Monday, May 31, 2010

Tropical Storm Agatha Hits El Salvador

Dear SHARE community,

As Tropical Storm Agatha moved over Salvadoran territory beginning last Thursday, El Salvador braced itself for yet another disaster. Heavy rainfall for days straight led to flooding and landslides throughout the country, and after elevating alert levels throughout the weekend, a state of emergency was declared. In his Sunday afternoon address, Funes asked citizens to cooperate with authorities and heed calls for evacuation, promising security for the homes and belongings families would leave behind and food and shelter at their destination. He made a call to solidarity organizations, political parties and governmental institutions to respond and unite to this most recent disaster.

As the rains diminish and we receieve more and more information about the aftermath from sister communities and counterparts, including organizations that SHARE was able to support after Hurricane Ida in November, we write with our own call: please help us respond to this most recent emergency.

Preliminary data from the Civil Protection Department informs that 10,335 people are currently in temporary shelter in 198 shelters throughout the country. Flooding of the Río Lempa caused evacuations in San Pablo Tacachico and El Paisnal along with dozens of communities in the Bajo Lempa, including the municipality of Tecoluca, along with dozens of communities in La Libertad, Cuscatlan, La Paz, Usulutan and San Vicente.

It appears that warning systems and coordination between community response teams and government institutions greatly reduced loss of life in this most recent storm. Many homes and communities have been destroyed or damaged, school on the national level has been suspended and many highways have been damaged from land and mudslides. Additionally, planting season already began, meaning that much of this year's crop may be lost from flooding, landslides or saturation of water.

In a press conference today, director of Civil Protection Meléndez declared that the situation is too generalized to have complete data, and while an evaluation of all damages on the national level has not been compelted, the country will remain red alert. The Enviornmental Minister, Herman Rosa Chavéz, for his part, informed that the levels of rain during Agatha were above 483mm in only 24 hours, surpassing those during Hurricane Mitch, at 375mm (source: Diaro CoLatino).

While government institutions ask people to remain on alert even when the rains diminish, we at SHARE have another request: as you did so generously in November after Hurricane Ida, please give to help the Salvadoran people respond and rebuild after this most recent disaster. Mail a check with AGATHA in the subjet line to the SHARE Foundation, 415 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20017, or contact us at for more information.

In solidarity,
The SHARE Foundation: Building a New El Salvador Today

State of Emergency Declared in El Salvador

After elevating the alert level throughout the weekend, President Funes declared a State of Emergency in El Salvador on Sunday, due to torrential rains causing flooding and landslides, putting 90% of the country at risk in his estimation.

The rains were caused by Tropical Storm Agatha, which arrived over Salvadoran territory Thursday, causing heavy storms and heavier rainfall. Communities throughout the country, including in the Bajo Lempa, Ilopango, Mejicanos, San Pablo Tacachio and El Paisnal have been evacuated, and many homes have been destroyed. There is not yet an official number of the communities and families affected.

In his Sunday afternoon address, taking the place of what was to be a celebration of the first year in government, Funes asked citizens to cooperate with authorities and heed calls for evacuation, promising security for the homes and belongings they would leave behind and food and shelter at their destination. He made a call to solidarity organizations, political parties and governmental institutions to respond and unite to this most recent disaster.

The SNET, the National Service of Territorial Studies, has avised that the worst of Agatha has passed, although rains and storms will continue in certain parts of the country through tomorrow.

The SHARE Foundation expresses its solidarity with the families and communities affected by this most recent emergency, and will publish more information about the situation as it becomes available to us, as well as ways to respond.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Fiery Furnace: Modern Day Easter Play about Mining in El Salvador

The following is a play written by participants in the 2010 Romero 30th Anniversary Delegation and performed at University Lutheran Chapel, SHARE sistering parish, for their Easter vigil. We at SHARE applaud their creative approach to outreach and raising awareness, and are grateful for the laughter and joy that they have brought to the anti-mining struggle, so important for El Salvador today.

Daniel 3:1-29 (The Fiery Furnace)

Narrator reads the text from the lectern.

Intro: Throughout all time and history, people have vested their hopes and dreams in false gods: power and wealth and gold. Not just in the United States and El Salvador, but also in ancient Babylon...

(During this section, the slides go up) (3:1) King Nebuchadnezzar made a golden statue whose height was sixty cubits and whose width was six cubits: he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. (3:2) Then King Nebuchadnezzar sent for the satraps, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces to assemble and come to the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. (3:3) So the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, assembled for the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

Character Number One: (Pacific Rim) I am Pacific Rim mining company, I have the opportunity here in El Salvador to make A LOT of money! The gold here, nestled under the ground, underneath these paltry communities, is the key to my extreme wealth and power....muahahahaha

When they were standing before the statue that Nebuchadnezzar had set up, (3:4) the herald proclaimed aloud, “You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, (3:5) that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, you are to fall down and worship the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. (3:6) Whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire.” (3:7) Therefore, as soon as all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, pipe lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, all the peoples, nations, and languages fell down and worshiped the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

Character Number One: (Pacific Rim with syrupy sweetness) Pacific Rim cares about the community in which it works. Free trade and open market systems help everyone. The gold mines here are the key, not only to my success, but for everyone. Help me help you so we can all profit. When Pacific Rim mines everyone wins! Together! (shakes hands with the audience) Will you help me? I have gifts for you....(passes around the gifts & phrases)

(3:8) Accordingly, at this time certain Chaldeans came forward and denounced the Jews.

Character Number Two enters and stands ominously....(Pacific Rim security guard toting large machine gun)

(3:9) They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “O King, live forever! (3:10) You, O King, have made a decree, that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble shall fall down and worship the golden statue, (3:11) and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire. (3:12) There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These pay no heed to you, O King. They do not serve your gods and they do not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”

Character Number Three (crowd organizer): We are not going to put up with this! We need to tell the truth about these mines! Neoliberal economics don't work, these mines are destroying our land and water and soil! (hands out signs)

Signs are lifted: berets are put on, fmln flag is raised, signs saying "stop the mines," "save our water!"

(3:12) Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought in; so they brought those men before the king. (3:14) Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is is true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednégo, that you do not serve my gods and you do not worship the golden statue that I have set up? (3:15) Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble to fall down and worship the statue that I have made well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire, and who is the god that will deliver you out of my hands?” (3:16) Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. (3:17) If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. (3:18) But if not, be it known to you, O King, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”

SHOW DOWN: Pacific Rim is waving money around urging his side of the crowd to keep making noise, trying to get the other side of the room to come over. Demonstrators are urging their crowd to make noise. (Adlib a lot of noise!)

(3:19) Then Nebuchadnezzar was so filled with rage against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face was distorted. He ordered the furnace heated up seven times more than was customary, (3:20) and ordered some of the strongest guards in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and to throw them into the furnace of blazing fire. (3:21) So the men were bound still wearing their tunics, their trousers, their hats, and their other garments, and they were thrown into the furnace of blazing fire. (3:22) Because he king’s command was urgent and the furnace was so overheated, the raging flames killed the men who lifted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

Community Organizer: (Marcelo Rivera Pic- from mural?) was director of the Casa de Cultura in San Isidro, Cabañas, and was active in social justice and environmental struggles. Rivera made public denunciations of San Isidro Mayor Ignacio Bautista of the ARENA party. Rivera was also active in the national movement against mining projects that threaten El Salvador's principal watersheds. His lifeless body was rescued from a well on June 30th, with clear signs of torture. Que Viva Marcelo! (demonstrators respond Que Viva!)

Another Community Organizer: Ramiro Rivera Gomez (Ramiro Rivera Gomez Pic) was vice president of the Cabañas Environmental Committee and a leader in the resistance against the Pacific Rim Mining Company. After an attempt on his life in July of 2009, he was put on permanent security detail. He was gunned down and killed on December 20 while under the protection of two security guards of the Witnesses and Victims Protection Init of the National Civil Police. Que Viva Ramiro! (Que Viva!)

Another Community Organizer: Dora Alicia Sorto Recinos (Alicia Sorto Pic) was the wife of Santos Rodriquez, a farmer and active member of the Cabañas Environmental Committee. She and her husband were working in opposition to Pacific Rim´s proposed El Dorado gold mine. She was shot and killed December 26th when she was returning home from doing laundry in a nearby river. She was eight months pregnant at the time. Que Viva Alicia! (Que Viva!)

(3:23) The three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down, bound, into the furnace of blazing fire. (3:24) Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up quickly. He said to his counselors, “Was it not three men that we threw bound into the fire?” They answered the king, “True, O King.” (3:25) He replied, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the middle of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the fourth has the appearance of a god.”

Community Organizer: Although our comrades have fallen, they are with us still. They are fighting alongside us for the truth. Don't you remember what Monsigneur Romero said "Y si me matan, resucitaré en el pueblo salvadoreño” "If I am killed, I will be reborn in the Salvadoran people!"

(3:26) Nebuchadnezzar then approached the door of the furnace of blazing fire and said ‘Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire. (3:27) And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men; the hair of their heads was not singed, their tunics were not harmed, and not even the smell of fire came from them. (3:28) Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants who trusted in him. They disobeyed the king’s command and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship and god except their own God. (3:29) Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that utters blasphemy against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins; for there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.”

Conclusion: Throughout all time people have vested their hopes and dreams in false gods: power, wealth, and gold. And throughout time they have met their opposition in those who stand up for what is true and what is right. In Babylon, the US and El Salvador, we continue this fight today.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Community Organizing and Local Advocacy for Disaster Prevention: Inagurating Prevention and Mitigation Projects in the Bajo Lempa

In 1998, Hurricane Mitch ravaged El Salvador, claiming hundreds of lives, forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of families and destroying homes, bridges, roads, crops and cattle. Mitch hit the Lower Lempa region especially hard. Seventeen communities in the Lower Lempa region were completely evacuated and devastated; Mitch made the vulnerability of the zone, felt by inhabitants since repopulation began at the end of the war, painfully clear. After Mitch, organization and advocacy in the region got stronger as people came together to demand prevention and mitigation projects. Private companies were contracted by the government to repair levees damaged by the floods, but while they made incredible profits, the companies hired did shoddy work.

Twelve years later, the national government finally responded to the pressure of these communities. On April 29, representatives from the Department of Public Works (MOP), the Department of Agriculture and Livestock (MAG), the Mayor of Tecoluca, CRIPDES San Vicente and ACUDESBAL—both long-time counterparts of SHARE, representing the Tecoluca (West) and Jiquilisco (East) sides of the river, respectively—and hundreds of community members gathered to inaugurate a series of prevention and mitigation project along the banks of and in communities surrounding the Lempa River.

The MOP and MAG have been in dialogue with CRIPDES San Vicente and ACUDESBAL about how best to carry out this project. The communities have put in the work to clear off the levees, overgrown with vegetation and worn away by years of neglect, and cut down the trees that threatened to fall and do further damage, the intense physical labor to pave the way for mechanized, professional work to be done by the MAG and MOP. This volunteer work was organized among affected communities, each responsible for an amount of work proportional to their population. Community councils divided the work among the men, women and children of the community, organizing work days to clear away their only defense from the rushing Lempa.

Flooding in the Lower Lempa region, a perennial problem, is affected greatly by the pollution, garbage and run-off that fill the Lempa River upstream. Thanks to deforestation, rain washes earth into the river and, in many places, the Lempa is much shallower than it used to be, crossable in some points on foot. During heavy rains, there is nowhere for the excess water to go but over the banks and into communities. This is worsened by bad management of the dams, which are thrown open to allow excess water upstream to flow down and flood the Lower Lempa.

As we stood on one of the sections of the levee to be repaired and reinforced, the Mayor of Tecoluca spoke about the importance of the project. “Without organization,” he states, “this wouldn’t have been possible, wouldn’t have been achieved. What has been done until today is thanks to the work of the communities, of men, women, and children to care for the levees.” He warms that vigilance of the coming work is very important, as private companies will be contracted.

This prevention and mitigation project, which, with rainy season only weeks away and the work scheduled to take six months is certainly getting a late start, will include the construction of one kilometer of new levee; repairs, reconstruction and reinforcement of levees all along the east and west banks of the Lower Lempa river, which includes heightening and widening many of the existing levees, a total of 24 kilometers of levees in Tecoluca and 27.5 in Jiquilisco; the construction of eight cattle crossings so cattle can drink from the river and use the grazing land along the river’s banks; and the cleaning of 18 kilometers of drainage canals that run through the zone, many of which are completely grown over with trees and brush. Rehabilitation of these drainage canals is vital, because even when the river itself doesn’t flood, a few days of heavy rains can flood communities as the water accumulates and has nowhere to go. The MAG will respond for all work relating to the levees and the MOP will work on the drainage canals, all work that requires heavy machinery and technical expertise.

After the photo opp at the levee 15 minutes outside of San Carlos Lempa, the 200 community members, activists and government representatives returned toCRIPDES San Vicente’s offices for more in-depth presentations and Q&A that lasted the rest of the morning. Presentations included more specific, technical information about the planned work, the timeline, and numbers detailing how much each department will invest. Marcos Machorta (right) from San Bartolo, on the Jiquilisco side of the river, spoke in representation of all communities affected by flooding: “our dreams of living a little more securely.”

Although the work is yet to be done, this is a significant step forward for the thousands of people that have fought since returning to El Salvador in the early 90s for a safe, secure place to live, a place where each new storm doesn´t threaten to flood communities or put their homes in the path of the Lempa River.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Rio Sucio Update

While in San Pablo Tacachico for the women’s vegetable garden workshop (pictures, an update and a youtube video will be coming your way shortly!), we took advantage of the trip to visit UCRES headquarters and talk with Alex, UCRES President, about a number of current events in the area.

The main topic we discussed was the Río Sucio, the heavily polluted river that runs through communities of San Pablo Tacachico and El Paisnal that many families depend on for cooking and cleaning, for cattle and crops.

During the week of June 5th, International Environment Day, the social movement in El Salvador hosts forums, concentrations and marches, press conferences, radio and television interviews and other activities to raise awareness about the situation of the environment in El Salvador. In the context of these activities, UCRES will host a forum in El Paisnal and San Pablo Tacachio to draw attention to the state of the Río Sucio and raise awareness about rescuing the river, organic farming and practices that pollute and harm the river as well as demand that public officials and government offices act to protect and clean-up this dirty river.

Thanks to mining activities in neighboring Guatemala, the Lempa river and Suchitlan reservoir are being contaminated. People that visited the Lempa River during holy week vacations to swim and cool off encountered skin diseases and fungus in the following days. Fish that are taken out of the Suchitlan reservoir, a dangerously contaminated body of water, have been found to have high levels of contaminants. The Department of Agriculture and Livestock is debating whether to declare these fish not suitable for human consumption. They are caught between “the sword and the wall” (a rock and a hard place), though, because if they do so, 5,000 fisherman and their families will lose their only source of income, which will have ripple effects on the economy of the entire region. Before, environmental concerns weren’t on most people’s radar; now, as it affects more people, more attention is being paid to pollution and cleanup.

UCRES is spearheading the formation of a regional roundtable for coordination of the rescue of the Río Sucio, which will involve local governments, local police, health departments, representatives from the Department of Agriculture and Livestock, community organizations and NGOs working on the issue. With all of these important actors in coordination, the hope is to raise more awareness and coordinate advocacy activities with greater impact. It also means protection for activists and organizers; in light of the most recent acts of violence in San Juan Opico, people in the region live in fear of continued violence, and a broader movement means less visibility for each of the actors.

After the devastating floods last November of the Río Acelhuate, which called attention to the vulnerability of the communities along the river’s banks as well as the high levels of pollution in the river, the Department of the Interior has established and participated in an inclusive committee for the river’s rescue. This committee has organized cleaning campaigns and stated an intention to pressure companies along the Acelhuate to treat their water before dumping it and is a good precedent for government and civil society coordination that UCRES has actively participated in.

In recent month, the press has given good coverage to factories along the Rio Sucio, talking about treatment plants and job creation. The most recent study of the Río Sucio was done in 2008 and another study, to compare levels of contamination and belie private business’ claim that they are not polluting the river, is past due. UCRES, taking advantage of the roundtable, will be working to pressure government institutions to get the study done, working with UCA students doing their social service hours in the region.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Violence in El Salvador Today

This was written by Grassroots Solidarity Educator, Laura Hershberger, for our e-newsletter.

Violence in El Salvador

With a homicide rate of 13 murders a day, in a country with a population of 6.2 million people, El Salvador has become one of the most violent countries in the world. Salvadorans live with the daily threat of violence hanging over their heads. Every day upon opening the newspaper, one reads about another homicide or set of homicides. Of young men and young women shot down on their way to school or on the bus, of bus drivers, street vendors, or even high profile people such as the Secretary of the Mexican Embassy and his wife (he survived, she did not).

One particular news article stood out on the Dia de los Santos Inocentes this past December, the Saints Day following Christmas which remembers the Bible story of King Herod who ordered the killing of all children under the age of two. It was a picture of children dressed up to celebrate this feast day in a small town outside of San Salvador. Underneath this picture, in an unrelated article, was a headline about how two children were killed when an unknown individual threw a bomb into a children's health clinic. The irony in the juxtaposition of the two articles was startling and a harsh reminder that the violence in El Salvador is not something you can escape.


In a more recent act of violence closely related to one of our counterparts, three teachers were killed in a rural community in the Municipality of San Juan Opico. Opico borders San Pablo Tacachico, where SHARE and our U.S.-based sisters accompany the United Communities of Northern San Salvador and La Libertad, UCRES. Felipa Audelia Barillas Ayala, 44 years old, her sister and kindergarten teacher Marlene del Carmen Barillas, 35 years old, and computer and english teacher Tomás Antonio Gómez, 38 years old, were kidnapped and shot on Monday night in the La Copinola stream, in the community of El Ángel, in San Juan Opico, La Libertad. Students and teachers alike marched to demand en end to the violence and an investigation into these cases, and schools in the area were closed for days after these events. Fear of continued violence is palpable in the area.

This is not an isolated act of violence against teachers; rather, public school teachers throughout the country have become a main target of extorsion and death threats in recent months. Instead of a safe learning environment, children are faced with an environment of violence and fear.

How do people respond? Some emmigrate to the States, some keep closer watch over their children, those who have the means put up high security fences and hire guards for their neighborhoods, making security companies and arms sales one of the most successful businesses in El Salvador. President Funes took a highly controversial, measure last October when he sent the Armed Forces out into the five most dangerous Departments of the country to work against crime with the police. While many people in those dangerous neighborhoods tell you that crime has gone down, others will ask: is militarizing our streets and neighborhoods really the answer?


Is it the answer and does it go to the root of the problem? Many will tell you that gang violence and delinquency is not the only type of violence that exists in El Salvador. Certainly everyone hears about the notorious Salvadoran street gangs of the MS-13 and the 18 Street Gang, and it is not deniable that the gangs are a big source of fear, intimidation and violence for many poor Salvadoran communities. But it may not be that simple.

First, one must remember the level of violence during the civil war, and the fact that much of the trauma caused by the war was left untreated, justice left unserved. Then think how the mix of untreated trauma, a sexist culture, and the great stresses of poverty can lead to a great level of domestic violence, which will continue to affect future generations of Salvadoran youth.

On top of all of this, there is the structural violence: a neo-liberal system that allows the persecution of the poor. In a place where security guards are a profitable business, the higher the level of insecurity, the more profitable the business.

This is also a country where a General Amnesty Law, signed shortly after the peace accords, has made it impossible for war criminals to be tried. Impunity continues to exist today in cases such as the murder of mining activists in Cabañas and the failure of the Attorney General to prosecute the intellectual authors. Political violence is another legacy that has been left behind from the civil war.

Taking all of this into account, it is hard to blame violence in El Salvador solely on the gangs and on delinquents.


Looking at such a complex and intertwined web of violence, it is hard not to become disheartened and disillusioned, especially when one sees the affect it has on families of victims, children who are afraid to go to school and youth who flee to the United States to look for a way out. But in the true Salvadoran spirit of the continued fight forward, many groups and communities strive to take constructive approaches to confronting the violence.

The communities in the UCRES region, as well as those in Chalatenango and San Vicente, where SHARE works see community organization as one answer to the violence. The better organized a community, the easier it is to respond to delinquency and structural violence. Another one of our counterparts, The Organization of Salvadoran Women for Peace (ORMUSA), works to combat the growing number of femicides in the country through an educational and justice seeking campaign.

At SHARE we continue forward by supporting those community organization efforts as well as the fight for justice against impunity as in the case femicide as well as in the cases of the mining activists and Monseñor Romero. Solidarity with El Salvador is just as important as it ever was, and as we approach our 30th anniversary as an organization, we hope to continue to give our support and solidarity to those groups who work for peace and justice in the face of violence.

-by Laura Hershberger, SHARE Grassroots Solidarity Educator