Showing posts from September, 2006

Economic news

Two pieces of economic news: The Inter-American Development Bank has approved a $100 million loan to El Salvador. The loan will support the government's Solidarity Net poverty reduction program. El Salvador is forecasting increased economic growth. Reuters reported that: Economic growth in El Salvador will increase to about 4.5 percent in 2007 compared with 3.5 percent expected this year, the finance ministry said in a budget bill sent to Congress on Thursday. The Central American nation's central bank predicted at the beginning of September that the economy would grow 3.5 percent in 2006. Gross domestic product rose 2.8 percent last year.

Priest killed in El Salvador

One day after I wrote about religious freedom in El Salvador, comes the news that a priest was brutally beaten and killed in El Salvador: SAN SALVADOR, Sept 25 (Reuters) - The suspected murder of a Catholic priest, whose battered body was found on the side of an El Salvador highway on Monday, has mystified authorities in a country with a troubling history of killing religious figures. The Rev. Ricardo Romero's body was found next to his car 42 miles (68 km) west of the capital of San Salvador, with his skull crushed. Police said initial investigations ruled out robbery or kidnapping as a motive. An employee at the rectory in the Pipil Indian community of Santa Catarina Masahuat where Romero worked said the priest had no known enemies. "We really do not know anything, just that they killed the Father and we are waiting for his remains to hold a wake," an employee said. The human rights office for the Catholic Church in El Salvador said it would investigate the killing, on

Religious freedom in El Salvador

Each year the US State Department releases a country by country report on religious freedom. The 2006 report was released on September 15. El Salvador received passing grades with the "generally free practice of religion." The report had these statistics about the religious affiliations of the Salvadoran population: The country has an area of 8,108 square miles and an estimated population of approximately 6.7 million. The country was predominantly Roman Catholic, with a sizeable Protestant minority, plus small communities of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Hare Krishna, Muslims, and Jews, among others. A very small segment of the population practiced an indigenous religion. According to a 2003 survey by the Technological University Public Opinion Center, approximately 57.1 percent of the population was Roman Catholic. Additionally, 21.2 percent were members of Protestant churches. (Among Protestants, informal church estimates suggested approxima

Anti-terrorism law passed in El Salvador

The AP reports that El Salvador's National Assembly has passed an anti-terrorism bill: SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador El Salvador's congress on Friday approved a law that allows penalties of up to 86 years in jail for convicted terrorists, a measure opposition forces said was an attempt to repress dissent. Legislators approved the law following a heated debate that extended into the early hours of Friday. It was strongly opposed by the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, which fought a 12-year civil war against the government that ended in 1992. 'We don't see this as an international measure,' said Front Rep. Sigifrido Reyes. 'What the right-wing government is doing is planning for a scenario of growing social conflicts, given that its strategy for creating jobs and attracting investments has failed.' Reyes complained about the law's provision for anonymous witnesses, judges and undercover agents, calling it a 'terrible temptation for repressiv

Women and remittances

The Associated Press has a recent article about women who emigrate to find work and send money to their home country to support family members. The story featured a Salvadoran immigrant living in San Francisco: Every two weeks, Margarita Gutierrez takes the money saved from her $7-an-hour job washing cars and sends it to her two children in El Salvador, even though her husband frets over the cost of living in their adopted home. "As a mother, I thought first, second and last about the children, and I sent them everything I had," said Gutierrez, 45, who lives in San Francisco. A recent United Nations Population Fund report shows that Gutierrez is not alone. Although female immigrants generally earn less than men, they tend to send home a larger portion of their earnings, playing an important role in poverty reduction and development in their countries of origin and upending many traditional mores.... Every time she calls home, Gutierrez, 45, hears about the results of her wo

Business meeting hub for Central America?

You don't often see stories about El Salvador in the Business section of the New York Times . So this little article in the Times caught my eye: The idea is too new for an ad campaign, but tiny El Salvador is pulling out all the stops to sell itself as the business-meeting hub for Central America. It is pitching itself as an alternative to popular meeting spots like Cancun, Mexico, and reaching out to foreign investors who are building everything from auto-parts plants to call centers to new hotels. ( more )

Filling the streets

Yesterday, September 15, Salvadorans celebrated 185 years since Central American countries won their independence from Spain. Parades and ceremonies filled streets and plazas in many parts of the country. El Diario de Hoy has a collection of images from all across the country here . La Prensa has pictures from San Salvador including the independence day parade and official ceremonies in Plaza La Libertad . When you review the pictures, you can't help but notice the decidedly militaristic feel to many of the ceremonies. For a country which has no external threats, there is a troubling glorification of the military in these pictures. At the same time, bus service came to a complete stop in the eastern part of the country. Bus companies, protesting the government's inability to bring a stop to gangs demanding extortion payments for safe passage, simply refused to put buses on the streets of San Miguel and other cities. The back of pick-ups, trucks, and microbuses beca

Death and tattoos

The Independent has an article today in its online edition about the gangs of El Salvador. The interviews with gang members are chilling. One new piece of information which is not good news for El Salvador: Today, classified reports from the Salvadorean National Public Security Council reveal that, given their strategic geographical location between the Americas, the Central American gangs are planning to create a third force to compete with the Colombians and the Mexicans for the multibillion-dollar prize that is drug trafficking. Still more deaths are expected.

Opponents critique the first several months of CAFTA

Opponents of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), released a report today illustrating what they believe are the negative effects of the implementation of the treaty. The Stop CAFTA Coalition released its report DR-CAFTA in Year One with sections detailing the consequences of implementation of the agreement in every country where it is in effect. (Costa Rica has not yet ratified the treaty). Some of the impacts pointed out in El Salvador include growing levels of food imports from the US, a decline in the textile sector, controversy over harsh application of intellectual property laws to informal sellers of CDs and DVDs, and concerns over the privatization of water. While I also opposed CAFTA, I feel compelled to point out that this report does not purport to be an objective review of the economic evidence and that many problems described in the report pre-date CAFTA, or are caused by other factors such as the elimination of textile quotas which had constrained compe

Saca's approval rating continues to slip

Recent poll numbers from La Prensa Grafica show that El Salvador's crime wave and economic situation are negatively affecting the approval rating of president Tony Saca. While 55% of Salvadorans still approve of the job Saca is doing, this is the lowest percentage in his presidency. Similarly, Salvadorans now give him a grade of 6.0 on a 10 point scale, down 20% from highs earlier in his term. Almost 70% of Salvadorans believe that Saca is not improving the crime problem or the economy.

What Salvadoran bloggers are saying -- 100 days in the Republic of Death

El Salvador faces an epidemic of violent deaths. The country has the highest murder rate in Latin America, and August 2006 was the bloodiest month yet with 370 murders in the small Central America nation. In reaction, well-known Salvadoran artist Mayra Barraza has created a blog 100 días en la República de la Muerte (100 Days in the Republic of Death). Her project began on September 1, and each day gives an accounting of the deaths that day by violence in the country, taken from the pages of El Salvador's two leading papers, La Prensa Grafica and El Diario de Hoy. She describes the project in her first post : Comienzo este ejercicio con la sensación de estar haciendo algo contra el sentido común. Las personas normales no buscan la muerte. La rehuyen. Quizas buscan la vida. Yo también. Pero no puedo seguir así. Leo el periódico todos los días. De atrás para adelante. "Porqué" me pregunta mi hijito de 9 años. Prefiero comenzar por las noticias más bonitas - le digo -

The pressure which led to El Salvador ratifying labor conventions

Last week I noted that El Salvador had ratified various conventions of the International Labor Organization because it would lose duty-free access to European Union markets if it did not. An article today from the Inter Press News Agency describes the pressure brought by Spanish tuna company Grupo Calvo in bringing about this result: Since July 2005, this Central American country has benefited from the Generalised System of Preferences Plus (GSP+) scheme, which that allows Salvadoran products to enter the EU duty free. Faced with the prospect of paying tariffs of 20.5 percent if the Salvadoran government failed to ratify the conventions, Spanish tuna canning giant Grupo Calvo spearheaded a campaign to force the government to comply with the EU conditions. Last July, the Calvo company threatened to close its local plant if El Salvador did not ratify the conventions, stating that its competitiveness would drop significantly without the tariff preferences, and laid off 600 workers in p

Where is increasing violence leading El Salvador?

Civil society organizations in El Salvador are increasingly concerned about (a) the ever growing level of violence in the country, (b) the expanding militarized response to that violence, and (c) the appearance of death squads dedicated to imposing their own form of justice on gang members. As an example, I received today the following communication from the El Salvador staff of the US-El Salvador Sister Cities organization: Repression in the Name of Security, Sound Familiar? September 3, 2006 ES Staff Extortions of bus drivers and professionals[i], the reappearance of death squads linked to the National Civilian Police force[ii], more than 11 homicides per day[iii], State imposed curfews[iv], and military occupations of rural communities[v]; this is the content of some of the headlines in major newspapers around El Salvador this week. On Tuesday communities in the Lower Lempa region of San Vicente denounced the armed raid without search warrant of their historical museum by the S

The National Anthem of El Salvador

September is a month of civic pride in El Salvador leading up to the celebration of independence from Spain on September 15. Today La Prensa Grafica published on its web site a video of various Salvadoran vocalists singing the country's national anthem at locations across the country. As the video shows, the national anthem is both long and difficult to sing. Here are the lyrics: Chorus Saludemos la Patria orgullosos de hijos suyos podernos llamar; y juremos la vida animosos sin descanso a su bien consagrar. First Part De la paz en la dicha suprema, siempre noble soño El Salvador; fue obtenerla su eterno problema, conservarla es su gloria mayor. Y con fe inquebrantable el camino del progreso se afana en seguir, por llenar su grandioso destino conquistarse un feliz porvenir. Le protege una férrea barrera contra el choque de ruin deslealtad, desde el día en que su alta bandera con su sangre escribió: ¡LIBERTAD! Second Part Libertad es su dogma, es su guía que mil veces logró defen

El Salvador's Holocaust Hero

One of the unsung heroes of World War II was a Salvadoran. The Foundation for Self Sufficiency in Central America has on its web site an article titled El Salvador's Holocaust Hero written by Dartmouth University professor, John Lamperti. Lamperti tells the story of George Mantello: Most Salvadorans have never heard of him, although he was a fellow citizen and an official of their government. Mantello was an unusual Salvadoran who spoke no Spanish and never set his foot on its soil. He fought for his adopted country and for humanity against one of the worst evils this world has known, and his weapons were not guns or bombs but dedication and truth. The victory he helped to win was saving tens of thousands of human beings from death in the Holocaust. The article describes how Mantello instigated a program, backed by the Salvadoran government, to give tens of thousands of Jews Salvadoran citizenship papers. In addition, when the Nazis began the mass extermination of Hungarian Je

Great balls of fire

August 31 is the day of the Balls of Fire celebration in Nejapa , El Salvador. The tradition dates back to 1917 when the villagers of Nejapa escaped unharmed from a volcanic eruption, and as a result, thanked their patron Saint Geronimo who, legend has it, fought the devil with fireballs. El Diario has a gallery of pictures .