Thursday, April 30, 2009

BREAKING NEWS: Pacific Rim subsidiary sues Salvadoran government

Today a Pacific Rim Mining Company subsidiary began arbitration proceedings under CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement) against the Salvadoran government. The company claims that is has operated "in full compliance with Salvadoran law, including the country's environmental, mining and foreign investment laws, and have met or exceeded all applicable standards while conducting business in El Salvador." In a press release, Pacific Rim stated its intention to seek damages in the "hundreds of millions of dollars from the [Salvadoran] government" for its loss of potential profits.
Pacific Rim officials state that their company has invested over $77 million in their mining projects. The company states that the Salvadoran government has violated international and Salvadoran law by failing to issue the company mining extraction permits. In a statement included in the press release, Tom Shrake, Manager and CEO of Pacific Rim, tried to appeal to those with concerns regarding the effects of mining on human rights, environmental rights, and the Salvadoran economy. "It is not just the rights of Pacific Rim that are being compromised, but the rights of all Salvadorans and future foreign investors," he lamented, claiming that Salvadorans were losing out on jobs and the privilege of being one of the first countries in the Americas to hold a new standard in environmentally-friendly mining projects.

To read the press release, click here. To read a copy of the filing, click here.

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

"In this house we want a life without violence toward women."

The following article, written by Sara Miller Llana, was published in The Christian Science Monitor's blog:

SUCHITOTO, EL SALVADOR – Time seems to have stood still in the colonial town of Suchitoto, about 30 miles from El Salvador’s frenetic capital, with its quiet cobblestone streets and perfectly preserved architecture. But now its white-washed walls are adorned with a 21st-century message: “In this house we want a life without violence toward women.”

The words, which are accompanied by a bird and flower, the symbol of Suchitoto, forms part of a campaign by the Feminist Collective for Local Development to “elevate societal rejection of domestic violence, and make it a subject we should all be worried about,” says local feminist activist Morena Herrera.

It seems to have worked: The overall impression, reading the message on home after home – where women sweep their front porches and men gather in rocking chairs to talk on lazy afternoons – is one of camaraderie around an issue that is often overlooked in macho cultures in Latin America. In El Salvador, which contends with skyrocketing crime rates from street gangs, violence against women is even less prioritized, says Ms. Herrera.

According to the US State Department’s 2008 report on human rights, El Salvador received 6,051 reports of domestic violence last year, compared with 5,906 complaints in 2007.

The Feminist Collective for Local Development painted the walls in January with the help of the mayor’s office, and they hope to extend the program to other municipalities. Aminta Molina, whose front wall carries the motif, says she supports any initiative that gives women a boost. “Women used to have no power,” she says. “Now we are fully equals.”

- Posted by Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

*Photo from The Christian Science Monitor

Stop the raids and deportations!

Join the SHARE Foundation on Friday, May 1st, in Washington, DC to march for immigrant justice. This is a critical time for all those who support the immigrant community to mobilize and demand that President Barack Obama make good on his promise to put forward immigration reform legislation in 2009.

Our demands:
  • Stop the raids and deportations
  • Just and humane immigration reform
  • End the 287(g) Agreements (no local enforcement of unjust immigration laws)
To join the march, meet at Malcolm X Park at 3PM (click here for directions) and at 4PM we will march to the White House.

This mobilization is sponsored by the National Capital Immigrant Coalition (NCIC). To endorse this action, contact David Thurston at

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Catholic Church presents 300,000 signatures against equality

The Catholic Church presented El Salvador's Legislative Assembly with 300,000 signatures of people who are in favor of a constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union solely between a man and a woman. Only 56 votes are needed to approve the amendment, and all but one political party (FMLN) have stated their support for the amendment. The Archbishop of San Salvador, José Luis Escobar Alas (left), stated that the legislation would not discriminate against homosexual relationships. Instead, the legislation would serve to "safeguard the good of the family, the good of matrimony, and the good of society." He further stated, "We want to put up padlocks so that society's values are firm."

In an interview published in La Página, Ana Cisneros (right), a leader of the LGBT rights movement in El Salvador and honorary member of Las Dignas, stated that the Catholic Church does not have the moral ground to oppose same sex marriages. Cisneros stated that if the Catholic Church truly wanted to protect the institutions of marriage and family, the Church would work to create better conditions so families can be lifted out of poverty. As for the Legislative Assembly, "it would be better if they dedicated themselves to creating legislation that would protect children and single women or generate jobs." In an allusion to the Church's hardline stance on abortion and contraception, Cisneros asserted, "The Catholic Church cares about you when you are a fetus, but when a person is born, it abandons him or her." Cisneros admitted that marriage is not the end-all-be-all for the LGBT community in El Salvador, but "we want the same rights, that's choose our own way of life."

*Photos from Day Life and La Página.

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Past is Present in El Salvador

More at The Real News

Salvadoran Government trying to ban gay marriage...

There is limited information and news regarding the new constitutional amendment for the Salvadoran government on making marriage only between a man and a women, but the following article was posted on the Melbourne Community Voice for Gay and Lesbian Readers:

Wednesday, 22 April 2009
Members of El Salvador’s gay community hang a rainbow flag bearing the words ‘Paedophile Priests’ in Spanish outside the Legislative Assembly in San Salvador on Monday, April 20, 2009 to protest the Catholic Church’s request to legally prohibit marriages between gays.
The action is a response to the Church’s claim to have amassed 200,000 signatures on a petition in support of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages, which is currently before the legislature.

“The basic unit of society is the family, and consequently so is marriage, and therefore it deserves a true constitutional definition,” the Archbishop of San Salvador, Jose Luis Escobar, said at a press conference on Sunday. He went on to say same-sex marriages “are not moral and therefore cannot be considered marriage, but in fact are [unions], but that’s another thing,” the website reports.

The LGBT movement in El Salvador has continuously fought for job security and simple recognition. They have not fought for marriage, but ARENA has pushed this agenda and now we will find out today if the Legislative Assembly will pass the amendment.

*Photo courtesy of the Melbourne Community Voice for Gay and Lesbian Readers.

-Posted by Gregory Stock, Communications and Development Officer

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Summit of the Americas Recap

Thirty-four heads of state and government attended the fifth Summit of the Americas this past weekend (April 17-19) in Trinidad and Tobago. For the first time since the Summit of the Americas began in 1994, free trade was not the focus of the discussion. Rather, Cuba was a major topic of discussion, with some leaders hoping that Cuba will be invited to the next Summit of the Americas, as well as immigration.

The tone of the Summit was notably different from previous Summits under the government of President Bush. While Obama proponed that he wanted a new, more mutual relationship between the US and Latin America, many leaders remain skeptical. Brazil's president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said prior to the Summit, “I’m going to ask the United States to take a different view of Latin America. We’re a democratic, peaceful continent, and the United States has to look at the region in a productive, developmental way, and not just think about drug
trafficking or organized crime.”

At the summit, Obama and many of the other presidents drew upon Obama's race for optimism for social progress in the region. Obama included comments about his race in his remarks about Latin America being the most unequal region of the world, and identifying himself with the lower classes that have notbenefit ted from US ties with the economic elite of Latin America. Obama intends to address this disparity between the rich and the poor. While Chavez sees potential for increasing understanding with the poor, Bolivian President Evo Morales was less optimistic. An official commented, "Morales said to [Obama], 'I can see publicly that there has been a change, that you have learned' -- and then he mentioned his race -- 'but that the actions of your people on the ground in my country are no different."

*Pictures from Tim's El Salvador Blog and The Miami Herald.

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

Friday, April 17, 2009

Weekly Current Events, April 17, 2009

In the 16 April edition of Prensa Latina, they reported that governing party of El Salvador, ARENA, approved the Law of Integral Protection of Children and Adolescents. "The law establishes universal education for children and adolescents, prompt medical attention in cases of emergency by an hospital, either from the national network, social security or private sector."

The Associated Press reported that President Barack Obama will be entering the Latin American region for the first time today, Friday, during the fifth Summit of the Americas. The summit agenda has six topics of interest: prosperity, energy, the environment, security, democratic governance, and the summit process itself.

It was reported by the Associated Press on Wednesday from the Vatican City that there will be a doctrinal investigation into the leadership of the Catholic sisters of the United States, reportedly because they have not sufficiently promoted the Vatican line on homosexuality and other issues. There have been problems since 2001 regarding the sisters lack of promotion of teaching on homosexuality, salvation and the priesthood, which the Vatican says is reserved for men. The US Conference have said they have been confident in their teachings and have been faithful to its mission of women's orders.

Sources: Prensa Latina, Nassau News Live, The Seattle Times, and the Associated Press.

-Gregory Stock, Communications and Development Officer

Empowered Women, Empowered Communities!

Shoveling soil is HARD! That thought ran through my head over and over again as I watched SHARE Foundation’s delegates and members of cooperatives shovel compost as the sun beat down on the tin roof that barely covered the compost soil pile. We kicked up dirt and sand and soon everyone’s brightly colored sneakers were covered with muted brown earth. I gulped down water from my water bottle and wiped sweat from my brow with my sleeve.

The group I was with was comprised of American University students and MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger’s staff and board members who had come to observe El Salvador’s historic elections and learn more about Salvadorans who are fighting for justice and creating real change in their communities. This group visited two cooperatives that participate in SHARE Foundation’s local development program: Los Frailes (The Friars) and the Marta Gonzalez Cattlewomen’s Cooperative (ACAMG).

Around 9AM, the SHARE delegates piled off the bus in the morning in La Bendición and were immediately greeted by a throng of excited, gregarious children. The delegates then convened with representatives from the Los Frailes in a community space, where individual farmers, both men and women, spoke about the benefits of using organic rather than chemical fertilizers and compost soil. Los Frailes participates in the Campesino a Campesino (Peasant to Peasant) Program, in which a local grassroots organization, CONFRAS, provides training on organic farming techniques and then encourages each participating cooperative to teach and train another community on what they learned. Farmers from Los Frailes spoke about the sense of empowerment they’ve gained by working together as a community in order to solve the community problem of hunger. To better illustrate their hard work to their visitors, the cooperative members took the group to a site where they were preparing compost soil. The cooperative members showed the different layers of the soil and invited the delegates to help “turn” the soil. Under the sweltering sun, the delegates took turns shoveling the compost, huffing and puffing with the effort. Rachel Ford, a freshman at American University and one of the first to volunteer to shovel the compost, stated, “I really enjoyed having the opportunity to work alongside the members of the cooperative and talk them about their experiences.” Luah Tomas, a freshman from American University, marveled at the difficult work required to make compost soil, “While I was watching some members of our group help shovel the fertilizer I thought that, for us, this is just two minutes of our lives, but for them it is their lives.” When it was time for the group to leave, we gave our new friends at the cooperative (sweaty) hugs and thanked them for sharing their time with us and teaching us about their work.

We arrived in Zamorano in time for lunch with the Marta Gonzalez Cattlewomen’s Cooperative (ACAMG), who prepared a sumptuous feast for the delegates. After the meal, the women spoke to the delegates about their cooperative’s history, their challenges, and their hopes. ACAMG began as part of a larger, co-educational organization, but the female cooperative members did not feel supported or included in the decision-making processes, so they chose to branch off in 1993 to form their own women-run, women-only cooperative. The women told the group how they struggled with members of their community, mostly men, who told them that they were selfish for choosing to leave the larger organization. However, the women moved forward with their plans of creating a women’s cattle cooperative, and to date, around 300 women participate in the cooperative. The women smiled slyly when they said that now some men have asked to join their cooperative, but they have told them that the only way that can join is if they start wearing a dress. Because of their success, the women have expanded their cooperative’s mission and have begun literacy circles to encourage women to learn how to read and write. During our visit, a delegate asked the representatives of the cooperative if they preferred any particular candidate or political party in the upcoming presidential election. Most of the women agreed that they wanted the FMLN (Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation) party to win, but they also reminded us that they had survived seventeen years without support from the government, and they would continue their work regardless of the election results on March 15, 2009. After the women’s presentation, Heather Wolfson, MAZON’s Marketing Manager, reflected, “I was inspired by the women of the cattle cooperative. Despite facing many hardships at its inception, the cattle cooperative has changed the lives of hundreds of women. The women have used this empowerment to provide a service for the region and have given women the independence to succeed.”

At the end of our visit, the members of ACAMG invited the delegates to participate in a procession in memory of Rutilio Grande, a priest who was assassinated during El Salvador’s civil war 32 years ago. We gathered up the road along with most of the citizens of Zamorano, which included an enormous green parrot, and filed into two lines. We sang spiritual and political hymns as we processed toward Zamorano’s church, appropriately named after Rutilio Grande. I marveled at the people in the crowd, Salvadoran and American, Christian and Jewish, young and old, united in creating a new El Salvador today.

To learn more about SHARE’s local development programs, click here.

To support SHARE's projects, click here.

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

Monday, April 13, 2009

UN loans $15 million for agricultural development

The United Nations’ International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) plans to loan $14.98 million dollars to El Salvador to advance agricultural production in rural areas. This newest initiative is projected to benefit 30,000 Salvadorans living in marginalized communities, and is directed towards landless farmers, agricultural laborers, rural women and youth, and small business owners.

The project will provide access to financial services, technical assistance, and markets, to help “transform subsistence agricultural and off-farm activities into profitable, rural businesses and micro-enterprises.” It will also incorporate efforts to manage micro-watersheds and rehabilitate environmentally deteriorated areas.

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

* Photo taken from UN News Centre

"Mo(u)rning in El Salvador"

Robert Lovato wrote the article below in The Nation about his recent experience in Izalco, El Salvador. He relates the FMLN presidential victory to events throughout El Salvador's history, notably to the 1932 killing of around 30,000 indigenous peasants, known as La Matanza.

In Izalco, El Salvador, an idyllic but very poor village nestled under the gaze of the great volcano of the same name, I asked Juliana Ama to help me understand how the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), the guerrillas-turned-political-party, had managed to triumph over the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) in the presidential election on March 15, ending the right-wing party's twenty-year reign. Ama guided me to a dusty, football field-size dirt lot adjacent to a church. The 61-year-old schoolteacher said nothing at first, staring meditatively at a round spot blackened by a campfire or some burnt offering. Then she said simply, "It's our dead."

To read the rest of the article, click here.

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

* Picture taken from The Nation

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

SHARE delegate reflects on experience as an international observer

Jeannie Berwick, a SHARE delegate who monitored the presidential elections in March, reflects below on her experience as an international observer.

“Salvadorans, you have the sky for your hat, so great is your dignity.”

So begins the song that became the popular anthem of El Salvador’s poor communities as they resisted military repression during their country’s civil war that formally ended with the 1992 Peace Accords.

On March 15, 2009, seventeen years after the war, we witnessed the great dignity of ordinary Salvadorans as they voted in elections that were miraculously absent of the violence that has characterized the Salvadoran political process for generations.

We were in El Salvador, along with thousands of people from several countries, to serve as accredited international election observers. Our delegation of 150 people from 18 states was sponsored by the SHARE Foundation, a nonprofit organization that has accompanied El Salvador’s poor for over twenty-five years, through twelve years of war and now in the arduous process of rebuilding.

We learned that before our arrival, the opposition candidate of the FMLN (Farabundo Martí National Liberation) Party had enjoyed a substantial lead for months before local media blasted the public with threats that employers would move their businesses abroad or shut them down if the FMLN candidate won. Even members of the US Congress got into the act. Republican Representatives Dana Rohrbacher and Dan Burton declared that if the Salvadoran people voted for the opposition candidate, (1) the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program that allows thousands of Salvadorans permission to live and work in the US would be discontinued; and (2) El Salvador would be declared a “terrorist state,” which would prohibit Salvadorans living in the United States from sending money (“remittances”) to their families in El Salvador. To understand the implications of these threats, it’s important to note that remittances constitute a whopping 18% of El Salvador’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Our delegation responded by holding several press conferences to protest these threats and reassure the public that the Obama Administration had no intention of punishing the Salvadoran people for the free exercise of their vote. After international outcry, the US Embassy and State Department issued statements affirming the US government’s position of neutrality in the Salvadoran electoral process and its commitment to work constructively with whomever the Salvadoran people elected.

In presentations by various representatives from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the Salvadoran legislature, and the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), we learned that there is plenty of room for improvement in the current electoral system, including cleaning up voter registration rolls that include thousands of deceased Salvadorans, foreigners not eligible to vote under the Salvadoran Constitution, and people who have two voter registration cards (“DUI”). But our task on Election Day was only to observe the elections and note any violations of law; we were not in El Salvador to intervene in the process. After our accreditation training on the Salvadoran elections laws, we fanned out into polling stations in the capitol of San Salvador and outlying rural municipalities.

To read the rest of the article, email Sara Skinner at

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

* Photos taken by Claudia Rodriguez-Alas

"El Salvador Elections: the Ghosts of Izalco"

Emily Achtenberg, a delegate from SHARE’s electoral observation mission, wrote this article about her experience on Election Day in Izalco, Sonsonate. Izalco is the site of the 1932 peasant uprising that became known as “La Matanza” (the slaughter). Due to great inequality between peasants and landowners and a fall in coffee prices, rebels rose up behind communist leader Augustín Farabunto Martí. The US backed dictator, Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, quelled the revolt in a few days, killing around 30,000 peasants.

March 15, 2009 - 4:45 AM

As we approach the voting center in Izalco where our international observer team will be stationed, the weight of history is hard to escape. Both the left and right of El Salvador trace their political roots to this small town in the western coffee-growing department of Sonsonate.

Here in 1932, some 30,000 mostly indigenous peasants were slaughtered by the US-backed military dictator, General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, following an unsuccessful rebellion sparked by the collapse of the coffee economy and the government's refusal to certify leftist victories in the local elections. Agustín Farabundo Marti, the Communist patriot after whom the FMLN takes its name, was captured here and executed for instigating the uprising--although recent scholarship emphasizes its indigenous roots and leadership.

Subsequently, all accounts of the insurrection and massacre ("La Matanza") were expunged from the public record. For self-protection, the region's remaining indigenous population (still one of El Salvador's largest) abandoned its native dress, language, and culture. Generations of Salvadoreños have grown up unaware of Izalco's history.

The right-wing governing ARENA party, along with its infamous death squads, was founded in Izalco in 1981. Every five years, ARENA launches its presidential campaign here, the place where the country was "saved from Communism." (The ARENA anthem extols El Salvador as "the tomb where the Reds will be buried."

ARENA controlled Izalco's local government for 28 years--until this past January, when the FMLN scored an upset victory in the mayoral election. Clearly the winds of change blowing across the country have reached Izalco, and the presidential election will be hotly contested here....

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

* Photos taken by Claudia Rodriguez-Alas

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Father Miguel Vasquez visits Kansas City to commemorate Oscar Romero

The article below provides coverage of Father Miguel Vasquez's recent tour to Kansas City, MO, sponsored by the SHARE Foundation, the Kansas City Sister Parish Committee, and St. Sabina Parish. Father Miguel (in photo at left), from Arcatao, El Salvador, spoke to the community about his memories of Oscar Romero, who was assassinated before he was scheduled to ordain Father Miguel to become a priest. Below is an article written by Kevin Kelly for the Catholic Key.

Father Miguel Vasquez Hernandez knew the four U.S. women missionaries who were raped and murdered by Salvadoran National Guard soldiers in December 1980.

As a newly ordained priest, he served the same poor in the same area of the country as did Maryknoll Sisters Ita Ford and Maura Clarke, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel and lay missioner Jean Donovan.

Father Vasquez also knew the six Jesuit professors at Central American University, who were slain execution-style on the campus in November 1989. They taught him when he was a seminarian nine years earlier.

But Father Vasquez also knew very well San Salvador Archbishop Oscar Romero, gunned down as he was celebrating Mass on March 25, 1980.

Like all bishops, Archbishop Romero took a special and personal interest in his seminarians, Father Vasquez told nearly 100 people at the annual memorial, held this year at St. Sabina Parish, for the archbishop who has become a symbol of service to the poor to the point of sacrificing life.

“When they killed Archbishop Romero, I devoted myself to working with the poor and the refugees,” Father Vasquez told the gathering March 20.

Now the pastor of San Bartolome Parish in an area outside of San Salvador that was hit hard by the civil war that raged through the 1980s, Father Vasquez said that Archbishop Romero remains alive in the people he serves.

To read the rest of the article, click here.

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

Monday, April 6, 2009

A new environment towards mining

Just five years ago, the Glencairn Gold Corp. said Central America was “a top destination for mining companies” where the political situation “encourage[s] mineral exploration and mining.” Yesterday, the Global Post published this article on the changing prospects for mining companies in the region, largely due to strong anti-mining campaigns.

The Catholic Church has been vocal in the anti-mining protests that seem to be impacting the government’s stance toward mining. In Guatemala, two mining activists were murdered and a bishop received a death threat, which may have prompted the government to halt the distribution of mining permits. During this six month moratorium, the Guatemalan government will consider a new law that which would require mining companies to give 4% of the profits to the government, an increase from the current requirement of 1%.

The environmental advisor in Costa Rica similarly proposed to halt giving new mining permits, and Honduras has stopped issuing new permits while it devises a new tax structure for mining.

The changes in policy and strong opposition from the people are driving mining companies out of the area. In 2002, Canada spent $41 million on Central American mining operation, and in 2006 spent $1.6 billion. However, between 2006-2007, spending dropped 32%, reflecting the new attitude toward the region.

In El Salvador, where for a few years the Canadian company Pacific Rim has been exploring for gold, the government has officially denied them an extraction permit. While the company can now legally arbitrate under CAFTA for the rights, it is refraining to do so until the economic situation improves.

One of the biggest concerns against mining is the use of cyanide to extract the metal from the surrounding ore. Many fear that the cyanide will contaminate the water, affecting the residents and killing water animals and livestock. A recent cyanide spill at a mine in Honduras actualized these concerns.

Despite the advantage of bringing foreign investment and jobs, it seems the mining industry will be facing a lot of obstacles due to the strong resistance of the people. Indeed, Pacific Rim said that the laws and anti mining atmosphere are “undoubtedly a major deterrent to future investment in the region.”

A Guatemalan environmentalist and journalist commented on the situation: “Around the region, something very interesting is happening. The people are leading the fight against gold mining and its working.”

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

*Picture taken from the Global Post

Ministerial decree to reduce homophobia in health services

The Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance of El Salvador approved a decree to reduce homophobia in health care services as part of the country's National Plan on HIV Prevention.

According to an article by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, a country progress report from 2008 indicated that human rights violations as a main barrier to an effective response to the spread of AIDS in El Salvador. This new decree, therefore, is one of several actions being taken to "reduce homophobia and any type of discrimination based on sexual orientation in the health services." To measure the health providers' accountability to this decree, the Minister has asked that health institutions report back how they have reduced homophobia in their health services, though it is unclear what standards would be used or actions would be taken to sanction those who do not make improvements.

According to UNAIDS, 17.8% of men who have sex with men are infected with HIV. The article asserts, "Stigma and homophobia increase the isolation of gays, bisexuals and transgender people making them more reluctant to come forward, get advice and access HIV services such as treatment, testing and counseling."

As exciting as this new decree is for El Salvador, I hope that the Ministry of Public Health and Assistance provides training and education for health providers on homophobia. Without training and education, it seems impossible and almost unfair to hold health providers accountable for homophobia in their health services when many doctors, nurses, and staff may not have a clue about what homophobia is and how they can combat it. What do you think?

*Pictures taken from Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS and

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

CAUSA issues press release on El Salvador's historic election

CAUSA, an Oregon-based immigrant rights organization, issued a press release about SHARE's election delegation and Funes' commitment to work with the United States on immigration. Francisco Lopez, CAUSA's Executive Director and SHARE delegate and board member, stated “The historic election of President Funes offers an important opportunity for President Obama to work towards mending relations with people who view the United States as historic supporters of repressive regimes."

To read the press release, click here.

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"Take off the 'Cold War’ glasses concerning Latin America"

Below is an article written by Ollie Jefferson, one of 19 members of the National Lawyers Guild that participated as a delegate in SHARE's Election Observation Mission. The article, published in the Star Telegram, talks about her experience observing the Presidential Elections in March.

Joined by other members of the National Lawyers Guild, I was part of a delegation of international election observers who went to El Salvador to witness its March 15 presidential elections.

The delegation was sponsored by the SHARE Foundation, which has programs in El Salvador designed to meet basic human needs and build long-term solutions to poverty and social injustice.

Our participation, independent of the U.S. government, was an effort to see whether the elections were fair. While I have had hundreds of Salvadorans as clients and empathize with what they have suffered, my participation as a certified presidential electoral observer required objectivity.

At 5 a.m. election day, our group and the poll workers arrived to set up for what was a long-awaited event: the presidential elections in this Central American country. Their procedures are numerous and highly bureaucratic, developed over time to prevent fraud.

The first voter at my table was no more than 5 feet tall, minute, rather stooped over — an old woman coming to have her say...

To read the rest of Ollie Jefferson's article, click here.

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

Cyanide spills into a river at a mining site in Honduras

Cyanide spilled into the Lara River at a mining site in San Andrés Minas, Honduras, after a rock ruptured the tube transporting it. At 11:45 p.m. on March 19, a tractor suddenly dropped a large rock that hit a 50-60 centimeters thick tube transporting cyanide to clean the extracted metals. The puncture caused a stream of cyanide to spill out into the Lara River, resulting in the deaths of thousands of fish.

According to Minosa, the mining company, 150 gallons of the cyanide solution fell into the river, though residents fear the quantity was greater than that since the employers did not notice the spill until a few hours after it had happened.

The next morning, the district attorney in the community arrived to inspect the damage, as well as representatives from the Catholic Church, human rights organizations, and other social organizations. Findings showed that the cyanide reached 300 meters from the spill, but there was not any cyanide detectable 400 meters away.

Representatives from Minosa stated they had the spill under
control in a matter of minutes once they detected the incident. They said their employees are trained for these kinds of emergency situations according to international standards and they plan to increase their security measures to prevent a future accident.

The Lara River experienced a spill in January 2003 that similarly caused the death of a lot of fish. The Lara River is a tributary of the Higuitoque River, whose water serves 40,000 residents of Santa Rosa de Copán.

Accidents like this one are one of the main concerns for having mining in El Salvador. Consequently, there has been a strong Salvadoran community effort against mining, supported by the Archbishop of San Salvador,Don Hugo Barrera . The contamination of water, one of many byproducts of mining, threatens agricultural production, fisheries, livestock, and people.

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

Ad-Hoc Commission on Mining dissolves

In the Diario CoLatino, the Mesa Nacional Frente a la Mineria Metalica wrote an opinion piece on the dissolution of the Ad-Hoc Commission on Mining on March 19, 2009. The Commission was formed in the beginning of 2007 in order to discuss the proposal of a new mining law put together by the Canadian mining company, Pacific Rim, and presented by legislators from the PCN (National Conciliation Party) political party.

The Mesa Nacional Frente a la Mineria Metalica, an organization comprised of Christian communities and civil society groups against mining in El Salvador, attributed the dissolution of the group to the lack of support from the Executive Office in El Salvador and community resistance to mining. At the end of February, the current Salvadoran President Antonio Saca announced he would not grant mining companies extraction permits. President-elect Mauricio Funes has said throughout his campaign that he was against mining in El Salvador. Therefore, it does not make sense for the Legislative Assembly to promote projects that the the Executive Office will not implement.

Community resistance to mining also contributed to the dissolution of the Commission. Groups like the Mesa coupled with the clear stance of the Catholic Church and the Environmental Ministry have created serious road blocks for mining companies along the way.

So what does this mean for Pacific Rim's plan to arbitrate against the Salvadoran government for loss of potential profits? Can the Salvadoran government afford to pay for the lawsuit with Pacific Rim? Will Pacific Rim abandon the case?

What do you think?

To read the opinion piece, click here.

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator