Monday, January 01, 2007

Top El Salvador Stories of 2006

Here's my round-up of the top El Salvador stories of 2006:

  • Death of Schafik Handal. The long-time leader of the FMLN died suddenly of a heart attack in January. Schafik Handal's funeral brought tens of thousands to the streets of San Salvador.
  • Elections for legislative assembly and mayors. Salvadorans went to the polls on March 12 to vote for deputies in the National Assembly and the mayors of towns and cities. ARENA and the FMLN ended up with almost a 50-50 split in the National Assembly, with the balance of power being held by the minor parties who tend to form alliances with ARENA. The FMLN lost control of a significant number of municipalities and almost lost the mayor's race in San Salvador.
  • Wave of violence rolls over country. El Salvador is now known as the most violent country in Latin America, and nothing the government has attempted to do has had any impact in reducing the murder rate.
  • DR-CAFTA in first year of implementation. El Salvador was the first country to fully implement the Central American free trade agreement with the US. The impacts are difficult to measure. As required by the treaty, the government cracked down on sales of pirated CDs and DVDs causing protests by street vendors, and there was some sign of negative impacts on El Salvador's agricultural sector.
  • July 5 protest shootings. Street demonstrations turned deadly violent on July 5 outside the University of El Salvador. Two policemen were killed and several wounded by a sharpshooter among the protesters, provoking a strong clamp down by the police and raising fears that the political polarization in the country might be leading to violence.
  • Remittances are dominant economic force. Money flowing back into the country from the Salvadorans who have flowed out of the country over the past 25 years has a dramatic impact in shaping the country's economy.
  • US immigration policy. With an estimated 2.5 million Salvadorans in the US, legally and illegally, efforts at US immigration reform are closely watched. Another extension of Temporary Protected Status allowed more than 200,000 to remain in the US, while the debate in the US Congress over building a border fence or creating a guest worker program is still hanging in the air.

  • Protests against gold mining. The price of gold is at record levels and this has prompted gold mining companies from Canada and elsewhere to step up plans to prospect and exploit El Salvador's mineral resources. Fears of environmental disaster have prompted several grass roots protests in the mining regions.
  • Impact of rising oil prices. Since El Salvador imports almost all of its petroleum products, the rise in world oil prices in 2006 was felt keenly by the poor in El Salvador, especially as the price of basic bus fares was increased.
  • Growth of Salvadoran blogosphere. Over the course of this year, the number and quality of Salvadoran bloggers has continued to grow, offering an alternative look from multiple viewpoints of the reality in El Salvador.

4 comments:

wally said...

I´m curious about the most violent nation in Latin America label. If you google that phrase there seems to be several countries claiming that title, a dubious honor for sure. I understand it to be based on murder rates per 100,000 people which in El Salvador is about 54 per 100,000 depending on where you get your info. Which in itself is another problem as different organizations seem to have vastly different statistics. 10 years ago it was 120 per 100,000 here, so actually it has been halved in 10 years. But El Salvador is a small country, with most or at least half of it´s population clustered in cities where murder rates are higher. There are cities in Latin America with much higher murder rates than San Salvador but because they´re in a larger country the rate is diluted statistically. So while they are actually more violent and dangerous, they don´t get that title. In Mexico there are border cities where being a policeman is almost a death sentence, but that´s not the case here. Police do lost their lives in the line of duty, but in only a fraction of the numbers in comparable cities in Mexico. So is San Salvador more violent than a city where the police live in fear for their lives? I don´t think so. The point I´m slowly coming to is that the murder rate is way too high, no argument there, but to give the impression that this is the most dangerous country to live in all of Latin America is wrong, and that is having an adverse affect on tourism and investment here. NGO´s and church groups like to use "most violent nation" terminology in their fund-raising efforts, but overall I believe this is having a detremental effect on El Salvador. I for one don´t believe this is the most dangerous nation to live in Latin America.

El-Visitador said...

Wally makes some really good points, particularly with regard to the dilution effect (see: Brazil).

Another point to be taken into consideration is that by far most of the violence is urban poor-on-poor violence ---i.e., the salaried middle classes are somewhat protected, especially after the murderous wave of kidnappings was done away in the late '90s. I am not sure, however that either the urban or countryside businessmen are quite as safe, as they do make for a pretty appetizing target for extortion, kidnapping, and murder.

If the speculation about the salaried middle classes holds true, it may help explain why the government keeps mostly ignoring the plight of the poor, who have been saying for 10 years that their top concern is lawlesness. For it is the middle classes that drive politics in ES.

Tim said...

I used the phrase "most violent nation" in Latin America because the phrase has been used repeatedly by the media in El Salvador. See, for example, this article in La Prensa, or this article from El Tiempo Latino from a few weeks ago.

From my own internet research on trying to compare murder rates from one country to another, it's become clear that such statistics are highly subject to manipulation for political purposes. For example, Chavez in Venezuela seems to be preventing such information from getting out.

I agree that Wally raises some very good points, and that a comparison of major urban areas in Latin America will likely find cities with higher murder rates than metropolitan San Salvador. And, as some recent articles in La Prensa point out, there are some 60 municipalities in El Salvador where there were no murders in 2006 (unfortunately that is down from 79 in 2005).

HODAD26 said...

as I tell everyone that asks why I live in ES and is it safe, I say it is more dangerous downtown Myrtle Beach than ES
I took my 53 y.o. girlfriend nurse to the central market this summer, she was apprehensive at first, then after ahalf hour, she said what is the problemo,
these folks are nice,
sure we are gringos,makes adifference, so really ES is quite safe for travelers and 'gringos'
I have had more violence in Taiwan and Asia then C.A. and i would say in agreement iwth all
Mexico is far more violent than Central America, 100 times worse

and my partners that have ripped me off want to kill me instead of paying me, that is the norm, to use violence to settle problems or debts or vendettas instead of the system, because the system does not work
but otherwise, the violence seems more in the poorer levels of society
so, come to El Salvador for vacation, you will have 'a large time'