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Showing posts from February, 2010

Blogs by friends

I've been privileged to meet a number of commited young people from the US, who have relocated to El Salvador to serve in various ways. Some of them also write compellingly about their experiences.

Danielle recently wrote:
A friend tells of a recent experience leading a workshop for children in inner-city San Salvador. The children were asked to draw pictures of what they like about their community, and what they don't like. My friend asked a nine year old girl what she planned to draw for “dislike.” She replied in a soft voice: “I don't like that they kill people.”

There are implications for this in a child's life. One: living in entrenched violence, you cannot leave the house after sunset. How many times has she seen the stars?...
(Read more)
Nick explored some of the theology which flourishes in the reality of El Salvador:
The preference to serve the poor and the outcasts lies at the heart of liberation theology, which has long found its fertile ground in Central Americ…

Testimony in Jesuits massacre case in Spain

The Center for Justice and Accountability provides this update on the case in Spain where former Salvadoran military officials are being tried for the 1989 murder of the Jesuits:
In an unprecedented proceeding, CJA's International Attorney, Almudena Bernabeu, took evidence yesterday from the only surviving non-military eye-witnesses to the massacre which occurred just over twenty years ago at the University of Central America "José Siméon Cañas" (UCA). Jorge and Lucía Cerna testified before Spanish Judge Eloy Velasco from the United States via video conference. This proceeding marks the first time that the U.S. government, to our knowledge, has allowed evidence to be taken on U.S. soil in a human rights prosecution in another country. A representative from the U.S. Department of Justice was present for the Cernas' testimony.

On November 15, 1989, Lucia Cerna was a housekeeper for the UCA and sought refuge from the raging civil war at the University with her husband,…

Another fact-finding mission

The beginning of 2010 has been a time of fact-finding missions to the Cabañas region of El Salvador, as international groups, deeply concerned by the violence in Cabañas that appears related to gold-mining, have come to the region to gather facts and make their own evaluations.

A delegation from Voices on the Border recently completed their mission. They describe their findings on the VOTB blog:
With regards to the debate over mining, delegates found existing environmental damage from Pacific Rim exploration projects, a fatally flawed environmental assessment, insufficient public consultation on proposed mining projects, and attempts by Pacific Rim to curry favor among segments of the government and local population. Pacific Rim’s activities have created deep divisions in Cabañas. For example, in an interview with the delegation, the Mayor of San Isidro, Cabañas admitted that his government accepted significant financial support from Pacific Rim. Accepting financial contributions mak…

Report on the gold mining conflict in El Salvador

Richard Steiner, a professor at the University of Alaska active in environmental matters and a member of International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Commission on Environmental Economic, and Social Policy (CEESP)has produced a report on gold mining in El Salvador. Steiner
Traveled to El Salvador from Jan. 20 – 28, 2010, to conduct a Rapid Assessment / Fact-Finding Mission regarding the situation with respect to the proposed El Dorado gold mine in the District of Cabanas. In particular, the assignment asked for information on the security situation in Cabanas, the recent wave of extra-judicial killings of environmental leaders opposing the mine, continuing threats toward citizens, the government response to the situation, the CAFTA actions filed by mining companies against the government, and the effort to ban metals mining in the country

His report, which is available at this link, offers a fairly comprehensive overview of the mining conflict in the country. Whi…

Ride the train

There's a tiny passenger rail ine which runs between the city of Apopa north of San Salvador and the capital city. My friends David and Nancy recently took the trip and described it in their blog:
Join us for a ride on the local commuter train, but first a bit of history. The current railroad company is the result of a merger between two companies, one of which is the International Railways of Central American, a former subsidiary of the infamous United Fruit Company (of Banana Republic fame).

Thousands fled El Salvador during the civil war, hopping on freight trains headed out of the country. After the war, passenger traffic declined as the trains were routinely held up and passengers robbed. In October 2002, all rail transportation was suspended.

With El Salvador the most highly populated country in Central America and with a severe shortage of land, the former right-of-ways were settled by squatters.
In 2007 the rail company resumed limited service and required all squatters of…

Stories of Guazapa

Image
Northeast of San Salvador lies the ancient Guazapa volcano. Over the past 10 years, many of my visits have involved spending time in communities around the volcano. During El Salvador's civil war, this was a battle zone.

Three documentaries pull together a view of Guazapa then and now. Dr. Charles Clements had been a US Air Force pilot in Vietnam before he left the military, and became a Quaker and a doctor. Clements then spent a year behind FMLN lines in Guazapa treating civilians needing medical care in the war zone. The Academy Award winning short documentary, Witness to War, is based on his memoir of the same name.

While Clements was working behind the lines in the Guazapa region, he was visited by American journalist Don North. North also spent time behind the FMLN lines, interviewing the guerillas, seeing how people lived, and documenting the impact of attacks by the US-supplied armed forces. North then produced the documentary Guazapa: The Face of War in El Salvador

Critique of labor conditions

The International Trade Union Confederation released a report this week regarding the status of labor rights and working conditions in El Salvador. There is an English language summary at this link. This is an excerpt regarding conditions for women workers in the maquiladora sector:
A new ITUC study on core labour standards in El Salvador reports that many of the 67,000 mostly women workers employed in the country’s 15 export processing zones suffer from appalling treatment ranging from verbal abuse and threats to physical abuse and sexual harassment. There is a clear anti-trade union policy and dismissal of workers planning to join or form a union. Many consider that working conditions in export processing zones can be assimilated to forced labour.
The complete report in Spanish is available here.

In a troubling development, human rights and labor leaders have condemned the recent murder of Victoriano Abel Vega, a leader of the municipal union in Santa Ana:
According to the informati…

Funes navigates an independent course

Nine months into his presidency, Mauricio Funes continues to follow his moderate left-wing policies. He is a far departure from the decades of right-wing presidents before him, but he has also acted independently of the hard-line leadership of the FMLN.

An interesting article in Americas Quarterly titled Mauricio Funes: His Way looks at the course which Funes has been navigating:
Today, his country and party are changing, but President Funes continues to face challenges from the Left as well as the extreme Right. Business and conservative sectors do not trust him. In attempting to win their confidence, President Funes has reached out to conservative party leaders and business representatives. He appointed an economic cabinet with representatives from the financial sector to prove and honor his campaign promise to respect the free market. Like a good pupil, he is following and implementing the policy recommendations of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Inter-Ameri…

Greater violence

I don't like writing about the crime problem in El Salvador or the ongoing wave of homicides striking all parts of the country. There's too much grief, pain and hopelessness in confronting the problem. And it is clear that the current government, like governments before it, has no idea how to turn the tide. But it's too important a topic not to cover.

The Voices on the Border blog puts the bloody statistics into context:
[In the first 36 days of 2010], around 440 murders have been reported in El Salvador. The victims range from political activists, presumably killed for their opinions and public pronouncements, to bus drivers, robbed and murdered by groups locally called delincuentes. Recently in Suchitoto, 7 people were killed in a single incident, now being pronounced a massacre by community members. If this pattern of violence continues consistently, the country could expect to experience near 5,000 homicides this year.

In comparison, New York City, whose population s…

Adopting children from desperate parents

The story of American missionaries arrested in Haiti as they attempted to bring Haitian children to sanctuary outside of the quake-stricken country continues to be front page news in the US. El Salvador has also had difficult times when parents might feel compelled to give up their children to foreigners. A recent BBC story tells about adult children, given up for adoption during the civil war, now reunited with their birth parents:
Baptised Janet Ruiz, Martina was just 18 months old when [her mother] Graciela last saw her. It was 1982 and El Salvador was engulfed in a brutal civil war.

A year earlier, the family had been driven out of their village in the east of the country by left-wing guerrillas who had also killed Martina's father. Left alone to bring up four young children, her mother did not know where to turn for help.

Then a brother mentioned a lawyer he knew who arranged adoptions abroad for Salvadorean children. At first Graciela refused to listen, but later acquiesced…

Good behavior

I recently came across this article on the internet titled How to Behave While Visiting El Salvador. It's short, but has some good basic points. Here are the "do's":
Do…Wear clean, non-wrinkled and stain-free clothing. Although you are on vacation, Salvadorans are very conscious about their appearance.The first time that you meet someone, shake hands and say mucho gusto (nice to meet you)Take some time to learn basic Spanish before you travel to El Salvdor. Use the formal ustedin your conversation with locals until they use the informal tu firstSalvadorans believe greetings to be important. Say buenos días (good morning) or buenas tardes (good afternoon/evening) before starting a conversation It is also courteous to say hello to the person sitting next to you on the bus and to make a general greeting when entering a public place like a restaurant.Take your time. Don’t expect everyone to rush as if you were in New York.Bring mementos and souvenirs from home to …

Two new documentaries about El Salvador's water crisis

As progressive journalist Jason Wallach writes:
El Salvador receives 3 times as much water in rainfall as what its 6 million inhabitants consume annually, yet 40% of Salvadorans do not enjoy potable water in their homes.
This paradox lies behind two new documentaries about El Salvador's water crisis. Wallach has written and produced Until the Last Drop: Tales From the Battle for El Salvador's Water. Here is the trailer:

(link).

El Salvador's Center for the Defense of the Consumer and the documentary film project Witness.org combined to produce the documentary Chronic Neglect: The Water Crisis in El Salvador. Here is a 6 minute version of the documentary:

link.

The full length versions of both documentaries, which are available on DVD, each run about 30 minutes. We recently screened them both in my monthly El Salvador Movie Night in the Milwaukee area, and they were well received by the persons who attended. Both documentaries do an excellent job of illustrating the pli…

Remembering Oscar Romero

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the assassination of archbishop Oscar Romero. Romero was assassinated while saying mass on March 24, 1980 in a killing ordered by right wing death squad leaders. With the 30th anniversary date approaching, we are going to see more articles about Romero, his legacy, and his formal recognition as a saint of the Roman Catholic church. (Multitudes of the common people Romero loved in El Salvador already view him as a saint).

An article in Spero News describes the discourse of the Salvadoran Catholic church surrounding the prospects of Romero's beatification:
The Catholic Church has urged Salvadorans to pray for promoting the beatification of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, and called in a special way to have respect for the figure of the assassinated Archbishop, so as not to influence on his process of beatification. "If someone is canonized, it is because God wills it," said the Archbishop José Luis Escobar Alas of San Salvador, …