Cabanas, Elections 2009, Organized Crime, Politics, violence

Three Convicted for the Murder of Marcelo Rivera

Yesterday a judge in San Salvador sentenced gang members José Luis Herrera, Wilber Antonio Baires, and Delfino Lara Arteaga to 40 years imprisonment for the murder of Marcelo Rivera. The judge also sentenced Eliseo Herrera Valladares, Santos Vladimir Avilés, y José Manuel Lara to three years for trying to cover-up the murder.

The conviction comes more than fifteen months after the assassination of Rivera, who was disappeared and found at the bottom of a well in July 2009. Marcelo Rivera was an environmentalist who opposed Pacific Rim’s efforts to mine gold in Cabañas, as well as the director of the Casa de Cultura in his hometown of San Isidro. He was also very active in the local FMLN party and led the January 2009 efforts to prevent election fraud during the local elections in San Isidro.

Since his lifeless body was recovered, police and attorney general investigators have characterized the case as a “common gang crime,” asserting that Rivera was drinking with the gang members when a fight broke out. His friends and family continue to call for a more thorough investigation, arguing that Marcelo did not drink and that intellectual authors of the crime paid the gang members to kill him.

In the year before his assassination, Marcelo received numerous death threats for his participation in the anti-mining movement and making accusations that Mayor Bautista of San Isidro and his supporters were guilty of election fraud in past elections. Some in Cabañas believe his role in denouncing election fraud was the motive for his assassination. Before the January 2009 elections, Marcelo and other civil society leaders arranged for vigilantes to blow whistles every time they saw someone from outside their community trying to vote. Early on Election Day, whistles were blowing non-stop leading to a closing of the polls and a re-vote a week later. Days after the election Javier Moreno, an employee of Mayor Bautista’s office, tried to run over Marcelo with his car as he walked down 1st Street West in San Isidro. In the months that followed, he received several death threats and warnings, until he disappeared after getting off a bus in Ilobasco on June 18, 2009.

Family and friends were extremely frustrated by the police in the 12 days that he was missing. Though they asked for help, the police refused to form a search party, and only assigned an officer to join the community-organized search. When Marcelo’s body was recovered, it showed signs that he had been tortured. Police immediately arrested four gang members for the murder, and closed the investigation. When family and friends received a copy of the coroner’s report, they notice several discrepancies. The police stated that Marcelo died from blows to the head, while the coroner’s report stated the cause of death was affixation. The family was also upset when they went to the coroner’s office to recover the body only to learn that the coroner had received orders to bury Marcelo in a common grave. The coroner reluctantly told friends of the family where the common grave was so they could retrieve the body for a proper burial.

We join the friends and family of Marcelo Rivera, the Mining Roundtable, and others in the international community in their call for a thorough investigation of Marcelo’s death so that the intellectual authors of the crime may finally be brought to justice. While yesterday’s verdict was a step in the right direction, there is much more work to be done to ensure justice. Marcelo was a leader in his community and a pillar of the region’s nascent civil society. As long as those who ordered his assassination continue to enjoy impunity, civil society, rule of law, and democracy in El Salvador will remain weak.

Elections 2009, News Highlights, Politics

President Funes Delivers Inaugural Speech of Change

Yesterday, Mauricio Funes took the oath of office and was sworn in as the new President of El Salvador. Throughout his campaign, candidate Funes spoke of change for El Salvador. In his inauguration speech, President Funes laid out some of his ideas and initiatives to make this change possible. Though these initiatives focus primarily on economic, social, and institutional issues, Funes also spoke about narco-trafficking, migration, foreign relations, and other issues. While details of specific initiatives and programs were absent in his speech, the message of change and optimism was clear.

funes inauguration

In discussing the current economic crisis, President Funes announced his plans to launch El Plan Anticrisis, a set of measures meant to stabilize the Salvadoran economy and stimulate job creation. The $474 million plan seeks to preserve current rates of employment while creating 100,000 new jobs over the next 18 months. Other goals of the plan include improving public services and basic infrastructure, as well as constructing and improving about 25,000 urban homes and apartments in poor, rural communities. The president also mentioned his plan to create a state bank that will provide financing to small and medium-sized businesses. President Funes did not provide details how the government will pay for this ambitious economic plan since the Salvadoan deficit is higher than forecasted due to tax evasion and the global economic crisis. Currently, much of El Salvador’s social spending is financed by international loans, which exceed $355 million.

President Funes highlighted tax evasion and fraud as one issues the new Economic Cabinet will address early on.  He also stated that they will create a better system for granting subsidies, which the president said until now have been “granted in an indiscriminate manner,” often benefiting those with high salaries already.

President Funes also described a new social initiative, the Sistema de Protección Social Universal (Are some of the economic, infrastructure, housing initiatives mentioned above the same as what are listed in this program?). The program will be divided into two parts: a rural initiative and an urban initiative. The urban initiative will focus on infrastructure, housing, and public services. It will also give an education bonus to parents with children 6-18 years of age. The rural component will expand the Red Solidaria program initiated by the Saca Government. It will change its name to Comunidades Solidarias Rurales. This program will grant pensions to the elderly population, expand to areas not included in Red Solidaria, and provide health and nutrition services to young children. Presdent Funes and his advisors have estimated that the uniforms and school supplies donated through this program would benefit approximately 1.3 million children in first through third grade.

Concerning social development and health care, President Funes also stated that he extend the services of the Instituto Salvadoreño del Seguro Social (ISSS) to cover more people in more areas, and provide services to those who have recently lost jobs. The president stressed that another measure would be to eliminate quotas for health services and essential medicines.

Another focus of the inaugural speech was curbing corruption and reforming government institutional practices. Funes promised that the new government would be a “meritocracia,” not one that gave privileges to those with high status and connections. He stressed that transparency and better institutional practices require the vigilance of all Salvadorans, not just government officials. 

Though Funes mentioned social problems such as immigration, gang violence, and narco-trafficking, he did not provide clear-cut answers to how his administration will address these issues. Funes made it clear that combating narco-trafficking would require regional support. Though the United States’ Mérida Initiative technically extends to other Central American countries along with its main focal point, Mexico, many leaders in other countries in Central America believe that not enough support and attention are provided to their countries to help combat this problem.

Funes also expressed his intentions to build stronger diplomatic and commercial trade relationships with all Central and South American countries, including Cuba, a country that El Salvador has not had a relationship with in recent years. Additionally, the president hopes to maintain and strengthen El Salvador’s relationship with the United States, a country that he acknowledged as linked to El Salvador in many ways, especially concerning the millions of Salvadorans living in the United States to find better jobs.

In the speech, the new president addressed several of the major issues facing El Salvador right now and in the immediate future. There are great challenges facing this government such as the large deficit and economic crisis and the on-going violence, and it is unclear how successful the government will be in finding solutions. However, it is clear that President Funes is eager to confront these challenges.

photo from El Diario de Hoy

Elections 2009, News Highlights, Politics

Inauguration Day

New President Mauricio Funes Takes Office

On March 15, 2009, Mauricio Funes, the candidate for the Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN) won the presidency in a historic victory that marked the end of twenty years of one party rule by the right-wing party, Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA). As Funes takes office on June 1, he will be faced with great challenges within the Salvadoran government and in Salvadoran society as well. Recent constitutional reform measures, a growing budget deficit, international investment and trade concerns, and the upcoming cabinet announcements are issues that will challenge Funes’s government. Funes must also confront the continuing poverty, healthcare deficiencies, falling remittances, and violence throughout Salvadoran society.

As Funes takes office on June 1, many will be eager to see what kind of changes will take place in El Salvador. Here is a preview of some of the most immediate issues surrounding the June 1 inauguration.

Cabinet Choices

Since the historic victory of the FMLN in the March 15 presidential elections, the cabinet appointments have been widely reported and debated. Though President-elect Mauricio Funes has maintained that he would not announce all of the appointments until his June 1 inauguration, some positions have recently been confirmed, and there has been much speculation of others. Many civil society organizations and lobbying groups have made their cabinet choices clear, and news sources have leaked proposed candidates. Even though Funes has denied their validity, a few of their predictions have been confirmed already by government officials.

On May 26, President-elect Funes named the members of the Economic cabinet. Those announced were Héctor Dada Hirezi as minister of the Economy, Alex Segovia as Technical Secretary, Carlos Acevedo as president of the Central Reserve Bank and Carlos Cáceres as head of the Treasury department. The new Economic cabinet has thus far maintained that  it would keep the dollar as  El Salvador’s official currency, a topic that has been controversial among government officials and citizens since the dollar was introduced in 2001. Other plans include creating more economic transparency, a development bank within the Central Reserve Bank, and a mechanism to ensure that the large “informal sector” of the economy pays taxes.

Also announced by Funes and his advisors recently were Gerson Martínez as minister of Public Works, Manuel Sevilla as minister of Agriculture, Manuel Melgar as minister of Security, Victoria Marina de Avilés as minister of Labor, María Isabel Rodríguez as minister of Health, and José Napoléon Duarte as the minister of Tourism. News sources have reported that the president is considering Francisco Cáceres as Private Secretary and David Rivas as  Communications Secretary. It has been reported as well that Vice President-elect Sánchez Cerén would be also serving as the Minister of Education (MINED). David Mungía Payés has been chosen to be the new minster of Defense. Cabinet announcements have already aroused controversy amongst FMLN party members, and it may be difficult for Funes to negotiate further choices with the FMLN base.

The incoming cabinet will have their work cut out for them upon entering office. The global economic crisis has slowed foreign investment and remittances from Salvadorans abroad, and violence and crime continue to escalate in El Salvador. Furthermore, health services are plagued with shortages and insufficient resources, and many of the Millennium Development Goals that El Salvador has committed to achieving by 2015 are still far from being achieved. Salvadoran citizens have great expectations for change in the next four years, and because of this, many citizens have been very interested in the decision-making process to appoint cabinet members.

President Funes will announce the remaining cabinet members in the upcoming days. The inaugural ceremony will take place in the Centro de Ferias y Convenciones this week. Leaders from around the world will be attending the inauguration including United States Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, the president of Taiwan, Ma Ying-Jeou, and the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, among others.

Party politics and polarization in El Salvador

President-elect Funes is already facing one of the most prevalent challenges in Salvadoran politics: party polarization. This was evident with recent constitutional reform votes, and was present throughout the eight years of President’s Saca’s terms in office as well. Polarization partly comes from the parties past ideological differences, but has become entrenched in an intense bi-partisanship.  Political decisions are more often aligned to party interests than the issues at hand.

The FMLN now has the greatest majority in the Legislative Assembly after recent Legislative elections with 35 out of 84 seats. However, ARENA has 33, and two other right-wing parties, the PCN and the PDC hold the remainder of seats and frequently align themselves with ARENA. FMLN may have to make considerable compromise in the coming years, but third parties have thus far made it clear that their support can be won with political favors and negotiation.

Funes will have to deal continuously with polarization throughout his first term in office, and he may also face conflict within his own party. Because the president-elect has not been a long-standing figure in the FMLN and did not participate in the guerrilla warfare while most other FMLN leaders did, some party members may be reluctant to support some of his more moderate positions. Furthermore, FMLN members are highly charged since this is the first presidential election they have won. The atmosphere for change and reform is strong, and party members will be making sure their voices are heard.

With the recent Economic cabinet announcements, some FMLN members vocally expressed their disagreement with Funes’s choices. Whether or not these disagreements will cause further party division will be evident with the remaining cabinet announcements and the first few months that Funes is in office.


El Salvador Government, Elections 2009, Equality, Mauricio Funes, News Highlights, Womens issues

New Government Launches Ciudad Mujer

Groundbreaking  for Ciudad Mujer at UsultánFour months ago, in the midst of an intense electoral campaigning, President-elect Mauricio Funes announced his ambitious plan to provide health and social services to women throughout El Salvador. The project, Ciudad Mujer, would offer childcare, health programs, prenatal support through the program Madre Feliz, social support for domestic violence, legal advice, economic assistance through microcredit and workshops, and religious activities.

The FMLN presented this project as an initial step towards addressing gender equality and familial well-being. Although these issues are mentioned in Funes’s platform, specific plans to overcome them are not included. If fully implemented, Ciudad Mujer would be an important step in the struggle to find gender equality and family support for Salvadoran women. The project calls for fourteen centers, one for each departmental captial in the country. Initially the government will contribute about 1.5 million dollars, an ambitious investment considering the current economic climate.

According to news sources, Vanda Pignato, Funes’s wife, will coordinate many aspects of Ciudad Mujer. In early March, Pignato attended the ground-breaking of the Ciudad Mujer to be indigena-ciudad-mujerconstructed in Usulután. Other departments such as La Unión, Santa Ana, and La Libertad have already set aside plots of land for Ciudad Mujer as well.

Women in El Salvador have high expectations for the project. When Funes announced his plans for Ciudad Mujer in February, around two thousand women of diverse economic sectors and professions attended. About a thousand people attended the ground-breaking in Usulután. As one of the first steps to act on campaign promises, the progress of Ciudad Mujer could be an important indicator of an effective Funes’s administration capable of social investment despite serious fiscal challenges.

first photo from the official website of Mauricio Funes.

second photo from the website of Movimiento Amigos de Mauricio option=com_content&view=article&id=109:general-noticias&catid=35:noticias-noticias&Itemid=63

Elections 2009, Mining

Mining and the Presidential Elections: Rep. Rohrabacher, Paul Behrends, and Pacific Rim

Days before El Salvador’s recent presidential elections, a small chorus of Representatives from the U.S. Congress spoke out against the FMLN political party and their presidential candidate Mauricio Funes. Of those that spoke out, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) was one of the most vociferous.

In a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives, Rep. Rohrabacher labeled the FMLN a pro-terrorist political party that has links to Iran, al-Qaeda, the FARC, Cuba, and Hugo Chavez. He added that while Salvadorans are free to vote for whomever they like, if they elect the FMLN, the U.S. should end the temporary protective status (TPS) for Salvadorans in the U.S., and cut off the flow of remittances to El Salvador. Rep. Rohrabacher and officials from the State Department made similar threats during the 2004 presidential elections in El Salvador, contributing to the ARENA’s victory over the FMLN.

Despite the last minute threats, on March 15, 2009 Salvadorans elected Mauricio Funes as their next president. While Rep. Rohrabacher’s comments on the House Floor caused a stir the week before the elections, the media has largely ignored them in their coverage of the Funes victory. Rep. Rohrabacher on the other hand posted a C-SPAN video of his speech from the House floor on the front page of his official website.


Contrary to Rep. Rohrabacher’s threats, El Salvador’s relationship with the U.S. remains strong. President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton both called to congratulate Funes on his victory, and to schedule meetings with him at an upcoming summit. Funes –a moderate and a party outsider– has reiterated that he will respect trade agreements and international law, seek to stem the flow immigration, and maintain strong ties with the U.S.

Within hours of Rep. Rohrabacher and others making statements regarding the FMLN, thousands of U.S. citizens were calling the State Department to demand a statement of neutrality from the Obama Administration. State Department officials readily obliged by restating their neutrality and willingness to work with the next Salvadoran president. The statements made by Rep. Rohrabacher and others beg the question – do these Congressmen have intelligence or information on the FMLN that the State Department and President do not have, or were other interests in the balance? We propose that the answer may lie in Rep. Rohrabacher’s connections with the Pacific Rim Mining Corporation’s struggle to secure mining permits in El Salvador.   Click here to keep reading

El Salvador Government, Elections 2009, Mauricio Funes

The Transition Begins

In an interview Monday, president-elect Mauricio Funes stated that he might put off naming his cabinet until May. In the immediate term, he will continue working with the team he named 10 days ago, some of which will likely end up in his cabinet. The president-elect’s current team includes Carlos Cáceres, Alex Segovia, Héctor Silva, María Isabel Rodríguez, ex rector of the UES, Roberto Turcios, Roberto Lorenzana, Hugo Martínez, Karina Sosa, Gerson Martínez, and his political advisor Francis “Hato” Hasbún.

President-elect Funes, the first FLMN candidate to win the presidency, also stated that he would not be concerned about party affiliations when considering who will fill the cabinet positions. Federico Colorado, the president of the National Association of Private Business, stated that he hopes Funes remains true to his word, and does not base is appointments on nepotism, cronyism, or party affiliation. He also stated that the president-elect ought to name his cabinet sooner rather than later in order to instill confidence in the business sector.

President Tony Saca has begun preparing for the transition, and will meet with the president-elect next week to discuss the process. To facilitate the transition, President Saca is naming a commission that will include Techical Secretary to the President, Eduardo Ayala Grimaldi; the Minister of the Treasury, William Handal; and Minister of Education Darlyn Meza, with more to be named later.

President-elect Funes also stated that when he takes office, he will have to replace 2300 government officials. Ensuring that he has the legal authority to make such replacements, the administration argues that these positions require confidence and loyalty. The positions include the Ministers of the various government agencies, and two other layers of government workers below them.

Elections 2009

Elections Re-cap

Final Results

According to the preliminary results from the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), with 99.4% of the results processed the president-elect Mauricio Funes (FMLN) has 51.3% and Rodrigo Avila (ARENA) 48.7% of the vote.

Mauricio Funes made his victory speech just after 9pm from the Sheraton Hotel on Sunday night. In his speech he promised to respect the constitution, build a government of national unity, and work with large, medium and small business owners to strengthen what he called the most dynamic economy in Central America. He also declared that his government would work for a “preferential option for the poor.”

Two hours later, Rodrigo Avila conceded defeat, and promised that ARENA would be a constructive opposition.


Their was an air of celebration from FMLN supporters as soon as the polls closed. When the FMLN announced Funes’ victory, many thousands of FMLN supporters converged in a sea of red at a monument in San Salvador, cheering, shouting, and dancing late into the night.
Electoral Process

In a press conference Sunday night, Walter Araujo, President of the TSE, began by thanking and congratulating the people of El Salvador for their participation in Sunday’s elections, and applauded the political parties for the maturity they showed during the peaceful election process.

Observers and NGOs reported some election irregularities, but that these were largely minor in nature. Observer missions from the EU and OAS were impressed by the improvements made by the TSE in the logistical organization of these elections as compared to the elections in January.

Araujo stated that the success of this electoral process is an indication of how far democracy has come in El Salvador. In reference to the implementation of the election process the he called transparent, open, and democratic, Aruajo declared “El Salvador has won, Latin America has won, and the world has won.”

The Road Ahead

While this certainly is an historic victory for the FMLN in El Salvador, Funes will face tremendous challenges.

  • Funes’ margin of victory was only 2.6%. Furthermore, the intense and often defamatory campaigning has exacerbated the political polarization in the country. Inspiring public trust in his administration and lessening political divisions will be one of his greatest challenges.
  • Right-wing alliances hold a simple majority in the Legislative Assembly, but neither the right nor the left hold the two-thirds majority necessary for political appointments and incurring new debt. Working with other political parties will be difficult after such a difficult campaign season, but is absolutely essential for the FMLN and a Funes’ administration.
  • Weak rule of law has plagued El Salvador for years and is rooted in the legal framework and judicial institutions. None of these will be easily or quickly changed.
  • El Salvador’s economy has long been stagnant, and is characterized by staggering inequality. Facing a global economic crisis, finding ways to keep El Salvador’s economy from a severe downturn and distribute wealth more equitably seem overwhelming challenges.