Archive for March 2012

32nd anniversary of Monseñor Romero’s assasination – 32 aniversario del asesinato del Monseñor Romero   Leave a comment

Yesterday, March 24, 2012, was the 32nd anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero.

The text with this picture reads, in my translation to English:

Follow the Savior [Christ] …”The church preaches from the poor and we shall never be ashamed to say: The church of the poor, because Christ wanted to put his cathedral of redemption among the poor.” – Monsenor Romero, December 24, 1978

We went to Metropolitan Cathedral, where Romero’s tomb is located, to pay our respects to this very revered man of El Salvador, yesterday.  New water fountains have been installed in the square in front of the church; children played in them, and one woman even used the water to wash her hands as she passed through.  This is the same church where a mosaic mural installed by artist Fernando Llort many years ago was removed last year, and caused a lot of controversy – before and after pics here in El

Monseñor Romero is a modern day Jesus to the people of El Salvador.  Almost anywhere throughout the country of El Salvador, upon entering someone’s home, you will see a picture of Monseñor Romero hanging on the wall of the living room, or at times, and this is often the case at the homes of people in the country, to see his picture proudly displayed outside, on the front patio/porch area.   He is a hero and human emblem of the struggling poor of El Salvador, and of Latin America.

Every year, Oscar Romero’s followers make a pilgrimage from where he was assassinated, in the chapel of the Divine Providence Hospital in Miramonte, San Salvador, to the Metropolitan Cathedral where his remains now lie.  One church, in the parish of Cristo Salvador, in the Mejicanos neighborhood of San Salvador, makes a special “way of the cross” (viacrucis) in his honor, and the night before his death marches through its 15 stations.

"We must rediscover the profound evangelical truth that we should serve the poor majorities" - Oscar Romero, April 9, 1978

When he first became Archbishop, people suspected Oscar Romero would continue with a conservative approach they had seen him demonstrate until then (and which was a consistent style among religious leaders in El Salvador, to ‘go along with’ the desires of the privileged), but he surprised many by becoming a staunch defender of the poor in the years before his death.  Romero was 62 years old when he was killed by death squads on March 24, 1980.

We entered the Metropolitan Cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana de San Salvador) through a door on the left, descended a staircase into the basement, and entered an area where a series of tile mosaic pictures of deceased religious leaders hung up high.

Underneath the mosaic of Oscar Romero was a group of people surrounding his tomb.  Some were kneeling in prayer, some taking pictures, and others read material on and around his tomb.  As people came throughout the day, they left flowers, pictures, notes and messages, as seen here on the right – a note in large letters on orange paper says “No more Militiamen in power” (referring to the appointment of former military leaders to government national security positions).  On another note was written a sarcastic message, supposedly by Funes, apologizing for his recent errors.  A young man, who appeared to be a Salvadoran National visiting the country – they stick out like sore thumbs with expensive Levi jeans and smartphones –  was reading and then taking a picture of the note.  Candles were lit everywhere, and the gathering was peaceful.

A woman was finishing reading an homage to him as we approached, and the crowd applauded.   It was nearly 2pm, and the largest crowds had already come and gone.

Tomb of Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero, decorated by visitors with palm leaves, flowers, and notes.

A visitor to the tomb, reading a newspaper article (Diario de Hoy) about his murder. The paper cost 30 cents at that time (.30 of one colon, the old currency. El Salvador began using the U.S. currency in 2001).

Election Results – Elecciones 2012 – El Salvador   Leave a comment

Hi all, overdue on posting election results.  The long and short of it is ARENA came out as the biggest winner, both for seats in the legislative assembly and for mayors in municipalities.   The spread between municipalities (Alcaldías) won by ARENA versus FMLN is striking – see results below.    Both Tim’s El Salvador Blog and Voices from El Salvador offer great election results coverage, so visit their blogs for more detail and analysis.

LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY SEATS  – Deputies (think: Senator) – “Diputados”

ARENA won 33 seats
FMLN just behind with 31
GANA won 11 seats
CN winning 6
3 remaining seats were won by CD (1), PES (1), and a coalition of PES/CN (1)
– none of the independent candidates were elected as Deputy (“Diputado”).

MUNICIPALITIES – “Alcaldías” ( Mayors –  “Alcaldes” )  – from

ARENA won 116 municipalities
FMLN won 85
CN  (Concertación Nacional) won 23
GANA (Gran Alianza por la Unidad Nacional ) won 16
PES (El Partido de la Esperanza) won 4
– 3 municipalities were won by CN in coalition with PES (Partido de la Esperanza).
– 8 municipalities won by FMLN and CD (Cambio Democrático) as a coalition.
– 2 won by PES (Partido de la Esperanza) in coalition with FMLN.
– 1 was won by a coaltion between PES and GANA.

A nature walk in Chalatenango   Leave a comment

Here is a journal entry from a walk my husband and I went on April 26, 2010 that describes some of the nature around where his parents live in Chalatenango, El Salvador.

At 10:30am my husband and I went on a nature walk near the house in rural Chalatenango. Right outside our house flying over the now dry creek was a Toragoz. We crawled/stepped through and over many barbed wire fences – no one here minds you walking on their land, everyone knows each other. We stepped aside patches of cow dung, some drying into cow chips. Then reached a well and water feeder for cattle, which was also feeding a swarm of wasps today.   Two guys from the neighborhood were cleaning an area to plant maize later on.

As we walked away, I saw an interesting bird – or so I thought – which turned out to be a huge butterfly.  It is most likely a Blue Morpho.  I found this picture above  on a nice educational website about butterflies, put together by Alyssa Scott at St. Johns Fisher college.  Click on the picture and link to a page showing different types of butterflies her site.

Continuing on our nature walk, Jesus showed me the chontes and chorchas, two types of indigenous birds in El Salvador.

The chorcha is a bright yellow (and sometimes orange-yellow) colored bird I often see here –  it’s in the Oriole family.   Where we live now, they like to hang out in the bamboo trees, and their coloring blends well with the yellowy shade of the bamboo.  They build a peculiar nest. It’s a long, thin slinglike shape, like a pear stretched lengthwise or an upside-down skinny parachute. They often hang the nest over branches, and even power lines. Here is a picture of their nest from a site called HonduBirding.

The chonte is a more average-looking bird, with a gorgeous song.  Chonte is a local word for this bird more commonly known as a cenzontle in Spanish, and in English, it is a mockingbird.

Then we went looking for muta, a vegetable that local people eat, which comes from the new growth in piñales, spikey plants that look like aloe or pineapple bushes (thus, why they are called piñal), but are neither of which – people grow them along the edges of their property as a fence.  People cut out the muta from them, then peel and eat them with lemon and salt.   Everyone else beat us to it, so we’ll have to try more on a different walk tomorrow.


Election Day! Sunday, March 11 ( Elecciones legislativas y municipales de El Salvador de 2012)   14 comments

LIVE UPDATES:   Check out Tim’s El Salvador blog, he put a good link up to the Election Commission that shows election  results as they come in,  percentage of ballots counted and percent that remain for each area.   Many ballots are still being counted (10:30 pm Salvadoran time).  Preliminary results are not surprising:  ARENA, coming in highest for both mayor/senators, FMLN in 2nd, and GANA in 3rd – but, they are preliminary!!

UPDATE:   my husband, Jesus, has gone on the 1.5 hour drive back home to post his ballot, wahoo!

Today, March 11, 2012, up to 4.5 million Salvadorans will vote for 84 senators and 262 mayors in a legislative and municipal election.  Nine parties are running (and 5 candidates are independent).

NEW rules:  there is an exciting change in El Salvador with this election.  Up to now, individual voters have not been able to elect individual “Senators” (Diputado is the word in Spanish for representatives in the legislative assembly).  Previously, you had to vote for a “party”, and the party would then choose the Diputado (sounds like an easy way to get re-elected, doesn’t it?).  Well, that’s half changed, because citizens can still vote for a “party,” like before, or they can now vote for individual candidates.  The  media and government have done a great job with instructive ads through all types of media explaining how the new process and ballots work.  I asked my co-worker Nico, at my volunteer job recently, what he thought and he said, “Well, it’s good, but….the choices of who to elect are still BAD!”  We laughed about that.   Same lack of good politician choice, different country.  Here is a funny blog post on something  N. Americans might find bizarre about Salvadoran elections.

Campaign/Media Freeze three days before elections.  On Thursday, March 8, 2012 at 12:00am  there was a “hard stop” on all campaign advertisement.  Here they use the Spanish word “propaganda” to refer to it, which I find rather tickling.  This is to give citizens “time to reflect on who they want to vote for”, according to the Election Commission / TSE (“que la ciudadanía se tome los espacios de tiempo para reflexionar a quién se le dará el voto“).

  • Campaigners were making final attempts to lure votes Wednesday night.  A van was driving through our neighborhood with a loudspeaker broadcasting ARENA “propaganda” at 9:30pm.  That may not sound like much to you, but 9:30pm in most parts of El Salvador is fairly late to have a vehicle booming information at you. The van circled past our house a few times with a woman’s voice on the megaphone.
  • Media frenzy:  With all the hoopla going on, it almost feels like a presidential election – ads have been going on for months though every media source, and from every angle.  Even back in 2009, several months after Mauricio Funes won the presidential election, ARENA (the opposing party) posted billboards in San Salvador stating the new guys were “Incompetentes” – planning well ahead or feeling aftershocks over their recent loss.  During this campaign, FMLN ran ads with “humble” people, one had an older man in it, and touching piano music.  So ARENA ran an Ad in response, copycatting the cinematography and music, with a similar-looking ‘poblano’ saying why he’s voting for them.  Then this week I was listening to a left-wing radio station.  Funes was making a speech while signing over 1,350 property deeds to Salvadorans in San Isidro en Izalco  (Sonsonate).  Most of the recipients have been working or living on lands tied up in red tape or abandoned for years and without proper titles.  Funes said that during the ‘reign of conservatives & ARENA,’ a total of 34,000 property deeds were granted to Salvadorans over the span of 30 years; he compared this to his current FMLN administration, with just 2.5 years in power, which has already given 24,590.  They plan to increase that  number to 45,000 by year’s end, and by the end of their five years in power, they plan to have signed over 90,000 properties.  I liked hearing these positive statistics but given the well-timed  ‘entrega’ (delivery) of these lands to campesinos – 5 days before elections – hmm… it seemed like a campaign event.   The station played the full speech, lasting an incredibly long time on radio air, and laced with thinly veiled campaign rhetoric so I finally changed the station. 
  • We still had propaganda the night before the election in our own neighborhood, despite the ‘hard stop’ – but private, so legal.  Eduardo, who lives on the road down below us and always plays great Cumbia old style Ranchera music on Saturdays, loud enough so we don’t have to play our own (good thing I like his taste in music), dedicated his stereo last night to songs and slogans from the ARENA party.  Did they provide him with a CD to play?, I wonder.   I’m going to give him a citizen citation for emitting propaganda during the moratorium.
  •  A “Frente” kind of town:  Los Planes de Renderos, where we live, is presided by a municipality that is currently FMLN run (“El Frente” is a nickname for this party).  Last year, someone(s) posted 3 or 4 large billboard-like signs near the main entrance to Los Planes, with phrases like “20 years of corruption,”  in reference to the ARENA party.  These signs stayed up in clear view for at least 3 months –  on someone’s private and strategically located property.   Eventually, the signs came down, but they gave me a chuckle every time I passed them by.

Election Observers Sighting!   My husband and I worked on his construction job Saturday, and on our way home we saw a police car with its lights flashing ahead of us. We couldn’t figure out who was being ‘pulled over’ until we saw that they were escorting a discreetly unmarked, and very new-looking white bus behind it.  Most buses in El Salvador are either the notorious “Chicken Buses” – rehabbed N. American school buses or minibuses in local fleets, luxury buses for travel between larger cities here, or colorful and always new buses loaded with tourists.  So I asked my  husband, “Do you think that bus has people who came to observe the elections?”  “Definitely,” he said.   At 5:30pm the night before the election, they must have been physically dispersing them throughout the country.  I was thrilled that we (believe we) got to see this ‘in action’ and with a police escort to boot.  (A total of 3,250+ people from within and outside of El Salvador will serve as election observers.  See details below. )

Last but not least:  a 3-day DRY LAW (Ley Seca para las elecciones en El Salvador) began at 12:00am Saturday morning, and lasts through the Tuesday, 12am after election day.  While watching the news late Friday night, my husband announces, “We screwed up, no more alcohol after tonight all weekend!”

The first time I experienced this in El Salvador, I thought, “What?!  The government is playing ‘parent’ with its citizens, treating them like children or teenagers with this dry law, how dare them?  The ACLU would be on TOP of this back home.”  But now, after having spent over 2 years here, I understand that people get very involved and heated in El Salvador regarding their choice of political party (like Eduardo’s ARENA music tracks), so an alcohol free environment in those tense moments right before the election probably prevents numerous fights and all out craziness, or even riots that could erupt when zealots and regular folk are ignited with alcohol.   Here’s how we handled the dry law:  Since people like my husband and I live by the adage that ‘some laws are meant to be broken,’ we of course, tried to get around the dry law to enjoy a few well-deserved beers after a long week of construction work.  We stopped at a Shell gas station and I went in without him, and played the “I’m just a gringa, I can’t vote anyway” card.  The woman said she’d like to, but the scan will show on her receipts, and she’ll get in trouble.  “No problem,” I said.  Then we agreed, that of course, the smaller tiendas can do what they want, they don’t keep receipts or records, or have video cameras.  So we rolled up in the car at the tienda on the way home, and my husband asked for them.  “How many beers do you want?”, she asked.  Bingo!   We got four tall Pilseners and relished our small victory against the ‘dry law’ during elections.

Can Salvadorans living outside of El Salvador vote?  Not yet, unfortunately, but Mauricio Funes has said he wants them to be able to by the 2014 election.   Read more here:

Details on Election Observers for March 2012 in El Salvador
Of the 3250+ observers, 1700 are through the Salvadoran Election Commission (Tribunal Supremo Electoral – TSE ), 850 of these are from outside of the country; the Organization of American States (Organización de Estados Americanos – OEA) has sent 23;  68 observers are appointed by the United Nations- from the University for Peace in Costa Rica (la Universidad para la Paz); 200 observers from Europe and Latin America via the Salvadoran Foundation for Local Development and Democracy (la Fundación Salvadoreña para el Desarrollo Local y la Democracia); and the PDDH (a Salvadoran national agency) is also sending 1,552 national observers.  Various other Salvadoran organizations are also sending hundreds of observers.

Here is a full article about the March 2012 election observers:

God as AntiDepressant   Leave a comment

This giant message, "Only Jesus Christ Saves," on a building in San Salvador just behind Juan Pablo II avenue, near the Tiendona market, can be seen far down the street.

Most Salvadorans are religious.   God, Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and religious holidays are taken seriously here.   What I like is their approach to religion, which feels like a natural part of their lives, and rather than being exclusive about their religion, they tend to be inclusive.

A number of people at my recent job are what I would consider to be “religious,” but they are not preachy, and do not appear critical of other people’s behavior.  To give an example, a group of us went out for drinks the other evening.  One of the young men who came out with us for beers was joking with a visiting gringa, asking if she would like him to find her a “Salvadoran” boyfriend, and even called a friend on his cell phone, giving her a chance to say ‘hello’ to him and break the ice.  Why not?   A bit later in the evening, he excused himself to go to, where but…?  A bible class!  (And on a Friday night, at that).

The visiting gringa and myself said this was not how we envision a “religious” person, because for us, they would unlikely ‘come out for drinks’ or have the same attitude he has. Our idea of a religious person in North America is of a more stern, uptight person. I’m sure this is a bit of a stereotype, but it’s pervasive.  An American coworker chimed in, adding that in her church, they recently started a new policy, unbenownst to her, so that on her visit to the states during Christmas, her mother quickly corrected her when she began to clap.  Clapping is no longer allowed in her church; the parishioners now wave their programs in the air silently, instead.  I wonder what the higher-ups in her church would think about the rock-n-roll music bellowing out of the Evangelical church next to my house every Sunday.  I figure if it keeps the young people coming, keep playing it.

Salvadoran people face daily obstacles we would never imagine – things like water only running 1-3 hours a day (or every other day), transportation craziness, inability to afford things most Americans would just “die” if they couldn’t have, the list goes on.  Yet they do not become depressed about this.  Their approach is to accept things they don’t have power over, and sidestep frequent dangers by adjusting their time schedules, routes, and even conversations. Despite these hardships they face, their belief in God does not waiver. Since most people here cannot afford a middle-class solution to depression (which often might be taking up a new hobby, seeing a psychologist on a regular basis, and/or consuming various pharmacopia some might consider ‘necessary’), their solution is simple:

God as Antidepressant

And it appears to be working. El Salvador ranked number 8 on the 2009 Happy Planet Index, with the United States ranking 114.  It does rank below the United States and other countries in the World Database of Happiness, but remains one of the happiest countries based on the World Values Survey (University of Michigan), positioned at 11th of 97 countries, while the U.S is 16th.

I won’t attribute all of the Salvadoran happiness to their religion, but I sure think it helps.  That, along with a positive attitude that’s not entwined with high expectations, much less of an attachment to material things, and a strong allegiance to family and ties to community, two reliable pillars one can lean on, that may help keep depression at bay.

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