Showing posts from June, 2010

No asylum for Salvadorans fleeing gangs

As I've noted before in this blog, the gang violence in El Salvador has motivated some to leave El Salvador, entering the US illegally in search of a greater measure of safety. But if caught in the US, they will be given a one way ticket back to the dangerous situation they fled. The New York Times ran a lengthy story today about the US immigration system's refusal to recognize asylum claims based on a fear of gang violence. From the article Asylum Law Offers Little Refuge for Those Who Flee Gangs : In general, legal standards for asylum in the United States are not easy to meet. Asylum seekers must show they have a “well-founded fear of persecution” because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or “membership in a particular social group.” In 2009, a total of 9,614 foreigners were granted asylum, according to official figures. Guatemala, the Central American country with the highest number of successful petitions, had 265 grants. As the immigration debate

Tropical storm Alex adds to 2010 storm toll

Rains associated with Tropical Storm Alex , have left three dead in El Salvador and more than 1200 people flooded out of their homes according to LPG . An orange alert continues in the country with schools closed in affected areas. As I mentioned in my last post , these storms can significantly impact the country's agricultural production, in addition to the loss of human life and the destruction of people's homes.

Storms impact food availability

Storms which have brought torrential rains and flooding often wipe out food crops, while too little rain has the same effect. A recent IPS article highlights the vulnerability to weather events of local production of food in El Salvador: In September and October of that year, the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) climate phenomenon led to a shortage in rainfall throughout Central America, which negatively affected the planting of grain and bean crops in areas of Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, according to the FAO report. Then, in November, Hurricane Ida struck Central America, causing severe damage to agricultural infrastructure in parts of the region. In El Salvador, heavy rains left 198 people dead and 15,000 homeless, in addition to 239 million dollars in losses and damages. "All of my efforts were destroyed. Only a small part of my corn crop was saved," Isidro Rivas, 48, a farmer in the village of Izcanal, 45 kilometres east of San Salvador, told IPS

Oscar Luna re-elected as Human Rights Ombudsman

Oscar Luna was re-elected by El Salvador's National Assembly as the country's Human Rights Ombudsman (PDDH for its Spanish initials). One of the highest profile members of government in El Salvador has no power and no ability to make or enforce laws. The post of PDDH was created in the constitution following the 1992 peace accords. The PDDH is to monitor and report on human rights issues in the country. His power is only the power of persuasion and publicity. The PDDH can neither prosecute violators nor pass laws. He can only denounce the human rights violations which he observes. According to LPG , for his new term, Luna has promised to promote creation of units in such areas as the rights of indigenous peoples, HIV-AIDS, rights of immigrants and the creation of an assistant ombudsman for the elderly.

The problems of El Salvador's prisons

The prisons in El Salvador are often referred to as one of the sources of El Salvador's crime problems, not a tool used to reduce crime. El Salvador has a high incarceration rate, with 370 inmates per 100,000 inhabitants. That's 17th out of 217 countries, according to a recent study . (Although only half the rate of #1, the United States, which imprisons 753 persons per 100,000). Read more statistics about the prisons here . As part of his use of the military to help fight crime, president Funes is sending soldiers to patrol the prison areas, as described in this AP report : Soldiers in El Salvador have started patrolling prisons to fight gangs and inmate-led crime. President Mauricio Funes says jailed gang leaders often run criminal operations and order violence from within prisons and the troops will reinforce controls both inside and outside the nation's penitentiaries. In an address to the country, the president said the first troops were deployed Wednesday in a pr

Report on Funes first year

I highly recommend that anyone interested in present day El Salvador read the report by Linda Garret at the Center for Democracy in the Americas titled Expectations for Change and the Challenges of Governance: The First Year of President Mauricio Funes . The link is to an advance edition which was just released online and has a preface written by Congressman James P. McGovern of Massachusetts. In a clear and readable fashion, this report looks at the accomplishments, the challenges and the shortfalls of Mauricio Funes' first year in office as El Salvador's first left wing president.

Return to El Salvador documentary

There is a new documentary titled Return to El Salvador which presents El Salvador and its struggles since the end of the civil war. To learn more, you can watch this trailer : You can also visit the documentary website which has a 7 minute excerpt from the film, or you can buy a copy of the DVD here .

Bus massacre shocks El Salvador

All of El Salvador was shocked today as the country's violence took a horrifying turn. Sunday night in Mejicanos, a suburb of San Salvador, gang members shot at a micro-bus of Route 47, then doused it with gasoline and set it on fire. Fourteen people were burned to death in the bus. The attack attracted press coverage world-wide. From National Public Radio : "This is an act that seeks to generate terror among the population," President Mauricio Funes said, adding that his security Cabinet was to meet to increase security in the country... The attack took place in a gang-plagued part of the municipality of Mejicanos, just outside San Salvador, National Police Commissioner Carlos Ascencio said. At least 14 people were killed, he said. Moments later, gang members opened fire on another bus in the same neighborhood, killing two people. Ascencio said Monday night that eight suspects had been arrested in the bus burning, including one who was detained minutes after the a

The vulnerable communities of the lower Lempa River

From the SHARE Foundation : Movement of Rural Communities Affected by Flooding Demands Government Response With Tropical Storm Agatha behind them, now able to asses damages and plan for the future, the Movement of Rural Communities Affected by Flooding held a press conference. Representatives of communities located near the lower Lempa, Grande, Jiboa and Paz rivers came together on this rainy, grey Friday morning at the CRIPDES National Office to make a number of concrete demands. These four rivers flooded during Hurricane Ida, and these communities have been among those arguably most affected by hurricanes, rains, flooding and landslides for decades. Representatives included SHARE counterparts CRIPDES San Vicente and ACUDESBAL, who work with communities on the western and eastern banks of the lower Lempa River, respectively. The conference began as the representative of ACUDESBAL summarized the situation. Communites located in lower river basins in El Salvador and throughout the coun

Laptop computers for 800,000 low income students in El Salvador

This week El Salvador's Education ministry discussed an ambitious program aimed eventually to have laptop computers in the hands of 800,000 students in poor rural schools. The computers come from the One Laptop Per Child initiative which was formed to place low cost durable laptop computers in the hands of children to jump start education and learning. The XO computer from OLPC is designed specifically for use by children in poor communities around the world. According to a news report , the government project, called Closing the Knowledge Gap, currently has the computers in the hands of 400 students in five rural schools in Chalatenango. A year from now, the goal is to have the computers in the hands of 78,000 students in 411 schools, and 800,000 students within 4 years. Students can take the rugged little laptop computers home to continue the process of learning with their family. To learn more about this project, you can read this blog entry from a participant in teacher

Bus clowns protest at passenger murder

Video News organizations around the world picked up the story of clowns in El Salvador who marched to protest the killing of a bus passenger by "imposter clowns." From the BBC : Around 100 professional clowns, who make money by performing on public buses, marched through the capital of El Salvador to protest against the killing of a bus passenger by two robbers in clown outfits. The man was shot five times when he declined to give money to two assailants dressed as clowns who boarded a public bus. No-one has been arrested. The protesters marched down San Salvador's main street, holding signs and chanting "real clowns are not criminals".

Guns in El Salvador

In a blog post titled Armed to the Teeth in El Salvador , Michael Allison quotes statistics about firearms in El Salvador, originally reported in ContraPunto : More than 75% of the country's homicides are committed with firearms. Every 3 hours someone is killed with a firearm. It is estimated that about 500,000 weapons, legalized or not, are held by the public. More than 57% of the fatalities are people aged 15 to 29 years of age. Since the end of the war in 1992, El Salvador became the 7th largest importer of weapons worldwide whose main market is the United States. There has been a gun control law introduced in El Salvador's National Assembly which Allison classifies as a "good start" to addressing the prevalence of gun violence. It's not clear that such a law will pass.

Study of child labor in El Salvador

El Salvador's Ministry of the Economy released the results of its 2009 study of child labor in Salvadoran households. You can download the complete study at this link. The study is an attempt to measure the level of child labor in El Salvador and the attitudes and circumstances which which contribute to it. The study defines child laborers as children who had worked for at least one hour in the previous week, paid or unpaid, whether for wages or payment in kind, including working in a family enterprise such as a farm or a food stand. The study surveyed 20,000 households in the country. The 2009 report found that roughly 10% of children between the ages of 5 and 17 were working, totalling roughly 189,000 children in El Salvador. The percentages ranged from 1% of children between the ages of 5-9, 10% of children between ages 10-14, and 24% of children between the ages of 15-17. The report notes the following characteristics of child labor in El Salvador: 60% of child workers l

A week in El Salvador

Ir's always nice to see prominent media taking note of what El Salvador has to offer. The travel section of the New York Times recently wrote: For a small country, El Salvador abounds with attractions: volcanoes, coffee plantations, national parks and a gorgeous Pacific coast. The Times then goes on to describe a possible itinerary for the tourist who wants to spend a week in El Salvador. For more ideas, choose the tourism link on the right side column of this blog.

Understanding the Pacific Rim v El Salvador arbitration

I did not have time to watch more than an hour or so of the hearings in the arbitration between Pacific Rim and the government of El Salvador which took place on May 31 and June 1 in Washington, D.C. Luckily, the folks behind the Voices from El Salvador blog were watching and wrote a thoughtful summary of day 1 and day 2 . The writer summed up what could be gleaned from these formal legal proceedings: I found these hearings interesting on a couple levels. Much of what we hear about the mining debate comes from grassroots organizations that support the anti-mining movement in El Salvador. While the information we receive is important and interesting, too often we don’t know what is happening within the government ministries, or what Pacific Rim is really thinking. We see how their decisions manifest in Cabanas, but we don’t necessarily see the process. These hearings have been a window into what the Salvadoran government and Pacific Rim have been doing and thinking over the years.

Sexism and violence

My friend Daniele has written an important article titled Sexism: It's to Die For dealing with the issues of sexism, machismo and femicide in El Salvador. She starts with the story of a gang rape of a disabled girl, and then looks at the attitudes which could allow a community to not be outraged and even to back the accused band of rapists: These attitudes have a source. Whether spit from the mouths of fearful neighbors or from the pulpit in a twisted religious interpretation, these attitudes are called machismo, and one of El Salvador's big struggles (like most countries in the world) is how to finally shed sex discrimination. This discrimination can be propogated by societal structures, authorities, teachers, parents, etc, and it finds its extreme expression in violence against or the assasination of women, called feminicide. In El Salvador, sexism is so ingrained that the band of men found it completely acceptable to rape multiple women and girls in their own community,

Salvadorans grade Funes' first year in office

Salvadoran president Mauricio Funes completed his first year in office today. Recent public opinion polls show that citizens of the country are generally pleased with their first president from a left wing party. The Public Opinion Institute at the University of Central America polled more than 1200 Salvadorans in May and released their results here . Among the highlights: Citizens give Funes a rating of 6.78 on a 10 point scale, down from 7.16 in August 2009. 57.8% say Funes is doing a good job, while only 17.5% think he is doing a bad job. 58.3% have seen positive changes in the country under Funes, while 41.7% said they had not seen an improvement When asked about Funes' biggest achievement, more than 40% of respondents cited his program to provide free uniforms, shoes, and school supplies to school children throughout the country. Nothing else came close in the poll. The failure to combat the crime problem was cited by 26.7% of those polled as Funes' greatest failure,