Showing posts from June, 2016

Forced displacement of families -- the refugee crisis

A report issued earlier this year offers an important view into the problem of families who must flee their homes as a result of gang and other violence in El Salvador.   The report on the situation of forced displacement through generalized violence in El Salvador  (available only in Spanish) was prepared by the Roundtable of Civil Society against Forced Displacement, made up of several civil society and church groups who have tried to provide humanitarian assistance to these families. The report notes that although international agencies had tallied some 289,000 internally displaced persons in 2014, the Salvadoran government was in denial of the problem and offered little if any support to such families: The phenomenon of internal displacement is an effect of a situation of generalized violence in El Salvador. Hundreds of Salvadoran families flee their homes to protect their lives and physical integrity, many of whom end up seeking international protection outside the country'

The niggardly US response to the Central American refugee crisis

The US first started paying attention to the flight of Central Americans from violence in the Northern Triangle when thousands of unaccompanied minors began showing up on the southern border.   The primary response of the US has been deterrence -- public service announcements and education campaigns about the dangers of the route north, expanded detention facilities for mothers and children, and round-ups and deportations of families back to Central America.   In addition, the US has proposed two programs purported to be humanitarian responses to the flow of refugees.   The first to be announced was the Central American Minors Program .    Under this program, parents or guardians in the US can apply for their children in El Salvador, Honduras or Guatemala to receive refugee status and travel to the US.    A key part of the program is that children are interviewed in Central America rather than making the treacherous journey north.   (A flow chart of the process, including DNA test

The Central American refugee crisis

The World Day of the Refugee was June 20.    In recognition of that day, I plan to spend the next few posts on this blog on the refugee crisis created by the criminal gang violence in El Salvador as well as Guatemala and Honduras. An article from  Insight Crime  describes the nature of the crisis: A new United Nations report highlights skyrocketing rates of forced displacement in Central America's Northern Triangle region, attributing the trend in large part to rampant organized crime related violence.  In its latest annual Global Trends report ( pdf ), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says the number of asylum-seekers from the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador rose from 20,900 in 2012 to 109,800 in 2015 -- a more than five-fold increase.     The report suggests a toxic mix of local gangs and transnational drug trafficking groups is driving much of the displacement.     "Violence and persec

Food insecurity affects 1 in 9 Salvadorans

700,000 people, or one out of every nine people in El Salvador, suffer from food insecurity, especially in the country's rural areas according to international organizations working in El Salvador .   Droughts, the El Niño phenomenon, and the impact of roya (coffee rust fungus), have had a serious negative affect on families incomes and harvests over the past three years. The effects are widespread, touching 104 of the country's municipalities especially in the east.  In 24 municipalities, almost 20,000 families are receiving direct food aid.   The aid is provided by the World Food Program and the National Council on Food Security. The recent periods of drought have reduced flow rates in El Salvador's rivers by as much as 20 to 60%, and declining as much as 90% in the eastern region.  According to OxFam, which works with populations in the eastern departments of Morazan, San Miguel and Usulutan, there has been a 40% reduction in access to water.  One result is that w

Remittance growth strong

El Salvador's Central Reserve Bank (BCR) reported this week that remittances which Salvadorans outside of the country send back to their families in El Salvador grew strongly during the first five months of the year.    Total remittances so far in 2016 have been $1.84 billion, up 6.8% from the year before.   This is impressive considering that both the US economy and the Salvadoran economy are experiencing annual growth rates of 2% or less. Just in the month of May, family remittances totaled $412 million, the highest total recorded for a month of May.    May is usually a month with high levels of remittance activity as Salvadorans abroad send money back for Mother's Day, according to the BCR. The BCR also reported on the economic activity of Salvadoran born women living in the United States: On average Salvadoran-born women in the US send back 20.8% of their income to El Salvador, a greater percentage than sent back by men. 69%  of Salvadoran-born women in the US are

UNDP reports on vulnerable populations in Latin America

Much of Latin America saw progress in lifting people out of poverty over the last decade.   Yet a significant number of those people remain vulnerable to falling back into poverty according to a new report from the United Nations Development Program: In the report titled Multidimensional Progress: Well-being beyond income , UNDP expresses particular concern over the 25 to 30 million people in the region—more than a third of those who left poverty since 2003 — who risk falling back into poverty. Many are youth and women, with precarious employment in the service sector. They are part of a larger group of over 220 million people (38% of the population, or almost two in every five in the region) who are vulnerable: officially they are not poor (living on less than US$4/day) but have been unable to rise to the middle class (living on more than $10/day).  The factors that pushed people out of poverty are different from those that prevent them from falling back, the HDR stresses. In the

Troops in the streets

They are images that hearken back to the bloody years of El Salvador's civil war.   Heavily armed troops deployed in front of National Palace and Metropolitan Cathedral in San Salvador's historic center.   On Tuesday, the government of Salvador Sánchez Cerén made a public show of the deployment of "Task Force Historic Center" which includes 800 military and police. From the Facebook page of the Salvadoran armed forces : The historic Center Task Force was deployed this day in 29 sectors with the objective of reducing the activity of criminal structures and bands of organized crime that affect the citizenry and the commercial activity in the zones involved.   All this done through joint permanent patrols by foot and vehicle, the capture of criminals in the act or per judicial order, guaranteeing with this free movement and healthy living in the Salvadoran capital. This deployment is part of the ongoing "exceptional measures" which the Sánche

Did El Salvador's 'Iron Fist' Lower Homicide Rate?

This post originally appeared at . Written by Luis Fernando Alonso  Monday, 13 June 2016 El Salvador officials have attributed a steady decline in the violence-wracked country’s homicide rate to the government’s crackdown on gangs, but it is too early to confirm this causal relationship or to determine whether the improvement will endure. Howard Coto, director of the National Civil Police (Policia Nacional Civil- PNC) announced the lower homicide rates in a June 7 press conference. Coto said homicides dropped from an average 23.8 per day in January to a daily average of 11.3 in May. Homicides declined gradually over the first five months of the year, registering a rate of 22.9 per day in February, 19.7 in March, and 11.7 in April. He added that figures for the first week of June indicated the drop is set to continue, with an average of 7 per day. La Prensa Grafica reported the total number of homicides for the first five months of 2016 at 2,705. The trend for

Businessman allegedly uses threats and suits to silence his opponents

Human rights activists in El Salvador are publicly denouncing judicial harassment and intimidation from a powerful Salvadoran businessman directed against a journalist and criminal defense lawyers.   Organizations including FESPAD, ASDEHU, Colectiva Feminista, MPJL and others held a press conference on June 10 to highlight alleged abuse and harrassment by Salvadoran businessman Enrique Rais against investigative journalist Hector Silva Avalos and the criminal defense lawyers for opponents of Rais, Hector Silva, who is producing important investigative journalism at the website RevistaFactum , had published a series of articles investigating Rais, the businessman's ties to the former attorney general, and recent seizure of aircraft owned by Rais by the DEA in Florida.   You can see some of those articles in English translation on the InsightCrime website here . The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) wrote : Recently, Silva published several pieces in Revista Factum on

Jesuits case at crucial juncture

The long-running attempt by a Spanish court to bring justice in the case of the murder of six Jesuit priests in 1989, along with their housekeeper and her daughter, may be coming to a head.   The human rights lawyer who has been in the lead of this human rights case, Almudena Bernabéu, announced an important new piece of evidence .    Former Salvadoran president Alfredo Cristiani, who held office at the time of the assassinations, has given an interview where he purportedly acknowledged the responsibility of the Salvadoran military officers.   The interview was given to novelist Jorge Galan when Galan was researching his recently published book Noviembre  about the massacre.   Galan talked to a reporter where he stated that he was put in contact with Cristiani through the ex-president's daughter.   In his interview he asked Cristiani about the intellectual authors of the Jesuit massacre, and Cristiani confirmed with the names of the military officials. In November 2015 when

Visit El Salvador

Lake Ilopango Huffington Post Canada recognized this week why you should come visit El Salvador in a post titled Discover El Salvador's Unknown Wonders : This picture-perfect country with black-sand beaches, tourist-friendly colonial towns, ideal surfing waves, coffee plantations, and a string of hikeable volcanoes, is off the beaten path for more tourists. The perks -- you enjoy better prices, fewer crowds, and more authentic experiences with the country's warm-hearted locals. Want to learn more? Go to the El Salvador tourism website .

The city managed for the gangs

Apopa is a small city to the northeast of San Salvador.   It is a place where El Salvador's warring gangs control large swaths of territory and shopkeepers must all pay la renta --  extortion payments.  Gang killings occur frequently.   A series of arrests on Monday, including the arrest of the mayor of Apopa, showed how deeply the gangs had infiltrated city government .   Thirty two persons, including at least 14 city employees were arrested in a series of raids. According to Salvadoran police, the municipal government made available gasoline, cell phones, jobs and other benefits to the gangs.   Reportedly more than a a half million dollars worth of fuel was given to the gangs.  Gangs could also repair their vehicles at a municpal garage. The municipal police collaborated with the gangs in collecting extortion payments from local businesses. Gangs could also party in Apopa.   According to the police, the municipal government facilitated the use of public spaces for concerts a

El Salvador crime and corruption stories

A collection of recent crime and corruption stories form El Salvador: El Salvador arrests ex-head of prisons over gang truce graft charge s El Salvador arrested the former head of the national prisons system on Monday on suspicion of corruption during the implementation of an infamous gang truce, the country's police said.  Nelson Rauda, who had been on the run since May, was wanted on graft and criminal enterprise charges allegedly committed during his time in charge of the jails between 2012 and 2013.  El Salvador wants to investigate ambassador for arms sales El Salvador prosecutors on Thursday asked Congress to allow the government to investigate the country's ambassador to Germany for illegal arms sales during his time in the Defense Ministry.  Congress must approve criminal proceedings against any public official. The government said Ambassador Jose Atilio Benitez, 57, a retired general, committed fraud with more than 30 weapons that belonged to the armed fo

El Salvador debates minimum wage increase

A multi-sector commission is recommending that El Salvador increase minimum wages an average of 15% over three years.   The Consejo Nacional de Salario Minimo is made up of representatives of business, labor and the government and is charged under Salvadoran law with coming up with changes to the minimum wage to be proposed to the president.   Monthly wages in textile factory jobs will rise over three years to $220 and wages for agricultural works will rise to $128 per month. The government of Salvador Sánchez Cerén had proposed a minimum wage of $300 monthly in urban areas and $250 per month in rural areas. San Salvador's Roman Catholic archbishop declared the small size of the increase unjust and sinful .    The party head of the FMLN called the increase a "joke" and asserted that the Consejo had been co-opted by business interests.   It seems likely that the president will veto the increase, but this would mean that workers get no increase in minimum wages at all

Public opinion at Sánchez Cerén two year mark

Salvador Sánchez Cerén completed his second year as El Salvador's president this week.    Recent public opinion polls show that slightly more Salvadorans currently approve of his performance than disapprove, but his approval ratings are well below the ratings of his two predecessors, Mauricio Funes and Tony Saca, at similar points in their administrations. According to a La Prensa Grafica poll in May 2016, 48% of Salvadorans approve of the job Sánchez Cerén is doing while 44% disapprove.   That is a marked reversal from February when only 36% approved and 55% disapproved.  In February, murders in the country had skyrocketed to their highest levels, prompting the government to introduce "exceptional measures" to combat crime including greater militarization of public security efforts and crack downs on gang leaders in the prisons.  Salvadorans give Sánchez Cerén an average rating of 5.6 on a scale of 1 to 10 on his job performance in the LPG survey.  In his report on