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Showing posts from February, 2014

When murders go unsolved

One of the greatest challenges facing El Salvador is the weakness of its criminal justice system.   Crimes are not well investigated, and prosecutions of those who are arrested seldom produce results which are credible.   As a consequence, impunity and a lack of justice for victims is prevalent.
This problem is a central theme in a lengthy article by Robin Oisín Llewellyn in Le Monde diplomatique  titled El Salvador, violence and impunity.  The article details the history of murders and threats of violence against members of the environmental movement in the department of Cabañas and the many questions still left unanswered by the criminal justice system.   Here is an excerpt: [F]our years after the murders, those killed have become known as the “martyrs” of the mining movement, and their faces gaze down from posters in the offices of environmentalists campaigning for a nationwide ban on metallic mining. To the families of Ramiro and Dora, the mining company is directly or indirectly…

Tentative steps towards justice for the victims of El Mozote

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Led by El Salvador's Supreme Court, there is movement to suggest that the government of El Salvador may actually perform its own review of the 1981 massacre at El Mozote.  The Court invited forensic and human rights experts to tour the site of the massacre in preparation for a possible new investigation of the events surrounding one of the worst single human rights atrocities in Latin American history.
El Salvador is under an order from the InterAmerican Court of Human Rights to proceed with actions to bring justice for the victims of the massacre.   Yet the government has taken few steps in that direction, limiting itself to various measures of support to families of the victims who have returned over the years to repopulate the zone.   Steps to actually name and prosecute the perpetrators of this crime have been thwarted by the 1993 amnesty law which the InterAmerican Court says must be repealed.

The Human Rights Center at UC Berkely describes the recent steps initiated by the …

Salvador Sánchez Cerén has a comfortable lead for second round voting

Recently released public opinion polls show the FMLN's Salvador Sánchez Cerén with a sizable lead heading toward the March 9 runoff election.    The UTEC-CIOPS poll released today shows the left wing candidate with 54.9% of the potential votes to 45.1% for Norman Quijano from ARENA.  

This is about the same 10 point margin as the first round of the elections on February 2, when Sánchez Cerén had 48.9% of the votes and Quijano had 38.9%.      It appears that the voters who had voted for former president Tony Saca of UNIDAD in the first round are splitting fairly evenly between the two remaining candidates.   Quijano may be headed to a much bigger defeat than when Maurcio Funes beat Rodrigo Avila of ARENA 51.3% to 48.7% to become the country's first left wing president.

The CID-Gallup poll shows Sánchez Cerén with an even bigger lead of 58% to 42%.



A Salvadoran fisherman reappears from the sea

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I have not blogged previously about the biggest story which has come out of El Salvador in recent weeks, at least judged by the number of mentions in the worldwide press.   It's not the presidential elections, but the tale of  José Salvador Alvarenga, a Salvadoran fisherman who allegedly survived 14 months at sea after his small fishing boat was caught in a storm off the coast of Mexico.   He washed up on the shores of the Marshall Islands, thousands of miles away, with a tale of surviving off raw fish and turtle blood.   You can read more about this remarkable castaway tale in stories from the Guardian, here and here.

Our friend Carlos Colorado now shares this essay exploring Alvarenga's story and some of the deeper meanings it might have.




  I wish I was a fisherman Tumblin’ on the seas Far away from dry land And its bitter memories
—The Waterboys “Fisherman’s Blues”
At a surface level, the story of José Salvador Alvarenga is a simple one.  His tiny shark fishing vessel got blown …

News drone covered El Salvador election

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What's that buzzing I hear as I line up to vote for president?   Last week El Salvador's La Prensa Grafica newspaper and media outlet used a remote drone-mounted camera to provide scenes from El Salvador's elections.  As reported on one website:
During El Salvador's recent presidential elections, Salvadoran newspaper La Prensa Gráfica found a unique angle from the skies. LPG used a quadcopter to capture scenes on voting day as voters flocked to the polls in the Central American country. It's fascinating to see drones find more acceptance in journalism, but the story also serves to highlight the fact that US journalists currently are barred from doing the same thing. Here is some of the video taken by the LPG drone on election day.





Volcano still threatens

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The Chaparrastique volcano near San Miguel, El Salvador, continues to show signs of activity weeks after its  December 29 eruption.  From the summit of the volcano, plumes of smoke with sulphur dioxide (SO2) continue to rise in the air.  The monitoring station operated by the Ministry of Natural Resources shows that SO2 levels can rise to unhealthy levels when wind conditions are wrong.

Scientists are also measuring micro quakes within the volcano, primarily on Chaparrastique's north slopes.

Location of micro-quakes
Increasing magnitude of micro-quakes
As a result of this activity, the Ministry has been repeatedly including this sentence in all of its public statements about the volcano: Considering the current behavior of the volcano, the possibility of another eruption in the coming days through the central crater or its flanks cannot be ruled out.
With the prospect of another volcanic event, the Ministry has installed multiple monitoring devices including infrared cameras, sonog…

El Salvador's Supreme Court orders war crime investigation

El Salvador's Supreme Judicial Court has ordered the country's top prosecutor to investigate one of the many massacres by army forces during El Salvador's civil war.
From Reuters:
The court ruled General Prosecutor Luis Martinez had to reopen a previous investigation that had fizzled out without any charges being filed. The court demanded prosecutors charge any guilty parties and release publicly the results of its probe.  The ruling is an unprecedented move by the court to order the probe into a particular case relating to the country's 1980-1992 civil war.  The Supreme Court said that the prosecutor's office dragged its feet in the original investigation and the justices ruled that the prosecutor had violated the rights of a group of citizens who had been filing legal complaints about the massacre since 2006.  Military troops allegedly killed about 45 people, including women and children, in the community of San Francisco Angulo.  "The court orders the Gene…

Towards a second round in El Salvador's presidential elections

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Salvador Sánchez Cerén, the candidate of the FMLN, scored a significant victory with a 10 per centage point win over Norman Quijano of ARENA, but it was not enough to secure a victory in the first round of voting.   The final vote percentages were: 

Candidaturas%Votos48.92%38.95%11.44% Sánchez Cerén's 10 point lead represented some 266,000 votes more than Quijano.  Now the candidates from the left and the right will battle in a run-off election on March 9.  It promises to be an ugly 5 weeks of campaigning where one can assume that ARENA wll go very negative, while Sánchez Cerén will be assiduously wooing the supporters of Tony Saca to get just the few percent more which the FMLN needs to retain the presidency.   At this moment, it seems that the odds are stacked heavily against ARENA and Quijano.
Some other observations:
Congratulations to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) which pulled off a very smooth election process.   The votes were counted quickly, with transparency, with a…

Election Day

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I spent today observing El Salvador's presidential elections at various voting centers in the municipality of Tonacatapeque, outside of San Salvador.   At all of these centers, voting ran very smoothly and peacefully without noticeable obstacles for any citizen who wanted to exercise his or her right to vote.

As of 9:00 PM, El Salvador time, with 63% of the vote counted, Salvador Sanchez Ceren had a significant lead over Norman Quijano, but not quite enough to avoid a second round runoff.   The vote totals are:

Candidaturas%Votos49.07%38.87%11.39% Tony Saca has already conceded defeat, asserting that he was not able to overcome the two party polarization of the country.  Still, he will hope to negotiate something in return for casting his support for one candidate or ther other.   Sanchez Ceren is so close to 50% that the FMLN may not have any reason to negotiate.
Watch updated poll results here.