To our 3rd Annual Solidarity Concert, a fundraiser for Women’s Rights in El Salvador.
More info @ www.eventbrite.com/VOTBSolidarity2022
An Information and Analysis Blog from El Salvador
To our 3rd Annual Solidarity Concert, a fundraiser for Women’s Rights in El Salvador.
More info @ www.eventbrite.com/VOTBSolidarity2022
Author: Evelin Romero
Human rights activist for women based in Morazán
The COVID19 pandemic is deepening the economic, social and political crises in the world, but the impacts are especially pronounced among the impoverished peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean.
In El Salvador, like other catastrophes that have occurred throughout history, COVID19 exacerbates high poverty rates, especially in rural areas where populations have been historically excluded from public policies.
In departments such as Ahuachapán, Cabañas and Morazán, the greatest affects of poverty fall more severely upon women, to whom the patriarchal system has erroneously assigned the main responsibility for family care; from reproductive tasks to productive work, all without financial remuneration.
Morazán unfortunately is a living example of this reality.
Due to the highly restrictive measures placed by the governemnt to deal with the pandemic, women are experiencing serious negative economic and social impacts.
Consequently, the responsibility to care for one’s family during this uncertain time is also generating adverse emotional responses.
Specifically speaking, this compulsory home quarantine has made it impossible for many women to carry out productive activities such as street vending or domestic work for other families. Aggravating the situation is the suspension of remittances, due to loss of employment of family members living in the United States.
On the other hand, some women who dedicate themselves to professions such as making clothing or cosmetology, have also been affected by the suspension of parties, graduations and other types of social events.
As expected, the lack of income leads to food shortages and the deterioration of health, affecting the immune system, especially in children and older adults. Although women have invested their few savings to cope with the crisis, this has not been enough as the pandemic is expected to worsen.
On top of this, social distancing measures are making it impossible for organized women in associations, cooperatives and savings groups to come together to socialize, share concerns, exchange ideas and find collective ways to face their reality.
Additionally, there is the difficult task of accompanying the education of school-aged children, considering that face-to-face classes are suspended and students must work via home guides, a task that can many times only be accomplished with the help of their parents and/or guardians. The situation is complicated in households that do not have internet access or with guardians who barely know how to read and write, as is the case in most rural families in Morazán.
Despite all these difficulties, the fighting spirit of these women hasn’t been defeated. Especially those women who are part of the Morazán Women’s Citizen Network. The network has found creative ways to maintain communication among themselves, to experience solidarity and to strengthen the accompaniment of those who face increased domestic violence.
We hope that from the present crisis we will draw renewed energy in order to create new relationships between us humans, new relationships with planet Earth and new alternatives for sustainable living.
Autora: Evelin Romero
Activista de derechos humanos para mujeres en Morazán
La pandemia del COVID19 está profundizando las crisis económicas, sociales y políticas en el mundo, pero sobre todo en los pueblos empobrecidos de América Latina y el Caribe.
En El Salvador, al igual que otras catástrofes ocurridas a lo largo de la historia, el covid19 pone al descubierto los altos índices de pobreza, de manera especial en las zonas rurales que han sido las poblaciones más excluidas de las políticas públicas.
En departamentos como Ahuachapán, Cabañas y Morazán, las mayores afectaciones de la pobreza, recaen con más severidad en las mujeres, a quienes erróneamente el sistema patriarcal les ha asignado la responsabilidad principal de los cuidados de la familia; desde las tareas reproductivas, hasta el trabajo productivo, sin remuneración económica.
Morazán, lamentablemente, es un ejemplo vivo de esta realidad.
Durante el tiempo transcurrido con medidas para enfrentar la pandemia, las mujeres están experimentando graves impactos económicos y sociales. En consecuencia, también les genera un impacto emocional sentir la responsabilidad del cuidado familiar.
Concretamente la cuarentena domiciliar obligatoria ha imposibilitado a muchas mujeres a realizar actividades productivas como ventas ambulantes u oficios domésticos para otras familias, agravando la situación está el hecho de la suspensión de remesas, por pérdida de empleo de familiares que viven en los Estados Unidos. Por otra parte, algunas mujeres que se dedican a profesiones como la confección de ropa o la cosmetología, se han visto afectadas con la suspensión de fiestas, graduaciones y otro tipo de eventos sociales.
Como es de suponer, la falta de ingresos genera escasez de alimentos y deterioro de la salud con afectaciones al sistema inmunológico, especial en la niñez y adultos mayores. Aunque las mujeres han invertido sus pocos ahorros para sobrellevar la crisis, esto no ha sido suficiente y se prevé que los problemas van a continuar.
Por otra parte, las medidas de distanciamiento social están imposibilitando que las mujeres organizadas en asociaciones, cooperativas y colectivos de ahorro, se puedan reunir para socializar sus preocupaciones, intercambiar ideas y encontrar formas colectivas de enfrentar su realidad.
Adicionalmente, está la difícil tarea de acompañar la educación de sus hijos e hijas, considerando que las clases presenciales están suspendidas y los estudiantes deben responder guías de trabajo en sus casas, tarea que solo pueden lograr con la ayuda de sus padres. La situación se complica en los hogares que no cuentan con acceso a internet o que los padres apenas saben leer y escribir, como suceden en la generalidad de las familias rurales de Morazán.
Pero todas estas dificultades no han doblegado el espíritu luchador de muchas mujeres, sobre todo aquellas que forman parte de la Red Ciudadana de Mujeres de Morazán, quienes han sabido encontrar formas creativas para mantener la comunicación entre ellas, para vivenciar la solidaridad y para fortalecer el acompañamiento a quienes enfrentan violencia intrafamiliar.
Tenemos la esperanza que de la presente crisis sacaremos energías renovadas para construir nuevas relaciones entre los seres humanos, nuevas relaciones con el planeta Tierra y nuevas alternativas de vida sostenible.
Please read and share our current Gofundme campaign. LINK HERE
Every donation contributes to the emergency relocation and short-term economic assistance for a Bajo Lempa family in need.
The Women’s Network of Morazán continue to develop their community Action Protocol to address the very real problem of gender violence in the department. This month they began working on an important section, the actual step by step guides that different actors should follow in order to ensure the safety, justice and healing for victims of domestic and sexual violence.
Today, Cristosal held a public forum where they presented their most recent report intitled “Visibilize the Invisible, Footprints Conceal Violence, Report of ineternal displacement forced by violence in El Salvador in 2017.”
The report is a recollection and analysis of cases of forced displacement due to violence registered by the CRISTOSAL Foundation with the help of Foundation Quetzalcoatl in 2017 on El Salvador. They also had significant support from The Salvaodran Women’s Institue (ISDEMU) and the Salvaodran Human Rights Ombudsman(PPDH)
The report can be found online HERE and you can find the report they published last year on the same subject HERE. As Celia Medrano, CRISTOSAL’s chief program officer stated in her opening remarks, that “while it important to create an multi-setor response, this phenomena must be an immediate priority for the Salvadoran government.
Below is a graphic taken from the report
In 2017, 701 cases were recorded by both CRISTOAL and Fondation Quetzalcoatl. The majority of victims were women, with two or more children to care for, and hailing from the paracentral region of the country, specifically San Salvador and Soyapango; two regions ravaged by activity.
Reasons for displacement vary but the report has identified the three major motivators in El Salvador to be direct threats, homicides and attempted.
It is important to note that the this report, while extensive, doesn’t 100% coincide with the much lower figures represented by the Salvadoran Government and more specifically the national civil police (PNC). The government representative today said that while they defend their method of analysis, they recognize their lack of awareness on such a “multifaceted phenomenon.”
Many instances of forced displacenmtn are not recorded due to fear of retaliation or lack of confidence in the governments abilities to protect them. The report describes how the majority of these victims wish to stay not only in El Salvador, but in the same states, as to not loose their occupations and support systems. Still, the United National Refugee Agency (ACNUR) has reported a significant increase in Salvadoran asylum seekers, as seen below.
The report calls upon civil society, national and international organizations and especially national and municipal governments to create “an intergrated system that focuses on prevention, mobilization and policies that protect victims and their families.”
This week, El Salvador’s Ombudsman for Human Rights, David Morales, reported that police and military forces likely committed extrajudicial executions on at least two separate occasions last year. One was the March 2015 massacre at the San Blas Finca in which security forces killed at least eight alleged gang members. The other was an August 2015 massacre at Los Pajales in Panchimalco in which security forces killed five alleged gang members.
The Ombudsman announced that, “in both cases we concluded that there were extrajudicial executions.” They reached their findings based on evidence that police moved bodies to make the scene appear like a shootout. In addition, some of the bodies showed signs of being beaten prior to being shot. Of the 13 killed in these two incidents, 4 were minors under the age of 18.
The Ombudsman also said that his office is reviewing 30 other incidents involving 100 deaths that they suspect to be cases of extrajudicial killings.
The allegations are not new. Experts have long suspected f that many of the shootouts reported in the papers are actually extrajudicial killings committed by police and military. Because the victims are reported to be gang members, few citizens or government officials ask questions or demand more information.
The Ombudsman’s announcement comes just over a year after President Sánchez Cerén’s administration said publicly that the police should use their weapons in defending against gangs without fearing that they will “suffer consequences.”
The question of extrajudicial killings of alleged gang members goes beyond on-duty police and military forces. In January 2016, the Ombudsman for Human Rights said, “in this country we see that there exists a pattern of violence concerning death squads. According to our observations as the Ombudsman’s Office, I presume the existence of these groups, it is very likely that they are in operation.” Just in the past year and a half, extermination groups have taken to social media to claim responsibility for many homicides of alleged gang members, but they are not investigated and the perpetrators continue to enjoy impunity.
As the Ombudsman announces their findings of extrajudicial killings, the government is doubling down on the use of force to combat gangs. The government recently deployed a special combat force to attack gangs in rural areas. It is comprised of 600 elite military soldiers and 400 members of the police, and will start by focusing on hard to reach rural areas where they believe that gangs are operating. Vice President Oscar Ortiz said, “This is a firm action that says to the gangs that the State is stronger.”
In addition, last week the Legislative Assembly passed reforms to the Penal Code and other laws making it illegal to provide aid to or act as a intermediary for gangs. It also makes it a crime for government officials to agree not to prosecute gangs or in any way negotiate with gang members. The penalty for being found guilty of violating these laws is up to 15 years in prison. Raul Mejango said the reforms “burn all boats that could somehow afford to find other solutions to this problem [of violence], betting solely on repression as the solution, and historically this has proven not to resolve the problem.”
What is especially terrible about extrajudicial killings, extermination groups, use of Special Forces, and the new laws is that repression and force this is the only approach the government is taking to addressing insecurity in El Salvador. Salvadorans need more. El Salvador is among the most violent countries in the world, and instead of moving towards long-term solutions, or even identifying the roots of the violence, the government is responding with even more violence and more repression.
The gang issue is complicated, and the violence and extortion perpetrated by these groups destroy communities around the country. Voices on the Border staff has seen this first hand. But reverting to wartime tactics will only lead to more violence and more violence. Gangs exist, at least in part, because there is a void created by socio-economic and political inequalities. Even if a militarized solution led to the destruction of the gangs, something else less than positive would take their place. And even in war, extrajudicial killings like those being reported by the Ombudsman for Human Rights would be a war crime and should be punished.
On the 1st, we launched a Global Giving fundraising campaign for an intensive educational project in the Bajo Lempa. To date, we’ve recieved numerous generous donations and have less than a week to reach our goal. Today Global Giving will be matching donations at 20%.
Have you been wondering what our Bajo Lempa education project is all about? Click on the PDF below to get a better understanding of the nuts and bolts and, as always, feel free to share.
LEER, Lograr en Educación Rural / Success in Rural Education
Residents of Amando Lopez, a Canton of Jiquilisco, Usulután, and local civil society organizations, want to stop large-scale cultivation of sugarcane in their community. On one level, theirs is an environmental struggle. On another, it’s a struggle against globalization and the imposition of neoliberal economic policies of private investment and consumerism.
A 2013 report published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture projected that “higher yielding sugarcane varieties, diversification of the industry into the production of energy and alcohol/ethanol, investment in milling equipment to improve sugar yields, and additional access to the U.S. market due to CAFTA-DR will all benefit El Salvador’s sugar industry over the next 3 to 5 years.” What investors want and need is more land.
In the final months of 2014, more than 10% of the population of Amando Lopez fled the community, many overnight, to escape death threats from violent gangs. They left behind their possessions, homes, businesses, and farmland. Some relocated to other regions of El Salvador. Others fled north to the United States and were detained on the border (a topic for another post). When they left, sugarcane producers wasted no time acquiring abandoned farmland. Families that would have never considered leasing land to sugarcane farmers were all of a sudden unable to say no because they needed the income to rebuild their lives.
Those who fled did so because they were in serious danger. Political scientists identify a nexus between globalization and the violence Amando Lopez and other communities are experiencing (good reads here and here). They argue that economically impoverished communities exposed to market forces and consumerism are unable to participate in the globalized economy in a meaningful, healthy, or satisfying way. This produces strong feelings of inequality, and a breakdown in family structures and social networks that allow for gangs and violence. Residents of Amando Lopez have largely protected themselves from market forces and consumerism, but last year gangs from other regions moved in and recruited local youth with phones, clothing, shoes, and money. As the threats and violence commenced, the community became even more vulnerable to globalized interests seeking land for sugarcane production.
Sugarcane is not new to Amando Lopez; farmers have grown small, organic crops for years to feed livestock and make sugar for local consumption. While these small crops are ok, the community is opposed to large-scale production that negatively affect their environment and public health, and further expose them to market forces. Their main concern is the use of toxic agrochemicals – insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, fertilizers, and ripeners. When sprayed these agrochemicals drift to nearby farms, forests, water resources, homes, and schools. Post-application they leach into the soil and water.
For example, the community is concerned about is Glyphosate (Monsanto’s Round Up), which is used as an herbicide and a ripener (ensures that a crop is ripe and ready to harvest all at once). In March, the World Health Organization released a report concluding that Glyphosate is a “likely carcinogenic” and associated with spontaneous abortions, birth defects, skin defects, respiratory illness, and neurological disease. Russia, Mexico, and the Netherlands have banned the use of Glyphosate, and last month 30,000 doctors and health professionals in Argentina demanded that their government also ban it. Colombia recently prohibited the use of Glyphosate in national parks, citing environmental impacts.
In addition to the use of agrochemicals, residents oppose the practice of burning fields before harvesting a crop – growers do so to remove foliage, making cane easier and less expensive to cut, load, and transport. Burning, however, sends chemical-laden smoke and ash throughout the region, contaminating soil, farmland, water, and communities, causing high rates of respiratory illness.
Residents of Amando Lopez are also concerned that once one sugarcane producer starts growing and contaminates neighboring farmland, other farmers will be forced to lease their land just to survive. Others might be tempted by short-term financial gains. Once exposure to these market forces and investors begins, it will disrupt the entire economic and social structure that community leaders have tried to preserve.
Amando Lopez is not the first community in the Bajo Lempa to be faced with large-scale sugarcane production. Jose “Mario” Santos Guevara, the President of ACUDESBAL, a local organization recently said, “Sugarcane cultivation is growing at an exponential rate in the Bajo Lempa. It is being planted all the way up to the yards of houses, and the damage caused is serious. We have to put an end to these abuses. We are poor people, but we have dignity and we are not going to permit these types of violations of our right to live in a healthy environment.”
Last October/November the community of La Tirana, a small coastal community to the south of Amando Lopez, stood up to an investor who wanted to plant several hundred acres of sugarcane in a field adjacent to fragile mangrove forests. La Tirana residents, accompanied by civil society organizations, were successful, at least for the short term, and continue working to prevent future efforts to plant sugarcane.
La Tirana, Amando Lopez and civil society organizations are trying to get the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARN, in Spanish) and the municipal government to intervene. Lic. Lina Pohl, Minster of the Environment, acknowledges that the law prohibits actions that harm mangroves. She also said that MARN will approve a plan that, in part, will reduce the use of agrochemicals and burning sugarcane in and around those protected regions. That is positive for La Tirana, but offers little protection for Amando Lopez.
Min. Pohl recognizes that there are lands subject to change of use, indicating that they would be appropriate for sugarcane production. She also indicated that MARN would have to approve changes, perhaps meaning that new sugarcane crops would be subject to environmental permitting. The law requires a permit for new agricultural projects, but MARN has never enforced it. Sugarcane growers in Amando Lopez have already begun plowing and clearing trees, and are likely to plant later this month when the rainy season begins in earnest. But there is no indication that the grower has applied for or received an environmental permit, or that MARN officials will require them to do so.
La Tirana and civil society organizations have also been pressuring the municipal government of Jiquilisco to stop destructive large-scale sugarcane production. The municipal council is considering a new ordinance that would regulate the use of agrochemicals and prohibit new sugarcane projects. The ordinance has not passed yet, and would do little to stop the new project in Amando Lopez.
Residents of Amando Lopez have worked hard for many years to protect their environment and natural resources in order to provide their youth a healthy place to grow up. Even though the community has been struggling and lost 10% of its population, they are not going to stand by and allow private investors to contaminate their land and water, and make their children sick with agrochemicals, just so they can make money. And they are not going to allow globalization and market forces to deconstruct the campesino culture and local economy.
Voices on the Border is sad to report that officials have found the bodies Mr. Ismael Quintanilla, the President of the Salvadoran Association of War Wounded (ALGES) and his son Alberto Zavala. They were disappeared Friday Afternoon, and their bodies found Monday.
ALGES, has been a historic partner of Voices on the Border and this tragic news causes us great sadness. We express our solidarity with the family and ALGES.
We also express our great concern for the growing violence in El Salvador, and the danger that citizens and social organizations experience daily.
Voices on the Border testifies to Mr. Quintanilla and ALGES’s tireless and courageous work over the decades, advocating for the rights of all people with disabilities from El Salvador’s 12-year civil war. Their work has put ALGES leaders at great risk over the years.
We would like to rule out that Mr. Quintanilla and his son were killed for the political advocacy work that ALGES has been involved in over the years, and demand that the Salvadoran Government take immediate action to find those responsible for their deaths.
Last Friday we posted that Northern Triangle and U.S. governments are proposing more neoliberal economic policies in order to create jobs and thereby address the emigration crisis and high levels of violence. Their plan, in part, is to attract more textile maquilas, agro-industries, manufacturing, and tourism. We think it’s a bad idea and will result in even greater inequalities and more emigration.
Over the past couple of days we came across a couple new articles that demonstrate why more sub-poverty minimum wage jobs in textiles, manufacturing, and tourism won’t address the serious issues that El Salvador and other Northern Triangle face.
Gangs and Maquilas
On Monday, the Inter Press Service (IPS) reported that employees of LD El Salvador, a Korean textile maquila that operates in San Marcos, just south of San Salvador, is using gangs and death threats to break up an employee union. One employee told IPS “They would call me on the phone and tell me to quit the union, to stop being a trouble-maker.” Another employee says, “they told me they were homeboys (gang members) and that if I didn’t quit the union my body would show up hanging from one of the trees outside the company.”
These are probably not empty threats. In January 2014 Juan Carlos Sánchez Luna, a member of SITS from the LD El Salvador maquila was assassinated. He began receiving threats at the end of 2013 after he participated in a press conference denouncing threats made against organizers at the LD El Salvador maquila. Less than a month later was gunned down in what officials classified as a “common crime.
Of the 780 employees at LD El Salvador, 155 used to belong to the Salvadoran Textile Industry Union (SITS, in Spanish). Since the threats began the number of union members has dropped to 60.
LD El Salvador is not the only company using gangs to prevent their workers from organizing. The IPS article references a report published in January 2015 by the Center for Global Worker’s Rights and the Worker Rights Consortium titled Unholy Alliances: How Employers in El Salvador’s Garment Industry Collude with a Corrupt Labor Federation, Company Unions, and Violent Gangs to Suppress Worker’s Rights. The report contains several accounts of maquilas using gangs to threaten and intimidate workers, and documents many other abuses.
As we pointed out last week, there is nothing in the Northern Alliance Plan that will protect workers rights and ensure that the very employers that are supposed to be part of the “solution” aren’t abusing workers and colluding with criminal organizations.
Tourism and Hotels
On Sunday, the Center for the Study and Support of Labor (CEAL, in Spanish) wrote an update on two hotels in Acajutla, Sonsonate. Both have long histories of abusing worker’s rights and the environment. The two hotels are the Vernaneros Hotel and Resort and the Decameron Salinas Hotel. Both tourism facilities have long histories of abusing workers rights and the environment.
Over the past several years, Vernaneros has faced several legal issues regarding the violations of El Salvador’s labor laws and the destruction of a valuable coral reef. In 2013, the Ministry of Labor found that Vernaneros owner Larry Alberto Zedán owed his workers $17,000 in compensation for not paying overtime, holidays, and overtime and other wages. Inspectors found that employees “worked most of the day, and in some cases 60 hours a week, but did not receive the minimum wage, did not have written contracts, and that [the hotel] operated informally with total disregard for labor standards.”
As a result of the abuses group of workers formed the Food, Restaurant, Hotel and Tourism Industry Union (SITIGHRA) with employees of The Decameron Hotel and other facilities. After they formed the union representatives wrote to the owners of several hotels and asked for a meeting. Larry Zedán responded by firing the 15 of his employees who had joined the union.
The Verdaderos has also received a lot of attention over the years for their destruction of a large reef off the coast from their resort. They destroyed the reef by installing a seawall to make their beach more pleasant for their guests. The reef, located in a region called Los Cóbanos, was the only place between Mexico and South America on the Pacific side, where coral grew.
The Decameron Hotel has its own share of labor disputes. In September 2013, the Decameron fired 145 workers for supporting the SITIGHR union, the same union that the Verdaderos employees had been fired for joining. One worker told Contrapunto in 2013 that they formed the union because “a lot of the bosses and supervisors treated us really poorly.”
These are just a couple of real examples in the news this week of what the globalized race to the bottom looks like. El Salvador needs solutions – economic inequality, emigration, and violence are all serious problems. But selling off the labor force and environment to the lowest bidder won’t resolve anything.
Related to these issues:
With regard to tourism, we came across a short peice on Cancun and what tourism development has done to local Mayan populations and environment. This is relevant for a lot of reasons, including that developers in El Salvador have proposed turning the Jiquilisco Bay into the “Cancun of Central America. Here is a link:
Our friends at CISPES are hosting an event in the DC area this week – Estela Ramirez, the General Secretary of the Salvadoran garment workers’ will be in DC this week to talk about their work. This will be a good opportunity to hear from on-the-ground organizers.