Showing posts from July, 2013

Smartphones and small farmers

An interesting article from the World Food Program describes a pilot program in El Salvador to allow small farmers to exchange and obtain crop price information using smart phones.   Here is how the program is described: The lead farmers will use WFP-distributed smartphones to submit weekly reports to the WFP country office. This will allow for an instantaneous data monitoring and analysis by the WFP and P4P staff. Furthermore, a summary of the weekly update will be shared with the farmers. Alcides Ruiz, one of the participating farmers has already discovered the potential benefits this will bring to him and the Asaescla farmers’ organisation:   “The compiled price information will be extremely useful for us. At the moment, it’s the middlemen that are running the market in our community, as they dictate the price when they pick up our crops. They pull the prices down. If we as the producers are kept informed about the prices in other areas, and how they evolve, we will be able to

New constitutional conflict

The Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador's Supreme Court may be wading once again into a major conflict with the other two branches of government.    The Chamber announced that it will hear legal petitions claiming that the president of the Supreme Court was unconstitutionally elected by the National Assembly.    Salomón Padilla was elected by the National Assembly in August 2012 as part of the deal which ended last summer's constitutional crisis .   Padilla had been a member of the FMLN prior to being selected for the court.   The petitions allege that this party affiliation violates the independence necessary to be a member of the judiciary. The petitions come after the Constitutional Chamber had earlier nullified election of judges to the Court of Accounts on the grounds that the legislature had not verified their credentials and that they were not independent of partisan interests. Earlier this month president Funes accused the Constitutional Chamber of trying to pa

2014 Elections -- watching the opinion polls

There have been at least eight sets of public opinion poll results released since May 15 concerning the upcoming 2014 presidential election in El Salvador.   Starting today, I will try to keep a running tally of the polls so you can see where the race stands.   Here's a snapshot: I have put all these results in a spreadsheet which anyone can download from this link and do their own analysis.   The spreadsheet also has live links to the sources where all these poll results were originally published. Obviously not all polls are of equal quality or are free of bias.   For example, the last two polls, by the ARENA party and traditionally conservative Mitofsky, I would expect to have some bias against Saca, and they produce the lowest numbers for the former president.   In a future post, I will look at how the different polling organizations have fared in predicting previous elections. So far the poll results still tend to show that the election will go to a second

Disasters 1400 years apart

On a recent day in El Salvador, the power of volcanoes and floods to devastate communities through the centuries was powerfully illustrated for me. My morning was spent at Joya de Ceren , an archaeological site dating back to approximately 600 C.E., which is currently being excavated.    It is one of the top archaeological sites in El Salvador and is a  UNESCO World Heritage site. From the UNESCO description: The Joya de Ceren settlement was founded before the end of the 6th century. Since excavations are still in progress, it is not yet clear whether it was a small village or a larger community. Evidence from the structures excavated so far suggests that the inhabitants were farmers.  Not long afterwards, around AD 600, Joya de Ceren was destroyed by the eruption of the Loma caldera, less than 1 km from the settlement. Although the eruption only affected some 5 sq km, it completely buried Joya de Ceren under 5-7 m of volcanic ash.  The site was discovered during the construc

A journalist's memoir

Joseph Frazier was a journalist covering El Salvador's civil war during the 1980s.   This year he published his memoir,    El Salvador Could Be Like That: A Memoir of War, Politics and Journalism on the Front-Row of the Last Bloody Conflict of the US-Soviet Cold War .   Frazier writes of his book: My memoir is a ground's-eye view of the El Salvador war and of what it did to the peasants, the soldiers, the school kids, the union leaders, the shopkeepers, the fishermen and artisans, the parish priests - the everyday, unremarkable people who often wound up in unmarked graves and on the edit-room floor. It is also a look at the politics and economics and social history that underpinned the conflict. The book is at its best when Frazier gives first person accounts of events in El Salvador which illustrate the senselessness and the horror of much of the war.   And the book provides many of those accounts.    People with little background on El Salvador's civil war

Looking at where murders happen

Juan Carlos Garzon, a visiting expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, has published an article at the InsightCrime website titled  What Does El Salvador's Homicide Distribution Say About the Gang Truce? .   Garzon has done a more detailed analysis of homicide data, than is often available, with a specific look at how homicide rates vary among municipalities and and how they have changed before and after the gang truce.  He writes: It is undeniable that the gang truce between El Salvador's two biggest gangs -- the MS-13 and the Barrio 18 -- produced a drastic fall in homicides at a national level, from a rate of 72 homicides per 100,000 residents in 2011 to 32 per 100,000 in 2012. Nonetheless, a more detailed analysis of lethal violence, using statistics from the National Police, shows the following:  i) The decrease in homicides did not occur in all municipalities -- in 20 percent of the 262 municipalities it had no effect.  ii) Gradually, as tim

Round trip for Munguía Payés

There should be no doubt that David Munguía Payés is close to Salvadoran president Mauricio Funes.   Funes named him to be Minister of Defense in 2009.   Then in November 2011, Funes named him to be the Minister of Public Security. Upon taking office as Minister of Public Security, Munguía Payés famously forecast that the government would reduce the homicide rate in the country by more than 30%.    In fact, the homicide rate decreased by more than 50% as a result of the gang truce in March 2012.  That truce remains controversial and fragile today. Earlier this year, however, the Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador's Supreme Court ruled that Munguía Payés appointment to be Minister of Public Security was unconstitutional.   According to the Court, a "retired" military officer like Munguía Payés could not be in charge of the country's domestic security and policing, in light of the provisions of the 1992 Peace Accords which removed the military from involvement i

Surf competition in El Salvador

El Salvador has world class surfing along its Pacific Ocean coast.   The Reef Pro surfing event recently concluded at Punta Roca in La Libertad.   A Brazilian surfer won the competition.   From the surfing press : Peterson Crisanto (BRA), 21, has won the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) 6-Star Reef Pro El Salvador over Josh Kerr (AUS), 28, in dominant fashion, earning his first major victory in clean four-to-six foot waves at the world-class righthand pointbreak of Punta Roca.  Crisanto, who was a standout throughout the entirety of the Reef Pro El Salvador, returned to form on the final day of competition, dismantling the flawless walls of Punta Roca with incredible poise and variety on his forehand. You can watch a video of some of the action here .

Encounter in a prison

My friend Danielle Mackey has long written passionately and with great insight about El Salvador.   She recently shared a new essay on her blog Grit and Grace , titled  Sam in Sector Three , in which she takes us inside the El Salvador's prison for minors for a very personal encounter with tough, young gang members.  Here is an excerpt: Sam is seated at a table, making long strokes with his paintbrush. Bright flowers slowly crop up on his Mother’s Day card.  "You really have to enjoy a mother's love while you have it. Nothing in this world is like a mother's love, and once it's gone, it's gone," he murmurs, concentrating. "I regret not memorizing her advice while she was living." He turns his tattooed face toward me, "Is your mother still alive?" I feel a bit guilty admitting that she is. At six, his mother was killed. They murdered his father in front of him a few months later. Now fifteen, Sam will gift the card to his older siste

The challenge of teen pregnangcy

July 11 was World Population Day, and the United Nations Population Fund used the day to focus on the problem of teen pregnancy.   The online periodical  ContraPunto collected the statistics  for El Salvador.   In El Salvador, One of every 12 Salvadoran girls is a mother by the time she is 15.    In the poorest areas of the country, that number rises to one in five.   One of every three Salvadoran girls has had a baby by the time she is 18. 29% of all births in the country are to girls between the ages of 10 and 19.     304 girls between the ages of 10 and 14 are heads of households.    4,674 households are headed by teenage girls between 15 and 19 years old. Both the teenage mother and her child (or children) has a significant struggle to avoid a life mired in poverty.   The United Nations Population Fund expressed why it is so important to address adolescent pregnancy in El Salvador and worldwide: Adolescent pregnancy is not just a health issue, it is a development is

2000 posts

This is the 2000th time I have written a post on Tim's El Salvador Blog since I started the blog back in November 2004.  What started as just a way to educate myself about current events and politics in El Salvador has lasted much longer than I ever would have thought. I want to express my sincere thanks to all of you who have helped me along the way with insights into El Salvador, with article ideas, and with your words of appreciation. From Salvadoran food to continued impunity for human rights violations in the civil war, from the historic victory of Mauricio Funes in 2009 to the complexity of the gang truce, and from the memory of Oscar Romero to wonderful tourist sites in El Salvador, I've had the opportunity to share with you many of things which fascinate me about El Salvador. I'm looking forward to the next thousand posts, especially as I start the coverage of the three way presidential election in 2014.

Murders surge -- is gang truce breaking down?

Over the past two weeks, the number of daily murders in El Salvador has surged, prompting many to question whether the truce has collapsed, how the government should respond, and igniting fears of a return to the pre-truce levels of violence in the country.    From an article in the  GlobalPost : SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) - El Salvador has seen a burst of violence, with 103 homicides this week, the government said on Friday, as a year-long truce between the country's violent gangs appeared to be crumbling. The uptick in murders in the Central American nation echoes killing rates before the March 2012 truce between the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang and rival Barrio 18. "We said last year that the truce was fragile and that it could fracture in any moment. Time has proven us right," Miguel Fortin, Director of the Supreme Court's Institute of Legal Medicine (IML) told local media. There has been little analysis published of the murders themselves or the victims.

Mike's turn

If you are a long time reader of this blog, you know I have nothing good to say for Mary Anastasia O'Grady, the Latin America opinion writer at the Wall Street Journal.   She was at it again recently in an editorial titled  US Aid and El Salvador's Corruption .   Her basic premise is that El Salvador's government is corrupt, and does not promote markets which are fair and investor friendly.   In this most recent piece, she attacks the US State Department for aid projects such as the Millennium Challenge grant and the Partnership for Growth. Luckily, this time I don't have to do all the work to pick apart O'Grady's loose use of statistics and lack of a deep knowledge of El Salvador.   Mike Allison at Central American Politics has already done a great job of it on his blog.   Read it here .

New documentary on the disappeared children of El Salvador

A new documentary airing on public television in the US this week, highlights the search for children "disappeared" by the armed forces during El Salvador's civil war.  As soldiers carried away children from their homes in conflict zones, a corrupt system of adoption lawyers, orphanages and officials placed children for adoption both inside the country and as far away as Italy. The documentary is Niños de la Memoria . Niños de la Memoria is the story of the search for children who disappeared during the Salvadoran civil war. These missing children, who survived massacres carried out by U.S.-trained Salvadoran Army battalions, never knew of their true identity or history. Many of the survivors were even “sold” into adoption in the U.S. and Europe. This film weaves together the journeys of investigator Margarita Zamora, adoptee Jamie Harvey and farmer Salvador García as they search for family, identity and justice in El Salvador, and asks the larger question: How can a p

On the margins of El Salvador

Throughout El Salvador, communities of squatters, are forced to live on land which is not theirs, land which is in peril, land on the margins.   A recent article from the Episcopal News Service tells their story through the lens of one such community: One hundred eighty-nine families displaced by a natural disaster have laid claim to a narrow strip of land situated between the Pan-American Highway and a dozen abandoned, government-owned grain silos a 25-minute drive east of San Salvador.  They live in shacks constructed of tin, mud, discarded construction materials and sometimes building materials salvaged from their previous homes. Heavy rains and mudslides caused by Hurricane Ida in 2009 washed away the ground and in some cases their homes out from under them. The people fled in the night as the storm gained strength and homes crumbled off cliffs into a ravine. A 2-month-old baby, her mother and grandmother were buried alive, along with an elderly man whose body went unrecovered