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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.

Uncategorized

Former Salvadoran General Dies

René Emilio Ponce, one of El Salvador’s most notorious generals and the son of Sensuntepeque judge and treasurer José Ponce, died last week in a San Salvadoran hospital of complications following an aortic aneurysm. Ponce is an important figure given his national influence and regional political power in Cabañas. His post-war position was the president of the El Salvador Military Veteran’s Association (ASVEM) further cemented both his power and his less than sterling reputation. According to editors at the Hague Justice Portal, ASVEM’s “main mission is to lobby the Salvadoran government to oppose any efforts to lift the Amnesty Law that currently protects its most influential members.”

Ponce’s military career was marked by alleged cruelty and crimes against humanity. Though he only rose to military prominence during the second half of the civil war, Ponce embraced his post as defense minister and army chief of staff. In 1989, bolstered by his military cohort La Tandona, a group of high-ranking officers all from the same army academy graduating class, Ponce is accused of ordering the killings of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter. A year after this massacre occurred at the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA), he was promoted to general. In 1992, however, he was forced to step down when the U.N. Truth Commission released a report implicating Ponce in the UCA killings. Due to the Amnesty Law passed in El Salvador the year following, Ponce was never tried or punished for his crimes by a Salvadoran court.

At the time of his death, Ponce was being tried in absentia in a Spanish court brought by the relatives of the murdered priests, accusing him of assassination and crimes against humanity. His death means that these families will never see Ponce brought tried for the crimes of which he is accused, and many human rights activists have expressed regret that he died with total impunity.

Ponce leaves behind a wife and three children.

El Salvador Government, Environment, Politics

Value of a Protected Forest- $.24 per Tree?

A Salvadoran Court of Accounts found four officials from the Ministry of the Environment (MARN), including two ex-Ministers, guilty of not enforcing the Law on the Environment because they failed to stop from cutting down trees in the El Espino Forest.

El Espino is a forest and coffee plantation at the foot of the San Salvador Volcano, on the outskirts of the capital city. In addition to being an important ecosystem and carbon-sink, the forest is a recharge zone for El Salvador’s largest aquifer, which provides water to San Salvador and other parts of the country.

In the 1980s, the government declared much of the forest a protected area and limited use of other parts to only the cultivation of coffee. To protect and manage the forest, the government created the El Espino Cooperative. In recent years, members of the cooperative have used loopholes in the cooperative law to sell off parts of the forest to developers who have built neighborhoods and shopping centers. For example, in 2002 they sold 55 manzanas (96 acres) of forest to the Club Campestre Cuscatlán, which has been trying to build a golf course. In April, the mayor’s office of Antiguo Cuscatlán filed a lawsuit against the Club for cutting down 507 trees and three manzanas (5.2 acres) of coffee without permission.

The charges against the officials came after an audit of the management of the MARN. The audit concluded that developers had cut down 38,958 trees in the protected area and that 11 MARN officials had failed to stop them. The total penalty assessed by the court for allowing the destruction of 38,958 trees was $9,518, or $0.24 per tree cut down.

The largest fine was levied against Hugo Barrera (Minister of the Environment, 2004-2006). He was ordered to pay $2,341.57 for allowing the Ministry of Public Works and a private contractor to cut down trees to build the Bulevar Diego Holguín, a highway that cuts through the forest. Before beginning construction, the developers should have obtained environmental permits from the MARN, and when they began construction without permits, the MARN should have stopped them.

The audit found many instances in which Ministry officials did not enforce provisions of the law on the environment. It is yet another example of how serious an issue weak rule of law is in El Salvador. Even if the country had the most progressive environmental laws and regulations, if Salvadorans ignore them and MARN officials allow that, those laws and regulations are meaningless.

The court’s decision does nothing to hold these officials accountable for failing to do their jobs. The Bulevar Biego de Holguín highway project is worth millions of dollars. An investigation last year found over $5.9 million in unjustified expenses related to the project indicating extreme waste or fraud. A paltry $2,341.57 fine for failing to require an environmental permit is nothing in comparison. The precedent is frightening. The court is signaling to developers that they can either spend tens of thousands of dollars to conduct an environmental impact analysis and jump through many other hoops to get an environmental permit, or they can skip it and maybe promise to cover any fines that Ministry officials might incur.

Or to put it another way, these fines mean that it cost $0.24 extra to cut down each tree. Salvadorans decided in the 1980s to protect El Espino as a national treasure. The court’s decision sent the message that the developers and Ministry of Public Works can have that national treasure at a cost of $0.24 per tree, payable by the MARN officials. Any other value the trees and land might have had as a aquifer recharge zone or carbon sink was essentially donated by the Salvadoan people.

So while it is nice to hear that a court is willing to consider claims that MARN officials failed to do their job, the penalties signal that El Salvador’s natural resources are still for sale at a very low price.

 

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.

http://www.mauriciofunespresidente.com/noticia_integra.php?position=news&r=61

second photo from the website of Movimiento Amigos de Mauricio

http://www.amigosdemauricio.com/mundo/index.php option=com_content&view=article&id=109:general-noticias&catid=35:noticias-noticias&Itemid=63

News Highlights

News Highlights

FMLN candidate Mauricio Funes has made repeated denouncements against signs that the ruling ARENA party plans to commit fraud in the March 2009 elections. He accused ARENA of painting a picture of a close race, mainly by pressuring media outlets to produce false polling figures. The recent poll published and executed by La Prensa Grafica only put 2.8% between Funes and the ARENA candidate Rodrigo Ávila. This comes on the heels of two formal surveys by UTEC and IUDOP, executed by local universities, which put Funes ahead by 15%. Opponents say the accusations are no evidence of fraud and that the FMLN is merely nervous about Ávila’s gains in the polls. One of the two FMLN magistrates on the electoral court (the other three are ARENA) expressed concern over the ‘close race’ scenario, which could lead to the court’s intervention in the March elections. Legal reforms last November allowed for a simple majority in the Electoral court, making way for an ARENA victory if such a scenario were to occur. Combined with an exaggerated mudslinging campaign against Funes that is financed by right wing Venezuelans; many Salvadorans are increasingly worried about what lengths El Salvador’s ruling elite are preparing to take to avoid a transfer of power.

For an article in Spanish click here

Last week El Salvador hosted the Ibero-American Conference to address Latin America, Portugal and Spain’s policies toward youth and development. The financial crisis soon took priority, and the majority of state leaders appealed for demonstrative change and expressed harsh criticism of failing neo-liberal policies. Evo Morales called for a move toward socialism, exhorting fellow leaders against desperate attempts to save crumbling financial institutions. Presidents Saca (ES), Calderon (MX), and Uribe (CO) defended their countries aggressive neo-liberal policies, isolating themselves in an otherwise progressive dialog. Amusingly enough, in the opening address El Salvador’s president Tony Saca quoted Che Guevara’s ‘seamos realistas, pidamos lo imposible’ (be realistic, ask the impossible) in addressing the theme of poverty among youth. As mentioned in the post below, various agreements were signed in respect of the theme, yet the voices of Salvadoran youth were not represented. Parallel conferences and concentrations of youth from around Latin America took place to express their dissent.

Advocacy, Disasters

Levee Break on Front Page

The levee break in the community La Babilonia made front page news yesterday in La Prensa Grafica. The Red Cross volunteer in the foreground is Felix from the community El Marillo and the one behind him is Nerry from Nueva Esperanza. To see it click here.

In Spanish you can also read here about the advocacy campaign being led by United Communities and the impact of the recent flooding on 2,600 families in the Lower Lempa.