries, and promptly ignored.

Since then, La Mesa has continued to push the envelope. Not…

The maras run the prisons

El Salvador's prisons are not just dangerous and ineffectual -- the maras, or gangs, actually run their criminal enterprise from behind the prison walls. An article from the BBC details how authorities often cede authority over much of what happens inside the prisons to one of the country's two rival gangs:
Part of the problem is the authorities' policy of dedicating certain prisons to one particular gang.

The idea is to avoid violence between rival groups, yet in practice it means the state has handed over control of the prisons to the gangs, argues Jeanette Aguilar, an expert on the topic at the University of Central America (UCA).

"The prisons have been the place where the gangs have moved towards institutionalising themselves. They have created criminal economic networks," she said.

Inmates at Ciudad Barrios happily refer to the prison as the MS's home or neighbourhood. Lack of supervision means prisoners can easily get hold of the phones they allegedly use …

Police version of activist's death questioned

Numerous civil society organizations in El Salvador are rejecting the hypothesis of the police that Marcelo Rivera was murdered by gang members he knew after talking and drinking with them. Rivera was a prominent activist who had denounced election fraud and protested the possibility of gold mining in the country. The civil society groups are complaining that the police have completely discounted any link between enemies made by Rivera's activism and his violent death.

The website World War 4 Report states: The victim's brother, Miguel Rivera, dismissed the gang violence explanation. "Saying that my brother died at the hands of gang members is an unbelievable story and becomes a mockery for my family. My brother was tortured. He was alive for nine days after his disappearance. His trachea was broken by a nylon cord that strangled him, pushing his arm up to his face. This is not an act of gang members. It is torture."

Rivera was director of the Casa de Cultura in San …

H1N1 Flu in El Salvador

I am currently in El Salvador, and one of the things I noticed right away was the amount of attention being paid to H1N1 flu. From the screening by thermal cameras of arriving international travelers, to the signs in many locations about how to avoid the spread of the flu, it is clear that a prevention effort is in full swing. A report in La Prensa today states that the number of cases in the country has risen to 379. Three children have died from the disease. Various schools have been closed. The bishops of the Roman Catholic church and Lutheran church have talked to the press about possible closings of churches if the health authorities deem it necessary.

All this is a little strange to someone coming from Wisconsin, with a similar population to El Salvador, where we have more than 2000 confirmed cases of the H1N1 flu and we have learned to live with the fact that it is widespread but the symptoms are not severe. Where El Salvador has increased risk is the weakness of its hea…

Resource Guide to the Crisis in Honduras

If, like me, you are looking for good resources to help you understand the events in Honduras, a very good site is the AS/COA Resource Guide to the Crisis in Honduras. There you will find collected news analysis as well as links to original documents such as the decrees of the Honduran Supreme Court and the Honduran constitution.

Suspects in activist murder captured

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the disappearance of Salvadoran activist Marcelo Rivera. Rivera's body was subsequently found at the bottom of a well. According to a La Prensa Grafica article yesterday, four suspects have now been arrested in the disappearance and murder of Rivera. A fifth is already in prison for other crimes. According to the LPG article, the suspects and Rivera were drinking together when they got into a "discussion" which led to Rivera's death.

Marcelo Rivera was a social activist and FMLN party member who had been involved in criticizing fraud in the recent elections in San Isidro and opposing the gold mining activities of Pacific Rim. The explanation of these suspects' involvement in the crime is not going to satisfy those who believe that his death was a result of his political views and actions.

Salvadorans trust Funes to govern well

A recent public opinion poll found that almost 70% of Salvadorans expect newly installed president Mauricio Funes to govern well or very well:
Polling DataHow do you expect Mauricio Funes to govern? Very well / Well 69% Average 19% Very badly / Badly 4% Not sure 8%

Declining remittances threaten El Salvador's economy

The table below shows the amount of remittance money sent into El Salvador by Salvadorans living abroad for the first 5 months of this year compared to the same period in 2008:


Month20082009% change
Jan$275.5$252.4-8.4%Feb$298.3$275.1-7.8%Mar$338.4$315.8-6.7%Apr$338.5$292.5-13.6%May$353.4$308.2-12.8%Source: El Salvador Central Reserve Bank statistics in millions of US dollars.

The decline in remittances, which make up 1/6th of El Salvador's economy, is one factor leading rating agencies to downgrade El Salvador's public debt according to the WSJ:
Fitch Ratings cut El Salvador's long-term ratings one notch deeper into junk territory, saying that nation's economy is expected to shrink 2.5% this year. The move to BB matches the one handed out last month by Standard & Poor's Ratings Service. Fitch lowered its ratings outlook on the country to negative in October, where is remains even after the downgrade, meaning further cuts aren't out of the question. Like man…

Thinking about Honduras

One week ago, the military in Honduras ousted Manuel Zelaya as president of that country. Since that time, the great majority of the world community, including the United Nations, the Organization of American States (OAS), El Salvador and the US have condemned the military coup. When the OAS declared that Honduras would be suspended from the organization if the country did not restore Zelaya to the presidency by Saturday, July 4, the new government in Honduras responded by quitting the OAS. Tensions are running high today as Zelaya plans to return to Honduras and the government plans to stop him.

I'm not a student of Honduran government and politics, so I have not been writing about the coup in this blog. The blogging community does have several good sources of information in English and Spanish about the evolving situation. A Global Voices blog post published just before the ouster of Zelaya gives an overview of the tensions in the country in the days leading up to the coup…