A New Archbishop

Guest post by Carlos X. Colorado

The new Archbishop of San Salvador, Msgr. Jose Luis Escobar Alas took possession of his archdiocese in a solemn ceremony at the San Salvador Metropolitan Cathedral, attended by cardinals and government officials, including the outgoing ARENA President of El Salvador and the outgoing FMLN mayor of San Salvador, who took turns reading from Scripture at the ceremony. The 49 year-old new archbishop offered a striking contrast both in style and in substance to the man he is replacing, the 75 year-old Msgr. Fernando Saenz Lacalle.

Where Saenz’ homilies were typically light fare, Escobar’s inaugural homily was methodical and thoughtful, striking many notes that should be music to the ears of San Salvador clergy and lay activists, many of whom have grown weary of Saenz. Most dramatically, Escobar reiterated off the bat that he remains opposed to gold mining in El Salvador for the foreseeable future. Appearing to close off any possibility of reconsidering or revisiting the question any time soon, Escobar argued that “we are too small and too populated a country, and we have suffered so much that it is not possible that we should also have to suffer” from what he said would be large scale permanent water contamination, if mining operations were begun.

Escobar also promised to work “shoulder to shoulder” with the priests of the archdiocese, a perhaps unintended knock at the retiring Saenz, who has been seen as aloof and removed from the clergy and from lay groups. Additionally, the conservative Saenz has been accused of leading purges of progressive clergy. Importantly, Escobar promised that the work of the Church will be impartial, but “if we must have some preference, it will be in favor of the sick and of the poorest of the poor.”

In this last regard, Escobar used a powerful image: his own episcopal seal, which he described as a large Communion chalice, with the Blessed Virgin at its base. Escobar said that, beside Virgin Mary, on his seal were a poor man, lying on the street, and his daughter begging for a handout. By this image, Escobar said he sought to illustrate “the great rotational axes of my ministry” -- love of the Blessed Sacrament, love of the Blessed Virgin, and love of the poor -- and the correspondence between the poor and body of Christ. A similar theology underscored the ministry of the three archbishops that preceded Archbishop Saenz. Escobar said this was the Christian ministry of the 21st Century.

Escobar said he offered his “extended hand” to Salvadorans in the country and abroad, and to the priests of the diocese.

The new archbishop got his biggest applause line when he invoked the name of his most famous predecessor, the late Archbishop Romero, assassinated in March 1980 at the beginning of the civil war. In a methodical presentation, Escobar invoked each of the nine bishops that preceded him, distilling the contribution of each man to a summarizing phrase (the first, Bishop Viteri, was “admirable for his brilliant intelligence;” the next man, Bishop Pineda, was “zealous and valiant;” Bishop Carcamo was “a spiritual bishop, deeply devoted to the Lord St. Joseph,” etc.). When he got to Romero (“the martyr bishop”), the crowd erupted into sustained applause. Escobar returned to Romero after he finished the litany of the bishops, saying that, “I invoke in a special way the intercession of Archbishop Romero, who watches us from Heaven, and accompanies and blesses us.”

Archbishop Escobar will be able to preside over the San Salvador archdiocese for over a quarter century if his health holds up.\

See video highlights of the ceremony at this link.


El-Visitador said…
« Appearing to close off any possibility of reconsidering or revisiting the question any time soon, Escobar argued that “we are too small and too populated a country, and we have suffered so much that it is not possible that we should also have to suffer” from what he said would be large scale permanent water contamination, if mining operations were begun.»

Barf. Yet another ignorant luddite. In Charles Dickens' time, this ignorant man would have damned Eliah Whitney for his cotton gins ("putting men out of work") and then James Watt for his dirty steam engine.

For backward men such as Escobar, it would be better if we all were peasants, like before the Industrial Revolution. No machines, no pollution, in their little imaginations.

What wilful ignorance, what poor country so ignores the resources of its land?
From Mark Davis said…
Does one "ignore the resources of one's land" by avoiding large scale water contamination? We have to approach industrial technology differently today than during the industrial revolution, because we understand better that mining operations can lead to disastrous health problems for people living downstream. That is not a "luddite" reaction; it is an advanced way of thinking past the immediate benefits and recognizing the long-term costs of our actions.
Anonymous said…
Apparently Davis is a luddite as well as Alas. I appreciated that Alas can be so ignorant as to say, "If today we are not capable of exploiting our mines cleanly, without contamination, maybe the coming generations will be able to do so". Im sorry, I am changing my religious affiliation to the Church of England or maybe the LDS Church. This kind of blatant stupidity makes me wonder if I can in good conscience remain with a group so mired in the dark ages. Obviously Alas is as on the take as are the majority of the Universal church here in El Salvador. Selling their souls for the almighty buck from the NGO's instead of doing something to improve the lives of the people. All Alas would have to do would be to visit a modern mine or really talk with the mining community to see that there is less problem from contamination than from an industry like Hanes of El Salvador that was mentioned in the paper last week. I have heard that Pacific Rim met with him in San Vicente and he obviously chose not to clean the wax out of his ears then either. Maybe Q-tips should be part of the kit for Catholic clergy so they can learn something. Cyanide is not the problem in mining, cyanide is destroyed before it can ever come in contact with the environment. The problems in mining are the people that can't see past the end of their noses and their self aggrandizing agendas. It appears that Alas wants the poor prople right where he has them, jobless and without hope or on the NGO dole so they are always beholden to the church. That kind of mindless control smacks of communism and liberation theology to me. Count me out!
humble_pie said…
Several years ago, Pacific Rim was advertising itself as a rare bright hope, a humane, fair, and clean contemporary miner.

We need companies like that. The world is not going to give up mining. We need companies that can adjust to an exceedingly high technical bar.

What I found a few years ago is that Pacific Rim's proposal left a lot to be desired. On the financial side their offer was meagre, parsimonious, even miserly. The proposed royalty was ridiculously low, about half of the world's going rate in 2006. There was no hint of willingness to offer partial ownership to any Salvadoran organization. Most ominously of all, there was no remediation or reparation bond. These latter are multi-million dollar bonds required by every north American jurisdiction as a safeguard against cleanup costs and/or mine closure costs.

Canadian miners notoriously have not offered remediation bonds in 3rd world countries because these countries typically did not have enough experience to know to demand them. Thus horrifying stories of mine accident and mine abandonment have occurred, time and time and time again.

The other big negative that I saw a few years ago was the water engineering plan. This has never been properly described. Although the proposed mine at El Dorado will consume something like 10,000 liters of water per second, the plan was to use 100% recycled water by building a large reservoir and recycling back from the tailings pond after purification. There was, Pacific Rim thought in 2005, enough rainfall in el Salvador to facilitate such a water architecture. There would be no drawdown from the existing water table, Pacific Rim said. Any water discharged into the river system would be so purified by the tailings pond treatment system that it would be cleaner than the Lempa, Pacific Rim said. It would be clean enough for people to drink, Pacific Rim said. They did not say, but one could infer, that such water could be shipped straight to Buckingham palace to make the tea for a garden party.

I happen to believe that the real water concern from Pacific Rim's operations would not be a cyanide leak accident. The real concern would be that, if the Buckingham palace waterworks fail, Pacific Rim's successor (as a small exploration company, they are going to sell the enterprise to a larger production miner) - the concern would be that this successor El Dorado owner will tap into deep local aquifers, possibly without the authorities even knowing, and thus the mine operation will put all the citizens of the region at risk. Lack of water is a major issue in el Salvador.

Flash forward to 2009 and the projected size of the mine at el Dorado has doubled thanks to Pacific Rim's highly successful exploration work. But rainfall in the region has not doubled. There has not been one word from the company about any modification to the water engineering plan. How can it still be adequate.

With respect to the financial offer, there has been almost no improvement to date. There is still no remediation bond, although here and there one hears rumors that one - the fianca - may have been discussed. There has been no offer of partial ownership, although fairness would suggest, for example, that a single-digit percentage be offered to the national government and another single-digit percentage to each of the 2 local municipal governments. As a benchmark, one should note that mining giant Rio Tinto has offered 34% ownership of its valuable Oyu Tolgoi copper/gold property to the government of Mongolia, whose radical faction has seen fit to respond by demanding 100% ownership !

Pacific Rim did recently and grudgingly increase the royalty payment from 2% to 2.5%, although other miners in other countries aren't blinking over a royalty of 5%.

Flash forward to 2009. The foregoing was then, and this is now. The time for Pacific Rim to have radically improved its offer was 2007. Unbelievably, during that year they chose instead to partner with the PCN, although it was abundantly clear that the FMLN would enlarge its power in the 2009 elections. Also during that 2007 period, Pacific Rim had the audacity to write up its own new mining law, one that would give them a quick-and-easy drive-by permit for El Dorado, and in 2008 their bespoke PCN deputy Orlando Arevalo and his pals tried to get this bill passed in the national assembly. Enemies of Pacific Rim say the PCN was bribed.

These were colossal blunders. One wonders who could have advised Pacific Rim to behave so clumsily. Was this the Canadian embassy's quaint idea of how to do business in a 3rd world country?

The long and relentless drumbeat of blunders may have spelled curtains forever for Pacific Rim in El Salvador.
Anonymous said…
Humble Pie is as ridiculous as the Catholic church! For one thing he has no knowledge of what he is talking about and needs to eat some humble pie instead of shooting off his face and showing his ignorance of the facts.

For one thing Pacific Rim has nothing to do with the local royalty structure; that structure is set by law. 1% for the local government and 1% for the central government, of the gross revenues. Now here is where Humble Pie needs to wake up and put his brain in gear; that is 2% of the gross revenues. That is revenues before anything else is subtracted such as operating costs,taxes, wages etc. This seems to be a very hard concept for the feeble minded.

Pacific Rim suggested to the group that proposed a revised mining law that the royalty on gross revenues should be brought into line with the "majority" of the other mining coutries and be raised to 3% of the "gross proceeds". Are we awake yet??? That proposed mining law was rejected because it was way to similar to the mining law of a real socialist mining country like Chile. By the way Humble, which countries are getting %5? Peru tried to extort the mining companies and the companies agreed to take their investment dollars to other countries as it wasn't feasible.

As for the tripe about no reclamation bond, Humble Sty needs to read El Salvadoran environmental law. There is plenty of stipulation for a reclamation bond and PacRim included it in their feasibility study and the EIS.

Lets go back to the water issue. Our little brain dead, anti-mining, supposed do-gooders can't even get their facts right on that. Some independent swiss group comes in and does a hydrogeological study of the country and then went and did a silly thing like put the map in the paper showing that there are no aquifers in the proposed area of the mine in Cabanas. If there is no large aquifer in that part of Cabanas how is Humble able to find so much water??? He should go into the well drilling business and put his money where his mouth is. Time to pull the head out of the dark place! Besides which PacRim never said they would make the water potable they said they "could" make the water potable. Throw enough money at it and you can do anything. It just might not make business sense. Humble is not smart enough to realize that some cities in the US and Europe drink water that has been potabilized from sewage. What PacRim said was that the water would meet every standard for discharge of the USEPA and the El Salvadoran proposed water standard, which is in some items is more strict than EPA's standard.

If humble thinks the Lempa is clean he needs to start drinking it. The water that PacRim would have discharged at the levels stipulated by law would be cleaner than the Lempa. I was told that Hanes El Salvador uses a million gallons per day to dye and wash the articles of clothing produced. According to the paper last week, all that contaminated water is discharged directly with no treatment. Gee, that makes PacRim's plan to recycle and then treat all discharge water look pretty good to me, but who am I? I must not be as smart as humble pie!

Humble obviously has never had to work or run a business. That is why such ridiculous things are said about how to manage a business. I will guess that he/she probably graduated from some Ivy league school entirely paid for by mommy and daddy. You don't just give anything to anybody; real poeple have to work for what they get and if the local people want part of the business they need to invest in the business. The stock market is out there waiting! Pacific had very specific plans for how they wanted to return benefits to the communities. The problem is that if you give money to the government here it will get stolen, so you do most of the reinvestment yourself or through a foundation (which Pacific Rim formed) so the money goes where it needs to go and doesn't get siphoned off by the politicos. I have a friend who worked in a third world country and that is exactly what happened; the company finally had to take over the administration of civil projects to make sure the roads, bridges, schools etc got built because the people in government were such corrupt bastards.

I'm glad people like humble get on these blogs, it makes me want to work real hard to make sure my own kids are well balanced and able to think for themselves and not just spout the tripe they get spoon fed by by the NGO's and those who want to stifle development at any cost.
Anonymous said…
"For backward men such as Escobar, it would be better if we all were peasants, like before the Industrial Revolution."

I am one such man, too. How relevant is the example of the Industrial Revolution. It wasn't just hot steam and hot gizmos, there was a great social cost, pollution and misery on the other side of "progress." You mention Dickens, but recall that the word "Dickensian" is reserved to describe an especially bleak sort of squalor.

I think Escobar is putting principled and foresight ahead of pie in the sky visions of progress here.
humble_pie said…
Guess that really hit home, huh, fence.

This must be ladies night out for the Pacific Rim gals from Port Coquitlan and West Vancouver.

Welcome to the blogspot, ladies. You're obviously too worked up to be able to understand anything. If you could calm down a few degrees it's possible you might begin to get just the teensiest tiniest clue how you yourselves have polarized the situation in El Salvador and why your company has never been as hated as it is now.

To take just one simple example of the many things you did wrong, ladies, this was the telling to shareholders and the public, over and over again, how your company had to "educate" the ignorant, backwards, slow, stupid and lazy Salvadorans about the ineffable and transcendental beauties of your project. On and on you went, ladies, in countless documented letters, conversations and media interviews that have left a trail across North America. You sounded exactly like the Jesuit and Sulpician fathers in the 15th and 16th centuries, reporting back to the gold-slavering imperial courts of Europe about how difficult it was to educate the savages and convert them to the true religion.

Ladies, do you remember the gentleman who suggested to you in early 2008 that you should diversify into other countries, put things on hold in El Salvador, take a low profile, allow what might have originally been an excellent mining development project to very slowly fertilize and develop in that country, even though it could take 10 years or more of patience on your part.

That's what some other mining companies have figured out. They partner carefully and respectfully with a host nation. They don't bully, jeer at, sue, bribe, insult, pressure or foster social upheaval. They don't exploit one-sided partisan media to force their threats.

But you never heard one word that the mild gentleman said. The fact that you are now wasting your corporate executive time with vindictive insults like these to an anonymous poster on this backwater little blog shows exactly how dysfunctional the ladies of Pacific Rim have become.
Anonymous said…
There was one phrase from Fencesitter's post that struck me: "That kind of mindless control smacks of communism and liberation theology to me." We killed a lot of priests in El Salvador under that accusation. Now Msgr. Escobar Alas of San Vicente has apparently joined the ranks of the Red -- just because he is willing to follow the doctrines of that wiley radical, Msgr. Saenz. :-) I hope you all keep this in mind the next time you hear about how the murdered priests of El Salvador were Communists.
Jeff said…
Trujillo has gone to his reward, Hoyos has discredited himself over the SSPX fiasco, and now Saenz Lacalle is leaving.

Arns, Gutierrez, Lula, Boff, and Sobrino are still around.

Things in Latin America might be looking up!
Carlos X. said…
In my opinion, Msgr. Escobar's rollout was an absolute PR triumph. Shortly after he was named, Escobar was seen suspiciously by the liberal San Salvador intelligentsia -- all of whom would have preferred Msgr. Gregorio Rosa Chavez (who is a good man). Escobar has consolidated the progressives with his opening moves, even though little that he said or did is much of a departure from his previous stances, or even from Msgr. Fernando Saenz Lacalle. The only difference is the packaging. Therefore, one must say it was a PR triumph, the most successful start of any Salvadoran archbishop ... ever.
Anonymous said…
Hi--My name is Rob I live in umpstate NY. I have visited El Salvador several times. I am planning a two week trip next Feb/March and would like to link up with a charity that works with the disabled, I can find nothing online--any advice?

Tim said…

Try Larissa Hotra at