National Emergency Update: Intense rains leave 192 dead in El Salvador


Also included in this update:

    * Jesuit martyrs receive El Salvador’s highest civilian honor
    * 29 years later, reparations for Romero’s murder
    * 2010 budget approved; FMLN continues pushing for fiscal reform

On Saturday, November 7, intense rains produced by Hurricane Ida caused major destruction in El Salvador leaving 192 people dead and 14,295 people in shelters.  A month’s worth of rain (14 inches) fell in less than three hours, causing floods and landslides that destroyed homes, roads, bridges, and entire communities.  The departments of San Salvador and San Vicente were the most affected.  Approximately 80 people are still missing as rescue workers dig through the mud and collapsed buildings in search of survivors and bodies.

President Mauricio Funes declared a state of National Emergency and the Legislative Assembly quickly followed suit, declaring a state of National Calamity—a measure that allows Funes’ administration to reallocate funds to attend to the crisis.  According to Funes, the failure of previous administrations to carry out risk-management projects has intensified the gravity of the disaster, which is disproportionately affecting poor and marginalized communities.

Venezuela was one of the first countries to provide relief aid, sending two airplanes full of food, supplies, and medicine on Monday, November 9.  Other countries including Mexico, Brazil, Taiwan, and the United States also responded to requests for aid with supplies and money.  Cuba sent a team of doctors that are attending to the needs of the victims in San Vicente.  CISPES has also raised $6,000 to send to organizations doing relief work.

Jesuit martyrs receive El Salvador’s highest civilian honor

On Saturday, November 14, hundreds commemorated the 20th anniversary of the assassination of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter at the Central American University (UCA).  The ceremony included a candlelight procession, musical and cultural acts, and a Mass in honor of the martyrs.  President Funes also honored the five Spanish priests with the José Matías Delgado National Order—El Salvador’s highest civilian honor—in a public event at the Presidential Home on November 16.  The Spanish priests—Ignacio Ellacuría, Ignacio Martín Baró, Segundo Montes, Armando López, Juan Ramón Moreno—were murdered on November 16th, 1989 by the US-trained and equipped Atlacatl Battalion of the Salvadoran army along with their housekeeper, her daughter, and Salvadoran priest Joaquín Lopez y Lopez.

The current rector of the UCA, José María Trojeira, highlighted the importance of Funes’ decision to honor the martyrs, “in 20 years, not a single State structure has made a recognition of the dignity of these priests who gave their lives in defense of human rights…it was necessary to recognize them.”  The perpetrators of the crime remain unpunished since the 1993 passage of an Amnesty Law that forbids punishment of crimes committed during the Salvadoran Civil War; however, in November of 2008, the Spanish High Court opened proceedings against 14 military officials and ex-President of the Republic Alfredo Cristiani (current president of the ARENA party) for the November 16 murders.
29 years later, reparations for Romero’s murder

Another major step in confronting government impunity surrounding the Civil War took place on November 7 when El Salvador’s Ministry of Foreign Relations announced it would make reparations for the 1980 murder of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero and fulfill the 2000 resolution of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (CIDH).  Death squad operatives under the direction of Major Roberto D’Aubuisson shot Archbishop Romero, an outspoken critic of government repression and the plight of El Salvador’s poor, while he was performing a Mass in San Salvador.  D’Aubuisson later founded the ARENA party in 1983.

 David Morales, director of the Ministry of Foreign Relations’ Commission on Human Rights, explained that part of the reparations would include the construction of a plaza in honor of Romero and the production of a video about his life and accomplishments.  The CIDH resolution also calls for a government investigation into Romero’s murder and the repeal of El Salvador’s Amnesty Law.  According to Morales, the Funes administration, including the Minister of Defense, is fully prepared to collaborate on the repeal; however, the power to repeal the law rests in the hands of the Legislative Assembly.  Within 30 days, the Funes administration will present a report to the CIDH detailing the exact measures they will take to complete the reparations and resolution.

2010 budget approved; FMLN continues pushing for fiscal reform

On Friday, November 6, the Legislative Assembly approved the $3.654 billion 2010 General Budget with 64 of the 84 total votes.  This budget covers basic functioning of the government and is quite similar to the 2009 General Budget. The Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party was the only legislative fraction that did not give their votes, despite the uncontroversial nature of the budget.  The 12 ARENA deputies who defected from the party on October 12 and formed their own fraction—known as the Grand Alliance for National Unity or GANA—voted to approve the budget, allowing it to pass despite ARENA’s plans to stall it.

The next step for the FMLN and Funes administration will be the approval of the 2010 Extraordinary Budget and the international loans to finance it.  The Extraordinary Budget totals an additional $404 million earmarked for social investment in areas such as education, public health, public works, and crime prevention programs.  It requires a two-thirds majority (56 votes) to be approved along with its international financing.  Before the arrival of the GANA fraction, ARENA’s votes would have been necessary for its approval. Given the new Assembly composition, the FMLN can obtain a two-thirds majority with support from GANA and the National Conciliation Party (PCN).

Along with the 2010 Extraordinary Budget, a Fiscal Reform project presented by the Funes administration is on deck for Assembly debate and vote in the upcoming weeks.  The project entails a series of laws intended to close legal loopholes that have allowed tax evasion to occur, thereby increasing the government’s tax income by nearly $600 million a year.  The National Association of Private Businesses (ANEP) has harshly criticized the reform.  Alex Segovia, Funes’ Technical Secretary, explained that this is one of the most difficult reforms to pass because it affects the privileged business sector.  “Who will this reform affect? It isn’t the poor, or the middle class.  It is those sectors…that have the resources to study the laws and elude them or, even worse, that have the resources to be able to evade [taxes],” he explained.

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