Top El Salvador Stories of 2005
Here is my round-up of the top news stories affecting El Salvador in the past year:
- Hurricane Stan and the Ilamatepec volcano -- On October 1, the Ilamatepec volcano exploded with ash and hot rock. Then the rains from Hurricane Stan inundated the country for a week causing flooding and mudslides. 71 people died and more than 70,000 ended up in shelters for weeks. The disasters highlighted the plight of the poor in the country, forced to live in areas of highest risk from such disasters.
- Passage of CAFTA -- following a close vote in the US Congress, the Central American Free Trade Agreement was ratified. The treaty was opposed by a variety of labor, religious, civil society and environmental organizations.
- Wave of homicides -- murder surged by more than 30% in El Salvador over 2004. The country is now one of the most dangerous in Latin America, and none of the anti-crime measures of the Salvadoran government appeared to have any effect. The Catholic bishops of El Salvador issued a pastoral letter urging all sectors of society to work to eliminate the causes of violence.
- Solidarity Net -- for the first time ever, a Salvadoran government implemented a program of direct economic aid to its poorest citizens. The program provides $15-$20 per month to families with children in the poorest municipalities who keep them in school and enroll them with health clinics.
- Emigration issues -- Desperate persons from El Salvador continued to try to emigrate legally and illegally to the US. The US again extended TPS protection to Salvadorans in the country, protecting Salvadorans from deportation who had arrived illegally before 2001. The US, however, accelerated deportations of gang members and others who committed infractions in the US, and at the end of the year proposed US immigration reforms brought howls of protest from El Salvador.
- Remittances and the economy -- money sent back to El Salvador from abroad, almost $3 billion annually, makes up more than a sixth of El Salvador's economy. The impact of this flow of funds is reshaping the country in a variety of ways.
- Brother Toby -- prominent evangelical preacher Edgar Lopez Bertrand, known as "Brother Toby" was arrested in the US on immigration charges for falsifying documents. The arrest prompted the 80,000 members of his Baptist Biblical Tabernacle Friends of Israel congregation to hold vigil until his release after a plea bargain with US authorities.
- Defections from the FMLN -- Internal divisions in the FMLN between the hard line leadership led by Schafik Handal and a group of reformers led to defections from the party of the former guerrillas. Among those leaving the party were deputies in the National Assembly and popular mayors of San Salvador and Nejapa.
- Continuing popularity of Tony Saca -- Salvadoran president Tony Saca finished his first year in office with continued high approval ratings around 60%, despite the fact that the majority of Salvadoran citizens think the country is headed in the wrong direction.
- 25th Anniversaries -- Anniversaries of the 1980 murders of archbishop Oscar Romero and the 4 American churchwomen brought thousands together to commemorate those religious persons who had sided with the poor and powerless in the country at a time of great repression.
- Chinks in impunity -- Legal advocates continued to push forward in various forums to try to bring some justice to victims of human rights abuses during the 1970s and 1980s. Such justice is blocked in Salvadoran courts by the 1993 amnesty law. In the US, a jury awarded millions of dollars of damages to plaintiffs suing former Salvadoran colonel Nicolas Carranza for torture and violation of human rights. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued a judgment against the Salvadoran government for its refusal to take action regarding the kidnapping of children by armed forces during the civil war.