Showing posts from March, 2017

Historic first step towards justice at El Mozote

El Salvador took a historic first step this week in the case of the 1981 massacre at El Mozote and the surrounding communities.    For the first time, former  officers of El Salvador's high military command sat before a Salvadoran judge to hear a reading of the crimes for which they are being accused of supervising and ordering.   Crimes like murder, rape and kidnapping in the military operation which killed as many as 1000 civilians including hundreds of children. From Reuters : A court in El Salvador notified seven former high-level military leaders on Wednesday they are being investigated for their alleged roles in the 1981 massacre of 1,000 peasants, considered the worst atrocity in the nation's bloody civil war.  The case, reopened in October, is the first since a July decision by the Supreme Court declaring unconstitutional a 1993 amnesty law that banned investigating, prosecuting, or jailing people for war crimes or human rights violations....  The Salvadoran Ar

El Salvador bans metalic mining

El Salvador's National Assembly today unanimously passed legislation banning metallic mining, including gold mining in the country.   The new law follows a years long struggle against mining companies by environmental activists, and makes the country the first in the world to enact a nationwide ban on metallic mining.    Recent strong endorsements of the legislation by the Roman Catholic church and by the Jesuit-run University of Central America appeared to create the additional momentum needed to make the bill become law. A New York Times article on the passage of the law highlighted the environmental concerns which prompted the legislation: The risks of mining in El Salvador, however, are especially acute. The tiny country is densely populated and the second-most environmentally degraded country in the Americas, after Haiti, according to the United Nations.  “Mining is an industry whose primary and first victim is water,” said Mr. McKinley, who added that El Salvador fac

Amnesty or restorative justice?

Nine months after El Salvador's Supreme Judicial Court nullified a 1993 amnesty law which blocked the prosecution of war crimes committed during the country’s civil war, the online periodical El Faro now  reports that the FMLN government of Salvador Sánchez Cerén is preparing draft legislation to implement the court ruling and replace the amnesty law. The government is reportedly working with a Colombian lawyer, Juanita Goebertus, who is represented to be an expert in "transitional justice" and who worked on the peace accords signed in 2016 between the government of Colombia and the FARC guerrillas. One issue which must be addressed in this effort is the definition of what acts committed during the war are still protected from prosecution.  The ruling of the court only nullified the amnesty law as it applied to "crimes against humanity."   Acts which do not rise to the level of a crime against humanity are still protected by the amnesty law:   Los hecho

Playa El Tunco

El Salvador is blessed to have a coastline with scores of scenic beaches.   These beaches are an important source of job-creating tourism. One of those beaches is Playa El Tunco. located just to the west of Puerto La Libertad on El Salvador's Pacific coast.    The waves attract surfers, and the beautiful location attracts everyone else.  The beach area features a growing number of small hotels, restaurants and bars.   On a recent visit in mid-March,  the area was bustling with North American tourists including both surfers and others on spring break.  The area will be overwhelmed with beach lovers during Holy Week in mid-April. According to the Ministry of Tourism, the Playa El Tunco area saw an investment of $11.6 million from 2014-2016 generating a significant number of direct and indirect jobs.   Similar levels of investment are occurring down the coast from El Tunco at Playa El Zonte where four new small hotels are opening during 2017 which are expected to generate more t

Human development in El Salvador

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) recently released its 2016 report titled " Human Development for Everyone ."   The report looks at human development across the globe in the context of the UNDP's "human development index" (HDI).    The HDI is a “a composite index measuring average achievement in three basic dimensions of human development— a long and healthy life, knowledge and a decent standard of living.” According to the most recent index, Norway, Australia and Switzerland take the podium for the highest human development. In releasing the report in El Salvador, the UNDP stated : The report "located El Salvador among the countries of medium human development with an HDI of 0.68, which has increased from 1990 by 28.5%.   It is located at position 117 of 188 countries.  When you consider inequalities, the HDI value for El Salvador declines some 22.2%, which is less than the reduction observed in Latin American and the Caribbean.   The r

Oscar Romero -- 37 years after his assassination

Today, March 24, is the 37th anniversary of the assassination/martyrdom of archbishop Oscar Romero.   In El Salvador,  Romero news of the past week has focused on whether or not Romero will be canonized soon by the Roman Catholic church.   The country's Roman Catholic bishops are in Rome where they expressed their interest in a prompt canonization with a trip to El Salvador by Pope Francis, as well as the beatification of Rutilio Grande.   The Pope's response? -- everything will happen on the appropriate schedule. Yesterday, human rights lawyers filed a petition with a court in San Salvador to reopen the case of Romero's assassination.   They are asking the court, now that the 1993 Amnesty Law has been nullified, to proceed judicially to establish the facts and the responsible parties surrounding El Salvador's most notorious murder.   This year is the 100th anniversary of Oscar Romero's birth.   If you want to learn more about this towering figure of fai

El Salvador's water crisis

March 22 was the World Day for Water.    In El Salvador, it was an appropriate day to reflect on a crisis in the availability of clean water.     According to statistics from the environment ministry  (MARN), as reported in La Prensa Grafica, there has been a decline of 27% in the availability of clean water in the country over the past decade. Why has this happened, when there is a six month rainy season each year?   The problem is that the surface waters in rivers and lakes are contaminated with pollution in much of the watershed that covers El Salvador.   There is the beginning of an effort to clean up the surface waters, but it will be a long time before that effort starts to show results.  The cost of treating contaminated surface water to make it drinkable is quite high.   As a result, much of the potable water used in the country must come from wells which tap the country's underground aquifers. The country's aquifers are being drained faster than they are being rep

El Salvador Attorney General opens new war crimes case

Since the nullifcation of the 1993 Amnesty Law in July, El Salvador's attorney general has been noticeably quiet concerning any cases he might actually bring involving crimes and atrocities during the war.     Although the El Mozote massacre case is moving forward, it is the lawyers for the victims and the court who have reopened and moved that case forward and not any actions by the FGR. This week, attorney general Douglas Meléndez announced that his office is reopening a case from the civil war.   This first case involves the 1987 assassination of human rights advocate Herbert Anaya Sanabria.   Although a trial convicted an ERP guerrilla member for the murder, most believe that the assassination in the city of Mejicanos was carried out by government forces.   The man convicted was subsequently freed after the Amnesty Law was passed. According to an  Amnesty International Report  in 1988: His killing, carried out by men in plain clothes using silencers on their guns, fol

More than 10 people per day "disappeared" in 2016 in El Salvador

The mother spoke in a quiet voice in the small office of the human rights lawyer.  She told the story of her daughter's disappearance.  Her daughter had gotten in a pick-up for the ride to the highway and the bus which would take her home.   Three hours later, the girl had not arrived.   Calls to her cell phone went unanswered.   The mother was told that the pick-up had been stopped and her daughter removed.    That was all she knew. Relatives had advised the mother not to report the event to the police.   There was probably gang involvement and getting the police involved would endanger the rest of the family.   The mother did not go to the police.   This visit to the human rights lawyers was the first time she had told the story to anyone outside of the family.   When eventually she went to the police accompanied by the lawyers, the police indicated it was unlikely there was much they could do.    Disappeared, presumed dead. The daughter in this family is one of at least 3859

New research on gang membership in El Salvador

There is important new research about gang membership in El Salvador and the possibilities of gang members leaving the gang life behind.    The US State Department funded study was performed by Florida International University along with FUNDE in El Salvador and produced a report titled  The New Face of Street Gangs in Central America based on almost 1200 interviews with former and current gang members during 2016.    Find the English version of the report here . First the study had to look at why youth join the gangs in the first place.   From the executive summary: The results of the study suggest that Salvadoran youths keep joining the gangs as a result of problematic families, lack of opportunities, and a heightened perception of deprivation of social respect and affection in their communities. Gang organizations tap into such shortages to recruit and maintain an army that becomes instrumental in the control of new territories and the waging of war with enemies, including

Can El Salvador's historic center be rescued?

The historic center of San Salvador is the location of many important historic and cultural sites including the Metropolitan Cathedral with the crypt of Blessed Oscar Romero, the former National Palace, the National Theater, Plaza Libertad, Plaza Gerardo Barrios, El Rosario Church, the National Library, the Museum of the Central Reserve Bank and more.  The historic center is also the location of a huge sprawling formal and informal market which spills out of market buildings and onto the streets and sidewalks for many blocks.   Finally, the historic center has been a place where El Salvador's street gangs are deeply entrenched and where extortion demands backed up with threats of deadly violence predominate. Restoring the historic center has been one of the focal points of San Salvador mayor Nayib Bukele's time in office.   Currently the city government is remodeling the two most important plazas in the sector, Plaza Libertad and Plaza Gerardo Barrios, seeking to make th

Murderous day a reality check for El Salvador government

This article originally appeared on the website of   Written by Tristan Clavel  Friday, 17 March 2017 The killing of dozens in El Salvador in a single day, despite government claims that a hardline policy against violent gangs is working, shows these criminal groups maintain their lethal power, and may signal a resurgence of spiking violence in the country. El Salvador's head of National Police Howard Cotto announced during a press conference on March 16 that 30 individuals were killed during the previous day, reported La Prensa . According to Cotto, at least 17 of the deaths were directly linked to the country's powerful gangs. Hours before the announcement, authorities had praised the more than 62 percent decrease in homicides between January 1st and March 14th 2017 and the same period in 2016. El Salvador witnessed 651 murders during those dates this year, a significant drop from last year's 1,722. Among the lethal incidents on March 16 were the

Court cites high military commanders in El Mozote massacre case

Twenty ex-members of El Salvador's military, including high-ranking generals, have been cited to appear in court in San Francisco Gotera, in Morazan department, in connection with the 1981 El Mozote massacre .    This is the first case in a court in El Salvador involving El Mozote and the first case to proceed after last year's nullification of the 1993 Amnesty Law.   The ex-military have court dates on the 29th and 30th of March to hear the charges against them, but can send attorneys rather than appearing in person. The cited officers include  general José Guillermo García, ex-minister of defense; general Rafael Flores Lima, ex-chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces; Colonel Jaime Flores Grijalva, ex-commander of the Third Infantry Brigade, General Juan Rafael Bustillo, ex-commander of the Salvadoran Air Force and other lower ranking officers involved in the events. The crimes alleged include murders, aggravated rape, kidnapping, acts of terrorism and ot

Profile of the Salvadoran consumer

El Salvador's Consumer Protection Office released a Profile of the Salvadoran Consumer this week with a compilation of data from household surveys conducted during 2015.    The data offer a number of insights into the economic well-being of families in El Salvador.    Average monthly household income in 2015 in urban areas was $630.14, down from $660.90 in 2013. Average monthly household income in 2015 in rural areas was $373.96, up from $361.82 in 2013. Average household spending on food in urban areas was $170.26 and $129.48 in rural areas. The statistics from the Consumer Profile show the impact of the General Medicine Law which went into effect in 2013.   The amount spent by Salvadoran households on drugs immediately dropped 67% in 2013.   In 2015, medication spending was still 41.3% lower that it had been in 2012. In the urban areas 27.96% of households had a computer.   While in rural areas, computers are in just 5.89%, of households.   80% of Salvadorans over age 1

Proposed legislation could threaten call center industry

Call centers are big business in El Salvador employing thousands , many of whom are English-speaking Salvadorans deported from the US. A bill recently introduced in the US Congress might threaten the growth of the call center industry, however:   Introduced by Congressmen Gene Green from the Democratic Party and Republican David McKinley, the US Call Center and Consumer Protection Act would deter companies from shipping American jobs overseas and incentivise them to locate them in the US by creating a public list of “bad actors” consisting of those that shipped all or most of their service work overseas.  “Being on the list would make these actors ineligible for federal grants or guaranteed loans, would require overseas call centres to disclose their locations to customers, and would require them to comply with US consumers’ request to be transferred to a service agent physically located in the US,” the two lawmakers said. The measure is supported in the US by the Communication

FMLN continues attacks on Constitutional Chamber

The left wing FMLN controls the executive branch in El Salvador and has 31 seats in the 84 seat National Assembly.   For the past two years, the party has been vocally complaining that the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court is acting as the tool of right wing and business interests to thwart the FMLN's agenda.    The latest complaint surrounds a Constitutional Chamber decision which removed Jesús Ulises Rivas Sánchez, a magistrate nominated by the FMLN, from the Supreme Electoral Tribunal  ("TSE" for its initials in Spanish). To understand the dispute, you need to understand that each of the three parties which obtained the most votes in the last round of elections gets to nominate one candidate to the TSE, whose nominations are confirmed by the National Assembly. The Constitutional Chamber removed Rivas Sánchez for a lack of public impartiality as an officer of the country's tribunal which oversees the entire election process.  From the court's  de

Rutilio Grande -- martyred prophet against injustice and inequality

Sunday, March 12, is the 40th anniversary of the martyrdom of Father Rutilio Grande, S.J.   Grande was a Jesuit priest working with poor campesinos in the countryside near El Paisnal, El Salvador. On March 12, 1977, while driving on the road between El Paisnal and Aguilares, assassins from Salvadoran security forces killed Father Grande, as well as two of his campesino parishioners, Manuel Solorzano, 72, and Nelson Rutilio Lemus, 16. Rutilio Grande was a friend of Archbishop Oscar Romero, and this killing is said to have been one of the key events leading Romero to align his ministry with the cause of the poor and oppressed in El Salvador. Today in El Salvador, there is hope that Rutilio will follow Oscar Romero towards sainthood. America magazine published an article this week titled El Salvador holds hope for its saint in waiting, Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande , including a description of the Salvadoran Jesuit priest's ministry to the poor: Father Grande, a Salva

Millennium Challenge funds in El Salvador

In September 2014, the US approved a $277 million aid program to El Salvador through the Millennium Challenge Corporation.  The program is referred to as FOMILLENIO II.    Two and a half years later, how is that money being used? According to the FOMILLENIO II website , "The aim of the program is to improve the investment climate in El Salvador for economic growth and poverty reduction."   The program has a total budget of $365.2 million, of which $277 million is an investment made by the US government through the Millennium Challenge Corporation and $88.2 million comes from the Salvadoran Government. The components of the program include: Logistical infrastructure .    This includes improvement of the southern coastal highway from the airport to the city of Zacatecoluca as well as improvements at the border crossing to Honduras at El Amatillo in eastern El Salvador. Human Capital .    This project has a $100.2 million fund available over five years, with a stated

US State Department 2016 Human Rights Report for El Salvador

The US State Department released its 2016 Human Rights report on El Salvador last week.    The picture isn't pretty.   From the executive summary: Civilian authorities failed at times to maintain effective control over security forces.  The principal human rights problems stemmed from widespread extortion and other crime in poor communities throughout the country. They included widespread corruption; weak rule of law, which contributed to high levels of impunity and government abuse, including unlawful killings by security forces, discrimination, and delay and lack of compliance with court rulings; and violence against women and girls (including by gangs), gender discrimination, and commercial sexual exploitation of women and children. According to a 2016 CID Gallup poll, more than one in five families claim to have been victims of violent crimes.  Other human rights problems included harsh and potentially life-threatening prison conditions; lengthy pretrial detention; rest

International Women's Day in El Salvador

As they did throughout the world, women marched in El Salvador today to mark International Women's Day.   Women in El Salvador marched to highlight a wide range of issues including gender-based and domestic violence, unequal pay for equal work, women in poverty, and draconian abortion laws. The need for for empowerment and legal protection of women is seen in an article titled   “There’s exploitation behind every piece of clothing made in El Salvador”  from the Spanish periodical El Pais, in an interview with Salvadoran activist Montserrat Arévalo about garment factories: At the factories, you have women aged 18 through 35. The extenuating workdays of over 16 hours and the high production targets mean that after the age of 35, these workers are no longer profitable for the industry. So most of them are young, uneducated women and homemakers. Their low education level and precarious situation forces them to work in this sector, as there are no formal job alternatives i

No zoo for young hippos

On February 28, we shared on this blog a reflection about the tragic death of Gustavito, the hippo in the San Salvador zoo, who was allegedly the victim of a vicious attack by unknown assailants.   But now it appears that this is a different type of tragedy.   From the Huffington Post : [A]fter a post-mortem exam, prosecutors are telling a different story, the BBC reported Saturday. State prosecutor Mario Salazar said there were no puncture wounds on Gustivato’s body. Instead, investigators determined that the hippo died from pulmonary hemorrhaging, meaning bleeding inside the lungs. Culture minister Silvia Elena Regalado said officials are still not totally ruling out an attack, since the stress of such an event could have induced medical issues, the AFP news agency reports. But Salazar’s team is suggesting the bleeding was caused by insufficient care for Gustavito on the part of the zoo. There are no surveillance cameras focused on the hippo’s enclosure, making it difficult to d

Oceana Gold PR campaign

On February 26, I wrote about the ongoing fight to prohibit gold mining in El Salvador.     Joining the struggle to get a law passed to prohibit all metallic mining are the Roman Catholic church, the University of Central America, the Human Rights Advocate (PDDH), local municipalities and a host of national and international environmental organizations. I also wrote that "Oceana Gold will continue to struggle to salvage the earlier investments its subsidiary Pac-Rim made in the country."   An example of how Oceana Gold is trying to get permission to mine gold in the country can be seen in the full page ad it took out in today's La Prensa Grafica : Withe the slogan " Yes" to Responsible Mining , the ad contains a variety of facts and graphics to support Oceana Gold's assertion that "El Salvador is the only country in the Americas that does not have responsible mining." We are now 12 months away from the next election for legislators in t

Government honors for a deceased dictator

On Friday, March 3, General Carlos Humberto Romero Mena was buried with military honors in the cemetery of The Illustrious in San Salvador.  He was the last military dictator of El Salvador.  Romero Mena was minister of  Defense and Public Security in the cabinet of ex-president Arturo Molina (1972-1977), and then became president of El Salvador for a period of two years (1977-1979), after an electoral fraud. As El Faro reminded its readers: Romero Mena was tagged with grave violations of human rights, among them the disappearance of Catholic priests, and leaders and members of labor and campesino organizations.   His years as minister of security included assembling the mechanisms for the search, persecution, disappearance, torture and assassination of political opponents. El Salvador's National Assembly declared a national day or mourning with a vote that included the approval of 26 members of the governing FMLN party. This burial with honors is another example of ho

Struggle for more humane abortion laws in El Salvador

El Salvador outlaws abortion in all situations and punishes not just abortion providers, but pregnant women, with some of the most draconian penalties in the world.   As Human Rigts Watch reported: Abortion is a crime in El Salvador, with no exceptions – even in cases of rape or incest, where the pregnancy endangers the pregnant woman’s life or health, or in cases of severe fetal impairment. Anyone who has an abortion, and the medical providers who perform or induce them, can face drastic prison sentences. Women have been convicted of murder after being accused of having had an abortion, sometimes with prison terms for up to 40 years. For some of these women, having a miscarriage or stillbirth was used as evidence to convict them. The quest to make these laws more humane continues. There has been some success in getting a few women freed who had been imprisoned on homicide charges after being suspected of having an abortion.    One such woman was Sonia Tábora who suffered a misca

Drop in homicide rate continues

The recent reduction in homicide rates in El Salvador has continued through the end of February.  Public security forces reported the statistics yesterday: National police Commissioner Howard Cotto said Wednesday that 237 killings were recorded in February. Added to 256 in January, that's 493 for the first two months.  Last year El Salvador saw 1,404 homicides during the same period. Cotto attributed the decline to a government crackdown and legislation giving authorities extraordinary powers to fight gangs, such as blocking cellphone communications in prisons and isolating jailed leaders in maximum-security conditions. According to Cotto , 137 of the country's 262 municipalities have had zero homicides so far during 2017.  In contrast, during the first two months of 2016, only 24 municipalities had gone without a murder.   February 2017 had the lowest level of homicides for a February since 2005, with the exception of February 2013 at the height of the so-called "t