Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Funes announces several members of his Cabinet

Several names of President-elect Mauricio Funes' Cabinet have been announced over the last couple of days. The positions include:
  • Chief Advisor to the President and Chief of Staff: Alexander Segovia, Funes' current economic advisor,
  • Treasury Minister: Carlos Cáceres, the former Executive Director of the Central Banking System,
  • Economic Minister: Dr. Hector Dada, current Democratic Change (DC) Legislator,
  • President of the Central Bank Reserve: Carlos Acevedo, an economist with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP),
  • Agriculture Minister: Manuel Sevilla, another economist for the UNDP,
  • Environment Minister: German Rosa Chávez, former Executive Director of the Salvadoran Program for Investigation of Development and the Environment (PRISMA),
  • Public Works Minister: Gerson Martínez, current FMLN Legislator,
  • Coordinator for State Modernization: Hato Hasbum, Funes' presidential campaign director,
  • President of CEPA (Salvadoran Port Authority): Guillermo López, former Treasury Minister in the Saca administration, and
  • Minister of Foreign Affairs: Hugo Martínez, an FMLN Legislator
*Photo of Mauricio Funes and Hector Dada from Amigos de Mauricio.

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

Friday, May 22, 2009

Workers' Party begins process of becoming official political party

Yesterday, Diario CoLatino reported that members of the new Partido de los Trabajadores (Workers' Party) picked up 50,000 ballots from the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) for citizens to sign in order for the new party to be registered as an official political party. If the Workers' Party, which was founded in 2002, is able to collect 50,000 signatures, the party will be able to participate in the next election. The party members stated that all wage earners can join their party. including those who work in the informal sector of the economy.

According to the Secretary of the Workers' Party, Abel Quijano (pictured above at the TSE), the new party will represent the "true interests of the working class, which are not currently being represented anywhere else." This statement may surprise some people in El Salvador, where the FMLN, the party farthest to the left, recently celebrated their first presidential victory. However, Pedro Zaldívar, another leader of the Workers' Party, indicated the party's interest in working with the FMLN. "I am a leftist, we are from the left, the FMLN defines itself as part of the left so hopefully we can work together."

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Intellectuals propose creation of Ministry of Culture

The Forum of Salvadoran Intellectuals (FIE), a group comprised of artists and writers, have submitted a proposal to the Salvadoran government for the creation of a Ministry of Culture. The office would be responsible for the development and preservation for Salvadoran culture. José Roberto Cea, a poet, professor, and member of FIE (pictured at left with Chinchilla), asserted, "After twenty years of ARENA administrations, it is now time for neoliberalism to disappear and give way to fundamental factors for society, like cultural development."

Although there are 173 cultural centers in the 262 municipalities in El Salvador, members of the FIE complain that the relationship between the organizations and governmental institutions remain abysmal. Miguel Ángel Chinchilla, another member of FIE, suggested that this situation could be rectified with the creation of a Ministry of Culture. The members of FIE agree that Funes' new government "opens the door for a new cultural policy that dignifies and develops society in all of its components."

*Photo from Diario CoLatino.

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

Funes visits Venezuela

Less than one month before his inauguration, President-elect Maurcio Funes is visiting Venezuela to discuss trade and social projects with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. After meeting with Funes on Tuesday, Chávez announced plans to set up a commission for future projects with El Salvador. Chávez also announced that he will attend Funes' inauguration on June 1, 2009 in San Salvador.

Contrary to what ARENA predicted during the presidential campaign, the U.S. Government does not appear alarmed or concerned by Funes' visit with Chávez. US Deputy Assistant of the Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Craig Kelly, stated, "It is not up to the US to make comments on the diplomatic relations of El Salvador."

*Photo from Diario CoLatino.

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

CESTA rejects Pacific Rim's lawsuit

The Diario CoLatino reports that the Salvadoran Center for Appropriate Technology (CESTA), a Salvadoran member of Friends of the Earth International, called Pacific Rim Mining Company's lawsuit against the country an "injustice." CESTA's President, Ricardo Navarro, stated that Pacific Rim's legal action is an effect of the flaw of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). Navarro pleaded, "I urge the Legislative Assembly to establish a lay that prohibits metallic mining, then, we should review and analyze Association Agreement of the European Union and Central America (AdA) which is more of the same, and finally, President-elect Mauricio Funes should make revisions to these economic treaties without fear." Touching on the insecurity that many Salvadorans feel regarding the outcome of the lawsuit, Navarro stated, "We could lose the cause, because it's an international tribunal and we don't know if it's impartial or if it has corporate leadership, we do not know who they are because it is a closed process, but we should continue fighting and remove Pacific Rim from the country."

To read the full article, click here. To learn more about Pacific Rim's lawsuit, click here.

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

*Photo from The Ecologist.

Violence and Impunity in El Salvador

The LA Times published an excellent article today about gang violence in El Salvador. As violence along the border in Mexico increases, El Salvador continues to have one of the highest murder rates in the world; in fact, the article cites that the country's murder rate is five times that of Mexico. Half of the murders in El Salvador are committed by youth, and the National Civil Police state that 70% of the victims are youth between the ages of 15 and 39.Some of the violence can be attributed to gang violence. LA Times journalist Tracy Wilkinson interviews a Spanish priest, Father Antonio Rodríguez, who runs a violence-prevention program in a parish in the impoverished Mejicanos neighborhood in San Salvador. Father Rodríguez asserted that "gangs used to protect the neighborhoods, their turf, and attacked only outsiders." However, with current President Antonio Saca's ineffective and draconian Iron Fist policies toward youth involved with criminal activity and the rise of the number of gang members in prison, gangs now "strike anywhere...because they need to support their incarcerated associates and families."

The article points out hundreds of murders each year are committed by members of the police force, private security guards, and assassins hired to carry out "social cleansing." Meanwhile, impunity reigns as few murder cases are rarely solved. El Salvador has a long history of providing impunity for the worst human rights offenders: war criminals during the country's bloody Civil War are protected by a blanket Amnesty Law. Given the prevailing sense of impunity coupled with dire poverty, is there any wonder that the death tolls keep climbing?

To read the article, click here.

*Photo by José Cabezas/AFP/Getty Images though the LA Times.

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

Monday, May 11, 2009

SOAW lobbies Sánchez Cerén to withdraw ES from the School of the Americas

School of the Americas Watch (SOAW) activists visted El Salvador this week to ask President-elect Mauricio Funes' new government to withdraw military officers from the School of the Americas/WHINSEC, reports IPS. Lisa Sullivan, Latin America Coordinator for SOAW, expressed hope that when Mauricio Funes takes office on June 1, there is a possibility that his government will stop sending troops to the School of the Americas.
There are currently 37 Salvadoran military officers studying at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, GA, but El Salvador has a long, ugly history with the military academy. The IPS article included frightening links between the School of the Americas/WHINSEC and the gristly murders during the Salvadoran Civil War:
  • 19 of the 26 Salvadoran soldiers and officers involved in the murders of the Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and the housekeeper's teenage daughter at the University of Central Americain 1989 were SOA alumni.
  • Three of the five Salvadoran troops who raped and killed three U.S. nuns and a Catholic layworker in 1980 were SOA alumni.
  • Two of the three Salvadoran troops implicated in the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1980 were SOA alumni.
  • 48 of the 69 Salvadoran military officers "cited by the U.N. Truth Commission for human rights violations had been trained at the SOA."
Other famous Salvadoran alumni of the SOA include Domingo Monterrosa (pictured at right), commander of the Atlcatl Battallion that murdered over a thousand women, men, and children in the infamous El Mozote Massacre, and Roberto D'Aubuisson, founder of the ARENA party and suspected founder of many of the paramilitary death squads in El Salvador.

Mary Anne Peronne, another SOAW activist, stated that when the SOAW representatives met with Vice President-elect Salvador Sánchez Ceréen, "he admitted that he was unfamiliar with WHINSEC, but that he would take the information provided by the activists very seriously."

To learn more about the SOA, visit the School of the America's Watch website.

*Photo of SOAW Vigil from madison.org.

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

Thursday, May 7, 2009

"Victimizer wants to punish the victim"

Below is an English translation of the public opinion piece from the National Working Group Against Metallic Mineral Mining published in the Diario CoLatino in response to Pacific Rim's initiation's of arbitration proceedings against the Salvadoran government.

Victimizer Wants to Punish the Victim

On April 30, Pacific Rim made good on its threat to sue the Salvadoran State for denying them the environmental permit to extract the El Dorado mine in San Isidro (Cabañas).

Having completed the ninety days waiting period, the Canadian company went to the International Center for Investment Disputes (ICSID) to demand repayment of $77 million in “mining exploration investments.”

The mining company announced its decision to sue the country at the beginning of December of 2008, under CAFTA regulations. During the following three months, the government of El Salvador has to look for an “amicable solution,” which means to say, the authorization of the solicited permit.

However, instead of a favorable response, Pacific Rim was met with President Antonio Saca’s and President-elect Mauricio Funes’ commitment to prevent mining project in national territory.

In the words of the German economist Franz Hinkelammert, Pacific Rim’s lawsuit is a case where the victimizer presents himself as a victim: the assailant asks for punishment for the one who is assaulted.

We shall see. The mining company came to this country and dried up the water sources in San Isidro, caused economic losses in Guacotecti, generated conflicts among the community in Sensuntepeque, corrupted mayors and legislators, violated environmental law, offended religious authorities, spread misleading information, etc.

Therefore, the communities of Cabañas, the Catholic Church, and the Salvadoran government are the ones who, as victims, prosecute the mining company, the victimizer. But no. It is Pacific Rim that is presented as the one whose “rights have been violated” and demands millions of dollars in compensation before the corporate tribunal, who resolution is easy to foresee, given that entities such as ICSID only respond to interests of corporate transnational companies.

The Archbishop of San Salvador, Monsignor José Luis Escobar Alas, rightly insists that the mining company only received exploration permits and that extraction licenses are not automatic.

However, outside of legal arguments, El Salvador should appeal to the principles of human dignity, national sovereignty, self-determination of the people, defense of the environment and the continuation of life.

Reject the mining company’s demand and, at the same time, sue the company for causing ecological, economic, social and institutional damages, it a matter of national interest. The country, citizens and the government should close ranks.

The case should also serve to reactivate the struggle against CAFTA. If it is not repealed or, at the least, some of its most damaging aspects are not modified, this trade agreement will make us subject to transnational companies that damage the ecosystem, productivity, and life.

- Communications Staff of the National Working Group against Metallic Mineral Mining

*Photo from mimundo.org/Oxfam America.

- Translated and posted by Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

What We Want: An Interview with a Salvadoran Student Activist

Below is an excerpt of an interview with Oswaldo Natarén, a student activist and founding member of the Roque Dalton University Front of the University of El Salvador, with Erica Thompson. This interview is part of a series of interviews with Salvadoran activists conducted by Upside Down World.

UDW: Tell us a little bit about the founding of the FURD and why you chose Roque Dalton as a historic figure to identify with?

The FURD was envisioned as a
new chapter in the ongoing response of students in the National University to organize ourselves and to uncover the UES’ historic role in El Salvador’s revolutionary movement. The political project of the FURD arose in 2002 out of a collective need to continue that struggle. The group continues to explore and affect the life of the University through these objectives: to examine the other side of the history that is taught to us; to discover that there are many of us who think differently than the way society has trained us (as this is the case, we often think differently than one another); and to articulate both what the University’s role in society is at the moment and what it could be. The group’s name is inspired by the revolutionary Salvadoran poet, Roque Dalton Garcia. Roque was an untiring social fighter, poet, and important political architect of the revolutionary movement in El Salvador. He completed his University training at the UES and then went on to create a great literary legacy in his time of struggle throughout the 1960s and 1970s, until his assassination at age 39. It was necessary to recover the name of this poet and his struggle because of the political and personal essence of his work.

The FURD was created with a clear leftist ideological intention – we wanted to be identified as part of the anti-imperiali
st struggle, in connection with academic political struggle. Our project changed measurably when we began to delve into the study of diverse theories that have guided different people’s struggles for human rights, but we have maintained our leftist essence. Our idea is to form a political student FRONT that incorporates University youth from various disciplines as well as University workers and faculty into the struggle. To me, the word UNIVERSITY implies our potential to come together in this institution and continue the historical legacy of the glorious Salvadoran student movement.

UDW: Describe El Salvador’s coyuntura leading into elections earlier this year. What are the social realities and political frustrations in the country that, for the present time, have translated into major political gains for the leftist FMLN party?

Well, throughout the 20 years that ARENA
(National Republican Alliance) has ruled the country, Salvadorans have faced a very difficult situation. Poverty has increased under the ARENA government and policies of social exclusion have been maintained. When the government began implementing neoliberal policies in the mid-90s - including the privatization of banks, electricity, pensions and other institutions of social benefit – El Salvador entered a new period of economic crisis. Many compatriots have been forced to leave the country in search of a basic means of survival....

To read the rest of the interview click here.

*Roque Dalton stencil by Oswaldo Natarén. Photo of Natarén courtesy of Upside Down World.

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

ARENA names Cristiani as head of party

ARENA named formed president Alfredo Cristiani as the head of the party late last week. Cristiani, whose family is part of the 14 families who make up the oligarchy, was elected President of El Salvador in 1989, marking the beginning of ARENA's twenty-year rule over the country. His presidency was marred by scandal and corruption. In 1989, the Salvadoran army shot and murdered six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and the housekeeper's teenage daughter at their residence in the Central American University. Recently, the Center for Justice and Accountability filed a criminal case in Spain against Cristiani and fourteen members and former members of the Salvadoran military for their involvement in crimes against humanity and state terrorism. In January of this year, a Spanish judge formally charged Cristiani and the members of the military for their roles in the murders of the Jesuits and the women.

The naming of Cristiani to ARENA's party leadership came just ten days after current President Tony Saca announced that a former president of El Salvador would not take over party leadership. However, many party members blame Saca for ARENA's loss in the recent presidential election to the FMLN and for "using the party for his own particular interests." In a veiled criticism of Saca, Cristiani emphasized the importance of "returning to the party's roots."

*Photo: Cristiani speaks as Rodrigo Ávila and Tony Saca listen behind him. Photo from El Faro.

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

Monday, May 4, 2009

Immigrant Roots - Immigrant Rights!

Below are a few pictures from NCIC's May Day rally for immigrants' rights. To see more pictures from the march, click here.

*Photos taken by Jake Cunningham.

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

"The people who love their freedom will one day achieve it." - Simón Bolívar

Below are photos taken during the 2009 May Day march in San Salvador last Friday:

To see a slideshow of photos from the march, click here.

*Photos from El Faro.

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

Legislative Assembly votes against same-sex marriages

Last week, the Legislative Assembly in El Salvador approved a new amendment to the Constitution that defines marriage as a union solely between a man and a woman, thereby by prohibiting same-sex marriages as well as adoption by same-sex parents. Rodolfo Parker, PDC Legislator and supporter of the amendment, pronounced, "Marriage is only between a man and a woman, born that way. It remains consecrated in our country that marriage is not possible for same-sex couples."

FMLN politicians expressed concern over the amendment for its discriminatory nature and did not vote to approve the amendment. FMLN Legislator Arturo Fernández stated that although the party refused to support the amendment, the FMLN has no plans to promote the legalization of same-sex marriages and pointed out that the country's LGBT organizations have not asked for legalization of same-sex marriages either. In fact, the Alliance for Diversity Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) issued a statement confirming that "we are have asked them to legalize [same-sex] marriages, but that they enact laws that do not affect their legality."

*Photo of the Alliance for Diversity's vigil courtesy of El Diario de Hoy.

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator

Friday, May 1, 2009

Put aside the may pole - march for immigrants' rights!

As I prepare to participate in tomorrow's May Day March for Immigrant Rights, I try to recall memories of May Day celebrations during my childhood. I remember a class project on the May Pole and extra recess time, but I cannot recall any memory of a lesson, unit, or class speaker that touched on the history of May Day. It was not until I was eighteen years-old that I learned about the true importance of May Day. In my history classes in college, I learned about the Haymarket Massacre in Chicago in 1886, when a bomb was thrown in a rally to demand the eight-hour work day and police fired into the crowd. Eight anarchist activists were tried for murder and four were executed with little evidence and a biased jury. As a result, workers and labor unions around the world took to celebrating what became known as International Workers' Day with parades, marches, and civil disobedience. For many countries, May Day is a holiday from work. However, the U.S. Government has refused to join the global festivities around May Day. For example, in 1884, Congress passed an act making the first Monday of every September Labor Day in an effort to disassociate labor activism from the radical left. Moreover, in 1957 then President Dwight Eisenhower co-opted May Day and renamed it "Law Day" to celebrate the importance of the rule of law in society. Learning about May Day made me put aside the May Pole and join my brothers and sisters around the world to mobilize for justice....

To read the rest of the article, click here.

- Sara Skinner, US Grassroots Coordinator