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Showing posts from November, 2015

Sugar cane workers in pictures

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A photo essay by Ed Kashi in the Guardian shows the hard lives of sugar cane workers in El Salvador and Nicaragua and describes the problems of chronic kidney disease and some of the measures to combat the illness.


Impunity and extradition

El Salvador's Human Rights Ombudsman David Morales went to El Salvador's Supreme Court on Monday, November 16, the 26th anniversary of the murder of 6 Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter.   Morales was there to file a petition asking the Court to rescind its prior order on extradition of 13 military officers to Spain.   A Spanish court has issued an arrest warrant to require those officers to face justice for the Jesuit massacre, but in 2012, El Salvador's Supreme Court refused the Spanish extradition request.

Morales petition probably has no more than symbolic significance.  The Supreme Court has not changed its composition and is highly unlikely to reverse itself.   Also pending in front of the Supreme Court is a challenge to the 1993 amnesty law which has so far prevented the military command from being prosecuted in El Salvador.   That challenge has been pending for years with no sign that a decision is due soon.

The crimes of El Salvador's civil war…

The travel question

The question I receive from readers more than any other is whether it is safe to travel to El Salvador.   This question has come with more frequency this year as headlines have proclaimed El Salvador as the murder capital of the world.   My answer to this question is always  “Yes, if you are smart about it.”
It’s worth starting with the language of the most recent Travel Warning from the US State Department: 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.US State Department Travel Warning, June 22, 2015.  In the next sentence the Travel Warning goes on to state: Since January 2010, 34 U.S. citizens have been murdered in El Salvador including a nine-year-old child in December 2013. What is challenging about this statistic is that …

Salvadoran writer seeks asylum in Spain

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As El Salvador approaches the 26th anniversary of the massacre of the six Jesuit priests at the University of Central America on November 16, 1989, one of the country's award winning authors has just fled the country and sought asylum in Spain after receiving death threats.  Jorge Galán had just published "Noviembre" in October, which narrates the story of the massacre of the Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter and those figures in the military who were behind the crime.     On November 1, Galán was attacked by armed men who threatened and insulted him.   He is now seeking protection in Spain.

Spain is the country where court proceedings are currently pending against twenty military officers of their involvement in the crime.   El Salvador is the country where those accused of the crime continue to walk free, safe from extradition and protected by an amnesty law and impunity from ever having to face justice.

Violent deaths in El Salvador decline in November

Looking for any glimmer of improvement in the wave of murders which has hit El Salvador this year, Salvadorans heard from the PNC yesterday that "only" 139 people were murdered in the first ten days of November, for an average of 13.9 per day.   This compared to an average of 22.7 per day during October.

While acknowledging this was a reduction, Howard Cotto of the PNC cautioned that it was too early to be labelled a trend.   While refusing to disclose particular police strategies, Cotto believes that actions by security forces are having a positive effect.

At the same time, Cotto dismissed the idea that the reduction in homicides represented a response by the gangs to the call of the IPAZ churches for the gangs to cease their violent actions.  The churches, for their part, see the reduction in homicides as a response to their call for peacemaking.

Cotto repeated the claim of the government that most of the victims and most of the killers were gang members.   However, past r…

Bill Clinton in El Salvador

Former US president Bill Clinton was in El Salvador today.   He was there to visit initiatives supported by the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative.  The program in El Salvador trains small farmers in techniques they can use to grow produce sold at a living wage to supermarkets and elsewhere: Acceso Oferta Local – Productos de El Salvador has worked with 300 smallholder farmers and sources 42 different varieties of fruits and vegetables.  In November 2013, CGEP began working in El Salvador and replicated their successful supply chain enterprise model by creating Acceso Oferta Local – Productos de El Salvador. CGEP and Fundación Carlos Slim facilitated a total investment of $1.05 million to the enterprise, which currently operates in the highlands and in San Salvador, El Salvador. CGEP’s supply chain enterprise in El Salvador trains smallholder farmers and sources over 42 different varieties of fruits and vegetables for sale to Super Selectos, the largest national sup…

A former president in court

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View image | gettyimages.com

Salvadorans saw a historic event this week as ex-president Francisco Flores sat in a courtroom in San Salvador for a preliminary hearing on corruption charges.   Flores was president from 1999-2004.

The hearing lasted two days and was covered by swarms of media.

The prosecutor outlined his case.   In 2003, $15 million was received in checks made out to Flores form the Taiwan embassy,   The checks were taken to Costa Rica, where they were deposited in a newly created account for a supposed institute for political studies.   Of the $15 million, $10 was later distributed to Flores' political party, ARENA.    The other $5 million went into Flores own pockets.  The investigative reporters at El Faro published an exhaustive studying tracing the path of all the funds in October 2014 which you can read here.



One aspect of the hearing with an interesting twist was the conflict between certain private complainants and the public prosecutor.   The private complai…

Voices crying in the wilderness

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I have written several times on this blog about IPAZ, the pastoral initiative for life and peace, a group of protestant churches in El Salvador which advocates for dialogue in Salvadoran society, including dialogue with the gangs, as a path towards reducing violence in the society.

On October 27, the churches organized a march in San Salvador which included family members of gang members.   The marches ended at Plaza Salvador del Mundo where the church leaders called out for a cessation of violence in the country.   In particular, the IPAZ churches called for the gangs to: a)  cease all violent actions against the lives of Salvadorans
b)  cease recruiting members, especially boys and girls
c)  cease all types of threats which force families to leave their homes or neighborhoods
d)  permit the free transit of people throughout all El Salvador In an interview given to the online periodical RevistaFactum after the march, Lutheran Bishop Medardo Gomez was asked why he thought the gangs mi…

Multi-dimensional poverty in El Salvador

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This year El Salvador's government began publishing a measure of multi-dimensional poverty.  The concept gets away from just looking at poverty as an income level, but instead looks at conditions of life including housing, access to health services, education and employment.   Under this new multi-dimensional approach, a household is considered in poverty if it is lacking in 7 or more of 20 basic categories.    Under this definition of poverty, the poverty rate in El Salvador is 35.2%

The 20 basic categories and the percentage of Salvadoran households who lack the minimum level for each category are:


Looking at poverty this way gives policy makers a much more sophisticated way to think about poverty and recognizes that all of these factors are necessary for citizens to enjoy a sense of well-being.

The distribution of households suffering from multi-dimensional poverty varies significantly by department:




Poverty levels in El Salvador

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Last week the government of El Salvador released data on poverty in El Salvador based on household polling during 2014. The statistics showed an uptick in poverty in 2014, and continuing disparities between rural and urban areas. The country continues to make progress in reducing extreme poverty.

The poverty level household income in El Salvador is measured in comparison to the cost of a basic basket of food for a household for a month. That amount is $184 in urban areas and $131 in rural areas. A household is defined as living in poverty if its household income is less than two times the basic basket price (i.e., $368 urban / $262 rural).

Under this measure, 31.9% of Salvadoran households lived in poverty in 2014, up from 29.6% in 2013:




Extreme poverty is defined as households lacking the income equal to the cost of the basic food basket. That level increased in 2014 to 7.6% nationwide, up from 7.1%.



Looking over a longer time period, poverty in El Salvador has generally fluctuat…

Corruption in El Salvador

2015 has been a year in which anti-corruption efforts made significant progress in Guatemala.   The battle against corruption was waged by CICIG -- the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala.   A massive scandal involving the customs system in Guatemala has been exposed and prosecuted.  The CICIG obtained indictments of high government officials, the resignation and arrest of the president, and a strengthened civil society.
But what about El Salvador?

In Transparency International's 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index, El Salvador had a score of 39, on a 100 point scale where 0 is the worst and 100 is the best.  With that score, El Salvador ranked 80th out of 175 countries.

The most recent Human Rights Report from the US State Department regarding El Salvador states:
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials; however, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The NGO …