Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Pictures of election observation in San Salvador

Claudia Rodriguez-Alas, SHARE's DC Policy Office Director, has uploaded pictures of SHARE's Election Observation Delegation. Most of her photos take place in different voting centers in San Salvador. To view the photos, click here.

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

"Election observer in El Salvador, a recession-proof spring break job"

Below is an article written by a Georgetown University student and SHARE Election Observation Delegate, Sarah Stodder, for her university's newspaper on her experience in El Salvador. Sarah is a member of the Georgetown Magis Group, a SHARE youth partnering group.

Last Tuesday, I spent my morning in the noisy, sunlit streets of San Salvador and the night in Georgetown’s comparatively glacial climate. But the drop in temperature has actually been the easiest thing to get used to since my return. Not so easy have been my brief encounters with people I know, those friendly but slightly awkward and unfulfilling moments on the way to class when neither person has the time or desire to stop and talk. Each conversation follows a similar outline: “How was break?” One-word response. “Yours?” One-word response. Off to class.

I’ve been struggling to find a word for my break. Through Campus Ministry’s Magis Immersion and Justice Program, I spent ten days in El Salvador with nine other Georgetown students and three staff members. We visited impoverished and marginalized communities—places many Salvadorans themselves don’t see—where people showed us their living conditions and explained the situation in their country. We also served as International Election Observers for El Salvador’s March 15th presidential election.

Passing friends in a hurry, all the words I want to use—sobering, life-changing, uplifting—seem too heavy for a five-second conversation....

To read the rest of Sarah Stodder's article, click here.

To read another article on the Georgetown Magis Group's trip, click here.

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

Monday, March 30, 2009

Romero Justice Week - Baltimore, MD Celebration with Bishop Rosa Chavez

In commemoration of the 29th anniversary of Archbishop Oscar Romero's martyrdom, SHARE's friends at Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church, Maryland Presbyterian Church, St. Andrew's By the Bay, St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church, and Govans Presbyterian Church held a procession and mass with their invited guest, Auxiliary Bishop of San Salvador Gregorio Rosa Chavez. Keep checking SHARE's blog for more reports and pictures from Romero events!

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

"Perhaps, like fear, stress, and salt, a national sense of guilt would, in moderation, be healthy."

Jon Santiago from the Huffington Post recently visited El Mozote, a small town in the Morazan department of El Salvador, where he learned about the infamous massacre of nearly 1,000 people by the Salvadoran military in 1981. After describing in brutal detail the events that transpired, the writer criticized the US government's involvement with the Salvadoran civil war. He points out that both El Salvador and the United States have new, left-leaning governments and asks, "Hopes are high right now, why not drive them even higher? Why not internalize, and fully recognize, all of our past mistakes rather than bury them amidst generalizations that serve only to excuse?"

The writer noted that the story of El Mozote should not be forgotten and should be passed down to future generations to avoid such horrendous mistakes. He ruminates, "Perhaps, like fear, stress, and salt, a national sense of guilt would, in moderation, be healthy."

To read the full article in the Huffington Post, click here.

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

LPG Datos indicates Saca will leave with a high rating

Angus Reid Global Monitor published an article that says current Salvadoran President Antonio Saca will finish his term with a favorable rating. LPG Datos conducted a poll that showed Saca’s performance rating is 6.2 on a scale of one to ten.

La Prensa Grafica has a running discussion about these results. One reader was skeptical of the validity of the results, because of his party's (ARENA) recent loss in the presidential election due in large part to party's poor management.

Another said of the poll: “Credible…in spite of the tireless attempts of the communists in an insatiable campaign to discredit ARENA, it [ARENA] has given us good governments. The most important thing is that they know what they are doing; there are not hidden agendas, the people know it and hope that they continue having an open book like that. Saca has done a good job with the compatriots in the United States, applying and promoting the re-inscription of the TPS*…”

A third person noted it was a very high grade, possibly because of the method used. He said he would not give President Saca a higher note than President Bush, and that renewing the TPS was out of US self-interest, not because anyone promoted it.

The final commenter, responding to an earlier comment said that “it is not a campaign to discredit ARENA but the truth, because we have only had corrupt and degenerate governments; yes it can be said that we have more compatriots but they have gone because of unemployment and the high cost of life of living and the violence that has always been maintained…”

*TPS - Temporary Protected Status. TPS is a temporary immigration status granted to eligible legal immigrants of designated countries. During the period for which a country has been designated for TPS, TPS beneficiaries may remain in the United States and may obtain work authorization. El Salvador has been awarded this designation of TPS since March 2001. TPS has been politicized in Salvadoran electoral campaigns by some conservative politicians. In September 2008, Salvadoran Foreign Affairs Minister Marisol Argueta claimed that the US would rescind El Salvador's TPS if the FMLN won.

-Leslie O'Bray, SHARE Grassroots Education and Advocacy Intern

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Support the SOA 6!

On January 26, six human rights advocates appeared in a federal courthouse in Georgia. The "SOA 6," ranging in age from 21 to 68, were found "guilty" of carrying the protest against the School of the Americas (SOA/WHINSEC) onto the Fort Benning military base. The six were among the thousands who gathered on November 22 and 23, 2008 outside the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia to demand a change in U.S. policy towards Latin America and the closure of the SOA/WHINSEC.

The SOA 6 spoke out clearly and powerfully in court. They made a compelling case for the closure of the school and creation of a culture of justice and peace, where there is no place for the SOA mindset that promotes military "solutions" to social and economic problems. The six stood up for all of us working for a more just world.

One of the SOA 6 includes Sister Diane Pinchot, OSU (see picture above). Pinchot is a teacher and member of the Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland. A friend of hers, Sister Dorothy Kazel, was raped and murdered by soldiers in El Salvador who were trained at the SOA. "Dorothy's death and the thousands of other deaths and disappearances taught us nothing, if today the same U.S. government is still training soldiers the skills of torture and war," said Sister Diane.

To learn more about the SOA 6 and to take action, visit School of the Americas Watch's website.

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

Women Ask Funes to Create Policies that Guarantee Their Rights

The Salvadoran organization, Women Creators of Peace and Life, have asked the recently elected president of the Republic of El Salvador, Mauricio Funes, to create policies that guarantee women's rights during his tenure. The representatives of the organization state that women's rights were not taken into consideration during the past twenty years of ARENA's rule.

Some of the issues that many Salvadoran feminist organizations hope that the new government will address are reproductive rights, sex education, women's labor, domestic violence, and the femicides.

The feminist organization, CEMUJER, has called for an end to the impunity for those responsible for the murder of women. In the last two months, sixty women have been murdered in El Salvador. Ima Rocio Guirola, a representative of CEMUJER, stated that there have been no concrete measures taken to stop the rate of femicides in El Salvador and believes that the Salvadoran government could help by passing the Comprehensive Law against Violence against Women. Since 2007, women's organizations in El Salvador have urged the Salvadoran government to list femicide as a crime and to create a special police unit to investigate crimes against women. Perhaps with the election of Mauricio Funes to the presidency, the Salvadoran government will concern itself more with the needs and rights of women.

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

A Sign of Things to Come?

The New York Times published an interesting article today about NAFTA's unfilled promises in Mexico. The article points out that in many cases NAFTA has produced "exactly the opposite of what was promised," and provides the following examples:
  • The dismantling of domestic industries as multinational companies choose to import from their own suppliers;
  • The inability for local farmers to compete with food imports; and
  • Emigration to the United States.
Given NAFTA's failure 15 years after its implementation, what can we expect from DR-CAFTA? Mauricio Funes, El Salvador's president-elect, has repeatedly stated that he does not support El Salvador's withdrawal from the free trade agreement. Yet, as the food crisis continues and more and more Salvadorans leave the country in search of employment, will Funes change his mind?

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

Monday, March 23, 2009

Interview with President-Elect Mauricio Funes

New America Media recently posted the interview below with President-elect Mauricio Funes after his win on March 15, 2009. In the interview Funes discusses immigration, US-El Salvador relations, and why he believes CAFTA should not be repealed.

Immigration has become one of the defining issues of the United States-El Salvador relationship. How will your administration’s immigration policies differ from those of the outgoing administration?

The fact that we're going to rebuild the democratic institutions--enforce the constitution and make El Salvador a democratic state that respects the rule of law--is the best guarantee to the United States that we will significantly reduce the flows of out-migration.

Salvadorans who leave to the United States do so because of the institutional abandon, the lack of employment and dignified salaries to make a living. This forces them to leave in search of new possibilities in the United States.

It's not the same for us to ask the U.S. government to renew TPS
[temporary legalization] without a Salvadoran effort to avoid further migration flows, then to do so from a position in which we have undertaken efforts to reduce the migration flows.

What’s the first message you’d like to send to President Obama?

The message that I would like to send to President Obama is that I will not seek alliances or accords with other heads of state from the southern part of the continent that will jeopardize my relationship with the government of the United States.

Opinion polls in El Salvador indicate that large majorities of its citizens reject key policies that define, in many ways, the relationship between El Salvador and the United States, specifically CAFTA, dollarization and the Iraq war.

We can't get mixed up in repealing CAFTA...nor can we reverse dollarization because that would send a negative message to foreign investors, and then we'd be facing serious problems because we wouldn't have enough investment to stimulate the national economy.

What do you think the United States government should be concerned about with regards to El Salvador at this time?

The degree to which we do our part, which is to rebuild our productive capacity and to create a coherent social policy that improves the quality of life, there will be fewer reasons to leave for the United States, and we'll reduce migration flows. And that should be a concern for the United States.

Where will the effects of the transition in power be felt most immediately?

We're going to change the way we make policy. And one of the most significant changes is that we will no longer have a government at the service of a privileged few. And we will no longer have a government that creates an economy of privileges for the privileged. Now, we need a government like the one envisioned by Mons. Oscar Arnulfo Romero, who in his prophetic message said that the church should have a preferential option for the poor.

Paraphrasing Mons. Romero, I would say that this government should have a preferential option for the poor, for those who need a robust government to get ahead and to be able to compete in this world of disequilibrium under fair conditions.

This government implies a break from traditional policymaking. Now, what we're going to do is put the government and the structure of the state at the service of the Salvadoran people––the totality of the Salvadoran people – but, fundamentally, to that great majority who are oppressed and excluded from the country's social and economic development. Not just the last 20 years, but for the last 200 years or more, have not had the possibility of participating in the formation of public policies.

A government like the one I'm going to create will give them the protagonist's role, which until now they have not had.

- Posted by Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Saca reiterates that he will not permit mineral extraction

Following an announcement that he will not give Pacific Rim extraction rights to the El Dorado area, President Saca reiterated that his administration will not support any mineral extraction.

Saca said that he will veto any law the Legislative Assembly tries to pass that allows mining on Salvadoran territory.

He emphasized the environmental ramifications that accompany mining, such as the health implications of using cyanide to extract gold. He made it clear that this administration will not support any mining project.

-Leslie O'Bray, SHARE Grassroots Education and Advocacy Intern

Spanish judge will hear the UCA murders case

A Spanish judge has agreed to investigate 14 Salvadoran military officers, and possibly former Salvadoran president Alfredo Cristiani, for the murders of six Jesuit priests and two women at the Central American University (UCA) in 1989. The ruling was in response to the Center for Justice and Accountability's (CJA) lawsuit against Cristiani and the former military officers filed in November 2008.

Although far from an indictment, for many, the judge's decision already feels like a victory for the cause of justice in El Salvador. In 1992, El Salvador's government passed an amnesty law that provides amnesty to all perpetrators of war crimes during the country 12-year Civil War. Spain is able to prosecute the perpetrators of the Jesuit case under a legal principle called "universal jurisdiction," through which Spain has pursued other high profile cases, including an attempt to extradite Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet for torture.

The Hartford Courant reports that Benjamin Cuellar, director of the Human Rights Institute in San Salvador, said his group "doesn't oppose the prosecution but believes justice can be achieved only in Salvadoran courts." However, it does not seem that the amnesty law will be lifted in El Salvador anytime soon. With the presidential election quickly approaching, neither of the two candidates have agreed to lift the law. Mauricio Funes, the FMLN presidential candidate, has stated, "We cannot change the past of hate, of confrontation. The future, we can build differently." Almudena Bernabeu, an attorney for CJA, cites the impunity of war criminals as sources of El Salvador's current "crime-ridden status." She asserts, "When a society develops the idea that they will never be punished no matter what they do, it perverts the society."

To read the Hartford Courant's article, click here.

To learn more about the Jesuit murders case, click here.

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

Monday, March 2, 2009

Saca says he won't grant Pac Rim permits, would rather pay CAFTA suit

President Antonio Saca recently declared that he will not grant extraction rights to Pacific Rim, a Canadian-based mining company that has been exploring gold mining options in El Dorado, El Salvador. His announcement comes just before the three-month period for the amicable negotiation between the government and company ends and the dispute goes before international arbitration. President Saca added, “I want to make something clear, I prefer to pay the $90 million dollars [for arbitration] than to give them a permit.”

President Saca stated that he wants a business that can demonstrate that its practices will not harm the environment. The idea of “green mining,” Saca says, is “a very superficial thing.”

Pacific Rim has invested about $70 million in El Dorado, and is arguing that to deny them extraction rights violates CAFTA-DR. They claim they have complied with all legal requests, and superseded the environmental laws and regulations. The government, however, says exploration rights do not oblige the government to give extraction rights.

There has been a lot of civil resistance to mining. The Catholic Church has been in open opposition, particularly under the new archbishop of San Salvador, Monseñor Luis Escobar Alas. Monseñor Alas publicly stated his support of Saca’s decision about mining, as did Roberto Rubio, director of the National Foundation for Development (FUNDE). Both men cited the environmental consequences of mining as a major concern.

-Leslie O'Bray, SHARE Grassroots Education and Advocacy Intern