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Showing posts from November, 2009

Spanish paper -- US knew of attack on Jesuits in advance

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As readers of this blog know, legal proceedings are currently advancing in Spain against participants in the 1989 murders of the six Jesuits. In that proceeding, documents from the US government files, some of which were previously classified, are being submitted to the Spanish court. The Spanish newspaper El Mundo has examined those documents, and reports that the documents have proof that the US government knew in advance what the Salvadoran military was planning:
EL MUNDO has learned that among the papers that will be submitted to the Audiencia Nacional there is information which documents, in a direct manner, that the military chief at the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador, Col. Milton Menjivar, and a senior U.S. State Department official knew what the Salvadoran military high command was planning against the rector of the UCA.
I have not seen the documents, nor has any other news source reported on their contents. Assuming the paper's report is right, this is a major new revelatio…

Funes and Obama -- the parallels

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In 2009, both Mauricio Funes and Barack Obama assumed power following presidential campaigns featuring themes of hope and change. Now the two presidents face similar challenges, challenges which make it difficult to meet the high expectations their campaigns created.

Both Funes and Obama are waging wars which they inherited from previous administrations. Obama has the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, where he is currently deciding how many thousands of additional US troops to send into the area. Funes has the war against criminal violence and murders, where he has recently made the decision to send thousands more troops into the streets in high crime areas.

Both Funes and Obama lead countries strongly hit by the world financial crisis. Poverty and unemployment have increased in both their countries, and they have electorates who want their presidents to do something to correct the situation. Yet both presidents face economic forces which are greater than their governments' abili…

The San Vicente landslides seen from space

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Dave's Landslide Blog has shown where you can now see satellite images showing the paths of landslides and flooding on the slopes of the San Vicente volcano. The images show the paths of landslides by showing where vegetative cover was ripped away by the cascade of mud down the slopes.

The best images probably come from the satellite resources coordinated at disastercharter.org:




More images are here.

Mary O'Grady continues her right wing nonsense

In the midst of important stories coming out of El Salvador, like the flooding and the deployment of troops on the streets, I postponed commenting about an editorial by Mary Anastasio O'Grady in the Noveber 8, 2009 Wall Street Journal. Her editorial, titled Chavez's Next Target: El Salvador continues her history of right-wing diatribes involving the country. After praising the de facto government in Honduras which deposed democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya, she goes on to write:
Speculation about such political machinations increased last month when 12 Arena congressmen announced a break from their party. Calling themselves "independents," they proceeded to vote with the FMLN against an investigation Arena wanted into abuses of agricultural subsidies.

What prompted the defection? [Former president Alfredo] Cristiani told me that a high-ranking member of the Christian Democratic Party (PDC) has told him that at least one PDC congressman has been offered $…

Pacific Rim's fight against El Salvador

The Canadian gold-mining company Pacific Rim sent out a press release this week stating that the lawsuit it has brought against El Salvador is moving forward now that three arbitrators have been selected.:

An arbitration case brought by Pacific Rim Mining against the government of El Salvador will move ahead, as the arbitration tribunal has now been constituted, the company reported on Thursday.

Pacific Rim embarked on arbitration proceedings because of the government's failure to issue permits for the company's El Dorado project, three years after Pacific Rim submitted a mine design to authorities.

The company claims the government has breached international and Salvadoran law in its “improper failure to finalize the permitting process as it is required to do and to respect the company's and the enterprises' legal rights to develop mining activities in El Salvador”.
The company hopes it will face better success in an international business arbitration under DR-CAFTA than …

Troops take to the streets

An additional 2500 troops are out on the streets in high crime areas of El Salvador. But will they reduce violent crime? IPS looks at the issue:
So far this year, there have been 3,673 murders in this country of 5.8 million people - 494 more than in the same period in 2008, according to police statistics.

The novel aspect of the measure is that soldiers will now be allowed to carry out searches and arrest people, and to set up checkpoints on the roads - something that hadn't been seen since the 1980-1992 civil war, in which 80,000 people - most of them civilians - were killed, mainly by government troops and far-right paramilitaries.

"The armed forces will be able to search houses, frisk people, set up checkpoints, and arrest people caught red-handed," said Funes.

"Of course they will not hold onto the suspects, who will be handed over to the National Civil Police, and the armed forces will have to document each arrest, so that they do not break any laws," he add…

Five years of blogging

Today is the 5th anniversary of the start of Tim's El Salvador Blog.

I'm in El Salvador as I write this post, having just participated in the commemorations of the murder of the Jesuits and the subversive cross. I'm also here to understand more of the country's needs following the floods of a week ago.

This trip captures many of the themes which have been part of the blog over the years -- the legacy of the civil war, how justice can prevail over impunity, and El Salvador's vulnerability to natural disasters from hurricanes to earthquakes and volcanoes. As our group chooses when and where to travel, I am mindful of El Salvador's surging crime problem, while at the same time appreciating the beauty of the countryside which made El Salvador one of Lonely Planet's top 10 countries to visit. The elections of 2009 probably used up more of the 1400 posts I have written than any other topics, elections which resulted in the historic peaceful transfer of pow…

One cross, two stories

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ONE CROSS, TWO STORIES



This is a story about two crosses

in San Salvador. One is a cross made from

houses destroyed in the earthquake,

el terremoto. The other is the cross



that hangs by the musicians

in the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection.

This cross is the subversive cross,

La cruz subversiva. Both crosses



Come from Medardo Gómez,

the Bishop who pastors the church.

The Bishop calls the cross made

from ruins, the Cross of Life—



No es la cruz de la muerte, he says.

It’s not the cross of death.

The Subversive Cross is the cross

that went to prison. The Cross of Life



is for the Church, maybe for the library.

The Subversive Cross is for the heart,

it has other work to do. Bishop Gómez

ministers to refugees from the war,



He says he’s a refugee himself.

He says we’re all beggars.

Medardo es El Obispo de la Paz,

The Bishop of Peace, he calls his Church



a prophetic Church. Now, during the time

of this telling, a guard has been killed

at the Lutheran University. Medardo says

it wasn’t just murder, it was Death Squads…

The Subversive Cross

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On November 16, 1989, that same fateful day in El Salvador when the Jesuits were murdered, Lutheran Bishop Medardo Gomez was also targeted by the military. For Bishop Gomez and his Lutheran church were also voices who denounced the injustice they saw in Salvadoran society. They were deemed to be subversives by the government for siding with the poor and doing such radical things as operating a refugee camp for families fleeing the armed conflict, or for teaching the poor that they were entitled to equal human rights with the rich and powerful.

You know the government's view of your church when it sets up a machine gun post directly across the street from your church, your church named Resurrection Church – the church of Easter, and the machine gun is always aimed at the front door of the church.

A few weeks before November 16, 1989, in a special service of reconciliation, the congregation of Resurrection Lutheran Church in San Salvador was asked to lay the sins of their country…

Resources for learning about the Jesuit murders

In commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the murder of the Jesuits on November 16, here is a list of resources

UN Truth Commission Report -- section on Jesuit murders

Interim Report of the Speaker's Task Force on El Salvador (the "Moakley Report"), April 30, 1990

Final Statement of the Speaker's Task Force, November 18, 1991

Lawyer's Committee on Human Rights Report: The Jesuit Case, September 1991.

Website -- Center for Justice and Accountability -- currently prosecuting Jesuit case in court in Spain.

Website -- Enemies of War, a PBS documentary about the Jesuit murders and their aftermath.

Book -- Paying the Price, Ignacio Ellacuria and the Murdered Jesuits of El Salvador, Teresa Whitfield 1994

Article -- "Leave No Witnesses!" ... on the murders in El Salvador, the trial, and the hope for justice


Not so natural disasters

The tragedy of this week's floods and landslides is not just a natural disaster. It's a man-made disaster as poverty and marginalization lead people to build homes in at-risk areas and the government has failed for years to invest in risk mitigation projects. A recent article from IPS makes the point:

In a nationally broadcast address Sunday night, Funes said "the drama we are experiencing is the product of the precarious conditions in large swathes of the country due to the lack of buffer zones and risk prevention efforts, which have been demanded for years but were never made," said Funes, referring to 20 years of government by the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA).

Funes, who took office in June, is the first leftist president in the history of El Salvador.

"This is a story that repeats itself every winter. But there has to be an end to this, once and for all," said the president, who declared a national emergency to mobilise state resou…

Remembering the names of the martyrs

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Too often when we write about the murders which happened 20 years ago on November 16, 1989, we just refer to the "6 Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter." As people around the world commemorate them this weekend, let us remember these martyrs of El Salvador's civil war by name:

Father Ignacio Ellacuría, 59, was since 1979 rector of the UCA, and an internationally-respected intellectual and advocate for human rights and a negotiated solution to the Salvadoran civil conflict;

Father Ignacio Martin-Baro´, 44, was the vice rector of the UCA, a leading analyst of national and regional affairs, the founder and director of the respected polling organization, the Public Opinion Institute, former Dean of Students, Dean of the Psychology Department, an internationally renowned pioneer in the field of social psychology and pastor of the rural community of Jayaque;

Father Segundo Montes, 56, was Dean of the Department of Social Sciences and a sociology professor at the UCA, a…

Despues de las tormentas - after the storms

This video from El Faro makes a statement more powerful than words of the sorrow, two days after devastating floods and mudslides hit the central and south central regions of El Salvador.

One impact of the floods and landslides will be food scarcity according to the World Food Program:
At least 10,000 Salvadorans are in urgent need of food aid after floods and mudslides destroyed huge swaths of crops during harvest season, the U.N. World Food Program said Tuesday.

President Mauricio Funes told reporters the death toll had risen to at least 160, but lowered the number of homeless to 12,930. Dozens of people remained missing....

The WFP is helping feed 500 people in shelters in San Vicente, one of the worst-hit provinces, the U.N. agency said in a statement. But it said thousands more would need help in the coming days.

"Severe flooding washed away entire harvests, homes and livelihoods," said Dorte Ellehammer, WFP representative in El Salvador. "This disaster has compromised …

Death toll rises in El Salvador flooding

The following graphic from La Prensa Grafica provides a map showing the locations in the country impacted by the flooding and landslides (click on graphic for full screen version):

(Alternate version)

The death toll from yesterday's floods and mudslides rose to more than 130 as more bodies were found and more inaccessible areas were reached by authorities, and more than 90 are still missing. At least 1500 houses were destroyed and some 10,000 forced from their homes. President Funes has declared a national state of emergency and declared that the damages in El Salvador are incalculable. He has called for help from neighboring countries and is seeking to use some funds designated for dealing with the economic crisis to be used for the present crisis.

From the BBC Coverage:
A torrent of mud and boulders from the Chichontepec volcano hit the town [of Verapaz] near the capital, San Salvador, on Sunday, wrecking 300 homes and burying cars. Bodies covered in mud-caked sheets are being col…

More on November 2009 flooding and mudslides

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Five departments most affected by rains and flooding, put on orange alert by Salvadoran authorities.

The death toll has risen to at least 100 according to EDH. That would make this the worst natural disaster in El Salvador since Hurricane Stan in 2005.


Landslide near San Vicente

Some of the worst mudslides are reported in the town of Verapaz located in the folds of the San Vicente Volcano, also known as Chichontepec volcano. As 14 inches of rain fell on the area, water and mud came pouring down the sides of the volcano. According to El Diario de Hoy, there has been an 8 kilometer long landslide and entire neighborhoods are under the earth. Also in that vicinty, the river Acahualpa swept away some 30 houses from the communities Dos Puentes and La Caridad (also known as El Zope). In the department of San Vicente as of 1:00 pm Sunday, November 8, there were reported 25 deaths and 40 missing.


View Larger Map

More photo galleries of the damage:
Flooding of the River Chilama in La Libert…

Flooding and mudslides kill more than 90 in El Salvador

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Three days of torrential rains produced destructive flooding and mudslides in El Salvador killing dozens with many more missing. From the Los Angeles Times:
Torrential rains in El Salvador triggered flooding and mudslides that left at least 91 people dead across the Central American nation, officials said today.

At least 60 people were reported missing, and authorities warned that the toll could rise as rescuers reached hard-hit zones that remained cut off by floodwaters and landslides. About 7,000 people were evacuated and scores were plucked from flood zones by helicopter, Interior Minister Humberto Centeno said.

The impoverished nation of 5 million was pelted by three days of rain attributed to "a disturbed weather area" off the Pacific coast of El Salvador, according to the Miami-based National Hurricane Center. Meteorologist Dennis Feltgen said the heavy rains were unrelated to Hurricane Ida, which earlier sideswiped the region as a tropical storm over the western Caribb…

El Salvador to investigate the assassination of Oscar Romero

Yesterday I described the determination of El Salvador's president Mauricio Funes to make an act of public atonement on the 20th anniversary of the murder of the six Jesuits in 1989. Today, in an equally significant departure from the policies of the past ARENA governments, El Salvador announced that it would investigate the 1980 assassination of archbishop Oscar Romero, determine culpability, and make reparations.

The announcement came at a hearing of the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in Washington, D.C. In 2000, the IACHR had ruled that El Salvador had violated basic human rights for its role in the assassination of Romero and the subsequent lack of any judicial inquiry or punishment. The ruling required that El Salvador:
1. Undertake expeditiously a complete, impartial, and effective judicial investigation to identify, try and punish all the direct perpetrators and planners of the violations established in this report, notwithstanding the amnesty that has…

A first in El Salvador -- government atonement

November 16, 2009 will mark the 20th anniversary of the assassinations of the six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter, by Salvadoran armed forces during the civil war. And with the change to a left-wing government comes the first acknowledgment of the country's crime. From the AP:
SAN SALVADOR — El Salvador's president says the country will award its highest honor to six Jesuit priests murdered by the army in 1989.

President Mauricio Funes says the National Order of Jose Matias Delgado awards are a "public act of atonement" for mistakes by past governments.

They will be presented on Nov. 16 to mark the date 20 years ago when soldiers killed Spanish-born university rector Ignacio Ellacuria, five other Jesuits, a housekeeper and her daughter.

The killings sparked international outrage and tarnished the image of U.S. anti-communism efforts after it was found that some of the soldiers involved received training at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Funes made the annou…

Funes deploys military to combat violence

The bloody statistics show the reasons for this week's action by Mauricio Funes:
Murders Up 40% in El Salvador

SAN SALVADOR – The number of murders in El Salvador between January 1 and November 1 stands at 3,673, more than in all of 2008 and 40 percent more than during the same period last year, the press reported Tuesday, citing official statistics.

La Prensa Grafica newspaper based the figure on data from the National Police, the Attorney General’s Office and the medical examiner’s office.

The number of murders, which average 13.9 per day, is 40.2 percent higher than the 2,620 homicides that were tallied during the same period in 2008.

The National Police added that during last month alone there were 431 murders, 158 more than in October 2008.

Authorities warn that nearly two-thirds of the 3,184 men killed this year were between the ages of 18 and 30.

The San Salvador metropolitan area, which contains 14 municipalities, has had 419 more murders this year than during the same period las…

El Salvador -- One of the top 10 places to visit in 2010

Lonely Planet, the travel guide publisher, has released the 2010 edition of its Best in Travel report. This year, incredible as it might seem, El Salvador was listed as one of the top 10 countries in the world to visit. From the report:
El Salvador sneaks up on you: in lefty lounge bars in San Salvador, at sobering war memorials and musums, and along lush cloud-forest trails; it's a place of remarkable warmth and intelligence, made all the more appealing for being so unexpected....Ane when it comes to cities, none in Central America is smarter or cooler than San Salvador, with first-rate universities, museums and galleries, a vibrant bar and live-music scene, and an array of progressive NGOs, both local and international.
The number one country in the list was New Zealand. The other countries named in Lonely Planet's top 10 were Germany, Greece, Malaysia, Morocco, Nepal, Portugal, Suriname, and the USA.