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Showing posts from June, 2015

Where gang violence does not exist

PRI published a report today on small towns in the department of Chalatenango where the gang violence which afflicts many other areas of El Salvador is nonexistent.   The towns share a history of bloodshed during El Salvador's civil war and community organization dating back to organized opposition during the war years: There are about a dozen towns in Chalatenango where crime has been largely non-existent. They all share a history of massacres and civic participation. These towns are also small, with populations of about 4,000. For the most part, they’ve remained isolated from the rest of the country, along long and curvy roads. But that’s starting to change.  Another 45-minute drive away from San Antonio de Los Ranchos, along a brand new highway, is the town of Nueva Trinidad. On a recent day, residents from a handful of nearby communities met here to discuss their public security strategies.  Teachers spoke about the need for after-school workshops to keep kids occupied. Mayor…

A bleak picture is worth a 1000 words

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According to a 2013 report on citizen security from the United Nations Development Program, El Salvador's prisons are the most over-crowded prisons in the Americas.   This graphic shows El Salvador's dramatic increase in overcrowding from 2005-2011 in comparison to other Latin American countries:



In 2012, ElFaro ran a graphic photo gallery on prison conditions and overcrowding.  Today in a photo gallery titled Here are the jails of El Salvador, the worst in America, ElDiario.es republished many of those photos again bringing into vivid detail the dehumanizing impact of such extreme overcrowding. The photos tell better than words why the idea of rehabilitation inside these prisons is far-fetched.  

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US State Department issues new El Salvador Travel Warning

The US State Department has issued a new travel warning for those considering visiting El Salvador. The basic message is unchanged from similar advisories in prior years:  there is a lot of crime in El Salvador and travelers should take precautions to avoid being victims: Tens of thousands of U.S. citizens safely visit El Salvador each year for study, tourism, cruise ship visits, business, and volunteer work. There is no information to suggest that U.S. citizens are specifically targeted by criminals; however, crime and violence are serious problems throughout the country. Since January 2010, 34 U.S. citizens have been murdered in El Salvador including a nine-year-old child in December 2013. During the same time period, 419 U.S. citizens reported having their passports stolen, while others were victims of violent crimes.  Typical crimes in El Salvador include extortion, mugging, highway assault, home invasion, and car theft. There have also been cases reported in which criminals obser…

New York Times on US response to Central American migration

Last week the New York Times published an editorial regarding continued Central American migration towards the north.   The editorial included this commentary: Yet American politicians have shown little interest in devoting resources to address the underlying reasons Central Americans continue to head north. They include gang violence, chronic poverty, high unemployment and weak government institutions. Last year, Obama administration officials studied closely where the most recent migrants were coming from in drawing up a plan to improve the region’s economies and curb violence.  The Obama administration asked Congress for $1 billion for the effort, arguing that the border crisis last year underscored the severity of problems in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, the countries where most of the migrants come from.  Last week, congressional appropriators in the House of Representatives marking up the bill that allocates foreign aid set aside less than $300 million for Central Ameri…

A Boy, A Girl, A Computer

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The Ministry of Education in El Salvador is rolling out a program titled "A Boy, A Girl, A Computer" in the public schools.   The government of El Salvador is receiving from Venezuela 50,000 "Lempitas" notebook computers through the Alba Foundation which is funded with Venezuelan oil revenue.

From TeleSur:
With the program “One kid, one computer” the Salvadoran government aims at delivering computers to over 2,500 public schools throughout this year. “Today is a historical day for #ElSalvador's Education System. We begin the program: one girl, one boy, one computer,” [president] Sanchez Ceren wrote on his Twitter account....  By the end of the year, the Salvadoran government aims at providing computers to 84,396 students and 1,000 teachers. The program also contemplates providing internet access to all the public schools in the country.  Taiwan and the United Nations Development Program are also helping El Salvador in the implementation of the program. The com…

Initial small changes to conditions in cane fields

In the Christian Science Monitor today, Whitney Eulich provides news of some initial attempts in El Salvador to change the working conditions in sugar cane fields as a way to combat chronic kidney disease and other work related illness: While scientists and health organizations around the world work to identify the root causes, a handful of power brokers here – from a top businessman to government officials and community leaders – are starting to take action to reverse the trend, based on what they know. Masariego is part of the first scientific intervention among sugar cane workers aimed at determining if work-related conditions such as dehydration or heat stress play a part in chronic kidney disease (CKD). And the achingly simple changes being tested here could serve as a model for other employers and governments across Central America, helping to raise awareness of worker protection and human rights.    “We need to do more research to find the causes, but meanwhile we can’t wait a…

Constitutional Chamber strikes again, stops Salvadoran government borrowing

The Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador's Supreme Court has again issued a ruling which has again angered the other branches of the government.    The Chamber has issued an order preventing the government from issuing bonds to borrow $900 million needed for the functioning of the government and planned spending on citizen security and social programs.  The order remains in effect while the court considers a challenge to how those bonds were approved in the National Assembly.

El Faro described the legal challenges here.   The bonds originally failed to pass by one vote of the super majority needed to approve such borrowing.   The website for the National Assembly indicated that the measure was then removed from the legislative calendar and sent to archive.   Later that night, the GANA deputy who had abstained from voting for the measure departed.    A back-up deputy from GANA took her place.   The bond approval measure was recalled to the floor where the back-up deputy cast his v…

Deported from US -- now working in a call center

Call centers are big business in San Salvador.   They employ an estimated 17,000 people, many of whom were previously deported from the US.   In El Salvador, the English these deportees learned while living in the US is often the only marketable skill they have.

The Miami Herald has an article on the call center operations:
Clients calling toll-free numbers to book hotels, find airline flights, track down lost luggage or deal with bank questions usually have no idea that the voice on the other end is a Salvadoran, sometimes with a tattooed neck, arms and back, who’s been deported from the United States.  International call centers have become a lifeline for thousands of Salvadorans who’ve been booted from the United States. The call center industry may as well be called Second Chance Inc.  Some of the deportees had lived years, even decades, in the U.S., often in gritty urban neighborhoods. They arrive back in El Salvador disoriented, accustomed to speaking English, not Spanish, and …

The complex and intractable problem of gang violence

I just finished reading Roberto Lovato's excellent piece in The Nation about the gang-fueled violence in El Salvador.   Lovato writes: Mara Salvatrucha and El Salvador’s other maras, as the gangs are generically known, do exercise what can be described as hegemonic control over portions of the country (some experts consider them a serious threat to sovereignty). In the exoticized, Heart of Darkness narratives constructed by the likes of National Geographic and other mainstream media and US-government officials, one often hears that residents of communities like Nuevo Israel “live in chaos.” In fact, there is order here—an alternative order, one governed by the gangs.  Mara law is unwritten but deeply felt on the bodies and in the interactions of these residents.Mara law affects their daily decisions as much as or, in some situations, more than the law of the state: It affects educational decisions like where and whether to send children to school; housing decisions like where to …

Commandos de Salvamento treat victims of violence

The Commandos de Salvamento wear bright yellow uniforms with green lettering.   They are trained in rescue, first aid, and paramedic skills, and they have nonstop duty now as criminal violence flares up in neighborhoods around El Salvador.  PRI has a story highlighting the work of these young people who are often addressing the damage caused by other young people:
The Rescue Command has about 3,000 volunteers, about half of them in the capital area. People come and go according to the time they have. Many, like García, are students from neighborhoods that are known to be violent.  Roselva Melgar is 21 and spends two or three nights a week with the organization. She wants to be a doctor and sees the Rescue Command as a way to stay out of trouble.  “There are people who get involved in this institution not to have to deal with the wrong people or to get out of a situation that can lead to your death. It’s better to be here and serve the people,” she says.  The young volunteers can be se…

Opinion poll on Sánchez Cerén performance

A recent public opinion poll released by Francisco Gavidia University looks at the views of the Salvadoran public concerning the first year in office of Salvador Sánchez Cerén, and in particular the efforts to deal with crime in the country.

Sánchez Cerén received an approval rating of 5.5 on a scale of 1-10. In contrast, his predecessor Mauricio Funes had an approval rating of 6.78 after his first year in office.

Asked to characterize the government’s efforts combatting crime, 6.1% said they were very good, 20% said good, 42.5% called it “regular” 23.3% said bad, and 7.7% said very bad.

To combat crime, those polled seem to want tougher law enforcement measures. 18.2% want harsher laws, 12% want a greater number of police; 11.4% want more military patrols; only 8.5% want more sources of jobs as a way to combat crime, and just 7.9% were recommending programs for reinsertion of gang members or prevention.

The Salvadoran public is looking to the armed forces in this war against crime…

El Salvador's National Palace

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You don't often see sights in El Salvador featured in Conde Nast Traveler.   But this week, El Salvador's National Palace, in the historic center of San Salvador, was featured in an article titled In El Salvador, a Government Building That's a Landmark of Design, where the author wrote: San Salvador's most imposing building is an unexpected destination for design inspiration, thanks to its interior of intricate and diverse tilework.  Although El Salvador doesn't have a monarchy, it does have a National Palace. Constructed in 1911 and declared a National Monument in 1980, the building used to house the major branches of government and was where important meetings and votes took place. Beyond its utilitarian purposes, the National Palace is also home to some of the most beautiful tilework this side of Lisbon, with each room home to different floor and ceiling patterns.  El Salvador's Ministry of Tourism has more information about the National Palace in a page on…

The bloody end to Sánchez Cerén's first year in office

On Monday June 1, president Salvador Sánchez Cerén celebrated his first year in office and delivered a report to the National Assembly of El Salvador on the state of the country.  You can read his discourse before the National Assembly here (in Spanish).  It is a speech filled with descriptions of the investments his administration has made in health, agriculture, education and promoting small businesses.

These are all good initiatives, but all are overshadowed by the violence and cost of the country's current wave of gang and criminal activity. As Sánchez Cerén delivered his speech, 38 murders were being committed on June 1.  The month of May ended with 640 murders, an average of almost 21 per day and a rate of killing higher than any other month since the end of the country's civil war in 1992.  The murder tally is 50% higher than the same period in 2014.

I am so weary and saddened by writing about murders and violence in El Salvador, but this moment is worse than any time …