Sunday, March 07, 2004

Flash! Labor rights report finally gets press coverage

Kudos to Erick Lemus, the editor of Vértice (the often excellent Sunday magazine of the erstwhile reactionary daily El Diario de Hoy), for finally piercing the wall of silence and managing to slip in a reference to a December 2003 report by Human Rights Watch on labor rights in El Salvador. (This was the first report on El Salvador since I left HRW in 1993/94.) You see, until today the major media had avoided any mention of the "bad news" proffered by HRW--namely, that not only are existing labor laws deficient by international standards, but even these are not respected, and that CAFTA should try to remedy this situation.

Previously only the afternoon leftist daily Co-Latino, which has a relatively minor circulation, had cited the report. Obviously, the wealthy elites who control these papers have wanted to protect its readers against any information that might undermine the positive spin about El Salvador that their friends in the ARENA party would like to project. (I believe this comment falls into the category of speculation--thus the title of this blog.) A second report by HRW on abuses against domestic child workers in El Salvador, released in January 2004, has yet to receive any coverage in the local press (again, except for Co-Latino).

This may seem like a self-interested pet peeve, but check out these stories on the arrest of persons involved in bank fraud, in the Feb. 12th editions of El Diario de Hoy and La Prensa Gráfica. Now, can someone explain to me why these newspapers have no qualms about revealing names and publishing pictures of the accused (five of whom were released within two days), but cannot tell us which bank was involved (Banco Salvadoreño, apparently)? For further reflections on this kind of self-censorship, read this column by Chema Tojeira, the rector of the UCA.

By the way, the HRW document was reported in the context of a story on working conditions in the maquila sector, and mentions a new report by Intermon (Spanish affiliate of Oxfam), "Moda que aprieta", which might be worth checking out.

A propósito, yesterday I received a rare piece of FMLN campaign propaganda under my door. It was a flyer geared toward my middle class neighborhood (situated as it is in ARENA-dominated Antiguo Cuscátlan), aimed at explaining that the maquila industry would, in fact, stay put under an FMLN government, and that greater investment would indeed take place--as long as labor rights were respected. ("¡Con el FRENTE, las maquilas se quedan!") The background is a picture of Schafick & Co. meeting with Asian maquila owners.

Too little, too late: Just as it took the FMLN too long to realize it had to stop antagonizing the U.S., since having good relations with the U.S. government is, on the whole, electorally popular (more on this later) it also seems the FMLN has only too belatedly discovered that it might be better to focus on establishing good relationships with foreign investors (including Taiwan), rather than trumpet the fact that the first thing they'll do when they get to power is normalize relations with the People's Republic of China.

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