Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"Our heart is still there."

A recent New York Times article reveals Salvadoran immigrants' passion for and rapt attention to the upcoming presidential election in El Salvador, regardless of the fact that they live thousands of miles away. US chapters of Salvadoran political parties have campaigned in the United States, even though there are no absentee ballots for the million+ Salvadorans living outside of El Salvador. Nevertheless, savvy Salvadoran politicians recognize that families at home in El Salvador listen to their friends and family abroad in El Norte, especially since Salvadorans living in the US sent $3.8 billion in remittances in 2008. Yet, Salvadoran immigrants' passion for the election on March 15 cannot just be chalked up to economic concerns. Daniel Navas, a 45 year-old Salvadoran immigrant who lives in New York explains, "Our heart is still there."

To read the full article, click here.

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

*Photo from NY Times.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

¡El agua es nuestra!

More than 52,000 Salvadorans have signed a petition in support of a constitutional amendment for the right to safe, clean water - and hundreds of those signatories marched in San Salvador to personally deliver the document to the Legislative Assembly, reports the Latin American Herald Tribunal. According to the World Bank, El Salvador is the worst country with regard to providing access to clean water, yet the Legislative Assembly has yet to approve the amendment. The article cites ARENA (National Republican Alliance) deputies as the source of most of the opposition to the amendment. The ARENA party has strong ties to private businesses that wish to privatize water resources. However, with ARENA's loss of seats in the Legislative Assembly, the possibility that the Legislative Assembly will approve the amendment looks more positive in May, when the new Legislative Assembly will take over.

SHARE Foundation supports Salvadorans' demand for universal access to safe, clean drinking water. Privatization, mining, contamination by factories, and lack of sanitation services threaten communities' access to water as well as the lives of Salvadoran citizens everyday. This year as SHARE celebrates the life and legacy of Monsignor Romero, we also ask our partners to raise awareness on water rights both in their own communities and abroad. To find out how you can support water rights in El Salvador, contact Sara Skinner at

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

Press for SHARE's Election Observation Delegation

The SHARE Foundation and its partners have been in the news of late! As Election Day in El Salvador nears, our grassroots partners are holding fundraisers to support SHARE's election observation delegation.

Over the weekend in Salem, OR, four college students showed documentaries that touch on human rights and social justice issues. The students were encouraged to take part of SHARE's delegation by Salvadoran Lutheran Bishop, Medardo E. Gómez, who visited Salem in October. Julie Silverman, a graduate student at Columbia University in New York, told the Statesman Journal that she sees this delegation as an "opportunity to make a difference in the lives of disenfranchised Salvadorans. Julia's sister, Bryn, plans to make a documentary of their experience. To read more about the event in Salem, click here.

On Saturday, February 21, in Washington, DC, a group of 16 American University students (see picture above) and their faculty advisor, Joe Eldridge, organized a concert and fundraiser for their delegation. The band, Nueva Cosecha, played traditional songs and pop songs, while guests munched on traditional Salvadoran cuisine. While the atmosphere was festive, the students were very serious about their participation in the upcoming delegation. José Henríquez, the co-student leader of the American University group, shared, "[The students] are learning the specific details of what it means to be part of an electoral observation mission, and the role that election observers play in a different country." To read more about the event in Washington, DC, click here.

For more Salvadoran election coverage visit the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections' blog.

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

Women's Participation in Salvadoran Politics - Tim's Blog

On February 22, 2009, Tim's Blog posted the following analysis of the UCA's research on women's participation in politics in El Salvador:

"The sociology and political sciences department of the University of Central America has taken a look at the participation of women in the recently held elections for mayor and deputies to the National Assembly.

Of the 1147 persons running for mayor in municipalities across El Salvador, only 115 (11.5%) were women. A scant 29 of those women won their elections in the 262 municipalities in the country.

Of 427 persons nominated by political parties for the National Assembly, only 103 (24.1%) were women. The elections resulted in women being 16 of the 84 deputies.

The graphic below shows the relative percentages of men(green) and women (blue) as legislators and mayors after the elections:

As the article points out, 'the data demonstrate that there is no equality of conditions for the participation of women in politics and that inside the parties little has been done so that women can have realistic possiblities of being elected.' "

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

Friday, February 20, 2009

El Salvador Pulls Out of Iraq War

At the beginning of this month, the last Salvadoran troops serving in Iraq came home, ending a five and a half year involvement in the war in Iraq. For the last four years, El Salvador was the only Latin American country that continued to send troops to Iraq after Honduras and the Dominican Republic pulled out in 2004. Many Salvadorans were angry at their government for involving Salvadoran citizens in the war, believing that the five Salvadoran troops who were killed and the 20 who were injured suffered needlessly. In 2004, a New York Times reporter interviewed the mother of a Salvadoran soldier who was killed in the war, and Ms. Herminia Ramos cried, "I got through our war [the Salvadoran civil war] without losing any of my family, and now my son was sent to fight in someone else's war."

Although the Salvadoran Army will no longer participate in the war in Iraq, private contracting companies will continue to recruit Latin Americans to be a part of their security forces. In 2005, there were 338 Salvadoran soldiers on the ground in Iraq, but there were twice as many Salvadorans working for private contracting companies. One Salvadoran police officer, Sgt. Arturo Lopez (pictured above) says he was offered six times his normal salary to work for a contracting company as a security guard in Iraq. Many worry about the motives of private contracting firms that are recruiting police and military officials from Latin America, especially from countries who have had recent wars like El Salvador and whose officers were trained in the infamous School of the Americas. There is real concern that these firms are recruiting known human rights violators.

The SHARE Foundation celebrates the return of Salvadoran troops from Iraq, but we also remain wary of the Salvadoran government's embrace of militarization both in country and abroad. Let us hope that if President Obama escalates the war in Afghanistan, Salvadorans will not be sent there as well.

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

Unimaginable Pain and Exquisite Beauty

The following post is a testimony by Lisa Dennison, a parishioner at St. Patrick's Church in Seattle, WA, of her trip to El Salvador last summer through SHARE.

Unimaginable Pain and Exquisite Beauty

"Sin abounds, but grace abounds even more." These words from Dean Brackley, SJ, of the UCA (University of Central America) perfectly describe my experience in El Salvador with our delegation this past June. It was a place of unimaginable pain and exquisite beauty.

I had been praying for an opportunity to leave my comfort zone - and our God answered my prayer abundantly. Intense heat, intense stories, and intense faith were things I experienced, and like all pilgrims, I could not remain unchanged by the reality that was set before me.

I will always remember the searing image of a tiny girl in a tattered dress standing blank faced and barefoot in a garbage dump while her parents foraged for something of value. I will recall with delight the lovely songs and prayerful reflections that were lovingly shared with us at the small but lovely church in Nueva Trinidad. I recall with deep sadness the tree in the center of the village which looked so beautiful, but held the history of unspeakable horrors that were committed in its branches. And my heart was filled with joy at seeing my daughters Sarah and Theresa find their place in the community of Nueva Trinidad, making it seem effortless to build relationship with smiles and a few spoken words.

Mostly I prayed for the grace to hold the difficult truths of this journey - the fact that over 70,000 civilians died in a civil war that our government was immediately involved with. The fact that while I saw Archbishop Romero's visage and words on murals in every small town we went through, and in every home that we visited, there was not one single picture or reference to him in the cathedral in San Salvador. The fact that the one water test we did in a nearby town concluded that bacteria was present, and a likely culprit of the many illnesses affecting local residents. The fact that urban parishes still lose parishioners frequently to violence as they try to minister to the youth who are attracted to gangs.

Yet the generosity of all those we met, their eagerness to share their stories, songs, and jokes with us seemed like shining stars in the black night of poverty and violence. Everyone I spoke to expressed deep gratitude for our visit - like we had given them something precious. Yet, as is so often true, I felt the richer for living with our sisters and brothers in Nueva Trinidad, and receiving the gift of their presence and the gift of their steadfast faith in a gospel that calls for freedom from oppressors.

I once read a quote from an aboriginal woman, "If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together." This amazing trip to El Salvador has reminded me of my own need for liberation, by being in a relationship with those who suffer and struggle for freedom in so many ways. I pray for the strength and courage to remain a faithful companion to our community in Nueva Trinidad - and ask that our parish of St. Patrick's continue this sistering relationship. I also am so grateful to have had the opportunity to represent our parish to those in Nueva Trinidad.

- Lisa Dennison

Posted by Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pacific Rim freezes study on mining in El Dorado

Vancouver-based Pacific Rim Mining Company announced on February 11 that it will defer completion of its feasibility study for mining in El Dorado. The volatility of costs (both fuel and steel prices are down, meaning current capital prices appear artificially low) does not currently provide an accurate estimate on commodity prices and capital equipment.

CEO Tom Shrake said, “We see no need to spend precious capital to complete a study with an already invalid cost basis. We will wait for clarity on the timing of our permit and stabilization of the prices for capital and operating inputs.”

On December 9, 2008, Pacific Rim filed a Notice of Intent against the Salvadoran government, claiming that failing to grant an extraction permit violated investor rights under CAFTA-DR. It has received much resistance because of the serious health and environmental implications mining has on communities including the prospect of dislocation. The Salvadoran Government and Pacific Rim have until March 9, 2009 to settle the dispute amicably before Pacific Rim has the right to bring the issue before a third party.

To read the article in Mining Weekly, click here.

To read more about the background of the issue, see SHARE’s E-newsletter.

-Leslie O'Bray, Grassroots Education and Advocacy Intern