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Showing posts from March, 2019

37 years after the killing of Dutch journalists

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Thirty seven years ago this month, four Dutch journalists were ambushed by troops of the Salvadoran army and murdered.

In early 1982, El Salvador was a dangerous place for journalists covering the civil war between FMLN guerrillas and the country's armed forces. Despite the danger, four Dutch journalists,Koos Koster, Jan Kuiper, Joop Willemse and Hans ter Laag, ventured out to the department of Chalatenango to get an interview with guerrilla fighters. The Salvadoran army ambushed their group and killed all the journalists.

The ambush was one of the war crimes documented in the 1993 UN Truth Commission Report following the conclusion of El Salvador's civil war:

On the afternoon of 17 March 1982, four Dutch journalists accompanied by five or six members of FMLN, some of them armed, were ambushed by a patrol of the Atonal Battalion of the Salvadorian armed forces while on their way to territory under FMLN control. The incident occurred not far from the San Salvador-Chalatena…

Can El Salvador's environment support megaprojects like Valle El Ángel?

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Religious and water rights groups organized today to protest a mega-real estate project in the municipality of Apopa, just northeast of San Salvador at the base of the San Salvador volcano.   The proposed urbanization development of  8000 houses, shopping centers, churches and more threatens the available water resources in the region, according to the groups.

The development is called "Valle El Ángel" and is a project of real estate developer Urbánica.    Urbánica is a business of the wealthy Dueñas family in El Salvador.  Currently the land, along the Pan-American highway, is primarily used to grow sugar cane. 



Urbánica last year described the development as a mixed-use small city consisting of 840 acres where it would build 6500 houses with a contemplated investment of $500 million over 20 years.
The project was initially promoted with great fanfare in 2016 as the Dueñas family announced they had reached agreement with the water authority ANDA to allow them to drill 9 d…

The murder of St. Oscar Romero remains in impunity

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March 24 is the 39th anniversary of the assassination of Oscar Romero by a death squad in El Salvador.   It was one of the opening events of a bloody civil war which would have tens of thousands of civilian victims.

Despite the notoriety of the murder of a man who would subsequently be declared a martyred saint of the Roman Catholic church, no prosecution of his killers has ever reached conclusion in the Salvadoran courts.

After an amnesty law was passed in 1993, no prosecution moved forward for 23 years until that law was declared void by the Constitutional Chamber in El Salvador.   Shortly thereafter the case against Romero's killers was reopened, but there has been little visible progress.  The Due Process of Law Foundation has a good summary this week of where such legal proceedings stand today:
The Attorney General’s office (under Douglas Meléndez, whose term ended in early January 2019) publicly supported the reopening of the Romero case. Nonetheless, Judge Chicas had to is…

International Water Day in the streets of San Salvador

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On this International Water Day, a march proceeded in the streets of San Salvador demanding that the country protect its water resource and that water not be privatized or put under the direction of business interests.  The march headed towards the headquarters of the sugar cane trade association because the industrial sugar producers are one of the largest water exploiters in the country.

It was the second water march in three days.   On Wednesday, the University of El Salvador ("UES") led marchers  towards the National Assembly.   The UES was protesting a legislative proposal approved in committee which would give private interests representation on a governing water board. 

The UES march resulted in some protesters allegedly damaging property including automobiles and windows.   Two protesters were taken into custody.

That is where Nayib Bukele got into the act tweeting:
Exijo a la @PNC_SV la inmediata liberación de los estudiantes de la @UESoficial que están detenidos.

Water battles

The legislative battle over who will have a voice in regulating El Salvador's water resources has heated up this week and is perhaps headed towards a final showdown.

The task of drafting new water legislation in El Salvador is in the hands of the Environment Committee of the National Assembly.   On Monday, the Committee approved a provision which would create a governing body (the "ente rector") over water resources composed of seven members.  Those seven members consist of one each from:

Ministry of the Environment (MARN)Ministry of Agriculture (MAG)University of El SalvadorLocal water boardsMunicipal governmentsPrivate industrial usersPrivate agricultural users (sugar cane)
Those last two members from private business interests generate serious concerns and opposition from environmental groups.  The position of a broad alliance of water rights groups is that there should be no private interests holding a right to appoint specific members of the governing body.   They la…

Socks and T-shirts

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Throughout El Salvador, you will come across large industrial parks and free trade zones where  thousands of workers are employed in more than 200 textile factories.   Here are a few facts about the sector:

According to the industry trade association CAMTEX, the entire textile sector exported $2.5 billion in 2018 and represented 46% of El Salvador's total exports.  The industry produced 84,448 direct jobs, with an average wage of $524 per month.   The minimum wage in the sector is $295.20 per month or $1.23 per hour. 

The leading exports from El Salvador's textile maquila factories are cotton t-shirts and nylon socks.
Hanes and Fruit of the Loom are the leading brands, together representing approximately 20,000 jobs in El Salvador. 

There are frequent reports of abusive working conditions in the maquila factories, especially with regards to the treatment of women.



Some crooks won't be investigated

El Salvador's Supreme Judicial Court has decided to limit any investigations by its Probidad (Integrity) unit to public officials who had left office less than 10 years ago.   The Probidad unit is in charge of investigating officials in the government who are unable to explain the sources of increases in their net worth during their time in office.   Following the ruling of the Supreme Judicial Court, officials who stole their corrupt dollars prior to 2009 can breathe easier. 

The ruling means that only the FMLN governments of Mauricio Funes and Salvador Sanchez Ceren will fall within the purview of the corruption unit after June 1 and not officials from the prior ARENA governments of Tony Saca, Francisco Flores and their predecessors.   One prominent figure who may escape censure is Ana Vilma de Escobar, vice president of El Salvador during the Saca administration.   Probidad had been reviewing an unexplained increase of $11 million in her wealth during her time in office.

Follo…

Two presentations in Washington today

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There were two presentations on Wednesday in Washington, D.C. which are well worth watching.

The first was Nayib Bukele's first public speech since being elected president of El Salvador on February 3. Bukele chose to address the conservative Heritage Foundation in English to announce that El Salvador was open for business.





The second presentation, at almost the same time that Nayib Bukele was speaking, was titled New Government, Ongoing Agenda: Human Rights, Corruption and Accountability in El Salvador, and featured experts on the human rights situation in El Salvador speaking before the Tom Llantos Human Rights Commission.


El Salvador's next saint?

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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. Father Grande would be the first of many priests to be murdered in El Salvador's bloody years of internal conflict.

Thomas M. Kelly wrote in America magazine in June 2016:
What Father Grande learned and lived out was a simple truth: Until the marginalized communities he served created their own agency, until they acted upon their own reality as a church community, nothing would change. An outside leader could not come in and transform poor communities. Only local lay church leaders could encoura…

Better news

It would be wrong to call almost 500 murders in 60 days good news, but for El Salvador, it is better news than the country has had in a long time.

According to statistics from the country's National Civilian Police (PNC) reported in El Faro, the homicide rate in the country has fallen steadily in the past three years to a much improved, but still bloody, level.

In January and February there were 491 homicides in El Salvador.   Compare that to January and February of 2016, when there were 1404.  This was the lowest total for the first two months of a year since 2004, except for the years 2013 and 2014 during the so-called tregua, or gang truce.

El Salvador has averaged about 8 homicides a day this year compared to an average of 18 daily during the bloodiest year, 2015.  These improved numbers continue a downward trend which started in 2017 and has continued.

The government takes credit with the policies put in place by its security ministries.

The improvements have been seen across…

Catching up on the news

After being on a vacation for a few weeks, here are some short news pieces to catch you up on what is happening in El Salvador.

International Women's Day was commemorated yesterday.  Many organizations issued statements or held activities.  A march to commemorate the day proceeded through San Salvador.   Leading up to International Women's Day there had been some good news as three more women, imprisoned after suffering miscarriages and then prosecuted for abortion/murder had their sentences commuted by El Salvador's Supreme Judicial Court.  Many groups pointed out how far El Salvador falls short on women's rights with high rates of femicide, abuse, discrimination and failure to value women's work.
Bukele resolves Chicas defamation claim.   President-elect Nayib Bukele appeared in court with a stack of cash to settle the defamation claim of Eugenio Chicas.    Bukele paid $50,000 to resolve the matter, saying that he did not want to waste any more time on the case bec…