Archive for September 2010

Blue Dragonfly   Leave a comment

A gorgeous blue dragonfly, resting on on the
ground cover called “mani” at the edge of our patio.

See more at the
Wonderful World of Insects in El Salvador Photo Gallery.

Posted September 28, 2010 by El Salvador from the Inside in Cool, Insects

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Hydro Dams, Mining, Dangers and Protests   1 comment

A lot of controversy exists in El Salvador regarding hydroelectric dams, and even more for mining projects.  Pictured here is an example of what can go ‘wrong’ with hydroelectric dams, especially in developing countries with little regulation who are financially ‘beholden’ to investors.


Chalillo dam in Belize releases damaging sediment - 2009

Two hydro-power dams near completion or under construction in El Salvador: Cimarrón, which was ‘suspended’ by Mauricio Funes in January, 2010, and El Chaparral, under construction, and also causing controversy. As for Cimarrón being “suspended,” well…suspended is not canceled, and we see that CEL (‘the’ hydro company here) will soon pick the project back up:  June 2010 article where CEL announces it will build both dams (?suspended).  Citizens are keeping their ears up for any movement. In fact, this summer I got caught in a traffic jam when a group was protesting against both hydro and mining projects, on the “Truncal Norte” highway, which runs from San Salvador to the Chalatenango region.  Another day, a group of 200 protested in front of the President’s House in May, just before CEL’s June announcement that it “plans on building” both Chaparral and Cimarrón dams.  See article on Protest against El Chaparral, Cimarron dams – May 2010.

Note the price tag for just the Cimarron project alone: “one thousand million”. That’s a billion dollars. And foreign investors are happy to loan all of it to El Salvador.

The hydroelectric plants interrupt the environment, but also place thousands of people in peril, which a typical Westerner many ot be aware of.  Here in El Salvador, there are thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of people who use the rivers to wash clothing or dishes, in addition to swimming and fishing. In our neighborhood the water comes to the house, but numerous people just a 7 minute drive up the road in Naranjos and Nances still do not have water piped to their homes.  They carry water to their house in jugs from a nearby well. It is hard work and impractical to haul the many jugs of water needed to do laundry, so instead they walk their clothing to the river, and wash. Women (you’ll never see a man here doing this) also bring their dishes to the river to wash, for the same reason. If they build the Cimarrón hydro-plant upstream from us (a 20 minute drive), washing or swimming in the river becomes perilous. The hydro-electric dams release discharges at various times, often unpredictable and unannounced. Anyone who risks going into the river may suddenly be confronted with a giant wall of water coming at them.  To build the dam a large stretch of land must be cleared (residents are often forced to move via eminent domain), and it is flooded with the “lake” that sits in front of the damn. Fish that live in the river are disturbed by the change, not to mention the random discharges.  Costa Rica is a prime example of a country with extensive hydroelectric dams.  When we visited that country in 2008, we would often see an inviting beautiful river with a sign next to it stating “No swimming! Dangerous Discharges released.” The poor in El Salvador at least have the enjoyment of the river to swim in, and fish which helps their food budget, but not after installing a hydro-plant.

Mining of Gold and Silver is another economic endeavor popular to foreign investors here.  An article I read in “El Norteño” (the Northerner / newspaper for Chalatenango region) in early 2010 discussed the dangers of allowing mining companies into an area. Mining in Chalatenango would create few jobs because the companies bring in their “own” employees and technical professionals, so only vendors and those that service those mining employees would see economic benefit. Few if any actual jobs would be provided to Salvadorans, the nature side would be disrupted for mining and excavation, perhaps even relocating people, and would see possible contamination of local water sources. Then when all the silver is done mined, off they go and no one here is the better for it. Ads seen on the backs of buses and on billboards in the city state “mining is exploitation” with an illustration of a pair of ghoulish looking hands with claws instead of fingernails. A great resource covering mining in El Salvador is Tim’s El Salvador Blog. Here is a recent article

Hydroelectric power is considered by some to be a ‘greener’ form of electricity.  In much of the country, especially the part of Chalatenango where our family is from, the sun shines every day, all day long, even during rainy season where it only rains late pm or night.  How about a solar panel field for starters? And how ’bout them mountains for windmills? Volcanoes everywhere, hmmm….geothermal?

A good article that appears balanced by the “Environment, Health and Safety Online” website  covers the pro’s and con’s of dams:

The article’s discussion explains in part why we see a “silt release” in the Belize dam pictured above – it must have been built with a release at the bottom where silt develops, which is a good thing, but looking at the picture, it appears something went awry.

EHSO discusses the pitfalls of creating large reservoirs (in front of dams) in tropical climates, where dangers of disease are higher.  I will add to their comments that in developing countries, poor planning after the initial budget of a president or dictators “pet dam project” can result in lack of future funds to dredge silt accumulation or perform structural maintenance.   The price tag of these dams can be stupendous, where investors in countries far from the dam make money off the interest of a loan that could take tens of decades for the developing country to pay off, if they ever do.

I await and welcome comments.


A Butterfly is Born   Leave a comment

We got to experience a butterfly in the making, from pupa to wing flight – twice over!  All from our own patio in El Salvador – where else, of course.   We noticed a pupa (we called it a cocoon) hanging from the outside patio ceiling one day, and within a week, another one on the other side of the patio

Early stage pupa late stage pupa – note how the coloring changes We waited with anticipation for almost two weeks, when at last the first lovely butterfly emerged:
Flash picture shows more detail: A week or so later, butterfly number two emerged from its cramped quarters: A picture only a scientist could love: secretions from the chrysalis landed on the tile floor below it, around hatching time:

A scintillating experience, albeit in slow motion.  Originally I believed they were moths, but learned the ‘hanging objects’ in which they metamorphosed were not cocoons, but a pupae.

See a nice time-lapse video showing the whole butterfly life cycle:  Butterfly Time Lapse

Also visit the Wonderful World of Insects in El Salvador Photo Gallery.

Gangs Paralyze El Salvador – Day 2   3 comments

On Day two of the gang-enforced “Paro” my friend Chata and I braved a trip from Los Planes de Renderos, where we live, into the city to check out the market and major bus stops. We saw NO buses while driving down the mountain. We did see, however, numerous pick-ups and commercial size trucks hauling people up and out of the city in droves. It was an amazing sight. People were often packed so tight onto the back of pick-up trucks, that the tail end was near dragging on the ground.



Trucks were hauling people everywhere, and no buses in sight.


Once in the city, we drove through part of the market, as police were everywhere, so we felt safe from danger.

The market located near the Parque Libertad (Liberty Park) was deserted except for a few courageous vendors on the main drag on Calle Poniente 4a (4th West Street).

This usually bustling market near empty at 5:30pm



Getting Home via 'TruckBus' during the 'Paro' - 9/2010

Near the market on Avenida España, we saw a bus with a police officer on it for security. This street near the market has several bus stops for different routes in and out of the city. Today people were catching all sorts of “impromptu” collective transport: pickups and trucks as we had seen, along with vans, and taxis braving the gang “suspension” of transport and businesses. We even saw small commercial trucks usually intended for shipping goods opening their rear doors to pack people in.

One particularly happy and touching site were two very large commercial trucks (camionetas) with signs on them advertising a Free ride to the town of Panchimalco. They both had signs with “Pancho, Gratis” and one had banners on it identifying it as a truck sponsored by the Panchimalco town government.

We got to see the Best of El Salvador that day; an entire country banding together and pooling all of their resources to keep driving on, despite the nefarious efforts of the two major gangs throwing their weight around. It’s hard to respect a gang which talks out of both sides of their mouth, on the on hand complaining about the poverty and even making some strong points about minimum wage, and asking the powers that be to find more ways to help people climb out of poverty. Yet on the other hand these are empty wishes, because they come too late;these same gang members extort the poor every day in the markets, streets, and buses, and kill those who don’t pay ‘rent’ to make them an example.

Free ride to Pancho!  It’s on the mayor’s tab.

We stopped at a gas station on the way out of town near San Jacinto.  There we saw one final bus filling up for gas, the 4th in 2 hours.   I asked if I could take their picture, and if they had had any police protection today; “nope” on the security, but they were happy to let me take their shot.  I wished them luck on their way back home, as it was growing dark.  On my way back to the car, four military hummers passed by the gas station, intervowen with cars and the new “impromptu bus” traffic. I have to say they were a welcome sight.



This brave driver chose to ignore the gang enforced suspension. I worried for him.


News reports earlier in the day on September 8 reported the following:

  • Lists of bus routes and regions where bus service was suspended, much like the lists of school closings are posted during a snowstorm in the U.S.
  • Vehicle owners were transporting people by truck, van, etc. and charging as much as $6 a trip, but most were charging a fair price between 25 and 40 cents a trip
  • Army vehicles were transporting people to and from specific locations
  • Video footage of Bulevar de Ejercito (Army Boulevard) showed only cars and “makeshift” mass transport, and absolutely no buses.

Seeing the streets of El Salvador free of buses was a very weird sight, as bus is “the” mode of transport here; cars are out of reach for the 80% UN-well off in this country.

6:00pm was a supposed “curfew” set by the gangs, according to unfounded rumors, but scared most people into staying indoors.  The gang members themselves must were keeping a low profile and out of sight.  The country was crawling with both civil and military police.  Ironically there was little violence and nearly no homicides during the three-day “Paro”.

Multi-part series blog. See other entries:
Gangs Paralyze El Salvador – Day One – 7 Septiembre, 2010

Gangs Paralyze Business, Transport for 3 days in El Salvador   Leave a comment

On Monday night, September 6, 2010, a series of events began that was later revealed as a gang-imposed halt (“paro”) of bus routes and businesses throughout El Salvador.  A microbus on route 29-F in Ilopango (colonia Felipe) was burned.  Threatening notes were left for business owners and buses to shut down or else pay the consequences, until further notice. Six gang members who distributed threatening pamphlets were arrested.  See the text of one threatening note at the end of this article in Spanish, and translated to English.

The entire city of San Salvador has been turned upside down, and the country in large part paralyzed.  Pedestrians who normally ride buses are walking where they need to go.  Dozens of bus lines have stopped running, and businesses where shuttered for the day – news footage showed rows of shops closed.  Links below from and translated into English on Google translate describe widespread suspension of bus service:

Buses Suspended (Paro por Maras) – in Spanish
Bus Suspension (b/c of Gangs) – English

A representative from the police interviewed on the news told citizens “not to pay attention” to the threats and to go about their business.  What about people who got a note?  Jails in the country were in a state of emergency.  A priest came out on television news as a spokesman/mediator for jailed gangmembers, voicing their demands.  Apparently, the two major gangs, “18” and “MS,” normally in conflict with each other, actually met to work together to create chaos and make demands.  They communicated to the media they would like to meet with authorities to negotiate.  Police and military chiefs said “no way,” we don’t negotiate with criminals who kill people every day.

At least once or twice a week, a bus is torched in El Salvador (that’s normal, can you believe it?).  But today on route 12, in Chalchuapa, in the department of Santa Ana, a bus was burned; according to authorities this bus line had received threats related to this gang “paro.”

A list of halted bus routes was announced on the news.  Here is what they displayed on the TV, which was a partial list of suspended routes, for those interested:
41a,b,c and 19 – Soyapango….
29 – Ilopango….
20-24 – Cuscatancinco…
11-21 – San Marcos….
38 – Apopa…
17 – Panchimalco (which passes through my town)

I asked a friend who has lived in El Salvador all of her life ‘when was the last time this happened?’.  She said this is the very first time.

Text from a Threatening Note -“PARO” (HALT) imposed by Salvadoran gangs:

“Se hace un llamado a los miembros de este negocio que para el dia mañana sierran [cierran] sus puertas.  Si alguien se encuentra trabajando se tomaran reprisalias de parte de la XV3.  Hasta Nuevo aviso.  Y de lo contrario atenganse a las consecuencias.  Atentamente; 18”

Translation to English:

“The members of this business are being called upon to close their doors tomorrow.  If someone is found working, retaliation will take place from XV3 [roman numerals for 18].  Until further notice.  Otherwise live with the consequences.   Sincerely, 18”

Multi-part series blog.  See other entries:
Gangs Paralyze El Salvador – Day Two – 8 Septiembre 2010

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