Update: Anti-mining Activist Gunned Down, Ex-President Tony Saca expelled from ARENA, and more...


included in this update:

* Ex-President Tony Saca expelled from ARENA
* Clinton urges Funes to take “leadership” in Honduran crisis
* U.S. remains inflexible on El Salvador immigration policy
* Community mining resistance calls on Funes for accompaniment
* Obama names U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador

 Ramiro Rivera Gómez, vice-president of CAC (Comité Ambiental deCabañas/ the Environmental Committee of Cabañas) and a local leader inthe community struggle against the environmentally-destructive goldmining projects proposed by Pacific Rim, was assassinated on Sunday,December 20, 2009 in the Trinidad neighborhood of Ilobasco, in thedepartment of Cabañas where he lived. Héctor Berríos reports thatRamiro Rivera was killed by hitmen carrying M-16 rifles. Ramiro’sthirteen-year old daughter who was with him on Sunday afternoon wasalso injured but is reportedly in stable condition.  Take action today by demanding the Salvadoran Attorney General conducta thorough investigation into Ramiro Rivera’s assassination by clickinghere .

 Ex-President Tony Saca expelled from ARENA

Former President of the Republic Tony Saca was expelled from the ARENAparty on December 20, 2009.  According to ARENA party president AlfredoCristiani, Saca violated the party’s principles by manipulating theinternal election process that nominated Rodrigo Ávila as the 2009presidential candidate.  Ávila lost the March 15 elections to FMLNcandidate Mauricio Funes, ending 20 years of ARENA governance.

Saca’s expulsion comes after the Presidential House was exposed forspending $219 million beyond the amount budgeted by the LegislativeAssembly during his presidency from 2004-2008.  Many analysts view thissudden expulsion as an effort by the ARENA party to distance itselffrom allegations of corruption, as well as a scrambling attempt tosalvage the party’s image. ARENA has been suffering a serious internalcrisis, brought to public attention in late October by the defection ofover 1/3rd of its legislative deputies.

Clinton urges Funes to take “leadership” in Honduran crisis

On December 9th, Minister of Foreign Relations Hugo Martínez met withU.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in Washington, D.C. At themeeting Secretary Clinton urged El Salvador to take on greaterleadership in the resolution to the crisis in Honduras. 
President Funes has yet to make a pronouncement on the results of Honduras’ controversial November 29th elections.  Recently, he acknowledged the repressive conditions under which the elections took place, but also called the elections a first step towards a negotiated exit.

The Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) party, which carried Funes to an electoral victory on March 15 of this year, has condemned the Honduran elections as an attempt to legitimize the June 28 coup.  In their annual convention on December 12, the party reiterated its position that the coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya in Honduras represents a threat to democracy for the entire region.  FMLN General Coordinator Medardo González has acknowledged the party and Funes’ differing opinions, particularly concerning foreign relations.  In a recent interview, González spoke of the importance of the FMLN in maintaining its positions as a party despite the president’s position. He highlighted the difference between the current situation and the behavior of Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) administrations during their 20 years of governance, in which they were frequently denounced for fusing the party and government institutions and for using state funds and resources to promote the party.

Since his presidential nomination by the FMLN, Mauricio Funes has reiterated his desire to build a “strategic alliance” with the U.S. and emphasized the importance of maintaining friendly relations with the country where 2.5 million Salvadoran’s live and work, sending back an estimated $315 million each month.  Clinton’s push for El Salvador to take a more active role in the Honduras crisis was viewed by many policy analysts as an attempt to build regional support for the U.S.’ anticipated position of accepting the elections.

U.S. remains inflexible on El Salvador immigration policy

The primary objective of Martínez’s visit to Washington D.C. was to petition for immigration reform aimed at improving the lives of Salvadorans in the U.S.  In addition to Secretary Clinton, he met with Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, to whom he proposed a temporary moratorium on deportations of Salvadorans in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.  Napolitano showed little flexibility, despite the devastation caused by the hurricane.  She agreed to try to reduce the daily number of deportation flights to El Salvador—currently averaging 10 per day—but failed to give a concrete figure for flight reduction.

Martínez expressed hope that future conversations would address more comprehensive solutions to the problems faced by immigrants in the U.S., beyond a simple renewal of Temporary Protection Status (TPS)—the temporary legal status granted to Central American immigrants in the U.S. who fled a rash of natural disasters in 2001.  Roughly 229,000 Salvadorans living in the U.S. have temporary legal residency under TPS.

TPS and its renewal have often been threatened by U.S. congressional members and government officials for political purposes.  In both the 2004 and 2009 Salvadoran presidential elections, Republican Congressional representatives and administration officials threatened to terminate TPS if the FMLN candidate won the elections—a fear tactic utilized by the ARENA party during its electoral campaign.

Community mining resistance calls on Funes for accompaniment

On December 9th, hundreds of people from Cabañas, Chalatenango, and other departments of El Salvador that are facing potential mining projects gathered at the Presidential House to raise public awareness and debate surrounding the two lawsuits El Salvador is facing in the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), a World Bank tribunal based in Washington, D.C.  Gold mining companies Pacific Rim of British Columbia and Wisconsin-based Commerce Group are suing El Salvador for hundreds of millions of dollars for violating the U.S.-Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) by refusing to grant mining permits.  The communities opposing the mining projects called on President Funes to unite with the anti-mining movement and confront the lawsuits in concert.

On December 10th, La Mesa Nacional frente a la Minería Metálica (the National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining in El Salvador)—a coalition of the community organizations in areas affected by mining, environmental organizations, and other non-governmental organizations—was recognized for its community organizing efforts by El Salvador’s Human Rights Ombudsman, Oscar Luna.  Radio Victoria, a youth-led community station in Cabañas, was also celebrated.  The awards were presented in the celebration of the 61st Anniversary of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Obama names U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador

On December 9th, the White House announced the nomination of Mari Carmen Aponte as U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador; she is awaiting approval by the Senate before assuming the post.  Aponte, a lawyer by training, grew up in Puerto Rico and New Jersey and previously was the Executive Director of the Administration of Federal Subjects in Puerto Rico.   President Bill Clinton nominated her as U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic in 1998, but her confirmation was blocked by Senate Republicans.  The U.S. Embassy in El Salvador has been without an Ambassador since January 20, when Obama took office and dismissed all politically appointed ambassadors of the Bush Administration.  The Embassy is currently under the direction of Charge d’Affaires Robert Blau, who occupied the post under Bush.

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