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Showing posts from May, 2011

Spanish court indicts 20 Salvadoran military officers for murder of Jesuits

The Spanish court which has been receiving evidence about the 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter, issued an indictment today for 20 former officers in the Salvadoran military. The court in Spain is acting under a doctrine of "universal jurisdiction" in which some crimes against humanity are so serious that they can be prosecuted anywhere. The case against senior officals, including two ministers of defense, had never been brought in El Salvador because of the 1993 amnesty law.

CNN describes the ruling:
In an indictment issued Monday, Judge Eloy Velasco Nunez accused the officials -- including El Salvador's former defense minister -- of murder, terrorism and crimes against humanity. He said a trial in El Salvador was flawed and failed to bring the perpetrators to justice.

"That judicial process was a defective and widely criticized process that ended with two forced convictions and acquittals even of confessed killers," Velas…

Three worthwhile articles on crime in El Salvador

Three recent articles offer insights into different aspects of the problem of violent crime in El Salvador. The first is a reflection written by the Rev. Brian Rude, titled Current Realities in Salvadoran Gang Cultures. Rude is a Lutheran pastor from Canada who has spent many years working with gang members and persons incarcerated in El Salvador's hellish prisons. His reflection on the Crispaz website, makes the point that we must get past the demonization of gang members and develop understanding of their lives and situations:
One could approach the current reality from a statistical perspective, though statistics are hard to come by, distressingly diverse, and often unreliable. How many gang members are there? The number of those in prison -- about 8,000, 1/3 of the total number of inmates in El Salvadoran prisons -- is perhaps the most reliable indicator here. More than double, or even triple, that number could be outside the prison walls. Harsher laws have led to greater …

The El Salvador WikiLeaks cables

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WikiLeaks has provided some 942 US diplomatic cables related to El Salvador to the online periodical El Faro. The cables cover the time period from 2003 through 2008 under the Bush administration in Washington and the Flores and Saca administrations in El Salvador. El Faro has now started to make those cables available online on its website.

The leaked cables provide an inside look at the US-El Salvador relationship, and highlight a US administration which believed it had found a very close ally in the ARENA led governments of those years.

I'll highlight some of the individual cables in future posts. The WikiLeaks project represents yet another coup for the independent journalists at El Faro.

Other cables from the US Embassy in El Salvador dated in 2009 and 2010 were released several months ago.

FMLN chooses candidate for 2012 San Salvador mayoral race

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The FMLN has confirmed that Jorge Schafik Handal will run as the left wing party's candidate for mayor of San Salvador in the 2012 elections.  He is the son of Schafik Handal, an FMLN guerrilla leader during the country's civil war and unsuccessful candidate for president of El Salvador in 2004.

Jorge Schafik Handal is currently a deputy in the National Assembly from Usulutan.  He will be running against the current mayor of San Salvador, Norman Quijano from ARENA, who won his first term as mayor in 2009.

Aeroman aircraft maintenance in El Salvador

I have written previously about the growth of aircraft maintenance business at Aeroman in El Salvador. US airlines such as JetBlue, US Airways, Southwest, and others outsource with Aeroman to provide heavy maintenance on jetliners in their fleets.  The Aeroman facility at El Salvador's international airport provides hundreds of good-paying (by El Salvador standards) jobs.

A week ago, KIRO-TV in Seattle, did an "investigative" report on Aeroman, titling it Third-World Mechanics Paid $2 Per Hour For Boeing, Airbus Jet Repairs.   (A year and a half ago there was a similar story on National Public Radio).

From the KIRO story:
At the edge of an airport property just outside the city of San Salvador sits four buildings tucked away from public view. The massive bays are owned by a passenger jet repair company called Aeroman. Every time KIRO Team 7 Investigators tried to get a little closer look, someone with a gun or a badge or both told us “no permiso.”

We asked for a tour in …

Desperate lives packed into a tractor trailer

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The ghostly image above is an X-ray image taken by Mexican authorities who discovered 513 migrants stuffed into two tractor trailer trucks in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas last Tuesday.   In the X-ray, you can see how some migrants were standing, holding on to ropes so others could fill the floors.  More than 400 of the migrants were from Guatemala.  Of the others, 47 were from El Salvador.

The migrants said they paid $7000 each for the trip.  Four of the human smugglers were captured.

This case provides another example of the desperation pushing Central American migrants out of their countries towards the north.    Despite the well-publicized dangers of the journey, hundreds and thousands try to travel illegally through Mexico and into the US.   A report in La Prensa Grafica states that 500,000 undocumented Central American migrants pass through the Mexican state of Chiapas each year.

The Texis Drug Cartel in El Salvador

The online periodical El Farohas published a major exposé on a drug-trafficking organization in El Salvador known as the Texis Cartel. These narco-traffickers control a route which transports drugs from the town of San Fernando on the northern border with Honduras in Chalatenango to the border with Guatemala in Santa Ana Department. This route basically cuts across the northwest corner of El Salvador.

The website Insight spotlighted the El Faro reporting this week:
With a network of collaborators that allegedly includes policemen, soldiers, judges and federal congressmen, El Faro stated that the Texis Cartel had turned itself into one of the key players for anyone seeking to smuggle drugs through this small Central American nation. Efforts to build a criminal case against the group have gone nowhere. This is despite the government’s longstanding awareness of the gang's existence, according to reports seen by El Faro, and the fact that the group’s founders allegedly include high-…

O'Grady's back -- and still not right

Multiple people sent me copies this week of an editorial in the Wall Street Journal by Mary Anastasia O'Grady, titled El Salvador Quits the Market Model, and asked me for my thoughts. O'Grady's viewpoints can be summed up by this opening quote:
Mauricio Funes of the FMLN party, has been a disaster for the once-thriving Salvadoran economy.This week's editorial is just part of a string of right-wing diatribes against El Salvador which O'Grady has published over the years.

But when you take a closer look at the article, you'll see that O'Grady is simply dishonest with her use of statistics. The first statistic she cites is from a recent United Nations' Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean report which states that foreign direct investment increased 40% in the region in 2010 over 2009, but in El Salvador it fell 79%. The report does say that, but there is also an important footnote which notes that El Salvador reclassified how it…

A step towards improving the lot of women

El Salvador's current government is focusing millions of development dollars on improving the situation of Salvadoran women. The program known as Ciudad Mujer is creating a series of regional centers which to address specific needs of poor women. An article in Hispanically Speaking News describes the program goals:
The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has approved a $20 million loan to help El Salvador finance the Ciudad Mujer (Women City) Program to be carried out by its Ministry of Social Inclusion to improve the lives of low-income women. The program seeks to offer essential services, such as health services with an emphasis on sexual and reproductive health, treatment and prevention of gender-based violence, vocational and business skills training, promotion of women´s rights, and childcare. The centers are to be strategically located in 12 areas across the country....

By delivering key services to women, the project addresses crucial development issues. Violence again…

Radio Victoria continues to receive threats

Amnesty International and many other human rights and solidarity organizations have reacted to a new round of threatening messages received by the staff at Radio Victoria in Cabañas. Radio Victoria has been prominent in reporting on the gold-mining conflict and other social issues in the region. From Amnesty International:
Authorities in El Salvador must take immediate action to protect journalists who fear for their lives after receiving a series of death threats, Amnesty International said today.  From 30 April to 4 May, staff members at Radio Victoria, a community radio station committed to social and human rights reporting in Cabañas region north-east of the capital San Salvador, told Amnesty International they received repeated death threats claiming to come from a “death squad.” “It’s unacceptable for El Salvador to stand by while members of the media receive threats intended to silence them,” said Guadalupe Marengo, Amnesty International's Americas Deputy Director.   “Th…

Violence against LGBT individuals in El Salvador

The Denver publication Westword has a cover article this week which shines a light on violence against LGBT persons living in El Salvador. The story, titled Coming Out to America, tells the story of Kassandra, a transgender Salvadoran woman fled to the US, seeking asylum from the violence, prejudice and persecution she faced at home.   A 2010 report to the UN titled The Violation of the Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Persons in El Salvador provides an overview of the situation facing LGBT individuals in the country. The story of Kassandra puts a personal face on that situation.

The city v the street vendors ... again.

The weekend was filled with conflict in the historic city center of San Salvador. Mayor Norman Quijano, like mayors before him of other political parties, is trying to relocate the informal vendors whose stalls clog the sidewalks and streets in the center. The vendors don't want to go, and as in times before, the conflict resulted in clashes with fires, vandalism, rock-throwing and phalanxes of riot police. The video above from La Prensa Grafica shows some of the scene. The disturbances resulted in damage to both the National Theater and the National Palace in the city center.

An estimated 16,000 vendors sell their wares in the streets around the Metropolitan Cathedral and the central plazas. The mayor wants to relocate them to specific market areas, but El Faro reports this week that the mayor's plan only has spaces for about half of the vendors. In the same article, the mayor asserts that his efforts are not directed at the humble campesina woman selling some mang…

Resurrected as a squash

From time to time, I have pointed to the blog of Tim Lohrentz who writes about the indigenous history of El Salvador.    Most recently, Tim writes about a death and resurrection story in Maya-Lenca culture -- the story of One Hunahpu who is killed and then resurrected as a calabash squash.  As he explains, it is a story with roots in history, agriculture and astronomy.

Troops to stay in the streets

Salvadoran president Mauricio Funes announced today that Salvadoran troops will continue providing support in combating crime in the country for at least another twelve months. The announcement came as part of ceremonies marking the Day of the Salvadoran Soldier.
Although the visible presence of troops in the streets has been popular with Salvadorans weary of the country's ongoing crime wave, there is little evidence that the troops have had any significant impact on crimes of extortion and murder. Homicides in 2011 continue at the same rate as in 2010.

May 3 -- The Day of the Cross

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Earlier this week, there were celebrations in El Salvador of the Day of the Cross.   It is a tradition which blends a celebration of the Christian cross with thankfulness for the start of the rainy season and the rains which will make the ground fertile once again.   Blogger Alisha, who lives in Berlin, El Salvador, has a great post this week describing the celebration in her community.  Here's an excerpt:
When we arrived in Alejandría we first visited Blanca and Cecilia’s houses. Their families had both put out crosses of their own and decorated them. It was fun to see when other people’s crosses looked like. Blanca’s family had two crosses, both with mangos and real and paper flowers. We also saw Cecilia’s neighbor’s cross. She said there weren’t a lot of decorations on it but I thought it was beautiful. I loved the bougainvillea and green mangos that adorned the cross. The cross as Cecilia’s house, which I was told is Idalia’s cross, was very ornate. It had a plate of mangos in…

One general in court, one general dies

As previously reported, a deportation trial is being held in Florida, where the US government is seeking to deport General Eugenio Vides Casanova, former head of the Salvadoran National Guard and former Defense Minister.

The Center for Justice and Accountability, which has previously brought civil suits against General Vides on behalf of torture victims, has a summary of the first round of testimony which recently concluded. Many of the witnesses are the same ones who have testified in other US court proceedings about crimes against humanity during the civil war, including former Ambassador Robert White. One of the witnesses was Stanford University professor Terry Karl who testified:
In Professor Karl’s opinion, Vides' pattern of conduct—his promotion and protection of known human rights abusers, failure to inspect and close down torture chambers, obstruction of investigations, refusal to dismantle death squads, and personal visitation of prisoners undergoing torture—constitu…

Supreme Court eliminates PCN and PDC

El Salvador's two oldest right wing political parties have lost their official standing following a ruling by the country's Supreme Court.   The Christian Democratic Party  (PDC for its initials in Spanish) and the National Conciliation Party (PCN) failed to receive then necessary 3% of votes in the 2004 presidential elections which would allow them to continue as recognized political parties.  However, in 2005, a law passed by the National Assembly  purported to waive the 3% requirement, and allowed the parties to continue to participate in elections.  In its ruling this week, the Supreme Court found the 2005 law to be invalid and in contravention of the requirements of the Salvadoran constitution. (There's a good overview of the court ruling in an article in El Faro at this link).

The PCN and PDC were founded in the early 1960's, and both parties elected presidents of the country in the 1970s and 1980s. More recently, they had been small minority parties in the legi…