Showing posts from May, 2006

CAFTA not helping El Salvador's textile sales

The Central America Free Trade Agreement became effective for El Salvador on March 1. In at least one sector of El Salvador's economy, textiles, the treaty has produced no benefits. In fact, textile exports from El Salvador to the US have dropped significantly in the past two months according to statistics from the US Commerce Department Office of Textiles and Apparel . An article from the Gannet News Service explains some of the reasons why textile exports from Central America to the US have dropped since March 1: "[CAFTA has] caused trade to be much harder to do in Central America," said Copland, president and chief executive officer of Copland Industries, near Burlington, N.C. The primary problem is that only three of the countries - El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua - have ratified the agreement that allows them to ship textile and apparel goods duty-free to the United States. Duties or import taxes on textile goods from Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and

Women of strong character

My friend Meg recently wrote in her blog : [In El Salvador] there is a strong presence of influential women with strong character. I have met women here who are a definite force to be reckoned with and are seen as the matriarch of a whole family or community at times. These are the women who keep careful watch over every child (no matter what age) and keep the men in line and on their toes. In such a machismo culture, I find this reality to be surprising and a bit refreshing. Some recent articles highlight the efforts and organizing of some of these women of strong character, working to improve conditions in El Salvador for themselves and their children. On the AJWS website , the work of the Institute for the Investigation, Training and Development of Women (IMU), is featured. This organization seeks to empower women in post-war El Salvador: El Salvador'’s civil war had a high level of female participation and women served as armed combatants in addition to providing domesti

What Salvadoran bloggers are saying -- violence and generals

The high levels of violence in the country continue without solutions . Much of the violence is tied to gang activity . Blogger Hunnapuh notes that pressured by the business sector, which fears that foreign investment will avoid a country with high levels of violence, president Tony Saca has finally recognized that the situation is not improving. Long forgotten is his campaign promise to make El Salvador the safest country in Central America (currently it has the highest murder rate). Ligia at Que Joder writes about the violence that: The police don't have a formula to stop this, nor the psychologists, nor the family. Firm hands, helping hands, workshops, talks about values -- these interventions don't work because the causes are not the same or simple. For the moment, that's all we know. Meanwhile, El Visitador is incredulous that the left-wing opposition FMLN wants to change the government's current anti-poverty program, Solidarity Net, so that funds go to mun

Heart surgeon interrupts surgery to donate blood to patient

The AP has a fairly dramatic story of an American heart surgeon who was operating on a charity mission at Benjamin Bloom Children's Hospital in San Salvador: A heart surgeon had to take a break from a mercy-mission operation in El Salvador so he could donate his own rare-type blood for his 8-year-old patient. Dr. Samuel Weinstein said he had his blood drawn, ate a Pop-Tart, returned to the operating table and watched as his blood helped the boy survive the complex surgery.... The 43-year-old Weinstein was on a charity trip with Heart Care International when he did the surgery at Bloom Hospital in San Salvador. In the May 11 operation, which had begun 12 hours earlier, the boy's failing aortic valve was replaced with his pulmonary valve and the pulmonary valve was replaced with an artificial valve. "The surgery had been going well, everything was working great, but he was bleeding a lot and they didn't have a lot of the medicines we would use to stop the bleeding,"

The IMF's view of El Salvador's economy

The International Monetary Fund recently released a report on the state of El Salvador's economy from the perspective of this global monetary institution. Here is an excerpt: The economy has weathered well the oil price shock and the effects of tropical storm Stan. Real GDP grew almost 3 percent in 2005 and is running at a pace of 3½ percent for this year. Inflation has moderated after a brief increase last October due to the pass-through of higher oil prices and temporary food price increases caused by the tropical storm. The external current account deficit widened slightly to 4½ percent of GDP in 2005 due to a higher oil import bill, despite stronger workers' remittances and rising prices for traditional exports. The government's program for 2006 seeks to maintain sound macroeconomic policies, place priority on social spending, and deepen structural reforms, with the aim of enhancing economic growth and social prospects. The mission supported plans to strengthen tax re

81% of computer software in El Salvador pirated

The Business Software Alliance yesterday released its 2006 Global Software Piracy Study . The BSA estimates that in 2005, 81% of software in El Salvador was pirated, ranking El Salvador one of the 20 countries with the highest rates of software piracy. Latin America, as a region, had a high incidence of illegally copied software with an average piracy rate of 68%. The Business Software Alliance is a trade organization of the software industry and promotes crackdowns on copyright violations worldwide.

Quick news items

An assortment of stories in the Salvadoran press recently: El Salvador decided not to advance its clocks forward one hour. Although other Central American countries are making the time shift in the hopes of saving energy, the government in E Salvador found the forecast savings to be too minimal. Central American countries and the UN World Food Program met in San Salvador to discuss coordinated responses to emergency relief when hurricanes strike. The countries will establish a Regional Emergency Center in Soyapango, outside of San Salvador, where relief supplies will be pre-positioned. Hurricane season officially starts on June 1. El Salvador's archbishop Fernando Saenz Lacalle stated in his weekly news conference that the church is aggrieved by the anti-immigrant measures being proposed by the US government. He pointed in particular to the proposals to send 6000 National Guard troops to patrol the southern US border and to build hundreds of miles of border fencing.

In search of an excellent cup of coffee

Salvadoran coffee farmers are currently participating in the Cup of Excellence program, in which judges search for fine gourmet coffees in various Latin American countries. In the first stage of the competition, a group of Salvadoran tasting judges or "cuppers" qualify a group of high quality coffees eligible to proceed to the second round where international judges come to El Salvador to select those coffees which will be awarded the "Cup of Excellence." The first stage was completed last week, and 49 coffee fincas qualified for the second round. Coffees which receive the prize can command a significant price premium in international auctions and raise the interest level of international buyers in that farm and the surrounding region. This is the fourth year that El Salvador has participated in the program. From the Cup of Excellence web site: How important is this award to a coffee farmer? Winning farmers are exhilarated to be acknowledged for their dedicati

New study of Central American gang problem

USAID, the agency which coordinates US economic and humanitarian assistance to other countries, has released a new comprehensive study of the problem of gangs in Central American countries. The report looks at causes, effects, initiatives and proposals for this vexing problem. Here are some excerpts from the section of the report dealing with El Salvador: The hard-line law enforcement approach has not had the desired effect of curbing gang violence or reducing recruitment. Gang membership seems to be rising, despite frequent roundups of gang members. Additionally, media obsession with gang violence in effect helps gangs to publicize their criminal acts and build the status of gang members portrayed in the media. The constant showcasing of gangs on the front pages of Salvadoran newspapers serves as a recruiting tool for gangs to increase their rank and file. ..... Gang activity has encouraged the expansion of some services, however. Private security companies, for example, have grown

VirtualTourist site on El Salvador

I often get asked for tips about travel to El Salvador. One English language website with a great deal of information is the El Salvador section at This site contains reports from travelers who have recently been to El Salvador and includes places to see, restaurant reviews, safety tips, photos and more. Here is a sample of the travel journal from one traveler : Never had I heard as many horror stories about a country as I heard about El Salvador. 'You're gonna get shot or robbed if you leave your hotel room' was the best one. Typically though, most of these warnings started off with 'I heard that,' 'my friend said,' 'I read that,' 'someone told me that.' People who haven't even been here somehow have become experts and manage to scare people into believing this garbage. Sure there are robberies and gang-related crimes, but they exist in LA, New York and Miami too and I never hear anyone telling people not to go th

All sectors protest levels of violence -- but should I write about it?

Loosely translated from an article by Juan Jose Dalton in La Opinion: On May 17, representatives from civic organizations, business groups and politicians made a "shout to the heavens" to demand a stop to criminal violence that in the last 72 hours claimed the lives of 44 persons, including a family of 5, and put in question the anti-crime policies put in place by the last two governments of El Salvador. To these protests of civic organizations and the political opposition were added the representatives of some of the most important businessmen in El Salvador. The National Association of Private Business (ANEP) warned that nobody wants to invest in countries where violence exists. Private business is more and more worried by the subject of violence since the last year when a United Nations study revealed that crime costs as much as $1.7 billion to the government and business. Meanwhile the government made no change in its strategy, but increased the funding for enforcement

The FMLN blocks international loans for Solidarity Net

The ARENA government's anti-poverty program, Solidarity Net , requires international loans in order to continue running. The loans will fund not only the program which pays families a small monthly allowance so long as children are actually attending school, but also improvements for the country's education infrastructure. Such government borrowing requires a 2/3 vote in the Salvadoran National Assembly, and in the new legislature, cannot be passed without some FMLN votes. As reported in El Faro , the FMLN is refusing to give its votes to approve the loans unless the government improve pensions and increase the minimum wage. That's a shame. Solidarity Net is showing positive results . It needs to be expanded. The FMLN should push for expansion of the program rather than blocking loans necessary to keep it running.

Coffee habitats being depleted

As reported by Reuters , during the early part of this decade, El Salvador lost thousands of acres of "coffee forest" at a time when world coffee prices were severely depressed: "Between 2001 and 2004, the country lost 21,025 hectares of forest-covered coffee farms, Mario Acosta, president of El Salvador's Foundation for Coffee Research (Procafe), said. El Salvador last year planted around 161,000 hectares of coffee, the vast majority of it grown on wooded plantations. With the greatest population density and smallest land size in Central America, El Salvador was long ago cleared of virtually all its native forest. Coffee farms, where bourbon variety coffee trees flourish under a thick shade canopy, provide 75 percent of El Salvador's remaining forest cover. 'Just in the period between 2001 and 2004, we lost 21,025 hectares with the accompanying environmental degradation, with the problems this means for watersheds and all the problems of unemployment in the

Keeping up with news in El Salvador

English speakers who want to keep up with current events in El Salvador will want to check out the blog of Chuck Stewart who includes reports from Salvadoran news sources on his web site related to the relationship with the Episcopal diocese of Central New York and the Salvadoran Episcopal Church. Chuck does a nice job of regular updates of what's making the news in El Salvador.

The flow of US dollars into El Salvador

The Washington Post is continuing to run articles which look at migration and its impact on El Salvador. Today's article looks at how the money sent home to El Salvador is pushing up prices in the country. Here is an excerpt: With more dollars [from remittances] chasing limited commodities such as land and housing, prices are rising. And because El Salvador imports most of its goods from nations that can make them less expensively, the consumption boom isn't creating an increase in jobs. Meanwhile, the ready supply of desperate workers from the even poorer Central American countries of Nicaragua and Honduras keeps down wages for existing low-skill jobs -- making it difficult for the Salvadorans who hold them to make ends meet. The impact of this dynamic is visible across this eastern stretch of the country, from which much of the Salvadoran migration to the United States has originated. On small, family-run dairy farms that have dotted the area for generations, most ranch h

What Salvadoran bloggers are saying -- tourism and gold mining

Salvadoran bloggers often ponder what types of economic development can best help the country lift the overall status of its people. There is general agreement that tourism would be good for the country, but what kind of tourism? Hunnapuh explores the advantages El Salvador has from its small size -- one can go from a cool mountaintop rainforest to sunny beaches and seafood dinners in just a few hours. The biggest barrier he finds to the growth of tourism is the actual and perceived rate of violent crime in the country which repels tourists, even though the areas of high crime and gangs are fairly localized. Salvadoran bloggers like the idea of "coffee tourism." El Visitador , discussed the possibility of tourism involving the El Salvador's coffee industry and the process of growing, harvesting and roasting El Salvador's gourmet coffees. He was commenting on a recent blog entry by award winning coffee brewer Jim Seven describing his recent visit to the coffee f

Romero sainthood blog

There is a new blog set up to provide "the inside track on the beatification cause of archbishop Romero of El Salvador" called POSITIO SUPER MARTYRIO . One of its initial posts is a lengthy look at whether Romero was a Christian martyr "killed in hatred of the faith." The beatification blog is brought to us by the same people who maintain the San Romero mailing list , and who are kind enough to republish many of the posts you read here on Tim's El Salvador Blog .

Political patronage prevails as municipal workers are fired

In many municipalities throughout El Salvador, May 1 brought governments run by different political parties into power. What has followed in many locations is the firing of municipal workers so that the new administration can give jobs to its political sympathizers. La Prensa Grafica reports that such firings are not just of senior level personnel or heads of departments -- the people being fired are truck drivers, service people and clerks. Nor is the problem limited to a single political party, each party seems to be determined to award the spoils of victory to its supporters. Beatrice Carrillo, El Salvador's human rights ombudswoman, announced that she was opening an official inquiry into the firings.

High price of gold encourages mining in El Salvador

The price of gold went above $700 this week. Gold is approaching its all time high, and some analysts expect the price to stay high. As the price of gold has climbed, so has the economic incentive to pursue gold mining in El Salvador. This can be seen in the increasingly frequent announcements by gold mining companies of progress in their exploration of the Salvadoran countryside. Pacific Rim, a Canadian company with the largest operations in El Salvador announced this week "the best hole drilled yet" on its El Dorado project. Silver Crest Mines reported progress on its El Zapote project. Intrepid Minerals reported on a "promising new prospect" and plans to increase activity throughout 2006. My view of gold mining in El Salvador: Gold mining is not inherently evil . Let's face it -- El Salvador has few enough natural resources or other sources of wealth and if gold may be a way to improve the fortunes of the country then it should be explored. Environm

Thinking about a tourism industry for El Salvador

The Salvadoran blog Hunnapuh recently wrote about El Salvador as a tourist destination. The Spanish language blog extolled El Salvador's virtues stemming from geographic diversity in its small area. One can go from cool mountain cloud forests to warm sunny beaches in a matter of hours. Yet Hunnapuh recognized how the high crime rate in the country deters tourists. The two things which are needed are control of crime, and the development of types of tourism which allow small businesses to earn tourist dollars and not just multi-national hotel chains. That post got me thinking about what types of tourism are available to El Salvador, beyond the big business type of massive resort hotels along beaches. Here are some ideas: Coffee Tourism -- Another Salvadoran blogger, El Visitador , recently talked about the possibility of tourism involving the El Salvador's coffee industry and the process of growing, harvesting and roasting El Salvador's gourmet coffees. He was comm

Emigration empties the Salvadoran countryside

The Washington Post has an excellent article today about the impact of emigration on small rural towns in El Salvador. The exodus to "el norte" to find jobs has left towns filled only with the elderly and children: PIEDRAS BLANCAS, El Salvador -- It was just past noon, yet the only sign of life in the main square of this remote eastern village was an elderly man swinging in a hammock on his porch. There was a time, Jose Nieve-Reyes Rubio, 70, explained in a gravelly voice, when the plaza would have been packed with vendors and customers by this hour, their shouts ringing through the air as they bought and sold food, clothing and every imaginable kind of trinket. "But that was more than 10 years ago," he said as he settled back into his hammock. "Before everyone left for the States." Today, like villages across El Salvador, Piedras Blancas has been nearly emptied of its working-age inhabitants. Left behind are children and grandparents who live on money

Salvadoran press coverage of immigration debate

The Washington Post review of world newspaper opinion recently looked at coverage of immigration reform in El Salvador: Congressional legislation to crack down illegal immigration, deport undocumented workers and bar services to illegal immigrants has mobilized the Salvadoran community in America like no other issue. Yet in El Salvador itself, U.S. immigration reform is rarely talked about. "There is no sense that a new immigration law might be a threat because the government is so friendly with the United States," says Narciso Castillo, a television talk show host on Channel 33 in San Salvador. "The government does not talk about the issue and the media is very pro-government." ... Castillo sees a double standard behind the lack of debate. "On the one side, the government want the immigrants to send the remesas. The economy couldn't survive without them. On the other hand, it doesn't want to do anything publicly to protect the status of those immigra

Murder rate still rising

El Salvador's murder rate, already the highest in Latin America, is continuing to rise. La Prensa Grafica reports that there were 55 more murders in the first four months of 2006 than in the corresponding period in 2005. There have been 1143 murders in the country since the beginning of the year. The government seems to be helpless to stop the rise in murders. Every few months the government comes out with a new plan to tackle the violence, yet there is no change to the pace of the killing, and only a small percentage of the murders are ever punished. There are no simple answers. Among the many things which must happen, police must receive training and resources, the justice system must become efficient, opportunities must be created for the marginalized members of El Salvador's society, programs must be developed to keep youth out of gangs, and a culture must emerge which rejects violence as a method to solve disputes.

128 Years Old?

Today is the birthday of Cruz Hernandez, a woman living in El Salvador who authorities believe is 128 years old as reported in Reuters . I have previously described her story , and those posts have been the most read articles on this blog. But as I also reported, the Gerontology Research Group, which studies human longevity has grave doubts that she could be so old.

Pro cycling in El Salvador

Currently racing on the roads of El Salvador are professional male cyclists in the Vuelta a El Salvador . The race throughout different sections of the country covers 1000 kilometers over eight days. La Prensa has a special section devoted to the race with photo galleries and daily race stories. Pro Cycling News has coverage of the race in English. El Diario has a photo gallery from the third stage here .

A Day of Immigrants and Workers

Thousands of workers and protesters marched through the streets of San Salvador today on International Workers Day . Marchers demonstrated for workers rights, against globalization, against CAFTA and against increased criminalization of those who sell pirated DVDs and CDs. El Diario de Hoy features the peaceful marches in San Salvador's streets in its photo gallery . La Prensa has a photo gallery which seems more designed to link the FMLN with hooligans than to show the peaceful marchers. At the same time, people in El Salvador were paying attention to the marches and boycotts in the US dubbed "A Day Without Immigrants." Here are the words of some Salvadorans in the US from today's demonstrations: Nelson Hernandez was just a teenager when he fled El Salvador's civil war two decades ago with his family and settled on Long Island as an undocumented immigrant.... "I was in the same position millions of them are in right now," said Hernandez, 35, who i