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Showing posts from July, 2017

Rainbow pride crosswalks

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Rainbow colored pedestrian crosswalks in San Salvador support the rights of the LGBTQ community according to an article by Melissa Vida at GlobalVoices titled El Salvador’s ‘Rainbow Crosswalk’ Promotes Pedestrian Safety and LGBTQ Rights.  The sidewalks first appeared at the end of June.   Vida writes: In El Salvador, more than 20 artists and LGBTQ rights activists painted crosswalks with the colors of the rainbow LGBTQ pride flag between the Boulevard of Heroes and Andes Avenue. This is the first time that a Central American country has authorized support for the LGBTQ community in this way.  To have a permanent work of art in the center of the country's capital city, the Salvadorian LGBTQ community achieved an important advance in their visibility and their normalization in society, something that goes far beyond the Gay Pride Month which is organized in June. While I have my doubts that the crosswalks will have any impact on pedestrian safety in San Salvador's notoriously da…

Salvadoran media and "moral panic"

El Salvador's draconian abortion laws which admit of no exceptions, and the series of cases where women who miscarried were prosecuted for homicide, have been often discussed on this blog.   An opinion piece in the LA Times, titled The real reason El Salvador jails women for stillbirths? It's called 'moral panic,' offers some perspective on this harsh treatment of traumatized women:
According to [South African sociologist Stanley] Cohen’s theory, the media plays a crucial role in whipping up moral panic. In El Salvador, mainstream media outlets went into overdrive to foment the frenzy over abortion, calling on the state to do more to capture homicidal mothers and using the words “abortion” and “homicide” interchangeably. One newspaper article reported that “the number of newborns being thrown into latrines, trash receptacles, or vacant lots by their own mothers is alarming.” Often, such articles did not cite a single case to support their claims, yet offered provocati…

Jeff Sessions in El Salvador

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I knew something was going on when I started to read stories of a big surge in purported gang arrests in El Salvador.   Hundreds of young men were being picked up in sweeps across the country and charged with gang related crimes.    Human rights groups will tell you that when these periodic sweeps take place in El Salvador, a great number of innocent youth are detained, simply for being male and poor in a zone with gangs.

Then I learned the reasons for the sweeps.   US Attorney General Jeff Sessions was coming to El Salvador to discuss crime fighting.   The US Justice Department put the news on its web site:
During their meeting in San Salvador this morning, Attorney General Jeff Sessions congratulated Attorney General Douglas Menéndez on their announcement that Salvadoran prosecutors today charged 113 MS-13 gang members in El Salvador. In addition, 593 gang members were charged yesterday, including many MS-13 members. News organizations like NPR, also commented that Sessions might p…

El Salvador's executive branch battles the Constitutional Chamber

The Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador's Supreme Judicial Court (the "Sala") has again issued rulings which thwart initiatives of the FMLN government of president Salvador Sánchez Cerén.  Two decisions in the past two days further inflame the ongoing struggle between the Sala and the executive branch of the government in El Salvador.

Yesterday, the Sala issued a ruling which overturned a pension "reform" which had recently been passed by the National Assembly.    The new law would have allowed the government to borrow against the national pension fund to finance government operations, up to a ceiling of 50% of the value of the pension fund.   The previous limit on borrowing was 45%.  

The second ruling came today when the Sala ruled that the current budget adopted by the Natioinal Assembly was also unconstitutional.   The ruling sends the budget back to the National Assembly to fix. In May of this year, the country's attorney general had warned that the…

Nicaragua restricting entry of Salvadorans

There are reports in the Nicaraguan press that Salvadoran who wish to enter the neighboring country will have to apply for permission in advance.   Reportedly this is due to the high levels of gang violence in El Salvador.  Nicaragua has much lower levels of gang violence than its neighbors in the Northern Triangle.

This restriction would seem to contradict the terms of the regional border control agreement among the CA-4 countries of El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Nicaragua.   The citizens of those countries are entitled under that agreement to pass freely across land border checkpoints within the four country zone.    

In the past year, Nicaragua has also been blocking the entrance of protestant Christian pastors from other CA-4 countries.  This is reputedly for purposes of preventing inappropriate evangelization by Christian groups.

Meanwhile, El Salvador's first left wing president, Mauricio Funes, remains in Nicaragua under a grant of political asylum from that country…

Ignoring transitional justice in El Salvador

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During this week, El Salvador asked itself the question -- how does a country engage in post-conflict transitional justice, twenty-five years after the conflict ended with a peace agreement?   The answer from politicians seems to be -- we don't know and we don't really want to think about it.

One year ago, the Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador's Supreme Judicial Court (the "Sala") nullified the 1993 Amnesty Law.    That law had been quickly passed after a UN Truth Commission Report extensively reported on crimes against humanity committed during the war, and named the persons responsible.   The Amnesty Law meant 23 years with the doors of justice closed to the victims of those atrocities.

Then last year, the Amnesty Law went away, and the doors to justice were no longer locked.    But would anyone now open those doors to the victims?   In particular, would state prosecutors from the attorney general's office (the "FGR")  and the country's j…

El Salvador to prosecute guerrillas who executed US soldiers in 1991

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For the first time since the nullification of the 1993 amnesty law, the office of the attorney general in El Salvador has sought arrest warrants for figures involved in a crime committed during the war.   But it is not one of the infamous massacres by members of the Salvadoran armed forces.   Instead, the arrest is sought of three guerrilla fighters who participated in downing a US helicopter in 1991 and killing two defenseless, wounded US soldiers.  

 The event was investigated and described in the UN Truth Commission Report following the war:
On 2 January 1991, a United States helicopter gunship was shot down by an FMLN patrol in San Francisco canton, Lolotique district, Department of San Miguel, while flying at low altitude towards its base at Soto Cano, Honduras. The pilot, Daniel F. Scott, was killed and in the crash and Lt. Colonel David H. Pickett and Corporal Earnest G. Dawson were wounded; all were United States nationals.  Members of the patrol approached the helicopter and …

El Salvador legislature weakens law against corruption

On Tuesday, El Salvador's National Assembly passed revisions to an asset forfeiture law passed overwhelmingly only three years earlier.  The asset forfeiture law (Ley de Extinción de Dominio) allows prosecutors to seize assets of persons suspected of drug trafficking, corruption, terrorism or other crimes when those assets were the fruits of illicit activities.   The law is a tool against organized crime and corruption and is a required part of international covenants to which El Salvador is a party.   The measures passed on Tuesday weaken that law, especially for persons accused of corruption, and make it more difficult for prosecutors to seize wealth accumulated through abuse of political office.

The law was passed with 44 votes in the National Assembly, led by the governing left-wing FMLN.  Passage of the law was fraught with conflicts of interest. One legislator from the right wing ARENA party gave her vote in favor, to provide the one vote majority for passage.  The husband o…

No amnesty, but no progress

One year ago, El Salvador's Supreme Court nullified a 1993 Amnesty Law which provided immunity from prosecution for persons who had committed massacres and atrocities during El Salvador's Civil war.  Since that time, however, there has been little attempt in El Salvador to have civil war atrocities tried in the country's court system.   So the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Judicial Court has scheduled a public hearing on Wednesday, July 19, to review compliance with the court's determination that there should be progress on crimes against humanity:
The purpose of said hearing is that the heads of the Legislative Branch, Executive Branch and Attorney General of the Republic describe and take responsibility for the decisions and actions taken to comply with the judgment.  The Chamber decided that compliance with the judgment required supplementary legislation for a genuine democratic transition with respect for human dignity and fundamental rights of victims, esp…

A very old Salvadoran

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The BBC and Univision carried the news this week of the birthday of Juan Pablo Villalobos, who was celebrated his 116th birthday on June 26.    Villalobos carries a passport showing his date of birth of June 26, 1901 in San Miguel.

Villalobos says he has 39 children and so many grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren that he does not know them all. He told the BBC that he attributes his long life to the help of God.

The Gerontology Research Group compiles a list of the oldest living humans.   If Villalobos' date of birth were verified and he was added to the list, he would be the 4th oldest living human and the oldest living man.

You can watch a video and interview of this happy "supercentenarian" here.








The fire at the Finance Ministry

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One week ago, on July 7, a fire burned through several floors of one office building tower which houses El Salvador's Finance Ministry.  

The video and images from the fire were dramatic.  Several people jumped from windows trying to escape the smoke and flames.   Others were rescued by heroic actions of firemen or by a helicopter of the armed forces which plucked them from the roof.

According to reports, one person died and more than 20 were injured:
A 57-year-old woman died, emergency services chief Jorge Melendez said, while another woman, who officials had previously said was dead, was resuscitated in hospital and remains in serious condition.  Earlier, Salvador Sanchez Ceren, El Salvador's President, had said two people died, with 22 people injured.  Melendez said the cause of the fire was not known. Other reports, unconfirmed, had circulated suggesting that the fire was caused by an electrical short in an air conditioner.

Following the blaze, unions for workers in the b…

The media message in El Salvador

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Two news stories highlighted challenges to freedom of expression in El Salvador.   One story involves a new law proposed in El Salvador's legislature.   The violence prevention bill calls on the media to "self-censor" itself to avoid violent images and promote a culture of peace.   From the Financial Times:
The government of El Salvador, led by President Sánchez Céren, has presented a bill to Congress saying the media “should contribute to the promotion of the prevention of violence, tolerance and the culture of peace . . . by seeking the ethical self-regulation of information and non-violent content”.   The Law on the National System for the Prevention of Violence immediately drew scorn from media outlets, that accused the government of seeking “control”....  The administration, however, says it is not seeking censorship.  The bill “contains no sanction on the media but simply talks of self-regulation”, the justice and security ministry tweeted after the bill was presen…

A baby is lost; the mother is prosecuted

For the past week, the global media have reported the case of Evelyn Beatriz Hernández Cruz, a teenager condemned to jail for thirty years for aggravated homicide after losing her baby when she was 8 months pregnant.    Most of the English language reporting is written for headlines and misses some of the complexities of the story.    The BBC probably has the best summary in English:
In April last year, Ms Hernandez gave birth in the latrine of her home in a small rural community. She lost consciousness after losing large amounts of blood.  When her mother took her to hospital, leaving the baby's remains behind, Ms Hernandez was detained on suspicion of procuring an abortion.  Eleven days later she had an initial court hearing and she has been in custody since. Her charge was changed to aggravated homicide when no evidence was found of her having had an abortion.  Although she was in the third trimester, Ms Hernandez said she had confused the symptoms of pregnancy with stomach ach…

Reform-minded legislators denounce ARENA leadership

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Just as ARENA is preparing its roster of candidates for the 2018 mayoral and national assembly elections, two reform-minded legislators have noisily announced their decision to withdraw as candidates for reelection.   John Wright Sol and Juan Valiente are deputies for ARENA in El Salvador's National Assembly, and this week they announced that because of disagreements with party leadership would not seek re-election next year.

The triggering event for the two legislators was the party's apparent refusal to allow their choices for deputy alternate (diputado suplente) to appear on the ballot for party nominees in the upcoming legislative elections.
The legislators decried the bullying of party leadership and declared that the party's declarations of renewal and reform were just a farce.   The party continues to be run by a traditional leadership group for whom ideological purity is paramount.   As reported in RevistaFactum: Wright, Valiente and ex-directors of the JRN [ARENA&…

The Trump effect

The impact of Donald Trump is felt in many different ways in El Salvador.   Two stories this week illustrate the "Trump Effect."

El Salvador's minister of the economy, Tharsis Salomón López, stated that the presence of Donald Trump in the White House appears to be generating an increase in remittances sent from Salvadorans living in the US back to El Salvador.   Salvadorans sent back a reported $2 billion in the first four months of 2017, a growth of more than 10% over the same period in 2016.    According to the minister, central banks in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras have reported the same phenomenon.  

Perhaps Salvadorans are sending assets back in the event they are deported?   Perhaps they feel their money is safer in a country which does not have an anti-immigrant president?   The dynamics of this increase in remittances is not clear.

Regardless of the cause, the head of the Ministry of the Economy would like to see those remittances invested in El Salvador, and n…

Possible ARENA presidential candidates in 2019

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The next presidential elections in El Salvador do not take place until 2019, but there is already ample speculation about who might be the candidates of the major political parties.  

Within the right wing ARENA party, several candidates have already announced their intentions to seek the party's nomination.    One candidate is Carlos Calleja, vice-president of the group which owns the Super Selectos chain of supermarkets in the country, who confirmed his intentions this morning.   He is promoting himself as bringing a "Nueva visión / New vision" for the country.

Another candidate from the sphere of business is Javier Simán, whose family name is on the Simán chain of department stores.    Javier Simán has not officially announced that he is a candidate, but today launched his citizen platform "Mi Gente" where he says he will tour the country listening to the population's problems and their suggestions.

The third businessman candidate is Gerardo Awad.    Aw…

A big week of US immigration news impacts Salvadorans

The past week was filled with a ton of news related to US immigration policy, potentially affecting tens of thousands of Salvadorans and their families.

The week began with a decision of the US Supreme Court concerning injunctions which had blocked implementation of president Trump's Executive Order imposing the so-called "Muslim Ban 2.0."   The Court allowed injunctions to stay in place barring enforcement of the order for persons entering the  US who had a "bona fide family relationship" to someone legally in the US, but the executive order now goes into effect for other persons.   For persons in Central America, the primary impact will be the continuation of the Central American Minors Program for the moment, because this program only benefits children who had parents already living in the US, and thus meet the bona fide relationship test.   The Supreme Court will review the executive order on the merits in the fall.

There was other news of a new ICE immigra…