Showing posts from June, 2007

US publicizes its aid efforts in El Salvador

I am not quite sure why, but the US State Department has recently released a slew of press releases about US aid efforts in El Salvador. They include: Northern El Salvador Prepares To Invest in Its People New Road Brings Commerce, Education to Rural Salvadorans Rural Salvadorans Receive Free Medical Care from U.S. Military El Salvador Holds National HIV Testing Day Extreme Sports Offer Salvadoran Youth Refuge from Violence UPDATE: In response to this post, I heard from sources at the US Embassy in San Salvador who tell me the State Department is experimenting with sending one of its own journalists out into the field to report on the humanitarian assistance the US provides overseas. I was told that El Salvador was chosen as an early example due to the number and diversity of programs the US government and its different departments and agencies have there.

El Salvador gets new Human Rights Ombudsman

El Salvador's National Assembly selected a new Human Rights Ombudsman (PDDH for its initials in Spanish), Oscar Luna, today. Luna was selected in preference to returning for a third term the current PDDH, Beatrice de Carillo. Luna appears to be well-qualified. He is a lawyer and notary, teaches human rights, and worked in the office of the PDDH in Santa Ana. In his pre-selection interview with legislators, Luna announced that one step he would take as PDDH is to create a school of human rights in the country. Leaders of all the political parties pledged to support Luna in his new role.

Growing up urban

The United Population Fund issues an annual report, and the 2007 report has a supplement titled "Growing Up Urban" about the challenges of being a youth in a world culture which is increasingly urbanized. The report includes a section devoted to the story of Freddy , a former gang member in El Salvador whose story symbolizes the problem of the "maras" in the country: The first time he saw a deportee from Los Angeles, Freddy was struck by the man’s tattoos – and the respect everyone paid him. The man looked different from the others. By the 1990s, the first Salvadorean gang members had returned to the country, deported by the USA. Nobody could guess what was coming.... He didn’t go to school very often; his mother tried to send him, but he didn’t see the importance of attending classes. Most days he would just skip school and hang around. His mother was a maid, working all day in other people’s houses. His two sisters took care of him, spoiling him and turning him i

Immigration reform advances in US Senate

Immigration reform legislation passed an important procedural hurdle in the US Senate today, which should allow an entire package to come up for debate and a vote later in the week. The legislation is very closely watched in El Salvador. The possibility of a temporary worker program and a "path to citizenship" for those many Salvadorans living without legal status in the US is very important for the thousands of Salvadoran families separated with family members working and living north and south of the border. For updates on the legislation's provisions, you can view the coverage by the Washington Post here .

US and Spain sponsor humanitarian response center

The US and Spain are sponsoring a disaster response center for Central America which is being located at El Salvador's international airport. From a US State Department press release : In response to the recurrent natural disasters plaguing Central America, the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), with support from Spain and the United States, inaugurated a regional humanitarian response center in San Salvador June 21.... U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador Charles Glazer said, “We all know that Central America is vulnerable to natural disasters. We cannot prevent them. However we can be ready for them when they happen.” To be ready for the next disaster, WFP has secured a 1,500-square-meter warehouse at San Salvador's international airport to stock emergency food and supplies. Currently, the facility holds 150 tons of high-energy biscuits – enough to feed 100,000 people for five days – as well as 22 water tanks, inflatable boats, and kitchen and hygiene equipment. According to WFP

National Teacher's Day

Friday, June 22, was the Day of the Teacher in El Salvador. La Prensa Grafica has this gallery of photos of Salvadoran teachers at work in the classroom. No group deserves more to be celebrated.

Child labor is no game

Well worth watching is the documentary, Not a Game , which details several pernicious forms of child labor found in the countries of Latin America. There is also a web site for the documentary which provides additional information. The documentary has a segment devoted to the " curileros " of El Salvador, children who work in the mangrove swamps of El Salvador, harvesting mollusks. In this dangerous work, children spend hours in the mud of the mangrove swamp gathering shellfish while smoking cigars to ward off mosquitoes and the pain of their bites. In a recent outrageous editorial , which could only appear in El Diario de Hoy , the writer opined that: Part of the campaigns against the so-called child labor is the belief that a child, or an adult for that matter, is only educated in the schools. The thousand-year old experience is that the workshop, the farm, the factories, the stores and the businesses are equally effective alternatives. The title of the editorial? Be

Two tales of Salvadorans in the US

Two different stories appeared in US newspapers this week talking about aspects of the experience of Salvadorans who have left their home country and taken up residence in the US. The first story appeared in the Washington Post and talked about a new coordination among groups of Salvadoran-owned businesses in different parts of the country: Until recently, the groups have focused on helping Salvadoran-owned businesses in their communities network, promote products and navigate local government regulations. The accords signed Tuesday created the first official connections among the U.S.-based groups and signaled the growing clout wielded by immigrant business owners.... The expatriate community in the United States is a prime target for El Salvador President Elias Antonio Saca as he tries to jump-start his country's economy by opening export markets and encouraging foreign investment. Salvadorans living in the United States accounted for a vast portion of the nearly $3.3 billio

The Power of Music

Our friend Meg pointed me to a wonderful article by Anna Forgie, a Peace Corps Volunteer who works with the National Youth Orchestra of El Salvador: The small moments are the greatest joy of my Peace Corps service: Azalea’s sheepish smile above the chin rest of her violin when she gets lost, the look of determination in Diana’s eyes as her fingers fly through a fast passage of Mozart, Fausto’s utter concentration as he flips between timpani, the tears that form in Martín’s eyes when 14-year-old Sandra plays Vivaldi’s “Winter” from The Four Seasons. As part of the 2006 season, the orchestra performed a modernized Magic Flute, complete with a drum set and acrobats. Sitting among the nearly 1,500 Salvadorans who came to the three nights of performances, I realized my musical education had come full circle: Kids whom I had helped in theory class were now performing the very opera that had inspired my life-long love of music. When they play, these young musicians inhabit their own world — a

No progress on murder of deputies in Guatemala

The murder of the Salvadoran deputies to the Central American parliament in Guatemala last February remain unresolved. After the original arrests of senior Guatemalan police officers (who were subsequently killed inside a supposedly secure prison), Guatemalan authorities have provided neither a motive nor the persons behind the crime. According to published reports , El Salvador's president is expressing concern with the slow pace of the investigation: SAN SALVADOR, June 18 (Reuters) - Salvadoran President Tony Saca complained on Monday about neighboring Guatemala's lack of progress in solving the murders of three Salvadoran politicians in Guatemala in February.... Four months on, Guatemala has arrested a police officer and five other people linked to a drug cartel based near the border with El Salvador and is investigating them, but detectives have not established a motive for the murders. Saca said he would speak to Guatemalan President Oscar Berger about the issue when t

Demonstrations against privatization of health care system

Demonstrators dressed in white filled the streets of San Salvador on Saturday to show their opposition to various proposals to privatize portions of El Salvador's healthcare system. According to La Prensa Grafica , the march, sponsored by various NGOs and the FMLN, stretched out across more than 12 blocks, with demonstrators carrying banners demanding reforms of healthcare delivery which do not include the privatization plans of the ARENA government. Such marches were a regular occurrence in 2002-03 , drawing tens of thousands to the streets of San Salvador protesting the privatization policies of then-president Francisco Flores. The current protests reflect demonstrators views that those same policies are now being implemented quietly by the current ARENA government.

Crime statistics make slight improvement

Wally, a regular reader of this blog, pointed me to some statistics in today's LaPrensa that might be reason for a small bit of optimism on the crime front. Murders in May of 2007 were down significantly from May of 2006, and there have been 67 fewer murders in 2007 than in 2006 (1477 compared with 1544). The National Police also released statistics which it hopes will rebut the criticism of last week's United Nations report that only 4% of murders in a large sample of cases from 2005 resulted in punishment for the perpetrators. According to the PNC figures, there were 3642 inmates in El Salvador's prisons for the crime of murder at the end of 2005, 4058 at the end of 2006, but during the first five months of 2007 the number has grown 45% to 5885. According to the PNC, if an extra 1800 people have been sent to prison for acts of homicide so far in 2007, the criticisms of lack of effectiveness in solving and punishing crime must no longer be true.

El Salvador -- the "Switzerland of the Western Hemisphere?"

H. Douglas Barclay, former US ambassador to El Salvador, has returned home to upstate New York and recently talked about El Salvador to one of his hometown newspapers. Here's some of what he said: Q. What don't most people in the United States know about El Salvador? Barclay: If it isn't the country that has the best relationship with the U.S., it's in the top two or three. They are very pro-American. It's more than a bilateral relationship. It's almost a partnership. There are one million Salvadorans in Los Angeles. And it's a partnership because there are families in both countries. They go back and invest in real estate in El Salvador. This country (El Salvador) in my opinion can be the Switzerland of Europe in the Western Hemisphere. They have a great work force. They work very hard, they're very bright, and it's a great country. There are number of American companies operating there. For example, Dell set up a call center that employs about 1,

UN Report -- Homicide goes unpunished in El Salvador

A report released last week by the United Nations Development Program provided an alarming look at the complete incapacity of the criminal justice system in El Salvador to investigate, prosecute and punish murderers. The study looked at a significant subset of the homicides recorded by the authorities in 2005. Of the 1,020 homicides studied, only 145 (14.2%) reached the court system. Even more alarmingly, only 39 (3.8%) resulted in someone actually being punished for the crime. In other words, 96.1% of the murders in the study went unpunished. The study's authors did not equivocate in placing blame for this abysmal record: An important percentage of the homicides remain unpunished for lack of will or capacity for the investigation, while each crime left abundant evidence that could have been processed to determine the authors of the crimes. One does not perceive a sincere interest in improving and modernizing the techniques of criminal investigation. The country has had a hi

Kids at the museum

The Tin-Marin Museum is a children's museum in San Salvador. It is a fun and interactive learning center that is divided into four areas; culture, technology, environment, and health. Kids can paint a VW, make paper, practice balance in the Gravity house, sit in the cockpit of a 727, and dozens of other activities. While surfing blogs from El Salvador, I came across this great entry from Laura, a Peace Corps volunteer in Ahuachapan, about a trip with local kids to the museum: a couple of kids said they'd never gone anywhere but ataco or ahuachapán....that this was the first time they'd been anywhere outside of their backyard. we pulled into the museum parking lot and their faces just lit up, like they'd just arrived at some magical place that only existed in their dreams. imagine what it was like once we got inside..... Read the entire entry here and see the great pictures of Laura's kids and their day at the museum.

An anniversary for El Salvador's national football team

On June 7, El Salvador's national football (soccer) team will play its first match in the 2007 Gold Cup tournament with a match against Trinidad & Tobago in Los Angeles. This international competition comes days before the anniversary of an important date in the history of Salvadoran soccer. June 15, 2007, will be the 25th anniversary of the one and only goal scored by a Salvadoran team in World Cup competition. (Unfortunately it came in the midst of a 10-1 loss to Hungary). The goal was scored by Luis Ramírez Zapata. A documentary titled Uno: The Story of a Goal has been produced to tell the tale of the 1982 team and that historic goal, and there is an interesting accompanying website. Here is the trailer for the documentary: UPDATE El Salvador won its first Gold Cup match against Trinidad & Tobago, 2-1.

Coffee fields yield to urban sprawl

A recent article in Reuters describes how a sprawl of housing developments is devouring coffee farms and endangering the country's already overstressed ecosystems: Only the size of Massachusetts, El Salvador has lost some 35,000 hectares of coffee farms, or 21 percent of the planted area, since its 2001 census, some to abandonment or other crops but much to urban sprawl. In its first harvest after its civil war, El Salvador produced 3.3 million 60 kg bags of beans. This year's harvest is estimated at just 1.24 million bags, and yields are well below international standards. Once the backbone of the economy, coffee growers have suffered from years of low international coffee prices, many are in debt and the decision to sell is easy. "El Salvadoran producers have had a series of setbacks that have made us lose our links with agriculture," said Jeff Holman, president of coffee exporter Volcan, who blames an economic structure based on workers who live abroad. "The

News of the week

News from El Salvador this week: President Tony Saca started his 4th year in office on June 1. His first three years have been marked by polarization in political discourse, lack of progress on crime and security, and close relations with the Bush administration in Washington including the passage of CAFTA, a continued troop presence in Iraq, the opening of the International Law Enforcement Academy, and further extensions of Temporary Protected Status for Salvadorans in the US. In his formal address to mark the end of the third year of his administration, Saca announced a plan to fund his initiatives for public security and education. These projects will now be funded through trust funds. The trust funds will be able to obtain international loans to finance their activities. The advantage to this mechanism? Saca asserts that creating the trust funds will only need a simple majority in the National Assembly, thus allowing him to circumvent FMLN legislators who have been blocking t