Advocacy, annual report, education, Environment, Food Security, News Highlights, Voices Developments, Womens issues, Youth Development

Celebrating 30 years of Solidarity with the People of El Salvador – 2016 Annual Report

2016 was a dynamic year for Voices. We said goodbye to old friends and opened the door to new ones. We began an extensive education revitalization project in Bajo Lempa, started supporting women’s empowerment in Morazán and even joined in on environmental justice protests in the capital San Salvador.

This year is even more special because we turn 30! Since our inception in the refugee camps until now, we have never deserted our communities and are committed to being a critical source of support for them now, and in the future.

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Read our report to find out what our partners have been up to, the large scales issues they are facing and how Voices has been working hard in collaboration with leaders to find solutions to issues and pathways to accomplishing goals.

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News Highlights

Urgent! President of ALGES (Association of War Wounded) and Son Kidnapped

On Friday afternoon, the President of ALGES (Association of War Wounded) and his son were disappeared between Zacatecaluca and San Vicente. His family, friends, and compas at ALGES are very concerned for their safety and this morning published this Press Release: This is a serious issue and we call on the Salvadoran Diaspora and members of the international community to call for his release, or contact ALGES with any information about their whereabouts. We will post more information as it becomes available.

ALGES Press Release

The Association of War Wounded of El Salvador, Heroes of November 1989, ALGES publicly denounces the disappearance of our president, Mr. Israel Quintanilla and his son Carlos Alberto Zavala.

Click here for Spanish and Photos
Click here for Spanish and Photos

Mr. Israel Antonio Quintanilla and his son Carlos Alberto Zavala disappeared on Friday May 1, 2015 around 3:30 pm while driving near the Litoral Highway between San Carlos Lempa (where they live) and capital of the province of San Vicente. They were traveling in a grey 4×4 Double Cabin Toyota Hilux, license plate 129950-2011.

Related to the acts related to the disappearance of the President of our Association and his son, we demand the following:

  1. The competent security authorities open an exhaustive investigation to resolve the situation that has left the family, friends, and workmates worried about the President of the Association.
  2. That they increase the area in which they are searching to include the entire country and search until they have determined the whereabouts of the President of their Association and his son.
  3. That they use all the resources available in order to guarantee the physical wellbeing of our friend and his son.
  4. To the persons that have custody of them, we ask that they please respect his physical integrity of our friend and his son, and that you communicate with the family or with our Association at these numbers: (503) 2225-5726 or (503) 2226-7217.
  5. To the social organizations, unite with us in solidarity and have helped us disseminate information of the disappearance at all your contacts at the national level.
  6. To the general population, be aware that this event occurred and share any information related to this case.

Mr. Israel Quintanilla is a disabled person due to the armed conflict, and who since the signing of the Peace Accords has dedicated his life to the defense of human rights of this population and all disabled people. His son Carlos Zavala recently graduated in Agriculture from the National School of Agriculture and is studying agricultural engineering at the University of Monsignor Romero in Chaletenango. “They took them alive; we want them alive.” Please share any information by calling: (503) 2225-5726 or (503) 2226-7217.

For our right to work, the struggle continues!

ALGES, Unity, Solidarity, and Struggle

 

 

News Highlights

U.S. Federal Judge Considers Testimony of War Crimes in Immigration Case Against Col. Montano

Col. Montano
Col. Montano

This week, El Faro posted an article about Col. Orlando Montano who is being sentenced in a U.S. Federal Court in Massachusetts on immigration fraud and perjury. The court could sentence Montano to more than 40 years in prison and a million dollars in fines. He could also be deported back to El Salvador and possibly extradited to Spain, where a court indicted him and 19 others, for their role in the 1989 massacre of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter.

Before the sentencing phase got underway, the federal judge hearing the case agreed to consider Montano’s alleged war crimes before sentencing him on the immigration fraud charges. The Daily journal quoted the judge, “my view is that, if proved, the allegations concerning Mr. Montano’s acts with the military are matters that would cause me to consider upward departure or variance,” meaning that he would consider an even greater sentence.

In January, prosecutors submitted a report from Stanford Professor Terry Karl that provides details about Montano’s military career, including his involvement in over 1,000 human rights abuses. Professor Karl is an expert witness in the case against the 20 defendants in the Spanish Court and has documented many of the war crimes that took place during the war.

Montano’s attorneys argue that by asking the judge to consider a more severe sentence, prosecutors violated the terms of the plea agreement the defendant signed in September 2012. Montano is due back in court sometime in March 2013.

Photo credit: AP
Photo credit: AP

Montano has been living in the United States since 2001 and worked as a human resource administrator for a candy factory in Massachusetts, just outside of Boston. The Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA), which filed the case against Montano and 19 others in the Spanish court, reports that Montano lied about his past military service and weapons training on his Temporary Protective Status (TPS) immigration form. He also lied about his date of entry into the U.S. in order to qualify for the TPS program. He was arrested on August 23, 2011 and indicted in February 2012. He plead guilty to six counts of federal criminal immigration fraud and perjury on September 11, 2012.

The Spanish Court names Montano, who was Vice Minister of Defense of Public Security, as one of the four top commanders of the Salvadoran Military in November 1989, when soldiers massacred the Jesuit priests. Following their in-absentia indictment in 2011, the court issued formal extradition requests for Montano and the 19 others.

In her report submitted to the Federal Court, Professor Karl testified that Montano had a 30-year military career, contrary to the information he gave on his TPS forms, and that he was involved in numerous human rights abuses. The Daily Journal article quotes Montano’s attorney as admitting that Professor Karl’s report paints him “as a war criminal of epic proportions.”

El Faro quotes a summary of the allegations detailed in Professor Karl’s report. She wrote, “during his 30-year military career, Coronel Montano ordered, incited, and assisted or commanded troops that participated in a strategy of terror by the State against civilians. This included: extra-judicial executions, torture, disappearances and arbitrary detentions, rural massacres of non-combatant civilians, forced disappearance of children, and the permitting of death squads led by the military and that operated within units under his command.”

The report also linked Montano to 65 summary executions, 51 forced disappearances, 520 cases of torture, and 533 arbitrary detentions. Professor Karl’s testimony includes the names of the victims, the dates of the human rights abuse, the place and battalion or unit involved.

More than 20 years after the Peace Accords were signed, Salvadorans continue the process of healing from twelve years of civil war and decades of oppression and human rights abuses. The country’s Amnesty Law has stymied this process by forcing victims and human rights activists to seek justice outside of their own legal system. While leaders within the right-wing ARENA party, which was in power in 1989 when the Jesuit priests were killed, has condemned the Spanish indictments for dredging up painful memories, it is important for that criminals be brought to justice, even if it’s in a courtroom in Boston or Madrid.

Elections 2012, News Highlights

Election Results and Highlights 2012

Last Sunday, Salvadorans went to the polls to elect mayors and legislative representatives – the first elections since March 2009 when Mauricio Funes became the first opposition candidate to win the country’s Presidency. It was the conservative ARENA party’s turn to celebrate yesterday, winning back control over the Legislative Assembly and a large number of important municipal seats.

According to the Supreme Election Tribunal website, the party totals for the Legislative Assembly are:

  • ARENA: 33 seats
  • FMLN: 31 seats
  • GANA: 11 seats
  • CN: 6
  • PES/CN: 1
  • CD: 1
  • PES: 1
  • Independent Candidates: 0

Despite the clear victory for ARENA, no single party has a simple majority of 43 seats and ARENA will have to depend on GANA or other minority parties to take action. As Tim’s Blog pointed out, it’s always possible that the FMLN, GANA, and CN could form a voting bloc and control the Legislative Assembly. While GANA is a conservative party, there may be political advantage in siding with the FMLN on occasion just to keep ARENA in check.

Sunday night, ARENA officials didn’t seem too worried about uniting with GANA. In 2009 when the FMLN won the Presidency and retained control over the Legislative Assembly, ARENA seemed to have hit rock bottom. In October of that year, however, they expelled ex-President Tony Saca from the party accusing him of rigging the selection process that named Rodrigo Avila as their presidential candidate; as well as conspiring to divide the party through the creation of the well-financed GANA party.  Before the elections, ex-President Saca called on the GANA and ARENA parties to unite for the 2014 elections to ensure victory over the FMLN.

But after making such an incredible comeback on Sunday, ARENA leaders again called Tony Saca and the Areneros who left to form GANA traitors and said they do not need to unite to defeat the FMLN in 2014. And ARENA leaders are already eyeing the 2014 elections. On Monday night, Norman Quijano, who won his second term as the mayor of San Salvador by handily defeating FMLN candidate Jorge Shafik Handal, said on Channel 33 that he is definitely considering running for president. Tony Saca has also indicated that he is interested in running for another term as President. Ana Vilma de Escobar, who was Tony Saca’s Vice President, has also made it clear that she is interested in running for President again – she had aspired to be the 2009 candidate before Avila was anointed. Vilma de Escobar did well on Sunday collecting more votes in San Salvador than any of the other legislative candidates on the ballot.

In addition to losing seats in the Legislative Assembly, the FMLN took a big hit in greater metropolitan are of San Salvador, which is comprised of 14 distinct municipalities. In addition to Mayor Quijano holding on to his office in San Salvador, ARENA candidates won in Mejicanos, Soyapango, Ilopango, Apopa, San Martín, Tonacatepeque y Ayutuxtepeque, as well as Santo Tomas just south of the city. As La Prensa Grafica pointed out yesterday, the population of these former FMLN strong holds is over 984,000. Though the margins of the ARENA victories were tight, they were victories none-the-less.

In Soyapong, the FLMN incumbent Don Carlos “Diablo” Ruíz” lost by a mere 309 votes.  Many have made the joke that ARENA had to perform an exorcism in Soyapongo to get out “El Diablo”.  Others are wondering what will become of the ALBA contracts, whose operations hinge on their partnerships with FMLN municipalities.  The Mayors of Apopa and Soyapongo hold the vice president and secretary positions, respectively.

FMLN spokesperson, Roberto Lorenzana, summarized his party’s losses yesterday during a press conference, saying that ARENA won 2.9% more votes, and took some of their symbolic strongholds – Soyapango, Apopa, and Mejicanos – four legislative seats, and more than 150,000 votes that they got in 2009. He said the party is accepting the results with maturity and responsibility, and will be looking at what lessons they need to take away from the losses.

Maria “Chichilco” Ofelia Navarrete, the former FMLN guerilla featured in the 1990 documentary “Maria’s Story” and current Vice-Minister of Government, said this week that Sunday’s results were a sign that El Salvador’s voters are maturing. She points to several politicians from the FMLN and ARENA who lost offices they’ve held for many years because voters wanted change instead of voting for the same parties and the same people. She sites examples from her home region in Chalatenango. In Pontonico, the FMLN mayor who has held his seat for many years lost by 10 votes to the ARENA challenger. Similarly, in San José Cansaque the ARENA mayor who had been in office for many years lost his seat to the FMLN challenger. She says:

“This means that every day the people are maturing in their democratic development… at times the people get fed up with the same government. The leadership from all parties has to reflect, first on the direction of their internal democracy – this is an urgent call.”

Sunday’s voting was not without complaints. On Sunday, officials closed the polls in two municipalities – San Lorenzo, Ahuachapán and San Miguel Tepezontes, La Paz. In San Lorenzo, the Municipal Electoral Board stopped voting to “protect people’s votes.” One report says that election officials closed the polls because FMLN supporters from other places were trying to vote in San Lorenzo. In San Miguel Tepezontes, opposition parties accused the ARENA incumbent mayor of bringing in voters from other municipalities to vote for him, which is of course of a violation of the election code. Because voting in these communities was stopped, the TSE announced that they will try again this Sunday, March 18th.  Eugenio Chicas, the president of the TSE said that those found responsible for closing the polls could receive up to 10 years of jail time.

In other communities, political parties have not accepted the results of Sunday’s election, claiming fraud. In the municipality of La Libertad, La Libertad, activists from the GANA, ARENA, and PNL parties protested the victory of FMLN-PES incumbent, claiming that he also brought in outsiders to throw the elections in his favor. The margin of victory is almost 700 votes, which would not be an insignificant amount of people to cast fraudulent votes. The ARENA party is also questioning Sunday’s results in other municipalities where they lost seats that they once held. In Nuevo Cuscatlán, La Libertad, ARENA leaders claim that the FMLN challenger won by bringing in outsiders to vote for him, and that they bought off members of the local voting board.

Perhaps the most extreme act on Sunday occurred in San Francisco Menendez, Ahuachapan where vandals broke into the voting center as officials were counting votes and burned the ballot boxes, destroying over 90% of the ballots. The article reporting the incident says that the police and attorney general’s office are investigating and have leads. Others in the community have accused the PDC Mayor Narciso Ramirez of election fraud, saying that he bused in outsiders to vote for him.  Mayor Ramirez has made national news a couple times over the past couple of years. Last October he made news during Tropical Storm 12-E because he was out assisting with the rescue efforts during the extreme flooding when his truck got swept away by the flooding Paz River. The Comandos de Salvamento pulled him and others from the vehicle and got them to safety. In April 2010, the Mayor made national news when he was caught in a shootout over a “business deal” gone bad. Mayor Ramirez was shot three times and three others were killed.

In Pasaquina, La Union, the attorney general has charged three people with electoral fraud. Police caught the men transporting flyers that threatened people going to vote. In Ozatlán, Usulután, officials have charged a man with voting twice.

The municipality of San Fernando, Morazán is going to have to have a run-off. Candidates for the ARENA and GANA parties each received 259 votes, meaning that there is no clear winner. The FMLN and CD parties were not far behind with 236 and 238 votes respectively. The TSE announced that they would hold a runoff after the Semana Santa vacations in April.

Continue to monitor final numbers at the TSE website, or check out the Faro’s all-inclusive time-line for the elections.

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

 

 

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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.