Catching up on news from El Salvador

Flooding in Olocuilta July 9

El Salvador Perspectives has been on vacation for the past month.  Here is a short summary of some of the major stories during that time.

Flooding rains which impacted much of the country continue.

Days of flooding rain began in mid-June over El Salvador and other parts of Central America as tropical weather systems impacted the region.  In El Salvador, at least 19 people died in floods, mudslides and other calamities due to the rain between June 14 and 19 with thousands forced to evacuate to government run shelters. 

After that first week of flooding in mid-June, the country continued to be buffeted by more storms and rains.  Saturated soils meant that rainfall runoff quickly overran river banks or prompted trees to fall over.  

The storms have continued in early July.   As of July 8, there were 8 government run shelters open housing 196 people.  A child drowned in flood waters over the weekend. 

Beyond the damages to homes and infrastructure, many small farmers have lost their crops to the floods.

Prices for fruits and vegetables soar.

The weather calamities may have contributed to prices in Salvadoran markets increasing by as much as 200% for some fruits and vegetable at the beginning of July.  Disruptions in the supply chain because of the recent rains were listed as one factor causing shortages and price spikes.  

Reportedly 93% of the vegetables sold in El Salvador are imported, principally from Guatemala and Honduras.  Mexico and Nicaragua are also important sources of food.  Although Salvadoran farmers grow rice and beans and corn, the amount produced is still 30% short of what is consumed in the country, requiring more imports.

President Nayib Bukele convened a meeting with ministers of his government which was broadcast on national TV.  He discussed the impacts of the flooding rains and the high cost of fruits and vegetables.  Bukele blamed the food cost inflation on price gougers and threatened them with prison terms if prices did not drop right away.

The consumer defense agency reported that it was investigating six supermarket chains for price increases of 68 products in the basic Salvadoran food basket which had increased 40% or more on average.

The agriculture ministry opened different markets throughout the country on weekends to make available basic foodstuffs at reduced prices by supposedly cutting out the middleman.

The government has not, however, announced any programs which address the underlying problems of the country's lack of food sovereignty and dependence on foreign imports.  Ongoing under-investment in the agricultural sector and the lack of initiatives responding to climate change will make price swings produced by foreign market conditions more and more common.

Dengue outbreak

There has been a growing outbreak of the mosquito-borne dengue virus in the Americas this year including El Salvador.   According to Foreign Policy:

But only halfway through 2024, the Americas have already recorded a record-breaking 9.3 million cases and more than 4,500 deaths, leaving health authorities scrambling to adjust. Most cases have been in South America, which already experienced its summer; PAHO has warned that North and Central America, as well as the Caribbean, should be on heightened alert during their own warmer months.

Infection with dengue virus can result in no symptoms, mild, or severe illness.  Severe dengue can be life-threatening within a few hours and requires care at a hospital.   The most common symptom of dengue is fever with any of the following:  nausea, vomiting, rash, aches, and pains (including muscle, joint, or bone pain or eye pain, typically behind the eyes).  There is no specific medicine to treat dengue virus infection.  About one in 20 people who get sick with dengue will develop severe dengue. 

El Salvador's health ministry has reported 268 confirmed cases and three deaths as of early July, with another two children critically ill.  (El Salvador only processes 100-125 diagnostic tests every 24-48 hours, so the number of cases may be a gross undercount).  There were 30 children hospitalized with dengue fever at Benjamin Bloom as of July 3. 

In response, the Salvadoran government has declared a red alert to combat the spread of the disease.  Government has responded with fumigation campaigns to eliminate the mosquitoes which carry dengue including aerial spraying by helicopter.

Look out for fumigation helicopters coming to your neighborhood!

A gay pride parade faces a government increasingly conservative on social issues

On June 29, the annual pride parade filled streets of San Salvador with color and diversity.  You can see coverage of the parade from GatoEncerrado and EDH.

The marchers in the parade came out into the streets despite the rainy weather and despite a government which is increasingly socially conservative and hostile to LGBTQ rights.    The most recent example was the abrupt shutdown of a an LGBTQ-themed theater production performed by a drag artist in the National Theater, which was then followed by Bukele announcing that 300 employees of the ministry were being fired for promoting agendas not compatible with the vision of his government.    

Hope to get back to more regular updates soon!