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Showing posts from June, 2012

Constitutional crisis deepens in El Salvador

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The battle between El Salvador's legislative and judicial branches continues.   In this fight between the National Assembly and the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, neither side seems prepared to back down.

A little background is necessary.   El Salvador's Supreme Court has different chambers ('salas") which rule on different areas of law like criminal law, constitutional law, etc.  The " Sala de lo Constitucional" or Constitutional Chamber rules on whether laws passed by the National Assembly and acts of the executive branch are unconstitutional.

On June 5, the Constitutional Chamber ruled that votes by the National Assembly to appoint judges to the Supreme Court in 2006 and 2012 were unconstitutional.. The Chamber ruled that El Salvador's constitution requires that one third of the court be elected every three years. The three year cycle matches up to the three year cycle on which deputies to the National Assembly are elected. The Const…

Pac Rim's point of view

Tom Shrake, the CEO of Pacific Rim, the Canadian gold-mining company locked in a legal struggle with the government of El Salvador, recently gave an interview in a Canadian paper about the dispute:
Pacific Rim is challenging the government’s decision not to issue permits for its proposed El Dorado gold mine. This “creeping expropriation,” the company alleges, has left it with nothing to show for the $77-million it has invested. It has demanded hundreds of millions in compensation. ... Since the dispute began, Pacific Rim has cut itself to the bone and seen its stock sink.
Mr. Shrake attributes the local opposition that his mine has faced to “rogue” non-governmental organizations, including Oxfam America, which he accuses of sanctioning local groups that have used threats and intimidation. An Oxfam America spokesman denied that it has supported or encouraged any violence. Mr. Shrake contends that the accusation that his mine would imperil a key river is unfounded. The company’s designs …

Central American Court of Justice to hear Salvadoran constitutional conflict

The Central American Court of Justice, based in Managua, has now agreed to hear the dispute between El Salvador's National Assembly and its Supreme Judicial Court.   The Constitutional Court in El Salvador had declared invalid actions by the National Assembly to elect justices to the court in 2006 and 2012, and the National Assembly rejects the court's authority to do so.

I am unaware of another instance of a regional court like this agreeing to rule on an internal constituional dispute of a member country.   Can anyone point me to a similar situation?


100 days of gang truce

Tuesday marked the 100th day of the truce between El Salvador's gangs which has dramatically dropped the homicide rate in the country.   The gangs spoke about the future of the truce yesterday reports the AP:

Leaders of El Salvador's Mara street gangs said Tuesday that they are ready to start negotiations with the government toward a permanent peace pact following the success of a three-month-old temporary truce that has lowered the Central American country's murder rate dramatically. The gang leaders said during a ceremony at the Izalco prison to celebrate the first 100 days of the truce that they want the government to offer job programs or some other sort of aid to gang members in exchange. "We want to reach a definitive cease fire, to end all the criminal acts of the gangs" said Mara 18 leader Oscar Armando Reyes. "But we have to reach agreements, because we have to survive. There was talk of job plans, but we haven't gotten any answers, and it is ti…

Mari Carmen Aponte to return to El Salvador as ambassador

Today the Obama administration gathered sufficient votes in the US Senate to defeat the Republican filibuster of the nomination of Mari Carmen Aponte to be the US Ambassador to El Salvador.   Ambassador Aponte had served in El Salvador as the ambassador during 2011 under a recess appointment, but was forced to relinquish her post after Republicans blocked her confirmation earlier this year.    The changed fortunes of her nomination had everything to do with election year politics and the courting of Latino voting blocs as described in this article at Roll Call.

Congratulations to Ambassador Aponte, and I am sure El Salvador will welcome you back with open arms.

Through eyes of youth

Yesterday I pointed to the blog of the spouse of a US Embassy staffer reflecting on his two years in El Salvador.   Today I'm recommending for a different view you take a look at the blog of essays written by students of a Jesuit college prep school, Brophy College Prep, in Phoenix.   These essays reflect on the students' recently completed summer immersion trip to El Salvador.   Through the eyes of these high school students we learn, for example, of economic injustice in the form of harsh working conditions in maquiladora factories:
To start, I would like to give a quick overview of the social and economic situation that Maquila workers struggle with. The vast majority of Maquila workers are women, and the average salary of those working at a Maquila is $187 a month. That breaks down to $6.25 a day, $0.78 an hour. This becomes even more devastating when one considers that 45% of the homes in El Salvador are entirely dependent on the income of the mother. Women are forced to …

A summary of some highlights of El Salvador

Sometimes it's good to hear someone else sing the praises of El Salvador.  Case is married to a staffer at the US Embassy in El Salvador and writes the blog "Trailing Husband" about his experiences on his wfe's posting to the country.  They are finishing her assignment in El Salvador, and Case wrote a retrospective post titled Highlights of El Salvador.

Here's what Case writes about rain:
To be totally honest, I had almost forgotten to mention how amazing the rain is here, and then, literally 5 minutes after I disconnected my UPS from my computer, a huge rain/lightning storm starts, and the power drops out for a minute. By and large, I have not found the rain annoying. To the contrary, I love the powerful rainstorms that we get. Seriously. It's just amazing how much rain can drop from the sky in a short amount of time. Also, since we live on the side of the San Salvador volcano, we get some amazing lightning storms that have a terrific echo from the volcano.…

Epidemic of tooth decay

PBS New Hour aired a  video report this week on a growing epidemic of tooth decay among El Salvador's children.


From the transcript of the report:
CARL NASMAN: One of the first to notice a decline in dental health was Karen Sokal-Gutierrez, a pediatrician and professor at U.C. Berkeley. She showed us pictures from 30 years ago, when kids had healthy teeth. But just one generation later, the photos look different.

DR. KAREN SOKAL-GUTIERREZ: This is a child who has all of the teeth on the bottom rotten and all of the teeth on the top.

Years later, when I go into a village and the kid would come flock around us and hug us and smile, that's when I saw, oh, my God, their teeth are all black and rotten. I have never seen this before. What happened?

CARL NASMAN: Professor Gutierrez and her team of volunteers work on the ground in El Salvador, training health workers and donating supplies.

She estimates that 85 percent of kids in rural areas of El Salvador have tooth decay, and nearl…

Another constitutional crisis in El Salvador

One year ago, I was writing about Decree 743, a law signed by president Funes that tried to change the rules for El Salvador's Constitutional Court to require unanimous decisions rather than majority decisions.   After considerable public opposition, the legislature and Funes backed down and repealed Decree 743.
Now that same court has made a unanimous ruling which has precipitated another constitutional clash among El Salvador's branches of government.   (El Salvador's Supreme Judicial Tribunal (TSJ) has different wings which rule on different areas of law like criminal law, constitutional law, etc.   The " Sala de lo Constitucional" or Constitutional Court rules on whether laws passed by the National Assembly and acts of the executive branch are unconstitutional).
The Constitutional Court ruled that votes by the National Assembly to appoint judges to the TSJ in 2006 and 2012 were unconstitutional..  The Court ruled that the constitution requires that one third…

Jurisdictional ruling in Pacific Rim case

There has been another ruling in the international arbitration brought by Canadian gold mining company Pacific Rim against the government of El Salvador.  The case is pending in the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).  In its ruling, the ICSID tribunal dismissed Pacific Rim's case under the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), but will permit Pacific Rim to continue a claim brought under El Salvador's 1999 Investment Law.

There is a good overview and analysis of this decision at the Public Citizen Eye on Trade blog.   The coalition of organizations opposed to metallic mining in El Salvador have collected news coverage and reactions to the decision at this link.

It is important to realize that this decision is only about the jurisdiction of the ICSID.   This decision is only about the question of whether or not the ICSID has the power to rule on the dispute between Pacific Rim and the government of El Salvador.   We have not yet gotten …