Thursday, October 13, 2005

El Salvador

From: Aryeh Shell

Hola friends y companeros...
As some of you may know, I will be going to El
Salvador in January for
nine months to work with
a community in the Bajo Lempa region doing popular
education, art, and
theater -
though what I was planning and imagining will look
very different now.
They have recently been devastated by Hurricane Stan
which is getting
very little airtime
in the media. I know our hearts are extended to so
many the world over
and in our own communities,
but please hold them also in your hearts and prayers
and if its
possible to donate - this is a grassroots effort that
needs it.
I'm sending a link to the website of the organization
I'll be working
with which has photos and news
of the people and land affected:
check their "about us" link for more info about the
org and La
Coordinadora who is hosting me...
they desperately need some support as the government
is doing very
to evacuate or supply food or meds - much like our
Thanks for taking a minute and many blessings....
Love and solidarity,

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Tuesday Edition: Central American Flood: Where Is the Coverage?

By Al Tompkins

The American press let out another collective yawn Monday about the tragedy that has claimed hundreds of lives and devastated entire areas of Central America. The Los Angeles Times, one of a handful of U.S. papers that is providing original reporting from Guatemala City, says out in the countryside, more than 500 people are dead, more than 300 are missing and roughly 90,000 people are living in shelters -- including more than 3,000 people who are stuck in makeshift camps.

And, yet, this story is missing on front pages and national newscasts.

The flooding, mudslides and landslides began five days ago. Refugees from Guatemala are trying to escape to Mexico -- thirsty, hungry and without government aid. There are stories of people who are still stuck on mountaintops. Andrew Tyndall, who writes the Tyndall Report, a monitor of weeknight evening network newscasts, tells me that even while the tragedy was unfolding, "On the nightly newscasts last week, CBS and ABC both ran voiceover videotape mentions of Hurricane Stan. NBC did not mention it."

Univision provides the most detailed coverage I could find online. Along with updated information and death tolls, the Spanish-language TV network also includes online video and photo galleries. Univision puts the death tolls in Mexico and Guatemala at 752, with more than 1,400 missing.

Knight Ridder Newspapers is covering the story from Mexico City. The Washington Post made it to the waterlogged village of Escuintla, southwest of Guatemala City.

The New York Times, which also has a reporter on the ground, said:

As rescue workers and relatives of the dead arrived Saturday, villagers handed out native herbs and told the visitors to press the leaves into their noses to fend off the smell of decomposing bodies.

Despite an increasingly prominent concern in the U.S. media about how to best serve a growing Hispanic population in America, what is being reported in American papers is mostly wire-service coverage.

I looked at more than 300 newspaper front pages yesterday. The most prominent coverage I found in the country came from The Beaver County Times in Beaver, Pa. The paper ran a front-page headline and brief and a B-1 jump.

The only other papers I found that featured front-page coverage of the Central American landslides and floods were the Los Angeles Times and The (Memphis, Tenn.) Commercial Appeal. Al Día (Dallas) included a small photo and inside coverage.

The San Jose Mercury News, The Miami Herald, Hoy, The Lancaster, Pa. Intellegencer Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Rockford (Ill.) Register Star and Rumbo (del Valle, de Houston, de San Antonio and de Austin, Texas) included a front-page brief -- and some had inside coverage. CNN has a correspondent in the area. The network's Latin America correspondent, Harris Whitbeck, filed from the city of Panabaj, which may be declared a cemetery.

El Heraldo and La Prensa (Honduras) estimate 3,000 people may have died in Guatemala

Univision reports that Mexico accepted 15 tons of food and medicines from Cuba. Channel 3 in Guatemala City reports that France is sending 3.4 tons of medical supplies on a military cargo plane and the Germans say money is on the way.

What is the U.S. sending? The United States Embassy in Guatemala says:

To date, USAID has delivered more than $200,000 ... in relief supplies to Guatemala, including funding for the helicopter transport of emergency relief supplies and for the purchase of food, water and other supplies. Fuel has been purchased for the Guatemalan air bridge to deliver emergency supplies. USAID has flown in 5,000 blankets, plastic tarpaulins to provide temporary shelter for 1,000 families and 5,000 personal-hygiene kits containing blankets, soap and other toiletries.

In addition, U.S. Southern Command has delivered eight helicopters -- six UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters and two CH-47 Chinook helicopters -- to assist Guatemala in search and rescue operations in priority areas.

The U.S. Southern Command is moving 58 people up from Honduras to help out.

Veronica Villafañe, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, told me she considered the lack of coverage by U.S. media to be "appalling." She dropped a note to Al's Morning Meeting readers:

The loss of life due to catastrophic events is a tragedy no matter where it takes place. It usually prompts news coverage and immediate help, as was the case after the tsunami hit Southeast Asia, hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast and just this past weekend, an earthquake leveled parts of Pakistan. But what seems appalling is that the destruction of hurricane Stan in Central America has been virtually ignored by the U.S. media.

Go to the NAHJ Web site for more from Veronica where she writes:

NAHJ performed a search of 22 major daily newspapers from Oct. 7-10 using the Lexis-Nexis database and found that a total of 10 stories ran about the tragedy and only one newspaper, The Washington Post, placed a story about the disaster on its front page. In addition, the network evening news only devoted a total of four stories to the Guatemalan mudslides from Oct. 7-9, although three were only mere mentions of less than 50 words.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Mayan Towns to Be Declared Mass Graves

Thanks to Hugo for passing this article on.
Guatemalan Officials to Abandon Communities Buried by Landslides, Declare Them Mass Graveyards
The Associated Press

GUATEMALA CITY - Dozens of foreign tourists fled devastated lakeside Mayan towns on foot and by helicopter Sunday as Guatemalan officials said they would abandon communities buried by landslides and declare them mass graveyards.

Villagers who had swarmed over the vast mudslides with shovels and axes digging for hundreds of missing gave up the effort Sunday, five days after Hurricane Stan made landfall on the Gulf of Mexico coast, bringing torrential rains before weakening to a tropical depression.

More than 640 people died and hundreds more were missing across Central America and southern Mexico after a week of rains. In hardest-hit Guatemala, 519 bodies had been recovered and reburied. Some 338 were listed as missing.

"Panabaj will no longer exist," said Mayor Diego Esquina, referring to the Mayan lakeside hamlet in Guatemala covered by a half-mile-wide mudflow as much as 15 to 20 feet deep. "We are asking that it be declared a cemetery. We are tired. We no longer know where to dig."

Many of the missing apparently will simply be declared dead, and the ground they rest in declared hallowed ground. About 160 bodies have been recovered in Panabaj and nearby towns, and most have been buried in mass graves.

Vice President Eduardo Stein said steps were being taken to give towns "legal permission to declare the buried areas" as hallowed ground.

Attention turned to aiding thousands of hungry or injured survivors as helicopters including U.S. Blackhawks and Chinooks fanned out across Guatemala to evacuate the wounded and bring supplies to more than 100 communities still cut off by mudslides and flooding.

On Sunday, as aid workers reached the most remote areas, they learned that a mudslide had buried a storm shelter in the town of Tacana, about 12 miles from the Mexican border, where about 100 people had taken refuge from rains and flooding.

Thirty-seven bodies have been dug from the shelter since the mudslide hit Wednesday, and 52 people were still missing, said Jorge Hernandez of the country's civil defense agency.

Thousands of hungry and injured survivors mobbed helicopters delivering the first food aid to communities that have been cut off from the outside world for nearly a week.

Some communities along Guatemala's Pacific coast have been cut off for almost a week, and when aid helicopters finally arrived on Sunday, hungry and desperate villagers grabbed wildly at bags of flour, rice and sugar.

As some foreign tourists worked shoulder to shoulder with Mayans in traditional cotton blouses and broad sashes to dig for missing victims, others hiked around mud-choked roads or boarded government helicopters in the second day of evacuations from the area around Lake Atitlan.

Helicopters went to the nearby town of San Andres Semetabaj to fly out an estimated 20 Scandinavians trapped since mudslides cut off the area several days ago. About 50 more tourists were hiking out of the lakeside town of Panajachel.

"We got about 400 (tourists) out last night, and were expecting more today," said Solomon Reyes of Guatemala's Tourism Ministry.

In some areas the arrival of the Guatemalan military only complicated matters. Villagers in Panabaj refused to allow in the army because of memories of a 1990 massacre there during the country's 36-year civil war.

But U.S. military helicopters from Joint Task Force Bravo based at Soto Cano Air Base in Honduras joined the rescue efforts with a half-dozen Blackhawk helicopters and one Chinook transport helicopter, running flights through dense clouds and heavy fog.

"We're still in search-and-rescue mode," said Army Maj. Bob Schmidt. "We're in the saving life and limb thought process."

The U.S. craft delivered some medical supplies and personnel and evacuated children needing medical care.

In El Salvador, authorities reported 71 deaths from the rains, after two people where swept away by flood waters in San Salvador on Saturday.

The rest of the dead were scattered throughout Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica and southern Mexico.

Mexican President Vicente Fox visited devastated Chiapas state Sunday as floodwaters began to recede.

"The important thing is that the worst is over," Fox said. "Now comes the reconstruction."

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Copyright © 2005 ABC News Internet Ventures

Guatemalans Plead for Aid After Disaster

LA TIMES, Oct. 10, 2005

Guatemalans Plead for Aid After Disaster
Residents say the government's response to Hurricane
Stan is inadequate. Few bodies are recovered from the
site of a massive slide.

By Alex Renderos and Reed Johnson, Special to The

SANTIAGO ATITLAN, Guatemala — Rescue workers battled
with little success Sunday to retrieve bodies buried
under 40 feet of mud, while local officials and Maya
residents complained bitterly that the federal
response to the disaster was slow and inadequate.

Nearly five days after Hurricane Stan triggered
massive mudslides that devastated this region, wiping
out the entire village of Panabaj and apparently
killing hundreds of people, local officials struggled
to supply food and shelter to the survivors.

The Guatemalan government on Sunday reported that 519
people have died in the wake of last week's hurricane
and an additional 338 are missing across the country.
Nearly 90,000 people are living in shelters, including
3,000 in 31 makeshift camps here.

Maya farmers from neighboring towns used canoes to
haul corn, beans and clothes across Lake Atitlan to
give to survivors.

"We haven't received anything from the government,"
said Manuel Culan, an assistant to the mayor of this
lakeside town in the country's volcanic western
highlands. "Especially we are requesting economic aid
that is going to help us to buy some land for these

On Sunday afternoon, men and women stood in line
waiting to receive a hot meal of corn, beans and

About 2,500 of the refugees were from Panabaj, a
coffee-growing community of about 260 buildings that
was engulfed by a mudslide early Wednesday. Culan
estimated that 500 people may still lie there, many
buried as they slept.

Previously, government officials had said up to 1,500
might be dead. So far, about 70 bodies have been
retrieved from the area, where exhausted,
dispirited-looking local firemen and about 20 rescue
workers who flew in from Spain were still searching
Sunday night.

With so much time having passed and such a large
number missing, there was speculation that efforts
would be abandoned in some areas and the sites would
become mass graves.

As evening approached, the workers were being careful
not to take a wrong step and sink into the
quicksand-like muck. Yellow, orange and red sticks
planted in the ground guided their movements. Rescue
dogs barked as they sniffed for victims.

A vibrant center of Tzutuhil Maya culture, the
Santiago Atitlan region is known for maintaining its
traditional Indian ways despite outside political
pressures and the encroachment of tourism in some
villages that ring the picturesque, blue lake.

The region was a rallying place for Indian activism
during Guatemala's 35-year civil war, which left about
200,000 people dead, many of them Maya villagers. The
war ended in 1996.

On Sunday afternoon, about 500 people stood in a
drizzling rain in the central plaza here while an
evangelical pastor, Diego Sesos, urged them to help
their fellow Mayas.

"We're going to be united forever. This incident is
going to give us strength," Sesos, speaking in Mayan,
said through a microphone.

Salvador Sapalu, a Maya administrator of an
organization that works with poor children here, said
the area had not received federal support.

"The only thing you see here, these corn and these
beans, those have been provided by the local people,"
Sapalu said. "We don't even have medicines. There are
only three doctors for the entire town here. It could
be a kind of racism because these people are Indians."

Some agronomists and land experts have speculated that
erosion caused by deforestation and farming on the
volcanic slopes might have played a role in the
disaster. Deforestation has been rampant throughout
Central America, including Guatemala.

"Any form of agriculture runs the potential for
destabilization of the soils," said William W. Shaw, a
professor in the school of natural resources at the
University of Arizona at Tucson, in a telephone
interview. "When it's on volcanic slopes, that's a
real concern."

In other parts of Central America and southern Mexico,
where Hurricane Stan cut a ruinous swath, cleanup
efforts continued fitfully.

Touring devastated communities in the hard-hit
southern Mexican states of Chiapas and Oaxaca over the
weekend, President Vicente Fox declared the worst of
the crisis over. But much like New Orleans after
Hurricane Katrina, communities are struggling with
overwhelming health, sanitation and security woes.

In the Mexican city of Tapachula near the Guatemalan
border, the Coatan River burst its banks last week,
obliterating at least 3,000 homes and washing out the
four bridges that connect the community with the
outside world, said Alfonso Ochoa, a reporter with El
Orbe newspaper. He said authorities had found 15
bodies "but those were just the ones found in the
streets. We have no idea how many people are dead."

Ochoa said the city was low on food, potable water,
fuel, medicine, warm clothing and other necessities
needed to sustain its 300,000 people. He said cartons
of eggs that usually cost $1.40 were now selling for
four times that when they could be found at all. On
Sunday, Mexico City newspapers showed photos of
desperate residents scrambling for aid packages tossed
from army helicopters.

Ochoa said a couple of government ships had arrived
and were unloading supplies. But he said the relief
was too little and too slow.

"There is sadness, hunger and desperation," Ochoa
said. "We need more help." Summing up the devastation
to all of Central America and Mexico, Ochoa said,
"This is a disaster much greater than in Louisiana,
but it isn't getting the same attention."


Special correspondent Renderos reported from Santiago
Atitlan and Times staff writer Johnson from Mexico
City. Staff writer Marla Dickerson in Mexico City
contributed to this report.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Guatemala Activists Oppose Military Courts Bill

Legislation would ban criminal prosecution of soldiers
and officers in civilian venues. Critics say it would
create 'a climate of impunity.'
By Héctor Tobar, Times Staff Writer

GUATEMALA CITY — Proposed legislation putting
military personnel beyond the reach of civilian courts
has drawn strong opposition from Guatemalan human
rights activists haunted by the excesses of previous
military rule.

Backed by the Guatemalan Republican Front and other
rightist parties, as well as the country's powerful
lobby of active and retired army generals, the bill
would modify Guatemala's 19th century code of military
conduct and transfer criminal prosecutions of soldiers
and officers to military courts.

Human rights activists and judicial experts here
argue that the law could halt a number of prosecutions
against military officers on corruption charges.

"This law creates a climate of impunity," said
Iduvina Hernandez of Security in Democracy, a military
watchdog group. "It's a law written in a spirit of
cowardice that favors the corrupt."

Hernandez and other activists here say the law would
halt the prosecutions of officers charged in a
$100-million embezzlement case, and block corruption
and human rights charges against former military ruler
Efrain Rios Montt, who presided over an especially
bloody chapter of Guatemalan history.

Backers of the law say it is merely an attempt to
bring an outdated military justice system into the
modern era.

"The existing code was written 120 years ago and is
out of date," said Juan Santacruz, a congressional
deputy with the Guatemalan Republican Front. "People
have been trying to create confusion about the spirit
of the reform."

Santacruz contends the legislation would not affect
current prosecutions of military officials on
corruption charges. Human rights activists disagree,
and see the bill as a first step of a wider rollback
of civilian control over the military.

Opponents of the bill say it violates a key provision
of the 1996 treaty between the government and leftist
rebels that ended the country's long civil war. It
stipulates that "ordinary crimes and misdemeanors
committed by military personnel will be tried in
ordinary courts."

Otto Perez Molina, a retired general and
congressional deputy representing the Patriot Party,
acknowledged that the measure contradicts the treaty.
But he said the reforms had been discussed between the
military and the rebels during their negotiations a
decade ago.

"We've been talking about this since then," Perez
Molina said. "We want this to be decided in a public
debate…. What we want is that everyone be equal before
the law."

Human rights activist Helen Mack says the legislation
would further weaken a judicial system that has proved
incapable of prosecuting those charged with human
rights violations committed during decades of military

"The military already has so much influence over the
judicial system that they have a de facto amnesty from
human rights prosecutions," said Mack, whose sister
Myrna was killed by a military death squad in 1990.

Myrna Mack was an anthropologist who was
investigating the effect of the Guatemalan military's
"scorched earth" policy on the country's Mayan

Her killing is one of the few crimes attributed to
the military that has been successfully prosecuted. An
army colonel was convicted in the killing but he was
freed pending appeal and fled the country.

If the bill is passed, Mack said, it would only
demonstrate "the continuing weakness and the decay of
the Guatemalan justice system."

Perez Molina said opposition could lead the bill's
backers to postpone debate on it until next year.

Times researcher Alex Renderos in San Salvador
contributed to this report.