Showing posts from January, 2018

When El Salvador applied for statehood

I was double-checking some events in El Salvador's past today when I came across this forgotten piece of history:  in 1823, a delegation from El Salvador came to the United States to try and persuade the US to allow El Salvador to become a state .   Now wouldn't that have been interesting! First Mexican Empire At that time, El Salvador was seeking protection from the First Mexican Empire , which then reached from northern California to Texas and down to Guatemala.   El Salvador's need for protection and its interest in becoming a state apparently ended when the Mexican emperor abdicated, the empire was dissolved, and the Central American countries formed the Federal Republic of Central America which would exist until 1841. Now El Salvador seems even more a US state -- its currency is the US dollar, 1 out of every 4 Salvadorans lives in the US; Burger King, Pizza Hut, McDonald's, Wal-Mart and Starbucks have invaded El Salvador. Of course there is that big prob

IACHR reports on human rights in El Salvador

The InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights issued a report today on its working visit to El Salvador in November 2017.   The IACHR's report has a particular focus on the human rights of women and girls.   The press release announcing the report summarizes its findings: The IACHR observes that the State of El Salvador has made some progress in the areas of citizen security and the rights of women and other groups at special risk, such as the “Safe El Salvador Plan” or the Ciudad Mujer (“Women’s City”) program. At the same time, the IACHR expresses its deep concern about violations of human rights stemming from citizen insecurity, the lack of universal access to basic services, and the lack of budgetary resources to ensure the proper functioning and development of human rights policies. With regard to the rights of women and girls, the IACHR notes the prevalence of violence and discrimination against them, which is clearly reflected in the total criminalization of abortion in

Salvadoran prisons: a hell made worse by exceptional mesaures

The very high levels of gang-related crime and violence in El Salvador have filled El Salvador's prisons to more than overflowing.    The prisons are literal hellholes holding thousands more prisoners than their capacity.   Not only are the conditions inhumane and in violation of international norms, but many persons subjected to those conditions have not been convicted of a crime but were swept up in one of the many sweeps by Salvadoran security forces.   And the government's "exceptional measures" have deliberately made conditions even more extreme. These conditions prompted a rebuke last November by the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.   In his  remarks at the conclusion of his visit to El Salvador in November Zeid stated: We are informed of the State’s efforts to fully control the country’s jails, through the Extraordinary Security Measures, which since April 2016 have placed thousands of people in prolonged and isolated detention

Extra-judicial killings: does the Salvadoran government care?

A representative of the United Nations is in El Salvador this week to investigate reports by journalists and human rights groups of extrajudicial executions and other abuses by security forces. Dr. Agnes Callamard is the UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial Summary or Arbitrary Executions, and is in El Salvador from January 24 to February 5 at the invitation of the Salvadoran government . Human rights groups in El Salvador are using Callamard's visit to focus once again on the issue of extra-judicial killings by security forces.   Advocates  have pointed to the " lethality " of so-called confrontations between police and gangs in which gang members are shot and killed yet few police are killed or wounded and almost no gang members are wounded but not killed.  In addition. there are emblematic individual cases, such as the youth disappeared by the armed forces in the municipality of Armenia, the massacre at Finca San Blas , the extra-judicial killings document

The graying of rural El Salvador

The young are leaving rural El Salvador for the country's cities.   The result is rural farmers who are getting old with no one to take their place.  According to the country's agriculture ministry, the average age of farmers is now 57 years old. The exodus of the young seems to be driven by rural poverty.   56.1% of households in rural El Salvador suffer from multi-dimensional poverty compared to less than 22% of households in urban areas.  The government of El Salvador has a program of scholarships for young people in rural areas, as part of its "Amanacer Rural" (Rural Dawn) program.   The scholarships are aimed at giving young people the skills to make farming a profitable occupation and an alternative to leaving for the cities.

Fish kill in Lempa River

Environmental scientists are studying a massive die off of fish in the Lempa River, El Salvador's largest river which also passes through Honduras and Guatemala.  This photo gallery from Univision shows some of the eco-tragedy affecting this important river. Activists are blaming industrial coffee processing in Guatemala for dumping their waste products untreated into the Lempa.   "Aguas mieles" produced during the process of de-pulping the coffee berries is a known water contaminant.   Discharging those wastes is being labeled "eco-cide" by those affected. El Salvador's environment minister called on her counterparts in Guatemala and Honduras to consult on what steps needed to be taken. The Lempa River is more than 422 kilometers long and is an important source of water for agriculture and hydro-electric power in Central America and for sustenance of the people who live by its banks.

FMLN bosses pick a presidential candidate

Gerson Martínez The leadership of the left wing FMLN has apparently chosen the former Minister of Public Works, Gerson Martínez, to be the party's candidate for the 2019 presidential elections in El Salvador.  The FMLN has held the presidency since 2009, but faces an uphill challenge in 2019 with an unpopular current president and the presidential ambitions of San Salvador mayor Nayib Bukele and his new political party called Nuevas Ideas (New Ideas). Gerson Martínez is a 63 year old former guerrilla .  His actual name is Manuel Orlando Quinteros Aguilar, but he has used the name Gerson Martínez since the time he was a student activist.  He was one of the persons involved in the founding of the FMLN guerrilla coalition in 1980 and played leadership roles in the FMLN guerrilla movement during the country's civil war.   After the signing of the 1992 Peace Accords, Martínez was elected to the National Assembly as an FMLN deputy in 1994 and was re-elected every three years

A post-TPS decision reading list

The decision of the Trump administration to cancel Temporary Protected Status for El Salvador and the president's use of the term "shithole" to refer to El Salvador has prompted the appearance of many essays and articles in the past week and a half. Some authors emphasized the human and economic cost of the TPS decision: The El Salvador Tragedy , Linda Greenhouse, New York Times These Women Have Spent Years Cleaning Up After Senators Who Now Want To Deport Them , Dave Jamieson, Huffington Post Trump's latest immigration crackdown threatens the economy — both in the US and in El Salvador, Christopher Woody, Business Insider Unsurprisingly, several articles focused on the level of violence in El Salvador. Salvadorans forced to return home will face one of the most dangerous places on the planet , Robert Muggah and Isabel de Sola, Los Angeles Times Ex-gang members in El Salvador fear more crime if TPS ends , Patrick Oppmann and Natalie Gallón, CNN Why Is

The limited good news from El Salvador

A recent article in Americas Quarterly is  titled " The Good News About El Salvador ,"  and was written by researchers Robert Muggah and Katherine Aguirre.   Muggah is the co-founder of a Brazilian think tank named the  the Igarapé Institute which is hosting a conference on urban security and violence prevention in San Salvador next week.  The researchers described the "good news" they found in El Salvador: But today, 26 years since the signing of the Chapultepec Peace Accords, El Salvador has reason to be hopeful: After years of sustained investment in security and violence prevention, the country's murder rate is on its way down. The same is true of violence-plagued neighbors Honduras and Guatemala, where murder rates have fallen dramatically in recent years. This regional turnaround can offer lessons to policymakers from Brasília to Mexico City.   That’s not to say that all is well; violence in the so-called Northern Triangle is still tragically commonp

Lost TPS? Go to Qatar

One of the stranger developments in the story of increasing deportations of Salvadorans from the US are the efforts of El Salvador's government to find them a home in Qatar.  One year ago, a Qatar emissary was in El Salvador for the 25th anniversary of the Peace Accords, and the office of El Salvador's president reported that they discussed the possibility of greater investment by Qatar in El Salvador.  Exactly a year later,  the Salvadoran government reported that it was now discussing sending migrant workers to Qatar. According to Reuters : El Salvador is discussing a deal with Qatar under which Salvadoran migrants facing the loss of their right to stay in the United States could live and work temporarily in the Middle Eastern country, the government of the Central American nation said on Tuesday....  Presidential communications chief Eugenio Chicas said El Salvador was in talks to see how Salvadorans could be employed in Qatar, a wealthy country of some 2.6 millio

26th anniversary of Peace Accords

Tuesday, January 16, is the 26th anniversary of the signing of the Peace Accords which ended El Salvador's civil war.   To commemorate the date, here are some images from the Monument to Peace and Reconciliation in San Salvador which was unveiled last year.   For a full description of the Monument, visit Linda's El Salvador Blog .

With few local English speakers, call centers need deportees

Education First recently published the seventh edition of its world English Proficiency Index .    The Index ranks countries by the English language skills of their population.  In that index, El Salvador finished last among all the Latin American countries and finished 69th out of the 80 countries worldwide included in the Index.  El Salvador's English proficiency was classified as "very low." Spending a great deal of time in El Salvador, this was not particularly surprising to me.   Although Salvadoran public schools purport to teach English, I have met very few high school students who have achieved much more than being able to ask my name and to count in English.    This lack of locally produced English language skills explains why call centers, which are a major industry in El Salvador, are looking forward to growing numbers of deportations under the Trump administration, especially with the cancellation of TPS.  Reuters recently reported : The [call center] i

The race for mayor of San Salvador

The mayor's office of San Salvador is one of the most prominent political positions in El Salvador after the position of president.   It is a position which has gone back and forth between the major political parties over the past 25 years.    The current holder of the post, the popular Nayib Bukele, is not running for re-election after he was expelled from his former party, the FMLN. The candidates proposed by the major political parties are: Ernesto Muyshondt  -- ARENA Jackeline Rivera -- FMLN Both candidates are currently deputies in the National Assembly.  Opinion polls released in November and December of 2017 gave a fairly substantial lead to Muyshondt, but there are still large groups of undecided voters.    It could be that voters are undecided because they do not know who the candidates for mayor are.   The recent UCA poll showed that more than 80% of those polled did not know the names of the two major party candidates. The announced proposals of both M

Trump's words

Newspaper cover this morning President Trump's use of the term "shithole" to describe El Salvador along with Haiti and African nations was immediately and widely reported in El Salvador.  El Salvador's government issued a statement  lamenting the expressions and demanding respect for the "noble and valiant" Salvadoran people and reminding the White House that Salvadorans had helped rebuild the Pentagon after 9-11 and had helped rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. US Ambassador to El Salvador Jean Manes needed to tweet last night: Estados Unidos valora la amistad y la relación con el pueblo Salvadoreño. He tenido el privilegio de viajar alrededor de este hermoso país y conocer a miles de Salvadoreños. Es un honor vivir y trabajar aquí. Seguiremos 100% comprometidos. — Jean Manes (@USAmbSV) January 12, 2018 The United State values the friendship and the relationship with the Salvadoran people.  I have had the privilege to trav

Salvadorans pessimistic about the country

Every year at this time, the Institute for Public Opinion at the University of Central America releases poll results concerning Salvadorans evaluations of the state of their country and intentions to vote if it is a voting year.    This year's poll results show a population which is unhappy with the current situation and does not see a government which is improving matters.    The results do not bode well for the governing FMLN in upcoming elections. Here are some of the polling results. 62.4% believe crime has increased compared to the prior year. 54.6% believe that poverty increased in 2017. 59.9% are not interested or only slightly interested in voting in national elections on March 4. Only 22.7% have any confidence in the upcoming electoral process. 77.2% believe government security policies are having little or no effect on crime 67.1% believe President Salvador Sánchez Cerén is governing badly, a number which has steadily increased during his administration. In

More on termination of TPS for El Salvador

Here is some additional information about the decision by the Trump administration today to cancel Temporary Protected Status for El Salvador. The full text of the announcement by Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen is here .  Beyond the fact that TPS is terminated by her decision, there are a few other important points in the announcement.   First, the statement throws the ball back into Congress' lap: Only Congress can legislate a permanent solution addressing the lack of an enduring lawful immigration status of those currently protected by TPS who have lived and worked in the United States for many years. The 18-month delayed termination will allow Congress time to craft a potential legislative solution. In many ways, the Trump administration's action directly parallels the steps it took with DACA.    Trump and DHS cancelled both programs, but with an effective date many months away.   The administration then said "Congress can fix any problem if

Salvadoran TPS recipients lose fight

The US Department of Homeland Security will announce later today that it is cancelling the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) of approximately 195,000 Salvadorans living in the US. According to the Washington Post : The administration will notify the Salvadorans they have until Sept. 9, 2019 to leave the United States or find a new way to obtain legal residency, according to a copy of the announcement prepared by the Department of Homeland Security that will be published Monday morning.  The Salvadorans were granted what is known as Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, after a series of earthquakes devastated the country in 2001.  DHS is preparing to announce that Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has decided the conditions in El Salvador have improved significantly since then, ending the original justification for the Salvadorans’ deportation protection, these people said. TPS is a humanitarian provision in US immigration law, which temporarily suspends deportations of persons to the

The challenges of running an election

There are less than two months until El Salvador's next national elections which will elect deputies to the National Assembly and mayors in every town and city.  It's not going to be easy. Perhaps the biggest challenge El Salvador's Supreme Electoral Tribunal ("TSE") has right now is to find the more than 94,000 citizens needed to run the vote reception tables across the country.    In previous elections, this was the responsibility of the political parties and the persons at the voting tables could be affiliated with the parties.   The parties recruited, trained and made sure that people showed up   Fairness was ensured by the fact that each of the parties was represented by one of the officials at the tables.  However, since the last election the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the officials at the voting tables must be non-partisan and unaffiliated with the parties.  Now the TSE must enroll 94,000 nonpartisan officials

Major corruption case advances

El Salvador's attorney general had a victory in a major corruption case to commence 2018.    The private secretary of former president Tony Saca, Élmer Charlaix, was found civilly liable  on Thursday for "illicit enrichment" in the amount of almost 18 million dollars.   During his time handling money for Saca, Charlaix is accused of managing the transfer of hundreds of millions from accounts of the Salvadoran presidency to private accounts of the former president and his associates.  Charlaix and his wife must now repay $18 million under the same law of illicit enrichment under which Saca's successor Mauricio Funes and his son were recently required to return $419,145 to the Salvadoran treasury.   Public officials can be held liable when they cannot explain an increase in wealth which occurred during their time in office.  The misappropriation of funds by Charlaix, Saca and their associates, however, clearly dwarfs the sum for which Funes was accused. US Ambass

The top El Salvador stories of 2017

My annual summary of the top ten stories from the preceding year in El Salvador: The trial for the massacre of children and others at El Mozote .    For 36 years, they have been waiting for the possibility of justice.  In 2017, witnesses began to testify in a Salvadoran court room about the events of December 1981, where almost 1000 civilians, the majority children, were slaughtered by the Salvadoran armed forces in the town of El Mozote and surrounding hamlets.   But for the coming year, the question remains -- will a Salvadoran court be willing to impose criminal liability on those in high command? Nayib Bukele and the FMLN split .    Nayib Bukele is both the current mayor of San Salvador and El Salvador's most popular politician.   Yet in October, the FMLN kicked him out of the party for for violating party rules and ethics ostensibly connected to his treatment of a female FMLN attorney in a meeting.  It was a schism which had been brewing for months between the party a