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Showing posts from November, 2017

Mauricio Funes ordered to restore $419,145 in illicit riches

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El Salvador's first president to be elected under the banner of the leftist FMLN, Mauricio Funes, was elected in 2009 to great fanfare.   But in November 2017, he is living in exile in Nicaragua and has just been ordered by a Salvadoran court to pay back $419,145 for which he and one of his sons could not explain the origins.   Under Salvadoran law, public officials need to make an accounting for any increase in personal wealth during their time in office, and if they cannot explain it, it is presumed they came by the increase in wealth illicitly.   A separate claim against Funes' ex-wife and current government minister, Vanda Pignato, was dismissed.     

Funes immediately launched into another defense of himself from his Twitter account.   Funes announced that he would appeal the decision and challenged the government to prove that any of this money had come from Salvadoran government coffers.  Funes blamed the outcome on pressure from the right in the country.

For his part,…

Salvadorans have highest number of cases in US immigration courts

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In removal proceedings, where US immigration authorities are attempting to deport a migrant, there are today more open cases against Salvadorans than any other nationality.  This statistic comes from the TRAC immigration database at Syracuse University. 

As of the end of October 2017, there were 141,591 open cases involving Salvadoran nationals, which equaled 21.8% of the entire case load of removal proceedings in the US immigration courts.    Mexico had the next largest number of open cases with 140,894.

This is an important number to watch, because it represents the number of Salvadorans "in the pipeline" to potentially be deported, before even considering the effect of a possible cancellation of TPS protection for 195,000 Salvadorans in March 2018.

Certainly not all of these open cases will result in deportations.  For example, thousands of these cases are cases of asylum seekers who may ultimately by granted asylum in the US by an immigration court judge.   In other cas…

Come visit El Salvador

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Growth in the tourist industry would undoubtedly help El Salvador.    Recently the world travel press has been singing the praises of this great little country.

Lonely Planet starts its description of El Salvador like this:
El Salvador suffers horribly from bad press. While gang violence still dominates international headlines – and keeps so many adventurous travelers at bay – the vast majority of this beautiful country remains untouched by 'the troubles.'  Those visitors who do make the effort are invariably impressed by just how much this tiny country has to offer: world-class surfing on empty, dark-sand beaches; coffee plantations clinging to the sides of volcanoes; colorful Spanish colonial towns; and sublime national parks. There are few crowds outside the capital, San Salvador, which itself boasts more swagger than its Central American counterparts. Meanwhile TravelPulse wants people to know You're Missing Out on El Salvador:
Known as “El Pulgarcito of America,” or …

A strong rebuke for El Salvador on human rights

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein,  had tough words for El Salvador in his concluding statement this week, highlighting many areas where the country falls short of international human rights standards.  Here is a selection of his comments.

On extra-judicial killings: There are also alarming reports of extrajudicial killings and the return of death squads. No matter how serious the human rights violations committed by violent gangs, all perpetrators of violence need to be held fully accountable for their actions through judicial mechanisms. Victims on all sides deserve justice.On prison conditions: The Extraordinary Security Measures... have placed thousands of people in prolonged and isolated detention under truly inhumane conditions, and with prolonged suspension of family visits. The vulnerability of these inmates is highlighted by an outbreak of tuberculosis, affecting more than a thousand inmates, with several hundred also said to be sufferi…

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Visits El Salvador

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The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, visited El Salvador this week.  Today he went to the University of Central America as part of the commemoration of the 28th anniversary of the murders of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter by government soldiers. Zeid is the first holder of that position to ever visit El Salvador.

During his visit he met with the president and other senior officials and legislators.    He also heard from human rights advocates in the country about their many concerns over extrajudicial killings, LGBTI hate crimes, discrimination and violence against women, and more.

In remarks in the chapel which holds the remains of the murdered Jesuit priests, Zeid spoke of the need for ongoing commitment to human rights and the search for truth, justice, and accountability.   Human rights advocates welcomed Zeid's visit to the country as affirmation for their ongoing struggle to advance human rights on the nationa…

Progress in Jesuit murder case on 28th anniversary

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Today is another anniversary of the November 16, 1989 massacre of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter by soldiers of the Salvadoran armed forces.    With this anniversary comes some progress towards justice in the case.

The United States Supreme Court rejected yesterday a last ditch effort by former Colonel Inocente Orlando Montano to stay his extradition from the US to Spain where he is a defendant in a court case against the military officers behind the massacre and its cover-up.   At the time of the massacre, Montano served as the Vice Minister of Defense for Public Safety, in command of the National Police, the Treasury Police, and the National Guard. 

Montano had been fighting his extradition case for two years while in federal prison for immigration fraud.  He had earlier been convicted for lying when he first entered the US in the years following the Salvadoran civil war.   Spanish authorities sought his extradition, and the Obama and Trump administrations …

El Salvador government vows crackdown on Uber

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Since arriving in El Savador, the ride sharing company Uber has grown rapidly.   Uber currently reports that it as 1000 drivers and more than 33,000 users in the country.

This success, and complaints from the country's taxi drivers, have garnered the attention of the Salvadoran government.    On Thursday, the Vice Minister of Transportation Nelson Garcia warned that Uber drivers could face fines or have their cars seized, and asked users to discontinue using the service.

A simple way to understand this dispute is this.   If your car is for personal use only, you get an El Salvador license plate which starts with the letter "P".    If your vehicle is used for commercial purposes, you are supposed to have the appropriate license plate for that category of use.   For example, local taxi-cabs should have license plates which start with the letter "A."   These commercial license plates cost more, and the government asserts (correctly I am sure) that Uber drivers are …

Tropical storm leads to sea turtle deaths

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Two weeks ago, between 300 and 400 vulnerable and endangered sea turtles were found floating dead off the coast of El Salvador. The reason for the die off was something of a mystery.

Guardarrecursos del MARN localizaron entre 300 y 400 tortugas marinas muertas flotando a unas 7 millas náuticas frente a Bahía de Jiquilisco pic.twitter.com/331QZc5eXX — MARN El Salvador (@MARN_SV) November 2, 2017
Now scientists at El Salvador's environment ministry (MARN) believe they have identified the factors leading to the sea turtle deaths.    They point to the Pacific tropical storm Selma which struck El Salvador on October 28.   That storm altered the course of currents on which the turtles travel and also stirred up sediments on the sea floor.  The sediments nourished micro-algae which produce saxitoxin, a powerful paralyzing poison     These toxins have been identified in the corpses of dead turtles studied  by the scientists.

Authorities in El Salvador have an ongoing campaign to try and …

Possible FMLN candidates for president in 2019

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The positioning to become the FMLN's candidate for president in 2019 has begun.  First to move was Gerson Martinez, the current Minister of Public Works.  Martinez resigned from his position as minister which he has held since 2009, in order to be free to campaign.    Martinez' action was quickly followed by statements from Vice President Oscar Ortiz and Foreign Minister Hugo Martinez each stating that they would not rule out being a candidate for president in 2019 on the ticket of the left wing party.

Another person whose name has been mentioned from the FMLN is Medardo Gonzalez, the Secretary General of the party.

Whoever is chosen by the FMLN will have to face one of several announced candidates from ARENA, and San Salvador mayor Nayib Bukele, who has chosen to run for president outside of either major political party.


Deportation numbers to El Salvador decline by almost half

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During 2017, El Salvador has seen a reduction of almost 50% in Salvadorans deported back to the country from Mexico and the United States.  Although some might be expecting a large increase in deportations given the rhetoric coming out of Washington, in fact the opposite has been the case so far in 2017.     

El Salvador's General Directorate of Migration and Immigration (DGME) regularly publishes statistics about those who are returned to the country by bus (from Mexico) and by air (from the US).  Here are the DGME statistics for the last three years including data through November 6 for 2017:

Salvadorans deported from Mexico:
2015 -- 30,405
2016 --  28,394
2017 -- 9,728

Salvadorans deported from US:
2015 -- 21,752
2016 -- 24,004
2017 -- 13,653

The reduction in deportations from Mexico almost certainly reflects a reduced flow in migrants leaving El Salvador since Trump came to office and the perception of a hostile environment in the US currently.  Migrants picked up in Mexico …

DHS offers no clarity on future of TPS

If the 195,000 Salvadorans in the US on Temporary Protected Status (TPS) hoped to get clarity on their status from a decision today by the Department of Homeland Security, they were disappointed.   Today was the date for DHS to act on TPS for Honduras and Nicaragua, for those who had been in the country since Hurricane Mitch in 1998.   Although a letter from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last week seemed to make a negative decision probable, the action by DHS today was more of a non-decision.   

Acting Secretary Elaine Duke decided not to extend TPS for Nicaragua past January 5, 2018, but did delay the effective date of her decision until January 5, 2019 to allow for an orderly transition.   This effects about 2550 Nicaraguans in the US.    In contrast, the DHS announcement says the Department did not have sufficient information about conditions in Honduras today compared to the time of Hurricane Mitch, and could not make a determination whether extension of TPS was warranted.   A…

When gangs and mayors govern together

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In June 2016, the mayor of Apopa, a small city located just northeast of San Salvador was arrested along with several members of the municipal government and police force.    The mayor,  José Elías Hernández, was accused of ordering a murder of a gang member as well as putting the offices of the city government at the service of local gangs.

This week InsightCrime published a lengthy investigation into the Apopa story titled Symbiosis: Gangs and Municipal Power in Apopa, El Salvador.   InsightCrime also published a video conversation with Héctor Silva Ávalos, one of the lead investigators for the story.   Some of their earlier reporting on this story appeared in March titled El Salvador Ex-Mayor Ordered Gang to Kill Local Official, Police Say.

From Symbiosis:
The Attorney General’s Office insists that Hernández is one of the cases that best illustrates how political power -- in this case, local government -- and the country’s violent gangs formed a mutually beneficial relationship. Fo…

TPS goes away -- what's next

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There is news out of Washington D.C. this afternoon that the US will not approve any more extensions of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Central American counties which include El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.    According to a report in the Washington Post, the Secretary of State has informed the Department of Homeland Security that conditions in those countries no longer warrant ongoing protection from deportation. 

It was not clear from the Washington Post reporting whether Tillerson's letter specifically deals with El Salvador, since only a decision on Honduras and Nicaragua needs to be made next week.  Still, most analysts have assumed that the three Central American countries would be handled in the same way.  Although the Secretary of State does not have the final word, it seems likely that the DHS will follow his lead and terminate TPS for Honduras and Nicaragua next week, and for El Salvador in January 2018.

There are approximately 195,000 Salvadorans who currentl…