Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Monday, December 14, 2009
SHARE would like to thank especially thank two groups actually volunteered their time to come to El Salvador to hand out some of the money they fundraised. One group of those groups, that we would like to thank, is the Salvadoran American Community from Washington D.C. who raised a substantial amount of money for their affected brothers and sisters and sent a delegation to El Salvador to help administer part of those donations. We were lucky enough to spend a day with them on November 24th, as they handed out ninety-eight packets of food and water to the families of San Carlos 1 in the municipality of San Pedro Masahuat, department of La Paz.
The other group that we were lucky to accompany was CRECEN and America para Todos from Houston, Texas. A delegation from their group joined us on December 5th to first accompany SHARE to CRIPDES and CORDES South in La Libertad to pass out mattresses, bed sheets and food packets to 177 affected families in the communities of San Diego and Santa Cruz. We then travelled to CORDES UCRES in Aguilares and El Paisnal for the group to distribute stoves to 140 families. The mayor of Aguilares contributed to the donation by including a tank of gas with each stove given out.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
In August 2009, SHARE El Salvador Director, Marina Peña, gave a talk to Cretin-Derham High School about the National Reality of El Salvador. This talk has been split into three parts: The History of El Salvador, Economics and Violence in El Salvador and Agriculture in El Salvador. This is the first part of the talk.
Part 1: The History of El Salvador
My name is Marina Peña, I'm the director of SHARE here in El Salvador. Welcome to this small country. El Salvador is a country with much history: much history of struggle and hope. Despite the critical situation in which we live, Salvadorans don't lose the hope of living in a better country. I'm going to tell you a little about the principal problems that we have in our country. In the subject of economics, we are confronting four main problems. The first problem which is a historic one is the problem of concentration of wealth. The wealth is in the hands of a small number of families who are very rich while the majority of the population is very poor.
This problem has provoked various movements throughout our history coming from the classes that feel marginalized acting out against the classes who have the power. For example this happened after the independence from the Spanish state as it was Spain that governed us for hundreds of years. You remember that Christopher Columbus came and colonized us at the end of the 1400's. So Spain dominated us for 300 long years and during that time they robbed from us the riches in this areas mostly being gold. The eliminated our culture. There is very little indigenous culture in our country and there used to be so much more. They destroyed the language that our indigenous spoke which was Nahuatl, and the majority of the cities they found they also destroyed. The only thing we have left now are buildings or structures that the indigenous were able to hide and the Spanish weren't able to detect. They also imposed their religion upon us over the religious beliefs that are ancestors had. It was in 1811 when the first independence struggles started to happen in Central America and it was 1821 when they achieved independence from Spain. But those who took power after independence continued exploiting the poor in our country. The people who took control where what we call Creoles, the children of the Spanish, who substituted Spanish power. They maintained a regimen of exploitation against the majority who were people who lived in the countryside, campesinos and indigenous. And so because of this exploitation and because they were kicking many indigenous off their land, there was an uprising of indigenous who were protesting against the extreme poverty they lived in and being kicked off their land. This uprising was crushed by the army, through many political assassinations, the uprising was put down by throwing the indigenous in jail or murdering them.
But fear can only keep people down for so long and in 1932 there was second uprising but this time it wasn't only the indigenous, but all campesinos. This campesino movement was accompaniment by the Communist party in El Salvador that had only been around in El Salvador for two years and one of its leaders was a man named Farabundo Marti. The majority of this happened in the western part of the country in Sonsonate, Santa Ana and Ahuachapan. From this uprising rose up leaders like Farabundo Marti and two other students named Luna and Zapata. The three of them studied at the National University here in San Salvador. This uprising was once again crushed by the army and there was a great massacre in the western part of the county and it is estimated that there were about 30,000 indigenous and campesinos killed in January and February of 1932.
Because the basic problems of social injustice were not solved, there is another movement that comes in 1970 when workers and campesinos began to demand better salaries and social justice. It started around 1972 and until 1979 we see a wave of organization that started in the campo and moved to the city where artisans, workers and farmers came together and started to organize. This movement was inspired by the Cuban revolution and the Nicaraguan Sandinista revolution in 1979, but the principle motivation was the social injustice in place in our country. It was in this context that Monseñor Romero, the four churchwomen and approximately 80,000 other people were killed from about 1980-1992. In 1980, the civil war begins and it lasted until the peace accords in 1992. As I said, this war cost us 80,000 deaths and about 8,000 disappeared, hundreds of political prisoners and of course many people who left the country due to political persecution. It was in these years that many Salvadorans left our country and went to live in the states due to oppression. In those years to say something like, beans are expensive or salaries are low was to mark yourself as a communist and to be killed. In 1992 they signed the peace accords which ended the armed conflict. But the problems of social injustices and the concentration of wealth was not resolved. And this is a problem that has persisted and is now even more pronounced.
Photo 1: Christopher Columbus, conquistador
Photo 2: Anastasio Aquino, Leader in the indigenous uprising of 1833
Photo 3: Farabundo Marti, Leader of campesino uprising in 1932
Photo 4: Oscar Romero, assassinated Archbishop
Part 2: The Economy and Violence in El Salvador
They say in our country that 10 percent of the population has 90 percent of the wealth and 10 percent of the wealth is distributed among 90 percent of the population. This is what provokes the majority of the problems that we have in our country like delinquency and violence. Its what provokes the social struggles. Just a few minutes before I entered this room, the police were chasing a thief down the street, which is a common sight in our country. This is not just chance, its a product of a long history of social problems that have not been resolved. In the last 20 years under the ARENA government, this inequality has become worse. But apart from this, we have problems with the entity with whom we do the majority of our business and that is the United States. The economy of El Salvador is in crisis right now in large part due to the poor administration of the ARENA government of the past twenty years. But also, in part because of the economic crisis that is affecting the United States and that now affects the entire world. But it affects us a little more directly for three reasons. First because the majority of production in El Salvador is sold to the United States. 80 percent of the products that El Salvador export is from the United States. Of course if the United States isn't buying as much as it did before, we won't sell as much, and this affects our economy. The principal product that the United States buys is textiles, but also some traditional Salvador products because we have two and a half million people from our country living in the United States.
Now we come to the second aspect, those two and a half million Salvadorans send back 3 billion dollars annually in remittances to their families in El Salvador. And those 3 billion dollars that immigrants send to their families, balances our the commercial spending here in El Salvador. The commercial balance is what a country looks to obtain in its trading policies. You want to balance out what you export and import and you look to sell more than you buy so that you gain money. All countries in the world have this economic index to rate their economy. Well here in El Salvador we always have a deficit in our economy because we always buy more than we sell. In El Salvador, the only way that we have achieved an equilibrium is from the remittances that Salvadorans in the states send back to their family here. But many Salvadorans in the United States work in constructions, one of the sectors most affected by the crisis. And the effect of that is that the remittances have lowered in the last two years. So our economy is slowly sinking because we are selling less to the United States and we are receiving less in remittances.
The third economic problem that we have is that we are dollarized, which means we use the US dollar. So we don't have a monetary policy because we don't have our own currency. This limits the government from making certain policies that would allow for an equilibrium in our economy that we might have if we weren't dollarized. This also makes us more vulnerable to the depreciation of the dollar on world scales, like when the dollar loses value. The result is that our economy is in deceleration, which means that the level of growth in El Salvador is negative 2%. This of course, aggravates our social problems that are already in a grave situation here in our country. For example there is more unemployment, the health care system is in crisis, there is not enough medicine, hospitals or medical staff to deal with the crisis. On top of all of this comes H1N1 which affects the poorest sectors of the country. So it becomes a vicious cycle, there are no jobs, so there is no money and people get sick and there are not adequate hospitals, and it just continues. And of course it makes other problems worse such as violence and crime.
Our country suffers from an epidemic of violence. We currently have a level of violence that we had while we were at war. We have an average of 11 deaths a day in our country. I've heard of some places in the States where there are about five violent deaths a year and in our country we have 11 violent deaths a day, the majority of whom are young men, but also young women. This problem has made us the most violent country in all of Latin America and one of the ten most dangerous countries in the world. You all should know also that violence can become business, in our country there are people interested in violence continuing. Here there are many big businesses that run security companies, and they basically have their own armies in our country. For example a private security business can have around 5,000 people who are armed, for these businesses its good for them that there is violence. If this country were to become peaceful, there would be no use for the security businesses. You all have probably noticed because it is very different from the States here, that every business has an armed man standing outside the door. And all the neighborhoods are surrounded by armed men. Everyone one of us who live in this country can pay for our guard. I pay twelve dollars a month for guard in the neighborhood where I live. Thats how the world works here, someone is making money of the violence. Therefore, it is in their interest that violence continues. During the ARENA government, violence was basically promoted. Now they are making an effort to make policies that promote violence prevention. But of course we won't see the results of the policies immediately, rather in coming years.
Part 3: Agriculture in El Salvador
Another one of the large problems we have is the lack of employment in the campo. This was provoked by the fact that in 20 years of ARENA government, they destroyed agriculture in our country. There was a man who was the President of El Salvador named Cristiani, he has a business in which he sells agricultural seeds and products and he is the only one who sells seeds in this country. So in 1992 when they started to implement the neo-liberal model in our country, they negotiated with agricultural producers in the United States, that El Salvador would dedicate itself to the maquila industry. So that it wouldn't be necessary to have agricultural producers here in El Salvador, it would be cheaper to buy the corn and the beans from the United States and bring it here. Of course, it was cheaper because agricultural companies in the States are subsidized by the government. So they can sell their grains at a much cheaper price. This agreement made between Cristiani and the agricultural businesses in the States, forced small farmers into bankruptcy. People stopped cultivating, because they were spending money in seeds sold by Cristiani and agricultural supplies but when they went to sell the product, the prices were so low that they lost money, it put them in debt, they didn't even cover their costs. What many campesinos did was to sell their land and go to the United States undocumented. There are entire towns of Salvadorans living in the United States for this reason. Here in the Eastern zone in Morazan, San Miguel y La Union in El Salvador, where entire populations have left together to go to the States, but they left as a result of policies here.
What happens when a country can't produce its own food? It becomes very vulnerable and when the the United Nations World Food Program announced that there was a world food crisis, they started to think what is going to happen to the countries that don't even produce their own food? Like El Salvador. In 2005, when Hurricane Stan flooded farm fields in all of Central America, we had a food crisis. For example we buy vegetables from Guatemala and Honduras and meat and beans in Nicaragua. So when Stan came through and crops were lost, those countries wanted to save what they produced for their own people, they didn't want to sell to us. Here in El Salvador where there is no longer food production, there was as great crisis. The basic nutrition of our country is beans and corn. In 2005, the beans cost between 45 cents and 50 cents per pound, but after this crisis the price of beans shot up to 1.25 a pound. In our country there are families that live on a dollar a day, so those families couldn't even buy beans. What does that mean? That these families are condemned to die of hunger. And that is one of the big problems we have with agriculture. Before the Civil, 19 percent of the gross domestic product was agriculture. In 2005, agriculture represented about 1% of our GDP. That goes to show how ARENA governments destroyed the agricultural sector and that is one of the great jobs that this new government has, to reactivate the agriculture, because it is the life and work of the campesino population.
Another problem that we have in agriculture is the excessive use of chemicals. In our country before the war, they cultivated cotton, it is a type of crop that demands a lot of chemicals to grow it. During the war the production of cotton basically disappeared. However, the poison from the chemicals is showing up 40 years later. The chemical used to grow cotton falls into the earth but it isn't absorbed by the earth, but humans can absorb it and it has been poisoning our bodies. Women tend to hold the poison in the mammary glands, so that when a woman has a child and breast-feeds, she is passing poison to her child. This means that the effect of this poison isn't just the population of forty years ago, but also future generations. In Tecoluca, San Vicente, last week, a man who worked with us on the Seeds of Hope program died of kidney failure. That is the affects of the chemicals used to plant cotton. Don Lucio had started to work with organic products, but he was already sick and now he is dead. The region of Tecoluca is an area where there is a high number of kidney problems due to use of chemicals in the production of cotton. For that reason, the SHARE Foundation, is promoting the Seeds of Hope program to combat the food crisis and the use of chemicals in agriculture production. We give 300 dollars to each family that participates to grow corn for the year. But those families have to commit to using organic seeds not chemically modified seeds and use as few chemicals as they can and they must use organic fertilizers that they make. So some are currently using 50 percent chemical methods and 50 percent organic, some are 75 percent organic and some are now using completely organic products and methods for their agriculture. The zone of Tecoluca is an area where we are using this practices so that sometime in the future people will be free of chemicals.
Photo 1: Alfredo Cristiani
Photo 4: Don Lucio with his organic corn
Monday, December 7, 2009
To watch the whole nine minutes, you must download the video, but you can watch the first seven online.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Elections took place Sunday, November 29th in Honduras with National Party leader Porfirio Lobo declared the winner.
But elections carried out under a state of emergency, with visible military and police presence, by a government installed by coup, with a significant movement opposed to the coup calling for abstention, and with the deposed President still holed up in the center of the capital city in the Brazilian Embassy, are no cause for celebration. As we wrote to the State Department on November 24th, “a cloud of intimidation and restrictions on assembly and free speech affect the climate in which these elections take place… basic conditions do not exist for free, fair and transparent elections in Honduras.”The United States’ apparent eagerness to accept the elections and move on has put it at odds with many Latin American governments. “Latin American governments accused the administration of putting pragmatism over principle and of siding with Honduran military officers and business interests whose goal was to use the elections to legitimize the coup,” wrote Ginger Thompson in the New York Times.
To read more