Monday, April 25, 2016

Will US ever acknowledge its role in past human rights violations in El Salvador?

On March 24 in Argentina, US president Barack Obama said to the Argentine people that he regretted the slowness of the US on human rights during the 1970's during the "Dirty War" in Argentina.   During that dark time, Argentina's military was responsible for abducting, torturing, and killing tens of thousands of suspected opponents.

On April 15, Raymond Bonner wrote in The Nation that it is time the US did the same for its involvement in El Salvador's civil war and the atrocities committed by the right wing government with US backing.  He writes:

In Argentina, the security forces killed some 30,000 civilians. In El Salvador, more than 75,000 lost their lives during the civil war, which lasted from 1980 until the 1992 peace agreement. The guerrillas committed atrocities, but the United Nations Truth Commission, established as part of the accord, found that more than 85 percent of the killings, kidnappings, and torture had been the work of government forces, which included paramilitaries, death squads, and army units trained by the United States. 
The United States went well beyond remaining largely silent in the face of human-rights abuses in El Salvador. The State Department and White House often sought to cover up the brutality, to protect the perpetrators of even the most heinous crimes.
Obama did visit El Salvador in 2011.   Despite a symbolic visit to the tomb of Oscar Romero, there was no acknowledgment of the part the US played in El Salvador's tragic history.

Bonner goes on to remind his readers of some of the actions of Reagan administration officials during those years including the cozy relationship of US officials with Roberto D'Aubuisson, author of the assassination of Oscar Romero, whitewashing the murders of four US churchwomen by Salvadoran soldiers, and denial of the El Mozote massacre.   Bonner knows the El Mozote story well since he was one of two US reporters who broke the story of the massacre and was then vigorously attacked by his own government for being a dupe of the guerrillas.

In Argentina, Obama announced the release of formerly classified documents about the US role in Argentina.    The same action is needed to declassify additional documents from the time of El Salvador's civil war.  As an example, the University of Washington Center for Human Rights, filed suit at the end of last year against the CIA seeking release of documents related to the 1981 Santa Cruz massacre in El Salvador.

Equally needed is for El Salvador's military to open its archives for review.   Despite orders from the InterAmerican Court on Human Rights and statements from Mauricio Funes when he was president, the Salvadoran military has kept its records away from investigators.   The historical record of individual and corporate responsibility for human rights abuses in El Salvador will only be complete when both the US and the Salvadoran military fully release their records.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Catholic archbishop issues pastoral letter on violence

San Salvador Archbishop Jose Luis Escobar Alas has issued a major Catholic teaching document, called a pastoral letter, on the subject of the gang violence plaguing El Salvador, which has given the country one of the world’s highest homicide rates. [Click here for a complete translation of the document.]

The pastoral letter, called “I see Violence and Strife in the City” is Escobar’s first, and is being whispered about in San Salvador Catholic circles as possibly constituting the most important pronouncement from the Church in decades. [Read about the letter’s inspiration in Oscar Romero.]

In the Letter, Archbishop Escobar concludes that El Salvador’s violence is driven by systematic social injustice and that it “has roots that can be traced back to colonial days” (Violence and Strife, par. 63.).  Power groups in El Salvador have imposed unjust arrangements over other groups through violence, creating a dynamo of violence that has operated continually through the conquest, the colonial period, insurrections in the 19th and 20th century, and the recent civil war, Escobar analyzes.
Escobar, who in the past has irritated Pres. Salvador Sanchez Ceren by suggesting that El Salvador faced the risk of becoming a “failed state” is candid in describing the dire situation.  “The criminal violence that plagues our country is not a war per se, as we commonly understand the term” Escobar writes.  But the country may be experiencing “a kind of social war” (par. 110).

Escobar does not mention the controversial question of negotiating with the gangs, or the recent “gang truce” that the Church had originally supported, nor does he mention the IPAZ initiative that Protestant churches have promoted.  Nevertheless, Escobar rejects any approach to suppress crime through law enforcement actions alone, saying that “it is not sufficient only to treat the effects. We must tear out the roots” (par. 19). “It does us no good to attack the perpetrators of such violence if we do not pull out the roots” (par. 113).

Although Escobar appears initially sympathetic to gang-members—recognizing that they have been subjected to social exclusion, and suggesting they should re-integrated into society with “mercy” (par. 188), he also subjects their conduct to a Thomist “Just War” analysis and concludes that their “criminal violence cannot be countenanced and must be combatted—but without ignoring the roots that cause it” (par. 113). 

Thus, Escobar posits that,

The Salvadoran State, helped by the private sector, must … take care that cultural, social, and educational conditions will increasingly be to the benefit of a greater number of our people (even if it means bucking the neo-liberal visions in vogue … ) and not simply serve a miniscule portion of the population. (Id.)

But Escobar doesn’t stop there. He also calls doing away with impunity with “historic trials” that set aside the 1993 Amnesty Law, “otherwise no ruler, no prosecutor, no lawyer or person in charge of upholding the law will have the moral standing to demand their enforcement” (par. 61). “A state that allows impunity,” he challenges, “is hardly a state at peace” (par. 107).   “Perhaps this will involve demystifying many of our emblematic figures and role models,” he admits, but it would allow the country to begin to “walk in the truth” after centuries of impunity (par. 140).

He also slams consumerism and calls for going “against the grain” of “neoliberal” economic policies.

It remains to be seen how different interest groups will react to the letter once it filters out.


This post was written by Carlos Colorado, author of the Super Martyrio blog concerning all things related to Oscar Romero, and the translator into English of the pastoral letter.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Orange alert for water shortages in El Salvador

On Thursday the government declared an orange state of alert for water shortages throughout the country, which the government said were caused by climate change and the poor state of the country's systems for obtaining and distributing potable water.

The primary areas affected by the water shortages are the greater metropolitan area around San Salvador where the largest percentage of the country's population resides.   In recent months, there have been increasing scenes of protests where residents block major roads to highlight the fact that their neighborhoods have been without potable water for weeks or months.   Families are paying as much as $45 per month to buy water from private tank trucks when the public water supply disappears.

The government says that the country has received below average rainfall for the past four years.   Wells which supply the metropolitan area are producing water at reduced levels.

The country's water distribution system is showing the effects of years of lack of maintenance, investment and poor management by the country's water authority ANDA.

To address the water shortage, the country will be drilling new wells and investing in additional water tank trucks to bring water to affected communities when the pipes run dry.  In the press conference announcing the water emergency, president Sanchez Ceren announced that ANDA would be authorized to spend $3.5 million on new wells and other infrastructure in the next three months.

The government will also be taking measures to reduce water consumption and save the scarce resource.

One of the identified problems faced by metropolitan San Salvador is the problem of rainwater run-off.   Because the metropolitan area is so densely populated with so much pavement and impermeable ground surfaces, rainfall during the wet seasons of the year runs off rather than sinking into the soil to replenish groundwater supplies.

As the rainy season approaches beginning in May, families are encouraged to use rainwater capture systems to fill tanks for bathing and laundry and other uses other than drinking.  

The water shortages have also highlighted the status of a proposed new national water law which has been stuck in the National Assembly for year.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Corruption investigations in El Salvador

It may be getting tougher to get away with corruption in El Salvador.    Investigative journalism by online journalists like those at El Faro and RevistaFactum are regularly describing corruption.    The Probidad division of El Salvador's Supreme Court has open investigations against at least 9 high public officials including two former presidents.   El Salvador's new attorney general Douglas Meléndez has shown a willingness to pursue cases of corruption involving figures on both sides of the political spectrum.   

In twelve years of writing this blog, I don't think the amount of corruption has changed over that time.   But the amount of news coverage and the number of possible prosecutions certainly has increased in the past few years.   That's a good thing.

As the most recent example, the online periodical El Faro is one of the periodicals world wide participating in the disclosure of the so-called "Panama Papers."   The Panama Papers are a leaked set of 11 million documents from a Panamanian law firm which set up offshore corporations used to evade taxes and hide wealth of elites around the world.   According to El Faro, the Panamanian law firm helped the rich and powerful in El Salvador set up at least 200 secretive offshore corporations.    

El Faro has detailed how the owners of Telecorporación Salvadoreña (TCS), Channel 4, used a network of anonymous offshore corporations to buy up rights to international sports broadcasts.   Similarly it described how offshore corporations were used to hide ownership and links among businesses associated with José Miguel Antonio Menéndez Avelar, known as “Mecafé” who was a personal friend and financial supporter of ex-president Mauricio Funes.   We can expect more disclosures to come in future weeks and months as the Panama Papers are scrutinized by journalists and investigators.  

The new Attorney General of El Salvador Douglas Meléndez announced that he has opened an investigation into revelations in the Panama Papers and that if the leaked documents revealed crimes, there would be prosecutions.   On Friday his prosecutors in El Salvador seized more documents at an office in El Salvador of the law firm at the center of the Panama Papers matter:
Authorities in El Salvador have raided the local offices of law firm Mossack Fonseca and seized documents and equipment, according to the office of the country's attorney general.   The Panama-based law firm is at the centre of an international data leak scandal - dubbed the Panama Papers - that has embarrassed several world leaders and highlighted the shadowy world of offshore companies. 
Attorney General Douglas Melendez, who personally oversaw Friday's raid, said that the government decided to sweep the offices after noticing Mossack Fonseca had removed its office sign late on Thursday, which raised suspicions....
 El Salvador's government seized about 20 computers, some documents and interviewed seven employees, but did not detain anyone, Melendez said. 
"At this moment we cannot speak about [any] crimes; all we can do at this moment is our job," he said.  He said that the government would analyse all the confiscated information and examine its financial, accounting and legal aspects.  He said it appears the law firm's local affiliate helped process information for clients worldwide.
In addition to the Panama Papers revelations, investigative journalists are currently writing about links between El Salvador's vice president Oscar Ortiz and a Salvadoran drug kingpin known as Chepe Diablo.   Héctor Silva Ávalos and Súchit Chávez at RevistaFactum and La Prensa Grafica wrote the story as republished in English at InsightCrime:
In June 2000, Óscar Samuel Ortiz -- the mayor of the town of Santa Tecla at the time and current vice president of El Salvador -- founded a real estate company with José Adán Salazar Umaña, alias "Chepe Diablo," who the United States listed as a drug trafficking kingpin in 2014.... 
Salazar Umaña's and Ortiz's names have appeared together since 2000, when both men set up, in collaboration with a third associate, a company dedicated to buying and selling property: the Montecristo Development Society (Desarrollos Montecristo). The society was established at noon on June 20, 2000. Ortiz had been sworn in as mayor of Santa Tecla for the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional - FMLN) political party a few weeks earlier, on June 1. 
Those days were, for Ortiz, the beginning of a political career that led him to be re-elected four times as Santa Tecla's mayor and eventually become one of the most important figures in the leftist party. In 2014, he became the vice president of the Republic of El Salvador. 
Nowadays, Ortiz is perhaps the most important politician in President Salvador Sánchez Cerén's administration: he is the public face of the public security strategy and, on many occasions, he fills the role of head of state.
You can read all about Chepe Diablo here.   Mike Allison at Central America Politics blog writes about the allegations against Ortiz:
It's unbelievably disappointing. For over a decade, many of us have supported Oscar Ortiz as the "new," more moderate face of the FMLN. Ortiz served in the Legislative Assembly and then for several terms as mayor of Santa Tecla. He was able to transform the city he governed. He challenged Schafik Handal for the presidency in 2004, but the FMLN preferred to remain true to its principles and select the candidate most likely to lose. Before selecting Mauricio Funes (who has his own set of problems) and Salvador Sanchez Ceren (who?) as its 2009 and 2014 presidential candidates, Ortiz was always on the public short list of candidates. 
The alleged corruption goes back fifteen years but Ortiz seems not to be that worried about it. He is bothered more by the questions than the actual allegation. Ortiz has answered that his business relationship with the alleged drug trafficker is inactive. He has also asked what's the big deal - Chepe Diablo has never been convicted of anything illegal.
El Faro's interview with the vice-president about his links with Chepe Diablo can be read here.  Ortiz subsequently gave an interview to RevistaFactum and LaPrensa Grafica asserting that he had not seen José Adán Salazar in the past twelve years and that all his interactions were with the third partner in the business.

Attorney General Douglas Melendez has announced that he will reopen an investigation into Chepe Diablo which had been quashed by his predecessor Luis Martinez.

Meanwhile former presidents of El Salvador Mauricio Funes and Antonio Saca are being investigated for enriching themselves while in office.   Such investigations are led by Probidad (Integrity), a branch of El Salvador's Supreme Court. From InsightCrime:
Former El Salvador President Mauricio Funes (2009-2014) is likely to face three separate investigations into his assets, including a money laundering case, an unnamed source close to the Supreme Court told Diario Latino.

Funes is already embroiled in an illicit enrichment case and has had certain assets frozen, including four bank accounts, El Faro reported. Accusations against the former president revolve around his inability to account for millions of dollars in personal income and assets. Funes has maintained his innocence and claimed he is being persecuted by his political rivals.

Meanwhile the Supreme Court has informed Funes' predecessor, Elías Antonio Saca (2004-2009), that he must account for over $6 million in personal income, according to a separate Diario Latino report. Saca's financial records show a personal gain of over $13 million during his presidential term, much of which Saca has labeled simply as "other activities and investments," the report added.
Among the allegations against Saca are his failure to disclose and pay taxes on bank accounts with more than $2.9 million in assets.  El Faro has also published a story about the 92 firearms registered in Mauricio Funes name at the end of his presidency, from pistols to assault rifles.

There are nine or more open investigations by the Probidad division of El Salvador's Supreme Court involve high public officials from all of the country's political parties.  These investigations followed more than a decade in which there were no investigations by Probidad which advanced.

The headlines are full of stories of corruption investigations in El Salvador.   What the country needs now are some convictions with jail time and politicians who are willing to condemn corrupt officials in their own party and not just bad actors on the other side.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

A new phase in El Salvador's security struggle

The struggle to bring an end to homicidal violence in El Salvador entered a new phase last week.  The country's National Assembly approved a set of extraordinary measures aimed at gang leadership in the country's prisons.  Details of the legislation include reductions or eliminations of family visits (often used to send messages to gangs in the streets), the elimination of cell phone service in the areas around prisons (contraband cellphones are used by gang leaders to communicate with those outside), the transfer of gang leaders to a maximum security prison where solitary confinement and other measures are approved, and the suspension of transportation of prisoners to court hearings.

The country's cell phone companies announced that they were complying with the legislation and apologized to their customers who might live next to a prison and who would also be cut off form service.

In addition to the measures targeted at the prisons, the government of Salvador Sánchez Cerén is also developing "rapid reaction" battalions of police and soldiers to be deployed  to combat the gangs.

An article By Alan Hernández and Keegan Hamilton in Vice News titled El Salvador's Gangs Offered a Truce — And the Government Declared War offers a good overview of where the public security struggle now stands in the country,

This comes at a time when there has been a week long drop in the murder rate.  Murders in March dropped from an average of 22 per day to an average of 9 per day after the gangs announced a unilateral cease fire on March 26.   The cease fire was certainly an attempt to forestall the government's exceptional measures, and the gangs claimed a desire to enter into a dialogue with the rest of Salvadoran society about ending the violence.

The Washington Post obtained an interview with rival gang leaders which it published this Sunday along with this video (edited with ominous music).  

An excerpt from the interview:
WP: So are the three gangs [Mara Salvatrucha, 18th Street Revolutionaries and the 18th Street Sureños] now united? Are you now friends? 
Mara Salvatrucha gang spokesman: No, we’re not friends. But the three gangs are united in this effort to come together to stop the violence that’s assaulting our country, so the Salvadoran people can see that it’s not just gangs that kill. There’s another group of people that’s killing: the police, the army, and the whole world knows it. But in our country right now, human rights advocates aren’t doing their work. They’re not supporting the people in the way they should be. They’ve been threatened so they’re staying quiet. They don’t investigate what’s happening in our country. 
The rich people are living peacefully in gated communities, they go everywhere in their cars. It’s the poor people that risk their lives to travel in buses, work and go to school in violent communities. 
The police arrive in a community and grab everyone in sight. In a neighborhood dominated by the Barrio 18 gang, or the Mara Salvatrucha, they show up, push the kids against the wall, beat them, put them in the cop car and drive them to a rival territory, where they know they’ll be killed. We have proof of this. It’s why we’re saying that our people are victims of abuses of the army and the police. It’s abuse of authority.
In an accompanying story, the Post describes the government's view:
But despite the enormous toll on both sides, the administration of President Salvador Sánchez Cerén has remained defiant, vowing to tighten security at prisons and relentlessly pursue gang members. 
“The government has said there’s no chance of dialogue with the gangs,” Mauricio Ramírez Landaverde, the minister of security and justice, said in an interview.... 
Ramírez Landaverde dismissed the possibility that the current pause could stretch into a more durable peace, saying the gang landscape is fragmented with hundreds of small cells and cliques. 
“Often it turns out they [gang leaders] don’t have the backing of all the groups, or all of the members,” he said. “Many of them don’t participate, and you can see proof in the streets. They’re killing like nothing happened.”
The Washington Post interview tool place at the offices of the Salvadoran Lutheran Church, which is a founding member of IPAZ, a group of Salvadoran churches advocating for dialogue among all sectors of  society including the gangs.  

In my view,  measures by the government to take actual control of what goes on its prisons are long overdue.   It is no secret in El Salvador that leaders of El Salvador's gangs have exercised significant control from within the prisons, giving orders to execute enemies, commit extortion and discipline members.   The gangs largely controlled life inside the prisons, and 18th Street and Mara Salvatruca gangsters were incarcerated in separate prisons.   So if the current exceptional measures are part of a longer term strategy to get control over the prisons and to actually remove the ability to communicate and control from gang leaders, that is probably a good thing.

But as experience has shown, the "iron fist" policies of multiple Salvadoran governments in the marginalized communities where gangs flourish, have only served to increase the level of violence.     The reports of abuses by security forces and police are widespread, and vigilante death squads are assumed to be responsible for killings as well.   Until El Salvador's security policy becomes less one dimensional, and focuses on all the causes of violence in the country, reductions in the homicide rate by gangs looking to make a political point, will only be temporary respites.


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Gangs and government agree -- gangs control homicide level in El Salvador

As El Salvador's government moves forward with new measures trying to control gang violence in the country, the powerful gangs which control many neighborhoods released videos declaring a temporary halt to killings.

From the Associated Press:
In the video broadcast by local media Saturday, a masked man claimed to make the offer on behalf of the Mara Salvatrucha gang and two factions of the Barrio 18 gang. 
The video said killings were ordered stopped as of Saturday, to show the government it didn't have to implement get-tough policies. The government has been considering a kind of limited state of emergency in some areas, and is planning to release some non-gang inmates to free up prison space and liberate police to fight the gangs. 
"We have ordered all of our people ... to halt all types of homicides nationwide," said the man who appears in the video, "to demonstrate to the public, the government and international agencies in our country that there is no need to implement measures that only violate our constitution." 
There was no immediate confirmation of the authenticity of the video, but former guerrilla Raul Mijango said, "I had received information that (the gangs) were going to release some kind of message, that they had that idea." Mijango has served as a truce negotiator in the past.
Unlike some other recent communiques from the gangs, this pronouncement was followed by an immediate plunge in murders.    In a year where the average daily homicide toll is 23, the death toll fell from 17 on Saturday, to 9 on Sunday to only four murders across El Salvador on Monday.

Another video came out on Tuesday in which three masked gang members said they were instructing their members to prolong the reduction in homicides.

The government's response has been to push forward with its "exceptional measures":
El Salvador declared a state of emergency on Tuesday at seven prisons and transferred 299 high-ranking gang members at the start of “extraordinary measures” that the government has promised to take to combat gang violence. A package of additional measures was to be presented to the legislature on Wednesday that could include deploying more soldiers in a security role and declaring states of emergency in conflict zones. The emergency declaration puts inmates on lockdown and suspends family visits for 15 days. “They are going to be subjected to a higher security regimen, with greater control to make sure communication from inside the prison system is stopped,” said Mauricio Ramírez Landaverde, the minister of justice and public security.
Government spokesman Eugenio Chicas stated today that the dramatic drop in murders following the video showed that the gangs were responsible for the level of killing in the country, and that now they were pointing a gun at the head of the population and saying they would go on killing if the government did not dialogue with them.   Chicas said that the only possible response was a frontal assault on the gangs and the government would never negotiate with them.   Instead, the government will push forward with its exceptional measures.

There is little chance the reduction in homicides will last.   The government has no intent to "dialogue" with the gangs and intends to proceed with getting tough on the gang leaders in prisons and their members outside.   When this unilateral ceasefire fails to change the course of the government actions, I fear the gangs will attempt to teach the government a lesson by raising the level of violence even more.   We are very unlikely to see the kind of prolonged reduction in violence we saw from 2012-2013 during the original truce.  

Thursday, March 24, 2016

If Romero had lived

Today, March 24, is the 36th anniversary of the assassination and martyrdom of Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero.   He was slain by a marksman's bullet as he said mass in the chapel at the Divina Providencia cancer hospital in San Salvador.   Today he is officially called "Blessed" after his beatification by the Roman Catholic church on May 23, 2015.

To mark the anniversary, our friend Carlos Colorado has a blog post titled Blessed Romero's Unfinished Eucharist.  Carlos looks at what Romero was planning for the days and weeks following March 24:
In February 1980, Romero attended a spiritual retreat during which he examined his life and he resolved to take various steps to either address perceived failings, or to continue on the path that he had assessed to be the right path upon reflection. Romero devised a plan of action that included the following near term plans:
  • Romero intended to write a fifth pastoral letter on the subject of evangelization. It would have been released in August 1980.
  • Romero resolved to reach out to his brother bishops in an effort to overcome divisions in the episcopal conference, seeking out their input on his decisions.
  • Romero wanted to draw closer to the work of women religious, which is interesting given the assassination of the four U.S. women in December 1980. Perhaps that story would have been different if Romero had lived.
Additionally, Romero was planning to make a series of pastoral visits within El Salvador; to the northern zone, including Chalatenango in May 1980; to the central region including Quezaltepeque in October 1980; and to the western zone, including the artist commune at La Palma in February 1981. According to other reports, Romero had also raised the possibility of making a trip to Los Angeles, California, to continue to raise awareness and solidarity for his people and his church. 
Rather than mourn what could have been, this snapshot of Romero’s prodigious planning should make us see Romero for what he was: a man of hope, a man of action, and a man constantly on the move. (more)
Thinking about what Romero might have done in those early years of El Salvador's civil war can lead us to wonder what he would do today as the number of daily killings of innocent civilians approaches the numbers of the war years.    How would his message resonate today?    We know his heart would ache for the pain of the Salvadoran people he loved so much.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Zika control efforts

El Salvador is in the midst of a concentrated national campaign to control the Aedes aegypti mosquito which carries the Zika virus as well as dengue and chikungunya.   The campaign runs throughout the months of March and April and involves actions at the department, municipality, colonia and individual house level to destroy and control the breeding grounds of the mosquitoes.   Already the country has seen a reduction from 12% to 8% of homes where mosquito larvae were identified.

Part of the control of the mosquitoes can be the introduction of small fish which eat the larvae.   A story from Fox Latino News describes how a US charity, Operation Blessing, is successfully distributing thousands of these fish in El Salvador and elsewhere:
"It is a very insidious little insect," Bill Horan, president of Operation Blessing, told Fox News Latino. "They are domesticated. They don't live in a swamp, in the woods, in a river or in a lake. They live in and around the homes – especially the homes of poor people." 
Operation Blessing breeds the fish locally, then places them in buckets, barrels, tubs, wells and water tanks in pools of water in and around homes – slowing the spread of Zika. 
The group developed the method of fighting disease by deploying fish into 5,500 temporarily abandoned swimming pools in and around New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. The city credited Operation Blessing with preventing an potentially huge outbreak of West Nile disease. 
On the front line against Zika in El Salvador, Operation Blessing is operating fish farms producing indigenous Sambo fish in large numbers. In Mexico, more than 60 community health workers are distributing 10 to 20 gambusia to every family living in nearby Mexican villages.  
Operation Blessing hired local fisherman to capture 4,000 breeder fish and are farming more and more gambusia.
Fighting the spread of mosquito-borne diseases like Zika requires house-to-house combat, and these little fish are one new weapon for health authorities to deploy.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Images from the start of Holy Week

On this Monday of Semana Santa in El Salvador, enjoy photo galleries of processions of the faithful in the streets of the country over the weekend.  On Saturday, there was the annual march to commemorate the martyrdom of Oscar Romero, as documented in a photo gallery from El Blog.   The website of ContraPunto shares colorful photos from Palm Sunday celebrations.     LaPrensaGrafica also has a photo gallery.   EDH shares photos as school students reenact the events of Holy Week.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Holy Week commences in El Salvador

Semana Santa / Holy Week begins in El Salvador this weekend.   It is a time of both religious devotion in the historically Roman Catholic country, as well as family vacation time.

In the days before Holy Week each year, the government's security and rescue forces assure the public that they are fully prepared to provide security during the week of festivities, vacation and tourism.

But of course this year, everyone is mindful of the elevated levels of violence occurring in the gang-controlled zones of the country.  The Catholic Herald describes how Salvadoran churches face the possibility of violence during Holy Week observances:
Police in some Salvadoran cities have already begun patrolling in an effort to prevent violence during Holy Week processions. 
Some Church officials say the Church has been caught in the crossfire of gang violence in a country with one of the highest murder rates in the world. 
“Gang members do not care if they attack someone who is praying in the Via Crucis, they just don’t care where the target is,” Fr Ricardo Arcega, parish priest of St Peter the Apostle parish in San Pedro Perulapan, 13 miles northeast of San Salvador, told Catholic News Service.
Here are a few other stories from the beginning of Holy Week:

A Via Crucis procession in the historic center of San Salvador was dedicated to migrants who activists said were bearing the cross of unjust systems which forced them on dangerous pathways to an unwelcoming United States.

The Washington Post offered a pictorial look at the dying art of preserving religious statues in El Salvador.    The story interviews and shows the work of one of the artisans who creates and restores holy figures such as the statues of Jesus Christ used in Holy Week processions in cities throughout the country.

This year the March 24 anniversary of the assassination of archbishop Oscar Romero falls during Holy Week.    A mass commemorating the life of Romero, who was beatified by the Catholic church during 2015, was held on March 18 and attended by the country's president and high church officials.