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Saturday, February 15, 2014

News from student group in El Salvador

The next few entries are reposts from the blog: ElSalExperience - they have been recording their experiences daily on their trip latest trip.  The group left Ottawa February 7.

A wonderful post - thanks Maureen and Stephanie for this!

We got an early start to our day with a 7am wake up call followed shortly after with a breakfast consisting of eggs, toast, pineapple and watermelons!

Our interpreter Roberto gives a passionate recounting 
of the history of El Salvador at the memorial to the civilian
 victims of the Civil War.

Here is a section of the wall relief sculpture commemorating
the struggles of the people of El Salvador during the Civil War.


Reflection on Day 1

The first day here in El Salvador was amazing. I am incredibly humbled to be here considering all the welcoming people. Everyone is so friendly and hospitable. We have only been here for about 24 hours and I already feel like I have a new outlook. It is amazing to hear stories from people that cherish education more than anything. People leave their families to go to school in San Salvador to provide a better life for their spouses and children. This impresses and amazes me. I have never felt so fortune to live and go to school where I do. And I am so happy that the government here in El Salvador is making steps towards providing a better education for children, youth, and adults. My favorite part of today was meeting Sister Bernadette. She was the smallest and most charming woman I have ever met. She showed us through Monsieur Romeros home. She was incredibly knowledgeable and told us some amazing things about him and his life. She has never met him, and she has an unbelievable amount of faith in him, which is an amazing demonstration of the power of faith. Being here for only 24 hours and I already feel so different and excited. Cant wait to go to San Jose Las Flores. - Emma Jackson

Outside of Oscar Romero´s home. Sister Bernadette 
giving an introduction to the life of Romero.

Inside the Divine Providence chapel where Romero was 
assassinated when he was celebrating mass.

Sister Bernadette captivating our students.


Posing with Sister Bernadette at the grotto where 
Romero´s heart is buried. This was the end of a moving tour 
of Romero´s home and museum, which students found inspirational.



Stopping for a delicious lunch at a typical Salvadoran restaurant.

                                                                                                                                                                     Second Reflection on Day 1

It is a whole other world out here, and oh my, is it magnificent. I have already learned and seen so much, and I have only been here two days. I have travelled out of the country before, but the language barrier has always prevented me from getting involved as much as I want to. El Salvador is an exception, as I can speak enough Spanish to communicate with the local people. I am also not only staying in resorts or tourist areas. As a result, I have been able to immerse myself in this culture, and I am thoroughly enjoying it. Perhaps the most striking thing that I have noticed is the contrasting values of my society, and this one. Our guide and translator, Roberto, speaks about the people of El Salvador and their values. These people want healthcare, education, a strong economy. In my society, I have all those things. Though I am extremely grateful for the opportunities I have, I have become aware that I do not cherish them as much as I should. Roberto said that the people of El Salvador have had struggle ceaselessly, simply to have basic school supplies. Our sister school in San Jose Las Flores only gets $1500 per year of education funds. Where I am from, school supplies are an under $10 purchase, and only a short car ride away. Not to mention, the government of Ontario provides around $6000 per year, per student. I find the difference between those two figures staggering. Overall, I am struck by the beauty of El Salvador, that I see in its geography, and its people, and I cannot wait for the days to come. - Julia Moran

Students reflecting in the Jesuit chapel at the University of Central America.

Meeting with Salvadorans who work tirelessly to promote peace and social justice.

Julia contemplating a Salvadoran version of the stations of the cross.


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We Are Approaching an Historic Moment

Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front
Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
SALSOL Observer

Donald Lee Suchitoto, El Salvador 7 february 2014

english edition – february.2014

SALSOL Observer
english edition – february.2014

The Numbers

Some say it is not impossible that ARENA could find the strength to recover from the defeat which it suffered on February 2, put it is very unlikely. At the national level, the tri-color party finished 10 points behind the FMLN which fell short by just one percentage point of the threshold for a definitive victory – 50 percent plus one vote. The rejection of Norman Quijano and what he represents is expressed at other levels and in other dimensions. Of the 14 departments in the nation’s territory, ARENA lost 13. Of the 262 municipalities, the party accustomed to power won only 74. 

In the moment, the analysts and spokespersons for the defeated party preferred to blame abstentions, but in fact, it was the UNIDAD coalition and its candidate Antonio Saca that weakened the ARENA vote.  Although it is true that the percentage of electors that exercised their right fell by comparison with the results of the presidential round of the year 2009, the drop results from the good work of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal and the National Register of Natural Persons, by which they registered 728,628 more eligible votes than for the elections of the year 2009.

Looking directly at the numbers and not the percentages, the total of valid votes in this first round of 2014 was 29,684 more than the total of valid votes for the second round of 2009. In 2014, more participated, not less. The phenomenon of abstentions is a ghost invented by the ARENA leadership who prefer not to recognize reality. The votes by which ARENA fell short went to Tony Saca. In this most recent vote, Saca and his UNIDAD of three parties won 305,294. ARENA lost 245,313 compared to its result in the second round of 2009.  

The numbers do not rule out that a fraction of the weakness of ARENA is owed to abstentions. This tendency – of ARENA supporters that cannot stomach supporting their own party – is alive, and even has its expression in the United for El Salvador caucus which holds five seats in the Legislative Assembly. But it is clear that abstentions were not the principal cause for ARENA’s defeat.

We can also observe that the candidates of the FMLN were affected by the combo of UNIDAD and abstentions, but not in the same measure. Of the 1,354,000 votes won with Mauricio Funes in 2009, 48,538 are missing from the total of votes in their favor in the first round of 2014 – the total of 1,305,462.
And so, where do we stand?

In order to understand well the meaning of the numbers, we need to remind ourselves that, in the second round of 2009, ARENA enjoyed the support of the three parties which today constitute UNIDAD – the PDC, the PCN, and even GANA – the Great Alliance for National Unity – which had not separated from ARENA in that moment. It is worth noting that GANA holds 11 of the 84 seats in the Legislative Assembly. The PCN holds 7 and the PDC just one.  We also add in that GANA suffered most from the verbal poison of Quijano and the other leaders of ARENA. They were accused of being traitors to the cause and allies of communism, and repeatedly each time they collaborated with the FMLN’s caucus in the Assembly. Today the leadership of ARENA recognizes that it has to change the cassette, but it is too late.

There is no reason to doubt that ARENA can count on the support of the greater portion of PCN loyalists, of the country’s historic party on the right. But it is impossible to imagine that one hundred percent of the base of GANA could forget the accumulated differences of the past 4 years and with that confide in ARENA being able to change.  If the new right wants to contain the corruption of the old right, it has not options except to support Salvador Sánchez Ceren and Oscar Ortiz. The FMLN wins the second round with just one-fifth of GANA’s base coming to the same conclusion. Furthermore, it is natural to imagine that there will be more abstentions amongst disappointed ARENA supporters in the second round. Now that the result is clear, why not increase the punishment to the defeated party by resting at home.

There will be consequences of a clear FMLN victory  ARENA is a party which imagines itself the owner of the country, capable of protecting its key elements from whatever persecution or prosecution for their misdemeanours. From the culture of power and the tradition of impunity comes the arrogant tone of their candidate and the high-handedness of their most visible leaders. ARENA is the garantor of impunity.  But the woven protective cloak is fraying and the web of crossbred relations is coming out into the open. Even those protected are transformed into “inside sources” for the proof of corruption and the violation of the nation’s dignity. In those last days of the campaign it was made clear that the spider’s web comes very close to the candidate Quijano. And with that the honourable right feels disappointed and ashamed. 

The most notorious example is the case of ex-president for ARENA, Francisco Flores, who resigned as campaign director on the Friday before the Sunday vote, accused of diverting several million in gifts from Taiwan to his own accounts, during his period of government, 1999-2004. On the day of writing these observations, he remains in hiding and all his property is sequestered by order of the Attorney General for the Republic. This stain on the pride of ARENA cannot be removed in four weeks not even with the most advanced chemicals.

Should ARENA loose power and decidedly on March 9, it is certain that the fattest of the corrupt will confront legal prosecution with no truce. The space will be opened to continue purging the structures of justice system. It will become possible to fence-in the most powerful elements of drug-trafficking – the authors of the violence which imposes the system of extortions.

A political chapter will be opened in which we can talk about a new concept of nation – inclusive and equitable, in which progress is for everyone. We will be granted the option of talking about the realities of the civil war, acknowledging crimes against humanity, pardoning the guilty, and building a national unity.
A new era is opening up. A new El Salvador is being born. 

A definitive victory for the Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation – the FMLN – is unavoidable.

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Sunday, February 9, 2014

SalvAide Accompanied First-Round Election and Prepares to Witness Decisive 9 March Run-off

English: Mauricio Funes, FMLN candidate for th...
English: Mauricio Funes, FMLN candidate for the 2009 presidential election in El Salvador, during a reception in Brasilia, May 2008.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On 2 February, Salvadorans came out in numbers to participate in elections to choose their next President and Vice-President.  Their preferred choice by a considerable margin (10 percentage points) was the incumbent FMLN ticket of Peace Accords signatory, school teacher, and former guerrilla commander, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, and the popular Mayor of Santa Tecla (a model municipality in El Salvador), Óscar Ortiz.  

However, the FMLN fell just short of the required 50% plus one vote threshold to win outright in the first round (it won 49% of the vote and won in 13 of the country’s 14 provinces).  This sets up a decisive run-off election on 9 March between the FMLN and a devastated 2nd place finisher, the right-wing ARENA party.  The third place finisher, the populist rightist UNIDAD coalition led by ousted ARENA president Tony Saca, earned 11% of the vote and could play an important role in the run-off despite having chosen officially not to support either of the two remaining competitors.
El Salvador stub icon
El Salvador stub icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

SalvAide once again accompanied Salvadorans as they exercised their hard-fought democratic electoral rights, and we invite Canadians to join us on 9 March for the definitive election (click here for more information).  We congratulate the Salvadoran people and in particular the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) for an impressively well-organized and festive first-round election.  As part of our partner CIS’ 90-strong international observer mission, the SalvAide team – present in La Palma, Chalatenango, Mejicanos, San Salvador, and the capital itself – witnessed an orderly, transparent, and peaceful election on Sunday, arguably the most secure and collaborative electoral event since the signing of the Peace Accords in 1992.  SalvAide especially applauds the full implementation of residential voting throughout the country which brought voting centres much closer to Salvadorans’ homes.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment, particularly from the perspective of Salvadoran expatriates, was the annulment of approximately half of ballots sent from abroad apparently for missteps in the complicated protocol expatriate voters were obliged to follow.  For the upcoming run-off SalvAide urges the TSE to give preference to the right of Salvadorans abroad to have their votes counted over at best pedantic and at worst malicious adherence to protocols that we suggest require immediate revision.

If you would like to join SalvAide’s election observer team for the 9 March run-off, please click here for more information.  We already have a growing and dynamic team and as always welcome Canadians who value the struggle for social justice and sustainable development in El Salvador.

René Guerra Salazar
Executive Director, SalvAide
219 Argyle Avenue, Suite 411
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada  K2P 2H4
Skype: salvaidecanada
Facebook: SalvAide
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Saturday, February 1, 2014

Porque eso quiero volver a Bajo Lempa

Español: Departamentos de El Salvador
Español: Departamentos de El Salvador (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The best way to describe the work of CORDES is to talk about Rio Lempe.  CORDES is very active in this former insurgent enclave.  This was the site of our first visit into the country.  We visited a small community that is located on the site of a former cotton plantation.  The previous owners deserted the area during the war.  The present community located on the plantation after the Peace Accords in 1992. 

This was the story wherever we went.  Relocated communities are trying to make a go of it with little government support.  Most of these communities have very dramatic stories of the conflict.  This on was no exception.

We visited a small community museum where captured arms are stored in a room with bullet-pocked walls.  The local commander gave us a tour of the facility.  His picture, from earlier days, with military uniform and black beret, were part of the display.  We also visited the site where 28 insurgents are buried after a battle with the military in the community.

This is a country of graves.

One of the captured guns from the community museum.  Note the holes in the walls.

The past and the future are so close here.  We were on our way to see a community that is growing and developing, but we had to pay homage to the past first.  You can’t understand El Salvador without listening to the stories of the struggle.  In Rio Lempe, I would like to think that the people are beginning to turn the corner on this long battle.

Funding has provided support for the development of local products including gourmet cheese, organic fruits, cashews and sugar.  Community supports include an eye clinic, a water purification plant that provides good drinking water to the community, biological pesticide control and a biogenerator that provides methane gas for cooking. 

The community has also developed a fishing co-op that seeks to return a greater share of the profits to local fishermen.  Training has also been provided on filleting and salting processes.  CORDES has also supported the development of an eco-tourism facility -  Hostal Lempa Mar.

Hostal Lempa Mar consists of four cabins that can sleep three persons each.  The hostal is located on the Lempa River and offers and excellent restaurant where visitors can enjoy local produce including red snapper taken from the Lempa.  Apart from the peace and serenity of the Lempa, this facility also offers kayaking and boat rides on the Lempa.  During the week, these same boats are used by the fishing co-op.

Profits from the Hostal stay in the community and all employees of the Hostal are members of the local community.  Plans are in place to develop hiking trails in the area and it is hoped that Hostal Lempa Mar will soon be able to promote to the international community through the Internet.

Hostal Lempa Mar.  Great fish and an afternoon ride on the Lempa

my Spanish for this week on Bajo Lempa

Porque eso quiero volver a Bajo Lempa
Yo he escrito de Bajo Lempa antes. Yo tengo un diario para cada viaje de El Salvador y Guatemala.    En 2005 y 2009, yo fui a Bajo Lema con los grupos Canadienses.  Yo no conozco la comunidad de Bajo Lempa y San Vicente como yo conozco la comunidad de San José las Flores.  Esto es porque este es el grupo CRIPDES quien decide a dónde íbamos.  Durante la guerra, San Vicente y Chalatenango fueron lugares que fueron controlados por los grupos militares afiliados a CRIPDES.  Yo no sé el nombre de los grupos, pero los afiliados existen hoy en El Salvador.
Las comunidades de Bajo Lempa no están bien organizadas como las comunidades en Chalatenango.  Cuando visitábamos las escuelas en esta área, los maestros no tenían los recursos necesarios para realizar su trabajo.  Yo espero que cuando visitemos este año,  haya cierta mejora. 
Bajo lempa es un área amenazada por el calentamiento global.  El océano pacifico está creciendo e inundando la tierra.  Cuando hay una tormenta, la tierra y la gente se ven afectados.  Cada vez, hay mucho daño.
Cuando yo regrese a Bajo Lempa, quiero ver que las cosas han cambiado.  Como están las escuelas?  Como están los proyectos de CRIPDES, CORDES y las otras organizaciones? 
También, fue un pequeño hostal, se llama Hostal Lempa Mar.  Este hay un gran

hostal.  La   comida en el hostal fue maravilloso.  La cocinera era un excombatiente que aprendía como a cocinar en San Diego mientras él se recuperaba de sus heridas.  

Nuestra cena en hostal Lempa Mar

Creo que hay muchas oportunidades para aprender en Bajo Lempa.  Yo voy a ver pronto lo que ha cambiado.  Ojalá, yo espero que las personas no cambien.

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