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Showing posts from April, 2017

El Salvador self-defense group poses potential security concerns

This article originally appeared on the website of InsightCrime on April 26.
A self-defense group operating in a rural community of El Salvador is asking for formal legal recognition, a reminder of security concerns elsewhere in the region caused by similar non-state actors taking justice into their own hands. 
The group, based in the town of San Nicolás Lempa in the department of San Vicente, is made up of about 60 citizens. The group's members are seeking legal recognition in order to be able to operate openly and to gain access to more arms and equipment, La Prensa Gráfica reported.

The origins of the self-defense group date back to 2015, when former combatants from the country's 1979-1992 civil war rearmed themselves following the appearance of Barrio 18 members in the community and the assassination of a community leader and his daughter, presumably by the gang.

Since that time, the self-defense group has worked somewhat surruptitiously with the armed forces and the National…

Life as an undocumented Salvadoran in Trump's USA

Life as an undocumented migrant in the US has never been an easy one.  In Trump's America, it can be down right terrifying.  

Aura Bogado, writing in The American Prospect provides a portrait of daily life of one undocumented woman from El Salvador in a piece titled Fire and ICE: Hiding in Plain Sight.  Here's an excerpt:
As women from Central America who are terrified of Donald Trump, they watch one another’s backs the way immigrants and refugees would under a new administration that partly came into power on the promise of mass deportations. These days, the women say, every knock on the door, every step outside, and every ride on public transit merits scrutiny....  ICE employs what it calls a sensitive location policy, which dictates that agents should take considerable measures to avoid enforcement actions at hospitals, schools, and churches. Yet since Trump assumed office, ICE has detained a woman at a hospital, a father a few blocks from his daughters’ schools, and a gro…

The immigration court bubble

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The fact that there is an enormous backlog in US immigration courts is well known.   The backlog has prompted the Trump administration to promise to hire many new immigration judges and to speed up the process.

What is less well known is that Salvadorans make up an increasingly large percentage of the open cases in immigration court.  Using data through March 2017 from the TRAC database at Syracuse University, there were a total of 572,608 open deportation proceedings in immigration court and 123,036 of these cases involved Salvadorans (21.5%).   Only Mexico had more of its nationals in deportation proceedings with 128,659.

This chart shows the growth of open US Immigration Court cases involving Salvadorans over time:


This bubble, which coincides with the flow of unaccompanied minors and mothers with children from 2014 forward, points to a very large number of Salvadorans who are already in the pipeline to be deported in the coming months and years, even without any more round-ups or …

The artist who paints historic reality

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The image at the top of this blog is a mural by Salvadoran painter Antonio Bonilla which is located in the Guzman Anthropology museum in San Salvador.  The mural is entitled 200 años de lucha por la emancipación en El Salvador (2011) (200 years of struggle for the emancipation of El Salvador) and was commissioned by then president Mauricio Funes for the 200th anniversary of the independence of Central America from Spain.

Bonilla's works are intensely political, commenting on the social reality of the country.   The paintings can be satirical and ironic with a rejection of the official telling of Salvadoran history.



Other well known works of Bonilla include his painting Réquiem para los mártires  of the massacred Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter which hangs in the chapel at the UCA and another large mural of Salvadoran history at the convention and fair grounds (CIFCO) titled  Alegoría de la guerra civil y los Acuerdos de Paz (Allegory of the civil war and th…

Trump uses MS-13 violence to justify anti-immigrant policies

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The street gang Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13 is US president Donald Trump's rhetorical ISIS for the Americas.   Trump uses the spectre of MS-13 gang violence to generate fear of every migrant from a region just as he uses the spectre of ISIS to generate fear of Muslims and migrants from the Middle East.  Trump and his attorney general Jeff Sessions have frequently referred to the Central American gang as the reason the US must build a southern border wall and must increase immigration enforcement and deportations.

Jeff Sessions being interviewed on FoxNews played the MS-13 card hard:
 Attorney General Jeff Sessions vowed Tuesday to "devastate" the Central American gang MS-13, calling the group "one of the most violent gangs in the history of our country, no doubt about it."  Sessions spoke to Fox News' "Tucker Carlson Tonight" hours after President Trump blamed what he called "the weak illegal immigration polices" of the Obama administratio…

Uber may be coming to San Salvador

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The ride-sharing service Uber may be coming soon to San Salvador.   According to a report in LPG's El Economista, Uber has begun taking applications from potential drivers in the country at the website https://www.uber.com/es-SV/.

Persons interested in becoming drivers will need to have their own car with liability insurance, and a certified clean driving record.  

Since the Uber app requires that customers of the service have a credit card to enroll, this will be a service useful only to the middle and upper classes in the country.  It will also be interesting to see if the app can acquire acceptance in El Salvador with its high crime rate, and where in my experience most people have a prior relationship with the drivers and taxis they might hire.    The cash free transactions of Uber may be attractive to drivers and passengers alike.

Re-branding El Salvador and this blog

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El Salvador has developed a new logo to brand itself when it goes out to seek foreign tourists and investors.   The new logo was designed by the consulting firm Interbrand who explains the concept:
The new brand strategy is based on a previous study conducted by the El Salvador Government and further research carried out by Interbrand. It looks to “put El Salvador on the map as one of the new destinations and growing global economies,” says Interbrand.  A new visual identity also aims to increase international awareness of El Salvador and promote investment, exports and tourism in the country.  The logo centres on the letter “V” within El Salvador’s name and sees a “kaleidoscope” of colourful graphic icons related to the country – including a volcano, birds and waves – bursting out of it.  The logo also includes a tagline beneath the country’s name that reads: “Great like our people”.

Indigo blue has been chosen as the main colour throughout the identity due to its historic associati…

El Salvador freezes OceanaGold assets

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When the gold mining company OceanaGold lost its international arbitration with the government of El Salvador, it was ordered to pay $8 million in legal fees incurred by El Salvador to defend the case. Yet so far, the company has not honored its obligation to pay those fees.
This week El Salvador took the step of freezing OceanaGold's assets in the country as a way to gain some of that payment.   From Reuters:
El Salvador froze bank accounts and assets belonging to OceanaGold Corp after the mining company refused to pay the country $8 million as mandated by an international court, the Attorney General's Office said on Tuesday. Last year, El Salvador won an arbitration at the World Bank's International Center for Settlements of Investment Disputes (ICSID) against the Australian-Canadian mining firm, which sought $250 million from the Central American nation for revoking an extraction permit....  The asset freeze was authorized by the Supreme Court to ensure payment complian…

Statistics on migration to the US

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Number of El Salvador born migrants living in US
Good data is important to good understanding for policy decisions, and  this is especially true when it comes to understanding migrant and refugee flows across borders.   My go-to source for documented and credible migration data is the Migration Policy Institute ("MPI").   
Recently, MPI released a spotlight report on Central American migrants in the United States.  Among such migrants, those from El Salvador make up the largest share at 40% of the total:



The MPI report provides a wealth of other statistics which you can sort and filter on such things as education level, age, workforce participation, healthcare coverage, English language proficiency and more.
For example, MPI lets you see, down to the county level, the locations where Salvadorans and other migrants have settled within the US:


Bookmark the MPI site for when you need migration data in the future.

El Salvador's fiscal mess

The government of El Salvador is failing to get its financial house in order, and that failure is having significant repercussions.   The government failed to make payments on certain pension related debt last week, and this prompted major downgrades from all the global credit rating agencies.  As S&P explains, the problem is political stalemate:

El Salvador's Congress recently failed to approve a budgetary allocation that was needed to cover payment of financial commitments for pension-related debt. As a result, the government missed payments on financial obligations coming from the Certificates for Pension Investments (CIPs) due between April 7 and April 10, 2017, adding up to $28.8 million....  Political polarization has heightened over the last year, resulting in an uncertain policy environment, including diminished willingness and capability to maintain timely debt payments. This deteriorating political environment continues to erode El Salvador's credit quality. The go…

Tough talk has driven down undocumented migration

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Apprehensions of undocumented migrants at the southwest US border have dropped dramatically since president Trump has taken office.  Apprehensions have dropped from 58,000 in December to 43,000 in January, 24,000 in February and 17,000 in March.
Within the drop in migrants noted above, there has been an even greater drop of 93% in the numbers of mothers with children being apprehended.  A Reuters story today titled Separate mothers and children: How a Trump threat deterred illegal migrants, argues that it is Trump's threats and tough talk about how he will handle families crossing the border, more than any actual policy actions, which have deterred migrants from making the dangerous journey north. According to Reuters:   The policies targeting women and children have their roots in a working group consisting of Capitol Hill staffers and others called together by Trump’s transition team in the weeks after the Nov. 8 election.  The group was asked to develop policies to discourage …

The disappearing files of the Salvadoran armed forces

El Salvador's military denied today that it has improperly destroyed documents relating to war crimes during El Salvador's bloody civil war.    Last week the Institute for Access to Public Information (IAIP) reported that it had asked the attorney general to investigate whether the defense ministry and the national archive had destroyed military files from the war.  The specific documents in question deal with a massacre in the cantón San Francisco Angulo in Tecoluca, San Vicente, on July 25, 1981.   IAIP says the documents were destroyed sometime in 2015 or 2016.

Commenting on the matter, the Secretary of Participation, Transparency and Anti-corruption, indicated that it was an ongoing problem that Salvadoran government officials did not preserve documents, and that such a practice had to be changed in order to improve transparency.

The Minister of Defense, David Munguia Payes was quoted as saying that in fact large portions of the military records from the war had disappeare…

Swarm of small quakes has San Salvador area nervous

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A swarm of small earthquakes has hit the greater San Salvador area in the past 48 hours causing nervousness among the population.   The Civil Protection agency has issued a yellow alert at a national level in order to facilitate inter-agency cooperation.  Authorities have urged calm and stressed that the series of quakes does not make a major earthquake more or less likely.   The population was urged to review its earthquake readiness, just as residents should be prepared at all times in earthquake prone El Salvador.

The Ministry of the Environment (MARN) warns that the seismic swarm could last a number of days or even weeks.

Through 8:45PM San Salvador time on Monday there had been 147 quakes of which the largest measured 5.1 on the richter scale.   MARN explains that this seismic swarm is a product of one of the active faults which run through El Salvador.   This particular fault runs just south of the capital city.  

The quakes have resulted in one death.   A quake apparently tri…

Palm Sunday celebrations across El Salvador

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Sunday was Palm Sunday or Día de los Ramos, and in El Salvador the Catholic faithful filled the  streets and churches with colorful celebrations of the start to Holy Week.

Salvadoran media captured images from the day:

ElSalvador.com:   images of Palm Sunday celebrations

ElSalvador.com: photo gallery of Catholic youth presenting reenactment of passion of Christ

ElSalvador.com: photo gallery of vendors who harvest palms to sell on Palm Sunday

ContraPunto:  photo gallery from festivities in Nahuizalco

Diario1.com:   images from different parts of the country

SFTV:  images from Zacatecoluca

ElSalvador.com:  video of Palm Sunday celebrations

LaPrensa Grafica: video of Palm Sunday celebrations


El Salvador's government denies the reality of forced displacements

The message was slipped under the door of their tiny home during the night.   Leave the community where they lived for years within 48 hours.    The note did not spell out what would happen if the family did not leave.  It wasn't necessary.    Too many people had been killed in their community already.    The family grabbed their belongings and left under cover of darkness.  Another family to add to the total of those forcibly displaced by gang violence in El Salvador.

The existence of forced displacement in El Salvador, or internal refugees, has been well-documented by nongovernmental organizations and the press in El Salvador for years.  Some of the more recent reports include a July 28, 2016 report by El Salvador's Human Rights Advocate (PDDH), two reports of  the Mesa de Sociedad Civil Contra El Desplazamiento Forzado (Civil Society Roundtable against Forced Displacement) covering 2014-15 and 2016, and a nationwide poll by the University of Central America released in Janu…

Arrest of a drug kingpin and its potential fallout

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On Tuesday this week, law enforcement in El Salvador arrested José Adán Salazar Umaña known as "El Chepe Diablo" the reputed leader of the Texis Cartel in El Salvador.

The arrests were reported in InsightCrime by Héctor Silva Ávalos who has been reporting for several years on Chepe Diablo's ability to avoid justice:
El Salvador's Attorney General's Office arrested José Adán Salazar Umaña, alias "Chepe Diablo," the alleged leader of the Texis Cartel, the most important drug trafficking and money laundering organization in the country. The arrest raises new questions about the links between Salazar Umaña and powerful politicians in El Salvador, including current Vice President Óscar Ortiz.  Salazar Umaña was arrested at noon on April 4 during a police operation that involved raids on some 50 properties, including hotels, gas stations and shops that either belong to Chepe Diablo or his associates. According to the authorities, the companies were used by th…

US court still blocking extradition of Montano to Spain for Jesuit murders

For a number of years, a court in Spain has had before it a case involving the 1989 murder of the Jesuit priests at the University of Central America.   Although the case is before the court, none of the former military officer defendants are before the court.   El Salvador's Supreme Court has twice denied extradition of the officers who are in the country.   That leaves Inocente Orlando Montano Morales, a former colonel in the Salvadoran army who is in custody in the US, and who has a pending extradition order to Spain.    But so far, Montano's lawyers have managed to prevent that order from taking effect.

Most recently, Montano's lawyers filed a habeas corpus action in federal court in North Carolina to stop the extradition.    The US government moved to dismiss the petition, but in an order issued last week, the federal judge refused to dismiss the petition and ordered more briefing from the parties and further delaying the process.

Duane Krohnke, a scholar of internati…

Scenes of daily life

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If you want careful observations of Salvadoran life from the perspective of a North American who spends lots of time in the country, read Linda's El Salvador Blog.    Her most recent post includes a series of photos of daily life she recently took out of car windows while travelling around the country.  
Here is an example:



Off of a dirt road in a very rural area, this family raises a few animals. Notice the yellow pig shelter. If you remember the old pay phones that used to take prepaid phone cards back in the '90's - then you remember those old yellow phone booths.  Yup, apparently they make great pig shelters. Salvadorans are experts at recycling things.

See the rest of Linda's post titled Just Click! And Keep Your Phone in Your Lap.

Bukele will seek reelection in 2018

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Yesterday Nayib Bukele used the medium of Facebook Live to announce that he would seek reelection as mayor of San Salvador as a candidate for the FMLN.    Wearing a baseball cap backwards on his head, seated in his home office with two electric guitars leaning on the wall behind him, Bukele explained the factors he had to weigh before deciding to run for mayor.   Claiming that he had only made up his mind to run on Sunday, Bukele stated that he could not walk away and allow ARENA to undo what he had accomplished in the capital city.    The FMLN has already stated that it will back Bukele for a second term, despite the independent track which Bukele keeps apart from his party.

You can watch his announcement here.

Currently the leading candidate from ARENA appears to be Norman Quijano.   Quijano was the mayor of San Salvador from 2012-2015, and unsuccessfully ran for president in 2014 against Salvador Sanchez Ceren.

As of Monday morning, Bukele's announcement video had already been…

The FMLN and Venezuela

The FMLN has long had ties with the government of Venezuela.   FMLN leaders regularly travel to Venezuela.    Venezuela sends subsidized petroleum products to FMLN controlled municipalities.   FMLN has also regularly joined Venezuela in denouncing perceived US interference in Venezuela.   You can get a sense of the relationship in this article from Diario CoLatino from 2015 "El Salvador and Venezuela, a historic friendship against imperialist interference" (in Spanish).

Venezuela today is in economic and political crisis.   The oil rich country is having troubles feeding its people; political dissent is often repressed; crime rates rival El Salvador's.

The crisis in Venezuela has come to the Organization of American States.  Last week the OAS called a meeting to discuss the situation in Venezuela.   El Salvador joined Venezuela and other countries in opposing the meeting, which prompted a response from conservative Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.  From the Mi…