Socially speaking, El Salvador was already deteriorating before COVID-19 hit, owing to rising rates of poverty and extreme poverty, the persistence of inequalities and growing social discontent. In this context, the pandemic was to inevitably have a profoundly negative impact on various social sectors, particularly public health and education.
Even before the pandemic, VOICES has been working with rural schools and families in an attempt to radically improve the culture of learning throughout these regions, by identifying and addressing major gaps in educational outcomes. Since the pandemic began, we’ve been supporting initiatives that deploy distance learning modalities through a variety of formats and platforms (both on and off-line), while also supporting the mobilization of education personnel and students and helping these institutions stay equipped with the necessary biomedical resources to ensure the overall well-being of students and their families.
Building a Dignified Learning Environment
Isla de Monte Cristo, Bahia del Jiquilisco
In 1992, the Island of Monte Cristo was resettled by local farmers taking advantage of the postwar land transfer program. Today, the remote community contains acres of fruit trees, a handful of farming families, and hundreds of nesting birds.
Due to years of abandonment by both local and the national government, organizations like VOICES have been approached by local leaders to help them tackle specific issues like their lack of vital resources such as potable water and access to education.
Thanks in part to the generosity of South Bay Sanctuary Covenant, and the efforts of the islanders themselves in managing the logistics, the transportation of materials and the labor, their small school is in the middle of a complete makeover.
Rural Mobile Technology Lab
Centro Escolar Amando Lopez, Bajo Lempa, Usulután
The Mobile Tech Lab began in 2020, in response to the official closure of all Salvadoran educational institutions. Luckily for the kids, the Amando Lopez School staff have always been at the forefront of developing creative initiatives to entice students and keep communities learning.
The Lab is helping bridge the digital divide in the Bajo Lempa, by offering direct technology to students and computer skills to teachers. 112 students are currently taking part in the Lab, by attending in-person or virtual classes in communities Amando Lopez, La Canoa and 14th de Abril. The teaching staff continue to say that their goals are being accomplished through this program, goals such as keeping students and teachers connected, providing students the critical technological tools they need to succeed and strengthening the technical capabilities of the teachers.
It is also important to note that because of the school’s stringent biohealth approach, Amando Lopez has become a model for other institutions who wish to teach kids, during a global pandemic.
Early Childhood Education Improvement
Bajo Lempa Preschools, Usulután
Preschool teachers are critical agents of children’s social and emotional development, which in turn is a key predictor of their current and future academic and social success. Rural pre-schoools in El Salvador however are notorious for being left of the equation when it comes to government funding around paying dignified salaries, operational budgets, building infrastructures, etc.
For VOICES, it is important to support these institutions in their educational proceses by helping to supplement these shortcomings and offering them quality continuing education workshops with pedagogical professionals.
Recently, we worked with five different preschools in the Bajo Lempa to facilitate a series of highly interactive age and developmentally appropriate activities aimed at improving the methodological foundations of their curriculum and internal organizations.
We want to reiterate our gratitude for our dear friends from South Bay Sanctuary Covenant of Northern California, St.John of God Church of San Francisco, the Carlos Rosario International school family in Washington D.C. and generous individuals and families who continue to understand the need for providing quality education in the middle of a pandemic. If it weren’t for each and everyone of you and the dedication and perseverance of our Salvadoran patterns, who knows how many bright young futures would be stifled and lost.
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HATS OFF! to all the fantastic Frontline Healthcare Workers worldwide– who through their dedication, hard work, sacrifice and an adherence to a certain oath, are helping to save humankind as we know it.
Today especially, we recognize the bravery that’s being required of these #UnsungHeroes, who despite politics and bureaucracy, continue to fervently provide essential health services to anyone in need, even as a virulent pandemic looms across the globe.
We hope that your governments, institutions and communities are finding ways to support you, by giving you what you need to stay safe and sane.
To everyone else out there, if you can.. #StayHome, so that they can come home.
El sábado 21 de marzo, en una extensa cadena de radio y televisión, el presidente salvadoreño Nayib Bukele decretó una cuarentena por 30 días, advirtiendo que quien no acatara la orden, en lugar de pasar la cuarentena en su hogar, con su familia, la pasaría encerrado en un centro de contención. Para el día siguiente, domingo 22 de marzo, la Policía y la Fuerza Armada habían detenido en la calle a por lo menos 300 personas; sin embargo, el Gobierno, la Policía y el Ejército solo tenían claro el tema de las capturas, pero no el del resguardo de los detenidos, por lo que fueron trasladados hacia delegaciones policiales como cualquier delincuente, porque no existía ningún centro de contención habilitado.
Frente a este hecho, La Sala de lo Constitucional, de la Corte Suprema de Justicia emitió una resolución decretando que ni la policía ni el ejército pueden detener y encarcelar a alguien por incumplir la cuarentena domiciliar, porque viola derechos humanos establecidos en la Constitución; pero los abusos continuaron. Una nota publicada por el periódico español El País, lo expone así:
Las denuncias de arbitrariedades y abusos de fuerza se cuentan por cientos. El presidente (Nayib Bukele) ha respondido públicamente que no es momento de discutir si sus rigurosas medidas contra la pandemia son o no constitucionales, y el día 7 (de abril) dobló su apuesta legitimando el uso de la fuerza: “He dado la instrucción al ministro de Defensa y al ministro de Seguridad de ser más duros con la gente en la calle, la gente que está violando la cuarentena”, dijo. Tres días después, un policía disparó dos veces en las piernas a un joven de 19 años sospechoso de violar el confinamiento. El joven asegura que fue por negarse a pagar mordida (soborno) a los agentes; las autoridades lo calificaron en un comunicado oficial de “accidente.”
La actuación de la Policía y del Ejército, durante 30 días, estuvo amparada principalmente en la “Ley de Restricción Temporal de Derechos Constitucionales Concretos para Atender la Pandemia COVID-19″ aprobada por la Asamblea Legislativa a medidos de marzo para una duración de 15 días, posteriormente se prorrogó por un periodo igual. Esta Ley caducó el pasado 13 de abril y a pesar que el Gobierno solicitó al Parlamento una nueva prorroga, esta no fue concedida, precisamente por las denuncias de las arbitrariedades cometidas y no fueron abordadas.
En ausencia de este marco legal que respalde la detención de las personas y su reclusión en un centro de cuarentena, el gobierno emitió el Decreto Ejecutivo Número 19 que establece medidas similares o más drásticas, a la anterior ley. Por ejemplo: se establece que toda persona que circule sin justificación y que se catalogue como caso sospechoso, deberá permanecer en un centro de cuarentena por 30 días. Además si la persona infractora se traslada en vehículo, este será sometido a desinfección y quedará en deposito en los lugares establecidos, la persona detenida solo recuperará su vehículo despues de pagar el costo del estacionamiento, luego de la cuarentena.
También el Decreto Número 19 establece que toda persona está obligada a permitir el ingreso de los delegados del Ministerio de Salud a inspecionar su casa. Para la abogada María Silvia Guillén esta disposición es insconstitucional, pues las autoridades pueden ingresar a una vivienda por el consentimiento de quien la habita o por mandato judicial, exclusivamente. “Cuidado policías y militares que están pretendiendo entrar en las viviendas con una disposición de un decreto ejecutivo”. Escribió la reconocida abogada en su cuenta de facebook.
Por su parte, la Sala de lo Constitucional de la Corte Suprema de Justicia (máximo tribunal de justicia de El Salvador) emitió una nueva resolución en la que reafirmó que la Policía no debe detener arbitrariamente a personas para llevarlas a centros de contención ni proceder al decomiso de vehículos, entre otras medidas restrictivas. Ante este hecho el presidente Bukele dijo que no acataría tal resolución y que continuará aplicando el Decreto 19, al cien por ciento, no importando que las resoluciones de este tipo son de obligatorio cumplimiento.
La desobediencia del presidente ha sido rechazada por un gran número de actores dentro y fuera del país. La Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH) instó al Gobierno de El Salvador “a cumplir las medidas ordenadas”. Así mismo, la Organización de las Naciones Unidas (ONU) publicó que en situaciones de emergencia el Estado de Derecho y el sistema de “pesos y contrapesos” son esenciales para asegurar los derechos humanos de las personas. Por su parte el congresista Jim McGovern, instó a Bukele a respetar los fallos judiciales, diciendo que el país necesita democracia y no a un gobierno autoritario, así mismo el líder del Comité de Relaciones Exteriores de la Cámara de Representantes estadounidense, Eliot Engel, lamentó el desacato de Bukele a la resolución de la Sala de lo Constitucional y urgió al presidente “a respetar los fallos judiciales de la Corte Suprema sobre el Covid-19” recalcando que “los líderes mundiales deben ser capaces de proteger tanto la salud como las libertades civiles”.
Pero todas estas recriminaciones y exigencias no parecen inmutar al presidente Nayib Bukele, ni a sus funcionarios de seguridad. Una nota recientemente publicada en el periódico digital El Faro, define la situación actual del país como una triple crisis: sanitaria, económica y democrática. La primera causada por un virus; la segunda por las medidas obligadas para combatir al virus; la tercera por un gobierno antidemocrático.
Es necesario resistir, y sobrevivir, a las tres.
ABUSE OF POWER IN THE MIDST OF THE CRISIS
On Saturday March 21, via an extensive radio and television network broadcast, Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele decreed a 30-day quarantine, warning that whoever did not comply with the order, instead of spending the quarantine at home with their family, would be locked up in a quarantinecenter. By the next day, the police and the armed forces had detained at least 300 people who had allegedly violated that order. The government, the police and the army were only clear on the issue of captures, and not on how to properly care for “detainees,” which meant that they were being transferred to police “lock ups” just like any other criminal, since there were no adequate quarantine centers built.
Faced with this fact, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice issued a resolution decreeing that neither the police nor the army can arrest and imprison someone for failing to comply with the domicile quarantine because it violates human rights established in the Constitution. Still the abuses continue. A note published by the Spanish newspaper El País puts it this way: “The allegations of arbitrariness and abuse of force are in the hundreds. The president (Nayib Bukele) has publicly replied that this is not the time to discuss whether or not his rigorous measures against the pandemic are constitutional, and on April 7 he doubled down on his bid legitimizing the use of force: “I have instructed the Defense Minister and the Security Minister to be tougher on the people on the street, the people who are violating the quarantine,” he said. Three days later, a 19-year-old man suspected of violating the lockdown was shot twice in the legs by a police officer. The young man assures that it was for refusing to pay a bribe to the agents, while the authorities describe it as an “accident” in an official statement.
The 30-day activation of the police and the army was mainly protected under the “Temporary Restriction Law on Concrete Constitutional Rights to Address the Pandemic COVID-19”, which was approved by the Legislative Assembly in mid-March and expired on April 13. Despite the fact that the government requested a new extension from Parliament that was denied precisely because of the complaints of the unjustified actions being committed and not addressed, the abuses continue to occur.
Though a legal framework that addresses the detention of people and their confinement in a quarantine center is still lacking, the government recently issued Executive Decree No. 19 which established similar and more drastic measures than the previous law. For example: it established that any person who circulates without justification and who is classified as suspected for testing positive for COVID19, must remain in a quarantine center for 30 days. In addition, if the offending person is driving in a vehicle, that vehicle will be subject to disinfection and will be sent to a police impound, only to be released after a fee is paid and time is served.
Also Decree No.19 establishes that every person is obliged to allow Ministry of Health personnel into their homes. “Beware of police and military who are trying to enter houses with a provision of an executive decree,” well-known lawyer María Silvia Guillén writes, for her, the provision is unconstitutional since authorities can only enter a dwelling with the consent of the person who inhabits it or by a judges warrant.
For its part, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice (the highest court in the land) issued a new resolution in which it reaffirmed that the police should not arbitrarily detain people and take them to quarantine centers or confiscate their vehicles, among other restrictive measures. President Bukele said that he would not abide by such a resolution and that he will continue to apply Decree No. 19, a hundred percent, regardless that such resolutions are binding.
The president’s disobedience has been rejected by a large number of actors inside and outside the country who agree with the supreme court’s ruling. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urged the government of El Salvador to “comply with the ordered measures.” Likewise, the United Nations published that in emergency situations the rule of law and the system of “checks and balances” are essential to ensure that human rights are being upheld. For his part, US Congressman Jim McGover urged Bukele to respect the supreme court’s judicial decisions, saying that the country needs democracy and not an authoritarian government. Likewise, the leader of the Committee on Foreign Relations of the US House of Representatives, Eliot Engel, regretted Bukele’s contempt of the Constitutional Chamber’s resolution and urged the president “to respect the Supreme Court’s judicial decisions on Covid-19” stressing that “world leaders must be able to protect both the health and freedom of civilians.”
But all these recriminations and demands do not seem to faze President Nayib Bukele, nor his security officials. An article recently published in the digital newspaper El Faro defines the current situation in the country as posing a triple crisis: health, economic and democratic.The first is caused by the virus, the second by the measures required to combat the virus and the third by an undemocratic government.
It is necessary to resist, and survive, all three.
El Salvador, like many countries around the world, is reeling from the effects of COVID19. To clamp down on the spread of the virus, on March 15th, the government declared a state of emergency and approved a partial suspension of constitutional rights. What does that look like?
Foreigners are prohibited from entering the country by land, air or sea. All who enter illegally or legally are subject to a mandatory quarantine in a government run facility.
All educational activities are suspended, private and public.
Crowd sizes exceeding fifty people, such as concerts or sporting events are canceled.
All bars, cafes and discos are closed; restaurants can only offer delivery or take out.
Trade will continue normally. Commercial activities will remain unchanged, including imports and exports, under the proper sanitary control at customs.
People are told to shelter in place and only venture out if truly necessary.
On March 18th, El Salvador registered it’s first single confirmed case of the virus, from a Salvadoran returning from Italy, who defied the barrier the President put in place around the perimeter of the country. Because of citizen denouncements, he was picked up and tested positive for the virus and subsequently the entire municipality of Metapan, in the department of Santa Ana has been cordoned off for the next 48 hours in an effort to find his line of infection.
Impacts on the Salvadoran Society
The majority of the population has reacted with panic, no matter how many calls for calm are made. Supermarkets are crowded and supplies are beginning to become scarce, partly because there is hoarding and price inflations. For example in some places bottled water is selling for three times its normal price.
Bukele has said that the department of labor will do what it can to make sure employers and workers are economically supported during the quarantine, but every hour labor abuses are being called out via social media of workers being indiscriminately laid, off, mistreated or made to work when they aren’t supposed to.
The sectors most economically impacted by this national quarantine are the service industry, domestic workers, day laborers, street vendors, factory and sweatshop workers. Also affected are those Salvadoran families who already live in El Salvador’s precarious situation of water shortage. For young girls and women who face abuse at home, the situation of isolation becomes even more serious. It encourages victim control and greater submission of the victim.
Impacts on VOICES’ work
VOICES, like other NGOs, is having to adapt to these measures. For example, this situation forced us to cancel the annual South Bay Sanctuary Covenant delegation this March, as well as suspend the special delegation of teachers from Amando López to the United States in April.
Likewise, the SBSC fundraising event scheduled for April 26 in California, at which our director was to speak, was canceled.
Also with the suspension of classes the reproduction phase of the ECHO project workshops in Morazán is on hold; likewise, some community activities, workshops and meetings.
It’s safe to say that human rights don’t simply go away because of a national quarantine, and neither will VOICES’ commitment to accompanying our local partners as best as we can. As an organization, VOICES’ staff are adhering to the rules put in place by working from home.
This involves catching up on programming materials and fine tuning our evaluation frameworks, but we are also finding other ways to support our partners in the following ways:
Women’s Network of Morazán (9 municipalities served)
– Providing 15 canasta basicas for the Network’s most vulnerable members and their families.
Amando Lopez grade school (9 communities served)
– While some students may enjoy the meal provided by the school, other families may see it as a lifeline. The school’s staff compiled a list of 88 students who are most at risk from malnutrition and we will work with them to find the best way to help feed these kids during the quarantine.
Youth Development Association of Morazán (3 communities served)
– This inspiring youth group has had to cancel all of their programming including their special activities, community events, workshops and schools like their school of nutrition, which not only serves as a means to teach recipes, but also supports families’ ability to practice food sovereignty through the family farms component. We will work with AJUDEM to ensure that those most affected will have access to plants, seeds and compost to keep their farms growing.
El Salvador is a resilient country full of ingenuity and as long as we continue to practice true solidarity, we will all be able to come out of this pandemic with heads high and the prospect for a brighter more sustainable future.