Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Arrest of a prominent priest and other public security news

Yesterday, the headline on the respected website InsightCrime read "New El Salvador Government Yet to Take Action as Homicides Rocket."  The post concluded:

The new government is now faced with a conundrum: do they allow the broken initiative [the gang truce] to linger on, or officially announce it's over? So far, their answer has been muddled, although the signs are not positive for truce supporters. In June, the president claimed the country would "not make a truce with organized crime," but Security Minister Benito Lara more recently told El Faro the government would not stand in the way of any gang negotiations.  
While Sanchez Ceren has announced the existence of a new security strategy, he is now nearly two months into his term without detailing any concrete actions to be taken. With the murder rate now reaching pre-truce levels, it is critical the government develop a plan for the post-truce era quickly or it may be drawn into a reactive security policy always playing catch up with events on the ground.
Today, however, we saw some concrete actions.   But I would hesitate to call them a well thought out strategy.

The National Civilian Police (PNC) and the Attorney General Luis Martinez, announced the break-up of an organized crime ring in the eastern part of the country tied to the Barrio 18 gang.   Included in the people arrested were judges, police officers and and lawyers from San Miguel.

Some of the officials arrested, from

That's a good thing, right? If there is successful prosecution of corrupt officials working with drug-traffickers, that is a step in the right direction. (For more about corruption and drug-trafficking in the eastern part of the country, read Hector Silva's exposé at InsightCrime).

But what got the headlines today was another arrest, said to be part of the same network.   Police arrested Spanish priest Father Antonio Rodriguez in the early hours of the morning and accused him of collaborating with the top leader of Barrio 18 and bringing contraband into the prisons for gang leaders.  Padre Toño, as Father Rodriguez is known, heads the work of Passionist Social Services in the San Salvador suburb of Mejicanos.   The neighborhood where he serves is plagued with gangs and violence and Padre Toño has made no secret of his belief that the government's anti-crime measures have often been repressive and violate human rights.

Padre Toño has been mentioned often on this blog in connection with his evolving views on the truce process, including this post from last year where he expressed his concerns about the process. The Spanish   priest was also featured in a 2012 al Jazeera documentary for his work with the gangs.

It is hard to see this arrest as anything other than politically motivated.   There has been no secret about the Attorney General's disdain for the truce process and the mediators, and the arrest of Padre Toño was a way of emphasizing the point. The timing of the arrest was equally revealing. Last week, in an event at the Sheraton Presidente Hotel, Padre Toño presented his organization's Annual Report on Human Rights Violations.   The report pointed to the PNC as the foremost violator of the human rights of Salvadoran citizens.  Five days later the PNC arrived to arrest him.

Father Antonio Rodriguez (center) at presentation of report on violations
of human rights last week.

Also today we had the news that the government may end the practice of putting members of the primary gangs into separate prisons.  This practice had the effect of allowing each gang to run its own prisons.   Ending the practice could be seen as a way to challenge the gangs' power, but it could end badly.  As InsightCrime points out:
Turning over entire prisons to one gang has allowed these groups to take near-complete control of the facilities where they are housed. Keeping gang leaders and their underlings all together has also facilitated communication and made it easier to conduct and coordinate criminal activities from the inside. Critics also say that segregation has reinforced gang identify and feelings of cohesion and loyalty, as well as increasing members' hostility towards their enemies. 
However, despite these drawbacks to segregation, the conditions in El Salvador prison system mean that any moves towards ending the practice could prove even more problematic. The country's prisons are horrendously overcrowded, understaffed and under-resourced, and the authorities have little control over what happens inside. Unless the state can reclaim control over the prisons first, moves to integrate opposing gang members could end in a bloodbath.
Finally, deputies of the GANA and ARENA parties in the National Assembly announced last Thursday that they would be introducing a constitutional amendment to permit the death penalty as a way of combating crime in the country.  It might be popular, but it will be remarkably ineffective in addressing any of the crime problems in the country.

So there was a lot of action on the crime and public security front today, but not what we could call a strategy.

Meanwhile, the major event on the schedule for President Sanchez Ceren and Vice President Oscar Ortiz today was the inauguration of a new beach volleyball stadium on the Costa del Sol.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Social inclusion

Americas Quarterly released its 2014 Social Inclusion Index today.   The index looks at a variety of variables in Latin American countries.   AQ provides this description of the index and its purpose: 
As we've done since we first launched this index, we define
social inclusion in a broad but specific way. We look at the
economics of a country and its potential to improve social
mobility (GDP growth and poverty rates). We also examine
the range of rights (civil, political, women's, and LGBT),
policies (social investment), conditions (access to adequate
housing, secondary school enrollment, access to a formal job,
financial inclusion), and public attitudes and behavior.
We believe this comprehensive approach provides the best
measure of a citizen's ability to participate meaningfully in the
political system and in the broader national community—and
thus to realize his or her potential.
 El Salvador and its neighbors in Central America filled 4 of the bottom 5 slots in the 2014 Index.  El Salvador fell two places to 14th out of the 17 countries in the index.  Here are the 2014 rankings, with 2013 positions in parentheses.
1) Uruguay (No. 1)
2) Argentina (n/a)
2) Costa Rica (4)
4) United States (3)
5) Chile (2)
6) Peru (7)
7) Ecuador (6)
8) Brazil (5)
9) Panama (8)
10) Bolivia (10)
11) Colombia (9)
12) Mexico (11)
13) Nicaragua (13)
14) El Salvador (12)
15) Paraguay (14)
16) Honduras (15)
17) Guatemala (16)
El Salvador ranked low in such variables as women's access to housing, personal empowerment and financial inclusion as well as ranking at the bottom of economic growth.  Its highest ranking came in the areas of political rights and government responsiveness.

The Christian Science Monitor published an article regarding the release of the Social Inclusion Index, tying it to the issue of unaccompanied youth:
“A toxic mix of high rates of poverty, lack of opportunities, gender and race disparities, and very low access to formal jobs and education … is at the root of the growing numbers of unaccompanied youth from Central America entering the U.S.,” said a statement from editors of Americas Quarterly, which publishes the Social Inclusion Index 2014.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Courts report improvements in processing cases

El Salvador's judicial system faces multiple challenges, from overcrowded dockets, to corruption, to unqualified judges and failure to adhere to norms of procedure.   According to El Salvador's Supreme Judicial Court, at least some of those problems are being addressed.   The views of the Supreme Judicial Court were reported in Infosurhoy:
Judicial delay arises because of “some judges’ apathy in resolving some cases and, occasionally, because organized crime has infiltrated the courts,” said CSJ Chief Justice Florentín Meléndez. 
“Some courts have been infiltrated by corruption, and there are judges who work for the criminals,” Meléndez said in an event in February. 
Authorities are investigating these judges, as well as working to eliminate the bottlenecks in the court system, he added. 
“We have courts that are overwhelmed with hundreds of cases, while others have dozens of files,” Meléndez said. “This uneven distribution in the judicial branch is being dealt with progressively in order to fairly distribute the workload.”
Continuous improvements in the court system, along with upgrades in how crimes are investigated, charged and prosecuted, are needed if El Salvador is ever to become a country where victims of crime believe justice will be done.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Central American presidents meet with Obama as thousands of Central American children are released to parents in the US

Presidents of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala meet with President Obama

The leaders of Central America's Northern Triangle came to Washington, D.C. this week to talk about the crisis of unaccompanied minors flooding the southern borders of the US.   Their appearance kept the issue front and center in US media coverage.   In years of blogging about El Salvador, never has there been a period of so much coverage in mainstream US media about the problems of the region.

The AP reported about the meeting of Obama with the Central American leaders:
Obama, who met Friday with the presidents of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, said the U.S. has compassion for the migrant children, but those who do not have a proper claim to remain in the United States will be turned back. At the same time, the regional leaders said the president offered them assurances that the rights of those children would be observed. 
"It is my hope that Speaker Boehner and House Republicans will not leave town for the month of August for their vacations without doing something to help solve this problem," Obama said after meeting with Vice-President Joe Biden and the three presidents from Central America. 
Obama played down a proposed pilot program that his administration is considering that would give refugee status to young people from Honduras. White House officials said the plan, which could be expanded to Guatemala and El Salvador, involves screening youths in their home countries to determine whether they qualify for refugee status. 
Obama said such an effort would affect only a small number of asylum seekers.
"There may be some narrow circumstances in which there is humanitarian or refugee status that a family might be eligible for," Obama said. "If that were the case it would be better for them to apply in-country rather than take a very dangerous journey up to Texas to make those same claims. But I think it's important to recognize that that would not necessarily accommodate a large number of additional migrants." 
Obama applauded efforts in Central America to conduct public awareness campaigns on the dangers of making a long trek to the U.S. border and to strengthen police efforts against smuggling operations. Separately, the Department of Homeland Security said it was boosting spending for law enforcement agencies in the Rio Grande Valley. The money would permit local police to support Customs and Border Protection by enhancing security in the region.
The Central American presidents, however, see this issue as much broader than simply dissuading parents from permitting their children to make the perilous journey north.  CBS News described the 5 issues the Central American leaders are emphasizing in their discussions with US government officials:  deportations, US immigration reform, security cooperation, economic development, and drug trafficking.

The UPI reported remarks from the president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernandez, about "ambiguity" in US policy :
Hernandez, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said Thursday that the United States shares responsibility because of "the ambiguity that has been the hallmark of the debate of the reform of the immigration process in this country." He said the "coyotes" exploit those ambiguities to give potential customers a false impression of what awaits them in the United States.
The Christian Science Monitor reported the presidents' critique of US support for security and development programs in the region:
[The presidents of Guatemala and Honduras] sharply criticized the US program to help support better security in the region – the Central American Regional Security Initiative, or CARSI. Molina said it raised expectations and then failed in commitment. Hernández called it “almost a farce.” 
That’s right, Professor Hershberg says. “The Americans have not been willing to systematically rethink CARSI,” he said. Washington has no credible plan for long-term economic development of the region and is “obsessively security-focused.” But he also faulted both Central American countries for falling far short in their reform efforts, Honduras more than Guatemala, while praising El Salvador.
In an article titled Aid to El Salvador looms over Obama meeting. Politico linked the issues to the delayed Millennium Challenge Corporation aid funding to El Salvador
[T]he talking points for Salvador Sánchez Cerén, the newly elected president of El Salvador, are sure to include a priority of his own: final U.S. action on a long-awaited Millennium Challenge Corp. compact promising $277 million in economic assistance over five years for his small country.  Indeed, the two issues are inevitably intertwined and make for a revealing case study of how the U.S. deals — and doesn’t deal — with Central America.... 
In response, the Obama administration has pledged to do more to spur economic development, but already 10 months have passed since the MCC board first approved the El Salvador compact in September 2013. 
This is not a one-sided story: El Salvador’s political leadership shares in the blame. But there is growing pressure for Washington to wrap up the process given the heavy lift the U.S. wants from Sánchez Cerén on the migrant issue.Like Honduras and Guatemala — whose presidents are also part of Friday’s meeting with Obama and a prior lunch with Vice President Joe Biden — El Salvador’s government is to blame for not better protecting children from violence. 
But that same violence is driven by the influx of the drug trade — serving a U.S. market. And it is very hard politically for leaders to obstruct children trying to rejoin their parents in the U.S. — parents whose earnings are important to El Salvador’s economy and parents who find it harder to travel back and forth now because of the heightened U.S. border security.
As the leaders discuss governmental responses to the crisis, there is ongoing coverage of the reasons why children are arriving across the southern border of the US.   A public radio story titled Who Are the Kids of the Migrant Crisis? was typical of the coverage discussing the risks of gang-plagued neighborhoods.   To similar effect is a CBS News story focusing on young people who were picked up in Mexico before ever reaching the US and returned to El Salvador.  The Christian Science Monitor reports from El Salvador in
Child migrant crisis: Churches, aid workers on front lines in Central America, and the National Geographic has an article on child refugees and the US roots of gang violence titled American-Born Gangs Helping Drive Immigrant Crisis at U.S. Border.

Journalist Sonia Nazario, author of Enrique's Journey,  provided testimony on Capitol Hill about her latest visit to communities in Honduras and the level of gang violence there.

Most of these stories emphasized gang-related violence as a primary factor driving the flow of children towards the US southern border.   But other voices are emphasizing the importance of family reunification, and the yearning of parents in the US to have their children join them.

Remarks of Ruben Zamora, El Salvador's Ambassador to the United Nations, were widely reported:
Rubén Zamora ... told a recent Inter-American Dialogue panel that the surge of children to the border is a sign of upward mobility for new migrants. "The father or mother has special status in the U.S., but they left their child in El Salvador. Now they have the capacity to have the kids live with them in their own home. What father wouldn't ask for his own child?" said Zamora, according to Costa Rica's Tico Times. "The upward mobility of our community has created the conditions for that phenomenon."
Alberto Avendaño at El Tiempo Latino wrote about "a crisis of family separation":
The crisis at the border is a crisis of family separation that will not be solved by investing billions in repression. The US is home to millions of immigrant parents from Central America who want to live with their kids. Many of these parents cannot travel to their home countries because they are undocumented —and crossing the border is risky— or they “enjoy” special status such as TPS that allows them to work but not to travel outside the US. On the other hand, these parents are better off economically, socially integrated in their communities, and can afford to pay a coyote to bring their children illegally. 
The migrant parents cannot wait for the two magic bullets that can help alleviate this crisis: The socioeconomic development of Central America and a US Immigration Reform Law that generates an inclusive and comprehensive legal playing field including family reunification and no travel restrictions.
A thorough discussion of the issue "why now?" appeared in the online periodical El Faro under the headline-- Los niños no se van: se los llevan / The children don't leave, they are carried (Spanish only).   The article features a lengthy interview with a "coyote", a human smuggler, who has been smuggling Salvadorans to the US for 35 years.    (The current price is $7000).   Like Ruben Zamora, the coyote emphasized families' desire to be with their children now that they have the financial resources to have a coyote to safely carry their children to the border.  Once at the border they would make sure the children safely got to the US side where those carried children would report themselves to authorities who would then contact their parents in the US and release them to their custody. 

Some news coverage has talked about the processing of the tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors.  Once the children are here, they are being processed and released to sponsors in the US, who usually are parents or other close family members.  According to a report from the Office of Refugee Resettlement, 30,340 unaccompanied minors have now left shelters for placements with sponsors in the US while awaiting their immigration proceedings:
When a child who is not accompanied by a parent or guardian is apprehended by immigration authorities, the child is transferred to the care and custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).  ORR cares for the children in shelters around the country until they can be released to a sponsor, typically a parent or relative, who can care for the child while their immigration case is processed.  
Ensuring that a potential sponsor can safely and appropriately care for the child is a top priority.  A background check is conducted on all potential sponsors, and steps are taken to verify a potential sponsor’s identity and relationship to the child.  In some cases where concerns are raised, a home study is done. 
Before children are released to a sponsor, they receive vaccinations and medical screenings. We do not release any children who have a contagious condition. 
The sponsor must agree to cooperate with all immigration proceedings.
A New York Times article on the ORR report indicates that :
Officials have said that more than half of all children initially placed in shelters have gone on to be reunited with at least one parent already living in the United States, and 85 percent of all children have been placed with a close family member.
Finally, here are some opinion pieces about how the US should respond to the crisis:

Excerpts from a letter to President Obama from scholars of Central America:
Dear Mr. President: 
As scholars of Central America and migration who are familiar with the conditions that cause so many children to flee their homelands, and mindful of the historical relationship between the United States and this region, we call on your administration to treat the “unaccompanied minors” at the border as refugees who are deserving of protection, due process, and humane treatment. We ask that they have access to legal representation by volunteer or government­ funded lawyers, in order for them to be reunited with relatives. Young migrants arriving from the Northern Triangle—Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras—face real and credible threats to their lives and safety in their hometowns. Further, many of them already have parents or other relatives living and working in the United States. Both the conditions of extreme insecurity in their homelands and the hardships of family separation dictate that these youth should be reunited with family members in the U.S. as swiftly as possible....
We want to emphasize that the United States is complicit in the conditions that cause so many to migrate. The reasons are many: U.S. historical support for military dictatorships and regimes of violence in the region; its promotion of free trade agreements and economic policies that have undermined subsistence agriculture and eroded public services, and its increasingly harsh immigration policies and practices that have separated families and deported too many whose livelihoods and security were in the United States. We have an opportunity and a responsibility now to make up for some past mistakes by offering humane treatment and consideration to the new arrivals and swiftly reuniting them with their family members.
Conservative commentator George Will on Fox News Sunday:
“[M]y view is we ought to say to these children, ‘Welcome to America, you’re going to go to school and get a job and become Americans,’” Will said. “We have 3,141 counties in this country. That would be 20 per county. The idea that we can’t assimilate these eight-year-old criminals with their teddy bears is preposterous.” ...
“We can handle the problem is what I’m saying,” he added. “We have what Emma Lazarus famously called ‘the wretched refuse of your teeming shores’ a long time ago and lot more people than this. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Children Who Can't Leave

For context around the story of unaccompanied minors seeking entry to the US, watch this 20 minute video titled Los niños que no han podido irse / The children who have not been able to leave.   It offers a view of the lives of children in El Salvador, living in poverty, where gangs control their neighborhoods.  (In Spanish with English subtitles.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Activists seek release of women charged with murder on suspicions of abortion

Since 1998, El Salvador has had an absolute ban on all abortions without exceptions, and has prosecuted women suspected of having abortions.   At least 628 women have been imprisoned since the law was passed.  It is a system which disproportionately impacts impoverished and poorly educated women.

In February 2014, the US-based Center for Reproductive Rights and the Salvadoran Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto Terapéutico, Ético y Eugenésico produced a detailed report titled Marginalized, Persecuted, and Imprisoned: The Effects of El Salvador’s Total Criminalization of Abortion.   The study looked at the criminal prosecutions of women for abortion in El Salvador including individual case studies and the facts surrounding 129 separate prosecutions.
The data indicates that a majority of the 129 women were impoverished. They were
women who had, throughout their lives, been excluded from educational opportunities,
access to basic health care services, and conditions that would have allowed them to
change their social status. As a result, these women were extremely vulnerable and
lacked the necessary tools to confront the state’s authority. 
Moreover, as revealed in our interviews, criminal convictions and sentences are being
given to women who, facing obstetric emergencies that lead to the loss of the fetus, do
not understand the legal risks of the situations they faced, lack the means to access
private health care services that will not report them, and cannot afford adequate legal
Looking at this situation, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (UN CESCR) in a report dated June 19, 2014 found that El Salvador's criminal prosecution of women for suspected abortions routinely violated their human rights: 
The Committee reiterates its concern at the continuing complete ban on abortion,
which affects poor and less educated women in particular, with no allowance for
exceptional circumstances, which has given rise to grave situations of distress and injustice
(E/C.12/SLV/CO/2, paras. 25 and 44). The Committee is particularly concerned at cases in
which women whose health was seriously at risk have turned to the health system and been
reported on suspicion of having had an abortion. In some cases disproportionate criminal
penalties have been imposed with no regard for due process. The Committee is also
concerned at the high number of unsafe and illegal abortions, which have serious
consequences for health and are still one of the main causes of maternal mortality 
In El Salvador, activists are now focusing on the cases of 17 women imprisoned on charges including aggravated murder:
On April 1, the Citizen Group filed documents with the Salvadoran National Legislature to petition the government to grant pardons to these 17 women who are serving sentences of 12 to 40 years. Under the Special Law for Appeals of Grace, each pardon must be reviewed and approved by each of the three branches of government. The process begins in the legislature, and then goes to the judicial branch. Finally, the president must ratify the decisions. By law, the three branches of government should complete the process within three months, by July 1, but responses to previous pardons, even when favorable, have taken much longer.
In the petitions, the Citizen Group asserts that the errors and violations of human rights committed by the Salvadoran state can be repaired by granting pardons. Herrera pointed out that all the women “had an inadequate defense” and that the convictions “are not based on direct evidence, but rather on the interpretations of judges and in many cases exculpatory evidence was not even taken into account.” Therefore, “[t]his is violence on the part of the Salvadoran State against the women.”
RH Reality Check described protests in El Salvador designed to place pressure for pardons for the 17 women:
[T]he plaza in front of the Legislative Assembly in El Salvador blazed with sun and the energy of 200 women and men gathered to demand from the state an accounting of progress made on petitions to pardon 17 women unjustly imprisoned for up to 40 years for what amount to miscarriages, stillbirths, and other obstetric complications.
Various Salvadoran human rights groups submitted the petitions to the government on April 1. By law, it must respond within three months. The law on pardons created a convoluted process, but feminists insist that the three branches of government comply, and quickly. The earliest steps have been completed, but the most fundamentalist-influenced body, the El Salvador Supreme Court of Justice, provides the next major challenge.
The chants shouted through the plaza reflected the larger issues at play:
If the 17 were female legislators?
They never would have been charged! 
If the 17 were daughters of male legislators? 
The pardons would have been granted by now!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Twenty-first Century Socialism and Salvador Sánchez Cerén

Marta Harnecker is an intellectual of the Latin American socialist movement in Latin America.   An interview Harnecker gave regarding the new presidency of Salvador Sánchez Cerén in El Salvador was recently translated to English and published on the website of Links Internal Journal of Socialist Renewal under the title El Salvador, a new progressive hope in Latin America .   Among other topics, she discusses where she sees El Salvador within the context of other countries in the region:

The political project of the FMLN ties in with the South American experiences of Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador. What is your opinion regarding the peculiarity of El Salvador? 
I see differences. You cannot compare Venezuela, a big country with enormous oil wealth – this is the revolutionary process that has been able to count on more resources than any other in the world – with El Salvador, a very small country, without much natural wealth, in a geographical situation that continues to be very complicated, with the continued presence of a strong fascist right. 
On the other hand, the big advantage that El Salvador has, in my opinion, is precisely its history, its tradition of struggle, the level of popular organisation that has been achieved and a the presence of a very solid political organisation, things that Venezuela did not have. It did not have strong social organisation, it did not have strong leftist parties, the party was created to run in elections. 
The Salvadorian process, as opposed to the other processes that have occurred in South America, has experienced more radical, more heroic struggles, which have cost a lot of blood, but have also helped forge an important organisation, both before and after the war. This represents a historic memory and a learning process that no one can erase. 
No doubt the challenges are enormous: the problem of the “maras” [gangs] that control part of the territory, and more generally the issue of crime, the precarious economic situation the country finds itself in and the urgent need to overcome the problem of unemployment, without which there will be no solution for the youth. These are important national problems that need to be confronted. 
But we also have to take into consideration that El Salvador today finds itself within a very different global situation to a few years ago. There is a new correlation of forces in the region and at the global level. Just look at the recent agreements between China and Russia. A Russia-China pole has been built, which is very important for a multi-polar world. This is the global context in which El Salvador has a new government; above all because China and Russia are both willing to support Latin America. They have invested in Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela. What this means for each of our governments is that there exists the opportunity to have economic relations with different countries, thereby avoiding the need to depend on just one like in the past.
You can read the rest of the interview, including her discussion of how the political project of the FMLN should be advanced, here.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Economists judge El Salvador's economy

Fitch Ratings, an agency which issues ratings to the investment community regarding the quality of bonds issued by national governments, recently published its current rating of "BB-" for El Salvador.   Fitch reviewed El Salvador's economy in support of its rating:
  • El Salvador's ratings are supported by its macroeconomic stability underpinned by dollarization, its adequately capitalized financial system, and solid repayment record. The government has a strong track record in implementing tax reforms despite the low economic growth environment.
  • A dialogue between the new FMLN government and main private-sector organizations has the potential to define a national strategy for sustainable development and social inclusion. This comes after five years of confrontation during the previous administration. However, it is too early to predict that such dialogue could result in improved investment and growth prospects over the forecast period. Risks for a break-down in this discussion process remain due to the high levels of mutual distrust and alternative views on fundamental issues, including public sector participation in the economy and public finances.
  • Economic growth in El Salvador remains low relative to its peers in the 'BB' category. Key structural weaknesses, including low competitiveness, relatively high energy costs, low investment ratios, weak human capital and high crime rates preclude El Salvador's economy from growing faster. In Fitch's baseline scenario GDP growth could average 1.6% in 2014-2016.
This low forecast for economic growth suggests the economy will continue failing to provide sufficient jobs to raise the incomes of many households in El Salvador.  

Sunday, July 13, 2014

LGBT in El Salvador's prisons

Rev. V. Gene Robinson, a retired Episcopal Bishop from New Hampshire, recently visited LGBT prisoners held in a Salvadoran prison.  He wrote about it in an essay on the Daily Beast website titled Out and Proud in El Salvador's Gangland
 It is the transgender prisoners that touch my heart the most. Amazingly, many of them are quite stylishly dressed and wearing makeup, which is surprising, given the conditions in which they are detained, and even more surprising considering the environment in which they are currently living out their lives. Consider, just for a moment, what it takes to be in the body of man and to wear high heels, make up and earrings in a place like this which is the epitome of machismo. It takes an enormous amount of courage for any person, born into the body of one gender but feeling on the inside like the opposite gender, to live her life authentically. To do so in a Salvadoran prison defies comprehension and inspires respect for their grit and determination.
I am awed by the resilience of these people whose sexual identities are literally a matter of life and death. 
On the outside, transgender people here endure the highest murder rate. Most have been kicked out of their homes for their identification as transgender, losing family, friends and any hope of support. Many turn to sex work or drugs to sustain themselves, being virtually the only ways to survive—which not only puts them in dangerous places with dangerous people, but leaves them easy targets for the police, who are all too happy to throw them into the prisons, like the one I am visiting. (read more).
Read more about the status of LGBT rights in El Salvador where some progress has been made, but where much homophobia and discrimination still exists.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Chaparrastique volcano watch

The Chaparrastique volcano near San Miguel, El Salvador continues to show significant levels of internal seismic activity.   Authorities are on a high level of preparedness should actions be needed. The activity since yesterday has been at the highest levels seen.   The chart below shows activity during July -- the average, normal level is 50, and current levels are above 1100.

This graphic shows the location of micro-quakes on the northern slopes of the volcano:

The environment ministry continues to have a live camera feed focused on the volcano: