The Hammock

My memory not being what it used to be isn’t much help in telling me when I got my hammock. I spent a lot of time in Mexico in the eighties and it was either a gift or something I picked up from a hammock maker. It’s made of cloth not much wider than a sneaker’s shoe lace with knots at the joints to keep it sturdy. There are alternating ribbons of green and white. I’m sure I chose those colors to honor the Boston Celtics. They wouldn’t have had scarlet and black for Rutgers. That would have been my first choice. Besides, hammocks are for the yard in the summer shade over green grass and under ovine white clouds. I estimate the hammock to be about thirty years old. In California I had no place to use it so it was packed away as part of my retirement trousseau if I should live so long.

When I was ready to leave that hellish state to hopefully live out my life in El Salvador I optimistically included the hammock among the few precious items I just couldn’t bear to leave behind. For the first fifteen months here I either stayed with friends or rented a room. When I finally found a small cottage for rent I knew the time had come for me to initiate my keepsake. There was an iron grille over a back window and a shade tree a convenient distance away. It was the dry season, the perfect time to think about afternoon siestas after my classes.

I had to wash the hammock after years of storage and dust collecting. It glistened in the tropic sunlight and I felt a rush as I hung it. It was just the right height. I sat upon the welcoming web and gently pushed off to make sure it would hold my weight and not dump me on the ground. It was good. I brought my legs on board and adjusted my body so that my head was higher than my feet. Perfect. It wasn’t long before the breeze was my source of motion and I was lulled to sleep.

There were many afternoons like this. I would have visitors and invite them to enjoy my wonderful hammock. One child especially loved to have me push her while she smiled and laughed as if it were a ride at Disneyland. Until…

One afternoon she was rocking herself on the hammock when suddenly she hit the ground. The window grille was cemented to the brick wall of the house. They don’t use a very strong ratio of cement, sand, and water to their cement here to save money. The cement gave way and the corner of the grille came loose along with the cement that surrounded the mounting and down came the child and the hammock. She was scared but not hurt. I was thankful for that but sad at losing the use of the hammock. Tying it to the other side of the grille would undoubtedly result in the same end. What to do?

Having a rented house with occasional visits from the aging landlord to check his property, I contacted a friend who among his other professions was a mason. He came at his earliest convenience and repaired the damage to the house. But I was afraid to hang the hammock again.

So the hammock went back into storage. By 2010 Margarita and I married and rented a larger house with a covered patio…but no place to hang a hammock. In 2013 we had to move again and our new location also had no place to hang it. We found a better place in 2015 with a large yard but we used most of that for a vegetable garden and chicken pens. Margarita decided to grow a local gourd and built a ramada out of long bamboo poles. That created a decent shaded area and uprights from which I could hang the hammock.

Finally, after having my hernia surgery I can be truly a retired gentleman farmer. I have brass hooks on sturdy plates which I’ve screwed into the bamboo. I had to reinstall them a few times to get the hammock at the right height. It was ready for testing. Oh, oh! My creaky old knees wouldn’t let me slowly squat to put my weight on it. I asked Margarita to test it. Lo and behold it stretched to within a couple of inches of the cement septic tank cover.

So this morning I found the right height and reinstalled the hammock hopefully for the last time. I didn’t sit on it but pressed it down with my hands putting all my weight on it. It was just right. But one of the ribbons had broken. I imagine being cloth it aged and weakened. I tied a knot and pressed it again. It seems just fine. I had to move a hanging plant to allow it to move to and fro as a good hammock should. Now I need to go outside and offer it my body.

We went outside to take photographs of the hammock and me in it. The first part went just fine. Adriana and Margarita held the hammock open and I took the picture.

03-28 01 Adriana holding the hammock.

Adriana holding the hammock open for its photo.


Then I got myself on to the hammock for Adriana to take my picture. I reviewed with her how to do it and she positioned herself for the magic moment. But the ribbons started to rip one by one and suddenly I was on the ground with Margarita behind me her arms under my armpits.

03-28 02 Roger as the hammock ribbons broke and  I hit the ground.

Roger the moment the hammock hit the ground.


 I told Adriana to take the photo. I had a big smile on my face…so I thought. What I didn’t know was that she took the perfect picture. She wasn’t sure she was pushing the right button and there was no picture on the screen. While she was blah-blahing to her mother the camera shut off and I had to show her again how to turn it on. She kept talking and by the time she was ready the camera was off. She didn’t know she had taken a third photo.

03-28 03 Margarita giving me moral support.

Margarita giving me moral support when I needed physical support to get up.


By now I’m confused and telling her to push the correct button. But it got to be to much of stupidity and I decided to hell with it. I got up and threw the hammock in the garbage. So much for the thirty-year wait.

There are plenty of locals who walk the streets selling hammocks. With a little luck I’ll find one I like someday and try it again. Meanwhile, I’ll just have to sit in the shade on a plastic lawn chair.



2015 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 790 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 13 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Diagnosing El Salvador’s Snowden Syndrome

In the U.S we’ve heard a lot about whistle blowers and how they’re being dealt with. Heroes or traitors? Here is El Salvador’s version of the Edward Snowden affair.

Diagnosing El Salvador’s Snowden Syndrome

This is a story about El Salvador‘s Edward Snowdens, a group of police officers under investigation for leaking confidential documents, even as authorities refuse to investigate the head of the country’s powerful Texis Cartel.

Recently, journalists from two Salvadoran media outlets had access to a judicial proceeding for which the Attorney General had requested absolute confidentiality. The two outlets — El Diario de Hoy and Diario 1 — published details about the leaked case: criminal accusations against four police officers, former agents of the Police Intelligence Center (CIP) that Attorney General Luis Martinez accused of “disclosure of facts, actions, or secret documents by an official employee.”

15-10-29-ElSalvador-Chepe-Snowden  Chepe Diablo

This is a story of how the Attorney General chose to prosecute police who investigated members of the Texis Cartel, a Salvadoran drug trafficking organization, before prosecuting the head of this criminal group, businessman Jose Adan Salazar Umaña, alias “Chepe Diablo.” For the policemen, the Attorney General’s Office (FGR) has asked for prison sentences. For Chepe Diablo — who the Obama administration designated an international drug kingpin in 2014 — freedom and exoneration. Something similar happened with Edward Snowden, the former employee of the US National Security Agency who leaked information about that agency’s abuses. In that case, Washington initially decided to pursue him before those officials that were responsible for, among other things, spying on their fellow citizens.

This story was translated, edited for clarity, and reprinted with permission from Revista Factum. See the original Spanish version here.

Last August, El Salvador’s Attorney General’s Office rejected the idea of prosecuting Chepe Diablo for money laundering. After performing an analysis of the available information in reference to the document 22-UIF-2015, the resolution was issued ordering the file to be closed…reads a letter signed on August 24 by Tovias Armando Menjivar, head of the FGR’s Financial Investigation Unit.

Tovias and the FGR made the decision after asking Salvadoran financial institutions about Salazar Umaña, Wilfredo Guerra Umaña, and the business Gumarsal, who have all been linked to the Texis Cartel by journalistic investigations.

Eleven months before Tovias Menjivar signed the letter of exoneration, one of his subordinates, Mario Antonio Huezo Cortez, signed an order to open investigations into Salazar Umaña in order “to determine the existence of the crime of money laundering,” according to a document dated September 23, 2014 and annexed to the file 47-2014-1/EGU, which was opened by the Tenth Court of Instruction of San Salvador.

In that memo, prosecutor Huezo Cortez states the case of Salazar Umaña has “facts that infer the occurrence of activities related to money laundering.”

Moreover, in annexes to criminal proceeding 47-2014-1/EGU, in September 2014 prosecutors assure that, “thanks to the audits conducted, it was identified they moved via bank accounts or accounting records large amounts of money whose origins were unjustified. That is, we have capital from unknown sources… The explanations provided by the audited persons are illogical, for the unreasonable or unlawful purposes of the operations of those mentioned, which were distorted by tax authorities.” (In addition to Guerra Umaña and Gumarsal, the other person audited is the mayor of the municipality of Metapan, Juan Samayoa.)

Curiously, Huezo Cortez and the other prosecutors concluded there was sufficient merit to discuss money laundering charges “after reviewing” the financial accounts of Salazar Umaña. However, the conclusion reached by Tovias Menjivar, head of the UIF, after reviewing the same accounts a year later is that there are no signs of money laundering.

In July 2014, the US newspaper El Nuevo Herald published an investigation that cited “high level sources” from the Superintendent of the Salvadoran Financial System. It asserted Salazar Umaña had infiltrated this state institution to conceal his financial transactions through credit unions.

On September 17, 2015, six days before Huezo Cortez asked to definitively dismiss the money laundering case against “Chepe Diablo,” his boss, Attorney General Luis Martinez, replied evasively to questions from Salvadoran newspaper La Prensa Grafica about the Salazar Umaña case. Martinez hinted that it was an open case against Salazar Umaña for money laundering. Yet the UIF’s chief called for the dismissal of the investigation a few days after the attorney general’s conversation with the newspaper.

Factum magazine asked the attorney general’s press office for an interview with Tovias Menjivar to explain the decision. (See tweet below) There was no response.


This chronicle of double standards, misleading statements, and truncated investigations is, however, only part of this story. The Texis Cartel, Chepe Diablo, Attorney General Martinez and his prosecutors are also protagonists in another chapter. That chapter has to do with the police who opened the criminal prosecution against the drug trafficking organization.

The Investigation Begins

(The following paragraphs are adapted from a story written by the author in November 2012 about the first capture of Roberto Antonio Herrera Hernandez, a member of the Texis Cartel, in February 2011.)

“Take care of the boy and sell everything we have,” the man said to his spouse via cell phone. It was the voice of a “scared” and “resigned” man, an agent assigned to the Police Intelligence Center told me on February 17, 2011. It was after 3:30pm on that day when Roberto Antonio Herrera Hernandez, alias “El Burro,” grabbed the phone to alert his wife that he was under arrest, and that the police were taking digital fingerprints to confirm he was the same person wanted by the FBI for various crimes related to the theft of vehicles and their illegal sale in California and Texas.

The operation had begun in one of Herrera Hernandez’s houses in western El Salvador with a monitoring unit that had located the green Toyota pick-up truck with plates P235-804, property of El Burro, parked in front of a building with a white façade, red doors, and exposed brick. Four police intelligence agents were waiting around 50 meters from the building.

The operation lasted nearly the entire morning. The CIP agents detained El Burro in a side street near Zapotitan. They told him they had to bring him to the PNC laboratory to confirm his fingerprints.

Herrera Hernandez had been a fugitive from US law enforcement since June 19, 2003, when prosecutors in Texas accused him of heading a criminal group that moved stolen cars between Texas and California. In 2005, El Burro was convicted in absentia on eight charges of interstate automobile theft. According to one of the witnesses in this trial (criminal proceeding 4:03-cr-00230-1), Herrera was “the leader of the organization.” It was because of this arrest warrant issued by the court for the southern district of Texas on July 14, 2003 that the CIP detained El Burro in Zapotitan.

Just before 3:00pm on February 17, 2011, the CIP police received from US police a document with the fingerprints of the man the Texas court wanted. The prints were the same. But, in the end, the arrest warrant, according to US agents, was not legally valid. El Burro was free.

The brief capture was registered in at least two of the proceedings police intelligence have for Roberto Herrera Hernandez since 2008, when the director of the National Civil Police (PNC) was Commissioner Jose Luis Tobar Prieto.

Texis Cartel and Persecution (Against the Police)

On May 16, 2011, digital newspaper El Faro published a thorough investigation that cites three intelligence reports from high-level officials from the PNC and the administration of former President Mauricio Funes revealing the existence of the Texis Cartel, of which Roberto Antonio Herrera Hernandez and Jose Adan Salazar Umaña were alleged members.

While inaugurating a journalist forum organized by El Faro, Funes confirmed his administration investigated this drug trafficking structure in the northwest of the country, and that these and other drug traffickers had infiltrated the Salvadoran government.

In a report published in 2012, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said two important drug trafficking structures exist in El Salvador: the Texis Cartel in the northwest, and Los Perrones in the east. The report says both structures have state protection, echoing what Funes had said.

Various police chiefs, judges, congressmen, and lawyers are named in El Faro’s report. This includes Police Commissioners Douglas Omar Garcia Funes and Victor Rodriguez Peraza, and Congressman Reynaldo Cardoza (who was investigated for money laundering after a publication on the excessive growth of his assets). Other journalistic investigations have added more names, like Commissioner Hector Raymundo Mendoza Cordero and Congressman Cordero Rivera Wilver Monge, also arrested and currently on trial for laundering drug money.

Attorney General Luis Martinez ordered the arrest of Roberto Herrera for trafficking vehicles between El Salvador and Guatemala. But he never went after Chepe Diablo, the man that assistant prosecutors say they had sufficient evidence for money laundering. He is also the man the UN described as the leader of the Texis Cartel, and who the White House designated an international drug kingpin.

SEE ALSO: Texis Cartel News and Profile

Instead, Luis Martinez went after some of the officers involved in the 2011 operation, when the Salvadoran police first captured El Burro and began untangling the web of the Texis Cartel’s operations. These police officers were not accused of corruption, but leaking classified information.

On October 15, prior to the preliminary hearing against the police officers scheduled for the end of the month, El Diario de Hoy entitled an article: “Four Officers Tried for Manipulating Information,” even though the charge is for leaking documents.

Based on the testimonies of unidentified agents, the article states that the CIP wrote up a document that mentions Burro Herrera, Misael Cisneros (alias “Medio Million,” also linked to the Texis Cartel), and unidentified police chiefs.

The article — which has several sections citing the court documents that were supposed to be sealed — concludes: “Public security authorities have taken no punitive action against any of the four accused officers, although the prosecution has presented a range of evidence implicating them, sources consulted by El Diario de Hoy explained.”

That is to say, El Diario de Hoy wrote an article about police officers accused of leaking information — not manipulating, this crime does not exist — to an “electronic news outlet” that was not identified by name. And to create this article the newspaper relies on a document a judge had ordered sealed, implying it was leaked to journalists, and also quotes unidentified police sources. Similar articles appeared in La Pagina and Diario 1. But these publications said little to nothing about the legal accusations against the Texis Cartel.

The electronic media outlet that published the first and most comprehensive investigation into the Texis Cartel is El Faro. Revista Factum contacted Oscar Martinez, editor of El Faro’s Sala Negra section, when the text was published to discuss their research.

The article by El Diario de Hoy mentions El Faro without naming it, and by doing so questions the investigation into the Texis Cartel. I’m not interested in learning about your sources, just to hear your comments on the investigative process…

The investigation was a four-month process that involved three full-time reporters. This is not the first time a subject has given rise to a discussion about whether or not it was merely a leak by people within police intelligence. I think that interested parties often assess the text without reading it thoroughly. This text is based on three different reports, and I must say that not all come from the police. The first is from the year 2000, and the reports were produced during three different administrations and under five different police chiefs.

Apart from that there are active sources, including one linked to the police, that talk about how they protected shipments on orders from people whose names they do give. The investigation into the Texis Cartel was not just based on reports, although these were a cornerstone of the investigation. Following up, because several materials were published after, there are several actors speaking “on the record” regarding the publication, as former Interior Minister Rene Figueroa eventually did. It is an investigation that strongly demonstrates something that later convictions confirmed: the state has believed, for over 15 years, that a group exists which dominates the route called El Caminito to conduct various crimes, mostly related to drug trafficking and money laundering. They — and three administrations — have believed this, but have been unable to arrest those who are considered to be the leaders of this criminal group.

I’ll add something else. Journalists constantly receive leaks. Our job is to sort through them and try to determine what is true and what isn’t. That is what we did with the Texis Cartel.

What do you think of the case against the CIP policemen? To pursue investigators and not Chepe Diablo?

Regarding the proceedings against the police, which I’ve kept tabs on via the media, it seems to me some people within the police and Attorney General’s Office have an interest in conducting a witch hunt for those responsible for the leaks. To me this makes little sense. And I get the impression they did not put the same zeal into pursuing those the state has believed for over a decade are directing a criminal group that has managed to infiltrate the police at a very high level. As well as [infiltration in] the political realm, mainly in the western part of the country but also on a national level.

And what of news reports on the subject?

I do not quite understand what the indictment is, because the articles are very simple and do not explain what is happening. I understand that total discretion regarding the process is intended to impede the press from fully documenting what is happening in this case against the policemen, who they believe leaked some information. I suppose they refer to our investigation into the Texis Cartel, but I infer this because the articles do not say.


In July of last year, an official from the US Department of Justice that has closely followed the investigations into the Texis Cartel said: “There is still a lot of money he [Salazar Umaña] cannot justify. That is the most important [aspect of] this investigation.” Attorney General Luis Martinez does not think the same. For the attorney general, it is more important to investigate those who investigated the Texis Cartel: a kind of tropical Edward Snowden syndrome.

**Hector Silva Avalos is a Research Fellow at American University’s Center for Latin American & Latino Studies and the editor of Revista Factum, an online media outlet that focuses on El Salvador.

Oh, the Humanity!

Social scientists, philosophers, and theologians have written volumes with definitions and descriptions of humanity and what makes mankind different from other primates, mammals, and other animal organisms. Scientists compare us with chimps, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans. They examine behaviors such as grooming, caring for their young, dominance and hierarchies, interpersonal relationships, territorialism, violence, and inter-clan belligerence. Philosophers from differing cultures cite moral conduct that will lead to peaceful lives among people. St. Paul, in chapter 13 of 1st Corinthians defines love and what its antitheses are. Christian doctrine cites Jesus of Nazareth as the epitome of humanness including his upturning of the moneychangers’ tables in anger with their defiling God’s house. Christ has been preached for two thousand years as the perfect person. Then we read or watch the daily news, editorial blogs, and Facebook posts.

I have to wonder how after tens of thousands of years on this planet we have not yet learned to live together without clashing on personal and large-group levels. Is there really any hope for homo sapiens? Are we doomed to be more homo than sapient? For all the articles and books written by those who study human kind our behavior shows that we can’t agree on basics such as the sanctity of life.

As societies have evolved from hunter-gatherers to what we are today in our different forms around the globe, and our clubs and stone tipped spears have become nuclear weapons, heat-seeking devices, and drones, we still have those who seek to dominate lands and their inhabitants by rock throwing, by mass migration, and by the most potent weapon of all, fear.

When we place side by side the writings of the sages and the news of the day we find extreme dissonance.  One party feels entitled to some land and the other party feels just as strongly. One party feels its religion is the true religion and it is imperative to enforce it on other parties whose beliefs teach that theirs is the one and only way…but we’ll tolerate others’ beliefs. That makes us the better humans. One party feels that by organizing it can dominate businesses, the economy in general, and even the government.

Humans, when they had no other explanation or excuse for conditions, blessed or blamed a god or gods for putting them in charge or casting them in a subservient role. The Divine Right of Kings and Manifest Destiny are just two of the terms that come to my mind when I consider the justifications employed in conquering, enslaving, and destroying people, cultures, and nations over the millennia. Tribal chiefs, kings, presidents, religious leaders and dictators have taken power to the limits throughout history. And while we have walked on the Moon and contemplate visiting planets we have not learned to live together on Earth any better today than in 10,000 BCE. The technology which has enabled us to communicate with almost anyone on the planet in seconds should have brought us closer together. Our purported common desire for peace and good will among our kind seems to get lost in attempts to apply the practices to achieve a global community.

In my old age I’ve become a pessimist. I accept Bob Dylan’s conclusion that the answers are blowing in the wind. As I approach my personal demise I welcome the day I will depart from this sad and futile existence. In the meantime I will weep for my grandchildren and their descendants whom I will never know. Despite all of mankind’s technical advances, discoveries, inventions and explorations we have not moved any further along socially since we shared the planet with Neanderthals. Humanity? Where is it?


The Farmer in the Dell

One of the goals I have aimed for in El Salvador was to have a piece of property apt for a garden. During my first trip to Nicaragua we worked on a farm/training center teaching groups from small, rural communities about having home gardens for growing table vegetables for the nourishment they provide. While everyone here puts every speck of land into corn and beans, I decided to find foods we can enjoy other than those two staples. Margarita brought some guisquil, known to me from my Mexico days as chayote, down from her old house in Casa Blanca and its vines are snaking up our papaya tree and in among our bushes.

Guisquil o Chayote A popular gourd in soups.

Guisquil o Chayote
A popular gourd in soups.

The local agroservicio, the store for farmers where we buy our chicks, only had a few choices in seeds. I bought a little plastic baggie of radish and one of cucumber. I still can’t find anyone who sells tomato or green pepper plants or any plants at all. My intention was to ask Margarita where would be the best place in the yard to sow these colorful seeds and then get to work. But it’s different here. She went into a lengthy speech using western El Salvador farmer vocabulary that might as well have been in Greek–if the Greek economy were worth a drachma (just like the Salvadoran economy isn’t worth a colon). It included varas de Brasil and other forms of vegetation in order to construct a ramada which I thought was something for the cukes to climb on. Then she mentioned sand and black dirt which was plentiful in Casa Blanca. Casa Blanca is a community with many natural resources but toilets and Internet connections are not among them. She said she’d ask son-in-law Milton if he’d drive all these things down to our house. This happened two days ago. When he pulled up to our back gate I thought he’d brought part of the jungle down from the hills with him. He proceeded to carry these twenty-plus foot green grass trunks into the yard. Eight in all. Then there was one what I’d describe as a fat, hollow bamboo trunk that could be used for a drain pipe. He stacked some fern-like branches on top of the other bamboo. Finally he very gingerly unloaded two plastic grocery bags of wet sand and one of the blackest dirt I’ve ever seen. Remember, Central America is an isthmus on a large seismic fault and part of a chain of volcanoes that over the eons has provided some of the richest volcanic soil in the tropics if not the world.   Sometimes it’s difficult-to-impossible for Margarita to stay on task. Her OCD husband doesn’t stop one task to begin another until the first is satisfactorily completed. So yesterday she taught me how to build a ramada, which is basically a crude shelter made of branches.


Chiquero, Ramada, & Young chicken pen

She cut the large poles with a small hand saw to a height that wasn’t much over my head. In some she used the machete to hack a groove in one end to contain the cross polls. Then she lashed the corners with baling wire and announced the structure was built. I tossed the thin branches with what must be leaves on top and wondered why it was thus. It offered no shade like banana leaves and I couldn’t picture cucumbers climbing up it. But I’m a gringo and what do I know? That’s why I have Margarita–to explain things to me. But once that was done she went in to take a shower and go to church. That left me wondering about the radishes and the cucumbers. I decided to also take a shower and to spend a relaxing afternoon with my precious princess listening tell me corny kid jokes, ask me riddles with double meanings that you’d have to have been brought up here to understand, and ultimately watching a romance and crime movie starring members of a Mexican band that was popular in the eighties.


Ramada from below

So this morning I’m up early and all jazzed to continue the work. Margarita had retied the clothesline we had to loosen to get the ramada built but that was so she could hang the clothes that spent the night in the washer. The hose had been run into the house yesterday to the washer even though the water inside the house was enjoying one of its two workdays per week and the hose could have been connected to the pila a few feet away.

Ramada and Milpa.

Ramada and Milpa.

I was all up for attacking the work at hand from the day before. Margarita retied the clothes line we’d had to take down to build the ramada. I had to wait for her to get home from walking our daughter to school before I could get her to sit and tell me what I was to do with the seeds. Again I had to silence her as she was going to show me what to do in one spot when she wanted it in another spot ten feet away on another wall. I stopped her again asking why she demonstrates in one place in lieu of the other. I told her she confuses me and I come away with nothing from her instructions. Furthermore, if she gives me all the instructions at once I won’t remember them all or the sequence.

I took the nearby bricks and made a rectangular wall. She helped me pour the two bags of sand into the box and I leveled them. Then she took a portion of the black soil and spread that on top of the sand. She told me to sow about four rows. THAT I didn’t need too much help for. Then I moved over to the adjacent piece of land and began to chop it up as it was dry. This would be my cucumber bed. I have a real rake as opposed to the home-made pick axe from Casa Blanca and I raked the soil as fine as possible and removed the stones.

New Radish Bed

New Radish Bed

I Googled ‘how to plant cucumbers’ and got some advice from “The Farmer’s Almanac”, Burpees Seeds, and a couple of videos on YouTube. I decided I had space for three rows in four columns. Good enough for a family of four. I have plenty of both seeds left over. I still want tomatoes.

Cucumber bed with radish bed in background.

Cucumber bed with radish bed in background.

Part of the fun of gardening is the waiting. What will come up and when? Will subterranean monsters feast on the seedlings, stems, leaves, and blossoms before I reap my harvest? Will we ever get a normal rainfall in this part of El Salvador?

Migrants: Humanitarianism vs. Greed and Egoism



“Myanmar migrants on a boat stranded for a week in the Andaman Sea with no food or water say 10 people have died, while some are resorting to drinking urine.” (BBC News 14 May 2015)

“Nearly 2,000 migrants are estimated to have lost their lives attempting the perilous sea crossing from North Africa to Europe in 2015, and it’s not even fully five months into the year.” (CNN 13 May 2015)

“A UK warship rescued about 450 people from the Mediterranean on Wednesday. The UN estimates that 60,000 people have already tried to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa this year. More than 1,800 migrants have died – a 20-fold increase on the same period in 2014.” (BBC News 13 May 2015)


These are the daily headlines and stories. I wonder how many details people read before selecting a different story. I wonder if they probe the faces well photographed to feel the anguish of mothers and children floating on abandoned boats by smugglers. What is the supposedly civilized world focusing on these days?


This morning I took the time to study the tenets of the major religions of the countries most affected by the immigrants attempting and succeeding in seeking shelter. In Southeast Asia I searched Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam. I didn’t need to probe so deeply Europe’s Christianity or my own Judaism to learn what we consider humanitarianism. The first precept is to save human life and do nothing to abet its termination. Yet in Asia, Australia and Europe this precept is subject to debate. Why is there a question? People are risking their lives to escape secular persecution, lack of basic human rights, summary executions for being the “others”. In the United Nations and in the capitals of the rich and powerful nations of the world, leaders and diplomats argue over responsibility and cost.


Americans in the disunited states are as guilty as the British or Thais in talking while people are dying at sea by the hundreds. Americans in the disunited states are divided over what to do about their own immigrants. They have a government that can’t arrive at a definitive policy that will reduce or eliminate the number of deaths, rapes, and sequestration for ransom perpetrated upon those who have fled from similar circumstances as the Africans and Asians who occupy today’s headlines.


Americans have learned nothing from their own history regarding preserving lives in imminent danger in their native countries. What does the S.S. St. Louis mean to you? If you don’t know, Google it and learn of just one more shame staining the U.S. flag. How many of you gripe at the number of recent Syrians who have gained asylum? Do you ever wonder where you would try to go if your ethnic or religious group became victimized by another group in the U.S.? Do you think the U.S. is immune to such a secular division? A religious division by fanatics as strongly pro-fundamentalist as Islamic State, al Qaeda or Taliban? A political division fomented by nationalists as we’ve seen gathering as militias in Idaho or at Tea Party meetings near your house?


Doesn’t it seem contradictory that the crowd that shouts about American values and a Christian nation is the same mob that seeks to deport the helpless albeit willing to pay their return fare? That wears WWJD bracelets and crosses around their necks don’t get Matthew 25:35-40? You know, the part that says, “35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Jesus feeds 5000

Jesus feeds 5000

How can any self-declared “civilized” human being deny life to any other human being? How can any person of power and authority not take whatever steps are needed to allow these migrants to drown at sea, to close your ports to their landing, to direct them to return from whence they came? I do not recognize you and I as being of the same species.



Old Friends’ Reunion

I spent the morning with some old friends I hadn’t seen in years. I kind of bumped into them almost by accident. It was a joyous reunion for me since I’d known many of them since my boyhood. But there were a lot of tears as well. I soaked two handkerchiefs and most of a third when they revived old memories of some of the happiest events in my long life. The truth is that most of my old friends and acquaintances are dead. Some have been gone for a number of years. As is the case when one is almost eighty, I recognized some of their faces but I couldn’t remember their names. As is my habit nowadays I wait for someone to call them by name and then the pieces come together.

This is a marvelous age we live in. I spend a lot of time on my computer but until recently not as much as I’d have liked to. You see, my provider wasn’t allowing me to download at the same speed as the rest of the region. I finally grabbed a technician working at a relay station and he got the ball rolling to where I can now watch videos and stream sports from the U.S. to my home in El Salvador. This is what brought me and my old friends together.

Country music has been the center point of my life as far back as I can remember. I loved listening to my sister’s records on our Victrola and radio programs from Newark, NJ to WSM’s Grand Ole Opry in Nashville when it played on WEAF in New York. When I had access to my sister’s radio at night or on weekends, I’d find WWVA’s Wheeling Jamboree or some other popular programs from across the Mexican border that were powerful enough to reach Piscataway, NJ.

As a teenager in 1953 I started singing and picking my Gretsch guitar at local gigs and with some moxie and pushes from my friends found myself being part of the “local talent” in Grand Ole Opry package shows in some of the larger venues in Northern New Jersey. Back then the stars were just regular people who traveled by car to sing and play and mix with the people who came to listen. I got to meet and become friends with many of the true country performers of the 50s and 60s.

Television brought country music superstars into our homes. “Ozark Jubilee” was hosted by Red Foley. The Grand Ole Opry had specials. People like Jimmy Dean, Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton and others came on as summer replacements and some became regular shows. Then there was the most durable country show of all, “Hee-Haw”.

Meanwhile, I was playing in different clubs in New Jersey and attending every country concert that came to the area. And there were plenty. I’ve got a fortune in autographs to prove it. But what affected my life and my twenty-five year career was the friendship and counsel from the many popular stars of the day. I learned to appreciate their humility despite being adored and even worshipped by millions of fans across the country who bought their records, listened to them on radio or TV, and drove for miles to see them in person.

That’s all past history. Now we’ve got YouTube and videos of my heroes performing live or just audio with photos. The country music TV channels that taped their shows are able to bless old-timers like me with short and lengthy videos of my idols at the beginnings, highlights, and ends of their public careers. A series of “Family Reunion” videos hosted by Bill Anderson that go back several years caught my eye yesterday. I spent part of yesterday afternoon watching different episodes and couldn’t wait to pick up where I left off this morning. Some of the old-timers were doing their best to recreate their hits of twenty or thirty years earlier. Nashville’s best studio musicians played the original arrangements and made the experience of watching more real for a fan like me. But as the camera would pan the many stars listening and also reminiscing, I could see how the years had taken a toll by the age on their faces and the many stories they told of their contemporaries–in the past tense.

I don’t recognize the names of current award winners nor do I listen to their music. It all sounds the same to me. I came across an impressionist whose specialty is the older country singers. He’s very good both with the voices and the movements. His name is Johnny Counterfeit and he’s on YouTube. The golden age performers were unique and easily distinguishable one from another. Even their bands were unique. Today’s “country” music seems to be played by singers with stock voices and bands that blare jazz chords.

If you’re from my generation, check out classic country music on YouTube or search for “Family Reunion”. You might get teary as I did running into my old friends. 

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Roy Acuff

Roy Acuff

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