Funes Administration Kicks Off Free Uniform and Free Meal Programs for Students

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Also in this update:
    * ARENA destabilization tactics: conditional votes and fake popular actions
    * Popular mobilizations protest El Chaparral dam

    * FMLN creates Commission for the Disappeared

On August 24, Vice-President and Minister of Education Salvador SanchezCerén officially opened the bidding process for some 7 million yards offabric for the production of school uniforms, as the first step towardsimplementation of President Mauricio Funes’ plan to distribute twoschool uniforms, one pair of shoes, and a set of school supplies toevery public school student in the country.  The program will not onlybenefit 1,360,000 students, but will also create jobs for small- andmedium-sized Salvadoran businesses.  Fabric will be purchased fromSalvadoran businesses and production will be carried out at a locallevel, with each municipality contracting local businesses andcollectives to make the uniforms for their students.

Sanchez Cerén also inaugurated the expansion of the school meal programat a public school in the town of Soyapango this past August.  Theprevious school meal program was limited to rural areas with highincidences of poverty, whereas the newly extended program includesstudents in impoverished urban areas as well. An additional 452,856students in kindergarten through ninth grade in 764 schools willbenefit from the expansion, raising the total students participating ona national level to 1,310,286 at 4,931 schools.   The school mealprogram provides a daily serving of rice, beans, oil, sugar, milk, anda fortified drink to students.

Meanwhile, on July 31, Funes distributed property titles for small farming lots to over 900 families living throughout the department of La Paz  at a ceremony in the Zacatecoluca municipality. Funes attended a second ceremony in Izalco, Sonsonate on August 14 and presented titles to 489 additional families.  The families have been living on and cultivating State-owned lands, many for decades, without official property titles to their lots.  One of Funes’ campaign promises was the presentation of these titles, which then allows these families to be eligible for loans, technical assistance, and government projects and programs.  These ceremonial presentations represent the first steps in Funes’ promise to deliver 3,500 property titles in his first 100 days as president.

ARENA destabilization tactics: conditional votes and fake popular actions

In the coming months, the Legislative Assembly will begin to discuss and vote on  $1.5 billion in international loans negotiated by the Funes administration, designed to fund a variety of projects.  The votes of both primary parties—ARENA and the FMLN—are necessary for the 56 votes required to approve the loans and next year’s national budget.  However, ARENA’s legislative fraction announced on August 20 that it will not vote in favor of the loans unless the FMLN agrees to provide State financial support for San Salvador Mayor Norman Quijano’s Metrobus project, turn over three national movie theaters to ARENA mayors, and end the firing of federal employees.  In response, FMLN legislative deputy Norma Guevara told the Salvadoran press that her party is not “susceptible to extortion,” reminding ARENA of its promise to be a constructive opposition.

The Metrobus project was one of the primary campaign promises of Quijano, the recently elected mayor from the ARENA party, despite the fact that municipal mayors do not have authority over public transportation, which is regulated by the Vice-Ministry of Transport.  Funes has stated that he will not outright dismiss Quijano’s proposed project, but that comprehensive improvements to the national public transport system are necessary and there is no reason to limit a transport overhaul to San Salvador.  The government of Brazil has offered to provide credit and technical assistance to modernize the public transport fleet and revamp the entire system.  Regarding the demand to stop the firings of federal employees, Funes responded that it is simply false and there is no policy of mass firings in place.

ARENA has also been accused of orchestrating demonstrations, cloaked as community actions, resulting in blocked highways across the country during the last week of August.  The protesters claim Funes’ administration is not fulfilling its promise to distribute seeds and fertilizer and demand that these items be distributed immediately.  The Ministry of Agriculture is currently in the process of delivering 177,000 packets that contain 25 pounds of bean seeds and 100 pounds of fertilizer to farmers throughout the country.  There have been some delays in distribution,  generally due to the condition of the Ministry of Agriculture when Funes took office on June 1.  Farming equipment, seeds, fertilizer, and other supplies had been stolen from the Ministry—presumably by members of the previous administration—and the Ministry was therefore burdened with $15 million in debt.

The organizations participating in the road blocks include the General Agriculture Center (CEGAS) and the National Rural Agro-industrial Association (ANCA), both of which are recently created organizations.  Equipo Maiz, a popular education collective, pointed out the manner that the media has covered these demonstrations in a recent educational flyer.  “These protests were widely covered and praised by the major communication media, but this time without the typical qualifiers of ‘vandalism’ [used in most coverage of popular demonstrations],” read the flyer.  Salvadoran social movement leaders have expressed concern that the right-wing is organizing groups disguised as popular movements to destabilize the Funes administration.  

Popular mobilizations protest El Chaparral dam

Since the beginning of the construction of the El Chaparral dam in October of 2008, local community members have mobilized against the dam.  Recently, the communities have camped out in front of the Presidential Home, shut down portions of the Panamerican Highway, and demonstrated at the dam construction site, demanding that President Mauricio Funes halt the dam’s construction.  The Executive Lempa River Commission (CEL) is the autonomous government institution in charge of the execution of the hydro-electric dam.

The project was begun during the administration of President Tony Saca and is being financed by a $163 million loan from the Central American Economic Integration Bank (BCIE) as well as a $56 million contribution from the State.  It is located in the north of the department of San Miguel near the municipalities of San Antonio del Mosco, San Luis de la Reina, and Sesori.  Members of these communities oppose the dam project and say it will flood and destroy valuable farmland, thereby displacing many families that reside near the site.  They also criticize the project’s bidding process and the manner in which construction was conceded to the Italian-based Astaldi Construction Corporation.

On July 22, over 200 citizens of nearby municipalities protested outside the construction site and met with El Salvador’s Human Rights Ombudsman, Oscar Luna.  Luna has called on the government to thoroughly review the project and offered to mediate between the communities and government officials.  He cited a report released by the Electricity and Telecommunications General Superintendence (SIGET) that concluded that the dam’s construction should be suspended due to the controversial nature of the dam and the likelihood for conflict if construction continues at this time.  The report cites many irregularities including: anomalies in the bidding and concession process, failure to conduct a thorough consultation with the surrounding communities, and deficiencies within the environmental impact report presented by the CEL.

FMLN creates Commission for the Disappeared

On Monday, August 31, Minister of Foreign Affairs Hugo Martinez announced that the government of El Salvador will create a Commission for the Disappeared to investigate cases of children forcibly disappeared and separated from their families during the Civil War.  Martinez will ask President Mauricio Funes to decree an executive order for the creation of the Commission during the 15th anniversary celebration of the non-governmental organization Pro-Búsqueda.  Since 1994, Pro-Búsqueda has investigated cases of disappeared children and reunited 214 people with their families. Reyna Portillo of Pro-Búsqueda notes that this will mark the first time that their organization has had a relationship with the government.  

During the Civil War in El Salvador, the Armed Forces and other State security forces were responsible for the separation of many children from their families.  According to Pro-Búsqueda, some of these children were literally torn from the arms of their parents, although the majority became orphans after State-sponsored massacres and armed confrontations.  Such children, found amongst the cadavers following military massacres, were given away, sent abroad for adoption, or eventually put to work in the Armed Forces.  Martinez said that he believes that the government should recognize its responsibility to the separated families.  He explained that previous administrations refused to acknowledge the disappearances and he emphasized the importance of these investigations for the historical memory of the country.  “Forgetting is laying the groundwork for other boys and girls in our country to continue being [forcibly] disappeared,” said Martinez.

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