Showing posts from July, 2008

The war still claims victims

A tragic story in today's La Prensa Grafica . A little girl found an old grenade in a gully by her home. She took the grenade home to show her mother. In the house the grenade fell from her hands and exploded killing a 60 year old man in the house as well as two children and another adult. This follows only 4 weeks after a similar incident in which a child found a mine or a grenade, which exploded and injured 4 children in Chalatenango. These children are the tiny victims of a war fought before they were born.

The Monument to Memory and Truth

The Los Angeles Times published a recent story concerning the Monument to El Salvador's civillian war victims, located in Cuscatlan Park in San Salvador: Engraved with nearly 30,000 names, the Monument to Memory and Truth is a roll of dead and disappeared from the conflict, which ended in 1992. It is incomplete. Officially, the fighting between leftist guerrillas and the right-wing military government killed 75,000 and left thousands more missing. Not all the names of the war's victims were available when the monument project began, so the list is growing. The monument, erected five years ago by the city's leftist-run government, draws visitors from around the country to mourn loved ones confirmed killed in the political violence or, in many cases, who have simply vanished. An engraved name on this glinting stone is often the closest thing to a proper grave site many people will have. The neat rows of names represent bits of history, fibers of memory, personal anguish. &

The ongoing debate over the ILEA

Organizations which advocate for human rights in El Salvador continue to differ over the US-run International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) . At the ILEA, law enforcement instructors from the US teach courses to police, judges and prosecutors from El Salvador and the rest of Latin America. The courses taught at the ILEA cover topics such as trafficking in persons, anti-gang activities, drug crimes and crime scene management. I have previously expressed my support of the ILEA concept. The most recent embodiment of the debate over the ILEA began with an article in the NACLA Report on the Americas by Wes Enzinna, a UC-Berkley graduate student in Latin American Studies and freelance journalist. Enzinna's article contains a variety of attacks against the ILEA including the refusal of the school to release its list of graduates or its training materials, the opposition of Salvadoran human rights groups, the clear human rights abuses of El Salvador's National Police, statemen

El Salvador's National Soccer Team

There's a nice article on the website of FIFA with an interview with Carlos de los Cobos , coach of El Salvador's national soccer team: El Salvador's win over Panama last month in the North, Central American and Caribbean zone qualifiers for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ was one of the biggest shocks of the preliminary competition so far. Ranked 60 places below the Canaleros in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, the Cuscatlecos were not expected to unduly trouble their Central American cousins, and not even their own fans held out much hope of victory. However, no one gave the script to Carlos de los Cobos' men who, after a narrow 1-0 defeat in Panama, turned the tie around with a magnificent 3-1 win in San Salvador to progress to the first group phase of CONCACAF qualifying. So how did they do it? In an exclusive interview with, their Mexican coach gives his take on the resurgence of Salvadoran football. More than anyone, De los Cobos knows the diffic

Dynamite fishing threatens sea turtles

Environmentalists in El Salvador are seeking international support in their efforts to combat fishermen who are using dynamite to fish in some of El Salvador's environmentally sensitive waters. I came across this plea for help on the website of Deep Sea News : In an alarming trend, the practice of "dynamite" or "bomb" fishing has spread recently to Central America. Reports are coming in that hawksbill turtles are being blasted to death by explosive fishermen working in the Biosphere Reserve of the Bahia de Jiquilisco, El Salvador. At least seven turtles have been found dead, according to Michael Liles, Sea Turtle Conservation Project Coordinator for Fundacion Zoologica de El Salvador (FUNZEL). The use of explosives is exterminating all species of larvae, juvenile and adult fish, as well as crustaceous, mollusks, sea turtles, and other species of organism living throughout the Bahia de Jiquilisco. The practice spread from Southeast Asia, where dynamite fishi

UN report on jobs in El Salvador

Last week the United Nations Development Program issued an important report for understanding the economic situation facing El Salvador's families. The Report of Human Development in El Salvador 2007-08 presents a comprehensive overview of the job situation in the country: El Salvador is a country of workers. Not only because almost everyone has to work in order to earn their daily sustenance, but also because of the fame of its inhabitants as workers. The industriousness and enterprising nature are so deeply rooted in the Salvadoran identity that more than half of the population considers that "to be Salvadoran" is to be hard working. However, the work situation is far from being satisfactory for the majority of persons. This report has determined that when the greater part of the population complain that the country is either bad or very bad with respect to employment, it refers to the fact that there are very few opportunities for "dignified work." Di

Travellers in El Salvador

It's summer, so people are traveling to El Salvador and blogging about their experiences. Aaron and Lyndi, the Texas nomads, pretty much sum up what they and others have found: The fact of the matter is this: this country is beautiful, with some of the most friendly and helpful people I've met not on this journey but in my life, and with mountains, waterfalls, food festivals, great art and music scene, and killer surfing- it boasts just as much as the other C.A. countries. And if that doesn't draw you in, I need only say one word: Pupusas . Read their blog entries about Santa Ana and El Zonte . Other travelling bloggers include Alyssa Schwartz who is currently blogging from a service trip to El Salvador, and Nin Andrews who blogs as she visits her Peace Corps Volunteer daughter. Meanwhile Vanessa Nguyen arrived in San Salvador yesterday and writes about her travels in her blog Jungle Guerrilla Roadie .

Disability rights in El Salvador

Larissa Hotra, a Peace Fellow of the Advocacy Project working in El Salvador, has written an article on the site Upside Down World titled A Recent History of the Disability Rights Movement in El Salvador . Here's the introduction to the article: Many argue that El Salvador has come a long way towards trying to repair its disabled past by declaring itself mine-free in 1994, implementing the 2001 National Disability Rights law and ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007. The Permanent Table of the Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights (PDDH) and disability rights civil society organizations such as the Landmine Survivors Network have led the struggle in Central America to promote the rights of people with disabilities and guarantee them “free and equal access to services” through the construction of accessible infrastructure and much-needed legislation. And yet, El Salvador has only made nominal progress in implementing disabili

Two documentaries to watch for

Two upcoming documentaries will feature life in El Salvador, up close and personal. The first is Las Chulas . From the website of the film maker Rattle Can Films : Las Chulas is a character-driven documentary about coming of age and finding a place in post-Civil War El Salvador. The story follows the lives of three unique young girls; Maria, Yoselin, and Erika, as they face the challenges of growing up in a country rife with gang violence, drugs, and poverty. Living in a small beach community, the girls discover surfing and with it, a newfound sense of their own potential and the possibilities of a life beyond the everyday despair that threatens to smother them. Second is La Vida Loca , a film by Christian Poveda. From this film's website : Filmed in close-up using a hand-held camera, this will be La vida Loca, the crazy life, as the pandilleros say. For a year, the camera will focus on daily life in a base cell of one of the gigantic maras, the la Campanera MS-18 clique, compos

Viewing the economy

Here is a set of contrasting views about the economic situation in El Salvador. First, the view of the ARENA government as described in an article from the Washington Times on July 17: Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Eduardo Calix appears not overly worried. He recently noted that "the election is still a long way off" and finds it difficult to believe a majority of voters will back the FMLN. "The election will be a battle between our democratic system and their revolutionary system, at a time when the country is having unprecedented peace and prosperity. Backed by Venezuela and others, the FMLN want to completely change our economic and social system. "It will be a passionate campaign," Mr. Cadiz acknowledges, "but the FMLN cannot ignore the improvement in the lives of most citizens over the past several years, and they cannot resort, as before, to violence - the government will not permit it. El Salvador enjoys political security and a solid financia

Salvadoran diplomats saved thousands of Jews from Holocaust

A lengthy article article in the Washington Post this week recounts events in history I have mentioned before , where Salvadoran diplomats during World War II were responsible for saving the lives of thousands of Jews from Nazi extermination camps: On government business in Europe before the war, Castellanos meets George Mandel. The war starts. Castellanos is posted to a succession of European cities as a diplomat. With Nazi tanks overrunning the continent, Mandel, as a Jew, knows he's in peril and turns to his friend. Castellanos makes Mandel an honorary Salvadoran diplomat and gives him a Salvadoran passport. Mandel changes his name to Mandel-Mantello, to give it a more Latin ring. Castellanos issues Salvadoran visas to other European Jews. By 1942, Castellanos becomes the Salvadoran General Consul in Geneva and appoints Mandel-Mantello the consulate's "first secretary," a fictitious title that does not exist in the Salvadoran diplomatic hierarchy. Mandel-Mantello

Rodrigo Ávila's grand crusade

Some 50,000 ARENA supporters, dressed in the tri-color red, white and blue of their party, converged on Cuscatlan Stadium in San Salvador on Sunday. Billed as the "Grand Crusade for San Salvador," ARENA wanted to show that it could turn out crowds for its presidential candidate Rodrigo Ávila as large as those following Mauricio Funes. ( El Faro raised doubts about Sunday's crowd when it reported that many government ministries conveyed the "suggestion" to their employees that they should turn out for the ARENA rally). One of the biggest questions about Rodrigo Ávila's campaign is who will be his vice-presidential running-mate. Current predictions are that it will be Arturo Zablah , the businessman, ex-minister of the economy, who tried to run for El Salvador's presidency as a candidate in the center earlier this year but was unable to pull together a coalition. Negotiations between Zablah and Avila are reportedly in progress , with Zablah asking

El Salvador officials urge expats to invest

Local officials from El Salvador are touring communities of Salvadorans living abroad, looking for investment in local communities as described in this story in the Boston Globe : Nearly a dozen mayors, city councilors, and town administrators from the Central American nation swept through Massachusetts during the past two weeks to urge immigrants to invest in their homelands, create jobs, and - ultimately - prevent Salvadorans from having to immigrate to the United States for work. About 1 million Salvadorans now live in the United States, including more than 17,000 in Massachusetts. The mayors are reaching out directly to émigrés as part of a new government-sponsored program, asking them to form committees or invest on their own. Salvadoran immigrants already send home $3.3 billion a year, and nearly 30 percent of adults in El Salvador depend on the money to cover basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter, according to the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington. The mone

Considering gold mining permits

In my post titled How Pacific Rim has been treated , I raised a series of questions about the process. Roddy Hughes at Voices on the Border provided me with a set of thoughtful responses to those questions which I reproduce here: 1. Pacific Rim has apparently provided (I have not seen it) an environmental impact assessment which it believes shows that the environmental risks will be minimal. Shouldn't Pacific Rim be allowed a fair hearing on that environmental impact statement? If it has not been given that fair hearing, why not? If it has not had a fair hearing, what is the message which El Salvador is sending to those who might want to invest in the country in the future? A few years ago Pacific Rim filed an environmental impact statement with the Ministry. It was a half-hearted effort to satisfy requirements under the law on the environment and the law on mining. The government, in an equally half-hearted manner, complied with their requirement to make the EIS available

Visiting El Mozote

One week ago, I visited El Mozote in Morazan department, El Salvador for the first time. In the years before this visit, I had read many accounts of the massacre which occurred there in December 1981 including the initial story reported by Raymond Bonner in the New York Times, the UN truth commission report followng the war, Mark Danner's book The Massacre at El Mozote and Danner's article The Truth of El Mozote in the New Yorker. I have also watched video of Rufina Amaya, the sole survivor of the massacre, providing her testimony. More than 1000 civilians were killed by the Alcatl Battalion of the Salvadoran armed forces. So intellectually I knew what had occurred almost 27 years ago, but the impact of actually being at the site of such horror was powerful. Particularly heart-wrenching is the Garden of the Innocents, next to the restored church, where the remains of 146 children are buried. There names and ages are inscribed on plaques on the wall of the church, fr

Rains bring tragedy and challenges

A tragic loss of life last week brought renewed focus on the need for government bodies in El Salvador to act on infrastructure projects to reduce flooding and other risks. Last Thursday night, 31 members of El Salvador's Elim Church were drowned as their bus was swept into a raging river current and smashed against a bridge pylon. In a fierce thunderstorm that night, more than 5 inches (128mm) of rain fell, and the river Acelhuate overflowed its banks. The torrent caught the bus full of worshipers from the large evangelical church and pulled it into the river's concrete channel. A camera and video team from El Diario de Hoy just happened to be in the exact area and caught the last moments of the bus on video . Through the following days, the press was filled with reports of the grieving families, the story of the one survivor, and the search for bodies which were carried by the river's current all the way to Chalatenango. Many sought answers for the cause of the traged

Gilberto Soto murder still has open questions

I had the pleasure of meeting with Ernesto Rivas Gallont when I was in San Salvador last week. He was El Salvador's ambassador to the US during the 1980's, and now is a newspaper columnist, blogger, and wise observer of current events in the country. I'll be touching on some of the topics we discussed in upcoming posts. In Don Ernesto's regular Sunday column in La Prensa Grafica this Sunday, he brought up the still unresolved (except in the view of the PNC) case of Gilberto Soto . Soto was a Teamsters union organizer from the US who was killed while visiting his mother in El Salvador. The column includes the text of a letter to president Tony Saca from US Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, pushing for a reopened investigation into the Soto murder: According to information I have received, a recent motion in the National Assembly which called for a new investigation of the Soto case was opposed, and defeated, by your government. This concerns me, and I urge you

How Pacific Rim has been treated

Following the announcement from Canadian gold-mining company Pacific Rim that it was suspending its efforts to develop a gold mine in El Salvador, the website MineWeb published an article with a long discussion with Pacific Rim's president, Tom Shrake : Pacific Rim has put up with destruction of property, threats on the lives of its employees, and frightened witnesses who refuse to testify against the perpetrators. Ironically, the environmental quality of the project isn't a serious point of contention. An Inco process will oxidize and destroy any cyanide used in the operation. A water treatment plant will treat all water discharge from the operations. Water quality is so optimal at the site that a tailings pond can eventually safely serve as a reservoir for local communities. And, Shrake noted that there is no acid generation potential at El Dorado. Shrake does not even suggest that El Salvador's Government is in any way corrupt or incompetent. Nevertheless, he asserted

Gold mining company Pacific Rim cuts operations in El Salvador

Canadian gold mining company, Pacific Rim is blaming an anti-mining atmosphere and politics for its decision to suspend drilling operations and lay off workers in El Salvador according to reports today: TORONTO, July 3 ( Reuters ) - Pacific Rim Mining has cut its work force and suspended drilling in El Salvador due to frustration over a lengthy permitting process for its El Dorado gold mine, the Canadian company said on Thursday, sending its stock down by 34 percent. However, the company will not abandon the assets and has ruled out selling them, Chief Executive Thomas Shrake said in an interview. El Dorado "is a very attractive mine, high margin, environmentally solid, and the other projects that we have just have extremely high odds of success," he said. In addition to El Dorado, Pacific Rim owns the Santa Rita and Zamora gold projects in the Central American country. It also owns a 49 percent interest in the Denton-Rawhide gold mine in Nevada, as w

Crime statistics

I used to blog almost monthly about murder statistics in El Salvador. I stopped doing it so regularly because (a) it was depressing and (b) some criticized me for giving El Salvador a bad name and potentially scaring off people who might want to visit. Still, since violent crime is one of the number one worries of Salvadorans, it worth looking at the most recent statistics, as published in El Mundo : There were 1279 murders through May 2008, or approximately 8.5 per day. The departments with the fewest murders are Chaletenango and Morazan. Almost 90% of the victims are male and almost 70% are between the ages of 15 and 34. 160 municipalities have registered at least one homicide, while 102 have not seen a murder this year. The national homicide rate is 60.9 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. The most violent municipality is Quezaltepeque with a homicide rate of 175 per 100,000. It's still depressing.