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Showing posts from July, 2011

Where are the children?

Almost twenty years after El Salvador's civil war ended, efforts to reunite families go on, as described by the LA Times:
"They took my girl and said, 'Go, old lady!'" recalled her mother, Enma Orellana. The woman ran in fear, looking back just once, when the girl cried, "Mama!"

That was 29 years ago, when El Salvador waged war with itself and left hurts that have never healed. In the turmoil, more than 800 children disappeared, often into the hands of Salvadoran soldiers who used brutal tactics to battle leftist rebels and sympathizers.

The youngsters, including some whose parents had died, often ended up in orphanages under made-up names. Many were funneled by unscrupulous lawyers into a lucrative international adoption market or kept by the same military officers who took them. At least 400 remain missing.

Two decades after the end of the civil war, many Salvadoran parents — and, often, the children themselves — still search for loved ones, despite…

Decree 743 repealed

El Salvador's National Assembly Wednesday repealed Decree 743, the controversial law which attempted to impose a requirement of unanimity on the Constitutional Court. The decree had set off a firestorm of protests from civil society groups and had created a constitutional crisis in the country. Both ARENA and the FMLN deputies voted for the repeal, after both parties had flip-flopped about their positions on the law. The repeal of Decree 743 serves to strengthen the principal of judicial independence in the country and will fortify El Salvador's democracy in the long run.

The gap between Funes and the FMLN

Elected under the banner of the FMLN, president Mauricio Funes has never been a follower of the party line. In an article today titled Growing Tension Between Funes and Ruling Leftwing Party, IPS reports that the gap between the president and the party who elected him seems to be growing:

While the party has taken a harder-line position more in tune with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's "21st century socialism", the president has continued to follow the neoliberal economic policies of his ARENA predecessors, but combined with broad social programmes, such as a conditional cash transfer scheme for the poor, a community health care plan, and the distribution of free books and uniforms to students.

In a survey published in June by the University Institute of Public Opinion (IUDOP), more than 50 percent of respondents said the Funes administration had not ushered in significant changes.

Funes' increasingly close ties with the business community and his distancing from t…

Mixed crime news

When I first started writing this blog, I used to write regularly about the monthly murder statistics which the country's papers would publish. That soon grew too depressing, so I stopped writing so frequently about the murder rate. It's still depressing, but it's important to look at the trends occasionally.

The overall trend on murders in El Salvador shows no real improvement. Through the first six months of the year, there were 2120 murders in El Salvador. The number of homicides has remained at close to the same level as in the past two years, with only a slight reduction. This is true despite the presence of military troops in high crime areas and well-publicized raids like the mass arrests of more than 130 gang members at the end of June. There are still 11 to 12 murders on an average day in El Salvador, or an annualized murder rate of approximately 69.5 per 100,000 population.  

One potentially hopeful crime trend is a reported decrease in the number of k…

Gender equality and machismo

My friend Olivia works with children and families at a center in Mejicanos, a suburb of San Salvador.   She recently wrote a post in her blog about machismo in El Salvador titled Wake up, Raimundo, wake up.  In part of her essay Olivia describes a workshop she helped lead on the topic of gender equality:
It was a beautiful conversation about the roles of women, what kinds of things women and men can do, how women are objectified in this social, political, and economic spheres of society, and what kinds of things women are doing to take opportunities for ourselves when they are not handed to us. I was just so honored and proud of all the mothers I have grown to love speaking up. After the workshop, so many women came up to me to tell me they had learned new things and thought it was such an interesting, worthwhile meeting.

In the end, though, it was mostly a conversation about gender equality with women whose partners will continue to treat them with the same sexist attitude and expecta…

A different kind of ambassador

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The current ambassador to El Salvador from the US is Mari Carmen Aponte.  In less than a year on the job, Ambassador Aponte has followed a different path from her predecessors Douglas Barclay and Charles Glazer, both appointed by president George W. Bush.   And its not just the fact that she is fluent in Spanish.

A couple of recent items illustrate what I am talking about.   On July 14, the Ambassador visited the Romero Center at the University of Central America (UCA).   The center is the site of the November 1989 massacre of the six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter by Salvadoran troops.   Their murders occurred at a time when the US was providing economic and military support to the government of El Salvador during the civil war.  Although the Ambassador did not make any public statements, the symbolism is not dissimilar to the symbolism of president Obama visiting the tomb of Oscar Romero.  Here is a photo album from her visit.

The second item is an editorial col…

Getting quality immigration statistics

Emigration into the US and elsewhere is a major factor influencing the economy and culture of El Salvador. Dealing with migration is a major public policy challenge for the governments of El Salvador, the US, and other countries in the region. In discussing this topic, its important to try and get good information about the number and characteristics of migrants.

Two recent reports compile what appears to be the best statistics on the flow of persons across naitonal boundaries in the Americas. The Organization of American States (OAS), the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) presented their First Report on International Migration in the Americas on July 11. This report looks at migration both into and out of several countries in the Americas.

The nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute published its study Mexican and Central American Immigrants in the United States in June. This…

Anthropology Museum at UTEC

On my most recent trip to San Salvador, I was introduced to a museum I had never visited before. It is the Anthropology Museum at the Technological University of El Salvador (UTEC). It's a museum on the urban campus of this university which seems to have gone under the radar of any guidebook written for visitors to San Salvador. This two story museum offers an overview of society and culture in El Salvador from pre-Colombian times up to the present. You can see a number of photos from the museum, as well as its hours and address at this link. Admission is free.

While the museum is much smaller than the excellent Guzman National Museum of Anthropology, it covers some aspects of culture which the Guzman does not, including an insightful exhibit on the history of migration in the Americas.

A human chain for dignified housing

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From Twitterfeed of IndignadosSV

Today a human chain stretched more than 2 kilometers through San Salvador to emphasize the type of human solidarity needed to resolve the tragedy of marginalized housing conditions. Residents of marginalized communities are locking hands with university students, middle class activists, youths and others in a chain stretching from the Salvador del Mundo monument to the monument to the Constitution.

This human chain makes a demand for dignified housing, a demand which is well-illustrated by this video from the campaign titled "Asymmetry":



The human chain is part of an awareness and fundraising campaign by the Salvadoran NGO Un Techo Para Mi Pais -- A Roof for My Country. The 2011 Campaign is titled "It Takes More Work."

Update:
Watch a video of the Human Chain at this link.

A formal ban on mining in El Salvador?

The ongoing mining struggle in El Salvador is covered in a lengthy article in The Nation titled Like Water for Gold in El Salvador. The article covers ground which will be familiar to readers of this blog, from the concerns of environmental activists in areas where gold mining is sought to the international arbitration between Pacific Rim and the government of El Salvador. The article also discusses the status of legislation to permanently ban metallic mining in this small country:
We came to meet FMLN members of the legislature’s environment and climate change committee, including Lourdes Palacios, a three-term member from San Salvador with purple glasses and an easy smile. Palacios explained that they were ready with a bill to ban metals mining, but at the request of the executive branch, they were waiting for the outcome of [a technical review ordered by the government] before introducing it.

A representative from the department of Chalatenango, just west of Cabañas and an FMLN…

Interview with Inspector General of the National Civilian Police

The Washington Office on Latin America has posted this video of an interview with Zaira Navas, the Inspector General for El Salvador's National Civilian Police (PNC). Under Navas’ leadership, the Inspector General’s Office in El Salvador has investigated and recommended the dismissal of hundreds of police officers suspected of wrongdoing and criminal activities, including high-level police officers. As I wrote last year, she has performed her important role despite significant threats and opposition from certain elements in the country.

Hat tip to Larry Ladutke for forwarding this to me.

The parties versus the court

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El Salvador's Constitutional Court, which rules on whether laws and executive actions violate the country's constitution, has emerged as a champion of the voting rights of individuals while paring back some of the powers of political party leadership.

In July 2010, the Constitutional Court ruled that legislative elections had to permit independent candidates and not simply involve closed slates of names chosen by political party leaders.

The Constitutional Court has ruled that two political parties, the PCN and PDC, no longer can run in elections, because they failed to achieve in the 2004 elections the minimum number of votes necessary to stay alive. This ruling set aside as a nullity a political accord reached among El Salvador's politicians which had allowed those parties to continue fielding candidates in subsequent elections.  As a consequence, on July 1, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal dissolved the PCN and PDC.  (Or did it? -- last week it appeared that the TSE…

What others are blogging

I've been on a little hiatus from blogging, but now I'm back and will resume regular posts about our favorite country. While I've been silent, others in the English language blogosphere have been writing some good stuff.

SHARE has a blog post about the exhumation of the body of environmental activist Juan Francisco Duran Ayala from a common grave. His family and grass roots organizations continue to demand a thorough investigation into his murder.

Voices from El Salvador has an interesting look at urbanization in El Salvador. The growth of city living has its own set of problems and challenges for the country which it struggles to address.

The CRISPAZ blog carries an English translation of an article from Diario Colatino about a raid by 270 police and soldiers on Center for Training for Local Development and Solidarity Economies (PROCOMES), an NGO which works with youth from its office in Nejapa. Protests have been raised about the use of excessive force and a lack…

Putting at-risk youth in the military

Human rights advocates have been criticizing Mauricio Funes' plans to require at-risk youth to receive military training and discipline. IPS has a story about the program and its critics:
Under the proposed scheme, some 5,000 at-risk youngsters between the ages of 16 and 18 would receive six months training from army officers in military discipline and physical fitnes but without weapons. They would be trained to work in civil protection and risk prevention efforts during emergencies.

They would then receive six months of courses in mountain climbing and other sports, first aid and vocational and skills training. The entire process would take a year, and during that time they would receive 250 dollars a month and would stay in "citizen training centres" specifically set up for the purpose and run by the army. The focus is on social integration and harnessing the productive potential of the youths, while putting them out of the reach of criminal groups.

But the plan ha…