Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Centro De Intercambio Y Solidaridad, -CIS- May 2008



v Support their struggle to purchase the land where they live.

v Help with emergency aid for rain damage, and for a family whose home burned down

The community, located in the Department of San Salvador and the Municipality of Tonacatepeque, chose the name “Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero” because Msgr. Romero was their source of hope in their darkest hours: during war, and after Hurricane Mitch (1998) and the earthquakes of 2001. The community took refuge in Romero’s radical option for the poor.

No history is simple in El Salvador and this community has its story, too. The Oscar Arnulfo Romero community made up of 98 families, originating from San Vicente, Usulután, Soyapango, San Martin, Chalatenango, among others, with the common thread that they are families without land, affected by the war, Hurricane Mitch, and the 2001 earthquakes, are poor, and excluded. They came together to settle on this land, owned by the government’s “Social Fund for Housing” (Fondo Social para la Vivienda). They chose the land to take over, knowing there would be the possibility to negotiate the settlement due to the Constitution which guarantees dignified housing (Art. 119). The “Social Fund for Housing” is set up precisely to respond to this need.

When the community members illegally settled on the land on March 28, 2005, they were met violently by the riot policy and four community members were thrown in jail. Nonetheless, with nowhere else to go, the community was persistent in its action and would not be deterred. One year later, March 24, 2006, it was recognized as a legal association in Tonacatepeque by the FMLN-led City Council and was legally recognized on April 26, 2006 when its bi-laws were published in the Official Diary of the Salvadoran Government. The Government’s “Social Fund for Housing” recognized their settlement as legitimate when it offered them the option of purchasing the land in 2006. FUNDASAL (Salvadoran Foundation for Development and Basic Housing), the oldest and most respected housing NGO in El Salvador, offered to finance the purchase of 6 manzanas of land (about 10.38 acres).

The community, with strong will and organization, worked together to get water and electricity installed in their tin-and-cardboard houses. They went to the Government water utility, ANDA, which agreed to install water in the community in 2006. The private electric company also agreed to install electrical lines, after the community went through all the legal and paper work. In July 2006 the Social Fund for Housing promised the community members that they could stay on the land if they could come up with $8,671.94 per manzana which was verified in a meeting in October 2007. In November 2007, FUNDASAL agreed to finance the purchase of 6 manzanas for $52,031.64; the community would pay them back at a manageable rate with no interest and doing the technical measurements and legal divisions of the land. Things were looking good for the future of this humble community and their organization was paying off.

The community’s problems began when ARENA won the municipal elections and took power on May 1, 2006. Since then, Mayor Gilberto Erroa has led an attack on the community and is pressuring them to change their name. The mayor says he will give them land, water and electricity if they change their name. On principle the community is not willing to change their name; in addition, they see it as a trap, since they have legal recognition under that name, they would lose legal backing if they changed their name. The community had an agreement the water utility ANDA and the electric company to provide utilities which the community would pay for. Both utilities agreed, but as part of the legal process in El Salvador, they need the signature of local authorities -- in this case, the Mayor. The Mayor, Gilberto Erroa, refused to sign the permission, calling the families in the community “usurpers and illegals”. A false charge, given that by this time their possession of the land had been recognized by various government and non-governmental entities.

At the same time the Mayor got a commitment from 18 of the 98 families to support the ARENA party and change the name of the community to “Nuevo Manantial”. The Mayor rewarded them for splitting from the Monsignor Romero community by providing them with a water fountain and promising that they could stay on the land, while the other families would be evicted. He formed a parallel community council and refused to authorize the board members of the legal community council.

After the October 2007 meeting with FUNDASAL and the Social Fund for Housing, FUNDASAL wrote a letter in November of 2007 committing to pay for the land. However, the Social Fund for Housing replied that it had decided to sell the land to the Salvadoran Institute for Agrarian Reform (ISTA). The Administrative Manager of FUNDASAL, Miguel Francisco Galdamez Rojas in a letter dated February 15, 2008, states that in a meeting on February 1, 2008, the decision was taken by the Board of Directors to sell the land to ISTA. An article in the El Salvador’s daily paper, “El Diario de Hoy” dated March 27, 2007, cites ISTA’s central manager as saying that 1) it will buy 8 manzanas of the land and distribute it to poor families, and 2) It will pay $1.35 million for the land, quite a sizable amount larger that the value quoted by the Social Fund for Housing. The same article states that ISTA will give the land to poor families that can prove their stay on the land. Yet the 80 families that have been living on the land for 3 years have not been invited to meetings attended by ISTA representative Benjamin Juarez and Mayor Erroa. The community has been repeatedly threatened with eviction. The Mayor has no legal say over the land and at least to date ISTA is not the legal owner of the land. The arbitrary acts of ISTA representative Benjamin Juarez and Mayor Erroa, given that the Constitution of El Salvador protects the possession and right to property. In a meeting with the Community Board of Directors and leadership of ISTA on May 22nd, in fact, Ing. Mauricio Rivera in charge of purchasing land for ISTA clarified that ISTA did not have the money to purchase the land and it was not the intention of ISTA to acquire land in dispute or evict the poor.

The community members approached the CIS looking for support for their cause. The CIS has made a commitment to accompanying the community in its struggle for their land, legal status, water, and electricity. The community has joined the CIS community network for Cooperation and Solidarity. Communities have pledged to accompany the families if they are threatened with eviction. The CIS has agreed seek legal support for the community. At the current moment, the community is in negotiations with the different actors in their case: Social Fund for Housing, FUNDASAL, the Mayor and City Council of Tonacatepeque, ISTA, and the Commission for Justice and Human Rights of the Legislative Assembly.

The 98 families of “Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero Community” need your support:

1. The community board of directors has asked for letters, phone calls or faxes (preferably in Spanish) to the Fondo Social para la Vivienda President and executive Director, Ing. Enrique Oñate and to the Legislative Assembly, calling for:

The FONDO SOCIAL PARA LA VIVIENDA to sell the 6 manzanas occupied by 98 families of Comunidad Oscar Arnulfo Romero in Toncatepeque to FUNDASAL, IMMEDIATELY, and comply with their mission to “finance agile and efficient housing solutions, providing favorable and sustainable credit conditions, satisfying the social necessity for workers and other population groups, to contribute to elevate their living conditions and reduce the habitational deficit” (http://www.fsv.gob.sv)

Presidente y Director Ejecutiva Fondo Social de Vivienda

Ing. Enrique Oñate

Calle Rubén Darío y 17 Ave. Sur, #901

San Salvador

Telephone: 011-503-2231-2000; 011-503-2222-3119; 2281-0988

Fax: 011-503-2271-2910

Also – write the Comision de Justicia y Derechos Humanos (Commission for Justice and Human Rights), of the Legislative Assembly, asking them to use their good offices to resolve the conflict over land in the Romero Community and to guarantee that the Fondo Social para la Vivienda sell the land to FUNDASAL so it can offer housing to family’s in need.

Asamblea Legislativa, Centro de Gobierno

Edeficio de Comisiones, Comision de Justicia y Derechos Humanos

Presidente: Diputada Irma Amaya

San Salvador, El Salvador

Fax: 011-503-2281-9526

E-mail: comision_justicia@asamblea.gob.sv

***Please send copies of correspondence to: cis_elsalvador@yahoo.com


2. The community has asked CIS for financial support for families living in precarious conditions. Now that the rain has started (May 1 – Nov. 1), people’s homes are leaking, and they would like tin to reinforce their homes until they have permission to build permanent homes. A sheet of tin is $13. If we give five sheets of tin per family, the total cost is $65 per family. There are 98 families in the community. The families in the most precarious conditions will be prioritized.

3. When CIS and a delegation from Dominican University in Chicago visited the community on May 15, the home of a single mother, Nolvia Segura Rico, and her 8 and 10 year old daughter and son, burned to the ground. They lost everything except the clothing on their back. The community has requested $766 to rebuild her home and $515 for a small stove, table and chairs, a bed and a bunk bed. The CIS is collecting used clothing, blankets, and basic food at the CIS for the family as well. A candle fell over, which would not have happened if the mayor would have authorized access to electricity. Additionally, the community could not put the fire out due to Mayor Erroa’s denial of potable water in the community.

Tax deductible donations can be sent in U.S. dollars to: Los Olivos CIS / PO BOX 76 / Westmont, IL 60559-0076. Make a note “Romero Community”.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Argentina: A Different Kind of Land Occupation

Written by Shane Kavanagh
Tuesday, 20 May 2008
"This is going to be a different type of occupation," say the people of Tierra y Libertad (Land and Freedom), a land occupation on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina. The name of their group gives an idea of what they intend. The occupation began on March 29th this year when 40 families entered a small parcel of land in La Matanza and began setting up a community. Since then the occupation has grown to over 135 families and has continued to organize and resist eviction in the face of intimidation and violence.

Land occupations are not unusual in the poorest suburbs surrounding Buenos Aires (the neighbouring land was occupied 3 years ago), but what sets this apart is the vision for another kind of community. All decisions are taken by popular assembly and political parties and the associated mechanisms of party politics have been consciously excluded. In place of this is a plan that includes two community centres, one for meetings and activities and another one for two common brick and bread ovens.

The history of the land itself gives an idea of the extent of corruption at the local level that exists is this suburb. While the land officially belongs to the Insituto de la Vivienda de la Provincia de Buenos Aires (Department of Housing for the Provence of Buenos Aires) it has already been occupied by a local business figure who has also occupied a number of similar parcels of land and used them for his own business interests or has sold some of them off for his own profit. Locals describe a system of intimidation and violence linked to the protection of these interests and the people at Tierra y Libertad have had to endure nights of gunfire, the wounding in the shoulder of one of the community and death threats to maintain their current occupation.

Solidarity has arrived from a wide variety of groups and social movements. While people in surrounding suburbs have had mixed views about the occupation many have arrived to lend resources and support. Alongside them are people and groups from other grassroots organisations including Madres Plaza Mayo, and an anarcho-feminist collective that is donating clothes for fund raising and is going to provide education on violence and unwanted pregnancy prevention. Sunday has been designated as an open day where many arrive to spend the day and has included a clothes fair, barbeques, videos and community volleyball.

After surviving its first difficult month, Tierra y Libertad is attempting to reinforce its presence and organise to resist attempts at eviction. Homes are being built, electricity is being extended to all and land it being cleared. Support for the community will be crucial over the coming months to resist eviction and reinforce the community.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

US Naval Fleet to Be Positioned Off the Coast of South America

The news from the Pentagon that the US is re-establishing its Fourth Naval Fleet in the Caribbean, ostensibly to "build confidence and trust among nations through collective maritime security efforts" unfortunately shows that the days a US military threat to Latin America are far from over.

Furthermore, it underlines the need for the countries of Latin America to develop a new, independent military doctrine that replaces the US-backed and developed ‘National Security Doctrine’ which provided the rationale for so much terror and bloodshed throughout the region between the 1950s and 1990s, and which subordinated Latin American security interests to those of their northern neighbour. (The Fourth Fleet has not been used in the region since 1950.)

The re-establishment of the Fourth Fleet comes at a time when much of Latin America is emerging from under the imperial shadow, with Paraguay being the latest country to elect a left-wing leader. Paraguay joins a growing list of countries seeking an independent, more egalitarian and just path towards development, in direct contrast to the decades of US backed dictatorships and neoliberalism. This growing independence is a direct threat to North American domination of the region, traditionally seen as its strategic resource reserve and ‘backyard’.

The nuclear aircraft carrier-equipped US Navy fleet will provide an offshore base from which to observe, threaten, coordinate and possibly launch black operations. This is the role that similar naval groups have carried out in the past, in the Persian Gulf, against Nicaragua, and off the coasts of Brazil and Chile. They can also be rapidly expanded to provide air and logistical support for larger operations, such as the invasions of Grenada and Panama in 1983 and 1989 respectively. This is the reality that underlies the talk of ‘counter-narcotics operations’ and ‘cooperation with regional partners’ and it is the reality that the governments of Latin America must prepare for.

The creation of this fleet does nothing to lower the tensions caused by the Colombian regimes attack into Ecuadorean territory, and will in fact heighten the threat of war in the region. Colombian aggression is underpinned by its close alliance with the United States, an alliance secured through the huge amounts of US military aid which sustain the current Colombian government. Colombia already has the largest, and most advanced military in the region, and with US Navy air and logistical support will have a vastly increased offensive potential, something that is a direct threat to stability in the region.

The target of this threatening move is without doubt the government of President Chavez in Venezuela. The democratic Bolivarian revolution is at the heart of the new independence movement in Latin America, and has, through its example, inspired millions throughout the region to challenge the neoliberal economic model. With its revolutionary project to construct a 21st century socialism, Venezuela challenges US ideological hegemony, and thus threatens to undermine and destroy the dominance of US championed free-market capitalism, which in turn threatens to end the days of US access to cheap raw materials extracted from Latin America.

Although Venezuela is currently the biggest US target in the region, it is not the only one. Cuba still stands defiantly challenging US hegemony having withstood 50 years of naked aggression in every sphere. Bolivia has elected the continent’s first indigenous president, promising to end 500 years of exploitation and subjugation. Ecuador, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina have all elected left of centre governments that are in some measure challenging US hegemony in the region.

The US has re-established the Fourth Fleet in a direct move against this new ‘pink tide’. A threat, and a statement of intent to remind all those in the region that the imperial master may be occupied elsewhere, but his reach is still long. As ever, where there is an imperial power, there are imperial servants, with no greater one than Alvaro Uribe of Colombia who sits at the head of the most bloodthirsty government that Latin America has seen since the vicious, genocidal wars waged against the peoples of Guatemala and El Salvador. The Fourth Fleet is doubtless also meant to shore up this US ally, and ensure that he can continue to provoke and destabilise the region. Such provocation could be used as the rationale for a direct US intervention in the region, as was the premise in the NATO exercise "Operation Balboa", which rehearsed the invasion of western Venezuela by combined NATO forces with Panamanian and Colombian assistance.

Such a possibility underlines the need, now more than ever, for Latin American governments to develop a common defensive strategy. For too long the nations of what Marti called ‘Nuestra America’ (Our America) and Bolivar the ‘Patria Grande’, have remained divided, easy prey for foreign governments and corporations. Latin American militaries have been blinded by a vision of patriotism and sovereignty that only understands borders, and wilfully ignores the fact that there is no ‘patria’ beyond the people, and that there is no sovereignty when natural resources can be plundered in the interests of the wealthy few at home and abroad. The first steps towards this unity are being taken on a political and economic level by the establishment of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), and must be reinforced by an integrated defensive doctrine.

Given the history of US intervention in Latin America, with direct military interventions in Nicaragua, Haiti, Santo Domingo, Grenada, Panama and with covert interventions in Honduras, Guatemela, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chile and Brazil among others, it is not unreasonable for a future integrated doctrine also to be focused on resisting further interventions from the ‘Giant of the North’. The only way that this can be done is by developing a doctrine based around the concept of ‘the people in arms’, which was successful in defeating French and US interventions in Vietnam. This is the basis of Venezuela’s military reorganisation.

Such a re-alignment of Latin American militaries away from serving foreign interests is bound to be resisted fiercely by the United States government, and by its military industrial complex, who will doubtless categorise it as ‘threatening stability’ and being ‘anti-democratic’. As regional unity grows and coheres, it is likely that the US will ever more aggressively seek to sow discord and conflict among neighbours. Already the US has supported and helped plan a coup in Venezuela, has been accused of supporting the secession movement in Bolivia, and of assisting Colombia’s illegal and aggressive attack on Ecuadorean territory. It is highly unlikely that interference will end here, with the US already talking about extending the economic blockade of Cuba to include Venezuela.

The development of a capacity to resist aggression is not synonymous with the militarization of the region. Effective defence against external intervention is vital for economic and social development. Together with new visions of development based upon the concepts of solidarity and sustainability, a regional defensive doctrine forms part of the ongoing efforts to achieve true sovereignty. For too long the peoples of Latin America have been the victims of violence and terror, inflicted upon them by local elites in alliance with the US. It is time that they were able to stand up, and embark upon the construction of their societies independently and without fear.

El Salvador: Hector Ventura of the Suchitoto 14 Assassinated

On Friday May 2nd, Hector Antonio Ventura was assassinated in the community of Valle Verde, Suchitoto. Ventura was the youngest of the 14 political prisoners captured in Suchitoto on July 2nd, 2007.

According to preliminary reports, Ventura was stabbed to death. Another victim, who was with Ventura, was attacked but survived. Reports say that the assailants were at least two men, who entered the back room of the house where Ventura and his friend slept and attacked them.

According to a 1994 report by the Joint Group for the Investigation of Illegally Armed Groups with Political Motivations in El Salvador, a Peace Accords initiative in response to the reappearance of armed groups after 1992, there are three key elements that qualify a political murder. These elements are that the victim is seen as a member of the political opposition, that the murder is planned with the goal of killing the specific victim, and that the assailants are granted impunity by the State. Because Ventura was a recently freed political prisoner and because the attack was not a random incident but demonstrated prior planning, the murder suggests political motives.

Ventura was killed days after having agreed to speak at the Day Against Impunity, an event planned to take place this coming July 2nd in Suchitoto, on the anniversary of last years capture of the Suchitoto 14 by police.

Yesterday in a press conference, Salvadoran legal and community organizations demanded that the Attorney General and National Civilian Police begin an extensive investigation of the case, one that investigates not only the assailants but also the intellectual authors of the assassination. They also request that the Ombudsperson for Human Rights act to protect the lives of the witnesses and verify that the case is investigated thoroughly.

Ventura´s murder is one of a number of assassinations of political opposition leaders and activists in El Salvador in the last few years, and one in a recent series of murders of young people in historically government opposition communities in the Suchitoto area during the last two weeks.

Lorena Araujo Martinez, president of CRIPDES said yesterday: ¨These atrocious crimes demonstrate why we must demand a complete investigation of this and the other murders with possible political motivations. We ask the national and international community, as they have stood with the Suchitoto 14 throughout the last 10 months, to keep working in solidarity to achieve justice for the victims of these crimes.¨