Showing posts from September, 2018

Only 4 in 10 Salvadorans are Roman Catholic

As the Roman Catholic church in El Salvador prepares for one of its largest celebrations ever with the canonization of martyred archbishop Oscar Romero on October 14, membership in the Roman church continues to decline in the country. Source: La Prensa Grafica, Sept. 28, 2018 According to polling data from La Prensa Grafica shown above, the percentage of Salvadorans professing to be Roman Catholics has dropped to 41.5% in 2018 from 55.1% in 2004.  Meanwhile the number of Salvadorans identifying with evangelical Christianity has climbed from 28.7% to 38.1% of the population, and the percentage professing no religion has now grown to 17.7%.

Why arrests of supposed gang members do not signify successes

The Attorney General's office (FGR) and National Civilian Police (PNC) in El Salvador regularly (like every day) parade in front of the cameras alleged gang members they have arrested.   And it is a major media show when there are periodic nationwide raids which pick up hundreds of accused young men.   Yet columnist Paolo Luers recently wrote about the key fact you need to know about these public arrests: Most of you are not going to like this letter. But someone has to tell you: If you think that the industrial quantity of captures produced and publicized by the prosecutors and the PNC is an indicator that we will have more security, you were deceived.  The Prosecutor's Office announced that it issued 1128 arrest warrants against persons accused of being members of the MS13 or of the gang 18. The result: 607 arrests. It is not the summary of a month, it is the summary of a single week, between August 26 and September 4, 2018, sum of three mega raids: the operatio

Bukele has 25 point lead in latest poll

CID-Gallup released the results of recent polling of Salvadorans concerning their preferences for president. In the poll of 1205 adults, Nayib Bukele on the GANA ticket was the preferred choice for president of 45% of those polled, well ahead of Carlos Calleja of ARENA with 20%, and Hugo Martinez of the FMLN with only 7%.     27% of voters were still undecided. Bukele's results have increased four percentage points since the last Gallup poll in May 2018, while the other two major candidates have remained flat. 70% of voters say they are likely to vote on election day, February 3, 2019. One of the most interesting results of the poll was the question "what is the principal problem of the country?"  30% answered unemployment, 25% answered corruption in government and politicians, and only 19% answered lack of citizen security/crime.    In recent years, with high rates of homicide and extortion by the country's street gangs, crime had usually been the number one p

Another Salvadoran war criminal located in the United States

Image capture from video shot by ZEMBLA team Another Salvadoran war criminal has been located living in the United States.  Colonel Mario Reyes Mena is alleged to have given the orders in 1982 to kill four Dutch journalists covering the civil war in El Salvador.  At the time he was commander of the 4th infantry brigade based in  El Paraíso, Chalatenango.  The massacre occurred close by in Santa Rita. Dutch journalists from ZEMBLA tracked Reyes Mena down through social media activity to a house in the United States.  He has reportedly been living in the US since 1984, two years after the massacre. From NL Times : Zembla tracked down the colonel who ordered the murder of the four Dutch. The now 79-year-old Mario Reyes Mena has been living in the United States for four years. Zembla found him through his three adult children, who are active on social media.  In 1993 a United Nations truth commission concluded that Reyes Mena  was responsible for the ambush and the murder of t

A critical moment for water rights in El Salvador

It feels like the movement towards a water law is reaching a critical moment in El Salvador. After the March 4, 2018 national elections, conservative parties have a stronger position in the legislature, but this has motivated an equally strong response from civil society.  Groups coming together under the umbrella of the National Alliance against Privatization of Water demand recognition of water as a public good and a fundamental human right to be administered and protected by the State. In such administration, there must be citizen participation. Water resource management must holistically focus on entire watersheds.  They have submitted to the National Assembly a proposed "General Water Law" to accomplish these goals. These groups reject a separate proposal by ARENA and other conservative parties and backed by business interests which would put water management for El Salvador under a five member board.  On that board, private business would have two seats

The mayors of Salvadoran cities linked to gangs

A recent  article in La Prensa Grafica  highlights the number of mayors of Salvadoran cities and towns who have been arrested and charged with collaborating with one or another of the country's criminal street gangs.   There have been seven mayors captured for these crimes since 2016.   They include the mayors of: La Libertad Ilopango Apopa Usulután Puerto El Triunfo, Usulután Jucuapa, Usulután Concepción Batres, Usulután The charges against the mayors vary from buying political support during their election campaigns, to assisting in gang extortion in municipal markets, to procuring murders.  The common factor for all of these mayors, is that the gang presence is extensive in many areas of their respective municipalities.   It is not surprising that some of the mayors chose to coexist with the gangs in ways that illegally benefited both of them. The article in La Prensa Grafica names one other mayor, Nayib Bukele, former mayor of San Salvador and now presidential c

El Salvador supplies peacekeeping forces in Mali

It used to be that a mention of United Nations peacekeepers in conjunction with El Salvador was a reference to the UN Observers Mission (ONUSAL) which was on the ground in El Salvador in the first few years after El Salvador's civil war ended in 1992.   Today, however, El Salvador is sending out peacekeepers of its own to different parts of the globe.  It happens without much notice, but for three years El Salvador has been sending military units to participate in UN peacekeeping efforts in Africa. Location of Mali From Dialogo, the Digital Military Magazine  this week: United Nations (UN) delegates screened the equipment and flight technology the Salvadoran Air Force’s (FAS, in Spanish) Gavilán I Air Contingent will use as it joins the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA, in French) in September 2018....  The Gavilán I contingent will consist of pilots and specialists in communication, maintenance, and weaponry. “This is th

Does the Salvadoran diaspora care about elections?

Citizens of El Salvador who live outside of the country are eligible to vote in the upcoming 2019 presidential elections.   Yet as of the September 6 deadline, only about 1% of the eligible voters (3541)  outside of the country had taken the steps to sign up to vote in 2019. The essential requirement for voting is that a Salvadoran citizen must have an unexpired national identity card (DUI) with their current address outside of El Salvador.   For each election, they must register online to vote in order to have a ballot sent to them.  It is not clear why so few have registered to get a ballot.  Perhaps they simply don't see how the election will impact their lives, especially those living in the anti-immigrant atmosphere generated by Donald Trump in the US.  There have also been some  reports of difficulties in using the online site of the Salvadoran election tribunal where voters register.  With these low registration figures and the reported website problems, the TSE has e

Patriotism on parade

I have always known Salvadorans to be very patriotic with a great love for their country.   This love shows up in many ways today, September 15, when El Salvador and the rest of Central America celebrate Independence Day.   The day celebrates the independence of the region from colonial Spain. At schools large and small in every part of the country this month, students have been practicing in bands and marching groups to prepare for civic parades.   The parades might be big or small, from a parade simply leaving the school and marching through the single street of a small town, to participation in national celebrations at a stadium in San Salvador with helicopters flying overhead and cultural dancers and military bands performing. Here are images from one parade, which took place today in the town of Tonacatapeque, northeast of San Salvador.

Still no Supreme Judicial Court magistrate appointments

El Salvador's National Assembly remains unable to agree on new magistrates to El Salvador's Supreme Judicial Court.   A super-majority vote of members of the Assembly is required, to decide on the magistrates to be named and their appointment to specific chambers of the court.   So far, no combination of parties has been able to come up with the required votes for a given slate of judges.  Two months have passed since the deadline to name new magistrates to the court. The parties are bargaining back and forth over different names from a list of 30 candidates.  The risk of such bargaining is that it can produce judges who see themselves as beholden to one particular party or another.     The bargaining does not always (ever?) appear to be focused on which are the most qualified candidates. According to La Prensa Grafica , the primary dispute among the various parties involves which magistrates will go to fill the open positions in the Constitutional Chamber.   That Chamber i

Tony Saca sentenced to 10 years in prison for corruption

Former president of El Salvador Antonio ("Tony") Saca was sentenced today to 10 years in prison for corruption pursuant to a plea deal with the country's attorney general.  Saca governed the country from 2004-2009 after being elected on the ARENA party ticket and also made an unsuccessful bid for another term as president in 2014.  Today's sentence did not come as a surprise.   Saca had already confessed and provided the details of the corruption scheme.   The plead deal and confession allowed Attorney General Douglas Melendez to secure a conviction, something he has had a difficult time doing in high profile cases in the past two years. The conviction of Saca comes at a bad time for ARENA leading up to the presidential elections.   Saca's confessions include descriptions of how some of the embezzled funds were used to advance ARENA political campaigns.  (In the same way, Saca's presidential bid had been aided by part of $10 million in earthquake rel

More US underwear to come from El Salvador

US consumers may look on tags on their underwear and find that it is "hecho en El Salvador" -- made in El Salvador.  El Salvador garment factories have long been a source of underwear for the US market and that trend is continuing. An article on an apparel industry website today notes that HanesBrands is investing to expand its factories in El Salvador where underwear for the US market is sewn:  According to an article in Just-Style, the garment manufacturer will invest a total of $10.4 million on its facilities here and increase employment by 430 jobs. HanesBrands decision to increase investment in El Salvador is attributed in the article to a new customs union among Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador as well as the country's decision to cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan.  You can read HanesBrands public relations pieces about its operations in El Salvador here . Balance those public relations pieces with a 2010 inspection report by the Fair Labor Association

Diplomatic spat over Taiwan continues

The US, which has had diplomatic ties with the Peoples Republic of China since 1979, continues to fume that El Salvador decided to cut its own ties with Taiwan and establish diplomatic relations with the communist government in Beijing.   Yesterday, the State Department announced that US Ambassador to El Salvador Jean Manes was being recalled to Washington: The Department of State has called back the U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic Robin Bernstein, the U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador Jean Manes, and the U.S. Charge d’Affaires in Panama Roxanne Cabral for consultations related to recent decisions to no longer recognize Taiwan. Our three Chiefs of Mission will meet with U.S. Government leaders to discuss ways in which the United States can support strong, independent, democratic institutions and economies throughout Central America and the Caribbean. Meanwhile, four US Senators have introduced a bill requiring a downgrade of US relations for any government which acts adver

Candidates campaign early, legal prohibition or not

Every election season in El Salvador I have to laugh.   The country's electoral code prohibits campaigning too far in advance of the election date.  Candidates cannot campaign more than four months before the presidential election, and no more than two months before the election of legislative deputies and mayors.  But this has never stopped anyone as far as I can tell. For the upcoming presidential elections on February 3, 2019, campaigning should not start until the first week of October.   But here is ARENA candidate Carlos Calleja this week: From Tasajera Island we come to San Bartolo, Ilopongo.  People are fed up with division, populism and corruption.  I can offer you my experience as a generator of jobs, so that this country will truly change. And here is FMLN candidate Hugo Martinez: With joy and with the strength of our people, we're confident of an FMLN victory in 2019.   We're continuing our mobilization work in San Salvador.  Today we'

The lawsuits challenging TPS cancellation

In January 2018, the Trump administration cancelled Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for almost 200,000 Salvadorans living in the US, effective September 2019.   Under TPS, Salvadorans who were in the United States without documentation in February 2001, were able to remain in the country, obtain employment authorization, and live without fear of deportation. The US government granted TPS for Salvadorans and for Haitians following devastating earthquakes in those countries in 2001 and 2010 respectively, and Hondurans after Hurricane Mitch in 1998. After each 18-month period since then during both the Bush and Obama administrations, DHS had reviewed the program, determined that the nationals could not yet return safely to their countries (due to severe safety, health, housing, and infrastructure problems, exacerbated by subsequent natural disasters), and extended the program. With the anti-immigrant agenda of the Trump administration, however, TPS was cancelled for El Salvador, as

Sexuality education in El Salvador

A proposed law was introduced in August  in El Salvador's National Assembly to provide programs in schools concerning responsible sexuality and self-worth in order to combat the problem of teen pregnancy in the county.  The draft law defined the programs' scope as dealing with biological, psychological, social, emotional and ethical issues of sexuality within a framework of human rights, prioritizing the elimination of the culture of violence.  El Salvador's legislators quickly tabled the proposed law    That was a mistake.  The problem of teen (and younger) pregnancy in El Salvador is a serious one .   According to the Ministry of Health, between 2013 and 2017, more than 900 girls between the ages of 10 and 17 gave birth each month -- 30 per day.    Between 2013 and 2015, one out of every three pregnancies in El Salvador involved an adolescent mother. On average, 69 girls or adolescents became pregnant per day in 2015, or one pregnant minor every 21 minutes.  Accordin

The march towards justice for El Mozote

A few of the hundreds of small children who were victims at El Mozote Three different events from the past month concern the march towards justice in the case of the December 1981 massacre of children, the elderly and others at El Mozote and surrounding communities. First. the ongoing trial against former Salvadoran military commanders continued in August with the testimony of expert witnesses from the world-renowned Argentine forensic anthropology team.  Experts Silvana Turner, Mercedes Doretti and Patricia Bernardi  provided scientific analysis of the cold facts of the massacre at El Mozote.  In the years following the conclusion of El Salvador's civil war, this team excavated several sites where the victims of the 1981 massacre had been found.   Their testimony provided a portrait fo the scale of the horror -- piles of small bodies, examinations of bones of small children who perished, bullets manufactured in the US and fired from M-16 rifles, and more forensic proof a

Bukele has lead in polls, but still has work to do

Recent polling by La Prensa Grafica indicates that Nayib Bukele, as a candidate for the GANA party, leads the race towards the February 2019 presidential elections in El Salvador.   These are some of the first major polling results released since Bukele found his way onto the presidential ballot as the candidate of the GANA party.  Asked for whom they would vote in the presidential elections if they took place today, less than 50% responded to the pollsters.  Those who answered the question, expressed the following preferences: 21.9% -- GANA (Bukele) 17.6% -- ARENA (Carlos Calleja) 8.6% --  FMLN (Hugo Martinez) (The preferences are expressed by party rather than candidate, because presidential election ballots in El Salvador involve a choice among party names, not a choice among individually named candidates). Other questions asked by pollsters give Bukele more strength, however.  When asked their impression of various political figures, 58.7% said they had a good or very g

El Salvador alleges abuse of its children

US government policies, which have separated children from parents, have resulted in victimization of some children, including sexual abuse of three minors, according to Salvadoran officials this week: The government of El Salvador said the three, ages 12 to 17, were victimized at shelters in Arizona, and it asked the U.S. to make their return a priority.  “May they leave the shelters as soon as possible, because it is there that they are the most vulnerable,” Deputy Foreign Relations Minister Liduvina Magarin said in San Salvador on Thursday.....  Magarin gave few details on the three cases other than to say they involved “sexual violations, sexual abuses.” She said her government is ready with lawyers and psychologists to help the families, adding: “The psychological and emotional impact is forever.”  “It’s unbelievable that children who were fleeing violence here were met in the United States with the worst violence a child could encounter,” said Cesar Rios, director of t