Uncategorized

Flood Update – Friday 10-14

Our staff in the Lower Lempa this morning reports that there are no real changes since yesterday’s update. The focus continues to be evacuating the Lotes and Babilonia communities.

Yesterday afternoon our staff went to inspect sections of the levees and report that huge sections have been washed away. One reason that Lotes and Bablonia have been so devastated is that there is a 25-meter (82 feet) hole in the levee and part of the Lempa River is being diverted inland. The River is going down some so the volume of water is not as great as it was yesterday, but flooding remains serious.

La Prensa Grafica is reporting this morning that 7 people throughout El Salvador have been killed in landslides and flooding, while 8000 have been evacuated to emergency shelters. The municipality of San Francisco Menéndez, Auachapan, where 6000 people have been evacuated to emergency shelters, is among the hardest hit communities. Yesterday, the Legislative Assembly passed a resolution declaring a state of emergency and public disaster in five of El Salvador’s fourteen provinces: Ahuachapán, Sonsonate, La Libertad, La Paz, and Usulután. This releases government emergency funds to aid in the rescue and recovery. La Prensa Grafica is also reporting that El Salvador’s Ministry of Civil Protection has released $837,559 for the relief effort.

The weather forecast for the weekend is for more rain, which means the threat of flooding and landslides will remain high.

Thanks to all who have contributed in the past couple of days to flood relief!

We have not reached our goal of $3000 and ask those who have not contributed to click on the Donate Now button at the top-right of this page. Many people remain in shelters and need immediate assistance. We are targeting our efforts to communities such as Amando Lopez, where 93 people are in a shelter with very few resources. Thank you!

Uncategorized

Flood Update for Lower Lempa of El Salvador

Voices staff attended a meeting in the Lower Lempa this afternoon to get an update on the flooding in the region.

Community leaders are reporting that the September 15th Dam just up the Lempa River was releasing water at 5500 cubic meters/second last night between 9 pm and 4 am this morning. This report has not been verified by government officials in charge of the Dam, who report that they have been releasing water at 4000 cm/s. The flow has remained around 4500 cm/s throughout the day. Regardless of the whether the flow last night was 5500 or 4500 cm/s, the results have been fairly devastating. The Lempa River is currently flowing over the levee in the northern top of the Namcuchaname Forest and the levee in the community of El Marillo. The levee breech has sent a large current of water through the community and completely flooded the main road cutting off access to the communities downstream. As we reported earlier, the Lempa River has also breeched the levee in the Lotes and Babilonia communities.

As of this afternoon, the focus of the evacuations is on the Lotes and Babilonia communities, which have been flooded since yesterday. However, the Civil Protection Agency and other government officials have called on ALL communities in the Lower Lempa, from San Marcos on down, to evacuate. Their plan is to move all residents to a shelter in San Marcos. When that is full they will take people to Tierra Blanca and then on to Jiquilisco. Civil Protection has set up a command post in Ciudad Romero where they are coordinating evacuation and relief efforts. According to our field staff, many government and international agencies are present, including the police, military, Red Cross, Comandos de Salvamento, the mayor’s office, and many, many others. The good news is that they are coordinating better than in past emergencies.

As of this afternoon, most Community Boards are holding off on the evacuations to see if the flooding becomes more severe. In past floods, when the river breeches the levees upstream, the water is directed across land to the Jiquilisco Bay, sparing communities such as La Canoa and Amando Lopez. The community boards stressed that having to evacuate is very traumatic for a family, and they want to make sure that it is completely necessary before mobilizing their neighbors.

So far, the Amando Lopes board has helped evacuate 20 pregnant women, small children and some older men, and taken them to the community shelter. The community board is still working to acquire the beds, water, and food needed to keep the evacuees comfortable.

This is by all measures a devastating flood and appears to be the worst in several years. We are still trying to reach our goal of raising $3000 and need your help in doing so. The government is providing many services to the evacuees, but there are still many immediate needs that have not been met.

Uncategorized

Flood Update – Help Now!

Our local sources in the Lower Lempa are reporting this morning that the communities of Los Lotes and Babilonia are experiencing extreme flooding and rescue teams have been trying to evacuate residents. While some have made it to shelters others remain trapped. The only road into the area is on the levee, which has holes and is too instable to traverse at this point.  A report in the La Prensa Grafica says that members of the Red Cross and Comandos de Salvamento are going to try and evacuate those stranded by boat or helicopter. La Prensa Grafica is reporting that a total of 43 families mainly in La Canoa and El Angel have been evacuated, totaling 124 people.

Over 4000 people have been evacuated from their homes in San Salvador, La Paz, San Vicente, Sonsonate, and Usulután, and the risk of more flooding and landslides remains high.

One of the main concerns remains the Lempa River. According to the SNET, at 6 am this morning the river was still rising in San Marcos Lempa. The latest report was that the September 15 Dam was releasing 5000 cm/sec, beyond what the levees that protect the Lower Lempa can withstand.

Our goal is to Raise $3000 by the close of business today to provide assistance to those affected by the flooding. Please help us by clicking on the donate now button to the right of this post.

We’ll provide more information throughout the day. We are also posting photos and updates on Facebook.

Advocacy, Disasters

Flooding in the Lower Lempa of Jiquilisco, Usulután – Help Now

Voices just received an update from our partners United Communities, and news is that communities are beginning to flood. As we reported early in the day, a tropical depression is stalled just off the coast of Guatemala, causing flooding and mudslides in Auchuapan and communities along the coast, including those in the Lower Lempa region of San Vicente and Jiquilisco, Usulután.

According to our partners, the problem so far is the constant rainfall. The ground is saturated and the drainage ditches are full. As a result, communities are starting to flood. They include: Nueva Esperanza, El Zamorano, El Marillo I, Marillo II, La Casona, Montemar, Los Conventos, El Ángel, La Plancha, San Martín, Las Arañas y El Presidio. So far the only evacuations have been in El Ángel, where 37 families are in a shelter.

The Lempa River may soon become a problem and contribute to the flooding. At 1:00 this afternoon the September 15th dam began discharging water at a rate of 2300 cubic meters per second, just under the 2500 cm/sec the regions levee system can stand. At 4:00 pm the dam began releasing at 3500 cm/sec, and they increased it 5:00 pm 4000 cm/sec.

At the time of the last update, water from the dam had not reached the Lower Lempa, but our partners are expecting that the amount of water being released will cause severe flooding in Los Lotes and La Babilonia, communities that are the first to suffer when the river floods. If the release from the dam were to increase to 5500 cm/sec they speculate that the already weakened levees would fail and have deadly results in many other communities.

Beyond the immediate impacts that flooding will have, United Communities fears that severe flooding will devastate the economies of San Juan del Gozo, Las Mesitas, La Chacastera, and others that depend on traditional farming in the mangroves for their livelihoods.

At the moment the needs are basic – caring for the needs of those displaced and staying in shelters. The forecast is for the rain to stick around so we expect the needs to become much worse in the immediate future.

Please help us raise $3000 by this time tomorrow so that we may provide immediate assistance to those in need.

In 2009 readers of this blog helped us raise $9000 in support of communities in La Paz who were suffered when their communities were flooded. Please help us today by clicking on the Donate Now button in the top right-hand corner of this page. We will make a wire transfer at the close of business tomorrow.

Thank you

Disasters, Hydro Electric Dams, News Highlights

Flood Alert in El Salvador!

This week El Salvador has been feeling the growing effects of two low-pressure systems.  By this afternoon Tropical Depression 12 E, which sits off the coast of Guatemala on the Pacific Ocean, is expected to be upgraded to a Tropical Storm.  So far, the heaviest rainfall has been registered in the Western provinces of the country, as well as the coastal region.

Dr. Jeff Masters, from Weather Underground, describes further possibilities for tropical depressions next week.  In his blog he says:

“Many of the computer models continue to predict that a strong tropical disturbance capable of becoming a tropical depression could form in the Western Caribbean or extreme southern Gulf of Mexico early next week. Some of the spin and moisture for this storm could potentially come from Tropical Depression 12-E, which formed in the Eastern Pacific this morning, just offshore of the Mexico/Guatemala border. TD 12-E is expected to move inland over Southeast Mexico and Guatemala over the next few days, bringing very heavy rains of 5 – 10 inches capable of causing life-threatening flash flooding and mudslides.”

Civil Protection in El Salvador has declared the Orange level alert for the coast and volcanic corridor.  There have been reported mudslides and flashfloods as well, with one reported death in a mudslide in Ayutuxtepeque, near Mejícanos.  A Mayor of one of the most affected municipalities in Ahuachpan was rescued after being swept away in his pick up truck while trying to alert locals of evacuation efforts.  About 240 people are in shelters in La Paz, and another 24 families in San Vicente.

In the Lower Lempa, Jiquilisco many communities are experiencing minor flooding due to the accumulated rainfall.  These include Amando López, El Marillo I and II, Monte Mar, Octavio Ortiz, Los Lotes, Babylonia, Nueva Esperanza, Ciudad Romero, among others.  Currently, the CEL reports discharges of 1,200 cubic meters per second, and according the Community Association ACUDESBAL, the Lempa river basin can absorb up to 2,500 cubic meters per second.  This is less than prior years due to the deterioration of the already patchy levee and drainage systems.  No one has evacuated yet, but the Early Warning System is fully activated.

Follow developments on our FaceBook page or on Twitter @VoicesElSal

 

 

Vocies on the Border is a non-profit organizations dedicated to promoting just and sustainable development in El Salvador. Please support our work today by clicking on the Donate Now button!

News Highlights, violence

Archbishop Romero’s Killer Finally Identified

Marino Samayoa Acosta

More than 30 years after the March 24, 1980 assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, new information has emerged about the identity of the shooter.  Diario Co Latino, through sources close to  d’ Aubisson’s circle, named National Guard Deputy Sargeant Marino Samayoa Acosta as the assassin. It was the son of former president Colonel Arturo Armando Molina, Mario Molina, who suggested the Sargeant for the job.  The shooter had previously been a member of President Molina’s security team.

Until now, the actual identity of the shooter was the only piece missing to the puzzle.  The Truth Commission had managed to put together the rest of the information, such as the intellectual authors of the crime, however the individual who actually shot the Archbishop remained a mystery.  Major Roberto d’Aubuisson, founder of the ARENA political party as well as El Salvador’s death squads, has long been acknowledged as giving the order for the assassination.  Captains Eduardo Ávila and Álvaro Rafael Saravia did the actual mobilizing for the plan.  Many of the details had been found in Saravia’s “Plan Piña,” which described the weapon, actors and logistics for the murder.  Those familiar with the case had always suspected the doctor Héctor Antonio Regalado as the shooter, but the Truth Commission said there was not enough persuasive evidence to support that theory.

Many Salvadorans continue to mourn the death of Monsignor Romero, and the current Auxiliary Archbishop of San Salvador, Monsignor Gregorio Rosa Chavez, announced that the release of the new information will be an important element for a thorough investigation for those interested in the truth and that ‘at best, this publication allows us to come to the end of the investigation’.

News Highlights, Sports

Beach Soccer Team from Jiquilisco Bay takes on the World Cup

Wilber Alvarado

Fishermen from two small mangrove islands took fourth place in the World Cup for beach soccer. The Azul Playera hails from La Pirraya and Rancho Vieja, where they started training in professional beach soccer seven years ago.  Sunday, after a close game against Portugal, they ended their incredible tour in Ravenna, Italy.

It began in 2004, when Israel Cruz began organizing a soccer league with poor fishing families in San Dionisio, Usulután. While the mud and thorns of the mangrove forest made it hard to practice in the community, he quickly realized the kids played very well in the sand at the beach. So Mr. Cruz organized the community and the players to haul sand up from the bay to cover the field and started holding tournaments.

He soon met some of the team’s stars; Roberto Membreño and Wilber Zavala in Rancho Viejo, and Augustín ‘Tín’ Ruiz, Tomás Hernandez, and Medardo Lobo in La Pirraya. Israel Cruz remembers the first tournaments that the team travelled to. In one incident, ‘Tín’ got carsickness on the way to the nearby beaches of La Libertad.  The anxiety of that experience led him to cut up his passport so that he wouldn’t have to travel to the 2007 elimination rounds in Acapulco, Mexico.

Today their passports are filled with stamps from Spain, Dubai, and Italy. After defeating Oman and Argentina, they classified for the final round with their victory over Italy. Only losses against Russia and then Portugal left them in fourth place – a historic achievement for Salvadoran soccer.

Now the team returns to La Pirraya and Rancho Vieja, where the majority of families survive off of fishing, digging clams from banks of mud in the bay, or transporting neighbors to and from the mainland. Sigfrido Reyes, the President of the Legislative Assembly, has already fielded questions about what, if any, economic aid will be given to these new ‘National Heroes.’

According to an article in El Mundo, the National Sports Institute promised the communities new boats and motors. But a month has gone by and the boats and motors have not materialized. Today, ARENA and FMLN have asked the Legislative Assembly to guarantee these incentives.

El Salvador Government, Elections 2012

Three Weeks Left to Register to Vote in El Salvador: 57,310 New Voters Oblivious of Deadline

The National Registrar (CNR) and Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) are scrambling to get 98.2% of new voters to register before September 12th when, according to the electoral calendar, the window for registration closes.  These new voters are all youth born between September 12th and March 11th, 1994 and will be turning 18 before the March 11th, 2012 elections.

This is an even larger challenge for the government institutions because the Legislative Assembly has yet to approve the electoral budget.  The funds would allow the TSE, the CNR and the different political parties to campaign for voter registration and trainings about the new electoral reforms.  The Assembly only passed the ballot reforms two weeks ago, and they are still negotiating reforms for Independent Candidates.

This morning, Voices on the Border attended a meeting between civil society organizations and representatives from the TSE and CNR.  The President of the TSE, Eugenio Chicas, said it’s too late now for them to effectively reach out to new voters, since these campaigns take at least 3 months to carry out.  Instead, the strategy is to rely on Churches and Non Governmental Organizations to help inform Salvadoran youth.  This Saturday the TSE and CNR will also be tabling at a National Youth Convention in San Salvador.

International Relations, U.S. Relations

Sonia Sotomayor Visits El Salvador

Yesterday, August 15th, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor arrived in El Salvador for a week-long visit. Justice Sotomayor is visiting her close friend, Mari Carmen Aponte who is the U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador. During her stay, Justice Sotomayor will meet with Magistrates on the Salvadoran Supreme Court, as well as law students in San Salvador. She also plans to meet with students from Supérate, an youth program that seeks to improve opportunities for youth to develop their professional lives.

 

Justice Sotomayor and Ambassador Aponte, both Latinas with very successful legal careers, serve together on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund. The two have been so close that Justice Sotomayor swore in Aponte as Ambassador in 2010.

 

The visit comes less than a month after the resolution of the constitutional crisis that began on June 3rd when the Legislative Assembly and Executive branches tried to impede on the judicial independence of El Salvador’s Constitutional Court. This seems less of an official visit in response to that crisis, than two old friends getting together.

Sotomayor and Aponte in El Salvador
violence

Preliminary Hearing for 9 Trinidad Murder Suspects Postponed… Again

On July 1, 2010, Salvadoran Police and government prosecutors announced that they had arrested nine people for the murders of Ramiro Rivera, Dora Alicia Sorto, Felícita Echeverría, Horacio Menjívar, and Esperanza Velasco.

At the time, they claimed that Ramiro Rivera and Santos Rodriguez had paid gang members to kill Horacio Menjívar (April 2009) and Esperanza Velasco (October 2009), and that Oscar Menjívar and his sister Naomi hired the same gang members to kill Ramiro Rivera and Santos Rodriguez in revenge in December 2009. Felícita Echeverría was an innocent bystander who was killed while riding in Ramiro’s truck when assassins struck. Authorities presume that a few days later, assassins were searching for Santos Rodriguez, but when they came across his wife Dora Alicia, they killed her instead. She was 8 months pregnant at the time and carrying her two-year old son. The two-year old was wounded but survived. The unborn child did not.

The police and prosecutors claimed at the time that the violence was a family feud between members of the Menjívar family and leaders of the CAC, which is a local anti-mining organization. In one press release, the state prosecutor’s office states that the violence was an escalation of the debate over mining. In previous and subsequent statements, they have denied any link to mining.

Though the nine suspects being held for the murders were arrested over 13 months ago, they still have not had a preliminary hearing to determine whether the prosecutors and police have enough evidence to move forward with a trial. The preliminary hearings have been scheduled and cancelled four times in the past year – the most recent was last Friday, July 29th.  According to a press release from the Environmental Committee of Cabañas (CAC), the hearings were cancelled due to poor planning and logistics on the part of the prosecutor’s office.

According to a report by Sydney Blanco and Francisco Díaz, El Salvador has an impunity rate of 96.2%, meaning that of all murders committed in the country, only 3.8% result in a suspect being tried and convicted of the crime. Though police make arrests in 15% of all murders, the prosecutors only convict in 3.8% of them. The report places the blame for such a high impunity rate on the police, which they found were responsible for 26% of murders going unprosecuted, and the state prosecutor, which they found responsible for 54% of the murders going unprosecuted. The report says that the police and prosecutor’s office are jointly responsible the other 20% of the murder going unprosecuted.

In their recent press release, the CAC urges international organizations to take action to spur on the trial of the accused. They make the following demands:

–       We urge the Attorney General’s Office to expedite this process once and for all so that the hearing, which has been suspended four times, may be held and that no more excuses are put forward further delaying the procedure;

–       We demand that the investigations of the murders of Ramiro Rivera Gómez and Dora Alicia Sorto are comprehensive and coherent without trying to hide the truth;

–       The prosecutors must investigate all leads, which have already been discussed publically, instead of being fixed upon a single hypothesis that we (the CAC) do not agree with;

–       They (the CAC) will hold the authorities in charge of the investigation responsible if their negligence results in the suspects going free with impunity, and anything else happens to members of the CAC and the families of the victims;

–       We have called on international organizations and friends to watch out for the results of this trial, and we have asked them to demand that the authorities take these cases more seriously so that we don’t have to mourn the loss of another person, since three people from the CAC have already been killed for their involvement in the organization;

–       As an association defending the environment and human rights we also express that we will fight to defend life at the expense of losing our own.

While it is unclear why the prosecutors are delaying the hearings, there are real consequences. Though they are accused of murder, the suspects have a right to a trial. They were arrested over a year ago and the prosecuting attorneys have been unable to get their case to the point where they are even ready for a preliminary hearing.  In addition, the family and friends of the victims have a right to see justice done. If the suspects are indeed guilty, they should be held accountable for their crimes.

The preliminary hearings and trials are also important because it is an opportunity for the public to learn more about the facts about the case. Currently, there is little known about what happened in 2009 that led to the murders. Locals believe that there are intellectual authors involved that have not yet been arrested, and the preliminary hearing is an opportunity to gain access to information that may help others continue to investigate.

Time is also essential to these cases. The more time goes by, the greater the chance that the memories of witnesses become foggy and skewed. And the more time passes the greater the likelihood that something could happen to witnesses. The most recent murder involving a member of the CAC occurred in June 2011. Though the victim was not a witness to these crimes, there are potentially others whose lives are in danger. An example of this is the August 2009 shooting of Ramiro Rivera. Oscar Menjívar had been charged from trying to kill Ramiro Rivera in August 2009, but before Rivera could testify he was killed. The judge dismissed the charges against Mr. Menjívar because that the key witness, Mr. Rivera, was dead.

The violence in Cabañas continues and there are people guilty of murder who still enjoy impunity. With every passing day, the chances that they will be brought to justice diminish. We join the CAC in calling upon El Salvador’s state prosecutors to bring those accused to trial, while continuing to consider all other lines of investigation, including the possibility that there are intellectual authors to these crimes and that the violence was more than just a family feud.