Showing posts from March, 2008

Gangs recruiting children

A disturbing article from the IPS news service reports that the gangs in El Salvador are beginning to recruit pre-teens to join the criminal groups: The National Public Security Council (CNSP), the government agency in charge of violence prevention, says the typical age of entry has gone down from 14 to 12. And a U.S. State Department report presented to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights says the maras recruit children as young as nine years of age. According to Óscar Bonilla, president of the CNSP, the cliques, which control specific areas within neighbourhoods, offer "brand-name shoes and clothes, money and anything else that is attractive to kids." In his view, the strategy is two-pronged: to rebuild the strength of the gangs, many of whose members are in prison, and to recruit members who are too young to face legal charges. "Under the legal system that emerged from the peace agreement, minors cannot be tried, even when they commit serious crimes like ho

The missing children of El Salvador

Amnesty International released this this statement today: Sixteen years after the end of El Salvador's civil war, the whereabouts of hundreds of children who disappeared during the conflict remain unknown. 29 March has been designated as the "Day dedicated to the children who disappeared during the internal conflict" in El Salvador. Yet the country's government has done little to reunite the missing children with their families, despite an international ruling obliging them to do so. Of more than 700 children who disappeared in the conflict (1980-1992), around 330 have been located, largely due to the work of a local human rights organization. The rest still remain unaccounted for. Ernestina and Erlinda Serrano Cruz, sisters aged 7 and 3, are two such victims. They were captured by the Salvadorean army on 2 June 1982. After the war, the girls' mother submitted a complaint about her daughters' kidnapping. The Inter-American Human Rights Court ruled in 2005, af

The ongoing case of Record Batteries

A complicated tale of law, science, sick children, environmental concerns, and politics is playing out in El Salvador's legal system. Regular readers of this blog will remember the situation of Record Batteries -- the company which operated a facility for recycling lead acid batteries in the western part of El Salvador. El Salvador's health ministry shut down the plant last September. The closure followed a campaign by environmental groups, human rights organizations, politicians and media stories. ( More here ). While that action may have been the end of the factory, it was only the beginning of legal proceedings. Investigative journalist Jorge Avalos described in a lengthy article how the closure had been filled with legal gaps, and, perhaps more seriously, the sudden closure left a warehouse full of partly processed toxic materials creating a new environmental hazard. Now prosecutors in El Salvador have brought criminal charges against the plant directors and the envir

Increased visitors to El Salvador during vacations

El Salvador showed a growth in the number of visitors entering the country during the Holy Week vacations according to Ministry of Tourism figures : The head of tourism reported that 59,340 tourists visited El Salvador during the holidays, arriving by sea and land, which represented a 17.5% increase over last year. The rise generated 20 million dollars in revenues, in comparison with 18 million last year. "There has been a 24.2% drop in departures, which means that Salvadoreans are preferring to stay at home, something we have witnessed on our beaches and in our mountains throughout the Easter season, when there has been a larger flow of tourists", the official reported. According to Minister Rochi, a total 70,780 Salvadoreans left the country during the Easter season, a 24.2% drop over last year, when 93,364 chose to travel abroad (32.4% rise with respect to the previous year). So the country is approaching the level where those leaving the country and those ente

The carpets of Holy Week

Somehow in the four Holy Weeks which have happened since I have been writing this blog, I have failed to describe the tradition of "alfombras" - carpets -- created in the streets of the country during Holy Week. The alfombras are made by families, groups or organizations with salt and sand and make intricate, and temporary, works of beautiful art where Holy Week processions will soon pass. Two of my favorite Salvadoran bloggers devoted posts this past week to the alfombras with many pictures of this year's art work. The post by my friend Hunnapuh can be found here , and writer and poet Nora Mendez offers her photos here .

28th anniversary of Romero assassination

Today is the 28th anniversary of the slaying of Archbishop Oscar Romero. After 28 years, the murder remains a glaring example of impunity -- the failure to hold those responsible accountable for a heinous crime. It was clear from the beginning that the government had no interest in prosecuting this crime: In statements made in 1982, Judge Ramírez Amaya--the first of four judges to sit in the case--referred to "premeditated omissions on the part of the officials in charge of justice" aimed at "covering up the assassination from the beginning." The Judge stated, in this regard: Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero was assassinated the afternoon of Monday, March 24, by one shot. I do not believe that the crime will be resolved under the current circumstances. Above all, I believe that no one will be indicted as a result of the work currently being done. The Criminal Investigations Section of the National Police intervenes in all cases of violent death, even obvious case

Feliz Pascua -- Happy Easter

My best wishes for a Happy Easter to everyone. Here is a wide collection of images from the past week in El Salvador: Holy Week 2008 Antiguo Cuscatlan Tourist Center Los Chorros overflowing with vacationers . Passion play in the streets of San Simon in Morazan Department . Street art of Holy Week on the streets of the capital Sun, beach and sand Images of Holy Week by Walkyman Holy Week processions in Sonsonante The Talciquines (devils) in Texistepeque El Salvador's coast full of tourists Holy Week processions in western El Salvador . Procession of the bound Christ . Pictures from various tourist centers / water parks in El Salvador. Images of the celebration of the washing of the feet in Chalchuapa Carnival del Sol festival on the Costa del Sol Videos Collection of videos from El Diario de Hoy . Photo at top by Rene Aguiluz on Flickr.

World Water Day

World Water Day is Saturday, March 22. To commemorate the date, El Salvador's Human Rights Ombudsman, Oscar Luna, issued a statement on the fundamental natuare of water as a human right. Here is a translated excerpt: The right to water is a fundamental human right, essential for the realization of a life of dignity and a precondition for the realization of other rights, in as much as water is a determinant of public health and thus for the rights to health, to environment, to food, and to enjoyment of an adequate standard of living and all other rights. It is essential to have water in sufficient amounts and quality and treatment and sustainable exploitation, to meet the core needs of the population and to ensure the good health and proper development of present and future generations. Luna calls on Salvadoran government and society to take measures to address environmental degradation to the hydrologic cycle. He decries a general lack of interest by the government in address

Solidarity or Foreign Agent?

An organization in the US with long, historic ties to El Salvador's left, is warning that the US government is harrassing it. The Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) has denounced a letter it received from the US Justice Department which asks CISPES to provide information about its relationship with the FMLN and the presidential campaign of Mauricio Funes so that the Justice Department can determine if CISPES must register as an "agent of a foreign principal" under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. The Justice Department letter states: It has come to our attention through published accounts in The Washington Post and numerous online sources including your organization's public web page,... that the Farabundo Marti Liberation Front (FMLN), and/or possibly its candidate for El Salvador’s 2009 presidential election, Mauricio Funes, hired your organization for the purposes of conducting a public relations media campaign to include po

Violence behind prison walls

El Salvador's prisons are violent, overcrowded and ineffective as Raul Guttierez at IPS writes in his article titled Prisons Out of Control: The murder of eight inmates in two prisons in El Salvador has once again drawn attention to the serious problems plaguing the prison system, such as severe overcrowding, a lack of rehabilitation programmes and the housing of pretrial detainees with convicted criminals.... While internal power struggles between different "cliques" in the gang might be behind the murders, it should not be forgotten that the killings occurred "basically because of the overcrowding," the "lack of rehabilitation programmes" for prisoners and the deplorable conditions in the country’s jails, said Nelson Flores, coordinator of the Penal Studies Centre (CEPES) in the Foundation for the Study of the Application of the Law. (FESPAD). Minister of Public Security and Justice René Figueroa told the press that the deaths of the prisoners, who w

Holy Week -- Vacation Week

Holy Week has begun throughout the Christian world, and in Latin America and El Salvador it's the start of a week of vacations. The observances of the religious faithful and the secular attractions of beaches and vacations are on display at the website of El Salvador's major print newspapers. Both La Prensa Grafica and El Diario de Hoy have special sections devoted to Holy Week and to enjoying your vacation: La Prensa : Holy Week | Vacations 2008 El Diario : Holy Week | Vacations 2008 Go to any of these sites for video and photos of the religious and secular celebrations of this week.

It's Ávila v. Funes

El Salvador's governing ARENA party has chosen Rodrigo Ávila as its candidate to run for president in March 2009. The former director of El Salvador's National Police will face Mauricio Funes, the former TV news interviewer who is the candidate of the leftist FMLN. Rodrigo Ávila was most recently the Director of the National Civil Police during 2006 and 2007. He previously served as the Vice-Minister of Public Security and as a member of the National Assembly. Prior to his service in the National Assembly, he served at various levels in the National Civil Police including being the director from 1994 through 1999. Avila graduated from North Carolina State University Raleigh, with a degree in industrial engineering and has a degree in mathematics and business administration from Gainesville College in Georgia. ( Official bio from the office of the Salvadoran president ). Avila is said to be tied very closely to president Tony Saca and to the leading members of COENA

US economic woes impact El Salvador

In 2007, remittances from Salvadorans living abroad, mostly in the US, hit a record $3.7 billion and consituted 18% of the country's gross domestic product. But this stream of economic support may be weakening. Marcela Sanchez, in her column in the Washington Post described how the US economic slowdown has a ripple impact on El Salvador's economy: While economists predict that a recession in the U.S. will have a major impact among its closest trading partners such as El Salvador, Latin Americans don't have to read macroeconomic indexes to feel the pinch. As manufacturing and construction slow in the U.S., and the amount of work dwindles, immigrant laborers are having a hard time making ends meet, let alone sending money back home.... In the past, remittances have traditionally increased in times of greatest need, such as in response to economic slumps or natural disasters. Remittances rose significantly after Mexico's 1995 financial crisis and following hurricanes in

Good travel writing

I love it when a good travel writer describes some of what El Salvador has to offer the visitor, and it seems to be happening more often these days. Here is an excerpt from an article titled El Salvador: Somewhere over the rainbow , which appeared recently: I'm walking through nature's mini-bar, though taking a cocktail in this heat would be suicide. My guide, or barman as I'm tempted to address him, stops again as we heave ourselves through the viscous floors of the ascending forest. He plucks a spindly white plant out of the ground. Pressing it against my nose I'm taken away from the forests of the remote far west of El Salvador and transported to the veranda of one of the bars nestled miles away on the country's Pacific coastline. The aroma of lime is so accurate, so utterly there in its sweet acidity that it only needed a straw and a beaming barmaid in order for it to become the perfect caipirinha. "This is called the Arrayn Silvestre," says the guid

School break trips to El Salvador

This time of year, a number of stories appear in the press about college students using their school breaks for projects in El Salvador. For example, students from the University of Wisconsin in Engineers Without Borders spent their winter break in El Salvador on a waste water project: New Year's Eve in Nejapa, El Salvador, looks a lot like the Fourth of July. At Griselda Guzman's house, homemade fireworks lighted the front yard, where the guests dancing outside her pale yellow home included 11 University of Wisconsin-Madison engineering students and three advisers. Students from the UW-Madison chapter of Engineers Without Borders spent their winter break in El Salvador to begin construction on a gravity-based wastewater system that will link two nearby communities to the sewer system in the larger city of Nejapa. That first night of celebration launched three weeks of local hospitality toward the students, who are members of the UW-Madison chapter of Engineers Without Borders

Saving children from the gangs

The English language edition of the Al Jazeera television work broadcast this week a documentary about Barefoot Angels, an organization working to rescue kids at risk in the city of Santa Ana. The network's web page for its program People & Power describes the group: [Eleven year old] Marlon, however, declares he "will not go with the gangs anymore" because of Barefoot Angels, an organization which works in Santa Ana, El Salvador's second-largest city, which attempts to help youths cope with violence and keep them out of gangs. The team of seven professionals, headed by Lucy Guzman, includes social workers, psychologists and educators and for the last ten years has tried to provide a refuge for children from the fear of violence. "What we do is try to make a circle of psychological attention, for those children who have to suffer a lot of violence," Guzman says, highlighting activities such as puppet-making, painting and drama. Al Jazeera makes progra

Mauricio Funes on US relations

In recent posts I've highlighted comments by the US Ambassador to El Salvador on the relationship of the two countries as well as remarks made by president Tony Saca to the Miami Herald where he complained about US failures to implement immigration reform and to invest more in Latin America. To round out this theme, here are a set of recent remarks which FMLN candidate for president, Mauricio Funes, made to the international press as reported in ContraPunto : "Con Washington hemos comenzado contactos y lo que hemos exigido es una relación de respeto y de no injerencia como ha sido en el pasado cuando funcionarios de alto nivel amenazaron al FMLN si ganaba éste las elecciones", aseguró Funes, en referencia a la campaña que algunos funcionarios estadounidenses llevaron a cabo referente a que si la izquierda hubiese ganado en 2004 se entorpecería el flujo de remesas hacia El Salvador... "With Washington we have begun contacts and what we have demanded is a relations

International Women's Day

Trinidad -- director of a homeless shelter in central San Salvador. Yesterday, March 8, was International Women's Day . To celebrate, the online version of La Prensa Grafica posted an inspiring gallery of portraits of Salvadoran women. I have met many strong and courageous women, young and old, in El Salvador. The country owes much to them.

In the coffee forest

It's been some time since I pointed out an entry from one of the blogs of US Peace Corps volunteers in El Salvador. Here's a recent post by Laura V, who works in the area of Apaneca in Ahuachapan department, a coffee producing area. In her post, In the coffee forest , Laura describes in pictures and words the coffee harvest: I was able to get some really good pictures of what it´s like after the coffee pickers have finished cutting coffee for the day and have brought it back to the finca to sort and bag up. a coffee finca is basically just a piece of property where there are any number of coffee trees. the owner of that land normally has an ¨mandador¨or ¨colono¨ - someone who lives in a house in the center of the land and maintains the place for the owner. this central area is usually where all the people who are employed to cut the coffee from that particular finca congregate at the end of the day to gather all the coffee that was picked and to work out how much money they a

Saca on the US role in Latin America

In an article titled, Is the Monroe doctrine dead? , the Miami Herald , describes the waning influence of the United States in Latin America. One of the people the article quotes is El Salvador's president Tony Saca: El Salvador's President Tony Saca, a close U.S. ally, can scarcely contain his frustration. He calls U.S. politicians ''shortsighted'' for failing to reform U.S. immigration laws. He says Latin American populism is ''a pendulum swing towards disaster'' that deserves more U.S. attention. ''The United States, in my judgment, should invest enormous resources in Latin America, along the lines of a Marshall Plan,'' he said in a recent interview. ``Generally speaking, when you want to have a neighborhood that gives you peace of mind, you have to invest in that neighborhood.'' There may be little the United States can do for Saca. President Bush has increased aid to Latin America by record amounts and visited Latin

US Ambassador addresses El Salvador's challenges

US Ambassador to El Salvador Charles Glazer delivered a speech to the local American Chamber of Commerce this morning. In the speech he challenged all sectors of Salvadoran society to confront various challenges and described the role the US was playing. Here is an excerpt: Even with all we have accomplished together, a number of challenges lie ahead. I see two major challenges for Salvadoran political, business and civic leaders. The first is to preserve and nurture this positive investment climate. The second challenge is to ensure that economic prosperity resulting from your positive trade policies benefits all Salvadorans across all sectors of society. Taking concrete steps to spread the economic benefits of free trade and a market economy will strengthen democracy, increase confidence in public and private institutions, deter criminal activity, allow Salvadorans to find their financial future here rather than overseas, and most importantly of all, improve the lives of so m


This post represents a milestone. It is post number 1000 since I started the blog. Help me with ideas for the blog going forward. Add a comment to this post letting me know what you would like to see in the next 1000 posts. What topics do I pay too little attention to? What would make the blog more useful? I'm also interested in anyone who wants to be a guest blogger. If you think you would like to contribute to the blog from time to time, please let me know. You'll start noticing some changes in the right hand column over the next few weeks. Starting today, for example, there is a topical index in addition to the date archive. (Unfortunately I have not yet assigned a topic to a large number of the 1000 posts). I will be creating updated lists of blogs, news sources, and solidarity organizations. I also plan to update some of the pictures on the site. If you've found part of the last 1000 posts useful, spread the word and let other people know about this blo

Medical tourism to El Salvador

The Fox News Health Blog has been running a series of articles about one person's trip from the US to El Salvador to get expensive dental procedures performed. The cost of the procedures was much less in El Salvador than in the US, and so the trip becomes both a medical treatment and a tropical vacation. Here is an excerpt from one of the posts: He did a brief exam of Doug’s mouth and made a few slight changes to the treatment plan. He went over everything in detail with Doug: Doug would come in the next day for prep work and cleaning; he would have the major work done the following day. Ricardo, also known as “Ricky,” then took us to check into our hotel. An enormous bouquet of flowers greeted us when we walked into our room. Dr. Lorenzana sent them with a note welcoming us to El Salvador. The room overlooked a pool with a waterfall; the air smelled of tropical plants and the temperature was in the 80s. We heard it was snowing in New York. Here are links to the entire s

One way flights to El Salvador courtesy of ICE

A week ago I wrote about the 20,000 Salvadorans deported from the United States in 2007. Yesterday the Los Angeles Times carried a lengthy story about the journey of one Salvadoran who has become part of the growing list of immigrants deported so far this year: Henry Fuentes closes his eyes and tries to sleep. But he can't. He is restless. He looks out the airplane window. This may be the last time he sees the United States. In less than three hours, he will land in El Salvador, a country he hasn't seen in eight years. Fuentes hadn't planned on returning. Immigration agents arrested him at his Houston apartment last month. Now the government was flying him and 115 other illegal immigrants back to Central America. Some had just crossed the border. Others, like Fuentes, had spent years in the United States and held jobs, owned cars and started families. Like Fuentes, most of the deportees have mixed feelings about being sent home. They are angry about being deported but