Thursday, December 04, 2014

Significant effects of Obama executive action on undocumented Salvadorans

The executive action taken by president Obama to protect millions of undocumented immigrants who have children in the US will have a dramatic impact on the community of Salvadorans living in the US, according to a recent story from the Washington Post:

Obama’s action may affect more Mexicans than any other group, but it is expected to have a seismic impact on Salvadoran immigrant communities, the two largest of which are in Los Angeles and greater Washington. More than a third of the estimated 675,000 illegal immigrants from El Salvador live in the Washington area. 
According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, when the president’s new action is added to previous protections, nearly two-thirds of all Salvadoran immigrants will probably be legalized — a higher percentage than any other undocumented group. Immigration officials will start accepting applications in May. 
For the first time, thousands of Salvadoran parents with children born in the United States, as well as adults of any age who arrived in the country before turning 17, will be free to drive without fear, work for formal wages and assert themselves when they feel the are mistreated by probing police or stingy bosses. Many also will be eligible to receive Social Security, Medicare and other federal benefits. 
“This will be transformative,” said Mark Lopez, director of Hispanic research at the Pew center in the District. “It’s not just about individuals getting temporary work permits and protection from deportation. It’s about their families and communities becoming more stable and being able to plan for the future.”
The article goes on to point out that there are still significant limitations.   People with the new protected status are not free to leave the US to go to El Salvador to visit family and then return.   Salvadorans currently on Temporary Protected Status see no changes, and still have no path to legalization of their presence in the US, despite having spent more than 13 years in the country without violations of the law and having paid taxes and fees.

Perhaps the greatest shortcomings of Obama's action is the continuing focus on militarized border security and the failure to do anything to address the conditions in El Salvador and other countries which push migrants towards the US.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

El Salvador is hiring Rudy Giuliani

The announcement was made yesterday that El Salvador's government will retain former mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani as a consultant on how to combat the serious crime problem in the country. The decision to hire Giuliani is described as the first agreement reached by Salvador Sanchez Ceren's Council on Citizen Security and represents one of the first agreements reached between private business interests and the government.   The cost of hiring Giuliani's expensive consulting firm will be borne by business and not by the government.

Giuliani has previously been retained as a  high profile security consultant on crime in Mexico and Guatemala.        

Sunday, November 30, 2014

D'Aubuisson: No street will carry your name!

Roberto D'Aubuisson
The mayor of San Salvador, Norman Quijano, has announced that the city will rename one of its principal streets for Roberto D'Aubuisson.   Quijano, who is a member of the right-wing ARENA party founded by D'Aubuisson, plans to rename Calle San Antonio Abad, for the former major in the Salvadoran army.  

D'Aubuisson is one of the most infamous names from El Salvador's civil war.   The tags most often associated with him are "sponsor of death squads" and "man who gave the order to assassinate archbishop Oscar Romero".    The decision to name a boulevard for him has sparked outrage among those concerned with justice for victims of human rights abuses during the country's civil war.

While the Salvadoran court system never brought justice for D'Aubuisson's victims, the UN Truth Commission, which took testimony and reviewed the record of the war years, left no doubt about D'Aubuisson's role in death squads which summarily rounded up, tortured and executed political opponents, labor leaders, peasant organizers and others:
The 1979 coup d'etat altered the political landscape in El Salvador. 419 One of the competing factions directly affected by the coup was a core of military officers who sought to pre-empt the groups that had staged the coup and also any reform movement. 420 They considered the Government Junta to be "infiltrated by Marxist officers, which could be fatal for the independence and freedom of the Salvadorian fatherland if the anti communists in the population failed to act". 421 The leader of this faction was former Major Roberto D'Aubuisson, who up until 1979 had been third in command of ANSESAL and who, on being retired, kept part of the agency's archives. 
Former Major D'Aubuisson drew considerable support from wealthy civilians who feared that their interests would be affected by the reform programme announced by the Government Junta. They were convinced that the country faced a serious threat of Marxist insurrection which they had to overcome. The Commission on the Truth obtained testimony from many sources that some of the richest landowners and businessmen inside and outside the country offered their estates, homes, vehicles and bodyguards to help the death squads. They also provided the funds used to organize and maintain the squads, especially those directed by former Major D'Aubuisson. 
As the social conflict in El Salvador intensified, subversive operations increased. D'Aubuisson was well placed to provide a link between a very aggressive sector of Salvadorian society and the intelligence network and operations of the S-II sections of the security forces. He was virtually catapulted to undisputed national political leadership of the only faction capable "of preventing a left-wing takeover". 422 He then opted for applying what he saw as the only method used by the subversives: the illegal use of force. "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth", as the saying goes. 
D'Aubuisson arranged meetings between powerful civilians and economic interests and groups in the armed forces, thereby combining two elements in a strategic relationship: the input of resources (money, vehicles, weapons, homes, etc.) by civilians and the definition of a political line for the operations of the S-II intelligence sections. This gave political meaning and purpose to the attacks on and intimidation of civilian opponents and individuals suspected of collaborating with or belonging to the guerrilla movement.
For D'Aubuisson, having access to intelligence reports was of the utmost importance, because it served the cause and the functioning of his political plans. He lost no opportunity to infiltrate the security forces and the armed forces and elicit information from them. In line with D'Aubuisson's political project, all such information was used for "direct action", which explicitly included assassination attempts on individuals, abductions, "recovery of funds" and sabotage.  
After the assassination of Monsignor Romero, which, in very closed circles, D'Aubuisson took credit for having planned (see the case of the assassination of Archbishop Romero), his prestige and influence grew among the groups that wielded economic power, gaining him further support and resources. The San Luis estate incident and his temporary stay in Guatemala did not interrupt his political plans, since it was in Guatemala that he was able to establish contacts with internationally linked anti-communist networks and organizations and individual anti-communists such as Mario Sandoval Alarcón, Luis Mondizabal and Ricardo Lao. 
From Guatemala, D'Aubuisson continued to plan and direct numerous attacks by groups identified as "death squads" and, on his return to El Salvador, had access to sources which kept him permanently supplied with abundant, up-to-date intelligence information from most armed units or territorial districts, whose leaders shared his political views. They also offered him actual logistical support for his activities, seconding and rotating troops for his personal protection and supplying weapons. 
Although members of the Armed Forces Joint Staff knew about this steady leak of information, not only was nothing ever done to control it but intelligence leaks were even organized intentionally: in fact, there were serving members of the armed forces who participated actively in D'Aubuisson's group. 
There is substantial evidence that D'Aubuisson operated during this period through concealed channels in which civilians and both serving and discharged members of the armed forces mixed politics, murder and the defence of their own economic interests in their zeal to combat both the peaceful and the armed opposition. 
One of those closest to D'Aubuisson was his Chief of Security, Héctor Antonio Regalado. The Commission on the Truth obtained sufficient evidence to conclude that Regalado not only formed his own death squad in the town of Santiago de María but also used to coordinate and train D'Aubuisson's networks in the capital. Regalado ran D'Aubuisson's death squad from his office in the National Assembly, where he was Chief of Security when D'Aubuisson was President of the Assembly.
Elsewhere in the Truth Commission Report:
Former Major Roberto D'Aubuisson gave the order to assassinate Archbishop [Oscar Romero] and gave precise instructions to members of his security service, acting as a 'death squad', to organize and supervise the assassination.
See From Madness to Hope, Report of the UN Truth Commission on El Salvador.

D'Aubuisson's died of cancer in 1992, shortly after the signing of the Peace Accords which ended El Salvador's bloody civil war.  As a consequence, he was never prosecuted for involvement in those crimes, but the evidence is strong and well-known.   D'Aubuisson is not someone most of us would pick to honor by naming a street for him.

The ARENA Cult of D'Aubuisson

Needless to say, Quijano and ARENA see D'Aubuisson's legacy differently.   They see him as the founder of their successful political party, and a man willing to do what was necessary to "bury the reds."   In announcing his action, Quijano stated that D'Aubuisson deserved the honor as the leader in the National Assembly when the country adopted its current constitution.  

The shadow of the death squad organizer looms large over the political party he started.  ARENA has a biography and tribute to D'Aubuisson on the party website,  and a statue of D'Aubuisson stands in the party headquarters.

Each year the party leadership gathers at D'Aubuisson's gravesite on the anniversary of his death to pay tribute to ARENA's founder.

D'Aubuission already has a traffic circle and monument named for him in the municipality of Antiguo Cuscatlán which also has an ARENA mayor.  In 2006 President Tony Saca, also from ARENA, spoke at the inauguration of that monument, of how D'Aubuisson had acted in Saca's view to keep the country from "the tragedy of marxist totalitarianism."

The son of D'Aubuisson, Roberto D'Aubuisson, Jr., is currently an ARENA deputy in the National Assembly and is running for mayor of Santa Tecla in the 2015 elections.  

Ninguna Calle Llevará Tu Nombre (No Street Will Carry Your Name!)

Human rights activists and others have reacted vigorously against Quijano's plan to honor D'Aubuisson.   El Salvador's Human Rights Ombudsman, David Morales, indicated that he would open an investigation into the action as an offence against the human right to know the truth.

This morning the Roman Catholic archbishop of San Salvador announced the church's opposition to the street name change from Calle San Antonio Abad, since the street was already named for a Catholic saint, and to name the street for D'Aubuisson would feel like learning that the man who directed the murder of your brother was getting an award.  Archbishop Escobar Alas asked the mayor to reconsider his decision.

A social media campaign has started under the banner  Ninguna Calle Llevará Tu Nombre (No Street Will Carry Your Name!) based on similar efforts in Chile to prevent the naming of streets and public spaces against persons who had violated human rights.    The Facebook page which started with the announcement by Quijano already has more than 6300 "likes."    Twitter posts are using the hashtag

In 2007, when a resolution was introduced in El Salvador's National Assembly to posthumously name D'Aubuisson a "son of highest merit,"  a similar backlash prompted the resolution to be withdrawn.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Dramatic images of El Salvador's civil war

The online periodical El Faro has been publishing a set of wartime photographs taken by Italian photographer Giovanni Palazzo.   Palazzo has donated a collection of photos he shot during the war to El Salvador's Museum of Word and Image.   The museum is dedicated to preserving El Salvador's historic memory.

The first set, titled Childhood Under Fire, captures images of child soldiers carrying arms for both the army and the guerrillas.   The second set, titled, The State Repression, includes photos of political prisoners, death squad killings, and the suppression of public demonstrations.

More will be released by El Faro in coming weeks at this link.

You can also see more of Palazzo's photos at thew website of the Museum of Word and Image at this link.   The photographer donated 6,000  photos to the museum.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Care for ecosystems in El Salvador

A recent article from IPS describes a program of El Salvador's environment ministry to change land use practices to protect biodiversity and combat effects of climate change:
Local organisations and the environment ministry launched a plan aimed at tackling the problem in an integral manner. 
The National Programme for the Restoration of Ecosystems and Landscapes (PREP) seeks to restore ecosystems like forests and wetlands and preserve biodiversity, as part of what its promoters describe as "an ambitious national effort to adapt to climate change," whose impacts are increasingly severe in this small Central American nation of 6.2 million.... 
"It's obvious that we can't keep doing things the same old way...we can't continue to carry the burden of this degradation of the environment and the impact that we are feeling from climate change," Lina Pohl, the environment minister, told correspondents who accompanied her on a tour through the area, including Tierramérica. 
PREP will last three years and will receive two million dollars in financing from Germany's agency for international cooperation.
Read the entire article here. As the most densely populated country on the mainland Americas, the human impact on the environment and landscape in El Salvador is intense. Ongoing efforts will be needed to bring a sustainable balance between man and nature.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Ten years of blogging

Today, November 17, 2014, is the 10th anniversary of this blog.

It's appropriate that I am in El Salvador as I begin writing this post.   I realize that a great many of the topics which have filled the pages of this blog have been present in the past 10 days I spent in the country.

I participated in events commemorating the 25th anniversary of the massacre of the 6 Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter.   It's one of many anniversaries of massacres I have blogged about, and all of those persons who gave the orders for those massacres have never faced any form of judgment.   Impunity is a word I have used often in this blog.

Another ongoing blog theme is migration. I casually talked yesterday in English with men who had been deported from the US after living there for many years.  I heard the stories of the center where El Salvador processes children deported from Mexico.   I passed by many "remittance houses" built with money coming from the US and elsewhere.

The relationship between El Salvador and the US where 2 million Salvadorans live influences many topics.  I traveled this week on the northern longitudinal highway built with United States funds from the first Millennium Challenge Compact grant and traveled on the southern coastal highway which is soon to be improved with millions of dollars from the second Millennium grant.

I spent time with a community which had recently evacuated following the December 29, 2013 explosion of the Chaparrastique volcano, one of many natural disasters I have covered on the blog, and I visited a coffee finca where I learned their hopes for improved future harvests after the impact of the coffee rot called "la roya."

Wherever I traveled, the gang tags, the armed private security, the patrolling military, and the heavily armed police were a constant reminder of the scourge of killing and violence sponsored by El Salvador's warring gangs and others.   I wish it were not the topic I have written about more than any other.

I spoke with a participant in discussions with the Minister of Public Security about whether there could be a process of dialogue with the gangs after the collapse of the 2012 gang truce.  (He reportedly said there could not be bilateral discussions between the gangs and the government, but did not rule out a process facilitated by churches in which all segments of society participate).

Campaign signs with the faces of candidates for the National Assembly are a constant reminder of the next set of elections in 2015 which I am writing about on the blog.   The high point of readership on the blog over the past ten years was the 2009 election of El Salvador's first president from the left, Mauricio Funes.

And high in the northern mountains of Chalatenango where I could look towards the south and Lake Suchitlan and the volcanoes of San Vicente, Gauzapa and San Salvador, I continued to marvel at the natural beauty of this tiny country and how many tourists could be attracted here if they were not so afraid to come.

After 10 years and 2181 posts, my purpose in writing the blog continues to be the same as when I started.   I try to be a source of quality information about El Salvador for an English-speaking audience.    I hope I have been that source for some of you.

Finally, I'd like to thank all of the many people who have contributed to my understanding of El Salvador over the years.   Thanks to Carlos, Gene, Ernesto, Danielle, Omar, Mike, Boz, David, Teddy, Larry, John, Bethany and all the many others who have e-mailed or commented over the years.

The author and some new friends

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Subversive Cross

On November 16, 1989, that same fateful day in El Salvador when the Jesuits were murdered, Lutheran Bishop Medardo Gomez was also targeted by the military. For Bishop Gomez and his Lutheran church were also voices who denounced the injustice they saw in Salvadoran society. They were deemed to be subversives by the government for siding with the poor and doing such radical things as operating a refugee camp for families fleeing the armed conflict, or for teaching the poor that they were entitled to equal human rights with the rich and powerful.

You know the government's view of your church when it sets up a machine gun post directly across the street from your church, your church named Resurrection Church – the church of Easter, and the machine gun is always aimed at the front door of the church.

A few weeks before November 16, 1989, in a special service of reconciliation, the congregation of Resurrection Lutheran Church in San Salvador was asked to lay the sins of their country upon a symbolic cross. A simple wooden cross, painted white, was placed at the front of the church. In ones and twos, congregation members came up to the cross, took a black marker, and wrote the sins on the cross, such as persecution of the church, hunger, discrimination against women, ambition for power, murder and violence. As they identified the sins of their country and their people, they also committed themselves to work toward forgiveness, and to be strengthened for liberation. The cross also carries messages of hope and love, as a testimony to the transforming power of God. After the reconciliation service, the cross remained as a symbol within the church.

On the same day when the six Jesuit priests were murdered by elite Salvadoran troops, soldiers arrived at Resurrection Church looking for Bishop Gomez. Their search did not find Bishop Gomez, but they did find that simple white cross. Bishop Gomez had managed to flee and get to safety in the German embassy and subsequently found refuge in Milwaukee. Rather than capturing the bishop, the troops arrested 15 people, and took possession of the cross and took it away to the army compound. Presumably the soldiers thought this cross was evidence of the subversive activity going on in the Lutheran church.

And as the Salvadoran Lutheran Church tells the story, the cross, with its powerful words, bore witness to those army troops as it stood in their barracks. It spoke to their hearts about the sins committed by the army during the civil war.

Following his return to El Salvador, Bishop Gomez and international partners petitioned the government for the return of the cross. And with some assistance from the US Ambassador, the cross made another journey – this time from the army quarters to the presidential residence, El Salvador's White House. And the cross continued to bear silent witness regarding to the evil and the need for reconciliation in El Salvador – this time in the seat of power of the country.

Finally the call came, the president of El Salvador, Alfredo Cristiani, a man from the political party which sponsored the death squads, wanted to return the cross. And Bishop Gomez received the cross back to Resurrection Church, where a picture of Cristiani with the bishop hangs by the cross.

Today that cross, the "Subversive Cross," continues to have a powerful significance. Many, many people who have traveled to El Salvador and visited Resurrection Church have learned the story and have been inspired by this simple white cross and all it symbolizes. On the twentieth anniversary of the soldiers taking the cross into captivity, the Salvadoran Lutheran church turns once again to the Subversive Cross to inspire and guide its work struggling for justice for the poor and dispossessed in Salvadoran society.

First published on the 20th anniversary of the Subversive Cross on November 16, 2009.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Another anniversary in impunity -- 25 years after the Jesuit murders

Sunday, November 16, marks the 25th anniversary of the massacre of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter at the University of Central America.   It is one of the emblematic cases of the impunity with which El Salvador's military literally got away with murder of innocent civilians during the country's twelve year civil war.

From the UN Truth Commission Report prepared in the year after the 1992 Peace Accords:
Colonel Guillermo Alfredo Benavides Moreno, Director of the Military College, met with the officers under his command....Colonel Benavides told them that he had just come from a meeting at the General Staff at which special measures had been adopted to combat FMLN offensive, which had begun on 11 November. Those present at the meeting had been informed that the situation was critical and it had been decided that artillery and armored vehicles should be used. 
Those present at the meeting had also been informed that all known subversive elements must be eliminated. Colonel Benavides said that he had received orders to eliminate Father Ignacio Ellacuría and to leave no witnesses.  
Colonel Benavides asked any officers who objected to the order to raise their hands.
No one did....  
In the early hours of 16 November 1989, a group of soldiers from the Atlacatl Battalion entered the campus of José Simeón Cañas Central American University (UCA) in San Salvador. They made their way to the Pastoral Centre, which was the residence of Jesuit priests Ignacio Ellacuría, Rector of the University; Ignacio Martín-Baró, Vice-Rector; Segundo Montes, Director of the Human Rights Institute; and Amando López, Joaquín López y López and Juan Ramón Moreno, all teachers at UCA. 
The soldiers tried to force their way into the Pastoral Centre. When the priests realized what was happening, they let the soldiers in voluntarily. The soldiers searched the building and ordered the priests to go out into the back garden and lie face down on the ground.

The lieutenant in command, José Ricardo Espinoza Guerra, gave the order to kill the priests. Fathers Ellacuría, Martín-Baró and Montes were shot and killed by Private Oscar Mariano Amaya Grimaldi, Fathers López and Moreno by Deputy Sergeant Antonio Ramiro Avalos Vargas. Shortly afterwards, the soldiers, including Corporal Angel Pérez Vásquez, found Father Joaquín López y López inside the residence and killed him. Deputy Sergeant Tomás Zarpate Castillo shot Julia Elva Ramos, who was working in the residence, and her 16-year-old daughter, Celina Mariceth Ramos.  Private José Alberto Sierra Ascencio shot them again, finishing them off.

The soldiers took a small suitcase belonging to the priests, with photographs, documents and $5,000.

They fired a machine gun at the facade of the residence and launched rockets and grenades. Before leaving, they wrote on a piece of cardboard: "FMLN executed those who informed on it. Victory or death, FMLN." 
Many articles are being written about the anniversary of the assassinations.  On such article is by Congressman Jim McGovern in Huffington Post.  As a Congressional staffer, McGovern participated in the investigation into the Jesuit murders being led by Massachusetts Congressman Joe Moakley.  McGovern writes:
As part of our investigation, I was deeply upset to find that 19 of the 26 members of the unit that killed the priests and women had received U.S. taxpayer-paid military training at the U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA). In addition, the Atlacatl Battalion received specialized training from U.S. Special Operations just two days before the operation to murder the Jesuits happened. At the time, it was just the latest atrocity in El Salvador committed by Salvadoran troops who had received extensive U.S. military training in-country and at the SOA. These include the 1980 assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero; the 1980 rape and murder of four U.S. churchwomen; the 1981 murder of two U.S. labor advisors and the director of the Salvadoran agrarian reform program; the 1981 massacre at El Mozote; and the 1983 massacre at Las Hojas indigenous cooperative, to name but a few of the best-known cases.
Jesuits worldwide are remembering the victims.  From Twenty-Five Years After a Massacre, Jesuits Reflect on the Meaning and the Martyrdom by William Bole:
“It’s the witness of their lives that matters,” [Father Douglas Marcouiller, SJ], said. “The case is important. But the focus shouldn’t be primarily on the people who pulled the trigger, or the ones who gave the orders. It should be on the martyrs and their commitment to the Gospel, the kind that leads us to defend the lives of the poor today, going forward.”
Since the Amnesty Law passed in 1993 has prevented prosecution of the figures in El Salvador's High Command who gave the orders, the pursuit of justice has now been taken to a court in Spain.   Although the Spanish court indicted twenty former Salvadoran military officers and Spain made an extradition request, El Salvador's Supreme Court has ruled that they will not be extradited.  You can read details about the case at the website of the Center for Justice and Accountability.

For the 25th anniversary, the online periodical El Faro has a special section  on the case of the Jesuits.   Some of the reporting includes an admission by Mauricio Colorado, the  Salvadoran Attorney General in 1989, that he pressured the prosecutors under him not to do anything which would implicate the High Command of the Salvadoran military.

El Salvador continues to fail to grapple with the legacy of the human rights abuses committed by its government and military during the civil war.   The victims continue to demand justice, and impunity continues to reign supreme in the country.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

25 years ago -- the FMLN's final offensive

Twenty-five years ago, on November 11, 1989, the FMLN guerrillas launched their "final offensive" with a surprise attack on the capital city of San Salvador.   The city had largely been spared from the fighting during the preceding 9 years of war, but now the guerrillas brought the battle even to the wealthy neighborhoods of the capital.   The armed forces had been caught by surprise, but eventually would be able to repel the attack after three weeks of fighting.   It was a time which would find the army high command reacting by ordering the massacre of Jesuit priests.

This video news report (in Spanish) provides footage from that first week of the offensive.

Monday, November 10, 2014

More court-ordered election reforms

The Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador's Supreme Court has struck again in favor of increasing the rights of individual voters in opposition to the power of political parties.   The Chamber handed down a ruling on November 5 striking a provision of the electoral code which prohibited "cross voting" in elections for deputies in the National Assembly.    Before the court's ruling a voter who voted for one candidate could not cross over to vote for any other candidates of the other parties or an independent candidate.

The FMLN criticized the ruling as weakening political parties, and called for its members to vote a party ticket to vote for all deputy candidates of the FMLN.   A deputy from ARENA said her party would not oppose cross-voting and would not tell their sympathizers that they must vote "por bandera".   Edwin Zamora,  the ARENA candidate for mayor of San Salvador said he favored an even bigger step in which each deputy had a single district, rather than a slate of deputies for the whole department (24 for San Salvador) in which the top vote getters across the whole department are the ones which enter the National Assembly.

Separate from the legal correctness of the unanimous decision, the presiding judge dissented on the question of whether the ruling should be effective for the elections on March 1, 2015.   The Chamber has been criticized for changing the rules at the last minute with little time for the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) to prepare.    The TSE has asked the national government for an extra $4 million to publicize the changes, and to pay poll workers extra because vote counting will last later into the night.  Having observed Salvadoran elections, this will make counting ballots much more of a challenge for the citizen-manned voting tables.   You can expect that results will be slow in coming that night, compared to the speed of the presidential election results.