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Showing posts from August, 2014

Gangs announce a new phase of the truce

Communications issued by El Salvador's largest gangs this weekend declare that the gangs have decided to relaunch the truce process which started in March 2012, but seemed to have largely fallen apart two years later.

From Reuters:
Leaders of El Salvador's major gangs on Friday said their members would no longer attack police and the military in a bid to revive a tattered gang truce and slash high rates of violence that have rocked the Central American nation. Kingpins of five Salvadoran gangs, including Barrio 18 and its rival Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), said the agreement was reached last Sunday to relaunch a March 2012 truce that cut homicide rates by 40 percent.A report from al Jazeera described the communique from the gangs:
"We are all victims of the situation of violence that afflicts the country, and we can't see positive results if we do not promise our determined collaboration," said the leaders.   It said gang members would also seek to avoid attacking &qu…

Court reforming El Salvador's democracy

The Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador's Supreme Court continues to issue rulings which increase the ability of citizens to participate in the democracy and lessen the power of  party leadership.   In a unanimous ruling by all five judges on Tuesday, the Chamber held that El Salvador's Law of Political Parties is unconstitutional for failing to include provisions requiring transparency in the finances of the political parties and in failing to require representative democracy in party's internal elections to choose leaders and candidates for office.  

The National Assembly will now have two months to amend the Law of Political Parties to comply with the Chamber's ruling.   The ruling will not affect the choice of candidates for the March 2015 elections, however.

The  Constitutional Chamber, in a series of rulings, has strengthened the voice of individual voters by allowing them to vote for individual candidates for National Assembly rather than closed lists assemble…

Pastoral initiative for peace

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A group of churches in El Salvador yesterday made public their proposals to the government for working on the problem of gang-fueled violence in El Salvador.   Calling itself "IPAZ," the Pastoral Initiative for Life and Peace, the group of Protestant and Catholic churches propose a "tridimensional dialogue" between the churches, the gangs and civil society to seek an understanding for a reduction in the levels of violence and homicides.  IPAZ proposes to be the facilitator of this process.

The church leaders do not describe this process as a continuation of the so-called truce process, but instead an attempt to rescue those pieces of that process which had produced positive results.   They expressed a certainty that there were various gang members who truly did want to give up lives of crime.   IPAZ stands opposed to those who would say there can be no dialogue with the gangs.

IPAZ specifically does not call for the government to negotiate with the gangs or gang l…

Family of Padre Toño speaks out

In Spain, they are waiting anxiously for progress on the case of Spanish priest Fr. Antonio Rodriguez (Padre Toño), arrested in El Salvador for alleged complicity with the gangs.   The periodical El Pais has the story::
Father Toño has been accused of bringing prohibited objects such as cellphones into prisons and of having direct ties to various Mara leaders. Both investigations are in the preliminary stages. It could take up to six months for the authorities to make a decision. On Friday, Father Toño was transferred to a prison under the supervision of the Salvadoran police’s narcotics division after spending a week in hospital with low blood pressure. His lawyers intend to appeal the judge’s decision and the Spanish Foreign Affairs Ministry said it was keeping up with the case, though declined to share any details.  [Father Toño's sister] Cristina has taken two trips to El Salvador to see her brother. She said Father Toño set up workshops, clinics equipped with machines for re…

It's campaign time again

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El Salvador held close and polarizing presidential elections in March; now the country is heading into the campaign season for mayors of every municipality and for deputies in the National Assembly.  The elections will be held on March 1, 2015.

Already a couple of races look interesting.

The FMLN announced that its candidate for may of San Salvador will be Nayib Bukele, the popular 33 year old mayor of Nuevo Cuscatlan.   Bukele will be competing against current San Salvador mayor Norman Quijano who will be running for a third term after his unsuccessful presidential bid.  Also announced as a candidate is Walter Araujo, a former member of ARENA who quit the party and will now run under the GANA banner.

Nayib Bukele
Equally interesting will be the race for mayor of Santa Tecla.   Until the past year, the mayor of Santa Tecla was Oscar Ortiz, the popular FMLN politician who is now the country's vice president.   With Ortiz out of the picture, ARENA is putting a big effort into gettin…

Remarks of Pope Francis stir hopes for Romero sainthood

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There is excitement in El Salvador among those of who have long-called for the Roman Catholic Church to beatify slain Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Romero.   The excitement stems from remarks made by Pope Francis during his return from his recent trip to Asia.  As usual, our friend Carlos at the Super Martyrio blog has the most complete coverage:
Francis: "Romero is a man of God"Pope Francis has spoken explicitly for the first time about his desire to see the beatification of Archbishop Oscar A. Romero of El Salvador, saying that, “For me, Romero is a man of God” and stating that there are no more doctrinal problems standing in the way of the martyred prelate’s beatification. “It is important to do it quickly,” the Pontiff added.

Francis made his remarks aboard the papal plane flying back from his trip to Korea on Monday, August 18, 2014. The Pope was asked by a reporter about the status of the beatification cause and the Pontiff responded that theologians still need to clari…

Corrupt judges charged (and freed) in San Miguel

Last week three judges were arrested in San Miguel, following arrests of lawyers, police, and other officials a few weeks earlier in San Miguel.   InsightCrime looks at these latest arrests in an article titled El Salvador Anti-Mafia Judges Arrested For Ties to Organized Crime: Authorities in El Salvador have arrested three anti-mafia judges accused of accepting bribes from organized crime groups, highlighting the corruption that plagues the country's judicial system and allows impunity to flourish.  On August 12, Salvadoran authorities detained three judges from the eastern city of San Miguel who are accused of taking money in exchange for favoring criminal defendants, reported El Diario de Hoy. The Attorney General's Office identified the judges as part of a network that includes lawyers, prosecutors, police, and court employees.  The arrests came after 15 judges from the country's Constitutional Chamber approved the removal of the judicial immunity afforded to the thre…

Fernando Llort - a Jewel of Hope and Peace

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Artist Fernando Llort is a national treasure in El Salvador, and he continues to give back to his homeland.  

On Friday in San Marcos,  El Salvador, artist Fernando Llort and a group of youth began work on a mural titled "The Jewel of Hope and Peace."

The project is sponsored by UNICEF, as part of its campaign "no te indigna?" / "aren't you outraged?" which is intended to raise awareness of violence afflicting children in the country.

Llort's recent works in public spaces have included a renovation of the Monument Hermano Lejano ("Distant Brother") dedicated to those Salvadorans living abroad.   The renovation, concluded in 2012 includes sculptures and murals to provide a "fraternal hug" and a welcome home.

He also recently completed a mural with youth volunteers in Santa Tecla as part of a Plan El Salvador program.

You can see everything this prolific artist is up to at the Facebook page of the Fundación Fernando Llort.


Mural…

Who will protect the innocent victims of gang violence?

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This week saw some very good feature length reporting in The Nation and The New Republic regarding the gangs in El Salvador and the reasons people flee the country for the US.

The Nation published an article titled:  Who Counts as a Refugee in US Immigration Policy and Who Doesn't.  Through the story of a mother and her 17 year old son, the article looks at the question of refugee status when those seeking refuge come from the gang-controlled areas of Central America.   It is an issue which Immigration Courts don't clearly answer:
As the numbers increase, US asylum law is, as always, in flux. Immigration courts have seen a general rise in claims involving gang recruitment and extortion, both from children and adults. Some claims have succeeded, but many have not. Although the State Department now openly reports the killings taking place in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, immigration judges often do not believe that the individuals before them face specific threats of vi…

Telling the story of El Mozote

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Today on the front page of the Ministry of Education website, the government was featuring for download this popular version of the history of the 1981 Massacre at El Mozote titled El Mozote:  Lucha por la verdad y la justicia  --   El Mozote: The struggle for truth and justice.

The book was published by Tutela Legal, the (former) human rights office of the archdiocese of San Salvador, and is illustrated by drawings from the organization for popular education known as Equipo Maiz.

It is a small step, and yet an important step, to encourage the telling of the actual history of El Salvador's civil war in its schools.



Community policing in El Salvador

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The government of president Salvador Sanchez Ceren launched a community policing initiative today as part of its strategy for combating the high levels of crime and violence in the country.  The initiative which seeks to create strategic relationships between the police and the communities where they are working, will start in 42 sectors around the historic center of San Salvador.  The plan will be extended to other areas of the country in coming months.

The government also announced the deployment of more police on motorcycles as well as video monitoring of sectors of central San Salvador.

The community policing initiative represents the first piece of a security policy which we have seen from the new president.   I think community policing is part of the solution which El Salvador needs, but it will require significant effort and change from a police force most notable for the size and number of guns each of its officers carries.


Coffee rust challenges famers' livelihoods

The Catholic News Service has an article today about the ongoing impact of coffee rust on small fincas and farmers in El Salvador:  JUJUTLA, El Salvador  — Oralia Lopez had a brother leave for the United States in 2013. He had given up on eking out a living in El Salvador's coffee country, where a fungus known as coffee rust wiped out crops and caused hardship and hunger. He arrived in the Washington, D.C., area, home to many Salvadoran migrants, and started sending home remittances.  His success encouraged two brothers to try their luck, Lopez said, but they were detained on the Mexico-U.S. border and deported.  "Agriculture is not providing anything here to survive on," Lopez said.  Such is the desperation in this corner of El Salvador and other parts of Central America, where coffee crops can provide modest livelihoods. The coffee crisis in El Salvador has sent some searching for work in larger cities, while those staying put increasingly grow subsistence crops such …

A biodiversity treasure -- El Impossible National Park

Environmentalists from the "On the Heritage Route" project recently stopped at El Salvador's El Impossible National Park. The work of the Heritage Route project is to discover and share (by bicycle) local initiatives reconciling development and conservation of natural and cultural heritages. They document their visit in a blog post titled Last Untouched Lands Protection in El Salvador – Not Impossible for SalvaNatura!.  The national park is managed by SalvaNatura, a non-profit environmental organization in El Salvador.

From the Rainforest Alliance:
Because of it size and biological diversity, Bosque El Imposible National Park is considered the most important natural area of El Salvador. Located in the department of Ahuachapan, El Imposible contains a highly threatened dry tropical forest that forms part of the coastal mountain range Apaneca-Ilmatepec. The 9,000 acre forest ranges from 900 feet to 4,300 feet above sea level and is home to the country's most crystall…

Family remittances set to exceed $4 billion in 2014

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Figures from El Salvador's Central Reserve Bank show that remittances sent by Salvadorans living abroad to their relatives in the country are set to exceed $4 billion this year.

(2014 figure is twice the January through June total)
The amount of remittances has been growing annually since a significant drop in 2009 during the Great Recession.

To put these numbers in context, family remittances equal approximately one sixth of the country's gross domestic product.   $4 billion in remittances would represent more than $2000 per person for each of the roughly two million Salvadorans living in the exterior.


Regional drought impacting El Salvador and its neighbors

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The eastern half of El Salvador is feeling the impact of a drought which reaches across a wide swath of Central America:
The drought has swept across a region known as "the dry corridor," which covers nearly a third of Central America, where 10 million people live, according to a 2013 study by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.  Source.   El Salvador has lost 10% of its corn harvest so far and other crops such as beans and coffee have been impacted.

Governments in the region are seeking to respond:
 El Salvador and Nicaragua are reported to be the most affected by the drought with the loss of crops and livestock, particularly in Nicaragua.  Government measures taken include importing crops to shore up supplies. Honduras has distributed food products to affected families, El Salvador is distributing seeds to farmers, and Costa Rica declared an emergency in the country's northwestern Guanacaste province where significant livestock and agriculture losses were repor…

Update on Padre Toño case

After less than a half day of freedom earlier this week, Padre Toño, the Spanish priest known for his work with gang members in his parish in Mejicanos outside of San Salvador ended up back in detention.  The Salvadoran prosecutors added new, more detailed charges, and persuaded a judge to return the cleric to provisional detention.  

From the National Catholic Reporter: A Salvadoran judge ruled that Spanish Passionist Fr. Antonio Rodriguez, known for his work in rehabilitating gang members, should remain in jail, accused of various crimes regarding gang activities.  Rodriguez, known as Padre Tono, was arrested July 29 and charged with several offenses, including illicit associations, influence peddling and introducing prohibited items -- including cellphones -- into prisons where members of the Barrio 18 or Calle 18 gang are held. He was arrested in connection with a huge police raid against 127 gang members on charges of extortion, among other crimes.  On Monday, he was granted par…

The complex problem of child refugees from El Salvador

The Center for Democracy in the America's always-excellent monthly El Salvador Update by Linda Garrett focuses this month on the child migration issue.   After a summary of recent events in Washington and the Northern Triangle of Central America, Garrett writes: While this event has become a crisis for some in the U.S., it is an old story for Salvadorans. Refugees and smugglers have made the journey on the well-traveled trail through Mexico for decades, from the Cold War to the drug war. “This is not [just] a phenomenon,” Salvadoran Ambassador Rubén Zamora said, “It is a system… And like any systemic phenomenon, it does not have just one cause or a simple, unilateral solution.”  Financial and political elites in the Northern Triangle states have historically failed the vast majority of their populations, tacitly encouraging youth and adults to take the treacherous journey north, for underpaid jobs and to send remittances home. The hard-earned dollars not only support their famili…

Padre Toño rejects gang-related charges as political persecution

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The arrest of Spanish priest Father Antonio Rodriguez in El Salvador, better known as Padre Toño, has prompted surprise and protests, spreading all the way to Spain.
The charges against Padre Toño are illicit associations, influence peddling, and bringing contraband to persons in prison.  At a hearing on Friday, the prosecutors detailed their charges:
The Prosecutor's Office say the priest had been under investigation since March 2013.  "After monitoring his phone calls, we gathered evidence of his links with the leader of the 18th street gang, Carlos Ernesto Mojica Lechuga, who is in jail" said prosecutor Allan Hernandez.  "He was doing whatever Mojica Lechuga asked him to do," Mr Hernandez added. Prosecutors say the priest successfully intervened to have a gang member transferred to a different jail at the request of Mojica Lechuga.  He has also been accused of smuggling mobile phones and other objects to gang members in prison. One of the phones was used to…

New taxes on rich in El Salvador

According to the World Bank, El Salvador has some of the lowest taxes in all of Latin America and the Caribbean, and these revenues are not sufficient to finance needed spending on social programs.  
Yesterday, the National Assembly passed a bill to increase tax collections from the rich and business.  From a Reuters report:
Lawmakers in El Salvador approved a tax reform bill on Thursday that introduces a minimum income tax targeting loopholes used by the rich, as well as a imposing levy on financial transactions.  The measures were approved with a slim majority of 44 votes of the 84 cast with the backing of lawmakers from the ruling leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) with help from the moderate right wing GANA party....  The centerpiece of the bill introduces an alternative minimum income tax of 1 percent on a taxpayers' net assets.  Lawmakers complain that big companies and the rich evade taxes and are not paying their fair share under the current income t…