Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Season Hard on Immigrants

According to an article in the Washington Post today, the Metro DC Latino communities are suffering this holiday season due to the crippling economic recession. Day laborers and construction workers have been hit particularly hard as service industries are scaling back and construction is coming to a standstill. Latino-owned small businesses are experiencing major setbacks as many of their clients have lost their jobs.

Travel agencies say they have sold very few round trip tickets to Central and South America, but they are currently surviving off of one-way tickets to countries like El Salvador and Guatemala. More and more immigrants are "giving up on the U.S. economy after years of legal residency." Pedro Guadrón, an immigrant from El Salvador said, "I was proud to buy a house, but this year we had to take in relatives to help pay the mortgage. The way I feel right now, Christmas doesn't even exist for me."

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

150 Soldiers Currently Occupying the Community of El Papaturro in Suchitoto

This morning, three large trucks carrying a total of 150 soldiers armed with heavy artillery entered the community of El Papaturro, in the zone of La Bermuda, Suchitoto. The soldiers have set up a military camp and said that they will be in the community for the next three days doing "military maneuvers." The mayor of Suchitoto has called the police and regional military base, and has been given no further information about the soldiers.

This act of aggression comes after the Salvadoran government recently declared that it as intelligence of secret armed groups active in various parts of El Salvador, including the region of La Bermuda, Suchitoto. Although the government continues to speak about these groups, which they link to the opposition party, the FMLN, they have shared no evidence to prove their existence. The government has implied that these supposed groups are a revival of guerrilla soldiers from the Civil War, and a threat to the Salvadoran military.

The community members of Papaturro and the Association for the Development of El Salvador, CRIPDES, believe that the government is claiming the existence of armed groups in order to cause fear in the population and provoke violence. This actions comes one month before the January municipal elections in El Salvador, and the FMLN continues to lead in the polls for both the presidential and municipal elections, threatening 19 years of dominance by the governing party, ARENA.

Community members in Papaturro worry that the military has entered the community in order to try to provoke conflict or set up a situation to make it look like community members are part of secret armed groups. Community leader Francisco Martinez said, "All the military has to do is put machine guns in a cave, and then come back and photograph them. They have taken photos of us while we were at marches or other activities, and it would be easy to change these photos on a computer and publicize them in the press." Many people connect today's situation to the case of the Suchitoto 13, when the government tried to provoke violence in the same region on July 2, 2007.

The idea that secret armed groups would operate in Papaturro is seen by community leaders as completely unreasonable. Vilma Castillo, representative of the Papturro community directive said, "In our community, parents explain the history of the war to their children. We don't want to return to the war and parents tell their children that. There is no reason that there would be armed groups here."

Community members in Papaturro report that the entrance of the soldiers into this small community has caused panic and fear within the population. For many the presence of so many soldiers brings back the trauma of military attacks on civilians during the El Salvador's civil war. Along with fear within the population, community members say that the soldiers have destroyed their property, such as fences around their farmland and the products that were growing on their farms.

This afternoon the community of Papaturro held an assembly with over 200 participants, where they created a community strategy to respond to the military presence.

The Ombudsman for Human Rights, Coalition for Human Rights, Mayor of Suchitoto, and members of the National Press were in the community today, documenting the situation.

- US-ES Sister Cities

- Posted by Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

El Salvador Responds to Pacific Rim's Legal Action

In response to Pacific Rim Mining Company's December 9 announcment of filing a Notice of Intent (NOI) to arbitrate against the Salvadoran government under CAFTA for failing to grant mining exploitation permits, notable figures in Salvadoran civic and religious society have taken a stand against the mining company. On December 14 after a mass in the metropolitan cathedral, the Archbishop of San Salvador, Fernando Sáenz Lacalle criticized Pacific Rim, "It is not right to risk the health of the people and damage the environment so that a few who do not live here can take 97% of the juicy earnings but they leave us with 100% of the cyanide." His statement is consistent with those made by the participants of the Conference of Roman Catholic Bishops in El Salvador in 2007, where the Bishops released a statement of opposition to gold and silver mining in El Salvador.

The Mesa de Minería, the Salvadoran national coalition of anti-mining groups, issued a press release following Pacific Rim's announcement. The Mesa urged people from all sectors of Salvadoran society to protest Pacific Rim Mining Company. The Mesa also promoted its most recent campaign, "I Reject Metallic Mining: Sign the Citizen's Letter," which demands that the Salvadoran president, Antonio Saca, not approve mining projects and calls for the Legislative Assembly endorse a law the prohibits metallic mining.

Click here to visit the Mesa de Minería's website and sign the Citizen's Letter against mining.

- Sara Skinner, SHARE Foundation

Thursday, December 11, 2008

FMLN Presidential Candidate to Speak in Washington, DC Tomorrow

Mauricio Funes, FMLN presidential candidate, will speak at the Wesley United Methodist Church in Washington, DC on Friday, December 12, 2008. The event, sponsored by the FMLN, will begin at 4:30PM, and Mauricio Funes is expected to speak at 5:30PM. SHARE Foundation is not co-sponsoring the event, but we encourage folks in the area to attend to hear what the presidential candidate has to say.

Wesley United Methodist Church is located at the UDC-Van Ness metro stop on the red line. The L1, L2, and L4 buses also stop near the church.

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

Antonio Saca Scheduled to Visit White House Next Week

President Bush will be meeting with Salvadoran President Antonio Saca on Wednesday, December 16, 2009 at the White House. In a White House press release on December 8, 2008, the White House stated that the two out-going country leaders will discuss "a range of issues, including their shared commitment to strengthening democracy and advancing economic development."

Read the press release here.

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

El Salvador Declared One of the Most Polluted Countries in the Region

The World Bank released a report documenting climate change yesterday that warned El Salvador of future, and more frequent, tropical storms and hurricanes. The World Bank predicts that by 2025, the amount of damages due to tropical storms and hurricanes will quadruple. The predicted damages include in increase in disaster-related illnesses, such as malaria and dengue fever, and deaths.

The World Bank gave some hope by pointing out that these climate change effects are still preventable, but El Salvador must address its grave pollution problem. The report cited El Salvador as one of the most polluted countries in the region. Researchers found that greenhouse gas emissions rose by 14% in El Salvador between 1990 and 2000, in comparison to the 0.6% increase in the rest of Central America. Gases from energy production and consumption rose by 136% in the same time period in El Salvador, in comparison to 40% in the rest of the region.

The World Bank's chief economist, Augusto de la Torre, urged municipal governments to invest in clean energy, hydroelectric energy, reforestation, more eneregy-efficient transportation systems, and fewer pollutants.

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Pacific Rim Filed a Notice of Intent to Seek CAFTA Arbitration

Pacific Rim Mining Corporation announced his morning that it has filed a Notice of Intent to seek CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement) arbitration against the Salvadoran government for prohibiting the company to mine in El Salvador. Pacific Rim says that the Salvadoran government's failure to issue exploration and exploitation permits to the company has cost the company significant financial losses. Pacific Rim argues that because it has invested over $75 million in El Salvador, the company is entitled to the mining permits.

Tom Shrake, President and CEO of Pacific Rim stated, "It is with deep regreat that we must now pursue our legal rights through the initiation of a CAFTA action and we intend to pursue these rights vigorously. He also added, "Sadly, it is not just Pacific Rim whose rights are being compromised, but the rights of all Salvadoran and foreign investors. Local communities and social and environmental agencies are being denied the benefits of our community programs."

The Salvadoran government and Pacific Rim have 90 days after the filing of the NOI to resolve the matter under CAFTA rules.


Pacific Rim is hosting a conference call TODAY to discuss the details of their action. The conference call starts at 11:00 am (EST) and is open to all interested parties. For those who missed the call, a replay will be available from 3 hours after its original completion until December 16, 2008. For those calling from the US or Canada, call toll-free 1-800-406-7325. For those calling from other countries, call 1-303-590-3030. The access code to listen is 3952530.

Click here to read the full article.


Note - Pacific Rim's announcement comes just days after dozens of Salvadorans staged Pacific Rim's "funeral" in San Salvador. Check out the article from the Institute for Policy Studies.

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

Prudencia Ayala Feminist Coalition Publishes Platform for 2009-2014

The Prudencia Ayala Feminist Coalition, a group of feminist organizations in El Salvador, announced their platform and demands for 2009-2014. Their demands fall under the following seven themes:

  1. Comprehensive health for women
  2. Institutional and public policy
  3. Political participation: "women in power"
  4. Women's access to education
  5. Economic rights
  6. Autonomy over our own bodies
  7. Violence against women: "no more violence"
With regard to women's health, Coalition calls for reforms to the Salvadoran health care system so that it better serves Salvadoran women, which requires the recognition and incorporation of midwives into the public health care system, greater financial investment of educational programs that prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, the legalization of abortion up to 20 weeks of gestation, and the expansion of environmental law to ensure access to potable water and safe, healthy living environments. The Coalition in particular demands that mining be prohibited as it is a threat to public health.

To read the rest of the demands, contact Sara Skinner at

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

Monday, December 8, 2008

NACLA Article on Mauricio Funes

In an article dated November 19, 2008, the North American Conference on Latin America (NACLA) profiles Mauricio Funes' and the FMLN's rise in populartity in the 2009 Salvadoran elections. NACLA cites the FMLN's call for open social dialogue and the resulting creation of 32 mesas (committees) that encourage new forms of widespread political participation as reasons why more and more Salvadorans are leaning towards Funes in the presidential election in 2009.

Click here to read the NACLA article.

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

CONFRAS Criticizes the Right in a Press Release

In a press release from 27th of November 2008, the farmers association, CONFRAS, stated their dissatisfaction with the right-wing neglect of their demands. During 2008 they have made a series of proposals to the Legislative Assembly for changes in agricultural laws. None of these proposals have neither been discussed nor approved by deputies from the conservative parties.

Salvadoran farmers are facing hard times due to the vulnerable state of the agricultural industry. CONFRAS states that the Salvadoran government is not willing to put much effort into protecting them, and an increasing amount of food products in El Salvador are being imported from abroad. 81% of all rice in the country comes from other countries, and 42% of the corn.

CONFRAS says that the agricultural sector is in crisis due to several factors: free trade agreements like CAFTA, high food production costs, lack of access to credit, lack of technical support, and speculation in grain prices.

Rural areas in El Salvador provide few stable job opportunities for farmers and the salaries are very poor. Many of the farmers here live in poverty, which encourages the rate of immigration to larger cities in El Salvador and abroad.

CONFRAS addresses this press release specifically to the conservative deputies, claiming that they don't care about the poor farmers. They urge them to do something to reactivate the agricultural sector and secure the agricultural conditions in the rural areas.

Here is the link to the press release

- Lars Joon Flydal, Grassroots Education and Advocacy Intern

Reopening of Jesuit Priests Murder Case - Interview with Diane Orentlicher and Douglas Farah

Click on the link below to listen to this radio show on WAMU in Washington D.C. The interview discusses the infamous and tragic murders of the six Jesuits priests and two women in November 1989, and it discusses the reopening of this case and the outlook for the process. The guests are Diane Orentlicher, Professor of International Law and Director of War Crimes Research Office, American University, and Douglas Farah, former Washington Post Correspondent in El Salvador from 1987-1990.

Click here for the link to the radio show.

- Lars Joon Flydal, Grassroots Education and Advocacy Intern

US Financial Crisis Hits El Salvador Hard

Click here to watch a short video about the effects of the global financial crisis on El Salvador. The small city of Intipuca in El Salvador faces difficult times due to a decline in remittances from Salvadorans living and working in the U.S. The decline in the value of the U.S. dollar also continues to hurt families in El Salvador.

* Some of the video is in Spanish.

-Lars Joon Flydal, Grassroots Education and Advocacy Intern

MCC Urges Nicaraguan Government to Respect Democracy - A Hint of What's to Come for El Salvador?

Chief executive officer of the MCC, John Danilovich, has decided to reevaluate the aid package from MCC to Nicaragua due to irregularities regarding the recent municipal elections in Nicaragua.

This decision comes after recently-reelected Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega refused accreditation to independent election observers to monitor the elections, violence erupts in Nicaragua following the election results, and the opposition and unofficial election observers allege fraud. As a result, MCC has now suspended all disbursements to all projects and activities which are not already contracted with the MCA-Nicaragua, until further notice.

Danilovich states: "We had hoped, for the sake of the Nicaraguan people, that the government would continue the country's trend towards peaceful, democratic, and credible elections," I am afraid that recent evidence shows that this is not the case."

The way the elections were undertaken did not comply with the standards required by MCC in order to deliever grants to reduce poverty. MCC have determined to restrict their funds to governments that are committed to economic freedom, good governance, and free and fair elections.

Danilovich urges the Nicaraguan government to return to the principles of democratic norms, and MCC's board of directors will for the next weeks reassess Nicaragua's eligibility with a view on recent events.

The MCC's decision serves as a warning to El Salvador, whose own municipal and legislative assembly elections take place on January 18, 2009, and the presidential election on March 15, 2009. To learn how you can be an election observer for the Salvadoran elections, click here.

Click here to read the full MCC press release.

- Posted by Lars Joon Flydal and Sara Skinner

Bishops beg priests not to enter into political partisanship

Participation of priests in partisan politics would generate an environment of exclusion and could propagate violence in the society. This is the conclusion from the Central American bishops after their meeting in Ayagualo. They asked the clergy to stay out of partisan politics, and also refrain from instigating and initiating violence in the communities they live in.

The claim is that partisan politics would be destroying to the mandate of the priest as a figure for all of society. It would also hamper the proper identity and mission of the priests. The societal values of the priests should not be identified with certain political parties and it is not compatible to have both civil and religious power at the same time. Bishop Gonzalo de Villa from Guatemala claims that each person should have their own sphere of influence and interest.

Another important issue is that priests should be very careful in participating in protests on behalf of communities. Such type of participation means that they claim the rights of someone at the expense of others. It has been questioned whether it is right for the priests to participate in protests against dam and mining projects on behalf of communities. This kind of participation can be viewed as violating other persons` rights when these persons are hurt, and that is contradictive to the values of the priests and the clergy.

However, the priests have a plight to protect the most vulnerable in the society, so every case should be subject to consideration and analysis. Nevertheless, in every case it should be reviewed whether the protests are politically influenced or not before taking part.

Swiss expert warns about the impact on water from the mining

Swiss specialist in environmental chemistry warns about the dangers related to the approval of different mining exploration projects in El Salvador. The overall supply of the water resources, the quality of the water in the rivers nearby, and the health of the population living nearby are severely threatened by the mining projects.

Fresh water is highly susceptible to contamination because of the acid drainage coming from the mines. This drainage contains high levels of heavy metals which are damaging to the waters. This is very difficult to evade even with the use of “green methods” in the mining. These methods are promoted by the companies, but are considered to represent a small difference from the normal methods.

The high amount of water needed to run the mines are also alarming because of the increasing scarcity of potable water and the likeliness of desertification of the surrounding nature. Millions of liters of water are needed, and this amount of water must be used at the expense of other needs.

In addition to these consequences, it was also investigated how the mining impacted the infant mortality rate. In the surroundings of a mine in Honduras, the swiss found an infant mortality rate at 300 for every 1000 inhabitants. This was immensely above the average rate of 26 for every 1000 inhabitants.

It was made an effort to have the mining companies comment on these findings, but it did not succeed.

Here is the link to the complete article from El Diario de Hoy

High Murder Rates among Youth in El Salvador

Murder rates in El Salvador have reached frightening levels; in fact, 230 murders have been counted in 23 days. The daily average has then reached a rate of ten murders per day. This is two more than the daily average for 2008 as a whole. According to the national police, the high rates can largely be seen as a result of gang activities. The gang activities can account for about 70% of the murders, while the rest of them are due to family violence.

A large number of the murders are also murders among youths. The murder rate for youth is actually much higher than the rate for the overall population. The murder rate among youths in El Salvador is 92 in a population of 100,000 people. This rate is mainly due to the high presence of youth gangs. It is also a matter of importance that the country has a long history of armed internal conflict.

These problems are largely spread out through the whole of Latin America. Young Latin Americans have a 30 times higher probability of being murdered than European youth. The countries which have the lowest murder rates are Chile, Cuba and Uruguay, with an average of seven killings per 100000 people.

Click below to read the full articles informing this post:

La Prensa Grafica
BBC News

- Lars Joon Flydal

Central American crime is a growing U.S. problem

Central America has the highest crime rates in the world, with the Caribbean and South America following close behind. The country with the highest rate of homicides per year is El Salvador, with other neighbouring countries next. Of a population of 100000 inhabitants, El Salvador has a rate of 68 killings per year.

These criminal tendencies are also posing a problem to the United States. People with criminal records from Central America enter the U.S. illegally and continue their habits there. This has contributed to the increase in deportations of undocumented immigrants. What is more problematic is that these people often return illegally to the U.S. later on.

The El Salvadoran Security and Justice Minister says that these people will start to make fast money through criminal activities as soon as they arrive in El Salvador. Such activities include robberies, drugs, or kidnappings. With these money they can make it back to the U.S. again. The problem is worsening due to the gang members outnumbering the police forces in some of these countries.

The cost of these crimes are estimated to 6,5 billion dollars a year. For a relatively poor region like Central America this is damaging to development, and hampers effective measures to reduce the criminal activities. Consequently, the number of such people entering the U.S. illegally is not likely to go down. The solution of this may be found in education and crime prevention programs.

Latin America awaits Obama action

Washington analysts on Obama`s policies towards Latin America are careful in predicting too much changes in the policy. “No major changes or initiatives, but a change in tone”, is the common attitude. Despite a huge involvement in Latin America and several areas of common interest, the current situation with economic recession and involvement in two wars are reducing the likeliness of major change. Latin America was hardly mentioned in the electoral campaign, and Obama has never put his feet on the continent. However, the more soft power approach to foreign policy promoted by Obama can open for understanding and more fruitful cooperation between the two.

On the issue of Cuba, Obama slightly mentioned a small policy shift towards Cuba in the campaign. He wants to reduce the restrictions on family travel to Cuba and on remittances sent from the US back to relatives in Cuba. Nevertheless, any breakdown of the US trade embargo is not likely to happen in the near future.

Migration has also been an issue of mutual interest, and Obama has pronounced a desire to reform the path to legal status. At the same time, the issue of migration is receding because of the US economic downturn and the return of immigrants to their home countries.

Finally, Obama`s pledge to restore the US position in the world can possibly contribute to a change in the general Latin American indifference about US policy towards Latin America.

Here is the link to the complete article from BBC News

Company promoters “contaminate” communities in El Salvador

The Canadian mining company Pacific Rim, creates social tensions in the communities they operate. In addition to the environmental pollution that comes from the mining, their way of entering the communities creates “social pollution”. The company hires people from the communities to work as promoters for the mining projects. The promoters are then working on behalf of the mining company, and they create tensions in their effort to convince the other locals to support the mining. The use of promoters creates divisions across communities and families and tears down earlier community bonds.

Even if the consequences of mining are often unknown and uncertain for the local people, many have been informed because of reports from similar projects in neighbouring countries and neighbouring areas. The communities are now divided between those who benefit from the mining, and those who oppose it.

A man from the community of Trinidad in El Salvador tells that life was great before Pacific Rim arrived. Nowadays, he does not have contact with neither his father nor his grandparents. His father is working as a promoter for Pacific Rim and is motivated by money and free rides into the town. On the other hand, his grandparents on the mother side are opposed to the mining. The promoters are not only promoting the mining business with conventional methods, but threats and physical attacks have also been used in tearing down the opposing community members. Good friendships have been destroyed and the people blame the Pacific Rim. Recently, and 18-year-old boy committed suicide after being thrown out of his home by the family. The reason was that he joined an environmental group working against Pacific Rim.

Here is the link to the complete article from the Dominion