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Showing posts from September, 2010

Rains cause damage throughout El Salvador

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Starting with Tropical Storms Agatha and Alex, continuing though Tropical Storm Matthew earlier this week and additional soaking rains, the amount of rain falling on El Salvador has created serious problems in many places. As of today, 61 communities were under red alert because of the risk of flooding and landslides as a result of the rain. Most of those communities are in low-lying coastal zones. The remainder of the country is under orange and yellow alerts. Schools were cancelled at noon today.

Authorities count 2,352 persons evacuated, 1,117 persons in 18 shelters. Thirteen communities are cut off by flood water and can only be reached by boat. Three people have died. There is $600,000 in damages to roads.

The impact of the rains on farming will bring hunger. La Prensa Grafica reports that 60% of the bean harvest has been lost on account of the rains. In addition, 40% of the corn harvest will be lost. A reduction in the coffee crop is also expected as too much moisture…

El Salvador's Supreme Court cuts back press freedom

An article in the Latin American Herald Tribune describes a recent court decision in El Salvador which limits protections which the press might have to suits by people who do not like what is written:

SAN SALVADOR – El Salvador’s Supreme Court ruled that the media and television station owners, editors and managers may be brought to trial for slander, injury or defamation in a decision interpreted as a blow against press freedom.

The high court’s Constitutional Chamber issued a 4-1 decision on Friday regarding the “unconstitutionality” of the third clause within Article 191 of the Criminal Code, which guarantees protection against criminal rulings against the press, Supreme Court spokesman Mario Larin said.

In reaction to the ruling, the country’s main dailies, including El Diario de Hoy, La Prensa Grafica and El Mundo, agreed that the decision constitutes a “blow to freedom of expression.”

“The ruling of four justices will foment fear and intolerance,” warned El Diario de Hoy, while El M…

Murals of hope

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If you travel to view the site of the El Mozote massacre near Perquin in Morazan Deapartment, one of the things you will see is this mural on the side of the little church which faces the plaza. The mural was a project of visual artist Claudia Bernardi who uses art and murals as a tool to restore a sense of community in populations impacted by massacres or other human rights atrocities.

A recent article on the Huffington Post tells the story:
To see Bernardi's gorgeous images is to be seduced by their jeweled colors of raw pigment and lured by their lyrical titles. But a closer look reveals skeletal remains, fragments of the silenced, drawn with indelible tenderness. Her work weaves visual poetry with a brutal frankness informed by her time spent in mass graves exhuming innocent victims of political conflicts. As a member of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (AFAT), a scientific organization founded to investigate human-rights abuses against civilian populations, Bernardi h…

Residential voting

When El Salvador holds an election, voters often have to travel a long distance from their homes to cast their ballot. Polling places are often at a great distance from smaller communities, and in the capital city of San Salvador, you might be assigned a polling place on the opposite side of the city because your name begins with a particular letter.

A technical team for Eugenio Chicas, president of the Supreme Election Tribunal, has now designed a Residential Voting Plan, which could address many of these issues. From the SHARE Foundation blog:
In this proposal, voting conditions will improve and become much accessible for Salvadorans all over the country. Instead of 460 voting centers, there would be 1755 stategically placed in schools that have the capacity to recieve all the registered voters. The idea being that no voter would need to travel more than three kilometers to vote. Currently, in places such as the Tamarindo Beach, voters travel up to 40 kilometers to reach the near…

Change to the healthcare delivery system in El Salvador

Salvadoran president Mauricio Funes described his National Integrated Health System yesterday which aims to reform the way that healthcare is delivered for the majority of Salvadorans. Funes described his proposal as "revolutionary" and "real change."

An article in ContraPunto describes aspects of the new system:
The flagship program of the new system is Integrated Network Health Services, which aims to spread out the health service with Community-based Family Health Teams (ECOS), which will carry coverage throughout the country under the premise that it will be the state that moves healthcare towards the citizens, rather than the latter having to search out care, as is the case today.

These teams are already working as pilot programs since August in 74 municipalities, and are composed of five people: a doctor, nurse, nursing assistant, a health promoter and a utility person.

Each ECOS will be responsible for 200 families, which will have charge of all aspects of heal…

Gold, lawyers and contaminated rivers.

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Two different headlines today are intricately related. On the CNN Money website, the headline was Gold Edges Up to a New Record, which told readers that for the first time in history, the price of gold on international markets closed at $1280 an ounce. In the Salvadoran newspaper DiarioCoLatino, the headline was San Sebastian: The Open Secret of Mining Pollution. This article describes the legacy of pollution in the San Sebastian river, which local residents and activists say stems from a gold mine there. The mine is owned by the US company the Commerce Group, based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
It is the record high prices of gold which have led North American gold mining companies like the Commerce Group and Canadian firm Pacific Rim to go to battle with the government of El Salvador. The Salvadoran government currently prohibits both firms from operating gold mining concessions. With gold at record high prices, the conflict between monetary profits and the fear of environmental d…

The architecture of remittances

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If you have spent any time driving through the countryside of El Salvador you have seen them -- remittance houses -- those houses with a certain ostentation and a pastel paint job built using remittances from Salvadorans working in the US. It's an identifiable architectural style (or lack of style?) in El Salvador. Now the country's leading art museum, the Museum of Art of El Salvador, is running an exhibition devoted to the architecture of remittances. The show is titled Architecture of Remittances: Dreams of Return, Symbols of Success and runs through October 17.

If you cannot visit the museum before the show ends, the exhibition has a website here with many photos of remittance architecture and narrative about the cultural forces that these houses represent.

Funes speech in Miami

El Salvador's president Mauricio Funes spoke with a decidedly centrist tone in a presentation yesterday at the Americas Conference sponsored by the Miami Herald. The Miami Herald summarized in English some of Funes' remarks:
Staking out a middle ground in a highly polarized region, El Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes said he was not interested in U.S.-style capitalism or Venezuela-inspired socialism but policies that made his nation ``effective and efficient.''

Speaking at the opening day of the Americas Conference in Coral Gables on Tuesday, Funes brushed off the idea that his government might try to adopt the ``XXI Century Socialism'' that Venezuela has tried to export to allies such as Nicaragua and Bolivia.

``In El Salvador it's not possible to build socialism and much less 21st Century Socialism, which I really cannot define and is not clear to me,'' he said. ``I don't think [the model] is clear to many of the political actors in the regio…

Independence Day

September 15 is El Salvador's Independence Day. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent greetings to the Salvadoran people:
STATEMENT BY SECRETARY CLINTON

El Salvador’s Independence Day

On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, I congratulate the people of El Salvador as you celebrate the 189th anniversary of your independence this September 15.

As Salvadorans around the world enjoy patriotic festivities and honor the heroes of your struggle for independence, we join in celebrating your rich culture and our shared traditions. I was honored to be present for the inauguration of President Funes last year and reinforce our common commitment to building strong democratic institutions, promoting the rule of law, and expanding economic growth and opportunity to more people. We have also made great strides working together to combat terrorism, crime, and drug trafficking. These ties of friendship extend beyond our governments with our strong business and deep p…

Investigating the police

This week the Voices from El Salvador blog has the important story of Zaira Navas, the Inspector General of the National Civilian Police. Conservative legislators, who perhaps have their own past records of disregard of the rule of law, are trying to reign in her investigations of corruption in the PNC:
This week, Diputado José Antonio Almendáriz from the conservative National Conciliation Party (PCN) proposed that the Legislative Assembly Security Commission form a special commission to investigate Zaira Navas, Inspector General of the National Civil Police (PNC). Diputado Almendáriz is challenging Navas’s very clear mandate to investigate Police Commissioners accused of corruption or criminal activities.

Since 2009, Inspector General Navas has made news for her office’s investigations of PNC Commissioner Douglas Omar García Funes, former Commisioner Godofredo Miranda, ex-Director General of Police Ricardo Menesses, among others. Commissioner García Funes is the chief of the Counter…

LA Times interview with Mauricio Funes

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Salvadoran president Mauricio Funes was in Los Angeles last week and was interviewed by the LA Times. Here is an excerpt from the interview:
Who controls the narcotics traffic in El Salvador?

Everybody. There are Salvadoran cartels in connection with Colombian cartels. Guatemalan cartels are there. And recently we have found evidence of the presence of [the Mexican-based drug cartel] Los Zetas.

Just a few days after I came to office, I received an intelligence report saying that Los Zetas were exploring the territory and that they had started to make contacts with Salvadoran narco-traffickers and Salvadoran gangs, particularly the MS [Mara Salvatrucha, a transnational gang born in L.A.'s Salvadoran immigrant community]. It is the one that has shown, up to now, to have the most firepower.

The change that has occurred lately is that the [criminal] gangs have become involved in the business. At the beginning, the gangs were just a group of rebel youngsters. As time moved on, the gangs b…

Polling on political parties

The daily newspaper La Prensa Grafica released some public opinion poll numbers this week. The opinion poll asked Salvadorans a number of questions about their views of the politicians and the political parties in the country.

There were two numbers which stuck out at me, and they are related. The first number was president Mauricio Funes continued strong approval ratings in the country. 70.1% of Salvadorans say that they have a good or very good opinion of Funes. In contrast, no other Salvadoran politician gets a rating higher than 47.1%, and that politician is former president Tony Saca. The second number was the 50.2% of Salvadorans polled who say they do not consider themselves a part of any political party. The FMLN was the strongest political party, but still only 27.2% of Salvadorans considered themselves part of the FMLN.

In the past, there was a tendency to portray El Salvador as sharply divided between left and right, between the FMLN and ARENA. In fact, most Salva…

Festival of the lanterns brings light to the darkness

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In contrast to the news of gang threats and the reduction of bus service, the Festival of the Lanterns shone in the night streets of Ahuachapan. In a photogallery titled Ahuachapan Didn't Turn Out the Light, El Faro displays images from this year's festival.

September 7 was the eve of the feast day of the Virgin Mary's birth, and in Ahuachapan in western El Salvador, it was the Festival of the Lanterns (farolitos). The streets and public places of the city are filled with lanterns and memorials to the Virgin. Over the years the festival has grown beyond its religious roots and now includes showcases of artisan works and many food offerings.

Second day of transport stop

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Many buses stayed off the streets for the second straight day in El Salvador. A proclamation supposedly made jointly by Mara Salvatrucha and by 18, the country's two dominant and competing gangs, apologized to the public for the inconvenience, but said the threats to the transportation sector were necessary to protest the new Anti-gang law passed by the National Assembly.

Two thousand additional soldiers and additional police units were patrolling bus terminals and routes to protect the buses which were running. Authorities said about 60% of the routes were running today rather than only 10% yesterday.

Bus system stopped by threats

Threats and rumors of threats by gangs led the majority of the buses in El Salvador to stay off the streets today. From the Latin American Herald Tribune:
Between 40 percent and 60 percent of El Salvador’s bus routes are not operating on Tuesday due to fear of attacks on the vehicles or the transportation workers by gangs, the leader of the Fecoatrans transit company association told Efe.

“This is due to the threats made ... by criminal bands that dedicate themselves to extortion. They weren’t just rumors, they were pamphlets, telephone calls,” Catalino Miranda said.

Miranda alluded to pamphlets and phone calls ordering owners and operators to keep their buses off the streets to prevent the drivers from being murdered or the vehicles from being burned.

“To that, one must add (the fact) that the country is paralyzed in some zones,” Miranda said.

He said that “many businessmen have made the decision to protect their units” fearing a repeat of what happened in June, when 16 people lost their…

Assorted news items

Some news items from El Salvador this week.

Police discover barrels with millions of dollars in cash. Police have counted more than $9 million of cash found in two barrels buried on a ranch named El Recalado, in Zacatecoluca in the central part of the country. The operating assumption is that the cash is related to drug-trafficking. Police sources say that owners of the ranch are tied to Guatemalan narco-criminals.

A third survivor of Tamaulipas massacre is from El Salvador. According to a statement made by president Funes in El Salvador, there is a third survivor and witness to the massacre who made it alive to the US. A second survivor is reportedly a Honduran.

Bodies of Salvadorans in massacre returned to El Salvador. This video from La Prensa Grafica shows the return of caskets to grieving families in El Salvador.

Funes on US tour to encourage TPS renewals. In a regular trip for Salvadoran presidents, Mauricio Funes is in the US to encourage Salvadorans on Temporary Protecte…

Suchitoto waterfall video

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File this one under "things to see next time I am in El Salvador." The CNN website provides this video of the Los Tercios waterfall in Suchitoto. From the Suchitoto Municipal Tourism Office website:
The Los Tercios Waterfall is just a 1.5 km walk from the city center. Its uniqueness and beauty lies in the vertical wall behind the water that is composed of large hexagonal columns of rock. This very rare rock formation is the result of nearby volcanic activity, although numerous folkloric legends also claim to explain the origins of the shape of the rocks.

Los Tercios has water between May and November, although it is worth a visit between December and April too in order to see the stones most clearly.
For more about what to see and do in Suchitoto, visit the very helpful website of the Municpal Tourism office.

The Women of El Mozote

The El Mozote massacre in December 1981 was one of the gravest atrocities and war crimes committed during the course of El Salvador's civil war. It is important to keep the memory of what happened there alive so that it can never happen again. No one has ever been punished for the war crime.

Los Angeles writer Marcos Villatoro recently made a short video called The Women of El Mozote which features interviews with some of the women who have returned to El Mozote after the massacre and the war, and now tell the story to those who visit there.



Marcos told me that he made the video so that the women can sell it from the small tourist kiosk they have at the site of the monument to the massacre. So pick up a copy of the full video if you ever visit El Mozote.

If you like this, you might also want to check out the trailer for Marcos' new project, Tamale Road, or I also recommend his book of poetry, On Tuesday, When the Homeless Disappeared.

El Salvador passes anti-gang law

El Salvador's National Assembly passed a law this week which criminalizes being a member of a gang. The law, endorsed by president Funes, was passed with the votes of 78 of the 84 deputies in the National Assembly. Membersship in a gang can be punished with up to six years in prison, while being a gang leader is punishable with a prison term of up to ten years. The LA Times reports on the bill's passage:

Simply belonging to a gang is about to become a criminal offense in El Salvador, a country where street gangs that incubated in Southern California terrorize neighborhoods and contribute to a high homicide rate.

The measure was prompted by outrage over gang attacks on two buses in June that killed 16 people. Congress approved the law Thursday, and it now awaits the signature of President Mauricio Funes, which probably will come soon. Funes was an early sponsor of the bill.

But several human rights activists and groups that work with gangs complained that the law emphasized pu…

They prey on migrants

The massacre of 72 migrants in Tamaulipas, Mexico was not an isolated incident. The path to the US border has become a hellish gauntlet of criminal bands and corrupt authorities for the Salvadoran and other Central American migrants who dare to attempt it. A story on the MSNBC website describes how hundreds of families have shown up at government offices looking for information about the fate of their loved ones who have not been heard from. There are many more migrants who have disappeared than the 72 bodies found in Tamaulipas:
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — Paula Cruz wept quietly at the foreign ministry office in El Salvador's capital after reporting that her son was missing — apparently kidnapped — in Mexico.

"I got a phone call asking me to send $2,500 to ransom him," the 77-year-old mother said, clutching the last letter she received from her 43-year-old son. "I didn't have the money. I don't know if he is alive or dead."

Cruz fears her son may b…