Inter Press ServiceEdgardo Ayala – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sun, 19 Nov 2017 14:50:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.3 Victims of El Salvador’s Civil War Demand Reparationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/victims-el-salvadors-civil-war-demand-reparations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=victims-el-salvadors-civil-war-demand-reparations http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/victims-el-salvadors-civil-war-demand-reparations/#comments Thu, 09 Nov 2017 00:55:47 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152949 Among the sea of names of victims of the Salvadoran civil war, engraved on a long black granite wall, Matilde Asencio managed to find the name of her son, Salvador. She then placed a flower and a lit candle at the foot of the segment of the wall where it read: “‘disappeared’ persons 1988”. Asencio, […]

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The coffins of six children killed by the Salvadoran army in May 1982 are carried through the cemetery by relatives, human rights activists and residents of the town of Arcatao, in El Salvador, on Sept 27, 2017. They had been missing for 35 years and their remains were found in January. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The coffins of six children killed by the Salvadoran army in May 1982 are carried through the cemetery by relatives, human rights activists and residents of the town of Arcatao, in El Salvador, on Sept 27, 2017. They had been missing for 35 years and their remains were found in January. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR/ARCATAO, Nov 9 2017 (IPS)

Among the sea of names of victims of the Salvadoran civil war, engraved on a long black granite wall, Matilde Asencio managed to find the name of her son, Salvador.

She then placed a flower and a lit candle at the foot of the segment of the wall where it read: “‘disappeared’ persons 1988”.

Asencio, 78, arrived with her husband, Macario Miranda, 87, to the Monument to Memory and Truth in San Salvador, on Nov. 1, the eve of the Day of the Dead, to pay tribute to their son Salvador Arévalo Miranda, who was captured and “disappeared” by the Salvadoran army in August 1988.

“We have been in this struggle for almost 30 years, we are old and sick, but we will not tire, we will not stop until they tell us what they did with him,” Asencio told IPS, holding a portrait of her son."Apart from the sorrow, I also feel happy that my little boy is no longer abandoned where he had been left, and that has helped me to heal wounds that were very much open." -- Calixta Melgar

The 1980-1992 civil war in this Central American country of 6.8 million people left some 75,000 people dead and 8,000 missing.

Like Asencio and Miranda, dozens of relatives visited the monument in downtown San Salvador to at least be able to place a flower in memory of their deceased and “disappeared” loved ones.

But they also went to demand justice and truth as part of a process of reparation, 25 years after the peace deal was signed.

Groups of victims, supported by human rights organisations, are promoting the creation of a Law for Comprehensive Reparations for Victims of the Armed Conflict, because the State has failed to remedy the wrongs caused, both material and emotional.

“The idea is that the civilians who suffered the war, no matter from which side, can receive reparations,” activist Sofía Hernández from the “Marianela García Villas” Committee of Relatives of Victims of Human Rights Violations told IPS.

The project proposes the creation of a Reparations Fund, a registry of victims and various measures for symbolic and material reparations.

Among these are that the beneficiaries and their descendants have preferential access to the public education system, at every level up to tertiary education, access to the social security healthcare system, and access to a free psychosocial care programme.

Also, if approved, it would grant benefits for obtaining land, housing and preferential credits, and it proposes the creation of a Bank of Genetic Profiles, in order to identify the deceased, and with that information, to be able to initiate exhumation processes.

It also proposes the creation of an initial fund from the General Budget of the Nation, of up to one million dollars, to meet the financial implications of the law.

“These people had their houses burnt down, their children were ‘disappeared’, and there have been no reparations,” said Hernández, who has suffered first-hand the ravages of war.

In March 1980, a contingent of the National Guard entered the village of San Pedro Aguascalientes, in the municipality of Verapaz in the central department of San Vicente, where she lived with her family.

“My brother-in-law was yoking oxen to go to fetch water in the cart and he was shot, along with two of my nephews, they were killed in the yard of their house,” said Hernández, also a member of the project management group.

The house of her brother Juan Francisco Hernández was set on fire, but neither he nor his family were there. But then, on May 2, he was captured and has been missing since, along with two of her nephews.

The bill has not yet been debated in the single-chamber Legislative Assembly, and right-wing parties are not likely to vote for it as they consider the initiative part of a leftist agenda.

Insufficient progress

The search for truth and justice in cases of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions is another important component of the reparations process, said the victims who spoke to IPS.

After more than three decades of not knowing the whereabouts of her son, José Mauricio Menjívar, or whether he was dead or alive, Calixta Melgar was finally able to give him a Christian burial on Sept. 22, in the municipality of Arcatao in the northern department of Chalatenango.

“Now I know where he is buried, where to go to put a flower, I feel that my grief has been relieved a bit,” Melgar told IPS, through tears.

José Mauricio, who was five years old in May 1982, was killed by soldiers in the village of El Sitio, and his body was left abandoned, along with those of five other children who suffered the same fate.

In the confusion and chaos that followed a military incursion into the area on that date, the children, three boys and three girls, were held by the military and executed in cold blood.

The remains remained buried there until January 2017, when the National Search Commission for Missing Children during the Internal Armed Conflict and the non-governmental Pro-Búsqueda Association for the Search of Disappeared Children found them and identified the victims using DNA.

For the latter, they had the support of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team and the state Salvadoran Forensic Medicine Institute.

“Apart from the sorrow, I also feel happy that my little boy is no longer abandoned where he had been left, and that has helped me to heal wounds that were very much open,” said the 57-year-old Melgar, before the funeral service in the village church.

During the Catholic religious ceremony, the six small white coffins holding the remains of the children were placed in front of the main altar.

Pro-Búsqueda has managed to solve 437 cases of missing children, 83 percent of whom have been found alive, the institution’s executive director Eduardo García told IPS.

This joint and coordinated work between Pro-Búsqueda and a government agency to solve cases of children who went missing in the war was unthinkable not too many years ago.

In this regard, García said that there has been a slight change in addressing the issue of truth, justice and reparation under the two successive governments of the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), which became a political party after the peace agreement and has been in power since 2009.

“It is evident that the government is showing greater sensitivity; it has initiated processes of forgiveness and continues to maintain a National Search Commission by executive decree,” he said.

But he said more could have been done, for example, allowing access to military archives to help clarify serious human rights abuses committed during the war.

“The Armed Forces has systematically denied information that could clarify these facts, although the Commander in Chief (President Salvador Sánchez Cerén) is leftist,” he said.

Until now, only the Office of the Attorney General of the Republic has begun to timidly investigate some of the cases, arguing that it has neither the capacity nor the budget, while the Legislative Assembly does not even want to recognise Aug. 30 as the National Day of Disappeared Persons.

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Rainwater Harvesting Improves Lives in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/rainwater-harvesting-improves-lives-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rainwater-harvesting-improves-lives-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/rainwater-harvesting-improves-lives-el-salvador/#respond Wed, 04 Oct 2017 17:33:52 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152354 Filling a jug with water to supply her household needs used to be an ordeal for Salvadoran villager Corina Canjura, because it meant walking several kilometers to the river, which took up a great deal of time, or else paying for water. But an innovative project of rainwater harvesting has changed her life. “Now we […]

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Corina Canjura loads a jug of water that she has just filled, thanks to a system of rainwater collection located on the ground next to her house, which also supplies another 12 families in the village of Los Corvera in the municipality of Tepetitán, in the central Salvadoran department of San Vicente. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

Corina Canjura loads a jug of water that she has just filled, thanks to a system of rainwater collection located on the ground next to her house, which also supplies another 12 families in the village of Los Corvera in the municipality of Tepetitán, in the central Salvadoran department of San Vicente. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
TEPETITÁN, El Salvador, Oct 4 2017 (IPS)

Filling a jug with water to supply her household needs used to be an ordeal for Salvadoran villager Corina Canjura, because it meant walking several kilometers to the river, which took up a great deal of time, or else paying for water.

But an innovative project of rainwater harvesting has changed her life.

“Now we just pump, fill the tank and we have water ready to use,” said the 30-year-old woman from the village of Los Corvera, in the rural municipality of Tepetitán, in El Salvador’s central department of San Vicente.

In this village, 13 families benefit from a system that collects the rainwater that falls on the roof of Canjura’s house, which is then channeled through a pipe into a huge polyethylene bag, with a capacity of 25,000 liters.

From there, it is manually pumped into a tank with a faucet used by all of the families.

“Since it has rained a lot, the bag is always full, which is a joy for us,” Canjura told IPS, while carrying a jug on her head which she had just filled."We are the ones who do the housework and have to go looking for water... we are the ones who worry and suffer to find it for our families." -- Lorena Ramirez

The initiative, launched in February 2017, is being promoted by the Global Water Partnership (GWP), which, together with Australian aid and the Ford Foundation, have provided funds to get it going, while local organisations and governments have given operational support.

The system´s technology was developed by the consortium Mexichem Amanco, which entered into the market of polyethylene membranes used as waterproof barriers in civil engineering works, sanitary landfills, and artificial lagoons for aquaculture, among other uses.

In 2013, GWP Central America had already promoted a water harvesting project in southern Honduras in communities suffering from drought, and this project is being replicated in El Salvador’s Jiboa Valley.

In this small country of 6.4 million people, eight rainwater harvesting systems have been installed so far in seven municipalities in the Jiboa valley in San Vicente. There is one in each municipality, except for Jerusalen, located in the department of La Paz, where two systems have been installed.

Of the 323 families identified as having problems of access to water in rural communities in these municipalities, 100 are benefiting directly from the project, conceived of as a pilot plan that would offer lessons for its expansion to other areas.

Participation by local women has been vital to the implementation of the project, taking advantage of the fact that they already have a strong presence in the communities through the Network of Women Entrepreneurs of the Jiboa Valley.

“We are the ones who do the housework and have to go looking for water… we are the ones who worry and suffer to find it for our families,” said 43-year-old Lorena Ramirez.

Ramirez shared her experience with IPS during a meeting on the country’s water situation, held on Sept. 21 in San Vicente, the capital of the department.

Women from rural communities in the Jiboa Valley debate at a forum in San Vicente, in central El Salvador, about the impact of water scarcity in that ecoregion. They are the main drivers of the installation in their villages of a system of rainwater harvesting, which has improved the living conditions of the participating families. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

Women from rural communities in the Jiboa Valley debate at a forum in San Vicente, in central El Salvador, about the impact of water scarcity in that ecoregion. They are the main drivers of the installation in their villages of a system of rainwater harvesting, which has improved the living conditions of the participating families. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

She is originally from Hacienda Nuevo Oriente, a village of 400 people, located in the jurisdiction of Verapaz, also in the department of San Vicente. There, another 15 families are benefiting from the harvesting of rainwater.

Ramírez, a homemaker who has a kitchen garden, added that, before the arrival of the project, the families of the village had to look for water in the ravines to wash clothes and for other necessities.

The water they used to drink was fetched from a spring located a kilometer away, but they had to get up very early, otherwise it would be empty. “We drank from that spring,” she said.

During the May to October rainy season there is no problem keeping the polyethylene bag full, Ramirez said. But during the dry season, they will have to establish a mechanism for using the resource wisely.

It is estimated that the 25,000 liters stored in the bag are equivalent to five tanker trucks, and can supply a family for 15 days to one month, depending on the use, although each system installed in El Salvador is intended for 15 families.

“We can’t say this completely meets the needs of those 15 families; this is for filling a couple of jugs for drinking water and to use for basic things,” she stressed.

And when the water runs out in the summer, the participating municipalities have committed to sending tanker trucks and keep the bags filled, so there will always be water.

The basic idea is that the harvested water is exclusively for drinking, so the families involved in the program have received a filter to make it potable.

The University of El Salvador will provide equipment and scientific personnel to measure the quality of the water that has been purified, said Marta Alfaro, mayor of Jerusalen, one of the municipalities participating in the programme.

One of these systems is currently being installed in the Jerusalen neighborhood of El Progreso, and another in the village of Veracruz.

“We want to keep installing more systems, it’s not so costly, but the thing is that this year it was not included in the budget,” Alfaro told IPS.

For the next year her administration will include in the budget the installation of 10 systems in 10 other communities.

Each system costs around 1,400 dollars, Vilma Chanta, a researcher in territorial development for the non-governmental National Development Foundation, told IPS.

The plan to harvest rainwater is “a short-term solution for rural communities, instead of installing water pipes connected to the national grid or other mechanisms, which would be for the medium and long term,” added Chanta, who is also a volunteer at the Water Youth Network, an independent space promoted by GWP Central America.

And with the already visible climate change effects, this effort “has the potential to be an alternative for the adaptation to climate change impacts,” she said.

Jorge García, of the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources’ Water Fund, told IPS that one of the main goals of the water plan is to store water in large reservoirs, to address the problem of scarcity.

The plan would cost about 1.2 billion dollars, he said.

“This pilot project in the Jiboa Valley will set a precedent that can be replicated,” he said.

And while the water collected is primarily for drinking, Lorena Ramírez, from Hacienda Nueva Oriente, said that because in the rainy season the bag fills up quickly and must be drained, she plans to capture that surplus in a small well and use it in her garden.

“That way I use it to cover our main needs and irrigate my milpa (traditional corn crop) and my crops of beans, tomatoes and green beans, and without affecting the other 14 families,” she concluded.

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Latin America in Search of Sustainable Food Systemshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/latin-america-search-sustainable-food-systems/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-search-sustainable-food-systems http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/latin-america-search-sustainable-food-systems/#respond Mon, 11 Sep 2017 20:42:42 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152021 A paradigm shift is needed regarding how food is produced, consumed and marketed in Latin America and the Caribbean, in order to curb health problems related to poor nutrition. Finding healthy and sustainable food production systems was the idea debated by experts, academics and representatives of governments of the region and United Nations agencies, at […]

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Students at the Pepenance Canton School, in the municipality of Atiquizaya, in western El Salvador, wait for lunch to be prepared with local recipes and products purchased from farmers in the surrounding community, as part of the Sustainable Schools project’s healthy meals programme. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Students at the Pepenance Canton School, in the municipality of Atiquizaya, in western El Salvador, wait for lunch to be prepared with local recipes and products purchased from farmers in the surrounding community, as part of the Sustainable Schools project’s healthy meals programme. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR/ATIQUIZAYA, El Salvador , Sep 11 2017 (IPS)

A paradigm shift is needed regarding how food is produced, consumed and marketed in Latin America and the Caribbean, in order to curb health problems related to poor nutrition.

Finding healthy and sustainable food production systems was the idea debated by experts, academics and representatives of governments of the region and United Nations agencies, at a regional forum held Sept. 5-7 in San Salvador.

The challenge is overwhelming: to fight against not just hunger and malnutrition, but also overweight and obesity in Latin America and the Caribbean, which are on the rise in this region of over 640 million people.“It is necessary to buy from family farmers, because that produces changes in the local economy and empowers the communities." -- Najla Veloso

The three-day Regional Symposium on Sustainable Food Systems for Healthy Eating in San Salvador was organised by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

“This space is an opportunity to share experiences, because we are working hard to have standards, as a challenge for society as a whole: urbanism, a sedentary lifestyle, changes in eating habits, over-processed fast foods, end up being a threat,” said Carlos Garzón, PAHO representative in El Salvador.

In 2012, 38 million people died from non-communicable diseases, 48 percent of them under 70 – “people who shouldn’t have died,” he said.

“And a good part of these diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension, are linked to overweight and obesity, and thus, related to diet,” he stressed.

For his part, Julio Berdegué, FAO regional representative for Latin America and the Caribbean, said this part of the world is losing the fight against hunger and overweight.

He said this region had had an important leadership role at a global level, with comprehensive public policies to tackle hunger, and had managed to lift 26 million people from a state of food insecurity since 1990.

“But for the last five years we have not been making the progress we had been making. I regret to have to announce that the data that FAO will publish next week will confirm that, for the first time in a generation, the world, including our region, are experiencing a setback in the fight against hunger,” he said during the forum.

And with regard to obesity, he said that in 24 countries in the region, 20 percent or more of the population is overweight.

In Chile, Mexico and the Bahamas the proportion is over 30 percent, while in Uruguay, Argentina and Trinidad and Tobago it is nearly 29 percent.

According to FAO, obesity is eroding the development opportunities of nearly four million children in Latin America and the Caribbean. In Brazil and Paraguay, 12 percent of children are overweight, in Chile, Bolivia and Mexico the proportion is nine percent, and in El Salvador, six percent.

Some of the participants in the forum visited the village of Pepenance, in the municipality of Atiquizaya, 83 kilometers west of San Salvador, to learn about the effort made since 2013 by the local school to promote the Sustainable Schools programme.

This project is part of the Sustainable School Feeding Program of El Salvador’s Education Ministry.

FAO regional representative for Latin America and the Caribbean, Julio Berdegué (right), and other visitors listen to two students at the school in Pepenance, a village in El Salvador, as they talk about their school vegetable garden. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

FAO regional representative for Latin America and the Caribbean, Julio Berdegué (right), and other visitors listen to two students at the school in Pepenance, a village in El Salvador, as they talk about their school vegetable garden. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

In the programme, students learn to produce food in the school garden, and eat a nutritional daily meal based on vegetables and other natural products purchased from local family farmers.

The Sustainable Schools initiative, supported by FAO and financially backed by Brazil, is implemented in 10 of El Salvador’s 14 departments, and covers 40 of the 262 municipalities and 215 of the over 3,000 schools located in rural areas. It benefits a total of 73,000 students.

Principals from a dozen other schools in the municipality visited the school in Pepenance, along with local farmers and others involved in the project, to stress that the effort must be sustained and expanded.

Ana Fajardo, head teacher at the Parvularia Cordelia Ávalos Vda. de Labor School, explained that some students used to miss class because they were malnourished, before the local schools in this Central American country of 6.4 million people began to serve nutritional meals.

But things have changed since the school joined the programme, she said. Now they eat healthy meals at school, based on cereals, grains, fruits, vegetables and sources of protein.

Ninth grade student Yajaira Ortiz said the school garden not only helps them learn to grow food, but is also useful in subjects like math.

“The gardens make our class more interesting, we get out of the classroom and see that we have many geometric figures there too,” she said. In the gardens, the crops are planted in geometric shapes, like triangles and circles.

Exploring experiences like El Salvador’s school meals programme and similar initiatives in other countries was part of the debate in the forum held in the Salvadoran capital.

“This is the concrete, real face of the debate in the San Salvador symposium,” Berdegué told IPS. “We are discussing big ideas there, public policies, but when we talk about healthy, sustainable systems, we’re referring to programmes like this one.”

El Salvador is among the group of 13 countries from this region that since 2009 have formed part of an initiative sponsored by FAO and the Brazilian government, aimed at expanding the programme of sustainable schools, adapting what Brazil has achieved through its national school feeding programme.

The FAO regional coordinator for the Strengthening of School Feeding Programmes in Latin America and the Caribbean project, Brazilian expert Najla Veloso, underscored that it is important to get local farmers involved, because this strengthens the social and economic fabric of the communities.

Veloso explained to IPS that in Brazil, 30 percent of the food served daily to 42 million students comes, by law, from local producers.

“It is necessary to buy from family farmers, because that produces changes in the local economy and empowers the communities,” she said.

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Geothermal – a Key Source of Clean Energy in Central Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/geothermal-key-source-clean-energy-central-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=geothermal-key-source-clean-energy-central-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/geothermal-key-source-clean-energy-central-america/#respond Sat, 26 Aug 2017 12:44:37 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151797 Energy from the depths of the earth – geothermal – is destined to fuel renewable power generation in Central America, a region with great potential in this field. “Volcanoes have always been a menace to humanity but now in El Salvador they are a resource to generate clean, renewable and cheap energy. Now they represent […]

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Governments Support Trump’s Aim to Block Central American Migrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/governments-support-trumps-aim-block-central-american-migrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=governments-support-trumps-aim-block-central-american-migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/governments-support-trumps-aim-block-central-american-migrants/#respond Mon, 03 Jul 2017 07:01:58 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151112 Trying to make it into the United States as an undocumented migrant is not such an attractive option anymore for Moris Peña, a Salvadoran who was deported from that country in 2014. “The situation in the United States is getting more and more difficult,” the 39-year-old construction worker from Chalchuapa, a city in the west […]

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Survivors of the El Mozote Massacre Have New Hopes for Justice in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/survivors-of-the-el-mozote-massacre-have-new-hopes-for-justice-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=survivors-of-the-el-mozote-massacre-have-new-hopes-for-justice-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/survivors-of-the-el-mozote-massacre-have-new-hopes-for-justice-in-el-salvador/#respond Tue, 23 May 2017 21:32:13 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150557 Except for a house with its walls riddled with holes made by bursts of machine gun fire, nobody would say that the quiet Salvadoran village of El Mozote was the scene of one of the worst massacres in Latin America, just 35 years ago. “Many of us who live here are descendants of those who […]

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Sofia Romero Pineda, 55, and her grandson hold the few portraits she preserves of some of her family members killed during the military operation which slaughtered some 1,000 inhabitants of El Mozote and neighboring villages in eastern El Salvador. The portraits are of Simeona Vigil, her grandmother; Florentina Pereria, her mother; and Maria Nelly Romero, her sister. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Sofia Romero Pineda, 55, and her grandson hold the few portraits she preserves of some of her family members killed during the military operation which slaughtered some 1,000 inhabitants of El Mozote and neighboring villages in eastern El Salvador. The portraits are of Simeona Vigil, her grandmother; Florentina Pereria, her mother; and Maria Nelly Romero, her sister. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
EL MOZOTE, El Salvador, May 23 2017 (IPS)

Except for a house with its walls riddled with holes made by bursts of machine gun fire, nobody would say that the quiet Salvadoran village of El Mozote was the scene of one of the worst massacres in Latin America, just 35 years ago.

“Many of us who live here are descendants of those who managed to survive the massacre,” 21-year-old university student Nancy García, who is from this village of about 700 people in the rural municipality of Meanguera, in the eastern department of Morazán, told IPS.

Shelved since 1993 in the Salvadoran justice system, the case known as the El Mozote Massacre was reopened in September 2016, providing a historic opportunity to try soldiers and officers accused of killing more than 1,000 inhabitants of this village and neighbouring hamlets.

The reopening of the case was made possible by a July 2016 Supreme Court ruling that declared unconstitutional the 1993 Amnesty Law which prevented the prosecution of those accused of serious human rights violations during the 1980-1992 Salvadoran armed conflict.“I cried when I saw the officers sitting there. I imagined them organising the operation and murdering my family, my parents, my 11-year-old little brother, Adolfo Arturo, my pregnant sister.” -- María Dorila Márquez

One of the survivors of the massacre was 79-year-old Juan Antonio Pereira, who was 35 when the military raided Los Toriles, a hamlet near El Mozote. He remembers the four days of terror, from Dec. 10-13, 1981.

From his hiding place behind some bushes, he said he watched the soldiers order people from their homes at gunpoint, including members of his family, and line them up to shoot them.

“You can’t imagine how sad it is to see your family being killed,” the peasant farmer told IPS. He watched his 35-year-old wife, Natalia Guevara, and their two children – José Mario, 10, and Rosa Cándida, 14 – as they were shot to death.

Investigations to clarify the events were launched in 1990, but the case was amnestied in 1993.

Now, the lawyers from the María Julia Hernández Legal Protection organisation and the Centre for Justice and International Law (Cejil), as well as local residents belonging to the El Mozote Association for the Defence of Human Rights, are working together to find those responsible for the massacre and bring them to justice.

Legal Protection tried to reopen the case in 2006, but the initiative was rejected because the Amnesty Law was still in force.

“This is not about vengeance, or about going against the armed forces, but against some elements that were involved in serious human rights violations. What we want is for this not to remain unpunished,” lawyer Wilfredo Medrano, from Legal Protection, told IPS.

On Mar. 29, a court in San Francisco Gotera, the capital of the department of Morazán, held a hearing to notify seven high-ranking army officers implicated in the massacre of the charges against them, which include murder, rape, deprivation of liberty and acts of terrorism.

Among those officials were Generals Guillermo García, a former minister of defence (1979-1983), and Rafael Flores Lima, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The investigation will be based on much of the documentary and testimonial evidence already collected when the case was first filed in 1990.

According to the testimonies of the survivors of the El Mozote Massacre in El Salvador, government troops locked women and children in this now rebuilt small church and murdered them in cold blood. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

According to the testimonies of the survivors of the El Mozote Massacre in El Salvador, government troops locked women and children in this now rebuilt small church and murdered them in cold blood. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

“I cried when I saw the officers sitting there. I imagined them organising the operation and murdering my family, my parents, my 11-year-old little brother, Adolfo Arturo, my pregnant sister,” 60-year-old María Dorila Márquez, president of the El Mozote Association for the Defence of Human Rights, who was 25 at the time of the massacre, told IPS.

Márquez estimates that 100 of her relatives were murdered.

The military leadership considered the local population collaborators of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) guerrillas – a claim that is denied by the survivors and family members of the victims.

After the 1992 peace deal that put an end to the war, the FMLN became a political party. It has governed the country since 2009, having won two consecutive presidential elections.

On May 6, the same court notified three other officers, who had not been present at the previous hearing, of the charges against them.

“I feel terrible when I talk about this, I remember my murdered father, I have so much anger… If I were closer to those soldiers I would kick them,” said Santos Jacobo Chicas, 40, a native of the village of Cerro Pando, interviewed by IPS at the end of the hearing.

He and other relatives of several victims attended the court proceedings.

“Whoever gave the orders should pay, should go to prison,” he said.

He recalled how the soldiers of the Atlacatl rapid response battalion, an elite force trained by the United States military, killed his cousin’s two-day-old baby boy.

“They set him on fire,“ he said. It is estimated that more than 400 children were slaughtered during the operation.

For her part, Sofía Romero Pereira, 55, who was 19 in 1981, said that at least 35 relatives of hers were killed, including her father and four of her eight brothers and sisters.

She survived because her father, Daniel Romero, managed to get her and three other sons and daughters out of the village, before the troops entered El Mozote, taking them to the town of San Miguel, in a neighboring department.

But when he returned to get the rest of the family, he was caught in the middle of the military raid and was not able to rescue the rest: Ana María, 16; Jesús, 14; María Nelly, 11; and Elmer, just one year old. Ana María was taken to a nearby hill, where she was raped and later murdered, Romero said.

“They should at least admit that they did it, they should apologise, I would forgive them…what good is prison?” she said.

The lawyers from Legal Protection have also requested reopening the case of Óscar Arnulfo Romero, archbishop of San Salvador, who was assassinated on March 24, 1980, while giving mass in the country´s capital.

Meanwhile, the Movement of Victims of Terrorism in El Salvador has asked the Attorney General’s Office to reopen cases of crimes attributed to the guerrillas during the armed conflict.

These include the killings of three US Marines, allegedly executed when their helicopter was shot down by the guerrillas in 1991, while flying over the municipality of Lolotique in the eastern department of San Miguel.

Other cases involve four more Marines, who were shot in a restaurant in San Salvador in 1985, as well as the murders of mayors and other public officials, and of children killed by land-mines placed by the insurgents.

If the petition is accepted, criminal charges would be brought against members of the former guerrilla leadership and officials of the current government, including Salvadoran President Salvador Sánchez Cerén.
“Generally those who demand justice are leftist victims … and we are the voice of the victims of the war that have been forgotten, not only from the right, but also all of those who have been forgotten,” Fernán Álvarez, a lawyer for the Movement of Victims of Terrorism, told IPS.

The 12-year war in this Central American country, with a current population of 6.3 million people, left about 70,000 dead and 8,000 missing.

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El Salvador Passes Pathbreaking Law Banning Metal Mininghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/el-salvador-passes-pathbreaking-law-banning-metal-mining/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=el-salvador-passes-pathbreaking-law-banning-metal-mining http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/el-salvador-passes-pathbreaking-law-banning-metal-mining/#comments Mon, 03 Apr 2017 23:04:26 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149791 El Salvador, Central America’s smallest country, has become the first country in the world to pass a law banning metal mining in all its forms, setting a precedent for other nations in the world to follow, according to activists and local residents. “This is historic; we are sending a signal to the world that countries […]

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César Augusto Jaco, a member of an environmental community network, takes part in one of the demonstrations in support of the new law that bans metal mining in El Salvador, on March 29, in front of parliament. The measure, the first of its kind in the world, responds to a lengthy struggle by environmentalists and local communities. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

César Augusto Jaco, a member of an environmental community network, takes part in one of the demonstrations in support of the new law that bans metal mining in El Salvador, on March 29, in front of parliament. The measure, the first of its kind in the world, responds to a lengthy struggle by environmentalists and local communities. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Apr 3 2017 (IPS)

El Salvador, Central America’s smallest country, has become the first country in the world to pass a law banning metal mining in all its forms, setting a precedent for other nations in the world to follow, according to activists and local residents.

“This is historic; we are sending a signal to the world that countries can take a different path and say ‘no’ to the mining industry,” Edgardo Mira, an environmental activist with the National Council Against Metal Mining, an umbrella group of local organisations, told IPS.

With 69 votes out of 84, the members of the single-chamber Legislative Assembly passed on March 29 the landmark law, whose 11 articles amount to a blanket ban on mining, whether underground or surface.

Dozens of jubilant activists gathered early that day outside parliament to demand the approval by the plenary session of the ban agreed the day before by the legislature’s Environment and Climate Change Committee.““This is historic; we are sending a signal to the world that countries can take a different path and say ‘no’ to the mining industry.” -- Edgardo Mira

“I have visited the old mines which were active last century, where you can clearly see the impacts, such as acid drainage in the rivers, which would happen in the rest of the country,” retiree César Augusto Jaco, from the populous neighborhood of Cuscatancingo in the capital, told IPS.

Holding a sign with a yellow background and an image of a skull in black, the 76-year-old member of the Network of Community Environmentalists of El Salvador, said outside parliament: “Mining is disastrous, there’s no way it’s not going to damage our water sources.”

The risk of damaging the country’s groundwater reserves has been one of the main reasons driving the struggle of activists against the extractive industry, which uses millions of litres of water to obtain gold.

El Salvador is one of the most environmentally vulnerable countries, according to international agencies.

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, the Latin American Water Tribunal, the International Water Association and the Global Water Partnership (GWP) concur that the country is heading toward a situation of water stress, researcher, José Simeón Cañas Central American University (UCA) researcher Andrés McKinley told IPS.

The law also prohibits the use of cyanide, mercury and other elements used in mining But it offers a two-year grace period to small-scale miners, so they can find another source of income.

Mira, from the National Council, estimated the number of artisanal miners at about 300, mostly in the San Sebastián mine in Santa Rosa de Lima, in the eastern department of La Unión.

Because the law is retroactive, it blocks all pending exploration permits.

The 2015 report “The Threat of Metal Mining in a Thirsty World,” written by McKinley and published by the UCA, documents the cases of countries where the activity has been restricted, but not banned outright.

Costa Rica, the report notes, passed a law in 2012 that banned open pit metal mining, while still allowing underground mining.

In 2002, the government of the province of Oriental Mindoro, in the Philippines, passed a 35-year moratorium on mining projects, and in 2011, the province of Zamboanga did the same with open-pit mining.

In 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) vetoed the Pebble mine in the state of Alaska, to protect the largest habitat in the world of red or sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka).

Earlier, in 1989, the then president of Venezuela, Carlos Andrés Pérez, imposed a 50-year moratorium on all mining activity in the southern state of Amazonas. But that did not stop the expansion of illegal mining in that jungle region, while the current government reverted the measure de facto, allowing mining activity in the area.

“El Salvador is the first country in the world to evaluate the costs and benefits of the mining industry for the country and to exercise its right to say no,” McKinley told IPS.

The approval of the law was a product of many factors that combined to convince lawmakers to finally respond to the longstanding call from activists and local communities for a ban.

Among them, the pressure from environmentalist organisations that have struggled to that end for over a decade, and from the Catholic Church, which endorsed the popular demand.

On March 9, San Salvador’s archbishop, Luis Escobar Alas, led a march against metal mining to parliament, where they handed over a bill drawn up by the UCA, which formed the basis of the law that was finally adopted.

“The Catholic Church has enormous power in El Salvador, and its support for the struggle by local communities did not start this year, but in 2007, when it took a stance, at the Episcopal Conference, with its document Let’s Take Care of Everyone’s Home,” said McKinley.

The law is the culmination of years of struggle by environmental organisations and community leaders against, above all, the El Dorado mine in the central department of Cabañas, operated by the Pacific Rim company, now OceanaGold since it was acquired in 2013 by the Australian-Canadian corporation.

The company sued El Salvador for 250 million dollars in the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), after the rightwing Salvadoran government of the time cancelled its exploration permit in 2008.

The two successive governments of the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front have maintained this de facto moratorium since 2009.

In October 2016, ICSID ruled in favour of El Salvador, and ordered the company to pay eight million dollars in legal expenses, which it has failed to do.

And in a new setback, the body ruled on March 28 that the corporation must also pay interest on the debt, at a monthly rate between two and five per cent, on back payments dating to October.

These rulings also contributed to generating a climate conducive to approval of the ban.

“We are celebrating the triumph of our struggle, and our celebration continues out there in the communities where the people have been fighting,” Rina Navarrete, the coordinator of the Friends of San Isidro Cabañas Association, told IPS.i

She added that the accomplishment was a vindication of the work by “the fallen martyrs in this struggle against the mining corporation” – a reference to Ramiro Rivera, Marcelo Rivera (not related) and Dora Alicia Sorto, environmentalists killed by hitmen between June and December 2009, in the town of Cabañas.

Navarrete, a single mother of two who lives in the municipality of Llano de la Hacienda, in Cabañas, has taken up the work of the late Marcelo Rivera.

The activists were shot presumably because of their opposition to the activities of Pacific Rim in that area, although this has not been confirmed by the legal authorities.

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Fishing Villages Work for Food Security in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/fishing-villages-work-for-food-security-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fishing-villages-work-for-food-security-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/fishing-villages-work-for-food-security-in-el-salvador/#comments Mon, 20 Mar 2017 20:17:45 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149499 After an exhausting morning digging clams out of the mud of the mangroves, Rosa Herrera, her face tanned by the sun, arrives at this beach in southeastern El Salvador on board the motorboat Topacio, carrying her yield on her shoulders. For her morning’s catch – 126 Andara tuberculosa clams, known locally as “curiles”, in great […]

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Rosa Herrera returns to the village after spending the morning digging for clams in the mangroves that border Isla de Méndez in Jiquilisco bay, in the southeastern department of Usulután. The struggle to put food on the table is constant in fishing villages in El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Rosa Herrera returns to the village after spending the morning digging for clams in the mangroves that border Isla de Méndez in Jiquilisco bay, in the southeastern department of Usulután. The struggle to put food on the table is constant in fishing villages in El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
ISLA DE MÉNDEZ, El Salvador, Mar 20 2017 (IPS)

After an exhausting morning digging clams out of the mud of the mangroves, Rosa Herrera, her face tanned by the sun, arrives at this beach in southeastern El Salvador on board the motorboat Topacio, carrying her yield on her shoulders.

For her morning’s catch – 126 Andara tuberculosa clams, known locally as “curiles”, in great demand in El Salvador – she was paid 5.65 dollars by the Manglarón Cooperative, of which she is a member.

“Today it went pretty well,” she told IPS. “Sometimes it doesn’t and we earn just two or three dollars,” said the 49-year-old Salvadoran woman, who has been harvesting clams since she was 10 in these mangroves in the bay of Jiquilisco, near Isla de Méndez, the village of 500 families where she lives in the southeastern department of Usulután.“I have left my life in the mangroves, I was not able to go to school to learn to read and write, but I am happy that I have provided an education for all my children, thanks to the clams.” -- Rosa Herrera

Isla de Méndez is a village located on a peninsula, bordered to the south by the Pacific ocean, and to the north by the bay. Life has not been easy there in recent months.

Fishing and harvesting of shellfish, the main sources of food and income here, have been hit hard by environmental factors and by gang violence, a problem which has put this country on the list of the most violent nations in the world.

For fear of the constant raids by gangs, the fishers shortened their working hours, particularly in the night time.

“We were afraid, so nobody would go out at night, and fishing this time of year is better at night, but that is now changing a little,“ said Berfalia de Jesús Chávez, one of the founding members of the Las Gaviotas Cooperative, created in 1991 and made up of 43 women.

But the gang was dismantled and, little by little, life is returning to normal, said the local people interviewed by IPS during a two-day stay in the village.

“Climate change has also reduced the fish catch, as have the la Niña and el Niño climate phenomena,” said María Teresa Martínez, the head of the cooperative, who added however that fishing has always had periods of prosperity and scarcity.

Ofilio Herrera (L) buys a kilo of fish freshly caught by Álvaro Eliseo Cruz off the coast of Isla de Méndez, a fishing village in southeastern El Salvador. Cruz caught 15 kilos of fish this day, including red porgy and mojarras, which he uses to sell in the market and feed his family. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Ofilio Herrera (L) buys a kilo of fish freshly caught by Álvaro Eliseo Cruz off the coast of Isla de Méndez, a fishing village in southeastern El Salvador. Cruz caught 15 kilos of fish this day, including red porgy and mojarras, which he uses to sell in the market and feed his family. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The women in Las Gaviotas are making an effort to repair their three canoes and their nets to start fishing again, a real challenge when a good part of the productive activity has also been affected by the violence.

Fishing and selling food to tourists, in a small restaurant on the bay, are the cooperative’s main activities. But at the moment the women are forced to buy the seafood to be able to cater to the few visitors who arrive at the village.

Sea turtle project suspended due to lack of funds

Another project that was carried out in Isla de Méndez but has now been suspended was aimed at preserving sea turtles, ensuring the reproduction of the species and providing an income to the gatherers of turtle eggs.

All four species that visit El Salvador nest in Jiquilisco bay: the hawkbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), leatherback or lute (Dermochelis coriácea), olive or Pacific ridley (Lepidochelys olivácea) and Galápagos green turtle (Chelonia agassizii).

In 2005, this bay, with the biggest stretch of mangroves in the country, was included in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance, and in 2007 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) declared it the Xiriualtique – Jiquilisco Biosphere Reserve.

The gatherers were paid 2.5 dollars for 10 turtle eggs, which were buried in nests until they hatched. The hatchlings were then released into the sea.

But the project was cancelled due to a lack of funds, from a private environmental institution, to pay the “turtlers”.

“Our hope is that some other institution will help us to continue the project,” said Ernesto Zavala, from the local Sea Turtle Association. To this septuagenarian, it is of vital importance to get the programme going again, because “those of us who cannot fish or harvest clams can collect turtle eggs.”

“Now tourists are beginning to come again,” said a local resident who preferred not to give his name, who had to close his restaurant due to extortion from the gangs. Only recently did he pluck up the courage to reopen his small business.

“Before, at this time, around noon, all those tables would have been full of tourists,” he said, pointing to the empty tables at his restaurant.

In Isla de Méndez, each day is a constant struggle to put food on the table, as it is for rural families in this Central American country of 6.3 million people.

According to the report “Food and Nutrition Security: a path towards human development”, published in Spanish in July 2016 by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the prevalence of undernourishment – food intake insufficient to meet dietary energy requirements – in El Salvador stands at 12.4 percent of the population.

The United Nations are still defining the targets to be achieved within the Sustainable Development Goals, but in the case of El Salvador this prevalence should at least be cut in half, Emilia González, representative of programmes at the FAO office in El Salvador, told IPS.

“Sometimes we only manage to catch four little fishes for our family to eat, and nothing to sell, but there is always something to put on the table,” said María Antonia Guerrero, who belongs to the 37-member Cooperative Association of Fish Production.

“Sometimes what we catch does not even cover the cost of the gasoline we use,” she said.

Because of the cooperative’s limited equipment (just 10 boats and two motors), they can only go fishing two or three times a week. When fishing is good, she added, they can catch 40 dollars a week of fish.

The local fishers respect the environmental requirement to use a net that ensures the reproduction of the different species of fish.

“We do it to avoid killing the smallest fish, otherwise the species would be wiped out and we would have nothing to eat,” said Sandra Solís, another member of the cooperative.

González, of FAO, said one of the U.N.’s agency’s mandates is to strive for food and nutrition security for families, adding that only by empowering them in this process can their standard of living be improved.

“We have worked a great deal in these communities for families to be the managers of their own development,” she said.

In this community, efforts have been made to develop projects to produce organic compost and to treat solid waste, said Ofilio Herrera with the Community Development Association in Area 1.

More ambitious plans include setting up a processing plant for coconut milk and cashew nuts and cashew apples, he added.

Rosa Herrera, meanwhile, walks towards her house with a slight smile on her face, pleased with having earned enough to feed her daughter, her father and herself that day.

As a single mother, she is proud that she has been able to raise her seven children, six of whom no longer live at home, on her own.

“Because I had to work to get food I was not able to go to school. We were eight siblings; the younger ones studied, and the older ones worked. My father and mother were very poor, so the older of us worked to support the younger ones. Four of us did not learn to read and write. The others learned as adults, but I didn’t,” she said.

“I have left my life in the mangroves, I was not able to go to school to learn to read and write, but I am happy that I have provided an education for all my children, thanks to the clams,” she said.

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Community Stations Fight for Frequencies in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/community-stations-fight-for-frequencies-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=community-stations-fight-for-frequencies-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/community-stations-fight-for-frequencies-in-el-salvador/#respond Mon, 27 Feb 2017 07:58:13 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149116 The Izcanal Radio and Television set is simple and austere, but this TV station made history in El Salvador, being the first, and until now the only one, to make the leap from community radio to community TV channel, in 2006. It has done this through a local cable TV station, not an open signal […]

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Sandra Juárez, holding a microphone, rehearses together with two colleagues from Izcanal Radio and Television to record a programme. This station is the only community TV station in El Salvador, which can only be viewed by subscription, but that could change with the advent of the digital system in the country. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Sandra Juárez, holding a microphone, rehearses together with two colleagues from Izcanal Radio and Television to record a programme. This station is the only community TV station in El Salvador, which can only be viewed by subscription, but that could change with the advent of the digital system in the country. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
NUEVA GRANADA, El Salvador, Feb 27 2017 (IPS)

The Izcanal Radio and Television set is simple and austere, but this TV station made history in El Salvador, being the first, and until now the only one, to make the leap from community radio to community TV channel, in 2006.

It has done this through a local cable TV station, not an open signal channel, but that could change very soon.

“Our greatest wish is to compete for Izcanal to have its frequency and broadcast on an open signal channel; that’s our dream,” said Wilfredo Hernández, news coordinator at the Izcanal station, which was born in February 1993 in Nueva Granada, a town in the eastern department of Usulután.

Izcanal’s signal reaches across this town to 35 surrounding municipalities, but to receive it you have to pay for cable TV service. “The right to freedom of expression has to do with access to different sources of information and spaces for participation, and when the media system is exclusive and corporate, there is no way to guarantee this right.” -- Leonel Herrera

Its programming is focused on showing positive developments and initiatives in the community, revolving around themes such as local development, women and gender, environment, a culture of peace and migration.

“The major media outlets don’t show the good things that are happening in the communities, we offer this option,” said Sandra Juárez, coordinator of programming and content, while she edited an audio file on a computer.

Hernández and Juárez hope that radio and television, which are currently dominated by private commercial stations, will become more open and democratic, but to achieve that the authorities would have to generate the appropriate conditions.

They told IPS that the legal and operational foundations are in place to open up to new alternative projects, which would lead to a strengthening of the freedom of expression.

The government of leftist President Salvador Sánchez Cerén has announced the launch of digital TV in 2018, a new technology which will optimise the bandwidth and could make way for new stations, especially community, public and academic stations, among others.

For the shift from analogue to digital, the authorities chose the ISDB-Tb model, known as the “Japanese-Brazilian” model, used throughout Latin America, except in Colombia and Panama.

Social organisations grouped together in the Network for the Protection of the Right to Communication (RedCo) are fighting for El Salvador’s General Superintendency of Electricity and Telecommunications (Siget), the regulator of the sector, to promote the incorporation of these new players in the TV frequencies and also to open spaces on the jam-packed radio spectrum.

The expansion of the radio spectrum gained momentum following the reform of the Telecommunications Law in May 2016, which acknowledges community and other non-profit stations, and established alternate mechanisms for them to participate in the allocation of frequencies, such as direct allocation and a tendering process.

Wilfredo Hernández, during the broadcast of one of the radio news programmes of Izcanal Radio and Television, a project that emerged in 2003 in Nueva Granada, in eastern El Salvador. The community station was the only one to expand towards a TV channel. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Wilfredo Hernández, during the broadcast of one of the radio news programmes of Izcanal Radio and Television, a project that emerged in 2003 in Nueva Granada, in eastern El Salvador. The community station was the only one to expand towards a TV channel. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

When the 1980-1992 civil war ended, a score of community stations were operating, initially broadcasting without a license from private frequencies, which led to crackdowns by the police.

In 2008, they managed to secure, through third parties, an FM license, which they fractioned and divided into zones to broadcast their programming, although with interference.

For years they struggled for the elimination of the auction system, imposed by the now reformed 1997 Telecommunications Law, a scheme that prevented community stations from competing on an equal footing.

In 2015, the Supreme Court came down on their side, ruling that something other than the auction system should exist, to guarantee the participation of these actors, in response to appeals on the grounds of unconstitutionality filed by social organisations in 2012 and 2013 against this mechanism and other aspects of the law in force at the time.

The inclusion of these new players in radio and television would give the country’s media a more pluralistic and inclusive character, which would strengthen freedom of expression, said Leonel Herrera, head of the Association of Participatory Radios and Programmes of El Salvador (Arpas).

“The right to freedom of expression has to do with access to different sources of information and spaces for participation, and when the media system is exclusive and corporate, there is no way of guaranteeing this right,” Herrera told IPS.

But the idea of extending the allocation of frequencies faces heavy opposition from commercial radio stations, controlled by five corporate consortiums, which account for 92 per cent of the spectrum, according to Siget.

The segment for open TV is almost entirely in private hands, although of the 42 existing stations, seven are not commercial and are run by religious organisations, and two others are state-run.

Uncertain future

But the entry of new players, in radio as well as in television, cannot be taken for granted, and if the current system remains as it is, blocking the entry of other participants, the media will become even more concentrated in fewer hands, said Herrera.

In the case of television, the digital platform and its greater bandwidth would allow diversification, but Herrera argued that the existing license-holders intend to keep the extra bandwidth for their channels.

In radio, the panorama is even more complex, because the radio spectrum is full and the commercial consortiums refuse to give space to community stations, although there are proposals to divide the frequency bandwidth to double the space.

“Siget must comply and make room, otherwise the reform that acknowledges community radio stations will only remain on paper,” said Izcanal’s Hernández.

A request from IPS for an interview with the superintendent of the regulator, Blanca Coto, received no answer.

An opportunity for new licenses in radio could open this year, during the renewal of frequencies, a process which takes place every 20 years. Until the reform in 2016, they were automatically renewed, a mechanism which practically ensured the concessionaires a license for life..

Now they must meet requisites such as keeping up with payments, failing to commit serious infringements, and making proper use of the broadcast signal.

But RedCo argues that with these standards almost every station will manage to get its license renewed, and that other aspects should be taken into account, such as whether the license was originally obtained in a transparent, legal manner.

A report from the Presidential Secretariat of Participation, Transparency and Anti-corruption revealed in September 2016 that 60 per cent of the concessions granted before the 1997 Telecommunications Law have no paper trail to verify their allocation.

The then regulatory body used to grant frequencies as an award for political favours or to benefit relatives or friends of the right-wing National Republican Alliance (Arena), in power from 1989 to 2009.

If Siget includes this transparency factor proposed by the organisations that make up RedCo, some licenses may not be renewed, giving community stations a chance.

But even if community stations are granted radio and TV licenses, this would not be enough to bring about a more democratic media system. To do that, the state must back up these measures with public policies aimed at promoting and developing community radio, said the interviewees.

The RedCo organisations have submitted a Proposal for a Public Policy in Communications, to contribute to a debate that, in the end, should generate clear measures to democratise the media in El Salvador.

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Gang Violence Drives Internal Displacement in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/gang-violence-drives-internal-displacement-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gang-violence-drives-internal-displacement-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/gang-violence-drives-internal-displacement-in-el-salvador/#respond Fri, 07 Oct 2016 21:52:29 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147277 A basketball court in this small town in western El Salvador was turned overnight into a shelter for some two dozen families forced to flee their homes after a recent escalation of gang violence. But they are still plagued with fear, grief and uncertainty. “I am devastated, I have lost my father and now we […]

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Girls skip rope in the camp where they are staying in the town of Caluco, in western El Salvador, in makeshift accommodations on a basketball court. Dozens of families have fled from the neighbouring rural community of El Castaño, owing to the criminal violence and threats from gangs.

Girls skip rope in the camp where they are staying in the town of Caluco, in western El Salvador, in makeshift accommodations on a basketball court. Dozens of families have fled from the neighbouring rural community of El Castaño, owing to the criminal violence and threats from gangs.

By Edgardo Ayala
CALUCO, El Salvador, Oct 7 2016 (IPS)

A basketball court in this small town in western El Salvador was turned overnight into a shelter for some two dozen families forced to flee their homes after a recent escalation of gang violence.

But they are still plagued with fear, grief and uncertainty.

“I am devastated, I have lost my father and now we are fleeing with my family, as if we had done something wrong”, said a 41-year-old woman, waiting for lunchtime in the camp set up in Caluco, a rural municipality in the western department of Sonsonate in El Salvador.

She, like the rest of the victims interviewed by IPS, asked that her name not be used, for fear of retaliation.

Her father was killed mid-September by members of the Calle 18 gang, which then threatened to kill the rest of the family. Calle 18 and Mara Salvatrucha, the two main gangs, are responsible for most of the criminal activity in this Central American country of 6.3 million people.“The phenomenon is not well known because it is shrouded in silence: people are threatened and forced to leave their homes in silence, since it is safer than filing a complaint.” -- Osvaldo López

In 2015, the murder rate was 103 per 100,000 inhabitants in El Salvador, which made it the most violent country in the world, with the exception of countries suffering from armed conflict, like Syria.

The left-wing administration of Mauricio Funes (2009-2014) facilitated a gang truce in 2012, which lead to a dramatic drop in homicides.

But his successor, former guerrilla leader Salvador Sánchez Cerén, also from the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FLN), ruled out an extension of the truce as it was widely rejected by the public, and the homicide rate soared once again.

“Back in El Castaño we left the fields where my father worked growing corn and beans, and I left my chicken breeding,” said the woman in the shelter, next to her husband and two children, and surrounded by children playing amidst makeshift tents and rooms built with plastic and wood.

The shelter was set up by local authorities in Caluco, when dozens of the 60 families in El Castaño, a rural community in this municipality, fled on Sept. 18 because of a recent surge in violence unleashed by Calle 18, which has controlled the area for the last two years.

In the territory under their control, the gangs freely rob, rape and extort, according to the people in the shelter. Anyone who fails to make the required “protection payments” is given three days to get out or be killed, they said.

For now, the gang members have retreated in the face of the police and military incursion that occurred in response to the mass displacement of villagers. On Sept. 4 a group of refugees returned home for a few hours, under police guard, to check their crops and feed their animals.

Most of the families in the community sought shelter with family and friends in other localities in the area, since they left their homes before the shelter had been built.

“I feel out of place but at the same time calm, because there are no armed people around me,” said one 64-year-old victim, who fled to a friend’s house in Izalco, about 10 km from El Castaño.

He has left behind his livelihood, small-scale farming and dairy production, and now he will have to figure out another way to make a living. For the time being, he earns some money ferrying people and cargo back and forth in his worn-down old truck.

“I have to see what I’ll do to put food on the table,” he told IPS, as he drank a soft-drink in the shade of a tree, in his forced new place of residence. He has already sold his six cows, which produced 70 litres of milk per day that he would sell to a nearby dairy.

This is not a new phenomenon in the country and has been reported on occasion by the local press, but the exodus of local people of El Castaño and the shelter assembled in Caluco have exposed the serious problem of forced displacement in El Salvador.

In a report published on Sept. 26, the Civil Society Bureau against Forced Migration and Organised Crime reported 146 cases of displacement between Aug. 2014 and Dec. 2015, in a partial recount since the organization does not cover the whole country.

The victims filed complaints in just 36 per cent of the cases, according to the report. This low rate was due mainly to fear of retaliation and mistrust in state institutions.

Government authorities have played down the phenomenon. Vice President Oscar Ortiz recently stated that it should not be blown out of proportion because “it’s not as if things were similar to Afghanistan.”

“The government has tried to avoid acknowledging the issue of internal displacement,” said Nelson Flores of the Foundation for the Study of the Application of Rights (FESPAD), one of the 13 organisations that make up the Bureau.

As a result, it has also failed to make an assessment of the problem and its impacts, he told IPS.

“The phenomenon is not well known because it is shrouded in silence: people are threatened and forced to leave their homes in silence, since it is safer than filing a complaint,” said Osvaldo López, head of the Dignity and Justice Programme of the Episcopal Anglican Church of El Salvador – one of the religious organisations that tracks gang-related violence.

He said the government does not officially recognise the critical situation of forced displacements driven by criminal violence, because that would entail an admission that it had lost its ability to provide security, and was in need of international protection and support.

“Other countries might open their doors to let in people who want to leave El Salvador, but a declaration of this kind would have strong political and economic repercussions for the country,” he told IPS.

From 2006 to 2014, López headed the Programme of Assistance for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in El Salvador, for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (Acnur).

Reports from international organisations indicate that thousands of people are compelled to leave their homes in silence, without leaving any trace in the official statistics.

The Global Report on Internal Displacement 2016 said that in 2015 there were 289,000 victims of forced displacement in El Salvador. The total for El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico combined – among the most violent areas in the world – amounts to one million.

“Displacement in the region tends to remain unquantified and unaddressed for reasons ranging from political to methodological,” according to the report, issued by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, linked to the United Nations, and the Norwegian Refugee Council.

In most of Central America, there is a lack of recognition that criminal violence causes internal displacement, the report says, adding that Honduras is the only country that has officially recognised the phenomenon.

Meanwhile, the victims at the Caluco camp are waiting to be able to return in a few days to their homes, once the authorities set up a permanent police post in El Castaño.

Girls skip rope in the camp where they are staying in the town of Caluco, in western El Salvador, in makeshift accommodations on a basketball court. Dozens of families have fled from the neighbouring rural community of El Castaño, owing to the criminal violence and threats from gangs.

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Native Plants Boost Local Diets in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/native-plants-boost-local-diets-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=native-plants-boost-local-diets-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/native-plants-boost-local-diets-in-el-salvador/#comments Tue, 09 Aug 2016 18:04:19 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146483 Juana Morales is cooking one of the most popular dishes in El Salvador: pupusas, corn tortillas with different fillings. But hers are unique: they are not made with the traditional corn tortillas, but use Maya nuts, a highly nutritional seed that has fallen out of use but whose consumption is being encouraged in rural communities. […]

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Juana Morales is cooking pupusas – thick tortillas with different kinds of fillings. Hers, however, are not made with corn tortillas, but with ojushte, a highly nutritional seed whose consumption is being promoted in the small town of San Isidro in western El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Juana Morales is cooking pupusas – thick tortillas with different kinds of fillings. Hers, however, are not made with corn tortillas, but with ojushte, a highly nutritional seed whose consumption is being promoted in the small town of San Isidro in western El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN ISIDRO, El Salvador, Aug 9 2016 (IPS)

Juana Morales is cooking one of the most popular dishes in El Salvador: pupusas, corn tortillas with different fillings. But hers are unique: they are not made with the traditional corn tortillas, but use Maya nuts, a highly nutritional seed that has fallen out of use but whose consumption is being encouraged in rural communities.

“I cook something with ojushte almost every day – pupusas, tamales (seasoned meat packed in cornmeal dough and wrapped and steamed in corn husks) orlittle cakes; it’s an excellent food,” the 65-year-old Salvadoran woman told IPS, standing in her kitchen in San Isidro, a small town of 3,000 people in the municipality of Izalco in the western department of Sonsonate.

Pupusas are made with thick tortillas and filled with beans, cheese, vegetables or pork.“In the communities there are families who don’t have enough to eat, malnourished children, poorly-fed adults, and we can’t just sit back and do nothing.” -- Ana Morales

Juana Morales has easy access to ojushte (Brosimum alicastrum) because her daughter Ana Morales is the leading local advocate of the nutritional properties of the seed in San Isidro, thanks to the work carried out by a local organisation.

Maná Ojushte is a women’s collective that emerged in San Isidro and began to promote the Maya nut tree and its seeds in 2010, an initiative that received a major boost in 2014 when it began to receive support from the Initiative Fund for the Americas El Salvador (FIAES), a U.S.-Salvadoran environmental conservation organisation.

The seeds of the Ojushte or Maya nut tree are beginning to be used in San Isidro and other communities in this Central American nation as an alternative source of nutrients for rural families, as part of projects designed to fight the impacts of climate change.

Still rare, the tree is found in the Salvadoran countryside, and in pre-Hispanic times it formed an important part of the diet of indigenous peoples throughout Central America and Mexico, said Ana Morales, the head of Maná Ojushte.

The seeds, she explained, contain high levels of protein, iron, zinc, vitamins, folic acid, calcium, fiber and tryptophan, an amino acid, which makes them an excellent addition to the family diet.

“It’s compared to soy, but it has the advantage of being gluten-free and low in fat,” Ana Morales told IPS.

Support from FIAES forms part of the conservation plans for the Apaneca Lamatepec Biosphere Reserve, which covers more than 132,000 hectares in 23 municipalities in the western Salvadoran departments of Ahuachapán, Santa Ana and Sonsonate.

“With the work in the reserve, we have tried to link cultural aspects with the health and nutrition of local communities, and revive consumption of this seed, which was part of our ancestral heritage,” FIAES territorial coordinator Silvia Flores told IPS.

Maná Ojushte, run by a core group of 10 women, sells Maya nuts, toasted, ground and packaged in quarter and half kilo bags.

The ground toasted seeds can be used to make beverages or can be added to any dish, like rice or soup, as a nutritional complement. They can also be used to make dough, for tamales, bread or tortillas. And the cooked nuts themselves can be added to raw dishes.

Some 20 families harvest the seeds from farms around the community where trees have been found. They sell them to the group for 20 to 50 cents of a dollar per half kilo, depending on whether the seed is brought in with or without the shell.

Ana Morales, head of Maná Ojushte, in the area where the Maya nuts are dried and shelled, to be ground and sold, in San Isidro in the municipality of Izalco in the western Salvadoran department of Sonsonate. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Ana Morales, head of Maná Ojushte, in the area where the Maya nuts are dried and shelled, to be ground and sold, in San Isidro in the municipality of Izalco in the western Salvadoran department of Sonsonate. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Each family, Ana Morales explained, gathers some 150 kilos per season, between January and June. This represents an additional source of income at a time when work is scarce in the countryside and climate change is jeopardising staple food crops like corn and beans.

“The arrangement is that I buy the nuts from them, but they have to include them in their diet,” she said.

Maná Ojushte sells 70 percent of what it produces and the remaining 30 percent is distributed free to the community, for meals in the local school, to the elderly and to pregnant women.

The ultimate aim is to teach families about the benefits of the Maya nut, and help them understand that there is a highly nutritional, easily accessible food source in their community.

“In the communities there are families who don’t have enough to eat, malnourished children, poorly-fed adults, and we can’t just sit back and do nothing,” said Morales.

In 2014, 14 percent of children five and under suffered from chronic malnutrition, according to that year’s National Health Survey, which provides the latest available statistics. That is higher than the Latin American average, which stood at 11.6 percent in 2015, according to the World Health Organisation.

“My family and I love Maya nuts,” Iris Gutiérrez, a 49-year-old local resident, told IPS. “I learned to make little cakes and soup, or I just serve the nuts boiled, with salt and lemon, like a salad.”

Gutiérrez buys buns and sells them in the village. But her aim, she said, is to learn to make bread with ojushte flour and sell it.

“One day that dream will come true,” she said.

She added that she goes to farms around the village to harvest the nuts and adds them to her family’s diet, collecting firewood along the way to cook them.

“If we gather two pounds (nearly one kilo), we add them to corn and the tortillas are more nutritious and our food stretches farther,” said Gutiérrez, a mother of two and the head of her household of six people, which also includes other relatives.

Similar initiatives

Meanwhile, in the municipalities of Candelaria de la Frontera and Texistepeque, in the eastern department of Santa Ana, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is backing a similar effort, but involving a spice called chaya, rather than ojushte.

Chaya (Cnidoscolus chayamansa), a bush native to Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, was also used by the ancient Mayans in the pre-Columbian era.

As in the case of ojushte, the promotion of chaya emerged as part of environmental conservation plans aimed at combating the impacts of climate change.

“Local communities had to look for a nutritional alternative that would improve the diet but would also be resistant to climate change, and we found that chaya is one of the most beneficial plants,” Rosemarie Rivas, a specialist in nutrition at the FAO office in El Salvador, told IPS.

Besides chaya bushes, FAO has distributed 26,000 fruit trees, as well as 8,000 moringa trees (Moringa oleifera), also known as the drumstrick or horseradish tree, whose leaves are also highly nutritious.

Another part of the project will be the creation of 250 family gardens to boost local food production capacity.

Efforts to encourage consumption of ojushte, chaya, moringa and other locally grown plants can make a difference when it comes to lowering malnutrition rates in rural areas, Rivas said.

She stressed, however, that boosting nutrition is not only about eating healthy foods, but involves other variables as well, such as the population’s overall health, which is influenced, for example, by factors such as the availability of sanitation and clean water.

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El Salvador Faces Dilemma over the Prosecution of War Criminalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/el-salvador-faces-dilemma-over-the-prosecution-of-war-criminals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=el-salvador-faces-dilemma-over-the-prosecution-of-war-criminals http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/el-salvador-faces-dilemma-over-the-prosecution-of-war-criminals/#respond Sat, 23 Jul 2016 20:12:45 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146188 The ruling of the highest court to repeal the amnesty law places El Salvador in the dilemma of deciding whether the country should prosecute those who committed serious violations to human rights during the civil war. It also evidences that, more than two decades after the end of the conflict in 1992, reconciliation is proving […]

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Residents of La Hacienda, in the central department of La Paz in El Salvador, are holding pictures of the four American nuns murdered in 1980 by members of the National Guard, as they attend the commemorations held to mark 35 years of the crime, in December 2015, at the site where it was perpetrated. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Residents of La Hacienda, in the central department of La Paz in El Salvador, are holding pictures of the four American nuns murdered in 1980 by members of the National Guard, as they attend the commemorations held to mark 35 years of the crime, in December 2015, at the site where it was perpetrated. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Jul 23 2016 (IPS)

The ruling of the highest court to repeal the amnesty law places El Salvador in the dilemma of deciding whether the country should prosecute those who committed serious violations to human rights during the civil war.

It also evidences that, more than two decades after the end of the conflict in 1992, reconciliation is proving elusive in this Central American country with 6.3 million inhabitants.

At the heart of the matter is the pressing need to bring justice to the victims of war crimes while, on the other hand, it implies a huge as well as difficult task, since it will entail opening cases that are more than two decades old, involving evidence that has been tampered or lost, if at all available, and witnesses who have already died.“We do not want them to be jailed for a long period of time, we want perpetrators to tell us why they killed them, given that they knew they were civilians...And we want them to apologize, we want someone to be held accountable for these deaths”-- Engracia Echeverría.

Those who oppose opening such cases highlight the precarious condition of the judiciary, which has important inadequacies and is cluttered with a plethora of unsentenced cases.

“I believe Salvadorans as a whole, the population and the political forces are not in favour of this (initiating prosecution), they have turned the page”, pointed out left-wing analyst Salvador Samayoa, one of the signatory parties of the Peace Agreements that put an end to 12 years of civil war.

The 12 years of conflict left a toll of 70,000 casualties and more than 8,000 people missing.

Samayoa added that right now El Salvador has too many problems and should not waste its energy on problems pertaining to the past.

For human rights organizations, finding the truth, serving justice and providing redress prevail over the present circumstances and needs.

“Human rights violators can no longer hide behind the amnesty law, so they should be investigated once and for all”, said Miguel Montenegro, director of the El Salvador Commission of Human Rights, a non-governmental organization, told IPS.

The Supreme Court of Justice, in what is deemed to be a historical ruling, on 13 July ruled that the General Amnesty Act for the Consolidation of, passed in 1993, is unconstitutional, thus opening the door to prosecuting those accused of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during the conflict.

In its ruling, the Court considered that Articles 2 and 144 of said amnesty law are unconstitutional on the grounds that they violate the rights of the victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity to resort to justice and seek redress.

It further ruled that said crimes are not subject to the statute of limitations and can be tried regardless of the date on which they were perpetrated.

“We have been waiting for this for many years; without this ruling no justice could have been done”, told IPS activist Engracia Echeverría, from the Madeleine Lagadec Center for the Promotion of Defence of Human Rights.

This organization is named after the French nun who was raped and murdered by government troops in April 1989, when they attacked a hospital belonging to the guerrilla group Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN).

The activist stressed that, even though it is true that a lot of information relevant to the cases has been lost, some data can still be obtained by the investigators in the District Attorney’s General Office in charge of criminal prosecution, in case some people wish to instigate an investigation.

The law has been strongly criticized by human rights organizations within and outside the country, since its enactment in March 1993.

Its critics have claimed that it promoted impunity by protecting Army and guerrilla members who committed human rights crimes during the conflict.

However, its advocates have been both retired and active Army members, as well as right-wing politicians and businessmen in the country, since it precisely prevented justice being served to these officers –who are seen as responsible for frustrating the victory of the FMLN.

“All the crimes committed were motivated by an attack by the guerrilla”, claimed retired general Humberto Corado, former Defence Minister between 1993 and 1995.

The now repealed act was passed only five days after the Truth Commission, mandated by the United Nations to investigate human rights abuses during the civil war, had published its report with 32 specific cases, 20 of which were perpetrated by the Army and 12 by insurgents.

Among those cases were the murders of archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero in March 1980; four American nuns in December of the same year, and hundreds of peasants who were shot in several massacres, like those which took place in El Mozote in December 1981 and in Sumpul in May 1980.

Also, six Jesuit priests and a woman and her daughter were murdered in November 1989, a case already being investigated by a Spanish court.

The Truth Commission has also pointed to some FMLN commanders, holding them accountable for the death of several mayors who were targeted for being considered part of the government’s counter-insurgent strategy.

Some of those insurgents are now government officials, as is the case with director of Civil Protection Jorge Meléndez.

Before taking office in 2009, the FMLN, now turned into a political party, strongly criticized the amnesty law and advocated in favour of its repeal, on the grounds that it promoted impunity.

But, after winning the presidential elections that year with Mauricio Funes, it changed its stance and no longer favoured the repeal of the law. Since 2014, the country has been governed by former FMLN commander Salvador Sánchez Cerén.

In fact, the governing party has deemed the repeal as “reckless”, with the President stating on July 15 that Court magistrates “were not considering the effects it could have on the already fragile coexistence” and urging to take the ruling “with responsibility and maturity while taking into account the best interests of the country”.

After the law was ruled unconstitutional, the media were saturated with opinions and analyses on the subject, most of them pointing out the risk of the country being destabilized and on the verge of chaos due to the countless number of lawsuits that could pile up in the courts dealing with war cases.

“To those people who fiercely claim that magistrates have turned the country into a hell we must respond that hell is what the victims and their families have gone –and continue to go- through”, reads the release written on July 15 by the officials of the José Simeón Cañas Central American University, where the murdered Jesuits lived and worked in 1989.

Furthermore, the release states that most of the victims demand to be listened to, in order to find out the truth and be able to put a face on those they need to forgive.

In fact, at the heart of the debate lies the idea of restorative justice as a mechanism to find out the truth and heal the victims’ wounds, without necessarily implying taking perpetrators to jail.

“We do not want them to be jailed for a long period of time, we want perpetrators to tell us why they killed them, given that they knew they were civilians”, stressed Echeverría.

“And we want them to apologize, we want someone to be held accountable for these deaths”, she added.

In the case of Montenegro, himself a victim of illegal arrest and tortures in 1986, he said that it is necessary to investigate those who committed war crimes in order to find out the truth but, even more importantly, as a way for the country to find the most suitable mechanisms to forgive and provide redress”.

However, general Corado said that restorative justice was “hypocritical, its only aim being to seek revenge”.

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El Salvador Pension Reform Could Take Women into Accounthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/el-salvador-pension-reform-could-take-women-into-account/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=el-salvador-pension-reform-could-take-women-into-account http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/el-salvador-pension-reform-could-take-women-into-account/#respond Wed, 17 Feb 2016 14:17:21 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143911 El Salvador is debating reforms of the country’s privatised pension system, which could introduce changes so that it will no longer discriminate against women. “The pension system has a male-centred, patriarchal focus that fails to take into account the specific differences that women face in the world,” said Marta Zaldaña, secretary general of the Federation […]

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María Elena Rodríguez, 54, makes a living selling fruit at a street stand in San Salvador. She forms part of El Salvador’s informal economy, where workers are not covered by the pension system and women are a majority. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

María Elena Rodríguez, 54, makes a living selling fruit at a street stand in San Salvador. She forms part of El Salvador’s informal economy, where workers are not covered by the pension system and women are a majority. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Feb 17 2016 (IPS)

El Salvador is debating reforms of the country’s privatised pension system, which could introduce changes so that it will no longer discriminate against women.

“The pension system has a male-centred, patriarchal focus that fails to take into account the specific differences that women face in the world,” said Marta Zaldaña, secretary general of the Federation of Independent Associations and Unions of El Salvador (FEASIES).

The head of FEASIES, which groups more than 20 trade unions, told IPS that one example of the sexist treatment received by women is the 115,000 domestic workers who are completely outside the system, with no right to a pension or even the minimum wage, or any other kind of protection or regulation.

People working in the informal sector of the economy, 65 percent of whom are women, do not pay into the system and will have no right to a retirement pension, economist Julia Evelin Martínez, a researcher at the José Simeón Cañas Central American University School of Economy, told IPS.“The reform should be an opportunity to redesign the pension system from the very foundations, in order for it to offer equal benefits to men and women.” -- Julia Evelin Martínez

The system was designed “based on the labour experiences and lives of men,” she said.

María Elena Rodríguez, 54, a street vendor who sells fruit at a stand on a San Salvador street, said the outlook for her old age is grim.

“I don’t have any coverage, I pray that the lord will give me the strength to work until I’m 65, and then I’ll ask my children to put me in an old-age home, because I don’t have any pension, I have nothing,” Rodríguez told IPS as she sold papaya slices to passersby.

She has three children, but says she doesn’t “want to be a burden for anyone,” adding that after a life of hard work, she should have the right to an old age without worries.

Lawmakers did not create rules enabling people in the informal sector of the economy to be covered by the system, which only applies to formally employed wage-earners.

With contributions by their employers, those covered by the system pay 13 percent of their wages into individual accounts managed by the pension fund administrators (AFPs), which take a 2.2 percent commission and invest the money.

Since late 2015, the government, the business community, academics and social organisations have been discussing what to do with the pension system which, since it was privatised in 1998, has neither expanded coverage nor improved pensions, as promised.

According to official figures, as of November 2015, 2.7 million people were enrolled in the pension savings system (SAP), in this country of 6.3 million people with an economically active population (EAP) of 2.8 million.

But 65.7 percent of the EAP works in the informal sector, while only 24.7 percent actually pays into the system, despite the fact that nearly everyone is formally enrolled, because at some point they registered and their names are still in the system.

That means only one out of four people in the EAP will have coverage when they retire, and many of these will draw very small pensions.

The debate is currently focused on how to improve returns in the pension funds, which were worth a total of 7.3 billion dollars in November. If the returns increase, pensions will grow.

Around 58 percent of that total is invested in pension investment certificates issued by the state, with low interest rates between 1.4 and three percent. Legally, El Salvador’s AFPs cannot invest in the international stock market, where the returns are higher, although the risks are too.

The government of left-wing President Salvador Sánchez Cerén wants to go even further, proposing a reform to create a mixed system that would include the private pension fund administrators – an idea that is opposed by the business community and the right-wing opposition.

Little information about the proposed reform has come out. But the government is reportedly proposing that workers who earn less than 484 dollars a month would be covered by a public system, and the rest by a mixed one.

In this debate, “we want to incorporate a gender perspective in the pensions system,” said Zaldaña, who also belongs to a group fighting for decent jobs for women, the CEDM.

The government acknowledges that women face unequal conditions. They retire at the age of 55, compared to 60 for men, which means they pay less into their accounts, and thus receive lower pensions when they retire.

To that is added the fact that they earn 15 percent less than men on average, even though on average women have more years of formal schooling, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Report 2015.

The lower their wages, the less they pay into their individual accounts, under the current system.

“The problem is that culturally the population still has no awareness about the inequality in wages,” a public employee in a government office, Johana Peña, told IPS.

Roberto Lorenzana, the president’s secretary on technical questions, said in remarks to the government online news outlet Transparencia Activa that the gender imbalance is “a problem that we need to address” in any future reform.

He said the government’s position on this has points in common with that of the Salvadoran Association of Pension Fund Administrators (ASAFONDOS), which represents the country’s two AFPs.

However, it is unclear as to what changes are proposed to move in that direction, and Lorenzana and René Novellino, executive director of ASAFONDOS, did not respond to requests from IPS for an interview to discuss the issue.

Martínez, the researcher, believes the debate should look at the foundations of a system that is unfair to women – a problem that she said is not only seen in private systems.

“The reform should be an opportunity to redesign the pension system from the very foundations, in order for it to offer equal benefits to men and women,” she said.

The economist pointed out, for example, that women with formal jobs stop paying into the system during their four months of maternity leave. If they have an average of three children, they will have stopped paying towards their retirement for an entire year.

That time lost is added to the five years that they do not pay into the system as they retire earlier than men.

“This creates a distortion, a gap, a discontinuity, which is reflected in their labour history,” said Martínez.

Zaldaña, the head of FEASIES, said these gap periods should be counted as time worked, and the state should contribute the funds to make up for that lost time. This proposal has been presented to Lorenzana, she said.

A similar reform was implemented in July 2009 in Chile, where the government offers a bonus per child to each female worker.

The economist Martínez is pleased that the trade union movement is pushing for these changes, while she lamented that women’s rights groups in El Salvador have not taken up the battle.

Meanwhile, Rodríguez said, without slowing down in her sales of fruit to her customers, that she scrapes by “with the few cents that I make from my fruit stand, but I don’t know what I’ll do when I’m old.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Women Inmates Sow Hope in Prisons in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/women-inmates-sow-hope-in-prisons-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-inmates-sow-hope-in-prisons-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/women-inmates-sow-hope-in-prisons-in-el-salvador/#comments Tue, 29 Dec 2015 18:58:02 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143462 Doris Zabala squats down in the field to pull up radishes. She is working on a prison farm in El Salvador, where more and more penitentiaries are incorporating agricultural work and other activities to keep prisoners busy. “The harvest has been good – nice, big red radishes,” Zabala told IPS. She is one of 210 […]

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Jannete Salvador and Doris Zabala plant chives on the Izalco prison farm for women in the western Salvadoran department of Sonsonate. The government is extending the use of farm work and other activities in prisons to keep inmates active and productive. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Jannete Salvador and Doris Zabala plant chives on the Izalco prison farm for women in the western Salvadoran department of Sonsonate. The government is extending the use of farm work and other activities in prisons to keep inmates active and productive. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
IZALCO, El Salvador, Dec 29 2015 (IPS)

Doris Zabala squats down in the field to pull up radishes. She is working on a prison farm in El Salvador, where more and more penitentiaries are incorporating agricultural work and other activities to keep prisoners busy.

“The harvest has been good – nice, big red radishes,” Zabala told IPS. She is one of 210 inmates at the Centro Penitenciario para Mujeres Granja Izalco – a prison farm for women in the municipality of Izalco in the western department of Sonsonate.

This facility is only for minimum-security women prisoners who already have weekend leave to visit their families.

Of the 210 prisoners, 80 work in the fields, while the rest are active in other areas, such as cooking in the prison kitchen or taking care of the inmates’ children.

On the 26 hectares of land used by the prison farm, the women use agroecological methods to grow radishes, sesame, tomatoes, corn, papaya and other fruit and vegetables. A small chicken farm has also begun to operate, and a tilapia fish farm is on the cards.

“At my house there is land for growing things, so when I’m free I plan to continue gardening because I like it,” said 32-year-old Cecilia Méndez, who has spent six years in prison. She told IPS she is set to be released in eight months.

The farm was inaugurated in January 2011 as part of the government’s efforts to offer occupational alternatives in the country’s overpopulated prisons, to gradually ease the problems of idle prisoners, overcrowding, violence and crime that have reigned supreme in the penitentiaries for decades.

This Central American country’s 21 prisons were built for a combined total of 8,100 prisoners, but currently hold 32,300 – four times the capacity – according to official figures.

There is an “enormous humanitarian crisis in the penitentiary system” says the report “The Salvadoran Prison System and its Facilities”, published in November this year by the University Institute for Public Opinion (IUDOP) at the catholic José Simeón Cañas Central American University (UCA), under the auspices of the Heinrich Böll Foundation.

The Izalco prison farm is part of the government programme Yo Cambio (I Change), which includes a number of measures aimed at boosting the reintegration of prisoners and reducing recidivism.

The programme offers skills training, activities and work to keep inmates busy and improve their reinsertion into society once they are released. Projects also include rebuilding, enlarging and refurbishing existing prisons and the construction of new facilities, to ease the serious problem of overcrowding.

“Everyone thinks we don’t do anything, that we sit around thinking abut things that we shouldn’t, but we actually keep busy,” said Méndez, walking between rows of chives (Allium schoenoprasum).

The use of environmentally-friendly farming techniques, such as organic fertiliser, is a key part of the process.

“The idea is to teach the inmates new practices,” Óscar Menéndez, the farm administrator, told IPS.

“Anyone who likes to work keeps busy here,” María Cristina Vásquez, 53, who is in charge of the papaya crop and the small chicken coop with 100 chicks that arrived recently, which she cares for with dedication.

The farm’s output is for internal prison consumption and the surplus is sent to other penitentiaries.

On Dec. 22, the government signed a 4.2 million dollar contract with a construction company to refurbish the facilities in Izalco, to improve conditions.

A similar prison farm is located outside the city of Santa Ana in the department of the same name in western El Salvador.

The programme is not limited to farms but also includes other employment activities, in other prisons, such as carpentry and shoe production and repair.

In the Centro Penal Apanteos prison, 72 km west of San Salvador, also in the department of Santa Ana, the inmates set up a novel laboratory where they produce 60,000 tilapia fish in the larval stage per month.

They also created a factory that produces bleach and disinfectant, based on the expertise passed along by a former prisoner.

“He knew how to do this, and our motto here is that whoever knows something teaches it to others who don’t know,” said Rolando Artiaga, 24, who is in charge of running the small factory. They produce 200 gallons of disinfectant and 150 gallons of bleach a month, which are sold inside the prison itself.

The programme also includes activities like sports, education, healthcare, religion, art and culture.

But not all the inmates have access to these benefits.

Of the 32,300 prisoners in the country, only one-third benefit from the project, in 12 prisons around the country, Orlando Elías Molina, assistant director of the government’s prison administration agency, the DGCP, told IPS.

In the biggest prison, La Esperanza, to the north of San Salvador, the authorities tried to launch some of the activities used by the programme, in mid-2015, but the efforts were frustrated because of the gangs that control the prison, he added.

“If we let the criminal structures run this, it’s not going to work,” Molina said.

Next year, he added, they will try to get activities going even in those prisons that specifically hold gang members, such as the one in Chalatenango, in the north of the country, which houses members of the Mara Salvatrucha gang. It is one of the most violent gangs along with Barrio 18.

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Coffee Rust Aggravates Poverty in Rural El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/coffee-rust-aggravates-poverty-in-rural-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=coffee-rust-aggravates-poverty-in-rural-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/coffee-rust-aggravates-poverty-in-rural-el-salvador/#comments Fri, 18 Dec 2015 17:39:39 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143400 Sitting in front of a pile of coffee beans that she has just picked, Ilsy Membreño separates the green cherries from the ripe red ones with a worried look on her face, lamenting the bad harvest on the farm where she works in western El Salvador and the low daily wages she is earning. As […]

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Ilsy Membreño separates green and red coffee beans, part of the tasks involved in the harvest on the Montebelo farm in El Salvador. The drop in production caused by coffee leaf rust has driven wages down to just three dollars a day. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Ilsy Membreño separates green and red coffee beans, part of the tasks involved in the harvest on the Montebelo farm in El Salvador. The drop in production caused by coffee leaf rust has driven wages down to just three dollars a day. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
EL CONGO, El Salvador , Dec 18 2015 (IPS)

Sitting in front of a pile of coffee beans that she has just picked, Ilsy Membreño separates the green cherries from the ripe red ones with a worried look on her face, lamenting the bad harvest on the farm where she works in western El Salvador and the low daily wages she is earning.

As it spread through this country and the rest of Central America, the fungus (Hemileia vastatrix) that causes coffee leaf rust infected the farm where she works.

“There is less coffee to pick, and in the end there is less money for us,” lamented Membreño, one of 30 people working in the harvest on the Montebelo farm in the municipality of El Congo in the western Salvadoran department (province) of Santa Ana.

The parasitic fungus feeds off the leaves of the plants, infecting them with yellow and brown spots. The leaves fall off and the beans are unable to mature.

Coffee production generates some 150,000 direct jobs and 500,000 indirect jobs, according to the report “Coffee Cultivation in El Salvador 2013”, drawn up by the governmental Salvadoran Coffee Council (CSC). Between 1995 and 2012, coffee represented 7.5 percent of the country’s total exports.

The fungus threatens to further impoverish El Salvador’s rural areas, where 36 percent of households already live in poverty, according to the government’s Multiple-Purpose Households Survey 2013.

Membreño told IPS that before the coffee leaf rust outbreak ravaged the farm, she picked two quintals (92 kilos) a day, earning around eight dollars a day during the three-month harvest.“The disease caught us with our pants down.” -- Julio Grande

“But now I don’t even manage to pick one quintal, and I earn just three dollars a day,” she said with resignation.

The other day labourers who talked to IPS described a similar situation when we visited the privately-owned farm, which is 116 manzanas (a manzana is equivalent to 0.7 hectare) in size.

Climate change has also hurt the coffee crop, with lengthy droughts in the rainy season and heavy rains in the dry season.

“The rain has knocked the coffee beans off, and we lose time picking them up,” said Sonia Hernández, a mother of three who is also working on the Montebelo farm, told IPS.

Official figures published on the CSC web site show that output plunged from 1.7 million quintals in the 2012-2013 harvest to just 700,000 in the 2013-2014 harvest, due to the coffee leaf rust outbreak.

In the period in question, the total payments to temporary harvest workers dropped from 21.6 million dollars to 8.7 million dollars.

Production rallied somewhat during the 2014-2015 harvest, to 925,000 quintals. The CSC’s forecast for the 2015-2016 harvest is 998,000 quintals – still below the output obtained prior to the outbreak.

“Without a harvest, these poor people don’t have work,” Manuel Morán, the foreman, told IPS.

Montebelo is in the Apaneca-Lamatepec mountains, where conditions are perfect for coffee cultivation. But neither corn nor beans, the staples of the Salvadoran diet, are grown in the area.

And without land to grow subsistence crops or money to buy food, the people in this rural community face threats to their food security.

“We don’t have anywhere to plant corn or beans, we depend on our work on this farm for a living,” said Membreño.

There are approximately 19,500 coffee growers in the country, 86 percent of whom are small farmers with less than 10 manzanas of land, who represent 21 percent of the total national output, according to the CSC.

“Outside of harvest time, we gather firewood, that’s how we support ourselves, because there isn’t anything else here,” said Membreño, who has an eight-year-old son. Her husband works in the same activities.

Coffee leaf rust, found in El Salvador since the late 1970s, began to spread rapidly in 2012. But the devastating effects were not felt until 2013, and caught coffee growers as well as the government off guard.

“The disease caught us with our pants down,” Julio Grande, a researcher at the governmental National Centre of Agricultural and Forest Technology (CENTA), told IPS.

In one area of the Montebelo farm, he is studying the biology of the parasite and the epidemiology of the disease, while testing fungicides.

The idea is integral treatment of the disease, simultaneously focusing on fertilisation of the plant, pruning, and the use of fungicides, he said.

These three elements together can bring good results, he added.

In fact, in the areas where he used fungicides, the coffee bushes are relatively healthy, and out of danger.

“The fungicides work, but if the other aspects of the equation are neglected, the effect is limited,” he added.

Renewing coffee plantations is an effective technique, because the older the plants, the more vulnerable they are to the fungus, the researcher added. El Salvador’s coffee trees are considered old – over 30 years old.

Besides technical assistance, fungicides and other inputs, the government distributed around eight million coffee rust-resistant plants to 4,200 farmers, to begin a process of renewal of their fields, Adán Hernández, manager of Centa’s coffee division, told IPS.

And on their own, farmers have planted another eight million, he added.

But large-scale renovation would require heavy government investment, to buy from private nurseries the 300 million seedlings needed to plant the 217,000 manzanas of coffee bushes in the country. And at any rate, there are not enough seeds available to do that.

Meanwhile, sitting next to the pile of coffee cherries, Ilsy Membreño has just one thing on her mind: how to get by on three dollars a day.

Edited by Verónica Firme/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Native Seeds Help Weather Climate Change in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/native-seeds-help-weather-climate-change-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=native-seeds-help-weather-climate-change-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/native-seeds-help-weather-climate-change-in-el-salvador/#comments Mon, 30 Nov 2015 22:34:40 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143159 Knife in hand, Domitila Reyes deftly cuts open the leaves covering the cob of corn, which she carefully removes from the plant – a process she carries out over and over all morning long, standing in the middle of a sea of corn, a staple in the diet of El Salvador. Reyes is taking part […]

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Domitila Reyes, 25, picks a cob of native corn in a field in the Mangrove Association, one of the two small farmer organisations that produce these seeds for the government’s Family Agriculture Plan in El Salvador. The seeds are not only high yield but are also more tolerant of the climate changes happening in this Central American country. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Domitila Reyes, 25, picks a cob of native corn in a field in the Mangrove Association, one of the two small farmer organisations that produce these seeds for the government’s Family Agriculture Plan in El Salvador. The seeds are not only high yield but are also more tolerant of the climate changes happening in this Central American country. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
JIQUILISCO /SAN MIGUEL, El Salvador , Nov 30 2015 (IPS)

Knife in hand, Domitila Reyes deftly cuts open the leaves covering the cob of corn, which she carefully removes from the plant – a process she carries out over and over all morning long, standing in the middle of a sea of corn, a staple in the diet of El Salvador.

Reyes is taking part in the “tapisca” – derived from “pixca” in the Nahat indigenous tongue, which means harvesting the field-dried corn.

The process will end, weeks later, with the selection of the best quality seeds, in order to ensure food sovereignty and security for poor peasant farmers in this Central American country of 6.3 million people.

Some 614,000 Salvadorans are farmers, and 244,000 of them grow corn or beans on small farms averaging 2.5 hectares in size, the Ministry of Agriculture and Stockbreeding reports.

In rural areas, 43 percent of households are poor, compared to 29.9 percent in urban areas, according to the latest annual survey by the Ministry of Economy.

“I see that the harvest is good, even though the rain was causing problems,” Reyes, 25, told IPS. She earns 10 dollars a day “tapiscando” or harvesting corn.

Climate change has modified the production cycles in this country, which is experiencing lengthy droughts in the May to October wet season and heavy rain in the November to April dry season. The erratic weather has ruined corn and bean crops.“High quality seeds are strategic for the country, because they make it possible for farming families to grow their crops in periods of national and global crisis, given the problem of climate change.” -- Alan González

But Reyes, covered head to toe to protect herself from the sun in jeans, a long-sleeved blouse and a hat, is relieved that the high-quality or “improved” seeds have managed to resist the effects of the changing climate.

“This corn has withstood it better…the rain hurt it but not very much. Other seeds wouldn’t have survived the blow,” she told IPS in the middle of the cornfield.

Reyes is one of the nearly two dozen workers who, under the burning sun, are harvesting corn on this seven-hectare field, one of several that belong to the Mangrove Association in Ciudad Romero, a rural settlement in the municipality of Jiquilisco in the eastern department of Usulután.

The region is known as Bajo Lempa, named after the river that crosses El Salvador from the north, before running into the Pacific Ocean. In that region there are 86 communities, with a total population of 23,000 people.

Many of the inhabitants are former guerrilla fighters of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), which fought the country’s right-wing governments in the 1980-1992 armed conflict that left a death toll of around 75,000, mainly civilians.

The Mangrove Association is one of the two producers of open-pollinated (the opposite of hybrid) native seeds in El Salvador. The other is the Nancuchiname Cooperative, also in the Bajo Lempa region.

They sell their annual output of 500,000 kilos of seeds to the government for distribution to 400,000 small farmers, as part of the Family Agriculture Plan (PAF). Each farmer receives 10 kg of seeds of corn and beans, as well as fertiliser.

“One achievement by our organisation is that the government has accepted us as a supplier of native seeds to the PAF,” said Juan Luna, coordinator of the Mangrove Association’s Agriculture Programme.

The hard-working hands of Ivania Siliézar, 55, pick improved beans she grew on her three-hectare farm on the slopes of the Chaparrastique volcano in the eastern Salvadoran department of San Miguel. Thanks to these native seeds, her output has doubled. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The hard-working hands of Ivania Siliézar, 55, pick improved beans she grew on her three-hectare farm on the slopes of the Chaparrastique volcano in the eastern Salvadoran department of San Miguel. Thanks to these native seeds, her output has doubled. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Luna told IPS that with these seeds, Salvadoran small farmers are better prepared to confront the effects of climate change and ensure food security and sovereignty.

In this country, 12.4 percent of the population – around 700,000 people – are undernourished, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

The Mangrove Association and another three cooperatives in the area produce 40 percent of the improved seeds purchased by the PAF, whether native or the H59 hybrid variety developed by the government’s Enrique Álvarez Córdova National Centre for Agricultural and Forest Technology (CENTA).

The rest are produced by cooperatives in other regions of the country.

“The seeds produced by CENTA are high quality genetic material adapted to growing everywhere from sea level to 700 metres altitude,” FAO resident coordinator in El Salvador, Alan González, told IPS.

Two farmers carry dry leaves of corn, after the harvest of field-dried corn, on a parcel of land belonging to the Mangrove Association, one of the cooperatives that produce native corn seeds in El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Two farmers carry dry leaves of corn, after the harvest of field-dried corn, on a parcel of land belonging to the Mangrove Association, one of the cooperatives that produce native corn seeds in El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

He added that the effort to promote this kind of seeds as a tool to weather the effects of climate change and strengthen food security and sovereignty are part of the Hunger Free Mesoamerica programme launched by FAO in 2014 in Central America, Colombia and the Dominican Republic.

“High quality seeds are strategic for the country, because they make it possible for farming families to grow their crops in periods of national and global crisis, given the problem of climate change,” said González.

Up to 2009, PAF purchased seeds from only five companies. But that year the FMLN, which became a political party after the 1992 peace deal, was voted into office and modified the rules of the game in order for small farmers to participate in the business, through cooperatives.

Another of the advantages of these improved seeds, besides their resistance to drought and heavy rains, is their high yields. FAO estimates that productivity has increased by 40 percent in the case of beans and 30 percent in the case of corn, which has boosted the food and nutritional security of the poorest families.

“We produce more, and we earn a bit more income,” said Ivania Siliézar, 55, who produces an improved variety of bean in the village of El Amate in the department of San Miguel, 135 km east of San Salvador.

Siliézar told IPS that she took the time to count how many bean pods one single plant produces: “More than 35 pods; that’s why the yield is so high,” she said proudly.

The variety of bean grown by her and 40 other members of the Fuentes y Palmeras cooperative is called chaparrastique, and was also developed by the CENTA technicians. The name comes from the volcano at whose feet this and six other cooperatives grow the bean, which they sell in local markets, as well as to the PAF.

Siliézar grows her crops on her farm that is just over three hectares in size, and in the last harvest of the year, she picked 1,250 kg of beans, a very high yield.

Similar excellent results were obtained by all 255 members of the seven cooperatives, who founded a company, Productores y Comercializadores Agrícolas de Oriente SA (Procomao), and have managed to mechanise their production with the installation of a plant that has processing equipment such as driers.

The plant was built with an investment of 203,000 dollars, financed by Spanish development aid and support from FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the San Miguel city government, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Stockbreeding. It has the capacity to process three tons of beans per hour.

Cooperatives grouping another 700 families from the departments of San Miguel and Usulután also set up three similar companies.

“We have had pests, but thanks to God and the quality of the seeds, here is our harvest,” Siliézar said happily.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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El Salvador Forges Ahead in Fight Against Hungerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/el-salvador-forges-ahead-in-fight-against-hunger/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=el-salvador-forges-ahead-in-fight-against-hunger http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/el-salvador-forges-ahead-in-fight-against-hunger/#respond Wed, 25 Nov 2015 15:04:18 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143113 In the last 15 years, El Salvador has managed to reduce the proportion of hungry people living in extreme poverty by four percentage points. But they still represent 12.4 percent of the population, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). To speed up progress towards eradicating hunger, in 2012 lawmakers in this […]

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By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Nov 25 2015 (IPS)

In the last 15 years, El Salvador has managed to reduce the proportion of hungry people living in extreme poverty by four percentage points. But they still represent 12.4 percent of the population, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

To speed up progress towards eradicating hunger, in 2012 lawmakers in this Central American country created the Salvadoran chapter of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger, a Latin American initiative that emerged in 2009 with technical support from FAO.

The aim is to create a space where public authorities, with civil society participation, debate and promote laws and public policies aimed at bolstering food security and family farming, while guaranteeing the right to healthy, nutritional food, the coordinator of the Salvadoran Front, legislator Audelia López, told IPS.

Programmes such as one that links family farming and school feeding, the creation of school gardens to teach children about healthy eating, or a draft law on food sovereignty and security and nutrition are all initiatives that the local Parliamentary Front is pushing ahead.

In this video report, IPS shows some of the programmes, such as the latest on the school gardens.

 

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The Future Tastes Like Chocolate for Rural Salvadoran Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-future-tastes-like-chocolate-for-some-rural-salvadoran-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-future-tastes-like-chocolate-for-some-rural-salvadoran-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-future-tastes-like-chocolate-for-some-rural-salvadoran-women/#comments Thu, 20 Aug 2015 17:30:36 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142066 Idalia Ramón and 10 other rural Salvadoran women take portions of the freshly ground chocolate paste, weigh it, and make chocolates in the shapes of stars, rectangles or bells before packaging them for sale. “This is a completely new source of work for us, we didn’t know anything about cacao or chocolate,” Ramón tells IPS. […]

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The hands of Idalia Ramón care for the cacao beans produced in the town of Caluco in western El Salvador. She and a group of women transform the beans into hand-made chocolate, in an ecological process that is taking off in this Central American country thanks to the national project Alianza Cacao, aimed at reviving the cultivation of cacao and improving the future of 10,000 small farming families. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The hands of Idalia Ramón care for the cacao beans produced in the town of Caluco in western El Salvador. She and a group of women transform the beans into hand-made chocolate, in an ecological process that is taking off in this Central American country thanks to the national project Alianza Cacao, aimed at reviving the cultivation of cacao and improving the future of 10,000 small farming families. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
CALUCO/MERCEDES UMAÑA, El Salvador, Aug 20 2015 (IPS)

Idalia Ramón and 10 other rural Salvadoran women take portions of the freshly ground chocolate paste, weigh it, and make chocolates in the shapes of stars, rectangles or bells before packaging them for sale.

“This is a completely new source of work for us, we didn’t know anything about cacao or chocolate,” Ramón tells IPS. Before this, the 38-year-old widow was barely able to support her three children – ages 11, 13 and 15 – selling corn tortillas, a staple of the Central American and Mexican diet.

She is one of the women taking part in chocolate production in Caluco, a town of 10,000 in the department or province of Sonsonate in western El Salvador, in the context of a project that forms part of a national effort to revive cacao production.

“Now I have extra income; we can see the advantages that cacao brings to our communities,” she said.“On one hand this is about reviving the age-old cultivation of a product that is rooted in our culture, and on the other it’s about boosting economic and social development in our communities.” -- María de los Ángeles Escobar

She and the rest of the women work at what they call the “processing centre”, which they put a lot of work into setting up. Here they turn the cacao beans into hand-made organic chocolates.

Since December, the effort to revive cacao production has taken shape in the Alianza Cacao El Salvador cacao alliance, which has brought together cooperatives and farmers from different regions, including these women who have become experts in making artisan chocolate.

The paste that comes out of the grinder is given different shapes, most frequently round bars. Dissolved in boiling water, the chocolate is used to make one of El Salvador’s favorite beverages.

Over the next five years, the Alianza Cacao aims to generate incomes for 10,000 cacao growing families in 87 of the country’s 262 municipalities, with 10,000 hectares planted in the crop. The idea is to generate some 27,000 direct and indirect jobs.

“The project is helping us to overcome the difficult economic situation, and to increase our production, thus improving incomes,” another local farmer, 33-year-old María Alas, tells IPS as she deftly forms hand-made chocolates in different shapes.

The Alianza Cacao has received 25 million dollars – 20 million from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S.-based Howard G. Buffett Foundation, and the rest from local sources.

Four of the women who make chocolate in the community processing centre in Caluco, a town in western El Salvador, check the paste that comes out of the grinder before making organic chocolate bars and chocolates of different shapes. They are part of the Alianza Cacao project which is aimed at reviving the production of cacao, once a key element of this country’s history, culture and economy, but which was abandoned. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Four of the women who make chocolate in the community processing centre in Caluco, a town in western El Salvador, check the paste that comes out of the grinder before making organic chocolate bars and chocolates of different shapes. They are part of the Alianza Cacao project which is aimed at reviving the production of cacao, once a key element of this country’s history, culture and economy, but which was abandoned. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

In the pre-Columbian era, cacao beans were used as currency in Central America and southern Mexico, and later they were used to pay tribute to the Spanish crown.

Although cacao plantations practically disappeared in modern-day El Salvador due to pest and disease outbreaks, hot chocolate remained a popular traditional drink, and for that purpose cacao was imported from neighbouring Honduras and Nicaragua.

“On one hand this is about reviving the age-old cultivation of a product that is rooted in our culture, and on the other it’s about boosting economic and social development in our communities,” María de los Ángeles Escobar, director of the Casa de la Cultura or cultural centre in Caluco, told IPS.

The idea emerged as an alternative to mitigate the impact of coffee rust or roya, caused by the hemileia vastatrix fungus, which has affected 21 percent of coffee plants in the country, according to official estimates, and has reduced rural employment and incomes.

In El Salvador, 38 percent of the population of 6.2 million lives in rural areas. And according to the World Bank, 36 percent of rural inhabitants were living in poverty in 2013. This vulnerability was aggravated by the impact of coffee rust and the effects on corn and bean production of drought caused by El Niño – a cyclical climate phenomenon that affects weather patterns around the world – which has hurt 400,000 small farmers.

Caluco and four other municipalities in Sonsonate – areas in western El Salvador with a large indigenous presence – have joined the project: San Antonio del Monte, Nahuilingo, Izalco and Nahuizalco.

Farmers in the five municipalities – including the women interviewed in Caluco – set up the Asociación Cooperativa de Producción Agropecuaria Cacao Los Izalcos cacao cooperative, in order to join forces at each stage of the production chain.

Cacao growers, mainly women, during a training session on how to make organic fertiliser to enrich the soil on their land in San Simón, a village in the municipality of Mercedes Umaña in the eastern Salvadoran department of Usulután. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Cacao growers, mainly women, during a training session on how to make organic fertiliser to enrich the soil on their land in San Simón, a village in the municipality of Mercedes Umaña in the eastern Salvadoran department of Usulután. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The cooperative has 111 hectares of cacao trees. Because they need shade to grow, the farmers plant them alongside fruit and timber trees.

In the first few months after it was formed, the Alianza Cacao focused on growing seedlings in nurseries that the members began to plant on their farms. The trees start to bear fruit when they are three or four years old.

But in Caluco local farmers are already making chocolate, because there were cacao producers in the municipality, who used locally-grown cacao along with imported beans to produce chocolate. In fact, Caluco was historically inhabited by Pilpil indigenous people, whose cacao was famous in colonial times.

“We hope that next year our production level will be higher; output today is low, because things are just getting started,” the vice president of the Asociación Cooperativa de Producción Agropecuaria Cacao Los Izalcos cooperative, Raquel Santos, tells IPS.

When the cooperative’s production peaks, it hopes to produce 500 kg a month of cacao, Artiga said.

Although for now the chocolate they produce is all hand-made, the members of the cooperative plan in the future to make chocolate bars on a more industrial scale. But that will depend on their initial success.

Since the cooperative was founded, the aim has been for women’s participation to be decisive in the local development of cacao production.

The Caluco Local Cacao Committee is made up of 29 male farmers and 25 women who process the beans and produce chocolate. They have a nursery and have built the first collection centre for locally produced cacao.

In the nursery, students from the local school are taught planting techniques and the importance of cacao in their history, culture and, now, economy.

Miriam Bermúdez, one of the rural women who joined the project to grow cacao in San Simón, a village in the eastern Salvadoran municipality of Mercedes Umaña, outside the Vivero La Colmena, the nursery where the 25,000 cacao seedlings to be planted on 25 hectares belonging to the participants in the initiative are grown. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Miriam Bermúdez, one of the rural women who joined the project to grow cacao in San Simón, a village in the eastern Salvadoran municipality of Mercedes Umaña, outside the Vivero La Colmena, the nursery where the 25,000 cacao seedlings to be planted on 25 hectares belonging to the participants in the initiative are grown. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

On the other side of the country, in the eastern department of Usulután, 52-year-old Miriam Bermúdez is one of the most enthusiastic participants in the Vivero La Colmena community nursery project. She managed to convince other people in her home village, San Simón in the municipality of Mercedes Umaña, to join the Alianza Cacao.

“I used to drink chocolate without even knowing what tree it came from. But now I have learned a lot about the production process,” Bermúdez tells IPS during a break in the training that she and a group of men and women farmers are receiving about producing organic fertiliser.

The pesticide-free fertiliser will nourish the soil where the cacao trees are planted.

There are 25,000 seedlings in the nursery, enough to cover 25 hectares of land on local farms with cacao trees. The project also has an irrigation system, to avoid the effects of periodic drought.

While the seedlings grow big enough to plant, the farmers of Mercedes Umaña are deciding which fruit and timber trees to grow alongside the cacao trees for shade. These trees will also generate incomes, or already do so in some cases.

Bermúdez, on her .7 hectare-farm, has planted plantain and banana trees, as well as a variety of vegetables, to boost her food security.

“When the vegetable truck comes by I never buy anything because I get everything I need from my garden,” she says proudly.

Her 16-year-old granddaughter Esmeralda Bermúdez has decided to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps and participates actively in the different tasks involved in cacao production in her community.

“I really like learning new things, like preparing the soil or making organic compost,” she told IPS after the training session.

In Usulután, besides the municipality of Mercedes Umaña, cacao production has extended to the towns of Jiquilisco, San Dionisio, Jucuarán, Jucuapa, California, Alegría, Berlín and Nueva Granada. In each municipality there is a nursery of cacao tree seedlings run by 25 families.

That is another important component of the Alianza Cacao: the final product has to be high-quality and organic, because the goal is to promote sustainable development. Planting cacao trees is an ecological activity in and of itself, because it creates forests, when the cacao trees are full-grown.

“It’s very important for the farmers to know that their plantations can be managed ecologically, for the good of the environment, and also because the product fetches a better price,” Griselda Alvarenga, an adviser to the project, tells IPS.

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Draconian Ban on Abortion in El Salvador Targeted by Global Campaignhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/draconian-ban-on-abortion-in-el-salvador-targeted-by-global-campaign/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=draconian-ban-on-abortion-in-el-salvador-targeted-by-global-campaign http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/draconian-ban-on-abortion-in-el-salvador-targeted-by-global-campaign/#comments Thu, 30 Apr 2015 20:53:51 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140406 International and local human rights groups are carrying out an intense global campaign to get El Salvador to modify its draconian law that criminalises abortion and provides for prison terms for women. Doctors, fearing prosecution, often report poor women who end up in the public hospitals with complications from miscarriages, some of whom are sent […]

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One of her defence lawyers hugs Carmelina Pérez when an appeals court in eastern El Salvador declares her innocent of homicide, on Apr. 23. She had been sentenced to 30 years in prison in June 2014 after suffering a miscarriage. In El Salvador women, especially the poor, suffer from the penalisation of abortion under any circumstances. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

One of her defence lawyers hugs Carmelina Pérez when an appeals court in eastern El Salvador declares her innocent of homicide, on Apr. 23. She had been sentenced to 30 years in prison in June 2014 after suffering a miscarriage. In El Salvador women, especially the poor, suffer from the penalisation of abortion under any circumstances. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Apr 30 2015 (IPS)

International and local human rights groups are carrying out an intense global campaign to get El Salvador to modify its draconian law that criminalises abortion and provides for prison terms for women.

Doctors, fearing prosecution, often report poor women who end up in the public hospitals with complications from miscarriages, some of whom are sent to jail for supposedly undergoing illegal abortions.

There are currently 15 women in prison who were sentenced for alleged abortions after reported miscarriages. At least 129 women were prosecuted for abortions between 2000 and 2011, according to local organisations.

The campaign by Amnesty International and local human rights groups collected 300,000 signatures on a petition demanding a modification of El Salvador’s total ban on abortion.

This Central American country of 6.3 million people is one of the few nations in the world to ban abortion under any circumstances and penalise it with heavy jail terms.

The campaign was launched when a woman was freed by an appeals court. She had been found guilty of homicide and spent 15 months in prison.

Carmelina Pérez wept tears of joy when a judge declared her innocent on Apr. 23, after a hearing in a court in the eastern city of La Unión, the capital of the department of the same name.

“I’m happy, because I will be back with my son and with my family, free,” a still-handcuffed Pérez told IPS. She has a three-year-old son in her native Honduras.

Pérez, 21, was working as a domestic employee in the town of Concepción de Oriente, in La Unión, when she suffered a miscarriage. She ended up sentenced in June 2014 to 30 years in prison for homicide – a sentence that was overturned on appeal.

Of the 17 women imprisoned in similar cases since 1998, 15 are still in prison.

That was the year the legislature modified the penal code to make abortion illegal under all circumstances, even when the mother’s life is at risk, the fetus is deformed or unviable, or the pregnancy is the result of incest or rape.

Article 1 of the Salvadoran constitution was amended in January 1999 to protect the right to life from the moment of conception, making it even more difficult to reform the ban on abortion.

Carmen Guadalupe Vásquez, 25, was another one of the 17 women imprisoned, who are referred to by rights groups as “Las 17”. She had been sentenced to 25 years after being raped and suffering a miscarriage. She spent seven years in prison but was pardoned by the legislature in January 2015, after the Supreme Court recognised prosecutorial errors in her trial.

And in November 2014, 47-year-old Mirna Ramírez was released after serving out her 12-year sentence.

At least five other women have been accused and are in prison awaiting final sentencing.

Most of these women sought medical care in public hospitals after suffering miscarriages or stillbirths, but were reported by hospital staff fearful of being accused of practicing abortions. Many were handcuffed to the hospital bed and sent to prison directly, under police custody.

“The total ban on abortion is a violation of the human rights of girls and women in El Salvador, such as the rights to health, life and justice,” Amnesty International Americas director Erika Guevara said at an Apr. 22 forum in San Salvador.

Guevara added that El Salvador’s law on abortion “criminalises the country’s poorest women.”

Although there are no recent figures, a 2013 study carried out by the Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto (Citizens’ Coalition for the Decriminalisation of Abortion) found that 129 women were accused of abortion between 2000 and 2011.

Of this total, 49 were convicted – 23 for abortion and 26 for homicide in different degrees. In these cases, the prosecutor’s office argued that the fetuses were born alive and the mother was responsible for their death.

Of the 129 women accused, seven percent were illiterate, 40 percent had only a primary school education, 11.6 percent had a high school education and just 4.6 had made it to the university. And 51.1 percent of the accused had no income while 31.7 had small incomes.

In El Salvador, it is no secret that middle- and upper-class women have access to safe abortions in private clinics, and are neither reported by the doctors nor arrested and charged.

In its petition to modify the ban, Amnesty International demanded that El Salvador ensure access to safe and legal abortion in cases of rape or incest, where the woman’s health or life is at risk, and where the fetus is malformed or unlikely to survive.

Only the Vatican, Haiti, Nicaragua, Honduras, Surinam and Chile have total bans on abortion, although in Chile the legislature is studying a bill that would legalise therapeutic abortion (under the previously listed circumstances).

Delegates from Amnesty International, the Agrupación Ciudadana, and the Center for Reproductive Rights met on Apr. 22 with representatives of President Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, to demand a reform of the law and deliver the 300,000 signatures.

They also met with the presidents of the legislature and judiciary.

“There is at least a willingness to talk, we see a certain openness,” activist Paula Ávila with the Center for Reproductive Rights, an international organisation based in the United States, told IPS.

Ávila added that as women who have suffered these cases increasingly speak out and tell their stories, the state will have to accept the need to sit down and talk.

The Center, along with the Agrupación Ciudadana and the Feminist Collective for Local Development, demanded a response from the Salvadoran state to a communication sent on Apr. 20 by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR) urging the state to recognise its responsibility in the death of “Manuela”.

Manuela – who never allowed her real name to be revealed – had a stillbirth, was erroneously accused of having an abortion, and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

It was later discovered that she had lymphatic cancer, a disease that can cause miscarriages. She died in prison in 2010 without being treated for her cancer.

The IACHR has accepted the case and has given the Salvadoran state three months to respond with regard to its responsibility for her death.

The debate on the flexibilisation of the total ban on abortion is marked by the “machismo” of Salvadoran society and moralistic and religious overtones, with heavy pressure from Catholic Church leaders and evangelical churches that stands in the way of political changes.

But the release of Carmelina Pérez in La Unión has given rise to hope in similar cases.

For the first time, an appeals court judge dismissed the statement of the gynecologist who testified against the defendant. That decision was key in overturning her conviction.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Talk of Death Squads to Combat New Wave of Gang Violence in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/talk-of-death-squads-to-combat-new-wave-of-gang-violence-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=talk-of-death-squads-to-combat-new-wave-of-gang-violence-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/talk-of-death-squads-to-combat-new-wave-of-gang-violence-in-el-salvador/#comments Thu, 23 Apr 2015 19:00:23 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140280 The resurgence of violent crime in El Salvador is giving rise to a hostile social environment in El Salvador reminiscent of the country’s 12-year civil war, which could compromise the country’s still unsteady democracy. After recent attacks by gangs against police and soldiers, there is talk in the legislature of declaring a state of siege […]

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The funeral of Justo Germán Gil, a member of the police Maintaining Order Unit killed by gang members in the town of San Juan Opico in eastern El Salvador on Jan. 10, 2015. Credit: Vladimir Girón/IPS

The funeral of Justo Germán Gil, a member of the police Maintaining Order Unit killed by gang members in the town of San Juan Opico in eastern El Salvador on Jan. 10, 2015. Credit: Vladimir Girón/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Apr 23 2015 (IPS)

The resurgence of violent crime in El Salvador is giving rise to a hostile social environment in El Salvador reminiscent of the country’s 12-year civil war, which could compromise the country’s still unsteady democracy.

After recent attacks by gangs against police and soldiers, there is talk in the legislature of declaring a state of siege in the most violent urban areas, and the government ordered the creation of three quick response battalions, similar to the ones that operated during the 1980-1992 civil war.

These military units were responsible for a number of massacres of civilians, such as the 1981 mass killing in the village of El Mozote in the northern department of Morazán, where more than 1,000 rural villagers were killed by members of the Atlacatl battalion.

Meanwhile, police and local residents are openly discussing the creation of groups to exterminate gangs, along the lines of far-right paramilitary death squads active in the country from the 1970s until the end of the armed conflict in 1992.“This escalation of violence could have been avoided if an attempt had been made to hold talks including the gangs.” -- Félix Arévalo

“It is extremely dangerous to be talking about a state of siege and all that, because it could affect the country’s democratic process,” the coordinator of the ecumenical Pastoral Initiative for Peace and Life (IPAZ), Félix Arévalo, told IPS.

IPAZ brings together leaders from different religious faiths seeking a negotiated solution to the problem of gang violence plaguing this impoverished Central American nation of 6.3 million.

If approved by parliament, the state of siege would suspend constitutional guarantees such as freedom of assembly and free passage, while militarising areas with high murder rates.

The last time a state of siege was declared in El Salvador was during the November 1989 guerrilla offensive known as “To the limit”, in the midst of the armed conflict that left 75,000 people dead and 8,000 “disappeared”.

The country is now governed by one of the former guerrilla leaders, Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the left-wing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), which became a political party after the 1992 peace accords and has been in power since 2009.

His government says the new wave of violence is part of a backlash by the gangs against the Feb. 14 transfer of their leaders from a medium to a maximum security prison known as Zacatraz, located in the city of Zacatecoluca, 41 km east of San Salvador.

The transferred prisoners included several of the heads of the MS13 and Barrio 18, the two gangs that reached a truce in March 2012 which led to a sharp drop in the number of murders.

Raúl Mijango, who helped broker the truce, told IPS that as a result of the decision to isolate the leaders, younger, more fanatic members who have made violence a way of life now lead the gangs’ activities.

“The last thing these young men are thinking about is stopping this conflict,” he said.

The truce collapsed in May 2013, when then President Mauricio Funes (2009-2014) of the FMLN was forced to remove the minister of justice and security, General David Munguía, one of the main drivers of the talks from within the government, over a technicality.

As of Monday Apr. 20, the gangs had killed – besides civilians – 20 police officers, six members of the military, one prosecutor and six prison guards in an undeclared war also fuelled by the police and military response that has left dozens of gang members dead in clashes.

On Apr. 18, nine gang members were shot by a military squadron in Uluapa Arriba, in the city of Zacatecoluca.

Some police have even openly talked about killing gang members.

“When they (the gang members) run into us, we’re going to kill them,” one police officer wearing a face mask told a local TV station.

And circulating on the social networks are amateur videos of police and locals urging people to kill the “mareros” – members of the gangs or “maras” as they are known in Central America – the same way death squads killed left-wing opponents during the war.

In March, the number of homicides shot up. That month was the most violent so far in the last decade, according to police figures: 481 homicides, an average of 16 murders a day, 56.2 percent more than in March 2014.

If that tendency holds steady, by the end of this year more than 5,000 murders will have been committed, for a homicide rate of 86 per 100,000 population, far above the already high 2014 rate of 63 per 100,000.

El Salvador is one of the world’s most violent countries, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The average Latin American murder rate is 29 per 100,000 inhabitants and the global average is 6.2.

The driving force behind the call for a state of siege are lawmakers from the right-wing Great Alliance for National Union, which holds 11 of the 84 seats in the single-chamber legislature whose term begins May 1, after the March elections.

“This escalation of violence could have been avoided,” said Arévalo, “if an attempt had been made to hold talks including the gangs” – an idea that is staunchly opposed by most political factions, due to society’s outrage against the gangs, which have an estimated combined total of 60,00 members.

In January the government of Sánchez Cerén cut off any possibility of dialogue with the gangs.

Roberto Valent, resident representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), told IPS that the scaling up of gang activity was in part a response to the state’s attempt, through a stepped-up police presence, to reassert control over territory in the hands of gangs.

Police action is important, he said, to pave the way for prevention, rehabilitation and socioeconomic reinsertion in those areas.

“It’s clearly a reaction to what the state is doing,” said Valent, who was technical coordinator of the National Council for Citizen Security and Coexistence.

The Council, set up by the president in September 2014, was tasked with setting forth proposals for fighting crime, with the participation of different segments of society and technical support from international donors.

In January, the Council proposed 124 measures that the government plans to adopt to fight the wave of crime and violence. Part of the two billion dollars needed to implement a five-year plan have been obtained.

The programme will include educational, healthcare and recreational initiatives, while creating 250,000 jobs for at-risk youngsters.

But in practice, the government has demonstrated more interest in stiffening its policy of cracking down on crime by stepping up police and military action.

The president has announced a restructuring and strengthening of the police, as well as the creation of more elite units to combat the gangs.

IPAZ’s Arévalo said it should be the other way around: “less police action and more prevention and reinsertion.”

“We have stirred up a hornet’s nest; the government acted mistakenly, you can’t implement a plan with corpses falling every which way,” he argued.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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