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Showing posts from January, 2011

Conflict continues in gold mining region

There has been a troubling resurgence of violence and threats of violence in the Cabañas region of El Salvador, where gold mining companies want to open mines. Those mining plans have been blocked by the Salvadoran government and a strong environmental movement. In 2009, three anti-mining activists were murdered in Cabañas. The police eventually arrested and convicted several people for the crimes, blaming the killings on gangs and a family feud. The victims' role as leaders of the anti-mining movement has been discounted by the authorities as a motive. But members of the activist community have continued to call on the police and prosecutors to pursue the intellectual authors of the crimes.

During 2010, the violence appeared to have subsided somewhat, but the anti-mining movement reports a new wave of murders and threats with possible links to their struggle:
In the middle of the night on January 11, a written death threat was pushed under the front door of community radio …

19 years after peace accords

Salvadoran blogger Omar Nieto, who writes at El Salvador's longest-running blog Hunnapuh, has begun writing some of his posts for translation into English at Global Voices.

Omar recently wrote about Salvadorans' views of 19 years since signing of the peace agreements:
Sunday the 16th of January marked another year of peace for the country of El Salvador. It has been 19 years since the signing of a peace agreement in Chapultepec, Mexico, which brought an end to a bloody civil war that had been going on since 1981. With the commemoration of the event came discussion. Political, economical and social commentators as well as bloggers have had something to say on the matter....

The current Catholic Archbishop of El Salvador, José Luis Escobar Alas, stated that although the ceasefire was a “blessing from God,” Salvadorans had still not found peace, but it was not too late to achieve it.
Lamentablemente no tenemos todavía una paz estable, firme, duradera, bien afincada, pero enhor…

News updates

Here are some updates to previous posts in this blog:


Environmentalists robbed again.    Members of CEICOM, which has taken an active role against mining activities in El Salvador have been robbed again as they were on their way to an environmental action.   As in two previous robberies, the activists and journalists who accompanied them were robbed of laptop computers, video equipment and more.  They have issued a renewed call for investigation.

Schools open without teacher strike.   Despite talk of a teacher strike, public schools opened on schedule throughout El Salvador today.

World union leaders renew call for Soto murder investigation.  One of the first stories covered in depth on this blog was the 2004 murder of Gilberto Soto.   Soto was a prominent figure involved in organizing port drivers in the United States. He was visiting El Salvador on behalf of the Teamsters to meet with Central American trade union leaders and port drivers when he was shot and killed. The case was reop…

Court system employees on strike, teachers next

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For five days now, union employees of El Salvador's court system have been on strike.   As a consequence, more than a thousand court hearings have been cancelled, bodies have gone unidentified in the forensic medicine office, and more than 87 prisoners have been released for failure to have an initial hearing within 72 hours of being arrested..  

The unions are demanding raises of between 100 and 150 dollars per month for their members, but court officials state there is no available money to grant the raises.  Court officials have also been blasting union leaders who officials say receive a salary but do not perform any work. La Prensa Grafica is reporting that union leaders receive multiple fringe benefits and also manage to get many relatives placed on the court system payroll as well.

The workers have called on religious leaders and the country's human rights ombudsman to act as mediators.  Oscar Luna, the PDDH, agreed to act as a mediator on Friday.   Meanwhile police …

Organized drug crime in Central America

The Economist magazine has published an article today about the growing threat to Central America from the organized drug trade. Here's an excerpt:
“Central America is entering an extraordinarily critical phase” in which its peace and security are threatened by “the onslaught of the drug-trafficking organisations”, an official from the International Narcotics Control Board, a United Nations agency, warned this month.

Much of the blame lies with the arrival of the Mexican mafias, mainly the Zetas and the Sinaloa “cartel”. The assassination of Honduras’s top anti-drugs official in 2009 seems to have been a Sinaloa hit. Zeta training-camps and recruitment banners have sprung up in Guatemala. The Mexican mobs are also contracting out their work, taking advantage of Central America’s competitive narco-labour market. They recruit trained hitmen from the pool of soldiers laid off by several countries’ armies, slashed since the end of the civil wars 20 years ago. Guatemala has cut its ar…

Danger on the bus

A news article in the Latin American Herald Tribune this week caught my attention. It described a bus accident in El Salvador caused by a bus driver on his cell phone:
At least 18 people were injured when an inter-city bus flipped over on a highway in El Salvador when the driver became distracted, the highway patrol said.

The accident occurred Saturday on the highway that links San Salvador and the eastern city of Usulutan.

Passengers said in statements to investigators that the driver lost control of the bus while talking on his cell phone, a highway patrol spokesman said.Tragically, this accident was far from an isolated incident. El Salvador's roads and highways can be deadly:
SAN SALVADOR – A total of 1,107 people lost their lives in traffic accidents in El Salvador during 2010, according to figures compiled by the police, who reported 19,000 road accidents in total, an 11 percent increase compared with 2009, the Diario de Hoy newspaper reported Sunday.

Buses were involved i…

Migration and deportation

Migration, from El Salvador to the US, will continue to be a major issue for both countries in 2011 as in past years. Salvadorans continue to enter the US, legally and illegally, seeking opportunity or the chance to be reunited with family members who had gone before. To understand some of the statistics surrounding this human stream, a good source is the recently published study of Central American Immigrants in the United States. The study is the product of the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute and provides a comprehensive look at the who, what and where of Central Americans now living in the US. Among many other facts, the study points out that persons born in El Salvador are now the 6th largest group of foreign born migrants living in the US. (The top 5 are Mexico, Philippines, India, China and Vietnam).

The increased level of deportations under current enforcement of US immigration policy resulted in continued record numbers of returns in 2010. There were more tha…

Study emphasizes need to address impacts of climate change

An item posted at Hispanically Speaking News describes how global climate change will compound the precarious state of El Salvador's water resources:
According to recent studies like the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), El Salvador will be the most water-stressed country in Central America in the future.
Population growth and climate change in the Central America region are driving this dire prediction. Water demand is expected to grow by 300 percent by 2050 in the region. To compound the problem the availability of renewable water could fall from current levels by 63 percent.

The study “The Economics of Climate Change in Central America: 2010” shows that El Salvador will be most negatively effected followed by Honduras and Nicaragua. El Salvador is also the most deforested country in Latin America.

The Central America region contributes a small part of the world’s green house gases emission, the leading cause of climate change, but is the most v…

Tenth anniversary of the first 2001 earthquake

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Today is the tenth anniversary of the first of two devastating earthquakes which hit El Salvador in 2001.  That quake registered 7.6 on the Richter scale.  Exactly one month later, on February 13, another earthquake would cause more damage.   Between those two, the damage was enormous: 1,259 deaths, 9,000 injuries and 1.6 million homeless victims in a country with a population of approximately six million.
150,000 homes were destroyed; 185,000 were damaged.
Highways and roads were heavily damaged ).
Eight hospitals and 113 of 361 health facilities were severely damaged representing 55 percent of the country’s capacity to deliver health services.
Nearly 35 percent of all schools were affected (1,681 out of 4,820).
This BBC story from January 13, 2001 describes the aftermath of that first earthquake ten years ago.   Worst hit was the neighborhood of Las Colinas, close to San Salvador, where a hillside gave way, burying the homes below it and killing more than 585.


Working to rescue the survi…

Ten years of greenbacks in El Salvador

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In January 2001, El Salvador began using the US dollar as its official currency. The former national currency, the Colón, was gradually replaced with the US dollar as the money of the land. The administration of president Francisco Flores promoted the change to the greenback as a way to keep interest rates low, to control inflation, and to encourage foreign investment.

It would be fair to say that the move to the dollar has never been popular among the ordinary people of El Salvador. The symbolism of giving up a country's national currency was obvious. And many felt that stores used the change as a pretext to increase prices and cheat the little person.

You can read several reviews which have been written about the impact of dollarization on El Salvador. The evidence is decidedly mixed. For example, a 2003 report from Latin America finance experts at a large US law firm reported generally favorable results. Business Week pointed out in 2005 that El Salvador had now cede…

Top El Salvador stories of 2010

My annual roundup of the top stories of the past year.


Record rains cause floods and damage crops.  Rains from tropical storms Agatha, Alex and Matthewinundated many parts of El Salvadorduring the course of the year.   Most of the country's bean crop was lost, causing the price of beans to soar.   Many corn fields were also impacted.  A tragic accident put a human face on the food crisis, when a father accidentallypoisoned his familyas their hunger led them to eat insecticide-treated seed corn.

Bus burning in Mejicanos.   All of El Salvador was shocked on June 20, 2010 as the country's violence took a horrifying turn. In Mejicanos, a suburb of San Salvador, gang members shot at a micro-bus of Route 47, then doused it with gasoline and set it on fire. Sixteen people were burned to death in the bus.   The massacre embodied the worst fears of Salvadorans stemming from one of the highest murder rates in the world.

Transit system shutdown.   For two days in September, the majority of …

El Salvador's homicide rate improved slightly in 2010

The number of murders committed in El Salvador declined 9.1% in 2010 from its peak level in 2009. In 2010 there were 3985 violent deaths, 397 fewer than the total of 4382 in 2009. Translated differently, there was an average of 11 murders per day in El Salvador during 2010.

This reduction in the murder rate resulted in Honduras pulling into a statistical tie for the highest murder rate in Latin America. The murder rate in Honduras is 72.8 per 100,000 inhabitants, while the rate in El Salvador is 71. (Both rates are significantly higher than the homicide rates in Iraq and Afghanistan, 18 and 14 per 100,000 respectively). The World Health Organization says any rate above 10 is an epidemic.

According to statistics from LPG, 3420 murder victims were men and 562 women. Guns were overwhelmingly used in the commission of murders: 3923 of the 3985 homicides were the result of a gunshot.

One of the targets in El Salvador continues to be the transportation sector, where murder is the …

Economy predicted to improve in 2011

Government officials are predicting economic growth for 2011 in El Salvador. This follows a year of little growth in 2010 and economic contraction during 2008 and 2009 in the depths of the global recession. From a report on the Inside Costa Rica website:
Treasury Minister of El Salvador Carlos Caceres is said to be confident of a 2.5 percent economic growth in the country next year.

The Gross Domestic Product [growth rate] will not reach the one percent forecast for this year, and fluctuated from 0.7 to 0.8 percent after having fallen into negative figures (-3.3 percent) in 2009.

In remarks to a TV program, he cited factors for recovery in 2011, including a more stable situation in the United States, on the economy of which El Salvador is very dependent. He also referred to an increase in remittances from Salvadorians living abroad, estimated at about 18 percent of the GDP, and a more favourable situation in agriculture, with high coffee sales, as well as high sugar prices at interna…