Showing posts from November, 2005

Today's news items

Various items of interest: Many news sources carried the story of two would-be bank robbers who were caught when the tunnel they were digging into a San Salvador bank collapsed on them. All the news reports point out that the diggers were naked when captured, apparently because of the heat in the tunnel. The toxic algae "red tide" has claimed one life and sickened a dozen or so other people. La Prensa Grafica ran several stories today about Salvadorans failing to heed the warnings about consuming shellfish. In 2001, a red tide lasted for 10 months off the coast of El Salvador. The Saca administration introduced new anti-terrorism legislation. One provision of note is a new 30 year prison sentence for taking control of a public building. As written, the law would apply to the various demonstrations which have taken control of San Salvador's Metropolitan Cathedral to highlight grievances about one social problem or another.

Photos of the Salvadoran Civil War

The brutal civil war in El Salvador has been echoing on this blog during November as the torture and human rights violation trial of Colonel Nicolas Carranza proceeded and as the 25th anniversary of the murder of the four US churchwomen approaches. I recently came across some sites with photographs from that dark time period: Marcelo Montecino has a collection of photographs taken in 1982-32. The International Center of Photography is running an exhibition of photographers' work from the war. A description of the show and some of its pictures is here . Mike Oso has a collection of photos from the period between 1989-1996. John Hoagland was a combat photographer killed in El Salvador during the war. His last work is found at this web site .

"Red tide" shuts down shellfish industry

A toxic algae bloom known as "red tide" hovers off the coast of El Salvador. Because of the toxin produced by red tide, El Salvador's agriculture ministry has temporarily banned the harvesting and sale of shellfish from the beds off El Salvador's Pacific shore. Thousands of families who earn their livelihood from the sale of shellfish will be impacted. The red tide has also been affecting the coasts of Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

The witness of four churchwomen

Friday, December 2, will mark the 25th anniversary of the slaying of four American churchwomen, Ita Ford, Maura Clarke, Dorothy Kazel and Jean Donovan, by Salvadoran security forces. Eight months after the Salvadoran military had murdered archbishop Oscar Romero, it again struck out against religious workers serving the poor in El Salvador. has a feature article about the murders and their legacy. Here is an excerpt: The murders came amid a civil war sparked by years of economic exploitation and government repression. The U.S.-backed Salvadoran military, which was protecting wealthy landowning families and fighting a leftist guerrilla movement, regarded church workers like Ita Ford as subversives, because they sided with the poor. As a result, suspicion immediately fell upon the nation's security forces and its notorious paramilitary death squads. That year, 1980, already had been remarkably violent. Archbishop Oscar Romero - whose impassioned calls for justice

Scant efforts to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of violence against women

In a statement released in connection with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, Amnesty International criticized the government of El Salvador for failing to adequately investigate and prosecute crimes involving violence against women: The government of El Salvador has an outstanding debt to the women of this country, a debt that can only be repaid with justice, said Amnesty International today – International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women – on publication of a letter to President Saca. In the letter, Amnesty International highlights its concern at the lack of willingness on the part of the authorities to thoroughly investigate the cases of murders of women and the treatment the victims’ families receive when they report these crimes. Between the end of 2002 and the middle of 2004, at least 20 women and girls were sexually abused and brutally murdered in El Salvador. In 12 of the 20 cases, the bodies were disfigured, dismembered o

Salvadoran gangs extorting "taxes" from bus drivers

Bus drivers are demanding the authorities provide greater security from gangs the Associated Press reports. Gangs control certain bus routes and demand that the transportation companies pay a "tax." Those who refuse may be killed. So far this year, 92 bus drivers and conductors have been killed and 110 wounded in assaults by gang members. The police report that as many as 2600 of the 13,000 buses which circulate in El Salvador pay such taxes to the gangs. Last week, five transportation workers were murdered in one night, prompting bus drivers to refuse to drive certain routes until additional security was provided. Meanwhile, Salvadoran president Tony Saca has ordered more troops into the streets in the areas of the country most affected by gang violence. Soldiers from the armed forces, including armored vehicles, will supplement existing joint patrols between the military and the national civilian police.

A government which refuses to assess responsibility

The refusal of the government led by the ARENA party to investigate responsibility for the extent of damage caused by natural disasters is similar to its refusal to look at responsibility for atrocities committed during the civil war. This critique is made in the October 19, 2005 issue of Proceso , the publication of the University of Central America, now available on its web site : According to the present ARENA administration, both God and nature would be mainly responsible for the last national tragedy. God, because he created things in an imperfect manner, he created a country in a high-risk area, subjected to earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, and eruptions. Surrounded by volcanoes and mountains, many inhabitants had no choice but to build their houses in the outskirts or by a river, and these conditions make peopleÂ’s lives even more vulnerable. Nature, on the other hand, would play the role assigned by God and punish the population in a merciless way. This is how, with such a mis

The church and the poor

In a new article titled Lost Lives and Impoverished Souls author Michael Hogan argues that the Catholic church has abandoned liberation theology and with it the best hope for the poor. Here is the conclusion of the article: Pope Benedict'’s call for a new "“evangelical mission"” in recent communications in Latin America seems to be basically this: a removal of the Church from any real effort to work for social justice in Latin America and a decision to compete, not for souls, but for audiences in a new evangelical movement, where hymns, invocations of the Holy Spirit and shouted amens and allelulas will provide an other-worldly escape from reality, and where religion will finally become, as Marx so prophetically noted, merely an opiate of the people. The genuine irony is, of course, that liberation theology and the option for the poor which Cardinal Ratzinger denigrated as Marxist, was a clear and powerful alternative to Marxism, and, unlike populism and the militarism

Salvadoran bishops' letter on violence

The wave of violence and murder in El Salvador continues unabated. La Prensa has the latest statistics: 3043 murders between January and October of 2005, compared with 2184 in the same period the year before. 80 percent of the murders were committed with firearms, and there are some 450,000 firearms in the hands of the citizenry. The government continues to assert that at least 60 percent of the murders are gang-related, but no one really knows. Faced with this epidemic of violence and grief, the Roman Catholic bishops of El Salvador issued a pastoral letter entitled "No te dejes vencer por el mal" (Do not let evil defeat you). The letter calls for efforts by all levels of society to confront the violence. The bishops called for dealing with gang violence through rehabilitation and reintegration of gang members into society, called for control of the ready availability of firearms, called for support of families, and called for reform of the judicial system to regain

Short news items

From around El Salvador: Classes resumed at the University of El Salvador today as the administration and the demonstrators agreed to consultation about the proposed loan from the Interamerican Development Bank. A red alert continues around the Ilamatepec volcano. Seismic activity remains at a heightened level, and so authorities maintain a 5 kilometer evacuation zone around the volcano. The price of gas has been falling in El Salvador from its post-Hurricane Katrina highs. The price of regular gasoline is approximately $3 per gallon, reducing pressure on bus fares and other transportation costs.

Salvadoran undocumented migration to US

Recently, more undocumented workers have been entering the US from El Salvador than from any country other than Mexico, according to recent reports : This new trend in Salvadorian immigration has no simple explanation, Marvin Andrade, director of programming for the Los Angeles-based Central American Resource Center, said. A possible explanation for recent Salvadorian immigration is the destruction caused by Hurricane Stan. "“It'’s not surprising that there is an increase in immigration from Central America right now,"” he said. "“We believe that is the case, because of Hurricane Stan, and the situation that they are facing with the devastation -- the floods and the destruction that has occurred is what is driving that exodus of people."” The same story also noted a court decision, called the Orantes decision, which requires Salvadorans be given a hearing before any deportation proceeding. They cannot simply be picked up and placed on a bus back across the bor

CIA asset Carranza liable for torture and executions

There was one thing which both the plaintiff and the defendant agreed upon in the human rights trial of former Salvadoran Colonel Nicolas Carranza. During the 1970s and early 1980s, he was a paid informant of the US CIA. Carranza's defense team thought that this endorsement by the US government would aid his defense. But on Friday, a jury in Memphis, Tennessee disagreed. The outcome of the trial is described in this AP report : MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Daniel Alvarado said he was kidnapped by government agents in El Salvador, hung blindfolded from a ceiling, shocked with electrical wires and repeatedly beaten. More than two decades later, a federal jury in Tennessee has held a former Salvadoran Army colonel responsible for the torture. Nicolas Carranza, 72, failed to stop crimes against humanity when he was a top commander of El Salvador's security forces, the jury found Friday. He was held responsible in civil claims by Alvarado and three others who said they were tortured o

Jury verdict against Carranza

The federal court jury hearing the Carranza trial this morning returned a verdict against Carranza and in favor of 4 of the 5 plaintiffs and awarding them $2 million in damages. The jury is still deliberating regarding the 5th plaintiff. A news report about the partial verdict is here . More to come.


Protesters are making their voices heard in El Salvador and elsewhere: The October 12 Popular Resistance Movement, a coalition of organizations blocked highways in several parts of the country on Wednesday, November 16: The rural communities, labor unions, agricultural cooperatives, urban slums, and general population organized by the Popular Resistance Movement-October 12 (MPR-12), mobilized this Wednesday, November 16, in 7 of the 14 provinces of El Salvador. Thousands of Salvadorans gathered to take over principal highways, intersections and bridges in 6 strategic points across the country, protesting against the imposition of infrastructure projects in their communities without their consent, against the total lack of support and reconstruction for the flooded communities from Tropical Storm Stan and the severe political manipulation of international and official donations by the central government, and against new anti-union activities by the legislative assembly and government

One Year Anniversary

The El Salvador Blog is one year old today. Thanks to everyone who has visited, who has posted a comment, or sent me an e-mail. The best part of maintaining this blog are the connections I have made with other people with a deep love and interest in El Salvador. Look forward to some additional improvements to the site in the next month. Tim

Closing of University of El Salvador by protesters

For almost a week, the University of El Salvador has been closed by protesters. As described in Diario Colatino (Spanish) and Prensa Latina (English), the protesters want the University to cease negotiating a $25 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank: The demonstration began Saturday, when young people convoked by MAUES (Abundant University Movement) blocked access to the university to condemn an Inter-American Development Bank loan they considered to have a privatization aim. The 25 million dollar loan was made conditional on increase of students´ fees, academic reform, and violation of university autonomy, read demonstration fliers. UES President Isabel Rodriguez asserted the government negotiated the loan with the IDB to improve teaching and research at four regional university headquarters, and update academic and teaching programs. However, students said those are pretexts to privatize the university, where over 30,000 youth currently study. Members of MAUES,

16th anniversary of slaying of the Jesuits

Today marks the 16th anniversary of the slaying of 6 Jesuits priests at the University of Central America and their housekeeper and her daughter. The UN Truth Commission left no doubt about the responsibility of the US-trained military for the heinous act, and that such responsibility went to the highest levels of the armed forces. 16 years later we remember their martyrdom and their walk with the poor and oppressed in El Salvador which should be an inspiration to us all. Meg was at a vigil for the 16th anniversary this weekend, and you can read her thoughts about its meaning here .

Importing foreign workers

Agricultural growers are complaining. Native born workers are not willing to work in the harvest. The harvest can only occur if foreign workers arrive who are willing to work long hours for low wages. The wages may be low, but they are higher than the wages that these workers can receive in their own countries. This might sound like the US and illegal immigrants from Latin America, but this scenario is reportedly the situation for the coffee harvest in El Salvador this year. The conservative El Diario De Hoy ran feature articles on Sunday about coffee farms with a lack of Salvadoran workers available for the harvest. Compounding the problem this year is that the cotton harvest is overlapping the coffee harvest as a result of the prolonged rainy season. The coffee and cotton growers are brining in foreign manual laborers from Honduras and Nicaragua to make sure that the harvest is brought in on time. The agriculture ministry estimates that there could be as many as 20,000 foreig

Military aid to Bush's staunch ally

The government of El Salvador is perhaps the most loyal ally of the US in Latin America, and the US is rewarding such loyalty with military aid. An article at highlights just how much military aid the country is receiving: El Salvador tops the list of recipients [in Latin America] of U.S. military aid, with almost $23 million in [Foreign Military Financing] since 2002. Surprising? Not in light of U.S. foreign policy. El Salvador is one of the Bush administration's few remaining allies with troops in Iraq, and six Salvadoran Special Forces soldiers have been awarded the Bronze Star. Washington has also sought to draw a parallel between El Salvador's transition to democracy and Iraq's rocky progress toward that goal. While in San Salvador last year, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld praised the country's progress, saying "The sweep of human history is for freedom. We've seen it in [El Salvador], we've seen it in Afghanistan and I believe we&

Political parties in El Salvador

The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE in Spanish) officially declared the parties eligible to compete in the national assembly and mayoral elections in March 2006. The parties are: ARENA -- National Republican Alliance -- right FMLN -- Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front -- left CD -- Democratic Change -- center left PCN -- National Conciliation Party -- right PDC -- Democratic Christian Party -- center PNL -- National Liberal Party -- centrist The news is that the TSE refused to give official recognition to the new Democratic Revolutionary Front (FDR) party. The FDR was formed by dissidents from the FMLN who left over splits with the hard-line orthodox leadership of the party. These reformers had hoped to be on the next ballot, but the TSE rejected their petition on technical grounds. Members of the FDR decried the refusal of the TSE to process the thousands of signatures they had submitted to support their petition for party status. They assert that, desp

Celebration of the pupusa

I love pupusas, and November 13 is the first National Day of the Pupusa in El Salvador. Both El Diario de Hoy and La Prensa Grafica have special coverage of the event and traditions surrounding El Salvador's national food. I assume that most readers of this blog are familiar with the pupusa, but if you are not, here is a description: The Salvadoran pupusa is a thick, hand-made corn tortilla (made using masa, a maize flour used in Latin American cuisine) that is stuffed with one or more of the following: cheese (queso) (usually a soft Salvadoran cheese called Quesillo), fried pork rind (chicharrones), chicken (pollo), refried beans (frijoles refritos), or queso con loroco (loroco is a vine flower bud from Central America). There is also the pupusa revuelta (with mixed ingredients of cheese, pork, and beans). Of course, a pupuseria is a place where pupusas are sold. Pupusas are usually served with curtido (a type of spicy coleslaw), and tomato sauce. They are eaten with the finger

Carranza's testimony

Former Salvadoran Colonel Nicolas Carranza took the stand to testify on his own behalf in the trial that accuses him of torture and human rights violations during the Salvadoran Civil War. A Memphis paper reports on his testimony: "I tried to do my best," Carranza told jurors. He said he visited all Treasury Police installations to make sure prisoners were being treated humanely, that they had proper bedding and food. He said he organized lawyers and priests to give human rights seminars to his officers. Carranza blamed murderous rampages that killed thousands of civilians on right-wing and left-wing extremists. "It was something we could not stop ... even if we wanted to," he said. No one under his command was ever punished for torturing prisoners or killing innocent civilians. Then-Vice President George Bush visited El Salvador in 1983 in an attempt to stop the abuses. Under cross-examination, Carranza admitted he never investigated the numerous claims of tortur

Occupation of cathedral ended

The occupation of the metropolitan cathedral in San Salvador ended without incident late in the afternoon on Wednesday, November 9. For a first hand account by someone coming across the occupation on the first day, read Meg's blog entry .

Anatomy of a human rights trial

The trial of former Salvadoran Colonel Nicolas Carranza is drawing to a close as Carranza takes the stand today. For a day by day summary of the trial by an in-court observer, go to this blog of Will O'Loughlen , a film-maker in Memphis who is making a documentary about the trial. Set out below is a summary of the trial from the Center for Justice and Accountability which is prosecuting the case: Tuesday, November 01, 2005: Opening Arguments : The attorney for defendant Nicolas Carranza announced during opening statement that his client "worked for the US government"” during the period of time at issue in this case. PlaintiffsÂ’ Case in Chief : Robert White, former US ambassador in El Salvador in 1980, confirmed Carranza was on the CIA payroll. He described the decisive role Carranza played as the Ministry of Defense as operational commander of the Salvadoran Security Forces. Luis Ramirez. Law Professor, lawyer and Human rights activist from San Salvador. Ramirez works

Rain and volcanoes are natural -- disasters are man made

It usually take three or four weeks before issues of Proceso , the weekly news commentary of the University of Central America, are available in English on its website. Recently the September 28 edition (before volcanic eruptions and Hurricane Stan) became available, and I was struck with the prescience of the following passage: With the amount of rain of the last days you can always reach a conclusion like this. The authorities –specifically the Ministry of Governance- have seemed negligent, incompetent, and astonishingly irresponsible. The damage caused by the rain in the poor communities located near the rivers and lakes in different areas of the country (or at the lower areas of the city –the barrios of Candelaria, Modelo, and La Vega, for instance-) is nothing new, it has happened before, and now it was worse. The rain comes from the higher areas, where deforestation has deteriorated its capacity to retain the water. The impact of the rain over the poorest sectors of the society

Metropolitan Cathedral occupied by protesters

The Salvadoran press is reporting that the Metropolitan Cathedral in San Salvador has been taken over by the self-styled Committee of Family and Friends of the Prisoners of El Salvador. They are calling for the repeal of Law 103 which they claim allows arbitrary transfers of prisoners, even ones not convicted of serious crimes, to a maximum security prison in Zacatecoluca where they cannot have contact with family members. The office of the archbishop and the Human Rights Procurator, Beatrice de Carillo, are attempting to mediate a resolution.

More testimony in Carranza trial

Tales of torture and death squad activity are exposing a history that jurors in Memphis, Tennesee are unlikely to know anything about. Press reports describe more of last week's testimony in the human rights trial of Nicholas Carranza: Daniel Alvarado, one of the accusers, said he was kidnapped while watching a soccer game in El Salvador in 1983 and tortured over several days into confessing to the murder of a U.S. military adviser. Alvarado, 46, said he was hung blindfolded from a ceiling, repeatedly beaten and shocked with electrical wires attached to his body. "I felt like my arms were being torn off," he testified through an interpreter. "Even to this day, my shoulders hurt all the time." He said he later learned that the supervisor of the torture was an Army major who served under Carranza. Alvarado said he was taken to a news conference after signing the confession and presented by Carranza as one of the assassins of Marine Col. Albert Schaufelberger. Alv

Day of the Dead

November 2 was the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Difuntos), commemorated in El Salvador and throughout Latin America. Family members visit cemeteries where they beautify the gravesites of relatives and loved ones with flowers, paint, whitewash and other decoration. La Prensa Grafica has two image galleries showing the activities at cemeteries in San Salvador and Santa Tecla . The author of the Hunnapuh blog has a personal account of his visit on the Dia de los Difuntos to the cemetery in Tonacatapeque which you can read here .

One year later, questions about Soto murder remain

One year ago today, Gilberto Soto was gunned down outside his mother's home in Usulutan, El Salvador. Soto was a US citizen and a Teamster. Soto had gone to his native El Salvador to investigate the working conditions of truck drivers at the ports. He was shot in the back as he talked on a cellphone outside his boyhood home. Salvadoran authorities eventually arrested some gang members and Soto's mother-in-law, the supposed "intellectual author" of the crime, and called the murder a family dispute. Yet many doubts have been raised about this theory and about the refusal of Salvadoran authorities to consider a political motive for the crime. This story on North summarized what was known and what were open questions in May 2005. Nothing new has come to light in the past six months. With the one year anniversary of the murder approaching, the Teamsters issued a press release highlighting questions raised by the Human Rights Institute at the University of

Poll numbers show slight improvement for ARENA

In the most recent polling numbers , the ARENA party stopped its slide in voter preference for the upcoming 2006 legislative elections: In this October poll, ARENA was up 3% from September and the FMLN was down 2%. Since the margin of error was 2.8%, that's not much of a change. The biggest number continues to be the 44% of Salvadorans who express no preference. As I have commented before, polls like this one are only good for measuring the hard core supporters of each party. The poll did not measure support for the newly formed Democratic Revolutionary Front (FDR) party. The FDR was formed by dissident FMLN members. The group, —led by secretary-general Julio Hernandez, —must present 42,000 signatures to El Salvador'’s Electoral Tribunal before Nov. 11 in order to become officially registered. Tony Saca's approval ratings continue to hover in the 60% range; much higher than the ratings of his ally George Bush .

English language bloggers in El Salvador

One of my sources of inspiration and story ideas for this blog are the blogs of some Americans living in El Salvador. I encourage you to read them, too. Hameno -- Marie writes about her experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer working in San Salvador. A Different View of a Good Life -- Meg is a volunteer with a solidarity organization working in the country. The Dunlaps -- scenes from the life of a family teaching at the American School in San Salvador.

Carranza trial

The trial of Colonel Nicholas Carranza is underway in Memphis. The first witness for the plaintiffs was former US Ambassador to El Salvador, Robert White. Some of the highlights of his testimony are reported by the Memphis Commercial-Appeal : White described Carranza as the "quarterback" of a terror campaign designed to prop up the longstanding military oligarchy and eliminate dissent. The military ran the government, White said, for the benefit of 14 wealthy families. When democratic initiatives by labor unions, the Roman Catholic Church and intellectuals began to emerge, death squads indiscriminately killed anyone suspected of anti-government tendencies. The crackdown, in which the country's archbishop, two American advisers and three nuns were assassinated, drove many of that country's young people into the camp of leftist guerrillas, White said. White warned his State Department superiors about Carranza's actions in telegrams introduced Tuesday as evidence.

Providing access to safe drinking water in El Salvador

Today National Public Radio ran a feature story on the problems of making safe drinking water accessible in El Salvador. Here's an excerpt: El Salvador isn't a place where you'd expect to find water problems. After all, it gets nearly six feet of rainfall each year. But Ricardo Navarro says clean water is in short supply. Contaminated water kills thousands of Salvadorans every year. Most are children. "When we talk about the water problem in El Salvador, we are talking about that: the lack of clean water to drink," says Navarro, president of an environmental group called the Salvadoran Center for Appropriate Technology. He says the country has failed to protect a precious resource. Farmers have cut down forests that used to store rain water. Ranchers have allowed their livestock to pollute rivers. Communities have put latrines too close to shallow wells. "Big enterprisesÂ… use the river as a place where they can throw everything. So whatever chemical goes i