Saturday, March 28, 2015

US still only place Salvadoran war crimes have been adjudicated

Stanford Professor Terry Karl has an essay titled El Salvador: Changing the U.S. Legal System but Can It Change Its Own? in the new online periodical Factum, founded by Salvadoran journalists Héctor Silva Ávalos and Orus Villacorta.  Professor Karl has long studied El Salvador's civil war and human rights issues and has testified as an expert in several trials of these issues in US courts.

Prof. Karl highlights the recent decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals ruling that former Salvadoran Defense Minister Vides Casanova could be deported from the US for his responsibility for human rights abuses during the civil war:

The Vides ruling is especially significant because it connects the legal doctrine of command responsibility, developed in the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials after World War II, to the ability to remove human rights abusers from the U.S. Command responsibility is demonstrated legally when three elements are present: 1) forces subordinate to a commander commit abuses; 2) the commander knew or should have known about these violations; and 3) the commander failed to take the necessary measures to prevent these crimes or investigate and punish the abusers. By ruling that General Vides’ government troops committed widespread atrocities, was repeatedly informed about these violations, and failed to punish anyone under his command, he met these three requirements. In making its ruling, the BIA discussed specific cases involving the torture of Salvadorans and the murders of Americans in the so-called “churchwomen” and Sheraton cases. 
From a historical perspective, the Vides ruling marks a momentous shift. Where the U.S. once clandestinely offered safe haven (not to mention social security payments) to former Nazis and other war criminals, it will now be easier to deport foreigners who were once top commanders, based on human rights violations committed by the soldiers who served under them.
Prof. Karl points to changes in US policy towards human rights abusers found in the US -- where the country once allowed such abusers to stay in the country, the US now may actively seek to deport them.  The action against Vides Casanova is being brought by the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as part of a policy to not allow the US to be a safe haven for human rights violators.

On March 25, the New York Times reported that Vides Casanova has now been detained by immigration authorities in Florida pending his deportation from the US.  He has little risk of being prosecuted in his own country for activities during the civil war so long as the 1993 amnesty law remains in effect.   As Prof. Karl notes, while the cases of human rights abuses in El Salvador have produced changes in US law, impunity continues to reign in El Salvador.  

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Thousands rally for peace in El Salvador

Tens of thousands of Salvadorans dressed in white took to the streets today in a March for Life, Peace and Justice. The march had been called by the government and its National Council on Citizen Security and Social Peace.    It was supported by churches throughout the country who called for the faithful to join this demonstration for a more peaceful El Salvador.   The government numbered the marchers at half a million.

Participating in a branch of the march which left from the Metropolitan Cathedral in San Salvador to the Plaza Salvador del Mundo, auxiliary archbishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez stated “We are happy with the response of the people and the atmosphere the reigns in this demonstration of hope, of joy, and also of commitment."

President Salvador Sanchez Ceren used the occasion to announce that his government would soon introduce a law for reinsertion of gang members into society and for prevention efforts aimed at those at risk.

El Salvador's need for peace was violently illustrated in the early hours of the morning before the march as eight purported members of the Barrrio 18 gang were killed in a shoot-out with police in the department of La Libertad.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

So who won the election anyways?

El Salvador's national elections were March 1, but we still don't know who won the final seat in the National Assembly.  

Currently the parties have won the following seats in the 84 seat National Assembly:

FMLN -- 31 deputies
GANA -- 11 deputies 
ARENA -- 34 deputies
PCN -- 6 deputies
PDC -- 1 deputy  

The FMLN and GANA often vote together, and have 42, or half the deputies, but need 43 for a simple majority.

ARENA, PCN and PDC often vote together, and they have now 41 deputies.

The remaining seat is being disputed between ARENA, and CD (Democratic Change).   CD typically allies itself with the FMLN.   So the outcome of this seat will determine whether the left gains a majority in the National Assembly, or if the country has a legislature split evenly in half.

The votes which will determine the outcome are from San Salvador department.  For the past week, the parties have been struggling over the scrutiny of tally sheets and ballots to determine the remaining deputy and the balance of power in the legislature.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

35th anniversary of Romero's assassination

Today is the 35th anniversary of the March 24, 1980 assassination of Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero.   The day is being met with marches and commemorations throughout the week and throughout the country as El Salvador looks towards May 23 and the celebration of Romero's beatification by the Roman Catholic church.

The image of Romero is everywhere in El Salvador, from a mural within the international airport which now bears his name, to the walls of houses in remote hamlets in the countryside.   It is evidence of how profound was the impact of this man of God who walked hand-in-hand with the oppressed and the poor in the country.  It was his commitment to justice rooted in faith which put him on the path to martyrdom at the hands of a death squad assassin.

El Faro has published a photo gallery you can view of the varied images of Romero in today's El Salvador.

The photo above is from a collection of personal photos belonging to Romero and now housed at the Museum of Word and Image.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The confession of one of Rutilio Grande's killers

Memorial at the site of the assassination of Rutilio Grande
The online periodical ContraPunto yesterday published an interview with Julio Sánchez, a member of El Salvador's National Guard, who admitted to his participation in the 1977 assassination of Father Rutilio Grande, a Jesuit priest.  Here is an English translation of a short portion of the interview:
What happened on March 12, 1977, when they ambushed the Father Rutilio Grande? 
"There were orders we received directly from the director of the National Guard (General Ramon Alfredo Alvarenga served as director general of the National Guard from 1975 to 1978).  We were selected as eight members of the guard; I was not in charge of the operation.  I think we were six or eight (members of the guard) that were selected to fulfill the mission." 
Did you know who you were going to kill? - I asked him, looking in his eyes for an honest answer, Julio repeatedly moves his hands and head due to Parkinson's disease.  
"We had been instructed to eliminate the priest, because he was a communist, he was raising up the peasants, and spoke ill of the government," he concludes agitated....
How was he ambushed? Where were you waiting? Were you dressed in civilian clothes or uniforms?  
"We were going plainclothes, but a few miles before, elements of the guard elements were uniformed. They informed us that the car was heading toward us, so we waited in the street, and when it appeared we opened fire, opened fire all at the same time from different points in the road.  I saw the car go off to the side and we continued shooting." 
 Read the rest (in Spanish) here.  Sanchez died earlier this year in a hospital in Los Angeles.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

News from El Salvador

There's a lot going on in El Salvador this week.

Oscar Romero beatification - May 23.   The announcement was made in El Salvador that the celebration of Oscar Romero's beatification by the Roman Catholic church will take place on May 23 in Plaza Salvador del Mundo in San Salvador.  The announcement was made by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, postulator of the Óscar Romero beatification cause at a press conference on Wednesday morning, sitting alongside the President of El Salvador, the Archbishop of San Salvador, and the Papal Nuncio to El Salvador.   Get all the details here at the Super Martyrio blog.

Rutilio Grande anniversary.   Today is the 38th anniversary of the martyrdom of Father Rutilio Grande, S.J.  Rutilio Grande was a Jesuit priest working with poor campesinos in the area around El Paisnal, El Salvador. On March 12, 1977, while driving on the road between El Paisnal and Aguilares, unknown assassins killed Father Grande, as well as two of his campesino parishioners, Manuel Solorzano, 72, and Nelson Rutilio Lemus, 16.  Rutilio Grande was a friend of Archbishop Oscar Romero, and this killing is said to have been one of the key events leading Romero to align his ministry with the cause of the poor and oppressed in El Salvador.   With Romero's beatification, and the presence of Archbishop Paglia in El Salvador, the commemoration of Fr. Rutilio's murder took on special significance, as the church announced that Rutilio Grande was also a possible candidate for sainthood.

The final vote count continues.  As of Wednesday, according to the TSE web site, more than 81% of the vote tally sheets had been reviewed in the election for deputies for the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN),   ARENA and the FMLN were in a virtual tie with 40.07% and 39.99% of the votes respectively.   The next closest party was GANA with 8.92%.  

The scrutiny of votes for the National Assembly has commenced, with 12% of the votes counted.  There the early results are also very similar to the PARLACEN totals with the FMLN with 36% and ARENA with 37.2%.   With only 1/8th of those votes counted, you could not predict the distribution of power in the National Assembly, but most media in El Salvador have forecast that neither the FMLN or ARENA will have a majority and will need to make alliances with the smaller parties as has been true over the past decade.

Former El Salvador Minister of Defense to be deported from US.  From the New York Times:

In a decision setting a significant human rights precedent, an immigration appeals court has ruled that a former defense minister of El Salvador, a close ally of Washington during the civil war there in the 1980s, can be deported from the United States because he participated in or concealed torture and murder by his troops. 
The decision, published Wednesday by the Board of Immigration Appeals in the case of the former official, Gen. Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, found that he had a direct role in the abuse and killings of civilians because of his “command responsibility” as the top military officer.
Country on alert for forest fires. At the height of the dry season, the country's civil protection authorities have put the country on orange alert for fire. Some 30 fires had been reported across the country in the past week.  A brush fire on the slopes of the San Salvador volcano continues to devour terrain.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Agricultural policy in El Salvador

A few recent articles on the blogs of NGOs operating in El Salvador illustrate some positives and negatives of agricultural policy in El Salvador.   On the blog of EcoViva appears a story titled Farmer cooperatives, not Monsanto, supply El Salvador with seed, which focuses on the Salvadoran government's decision to source corn seed locally: 
This week, the Ministry of Agriculture released a new round of contracts to provide seed to subsistence farmers nationwide through its Family Agriculture Program. Last year, over 560,000 family farmers across El Salvador planted corn and bean seed as part of the government’s efforts to revitalize small scale agriculture, and ensure food security in the rural marketplace. Drought conditions across the country made access to seed all the more vital for rural livelihoods, making the seed packets supplied through the government program the primary means for thousands of families to put food on the table. 
In 2015, rural cooperatives and national associations will produce nearly 50% of the government’s corn seed supply, with 8% coming from native seed—a record high. In the Lower Lempa, where seven farmer organizations have produced corn seed since 2012, this means over 4,000 jobs and income for rural households, primarily employing women and young adults. The public procurement of seed—or the government’s purchasing power through contracts—signifies over $25 million for a rural economy still struggling to diversify and gain traction. 
The success of locally-bred seed varieties, compounded with their low production costs, allowed the Family Agriculture Program to contribute to historically high yields nationwide for corn and beans. Last year, more farmers produced more corn and beans at the most efficient yield per acreage than any other year over the last decade. This has also led to a significant adjustment in El Salvador’s trade balance on corn: Imports of white corn in 2014 were a full 94% less than 2011. (more).
This program has been part of am emphasis in El Salvador to increase food sovereignty, to sustain small farmers, and to make the country less subject to the vagaries of foreign crop and commodity prices.

At the same time, the government is promoting a very different kind of agriculture, sugar cane production, with the risk of serious adverse consequences.   From an article titled Is Selling Sugar to China Really Such a Sweet Deal for El Salvador? on the Voices on the Border blog:
Salvadoran government officials recently announced a deal to export 52,000 tons of sugar (12% of the country’s annual production) to China in a deal worth $15-20 million to local producers. El Salvador has sold sugar to South Korea, Taiwan, the U.S., Mexico, Canada, Indonesia, and the European Union, but this is the first time exporting to China. 
With Partnership for Growth pressing El Salvador to produce more exports, sugarcane has become a larger part of the country’s economic plan. Already, sugarcane production has created 50,000 direct jobs and 200,000 more indirect jobs. This week Vice President Oscar Ortiz said “This is the key, this is the solution for our country: to diversify our production of exports. We are unable to be alone in a market, we have to be open to a variety of markets and in this direction we have to have the ability to improve our process of commercialization.” 
Exporting $15-20 million of sugar to China and creating 250,000 jobs may sound like a sweet deal, but El Salvador is paying a substantial price. In addition to labor, agrochemicals, machinery, processing, and shipping, there are enormous costs related to the environment, public health, food sovereignty, and local culture. The individuals and corporations profiting from sugarcane exports don’t pay these costs. Instead they pass the debt on to the country’s poor who earn sub-poverty wages, suffer from chronic renal failure and other diseases, live in depleted ecosystems, struggle to feed their families, and are forced to migrate to urban areas. (more)
The article goes on to describe some of the human and environmental costs of sugar cane production on monoculture plantations where workers earn $3.94 /day for 14 hour days in some of the most physically demanding of all agricultural jobs, in fields where there is intensive use of agrochemicals.  Sugar cane, of course, is an industry of large scale agro-businesses, and not a crop of the small scale family farmer.

Until the owners of sugar cane plantations are required to bear the full cost of paying living wages to their workers and remedying environmental damage caused by the intensive agricultural practices, it can't be said that promoting sugar cane exports is a good deal for El Salvador.  

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

#EpicFail or Sabotage?

I think if there were a hashtag to describe the work of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal in El Salvador since Sunday's elections it would be #EpicFail.  Three days after the elections, no results have been announced, and a "final scrutiny" of the vote tally sheets is just beginning.  It might take as long as two weeks before there are results.

From the TICO Times:
 The delays are fueling suspicions and stoking harsh criticism toward the country’s voting authority, the Supreme Electoral Tribune (TSE)... 
El Mundo, one of the country’s morning newspapers, wrote Tuesday in an editorial that the TSE had failed all tests regarding the vote count.  “Chaos…has reached such a level that not even when votes were counted by hand was there as much delay as there is now,” the paper wrote.  The editorial also criticized the electoral authorities for what it said was a lack of communication with the public regarding problems with the vote count.
David Morales, El Salvador’s Human Rights Ombudsman, told the daily La Prensa Gráfica that the situation was “serious” and “regrettable” but discarded the possibility of fraud.  He said the TSE and the company hired to tabulate the votes were jointly responsible for the problems. 
La Prensa Gráfica noted that the TSE carried out two test tallies prior to the election, and that both were failures.
Trying to deflect the mounting criticism, the head of the TSE, Julio Olivo, claimed that there was evidence that the system to divulge preliminary vote results had been sabotaged.  From Reuters:
(Reuters) - Results for El Salvador's bungled legislative and mayoral vote will not be available for another 14 days, the president of the country's electoral authority said on Wednesday, blaming the delay on "sabotage." 
Salvadorans on Sunday voted for 84 new lawmakers and mayors who will be in office for the next four years. But three days after the election, there are still no results. 
"There was sabotage in the transmission of electronic votes and we are going to present it in court and lots of people will be fired," the president of the electoral authority, Julio Olivo, said at a news conference, adding that he would provide more details on Thursday. 
Despite the problems, Sunday's election was deemed transparent by international observers, and there have been no accusations of political fraud.
Despite the problems at the TSE, the political parties were able to use their own copies of the vote tally sheets to determine most of the winners of elections for mayor.   ARENA holds the greatest number of mayor's offices, followed by the FMLN with the smaller parties far behind.   Interestingly, both ARENA and FMLN had net losses of municipalities compared to their totals in 2012.

El Faro has this graphic showing the distribution of power at the municipal level:

Monday, March 02, 2015

El Salvador's elections -- what we know now

Here is a round up of what we know about the results of Sunday's elections in El Salvador for mayors and legislators:

The official computer system of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) for compiling and disseminating preliminary results completely broke down.  The TSE has announced that it is giving up on the process of even having preliminary results.   The process of the final scrutiny of some 31,000 vote tally sheets (actas) will begin Tuesday afternoon in San Salvador.   That process could reportedly take two weeks.

Although the TSE has not published any results, the major political parties, through their networks of vigilantes and poll workers at every polling table, have their own vote tallies.   Based on those tallies, we know who won the race for mayor in several cities after the losers conceded.

The biggest prize was the capital San Salvador which was captured, as expected, by the FMLN's Nayib Bukele, the current mayor of Nuevo Cuscatlan.   ARENA and its candidate Edwin Zamora graciously conceded on Monday evening.   Bukele's vote total may have been much closer than most of the recent polls were predicting, however.

In Santa Tecla, the upcoming beatification of Oscar Romero was not enough to prevent the son of the man who ordered Romero's assassination from becoming mayor.   Roberto D'Aubuisson, Jr. won Santa Tecla for ARENA after years of rule by the FMLN.

Another city which changed hands was San Miguel in the east of the country.   Long time mayor Will Salgado of GANA lost to Miguel Pereira of the FMLN.

There is much less information about the deputies in the National Assembly and even less about deputies to PARLACEN.   Sources from the FMLN and ARENA each claimed their party had won 36 spots in the 84 seat National Assembly, but I think it is too early to put much faith in such numbers yet.

The real heroes were the more than 100,000 poll workers on Sunday who arrived at their tasks at 5 in the morning and had to work into the wee hours of the next morning counting ballots.   Their hard work will produce election results which are trustworthy and transparent in El Salvador.  We may just have to wait several days to learn what all those results are.

Nayib Bukele claims victory as mayor of San Salvador

Government unable to produce preliminary election results in El Salvador

Salvadorans are waking up this morning to find there are not yet any election results.   The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) finally announced at 2 in the morning, that a computer system for tabulating the results from each individual voting table had failed to work.   The TSE urged parties not to proclaim themselves the winners, although certain candidates did so anyways.  The TSE indicated that it would be uploading images of the vote tallies from each voting center onto the web, and that a final vote count would commence on Tuesday.

The new voting process created lengthy delays in counting the votes during the night.   The number of candidates, cross-party voting and the ability to choose individual candidates rather than parties meant there was a lot to count, and vote counters who had never had to count votes in quite this fashion before.  The TSE indicated it had received approximately 135,000 out of 277,000 vote tallies (actas) by 2AM.   It was not immediately clear what percentage of the voting centers had actually counted all their votes by early Monday morning.

Election day generally developed in a peaceful and orderly fashion as has been typical for elections in El Salvador in recent years. The elections lived up to their billing as the "fiesta civica" of the country. There were some arrests for election fraud. El Salvador's Human Rights Ombudsman (PDDH), whose office had deployed 600 observers across the country, said the elections had been clean, transparent, and tranquil. A member of a United Nations delegation said El Salvador should be proud of its electoral system.

With the FMLN in control of the executive branch in the country, the election determines how difficult it will be for President Salvador Sanchez Ceren and the FMLN to advance their agenda.   The newly elected legislature will be responsible for selecting one third of the judges on the country's Supreme Court and for selecting a new attorney general.   

Turnout was similar to the turnout in the 2012 elections when mayors and deputies were last elected, but slightly down from the presidential elections in 2014.

One group which was not heard from in the vote total was the community of Salvadorans living outside of the country.    Since they don't live in a municipality or a department, they did not get a vote for mayors or the deputies who are elected on a departmental basis.

There did not appear to be any gang-related activity aimed at the elections.

See a photo gallery of images from Sunday's elections from ContraPunto at this link.

1:15 PM Monday update -- still no official results.  Will Salgado concedes defeat in mayor's race in San Miguel to FMLN candidate.   Roberto D'Aubuisson, Jr. wins in Santa Tecla.