Showing posts from June, 2009

El Salvador condemns coup in neighboring Honduras

Military forces ousted Manuel Zelaya, the democratically elected President of Honduras early Sunday morning in a coup. Salvadoran president Mauricio Funes condemned the overthrow and announced that El Salvador would not recognize the new government installed in Tegucigalpa. Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua all announced they would close their borders to land trade with Honduras for 48 hours.

Activist disappears

Friends and family are speaking out about the disappearance of Marcelo Rivera, an activist involved in many contentious issues. From the Voices on the Border blog : The social leader and activist, Marcelo Rivera, has been missing since June 18, and people in the community of San Isidro, where Rivera lived and worked claim that his disappearance is a result of human rights offenses and institutional corruption. While community members in San Isidro, Cabañas demonstrate against his disappearance and demand his return, the search for Rivera has had shown no success thus far. Rivera was last seen by neighbors and family on June 18 in late afternoon hours in El Molino in the jurisdiction of Ilobasco. The search began on Sunday, June 20, led by family, neighbors, and community members. Some family members have said that they “have not seen involvement in the investigation neither from the PNC, or from the Attorney General of the Republic.” The activist is a well-known social figure as a mem

Homies Unidos executive director indicted

Homies Unidos is an NGO working in Los Angeles and El Salvador to work with gang members and to attempt to get them to leave their violent and destructive lifestyles. I've written about the group on this blog. Today comes the surprising news that the organization's executive director in Los Angeles, Alex Sanchez, has been arrested on federal racketeering charges along with 23 other purported MS-13 gang members. According to a press release on the FBI Los Angeles office website: The sixteen-count federal indictment, unsealed today, charges 24 members and associates of MS-13 with participating in a racketeering conspiracy that involved a variety of crimes including murder, conspiracy to commit murder, extortion, robbery, narcotics trafficking, and witness intimidation, over a period of fifteen years. The indictment alleges the defendants who engaged in the racketeering enterprise, were responsible for seven murders and eight conspiracies to commit murder since 1995.... The

Past corruption to be investigated

A change of power in the government provides the opportunity to expose corruption practiced by the prior ruling party. In El Salvador, new president Mauricio Funes has formed a commission to investigate corruption under the prior right wing administrations of ARENA. Funes is already making public alleged examples of graft in government agencies. Raúl Gutiérrez at IPS has an article describing Funes' initiative against corruption: SAN SALVADOR, Jun 23 (IPS) - Serious allegations of corruption involving central figures in the government of right-wing former Salvadoran president Antonio Saca (2004-2009) will be investigated by a commission led by Finance Minister Carlos Cáceres. Left-wing President Mauricio Funes, who took office on Jun. 1, announced the decision in his first address to the nation, in which he referred to situations encountered by members of his cabinet in several of the ministries they took over. The presidential commission will be made up of experts and lawyers w

Soccer as a gang prevention tool

Maria Hoisington,a student of Latin American Studies and Human Rights at the University of Washington, published an article in Upside Down World looking at one community's use of soccer leagues to help keep youth out of gangs: Not only have these policies been unsuccessful in gang abatement, police repression and targeting of youth has, in effect, criminalized the act of being young. In the past five years, there have been constant outcries from non-governmental organizations, human rights groups, opposition party members, and civil society denouncing repression and calling for alternative solutions. I spent April and May of 2009 in El Salvador researching one of these alternatives; a violence prevention program implemented in 2006 by the local government in San Martín, a municipality located outside the capital city, San Salvador. San Martín has historically been one of the most violent municipalities in the country, but has enjoyed substantial success in lowering its crime stati

Will Funes achieve the agenda of the left?

My friend Danny Burridge recently wrote an article titled El Salvador: Promises, Perils and Reality published by the North American Congress on Latin America. In the article, he looks at the goals of Salvadoran civil society organizations on the left and whether Funes can and will achieve them. Here is an excerpt: The peaceful and historic transfer of power in El Salvador reflects the consolidation of "formal" democracy, but deep social change and true democracy are still slightly beyond the horizon. Its years as a guerrilla organization and decades as an opposition party have left the FMLN as a largely hierarchical political organization. The party could build on its formidable grassroots network and work towards becoming an institution that facilitates democratic participation in government decision-making. Funes will be under intense pressure from myriad interests to reduce the influence of El Salvador's diverse social movement and jettison his promised preferenti

Surf's up

El Salvador's Pacific coastline has big waves, and big waves make for great surfing. I came across this El Salvador surf video on a blog called KZURC : UPDATE: A regular reader of the blog wrote to remind me not to forget the drowning danger in the dangerous riptides and undertows which exist at various beaches. Many have drowned. Read my post from last year about the tragic avoidable accidents.

The fight against crime

The toughest problem facing the new FMLN government is getting El Salvador's violent crime problem under control. The previous ARENA administrations had no luck at all. Out friends at Voices on the Border describe the first steps announced by Mauricio Funes to combat cime: On Thursday of last week, President Funes announced his plans to reinforce the national police force (PNC) and invest around $11.5 million in improving their capabilities and conditions. He spoke at a press conference following the induction of Carlos Antonio Ascencio Girón as the new General Director of the PNC and Mauricio Landaverde as the Assistant Director. The president also announced that beginning in July, all sergeants, corporals, and agents would receive an extra $2 per work day towards food costs. The cost of these bonuses will total $36,064 per day for the18,032 members of the police force included in the plan. The PNC will also add 1,300 new agents who will provide reinforcements in 25 of the m

40th anniversary of the Soccer War

Almost 40 years ago, in July 1969, El Salvador and Honduras fought the "Soccer War", so-called because of tensions triggered by World Cup soccer qualifying matches played between the two countries that summer. Forty years later, those old animosities have subsided, and the countries played another World Cup qualifying match as this article describes: I went inside, the only gringo in the room, and ordered a beer and sat down next to a big guy named Pedro. He was a Salvadoreño who had lived most of his life in the American capital, where virtually all the handiwork, construction, delivery, and gardening is done by men from the Latin republics, yet Pedro's passion for his fatherland -- and for football -- had never waned. Like all the others in the gaudy club, he had come to watch a World Cup qualifying match between his country and its neighbour, an important step on the path toward a place in next year's finals in South Africa, but more meaningful -- to me, at least

More aircraft maintenance jobs move to El Salvador

Southwest Airlines will have maintenance on some of its flight performed in El Salvador according to Dallas area news reports : Many U.S. airlines already outsource maintenance to foreign countries. The company Southwest will use in El Salvador, Aeroman, has already performed heavy maintenance work for other major U.S. Airlines. But, unions and consumer groups have objected to outsourcing, questioning the safety and oversight of work performed outside of the U.S., where mechanics are paid less than their American counterparts. Last year, BusinessWeek reported that mechanics at Aeroman make between $4,500 and $15,000 a year, while U.S. airplane mechanics earn an average of $52,000 a year. Southwest said it's confident that its new foreign maintenance provider is well qualified for the job. "They pass all or our really stringent tests for safety. They have a great track record," Flanagan said. The union that represents Southwest's mechanics previously agreed to allow

More on the challenges facing Funes

Maria Elena Salinas, the journalist co-anchor on Univision, recently interviewed Mauricio Funes, and wrote about what challenges face Funes in her synidcated column : Either way, this historical election begs the question of whose lead Funes will follow. Will he be a pragmatic leftist, such as Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, or a radical leader, such as Venezuela's Hugo Chavez? Funes says neither one: "You never know — instead of an axis led by Lula or one by Chavez, maybe there will be a new Central American axis led by Funes that will be pragmatic but at the same time radical in facing the problems it will have to confront." And Funes will be inheriting some pretty serious problems: A country marred by extreme poverty and a high unemployment rate. One of the highest crime rates in the world. The expansion of dangerous youth gangs. An increase in deportations of Salvadorans from the U.S. and a reduction in remittances. As if that isn't enough, Funes wi

A Salvadoran Resurrection

The following piece was originally published in the Boston Globe on June 1. Charlie Clements forwarded it to me, and I am happy to post it here. By Charlie Clements June 1, 2009 SAN SALVADOR. At the Plaza Libertad today, inauguration day of President Mauricio Funes, I will be thinking back to Feb. 28, 1977, when security forces opened fire there on hundreds of unarmed civilians protesting a fraudulent presidential election. Less than a week earlier, Oscar Romero, then considered a priest of the privileged, had been installed as the archbishop of El Salvador. Vrtually unnoticed by the US press, that massacre prompted the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee to act, leading the first of 17 congressional fact-finding missions to the region. That first mission included a Jesuit priest, Robert Drinan, who was also a member of Congress from Massachusetts. Romero and Drinan celebrated Mass together in the unfinished cathedral, where Romero's decision to halt construction had recent

Team in blue continues quest for a World Cup berth

It's time to take a break from talking about politics on this blog to celebrate the continuing success of El Salvador's national team in its quest to qualify for the 2010 World Cup soccer championship in South Africa. Yesterday, the Salvadorans beat Mexico 2-1, and moved into third place in the hexagonal qualifying matches. The top 3 places automatically qualify for the World Cup. The team's star, Eliseo Quintanilla, scored a late game goal on a penalty kick to provide the margin of victory. The Salvadorans will play at Honduras on Wednesday.

IUDOP opinion poll -- looking back and looking forward

Shortly before the transfer of power in El Salvador on June 1, the Public Opinion Institute at the University of Central America released an opinion poll . The poll asked Salvadorans to look back at the outgoing Saca administration and forward towards the incoming FMLN government. The poll's findings include a grade for Tony Saca of 5.85 on a 10 point scale, as citizens believe that both poverty and crime had increased during his 5 years in office. In contrast, 7 of 10 Salvadorans believe that the country will improve under the Funes administration. If there are improvements, Salvadorans do not believe they will be lead by the National Assembly, because 75% of Salvadorans believe the legislature has little or no representation of their interests. Read the rest of the poll results here .

Funes' cabinet

Whether El Salvador's new president Mauricio Funes will succeed in bringing positive change in the country, will partly depend on the competence of the people who come to lead the divisions of El Salvador's government as part of his cabinet. Our friends at Voices on the Border described a portion of the incoming cabinet: On May 26, President-elect Funes named the members of the Economic cabinet. Those announced were Héctor Dada Hirezi as minister of the Economy, Alex Segovia as Technical Secretary, Carlos Acevedo as president of the Central Reserve Bank and Carlos Cáceres as head of the Treasury department. The new Economic cabinet has thus far maintained that it would keep the dollar as El Salvador’s official currency, a topic that has been controversial among government officials and citizens since the dollar was introduced in 2001. Other plans include creating more economic transparency, a development bank within the Central Reserve Bank, and a mechanism to ensure that t

A celebration in red

Yesterday at Cuscatlan Stadium in San Salvador, the FMLN held its popular celebration of the inauguration of Mauricio Funes. El Faro had multimedia coverage of the event in this video : and this photogallery .

The peaceful transfer of power

Video of the swearing in ceremony for Mauricio Funes as president of El Salvador. Today should be a day of great celebration for all friends of El Salvador. The inauguration of Mauricio Funes as president of El Salvador marks the first true peaceful transition of power in the country. The country has a left wing president, and his victory came through the ballot box in peaceful and fair elections. Raúl Gutiérrez at IPS described the inauguration : At his inaugural ceremony Monday, the first-ever leftwing president of El Salvador, Mauricio Funes, said his main goal was to ”beat poverty, political backwardness, the marginalisation of broad sections of society, desperation, and the lack of future prospects for our young people.” The insurgency-turned-political party Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) will invest 474 million dollars in the next 18 months to generate 100,000 direct jobs, the new president announced. Funes received a two-minute standing ovation when he arri