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Showing posts from August, 2009

No visible progress towards canonization of Oscar Romero

It has been almost a year since I blogged about the progress of canonization as a saint of the Roman Catholic church for martyred archbishop Oscar Romero. The website of America Magazine wonders why the delay:
Jon Sobrino, the Spanish Jesuit theologian based in El Salvador, says the delay in the process of beatification of Oscar Romero is essentially political: namely, fear of its impact on the Vatican's relations with the Central-American state.

The martyred Archbishop of San Salvador, gunned down at the altar in 1980 after denouncing injustices and army oppression, was formally accepted as a candidate for sainthood in 1997, when he was declared a "Servant of God". He survived a theological audit by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2005, and there was talk of beatification following swiftly -- especially if he was declared a martyr.

But since then, it's all gone quiet. March next year will be the 30th anniversary of his martyrdom, but there's no s…

Efforts to confront violence

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A thousand or more university youth marched through the streets of San Salvador to demonstrate their rejction of violence plaguing the youth and all residents of El Salvador. The march was one of black and white -- marchers in white T-shirts were joined by 692 marchers in black to symbolize the 692 young people who are murdered every six months. The march proceeded from the campus of the University of Central America to the Salvador del Mundo monument. The youth delivered the following demands: That the government administration commit itself to work on public policies of citizen security and against violence. That the institutions charged with the administration of justice work with more commitment to eliminate impunity for crime. That an attorney general be named immediately so that the institution charged with investigating criminal acts does not continue leaderless for more time. That the posession and carrying of firearms be completely banned since their only purpose is to kill. …

Update on Alex Sanchez case

Two months ago, the executive director of the organization Homies Undidos, Alex Sanchez, was arrested on racketeering charges for his alleged role in a murder and other gang activities. The charges are difficult for many to believe since Homies Unidos works to help young men and women escape the gang lifestyle. National Public Radio broadcast an update on the Sanchez case this week:
Federal prosecutors filed translated transcripts of wiretapped phone conversations in which Sanchez — reportedly also known as "Rebelde" or Rebel — allegedly gave orders to commit murder. As further evidence, prosecutors cite a photograph of Sanchez with a Mara Salvatrucha tattoo on his chest....

Federal authorities say they can't talk to the media as the case heads to trial. But it's clear they're counting on those wiretaps to help put Sanchez away. Meanwhile, Sanchez has supporters from around the world rallying for him.

"I don't for a moment think, 'Wow, there must hav…

Photos of a hard life

The National Public Radio website has a photo slideshow of work by photographer Juan Carlos. His work shows a gritty side of the struggle in daily life for many in El Salvador:
"Duro Blandito" (hard soft) is a type of cheese and, in popular Salvadoran speech, an oxymoron expressing the ambiguity of life. For Carlos, the phrase also conveys the difficulty of defining peace in a postwar era. The country had been defined by civil unrest for several decades, culminating in the 1980s and '90s in a civil war to overthrow a repressive government. Peace accords were finally signed in 1992, and with that came hope for the Salvadoran people.

But El Salvador is still among the 10 poorest countries in Latin America. "In various parts of the country," Carlos says, "one can still catch sight of the stillness of time." That is, those regions have remained socio-economically stagnant for the past three decades. While things are changing slowly for Salvadorans, daily l…

Gilberto Soto case reopened in El Salvador

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The legal case over the murder of Salvadoran-American Teamster organizer Gilberto Soto
is being reopened. From Mike Hitchens' blog:
Recently elected Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes ordered the reopening of the case following requests from labor and government officials to follow through on his promise to strengthen the judicial system and crack down on crime in El Salvador by bringing Soto's murderers to justice.

"President Funes has taken an important first step in strengthening human rights in El Salvador," [Teamster President James] Hoffa said. "The violence against trade unionists in El Salvador and across Central and South America has been allowed to go unchecked for far too long. Gilberto Soto's murderers must not be allowed to remain free if the Salvadoran government seeks to make significant strides in strengthening democratic institutions."...

In an interview with a Salvadoran newspaper, former Salvadoran Human Rights Ombudswoman Beatrice A…

Solar panels bring electricity to the poor

This YouTube video from La Prensa shows a project where solar panels are bringing electricity for the first time to some poor households in a section of Apopa, El Salvador

Second gold-mining arbitration

Although most of the attention has been on the Canadian gold mining company Pacific Rim and its international arbitration suit against the government of El Salvador, there is a second US gold mining venture which has also commenced an arbitration. The Commerce Group and San Sebastian Gold Mines filed a notice to demand arbitration under the DR-CAFTA trade agreement. The companies, which are both headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, assert that El Salvador has a de facto ban on the operation of gold mines in El Salvador by foreign companies and that this has deprived Commerce and San Sebastien of their investment interests from operation and exploration of gold mines in the country. They claim damages exceeding $100 million.

On July 2, 2009, the companies commenced their arbitration against El Salvador. In announcing the commencement of arbitration, the Commerce Group's 8-K filing states:
The Company contends that the government of El Salvador has frustrated its efforts to deve…

Asylum from gang violence

A case making its way to the highest level of the US court system deals with the story of Salvadoran teens who fled their homeland to avoid the gangs of El Salvador. Recently the US Supreme Court temporarily blocked the deportation of three Salvadoran teens living undocumented in Minnesota so their appeals could be heard. A story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune describes the case:
Three recent high school graduates from South St. Paul who fled gang violence in their homeland of El Salvador are in the middle of a deportation battle that has reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

The case is expected to set a national precedent on whether resisting forced recruitment into violent gangs in other countries is grounds for asylum here.

Pablo, Rene and Silvia Mira left El Salvador in 2004, illegally crossing the border to live with their mother in Minnesota. Arrested by immigration agents shortly after entering the United States, they argued they were fleeing recruitment by the notorious MS-13 gang,…

Remittances and migrants slow but not stopping

Remittances, the money which Salvadorans working abroad send home to El Salvador, have dropped by 11% over last year according to an AP story:
El Salvador's central bank says the money citizens living abroad sent home during the first seven months of this year dropped 11 percent compared to the same period in 2008.

The bank says remittances between January and July reached $2 billion in the Central American country compared to $2.2 billion during the same period last year.

In a report issued Monday, the bank blamed the decrease on rising unemployment in the United States, especially among Latin American immigrants.

Remittances represent the largest source of legal foreign income. About 2.5 million Salvadorans live in the United States.
Despite the unemployment in the US and the increased border enforcement, some Salvadorans still see the trek northward as their only chance to better their family's economic situation. A story on the Voices of America website interviews some Salvado…

More violence in Cabañas targets a mining opponent

Activists in the anti-gold-mining movement report another attack on a leader in protests against mining in El Salvador. Ramiro Rivera is a leader in the movement opposed to opening gold mining in northeast El Salvador. He was shot eight times in the back and legs, while riding his horse and directing his few cattle. Ramiro Rivera is President of the local Community Development Association (ADESCO) of Nueva Trinidad, a small community located in Cabañas Department. Rviera and ADESCO have been noisy opponents to the gold mine which Pacific Rim wants to build in the surrounding area.

Is the attack against Rivera related to his opposition to the mines? Certainly anti-mining activists assume so, and they have added his name to the list of other recent victims who were active in the anti-mining movement. The continued silence of the government, prosecutors and police on these cases, continues to provoke suspicion.

Funes' honeymoon will be challenged by the economy

Seventy-five days into the administration of Mauricio Funes, he is still enjoying a honeymoon with the Salvadoran public. A recent poll by the CID-Gallup organization reports that Mauricio Funes enjoys a favorable rating by 86% of Salvadorans -- a rating which is the highest of any government in Central America for the past 10 years according to Univsion . Even 68% of ARENA party members have a favorable opinion of Funes.

As an essay at the digital periodical ContraPunto points out, the challenge for Funes to keep these high approval ratings will be dealing witht the country's economic crisis. Poverty increased from 2007 to 2008 so that now 40% of Salvadoran families live in poverty or extreme poverty. Unemployment and under-employment is also in the range of 40% at the same time that fewer dollars are flowing back into the country as family remittances.

Funes has announced a Global Anti-crisis Plan which involves spending $587 million designated to improve some 25,000 houses,…

Stengthening farms in El Salvador

One of Maurcio Funes' campaign promises was to strengthen the country's agricultural sector and its ability to produce its own food needs. The website Inside Costa Rica describes how the new government is working on implementing this measure:
San Salvador - The Salvadorian government started a program on Thursday to revitalize the former strength of agriculture, increase production and legalize land possession.

"We want to turn the countryside into the driving force of the country's productive development," President Mauricio Funes said in the ceremony to launch the plan, and recalled that the sector had been forgotten for years.

By vitue of the new policy, the authorities will speed up handing over title deeds of lands to farmers, until reaching 3,000 in the first 100 days of the new government.

The Executive has granted 934 title deeds since it assumed power on June 1, to families that had been for over 20 years awaiting legalization. Simultaneously to that measu…

A story behind the numbers

During the August festivals in El Salvador, the already high murder rate surged even more. A total of 88 persons lost their lives to violence between August 1 and August 6, an average of almost 15 per day.

A regular reader of this blog, who wishes to remain anonymous, sent in this essay about one of those 88 murders:

There can be no details in the story. It is too dangerous for the families left behind. But in the wee hours of the morning, a knock at a door in a small community ended with another young man laying dead in the pathway outside his home, leaving a girlfriend without her soul mate, a daughter without her father, a mother and father without their son, an extended family without their wage earner, a community without a leader, a church without a role model.

This story is not unique.

But this story is different for me because this man was like my son.

We met when he was a teen. He was being cool, flaunting a bit of English that he was learning in school. He became my unof…

A Congressman's suggestions for investigations in El Salvador

This story is not new in El Salvador, but I can't find any record that any English language blog or news source has covered it.

On June 8, 2009, Congressman James McGovern of Massachusetts wrote a letter to newly inaugurated Salvadoran president Mauricio Funes. After extending his congratulations to Funes on ascending to the presidency, McGovern turns to the question of weaknesses in the investigation of high profile criminal activity in the country. In particular, the Congressman asks Funes to turn his attention to three cases. Congressman McGovern requests that Funes "seriously consider":
1. A more vigorous investigation of the murder of Katya Miranda that includes an investigation of Mr. Godofredo Miranda's alleged cover-up of this heinous crime;

2. A re-examination of the alleged suppression by Mr. Godofredo Miranda of evidence against the Perrones Gang brought by the Costa Rican government in an effort to curtail drug trafficking through Central America;

3. D…

Only in El Salvador

LOL. Lidieth Arevalo, a Salvadoran living in Southern California has produced this video, titled Solo en El Salvador -- Only in El Salvador, which takes a very humorous look at some sights you may see in daily life in El Salvador. This video is the third of a three part series, and I think it's the best of the three.

Increasing violence against women in El Salvador

A radio report on the Free Speech Radio News links an increase in violence against women in El Salvador to the current economic crisis. You can listen to the report at this link. The Salvadoran government has been criticized in the past for making little effort to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of violence against women in the country.

August Festivals

El Salvador's patron saint festivals, which run from August 1 through August 6 are in full swing. See La Prensa's coverage of the week including videos of the opening parade in San Salvador here. La Prensa has another nice photo gallery of images of the famous central San Salvador buildings this link.

Well worth reading again are the two guest posts by our friend Carlos about "La Bajada," the culminating religious celebration of the festival week. You can find what Carlos wrote here and here.

Intimidation in Cabañas

The murder of Marcelo Rivera, and other recent incidents of threats and intimidation against journalists and activists in Cabañas, are troubling. Unknown persons or groups are waging a campaign of intimidation against environmental activists and reporters in the region.

More than 100 international organizations signed a letter to El Salvador's acting attorney general demanding that a more thorough investigation of the Marcelo Rivera murder and its possible political motives be conducted. The letter concludes:
As members of the international community in solidarity with the people of El Salvador, we are calling on the Office of the Attorney General to carry out an impartial, exhaustive, and effective investigation in order to bring to justice the intellectual and material authors of this horrendous crime. If Marcelo’s murder is left in a state of impunity, it will generate a climate of intimidation and uncertainty for social leaders and activists, undermining the advances in the d…