Showing posts from May, 2017

Jesuits petition for release of one of the assassins

Jesuits at the University of Central America petitioned this week for the release of former Col. Guillermo Benavides, who had been returned to prison after the 1993 amnesty law was nullified last year.  From the AP : Benavides and a lieutenant, both members of an elite, U.S.-trained battalion, were convicted in the killings but then freed under a 1993 amnesty decree covering crimes during the Central American nation’s civil war. The Supreme Court declared the amnesty unconstitutional in 2016, and Benavides returned to prison despite appeals from his lawyers.  Jose Maria Tojeira, a priest who directs the university’s Human Rights Institute, said there several reasons for seeking Benavides’ freedom.  “We are aware of his regret and his admission of the error,” Tojeira said, adding that the 74-year-old ex-soldier “no longer represents a danger to the Salvadoran people.” Tojeira also said the Jesuits believe Benavides is a “scapegoat” for those who ordered the massacre and were neve

Central American Minors Program up in the air

When Donald Trump issued executive orders suspending refugee admissions into the United States, one of the affected programs was the Central American Minors program ("CAM").    This program was intended to provide a safer route to the US for children in Central America fleeing violence.   Rather the making the perilous journey through Mexico, minors with a parent legally in the US (including on TPS) could apply for refugee status in their home country and later, if approved, fly to the US to join their parent.    A recent story by PRI describes the need for the program and the impact of the program's uncertain future.  The program's impact is told through the story of Juan, a Salvadoran youth whose life was imperiled by gang death threats: Juan's family initially decided he should make the trip to the US. They thought he would have a good chance at gaining asylum, and his mother would be there to receive him. But he only made it as far as Mexico, where he

Corruption made easy

The investigative journalists at El Faro have published a report on a parallel secret set of financial records used by ARENA presidential administrations of Calderon Sol, Flores and Tony Saca.    The records reflect money diverted from the government to many purposes: Between 1994 and 2006, the Presidency of the Republic maintained a register parallel to the official one in order to hide the true use of hundreds of millions of dollars. Two accounting books to which El Faro had access detailed how the last three governments of ARENA utilized 322 million dollars, and more than half of this amount corresponds to checks paid to the order of ex-presidents Armando Calderón Sol, Francisco Flores and Antonio Saca. The El Faro reporting goes on to describe how the various presidents over the course of twelve years hid how they used "discretionary" funds of the presidency.  In additions to payments to the presidents themselves, millions were paid out in bonuses to government offici

US guns help fuel El Salvador's violence

There were 4279 murders committed with firearms in El Salvador during 2016.   That was 81% of all murders committed.    When a gun is the murder weapon, chances are the gun originated in the United States. An article at The Trace titled  American Guns Drive the Migrant Crisis That Trump Wants to Fix With a Wall , argues that lax US gun control policies fuel both violence in Central America and the migrant crisis formed of persons fleeing that same violence.   Trump's commitment to gun rights may be working at cross purposes with his goal to shut down migration from south of the US border.   Weapons seized by Salvadoran  police on May 23 The article describes the smuggling networks which buy guns at US gun shops and move the guns south towards Central America: Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador each tightly restricts civilian gun ownership. The smaller Central American nations have no domestic firearms industries to speak of. But over the past few decades, guns

MS-13 in the news

When US president Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions talk about southern border enforcement, they often bring up the gang MS-13 as the prime example of "bad hombres" who will be blocked from entering the US and be deported if they are already in the country.   MS-13 plays a role in their rhetoric similar to ISIS -- a threat to the US homeland which must be met by tough measures to block the entrance of refugees and others fleeing violence, and which requires aggressive law enforement strategies at home.     It is a theme playing out in US headlines and social media memes; in the last few days alone there are dozens of stories about MS-13 violence in the US. This week, the Republicans again blamed the Obama administration for the presence of MS-13 gang members in the country.   Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Sentate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, sent a letter to the Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, demand

Collateral damage from banning gold mining

Many people around the world celebrated when El Salvador became the first country to ban all metallic mining including gold mining.    In tiny El Salvador, with limited water resources free of contamination, the threat of environmental degradation from mines was seen as too great.   Add to that, most believed that the economic benefits would only go to the multi-national companies which would own and operate the mines. But an article in the Guardian reminds us that there is another class of gold miners in El Salvador.  "Artisanal" gold miners, who dig for gold by hand from small, older mines, will soon be put out of business by the new law.   As one of these miners stated: “We’re lucky if we get $20 or $40 every two days. There are weeks when we don’t find any gold,” he says. Soza has worked all his life as a güirisero, the Salvadoran term for a small-scale, artisanal miner. He works five days a week inside an underground mine, dragging carts filled with heavy rocks or

Pope Francis names first cardinal from El Salvador

Pope Francis has named the first cardinal of the Roman Catholic church from El Salvador.  Seventy-four year old Gregorio Rosa Chávez is the auxiliary bishop of San Salvador and will now wear the red hat of the princes of the church.     Rosa Chávez was named auxilliary bishop of San Salvador in 1982, a post he has held for the past thirty-five years under a series of archbishops in San Salvador. From Crux , a Catholic website: On choosing Rosa Chávez from El Salvador, the pope bypassed the titular archbishop of the diocese, José Luis Escobar y Alas, once again making the point that when he gives red hats, he’s more than willing to go beyond the traditional “cardinal sees,” something he’s done in the previous three consistories he’s celebrated.  This pick in particular says a lot about Francis, because Rosa Chávez was a close collaborator of slain Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was murdered in 1980 while he was saying Mass.  Talking to Vatican Radio in the days previous to the

Migration stories

I spend a lot of time these days talking about migration and US immigration policy.   I talk about it in workshops and conferences in El Salvador.   I talk about it to church groups and others in the US.   I write about the subject constantly as part of El Salvador Perspectives . One thing I am convinced about is that we need to hear each other's stories.   US audiences need to understand the violence and desperation which force people to migrate from El Salvador and the other Northern Triangle countries.   Audiences in El Salvador need to hear accurate stories of  what awaits anyone who might attempt the perilous journey through Mexico and what awaits them legally, culturally, economically and socially in the US. Two well written, photographed and video-ed pieces of journalism came out this past week which help understand those stories.   I urge you to read them in their entirety, not just the headlines, and then share them and encourage friends to do the same. In an articl

Coffee excellence for El Salvador

The Cup of Excellence is a competition of coffee quality which takes place in coffee-producing countries around the world.   The competition just concluded in El Salvador with the winning coffee finace located in La Palma, Chalatenango.    You can read about all the top farms in this year's competition here . From Daily Coffee News : The 2017 auction, organized by the nonprofit Alliance for Coffee Excellence and in-country partners following a successful 2017 Cup of Excellence quality competition, shattered previous CoE El Salvador auction records, with numerous international coffee buyers offering more than $95 USD per pound for a honey-processed Pacamara coffee from the Santa Rosa Farm. The previous individual high in El Salvador was $50.10....  The auction represents a major win for the Santa Rosa farm — founded in 1979 by Jorge Raul Rivera near the municipality of La Palma in Chalatenango Department — but also for the Pacamara variety, known not only for its extraor

Oscar Romero assassination case reopened

The case of the murder of Oscar Romero, former archbishop of San Salvador, is actually proceeding in a court in El Salvador. From Reuters : A judge in El Salvador on Thursday reopened the nearly four-decade-old case of murdered Archbishop Oscar Romero, an icon of the Roman Catholic Church in Latin America, and asked that prosecutors seek criminal charges against the main suspect.  The ruling, by Judge Ricardo Chicas, follows a decision last year by the country's constitutional court to repeal an amnesty law that prohibited criminal trials stemming from the Central American nation's bloody civil war from 1980 to 1992.  The main suspect in the killing of Romero is Alvaro Rafael Saravia, a former soldier who had his case dismissed in 1993 as a result of the amnesty law. Saravia was sued in a civil lawsuit in the United States for his role in Romero's role.    Saravia defaulted and never appeared in the case.   After hearing testimony about Oscar Romero's im

Gang truce case proceedings

The current attorney general of El Salvador, Douglas Meléndez, is prosecuting the mediators of the 2012 gang truce and those government officials he accuses of participation in implementing the truce. The defendants include Raúl Mijango who mediated the truce, Nelson Rauda, former director of the prison system, and other prison officials. In a proceeding today , the judge agreed to lift the confidentiality seal over the case to allow the case to proceed in public.   With the seal lifted, Paolo Luers,  who is often linked to the truce himself, described today's events in a blog post .  The preliminary hearing is expected to last three days. The 2012 gang truce began in March 2012 and led to an immediate drop in the homicide rate of more than 50% as El Salvador's gangs ceased shooting at each other.  At the same time, a group of top gang leaders in the prisons were transferred to lower security facilities with more privileges.   Government officials denied that there had bee

Violence against LGBT community continues unabated

There appears to be no improvement at all in the situation of violence faced by the LGBTQI community in El Salvador, especially the trans community.  The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has called for an investigation into the number of murders of transgender individuals in El Salvador. From a Reuters report : An uptick in deadly violence against transgender women in El Salvador prompted the United Nations on Friday to call for an investigation into crimes against sexual minorities in the conservative Central American country.  So far this year, seven transgender women have been killed in El Salvador, according to the Geneva-based Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Local LGBT organizations put the death toll at 17 through the first four months of the year.  In 2016, at least 25 transgender women were killed over the course of the entire year, according to the local organizations.  Leading transgender activist Karla Avelar said loca

The PDDH and forced displacement

Last month I wrote about how El Salvador's government refuses to acknowledge the reality of people being internally displaced within the country as a result of violence.   This denial comes despite ongoing media coverage and reports of NGOs and others. One part of El Salvador's government, however, is acknowledging, and urging attention to, the problem of forced displacement.   That is the Human Rights Ombudsman's Office (PDDH for its initials in Spanish.     The attention of this office started with a  Report  dated July 28, 2016 under the previous PDDH, David Morales.    The appointment of new PDDF, Raquel de Guevara, did not change this focus.   This was first seen in her  Pronouncement  on October 3, 2016 which focused on the case of Caluco , an entire community which had been displaced.  In that pronouncement the PDDH called for the Salvadoran government to recognize its responsibilities to displaced populations under norms established by the United Nations and to

Developments in Jesuit and El Mozote cases

The past several weeks have seen a few small developments in two of the most emblematic cases from El Salvador's civil war, the 1989 massacre of six Jesuits priests, their housekeeper and her daughter and the 1981 massacre of almost one thousand civillians including hundreds of children in the hamlet of El Mozote and surrounding areas.    In both cases, the possiblity of justice in the face of impunity seems slow and far away.   The Jesuits In El Salvador, on April 6, 2017, a Salvadoran appeals court ratified the 30 year prison sentence for Colonel Alfredo Benavides for his role in the Jesuit murders.  Benavides was originally found guilty in a trial in 1992, but was set free as a result of the 1993 Amnesty Law.    When the Amnesty Law was nullified in 2016, however, Benavides' sentence was reinstated.   This action by the court helps the Salvadoran legal system maintain the pretense that justice has already been done in the case and no more proceedings are necessary.

The case of Daniel Alemán

The case of  Daniel Avilés Alemán, is emblematic of many things which are going wrong with policing and the justice system in El Salvador.   Daniel is a 22 year old youth who was arrested on January 10 and accused of possession of drugs with intention to distribute.   He had been living with his mother and helping in the bakery that she runs.  Prior to his arrest, he was a young man with dreams of being a chef and was taking cooking classes. Daniel was on a soccer field in the community of AltaVista when anti-gang police arrived and detained and searched thirty young men.    AltaVista is in one of the urban municipalities which surrounds El Salvador and has a serious gang problem  The police let all the detained youth but Daniel go.  They carted him off to the local police post.   They allegedly found marijuana and cash on Daniel. But the versions reported by the police did not match what witnesses had seen.    The police had the time wrong.  They had the location wrong.   And

Mass transit and El Salvador's Supreme Court

Yesterday, May 8, the Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador's Supreme Court issued another decision which provoked the ire of the FMLN government.    The Chamber issued an injunction requiring that traffic lanes used exclusively by a public transit system (SITRAMSS) be open to all traffic: personal, public and commercial.   The government decried the decision which will result (and is resulting) in major delays on the system, and the public users of the system are none too happy as well.   Demonstrations against the court are being planned. In my outside observer's opinion, the Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador's Supreme Court lacks a degree of political prudence.    By that, I mean that it sometimes picks fights where it does not have to.  The Chamber does not give any deference to the other branches of government.  And by stepping into various matters, it loses the political capital and the societal contract which gives its rulings effectiveness. A country&#

This is not a good idea

The president of El Salvador's legislative National Assembly told reporters that he has donated money to local community self defense groups of private citizens so they could acquire gun permits and weapons.  Guillermo Gallegos of the GANA party stated that El Salvador's constitution included a right to self defense, and since the gangs had large caliber weapons and even grenades, local communities should be able to arm themselves. Gallegos stated , "I prefer a dead gang member to one dead policeman, soldier or honest citizen." The idea to arm community self defense groups was rejected by the Minister of Public Security and the Minister of Defense.  The Human Rights Advocate (PDDH) stated that if communities were in need of defense that more resources should be given to the government security forces rather than arming civilians. The proposal was also not seen positively  by Javier Simán, a leading businessman, who stated that before anyone goes around arming

A new sanctuary movement

During the 1980s, when civil wars in El Salvador and elsewhere spurred many to flee violence by migrating to the US, the US government granted asylum to few.   Granting asylum would have been an acknowledgment that the right-wing governments that the US was propping up with military aid were gross abusers of human rights.   In reponse, a sanctuary movement grew up in US churches and solidarity groups to shelter migrants from being shipped back to their war torn countries: With the front door to the United States effectively shut, Central Americans turned to a back entrance. This was the sanctuary movement. In the 1980s, it came to be embraced by hundreds of churches and synagogues, as well as by some college campuses and cities, in more than 30 states. Refugees denied political asylum were spirited across the southern border and sheltered in houses of worship like Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Ariz.  “These were middle-class folks who were fleeing for their lives,” the R

Homicide rates in El Salvador have dropped

The Minister of Security, Mauricio Ramírez Landaverde, reported recently that in the first four months of 2017, El Salvador had recorded 1087 violent deaths, a reduction of  55% in comparison to the 2346 reported during the same period during 2016.   During April 2017 there were 291 homicides; an average of 9.7 homicides each day, a reduction of 43 homicides from the same month in 2016. Landaverde attributes the reduction to the impact of the " exceptional measures " which the government began deploying in the first half of 2016. Authorities also reported that the numbers for other types of crimes beyond just homicide fell as well: Carjackings declined 53%, Vehicle theft declined 34%. Extortion declined 27% At the same time, Landaverde reported that the police had arrested and detained 34,425 suspects during the period from June 2016 to the beginning of May 2017.   That's a very high number in this country of just six million people.   No statistics were

A festival of corruption

The University of Central America (UCA) published an editorial on May 1 titled A Festival of Corruption .  In it, the UCA decries the moral bankruptcy of the ruling elites in both parties who engage in corruption large and small as part of their running of the country. The editorial starts with the recent disclosure that senior government officials, for years, under both ARENA and FMLN administrations have been receiving "bonuses" to supplement their official salaries.   The bonuses come in cash, placed in envelopes, without pay statements or receipts.    It's just how it has been done, and this "off the books" way of taking money from the public coffers had simply become something government officials came to believe they were entitled to. The problem of government officials who think of themselves and their pocketbooks first, and the country second, is seen in many other ways.   Although the government runs a public healthcare system which is perpetuall

El Salvador plans for arrival of "bad dudes"

El Salvador is worried about a possible increase in deportations of gang members from the US and its impact on levels of gang activity in the Cental American country.    With president Donald Trump promising to deport lots of "bad dudes," law enforcement authorities are trying to make plans. From Reuters : El Salvador proposed new measures on Wednesday to track criminal deportees from the United States as part of a bid to keep violent street gangs known as "Maras" from expanding as U.S. President Donald Trump vows to kick them out.  Salvadoran Vice President Oscar Ortiz said the government wants to create a database of criminal deportees overseen by police to make sure they do not join gangs after returning.  Ortiz said that deportees with criminal records would be classified according to the crime for which they were deported and may be forced by court order to appear before the police every month.  "The measure seeks to ensure that they are not en

El Salvador inaugurates largest solar power plant in Central America

In a ceremony today, El Salvador officially inaugurated the largest solar power station in Central America.   The plant consists of 320,000 photo-voltaic panels which at peak capacity can provide electricity to serve 150,000 homes. The plant Providencia Solar is located on the highway between San Salvador and the Costa del Sol, in the municipality of El Rosario in the departament of La Paz.  It was built at a cost of $151 million and is operated by the renewable energy company Neoen .

The state of El Salvador's workforce

On this May 1 international labor day, marchers of the FMLN, clad in red, marched through the streets of the capital city to show their support with the working classes.   For the day, El Faro published a set of statistics which illustrate the state of affairs for the Salvadoran worker.   El Faro begins by noting that El Salvador's government has calculated the monthly cost of a basic market basket of food, goods and services for an average family of 4.5 people is $590.    Compare that basic fact to the following figures: The average salary in the private sector of the formal economy is $505 monthly. 30% of the employees in the private sector earn less than $389. The recently increased legal minimum wage ranges from $200 monthly in parts of the agriculture sector and $300 in the manufacturing sector. In the public sector, the average monthly salary is $700. 53% of women do not participate in the workforce, while only 20% of men do not participate in the workforce. For