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Showing posts from March, 2013

Semana Santa

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It's Holy Week - Semana Santa -- in El Salvador.   A time of vacations throughout the country.   Enjoy this
photo gallery from La Prensa with pictures of Holy Thursday activities from the beach to religious observances.

An LGBT ministry and conference in El Salvador

As the issue of same sex marriage and LGBT rights dominates US media this week, I thought I would share this article from the Episcopal News Service titled The making of an LGBT ministry in El Salvador.   It was November 2007. Not long after Torres arrived, a male couple found the church. And then came another gay man and another, and eventually the number grew to six. Bishop of El Salvador Martin Barahona suggested that the group help the diocese begin a ministry on sexual diversity, but the group declined, Torres said. “We said, ‘No, El Salvador isn’t ready.’”  Two years later, the group was meeting regularly on Saturday afternoons and had doubled in size.  “We were 12, and we started to talk about our experiences in the [other] churches, and we said maybe it was time to call and invite the people we know,” Torres said. “Half of the people who came wanted to change [their sexual orientation] but that wasn’t our vision or our mission.”...  The group’s mission was not to make gay peo…

Washington Post covers Romero

The anniversary of Romero's murder and new hopes that Pope Francis will canonize Oscar Romero were covered in today's Washington Post:

Church leaders say they believe Francis’ accession to the papacy will help their effort to win beatification and eventual sainthood for Romero, who was killed after his increasingly strident defense of Central American nation’s poor and denunciations of government violence. His killing was one of the triggers that set off a civil war that left nearly 90,000 people dead or missing over the next 12 years.  “We are more hopeful that at last Romero will be beatified. He is a martyr. He is a saint,” said Lucia Escalante, a retired schoolteacher of 65 who attended the Mass at the hospital which treats patients with terminal cancer.  “They killed Romero for defending the weakest, the poorest, for saying the truth, for denouncing injustice, and he is a martyr of the church,” she said.  A large crowd then marched nearly four miles (seven kilometers) to …

On the 33rd anniversary of Romero's murder

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To commemorate the 33rd anniversary of the martyrdom of Oscar Romero, here is an excerpt from his sermon preached on Palm Sunday in 1978.
Holy Week is a call to follow Christ’s austerities,
the only legitimate violence,
the violence that he does to himself
and that he invites us to do to ourselves:“Let those who would follow me deny themselves,”
be violent to themselves,
repress in themselves the outbursts of pride,
kill in their hearts the outbursts of greed,
of avarice, of conceit, of arrogance.
Let them kill it in their hearts.This is what must be killed,
this is the violence that must be done,
so that out of it a new person may arise,
the only one who can build
a new civilization:
a civilization of love.  Palm Sunday, MARCH 19, 1978
Taken from The Violence of Love

Oscar Romero -- Getting to know him

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Palm Sunday, March 24, is the 33rd anniversary of the death of Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Romero at the hands of an assassin.   His image is everywhere in El Salvador as the people remember the voice of the voiceless, who walked as a shepherd of the suffering people of El Salvador before his murder in 1980.

If you have not spent much time with Romero, here are some great resources to gain a deeper appreciation for his life and what he meant for the people of El Salvador.

The best documentary:  Monsenor: The Last Journey of Oscar Romero.   This documentary, which was released on DVD last year, offers lots of archival footage of Romero and the remembrances of many people who knew and worked with him.  Highly recommended.

The best dramatization:  Romero  starring Raul Julia.   This Hollywood movie is the way that many English speakers get to know Romero.   Some of the details are not historically accurate, but the majority of the film is true to Romero's life.

The best book:  Mons…

The price of a cup of coffee

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The coffee harvesting season has come to an end in El Salvador.   El Faro recently ran a photo essay titled
How much does your cup of coffee cost?.   The photo essay shows images of some of the hundreds of thousands of Salvadoran who work in the coffee industry during the four or five months of the harvest.  

For those who actually pick the coffee, the going rate is $1.25 for each bag of coffee cherries, and a picker can pick about 4 bags per day.   For workers involved in carrying, hauling, drying, sorting the coffee, average wages are $70-75 every two weeks.


How will the diaspora vote?

In the 2014 presidential elections, Salvadorans living outside of the country will have the chance to vote from abroad for the first time.   Given the size of the Salvadoran community living in the US, Canada and elsewhere, there could be a noticeable impact on next February's elections.   Already, Salvadoran politicians are campaigning among Salvadoran communities in the US.

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs recently looked at these new voters in an article titled
The 2014 Presidential Elections in El Salvador and the Transnational Electorate by Frederick B. Mills.  He comments: In the past, even without the right to vote abroad, expat Salvadorans played an influential role in the social, political, and economic life of El Salvador, especially since the signing of the Peace Accords in 1992. The agreement transformed a decade long armed struggle into a political contest between the FMLN and the right wing Republican Nationalist Alliance (ARENA) parties. After two decades of right…

The US government view of the truce

The most recent monthly El Salvador Update from the Center for Democracy in the Americas has a description of where the US has stood with respect to the gang truce in El Salvador: The U.S. Embassy has remained aloof from any endorsement of the truce. But, according to one government official, it has not been an obstacle, despite the recent State Department-issued warning about the dangers of travel to El Salvador. Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte reiterated on February 7th that the United States “is not collaborating in economic terms with the so-called security zones.” She added that the State Department Travel Warning issued in January does not affect the strong bilateral relationship between the United States and El Salvador.

Just days later, USAID announced a donation of $20 million toward a $42 million program called “SolucionEs.”   Described as a public-private partnership between USAID and four non-governmental organizations, the program will focus on youth with no criminal histo…

20 years since Truth Commission report

March 15 marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of the report of the UN Truth Commission which investigated human rights abuses during El Salvador's twelve year civil war.  The three member commission spent 8 months gathering testimony  and evidence to produce its report titled  From Madness to Hope: The 12-Year War in El Salvador: Report of the Commission on the Truth for El Salvador.  
The United States Institute of Peace summarized the reports' main points: ConclusionsAmong over 22,000 complaints documented, 60% involved extrajudicial killings, 25% involved disappearances, 20% involved torture, and some alleging more than one form of violence.Based on collected testimony the commission attributed 85% of the acts of violence to State agents, which took place predominantly in rural areas. Approximately 5% of the acts of violence were attributed to the FMLN.The report named individual actors allegedly responsible for human rights violations.RecommendationsThe recommenda…

Proceeding despite our doubts

In this series of posts on the one year anniversary of the gang truce,  the figure of Father Antonio Rodriguez, "Padre Toño", has figured prominently.   Independent Catholic News quotes his concerns about the ongoing truce process:
"The truce has not touched the human dimension of the person - in one year there has not been a single programme that has taken a comprehensive approach to the individuals affected by this phenomenon of gangs," said Father Antonio Rodriguez, parish priest of St Francis of Assisi Church in Mejicanos, a gang-affected area on the outskirts of San Salvador. "The truce is a political strategy," Father Antonio told ContraPunto magazine,"but what interests me is the human dimension - and the truce has not touched on this."  "For me there are three points. The first is to take a human approach to the process, through a psycho-spiritual and psycho-social programme. A young person takes about a year to recover all the hum…

Polls -- how Salvadorans view the truce

It is one thing to talk about El Salvador's gang truce in blog posts and newspaper articles.   It is another thing to live in communities where crime is prevalent.   How do the bulk of Salvadorans view the truce?

In polling by the University of Central America during mid-November of 2012, there were high levels of skepticism about the truce.  66.4% of those polled believed that the truce had reduced the level of crime little or not at all.   89.4% of the respondents had little or no trust in the truce.

La Prensa Grafica polling in February 2013 showed that 55.2% of Salvadorans had a negative opinion of the truce while only 29.7% had a positive view.  The respondents were about evenly split over whether or not there should be negotiations with the gangs.  And 70% said that one could not trust the gangs to fulfill their promises.

When LPG asked people for the reasons for the gang problem, 36.2% blamed the parents and the educational system of the country, while 30.7% focused on econ…

IASC report on El Salvador's gangs

The International Assessment and Strategy Center (IASC) recently published a report on gang activity in Central America which has received wide discussion in Salvadoran media and elsewhere.     IASC is a think tank which does research and policy analyses on global security issues.  The report is titled Central American Gangs and Transnational Criminal Organizations: The Changing Relationships in a Time of Turmoil.  The lead author is Douglas Farrah, a senior fellow at IASC.

The report states that it is primarily based on field research consisting of interviews with gang leaders inside and outside of prison during 2012.   Most of the gang leaders were from MS-13.   Headline grabbing points in the research paper include descriptions of training camps for MS-13 members run by the Zetas Mexican drug cartel on the slopes of the Guazapa volcano, an arms bazaar in the Bajo Lempa region where arms including surface to air missiles are traded, and that the Zetas and MS-13 have reached an allia…

News on the anniversary of the truce

Today is the one year anniversary of the gang truce in El Salvador.   In El Salvador it was marked with a ceremony declaring the city of Apopa to be the 5th "city fee of violence."     At the event, gang members turned in over 267 weapons.  In these cities, the gangs agree to cease criminal activities, and the local governments make commitments to projects where gang members can find training and employment.

In an update to my post from Thursday, Father Antonio Rodriguez has now stated publicly that he will participate in the truce process.    This is a fairly dramatic change in direction for the Spanish priest who had been a critic of the truce, and follows a meeting he had with Raul Mijango, one of the mediators of the truce.   Yesterday Father Antonio participated in an event for the one year anniversary of the truce at the Ilopango women's prison.   His change of position also follows an armed attack at a medical clinic associated with Father Antonio's ministries…

The truce and a murder

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The gang truce in El Salvador is a year old.   But a murder this week highlights how much we do not know about the motivation of the gang bosses and highlights that violence is still taking too many lives.

An ex-gang member, who worked on programs to re-insert former gang members into their communities has been killed.  According to news reports, Edgar Giovanni Morales was murdered by two assailants outside the church of San Francisco in the municipality of Mejicanos, a suburb of San Salvador.

InsightCrime described the issues surrounding this new tragedy:
The hit took place outside the San Francisco church in San Salvador, which is run by Spanish priest Antonio Rodriguez -- an outspoken critic of the government engineered truce between El Salvador's main gangs, Barrio 18 and MS-13, which has seen the number of murders more than halved in less than a year.  Morales worked in the [Passionist Social Services], a social program that rehabilitates ex-gang members, and was closely al…

Polling a year before the elections

El Salvador's presidential campaign season for elections next year has begun in earnest, and La Prensa Grafica has some early polling data about voters' preferences.

In the tradition of Salvadoran opinion polling, the pollsters asked voters not which candidate they would vote for, but which political party they would vote for.   ARENA came out slightly ahead:
31.7% -- ARENA  (Norman Quijano)
28.3% -- FMLN  (Salvador Sanchez Ceren)
8.1%  --  GANA, PCN or PDC  (Tony Saca) As in elections over the past 20 years since the peace accords, the two major parties still dominate the loyalties of the voters in largely equal measures.

In a poll result which might not bode well for the country's current vice president, Salvador Sanchez Ceren, 49.3% of Salvadorans said they want a change of party in power in the government, and only 37.3% want a continuation.

Right now, my very early prediction, is that Tony Saca gets enough votes to prevent either of the major party candidates from wi…

Salvadoran politicians express sympathies over death of Chavez

The death today of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez was major news today throughout all the world, but especially in Latin America including El Salvador.   In El Salvador under its first leftist government, president Funes and leaders of the FMLN, all expressed their condolences to the Venezuelan people and described their respect for the charismatic, populist leader who led the oil rich South American country.

Chavez frequently played a role in the political life of El Salvador.   Party leaders of the FMLN, like Schafik Handal and Salvador Sanchez Ceren frequently traveled to Venezuela and the FMLN leadership frequently expressed its allegiance to the Bolivarian Socialist movement which Chavez headed.  Some called it meddling when Chavez sent discounted  gasoline to municipalities in El Salvador which were headed by FMLN mayors.   In past presidential campaigns, right wing ARENA candidates frequently asserted that the FMLN's ties to Chavez would cause the US to abandon El Salvado…