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Showing posts from June, 2011

New York Times covers Pacific Rim lawsuit

The New York Times published a story today about gold mining conflicts in El Salvador titled First a Gold Rush, Then the Lawyers.  The focus of the story is on Pacific Rim's attempts to open a gold mine in El Salvador, and is fairly sympathetic to the Canadian company.   There is nothing in the article which will be new to regular readers of this blog, but it presents a broad overview of the gold mining issue.

The Romero Files

Our friend Polycarpio, who writes the quality  Super Martyrio bilingual blog dedicated to Archbishop Oscar Romero, recently wrote a post about the US government views of Romero, as revealed by diplomatic cables from the time.   With Polycaripo's permission, it is reprinted in full here:

While arecently leaked diplomatic cablefrom the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador sheds light on the prior Salvadoran government’s machinations to enlist the Vatican’s assistance to discourage international investigations of Archbishop Romero’s assassination, historic embassy cables reveal U.S. intelligence insights on Archbishop Romero himself. A dozen cables obtained by George Washington University andposted on its National Security Archiveshow that the U.S. State Department believed that Archbishop Romero, at first, “played a critical and most constructive role on behalf of moderation and peaceful reforms,” but the Embassy had soured on Archbishop Romero by January 1980, when diplomats began to perceiv…

Inflation threatens Salvadoran families

In a recent public opinion poll, 83% of Salvadorans reported that the cost of living was going up, and a significant percentage believed not controlling inflation was one of the primary failures of president Funes' government. A new report at 7marketSpot.com puts some numbers on inflation in El Salvador:
The continuing impact of higher international commodity prices has put the Funes administration under pressure to curb rising inflation, even as domestic demand remains weak. According to data from the Banco Central de Reserva de El Salvador (BCR, the Central Bank), annual inflation jumped to 6% in April, from 2.1% in late 2010, and -0.2% a year earlier, reflecting in part much higher petrol prices this year—in January-March oil imports increased by a sharp 40% year on year. Moreover, owing to a high dependence on imported grains and wheat, consumers have been badly affected by rising costs of imported food items.

According to a recent study by the Inter-American Development Bank …

One million Salvadorans on Facebook

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The website Socialbakers.com tracks Facebook usage across the globe.   Their website now shows that El Salvador has surpassed one million Facebook users.


That represents a penetration of some 16% of the Salvadoran population, and ranks El Salvador 74 out of 213 countries.  Not surprisingly, 84% of the users are age 34 or under.

Increasingly, Facebook is playing a role in Salvadoran politics and civil society.  The protests against Decree 743 have a FaceBook page titled I Support the 4 Magistrates of the Constitutional Court.  Politicians like President Mauricio Funes and  San Salvador Mayor Norman Quijano have pages, as does the US Embassy.   Inevitably, more and more organizing, debate, and campaigning will happen on Facebook and Twitter as the level of participation in these social media seems to have hit a critical mass.

Another anti-mining activist killed in Cabañas

There has once again been an unexplained murder of an environmental activist the department of Cabañas where conflict over proposed gold mining continues. The conflict has already claimed several lives. The following is from the staff of Radio Victoria, a progressive community radio station in Cabañas:
On June 2, in the city of Ilobasco, Cabañas, thirty year-old Juan Francisco Duran Ayala was putting up flyers and banners that asked for the approval of a law against metal mining and for the Canadian mining company Pacific Rim to leave Cabañas as part of a Cabañas Environmental Committee (CAC) campaign. The CAC reports that the mayor of Ilobasco, José Maria Dimas Castellano, ordered members of the municipal police to remove the banners and intimidate the activists that were hanging them. The next day Juan Francisco left for his classes at the Technological University in San Salvador and was not heard from again.

Yesterday we received word that Juan Francisco Duran Ayala's body was…

El Salvador Spring -- Decree 743 conflict continues

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There is no resolution to the constitutional crisis in El Salvador over Decree 743, the law designed to make it more difficult for independent thinking judges to declare laws unconstitutional. For those who want an overview of this dispute, our friends at Voices from El Salvador have put on their blog a comprehensive timeline of the passage and subsequent protests surrounding Decree 743.  There is also an overview on the story here at the Spanish language site of the BBC.

It is truly unique to see the different branches of El Salvador's government positioning themselves while the protests from civil society do not let up. For example, president Mauricio Funes found it necessary to take out a full page ad in the newspapers to explain why he signed the law (he thinks it is constitutional and will promote institutional stability).   Funes also attacks ARENA for switching positions on the law and now calling for its repeal after they allegedly received assurances that the Amnesty La…

Military service for at-risk youth

The Los Angeles Times had a story on June 11about the proposal by Funes to draft into the military 5000 at-risk youth aged 16 to 18 to keep them out of gangs. Funes announced the plan in his June 1 address to the nation:
The plan calls for drafting 5,000 male teens deemed at risk of joining gangs and putting them through six months of civil defense training at centers run by the army reserve. Such service, officials say, would instill discipline in the youngsters while removing them from squalid conditions that have proved fertile for gang recruitment.

The draftees, ages 16 to 18, would receive noncombat training only and would not handle firearms.

'Youths are going to be subjected to the rigors of military discipline, but will not receive military instruction like the use of arms, and only will be instructed in protecting of civilians who are vulnerable in cases of natural disasters,' said Defense Minister David Munguia Payes.
According to the LA Times, the proposal has rece…

Salvadorans abroad could vote in 2014 elections

In his speech on the June 1 anniversary of his presidency, president Mauricio Funes stated that Salvadorans who live outside of the country will be able to vote in the next presidential election in 2014.  Such a change in Salvadoran elections would incorporate a very large group of additional voters into into the process.  Currently, Salvadorans who live abroad can vote only if they return to El Salvador to cast a ballot.

How many Salvadorans live outside the country's borders?   I'm not sure.   A La Prensa Grafica story about the president's announcement stated that there are 2.8 million Salvadorans living in the United States.   Another story, in the Contra Costa Times, cited US census figures from 2010 that there are 1.6 million Salvadorans in the US.   That story did acknowledge that the census probably did undercount those living in the US illegally.   Although most ex-pat Salvadorans live in the US, they also live in Canada, Europe and many other countries.

Barista from El Salvador is world champion

The 2011 World Barrista Championships were held June 2-5 in Bogota, Colombia. The winner this year was Alejandro Mendez from El Salvador. With a polished presentation featuring coffees grown in El Salvador, he brewed and poured sophisticated coffee drinks for a panel of judges You can watch his winning presentation here.

Competitors at the annual championship must prepare four espressos, four cappuccinos and four original signature drinks in a 15-minute performance set to music. They are then judged not only on the taste of the beverages, but also on cleanliness, creativity, technical skill and overall presentation. In the final championship round, Mendez competed with other finalists from the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, Spain and Japan. (Learn more).


El Salvador Barista Champion 2011 Alejandro Mendez from World Coffee Events on Vimeo.

Broad opposition to decree 743

The protests continue over the action of the Salvadoran National Assembly to try and change the rules to make it more difficult for the country's highest court to rule laws unconstitutional. The law, called Decree 743, would require a unanimous vote of the court's five judges to invalidate an unconstitutional law.

The four judges responsible for the major rulings of the Constitutional Court ruled that Decree 743 was itself invalid and proceeded with only four votes to accept a suit involving presidential spending. The position of the judges sets up an institutional crisis with no particular way to solve it if the National Assembly and Funes do not back down.

The possibility of the National Assembly backing down was described by Alfredo Cristiani, the former president and current leader of ARENA. In an interview with La Prensa Grafica, Cristiani indicated that ARENA is going to reverse its position and now introduce a bill to repeal Decree 743. Together with the votes of th…

Constitutional conflict in El Salvador

The Constitutional Court (Sala de lo Constitucional) of El Salvador's Supreme Court is the judicial body which has the responsibility for ruling on whether laws passed in the country are constitutional or not. The Constitutional Court is made up of five judges, and recently they have been issuing important decisions which work in favor of vindicating good governance, transparency, and the value of an individual citizen's votes. Our friends at Voices of El Salvador describe the recent work of the court:
Since becoming magistrates in 2009, Belarmino Jaime, Florentín Meléndez, Rodolfo González y Sidney Blanco have chosen strategic cases to strengthen national institutions and target corruption within government agencies. Over the past two years, the four magistrates have passed down some very important decisions, while the fifth magistrate, Nelson Castaneda, has mostly abstained from votes. In one example, the Court condemned a law that reallocated funds left over from the gen…

Focus on drugs, crimes and gangs

The Organization of American States is meeting in San Salvador from June 5 to June 7.   The theme of the meeting is Citizen Security in the Americas.    In the lead up to the meeting, there are a number of stories about drug-trafficking, violent crimes and gangs in Central America in the media.

National Public Radio broadcast a three-part series on the spread of the violence from Mexican drug cartels to Central America.   Two of the three episodes focus on El Salvador, and the risk the country faces:
Earlier this month, Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes, in a plea for regional unity against the Mexican cartels, said the nations of Central America face a "very powerful enemy." He said the profits garnered by the drug smugglers exceed the resources "available to the security forces of our countries."

The party line from Funes' administration is that, yes, drug trafficking is on the rise in El Salvador, but so far it hasn't gotten out of hand. The Salvadoran …

Evaluations of first two years of Funes presidency

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Today marks the second anniversary of Mauricio Funes taking power as El Salvador's first left-wing president. An opinion poll from the University of Central America shows that the grades which Salvadorans give Funes have been slipping over those two years, as El Salvador's intractable problems of crime and the economy show little improvement:


What I find most interesting is the almost identical pattern was experienced by El Salvador's last president, Tony Saca from the ARENA party.   Saca started with a grade higher than 7.2 in UCA polling and was getting a grade of 6.2 on his second anniversary in June 2006.   Salvadorans in 2006, as in 2011, reported crime and the economy as the biggest problems the country faced.  In five years, the number of Salvadorans who feel the country is on the wrong track is still around 65%.

That is not to suggest that Funes and Saca are the same type of president.   After all, Saca laid flowers at the tomb of Roberto D'Aubuisson who ordere…