Thursday, July 25, 2013

2014 Presidential Elections Update

Eugenio Chicas, President of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal in El Salvador recently visited CIS to give us an update on the TSE’s work for next year’s Presidential election. In 2006 El Salvador began the process of moving to a system of residential voting – making polling places much more accessible to all Salvadorans.  And now Chicas and his staff are moving rapidly to complete a system of residential voting everywhere in the country – vastly expanding the polling sites.  This process would be difficult to complete anywhere – finding local sites, notifying every voter of their new polling place, allowing for people to ask for changes, training up sufficient numbers of election workers to staff so many sites and making sure that everyone has proper documents for voting here.  But in El Salvador there are additional challenges. Chicas told us about the struggle to locate voting sites in areas controlled by gangs and the difficulty in securing those sites using the national police or even the army, and making sure that people who live in one gang territory don’t have to vote in another gang territory.   

Despite the challenges of rapidly completing all this work, Chicas said that the challenges posed by the competing political parties and their candidates may be greater.  This year there are already five declared Presidential candidates and he anticipates another announcement soon.  Each of those parties and candidates has the right to have observers in every polling place – and each of them is very interested in the work of the Tribunal – both the system here in El Salvador and new systems being created to accommodate voting by Salvadorans in the diaspora around the world.  In 2014 Salvadoran citizens living outside the county will be able to vote by mail for the first time if they have registered to vote and have a valid DUI.  Chicas also made the note that there is a very low number of people registered because ARENA blocked the emission of the DUI outside the country for two years.  They did not start emitting DUI’s until December of 2012 and people were not able to register to vote until the end of May*.  They have also had problems because the TSE does not have an adequate budget to do publicity. By law, the candidates are not allowed to campaign until 90 days before the election but the parties are already running advertisements, putting up billboards, hosting events, and making public statements.  It promises to be an interesting and wild six months leading up to the February 2nd election and the very likely March 9th run-off.
The launch of voting outside the country May 27th 2013
At CIS, we need you.  We need long term volunteers to help organize the mission starting November 2nd or January 2nd.  We also need international observers be a part of the one week long mission January 27th- February 4th and very likely run off mission March 3rd-March 11th.  As an international observer or volunteer you will help to insure that the elections here are fair, without fraud, and democratic.  So, check out the attached information and submit your application.  

More information on Election Observation check out our website or email us:

Information on volunteering and how to apply (Spanish required and at least three month commitment)

Information on observing and how to apply (No Spanish required, 9 day mission)

*For more information on how to register to vote go to the TSE's website

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Celebrating Sexual Diversity in the Spanish School

 La Escuela de Español acompañó las luchas de la comunidad LGBT.  Primero se visitó a la Organización Entre Amigos.  Joaquín Cáceres explicó a los y las estudiantes la historia de la Asociación y la problemática actual de la comunidad en El Salvador, principalmente los crímenes de odio y la persecución de los y las activistas locales.

The Spanish school accompanied the struggles of the LGBT community.  First they visited the organization “Entre Amigos” (Among friends).  Joaquín Cáceres explained to the students the history of the association and the current issues the community in El Salvador faces, mainly hate crimes and persecution the local activists.

In the classes, we reflected about sexual diversity as a human right.  Each student shared his or her opinion.

En las clases, reflexionamos sobre la diversidad sexual como un derecho humano.  Cada estudiante compartió su opinión.

Además tuvimos una pequeña participación en las actividades programadas por la comunidad LGBT como la Plegaria Rosa.

In addition we had a small participation in the LGBT community's activity the Pink Prayer Ceremony. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A trip to the country

by Buffy Childerhose

As our mini bus climbs higher and higher into the hills surrounding San Salvador, the scenery changes dramatically. Gone are the signs for fast food chains signs and the bedazzled rainbow- busses spewing black smoke. These hallmarks of city life are quickly replaced by things a little less jarring, less loud, less urban. Now? Dusty roads. Pick-up trucks. Chickens.
We’re headed to Zacatales, a pueblo some 35 kilometers outside the country’s capital and the site of two businesses in which CIS has played a role. But neither is a place one can reach via mini-bus. We park at the foot of a small mountain and transfer to a pickup, the only vehicle that can navigate the uneven and challenging dirt roads that will lead us to our first stop.
When we finally alight from the pickup and tumble onto the dusty road, we’re greeted by the smell of something baking. It’s not quite sweet, but it’s not quite savory. It remains a mystery till we cluster around the open door of the building we’ve stopped at and glimpse what’s happening inside.
There, a handful of women, and a few men, gathered around two tables, some pounding and rolling large balls of yellow dough as other tear off strips that they roll into what first look like crescent rolls that are soon stuffed with a milky filling and then pinched around the edges like an empanada.

“They’re sweet, don’t worry,” laughs one of the woman in the cooperative and she wipes her hands on her apron. She is one of the villagers who run the bakery. Today, as a handful of them are busy baking, they share how they went from having almost nothing, to running this busy collective.

“We are grateful to God that we have the opportunity to come here and work everyday,” says another woman as she stands in the bakery’s doorway, the other workers bustling and smiling behind her, transforming piles of flour and other goods into a better future for themselves and their children.
It wasn’t long ago that there was little work in the community, and limited food that was produced locally. “In light of what we needed in the community, we decided to start a women’s group in 2006,” explains Mimita, one of the co-op founders. “Thirty of us organized into a group and a local representative of El Frente (the FMLN) came, and she helped us form a directive for the organization.”
Initially, the women started a cooperative to produce eggs, thanks to a US$ 50,00 from Primoere to build the coops, buy the chickens and create the means to care for them. As that business began to grow, the women’s dreams grew with it.
“Because we already had the eggs,” says Mimita, “we thought we could do more and with the proceeds from selling the eggs we decided to start a bakery, starting small by making bread in my house.” The group enjoyed making bread, and soon they had two flourishing businesses, with half the women working in the bakery and the other half in the chicken farm.

“Out of the egg project, we’ve also figured out a way to have some families have their own chickens. And we’re starting to do the same with cows. We collectively decide who in the community most needs these things, based on size of family and their income,” sys Mimita. The idea is to produce more calves and keep sharing them amongst those with the greatest needs.

The way they make this decision is representative of how the group operates. It’s a participatory co-op with the women making decisions together. So the yield of these projects isn’t just salaries for the women, it’s also a sense of ownership, pride and authority, something that these women had not experienced in the past. And for Mimita and her co-workers, that’s almost as sweet as the pain dulce itself.
(And for the record, the recipe is a secret; all you’ll get when you ask is a smile.)
Not far away from the bakery, another group of women is savoring sweet victories, with nary a grain of sugar in sight. In the rolling hills of Comasagua the women of the Vivaz collective group are collectively blue –in the most positive interpretation of what that phrase might mean.

The Vivaz group is a collective made up of 12 women who decided to form a collective in 2005, an effort born of simple necessity. “There just was no work,” said Delmy, a worker and coordinator with the project. “We needed to do something, so we decided to try to do something for ourselves.”
One of the CIS’s grassroots organizers who worked in the town of Comasagua heard about the group, and brought them to CIS’s attention. “CIS asked if we wanted to learn some useful skills and we said, ‘Of course.’ We were told about Indigo, but we didn’t know what it was then. And through consults with CIS, we decided to undertake a crafts project to make items dyed with indigo. We started the training in indigo dying in 2006. “

Since then, the group has had their struggles, including a large financial loss due to the purchase of a large amount of bad indigo. Eventually, the group built their own relationship with a reputable indigo association, and again began producing high quality work. After these financial losses, the women felt they needed greater control over the process, and that they should actually be producing the clothes they were dyeing. Yet none of them knew how to sew. CIS organized a training program through a local organization and with this training, the women learned how to produce create their own products from start to finish. As they were able to guarantee the quality of the indigo dye, the quality of the articles being dyed, and the design, both the quality of the products and sales increased.
It took some struggle to right themselves after their financial losses, but these women are clearly resolute, spurred on by both necessity and faith. Now, there are now 20 women involved in the collective, and the group produces large amounts shirts, skirts, t-shirts and scarves. Beyond these beautiful items, they’ve also fashioning a better future. “The living conditions of the women and their families have drastically improved since the collective began,” says Delmy.
But this change hasn’t been easy. In Delmy’s community, as well as in the majority of the rural areas in the region, the husbands make the decisions. “So these women depended on their husbands – for money, for choices - even what clothes she might wear,” she explained.

As the women began to earn their own incomes and develop a sense of pride and autonomy, these changes weren’t always well received. “In the beginning it was difficult to deal with - the men weren’t happy,” said Delmy. “ But we’ve learned how to defend our rights,” she said.  “The women began to resist and said,  ‘This is something that I am going to do, that I want to do because it’s going to be of mutual benefit to both of us and our families.’ So in time, the project has helped transform some of the men, and some husbands are even helping with chores to assist the newly busy women.”
Supported by grants and training from CIS and a variety of other NGOs, the collective is now opening up a new building, and the celebration is so large and boisterous that I can barely hear Delmy’s responses to my questions. Which, depending on how you think about it, may be the best response of all.
Legendary English School Volunteer Anne  listening the cooperative
One of the Small Businesses's for Woman: A chicken coop

Volunteers are all smiles

Spanish Student with a group of kids

Preparing the coffee at the Vivaz cooperative

Sharing a meal

Teacher and student-at CIS everybody teaches and everyone learns!

Making pastries is an exact science

Students and volunteers attentively listen to the woman

Showing off the beautiful work of the woman: an indigo scarf

Ready to cut the ribbon


Shaping the delicious pastries 

Enjoying the time in the countryside

The fruits of their labor

Spanish teacher leading the way

un beso

Staff enjoys the outing

Walking through the campo

The Bakery

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Spanish School March 2013 Activities

Escuela de Español
Actividades en marzo 2013

El mes de marzo estuvo cargado de muchas conmemoraciones y días especiales para reflexionar.  Iniciamos el mes, celebrando el aporte de las mujeres.  Con nuestros estudiantes reflexionamos alrededor de este tema.  Y como una manifestación concreta de nuestro reconocimiento, el día ocho, cada persona rescató el aporte de una mujer que ha cambiado al mundo.

This month of Mach was filled with many commemorations and special days to reflect on.  We started the month celebrating the role of woman.  With our students we reflected about this topic.  As a concrete showing of our recognition, March 8th, each person remembered the role of a woman who has changed the world.

El martes 12, conmemoramos la vida y el legado del Padre Rutilio Grande, una de las víctimas de la injusticia y la violencia institucionalizada que predominaba en El Salvador en los años 70.  Asesinado un 12 de marzo de 1977, junto a dos salvadoreños, a manos de Escuadrones de la Muerte, el Padre Grande conformó una comunidad de fe y esperanza a través de la toma de conciencia sobre la realidad, la dignidad como seres humanos y la defensa de sus derechos fundamentales.  Gran amigo de Monseñor Romero, el martirio del Padre Tilo (como le llamaban de cariño) aún inspira la lucha del pueblo salvadoreño.

Tuesday March 12th, we commemorated the life and legacy of Father Rutilio Grande, one of the victims of institutionalized injustice and violence that dominated in El Salvador in the 70’s. He, together with two Salvadorans, was assassinated by hands of the death squads on March 12th 1977. Father Rutilio Grande created a community of faith and hope by raising consciousness about the reality, human dignity and the defense of fundamental rights. He was Monseñor Romero’s very good friend, and the martyr Father Tilo (his loving nick name) still inspires the Salvadoran people’s struggle.

Compartimos un fragmento de la canción de Franklin Quezada, Rutilio

Rutilio que creces
con cada marzo floreces
Rutilio que es cada vez más
Rutilio Grande, grande, grande
Pastor amigo de los niños
Humilde santo campesino
Profeta de un pueblo que grita su fobia ancestral                             
Rutilio Grande, grande, grande

We shared a fragment of the song by Franklin Quezada, “Rutilio”

Rutilio who grows
With each March you bloom
Rutilio who is each time is greater
Rutilio Grande, grand, grand
Pastor and friend to the children
Humble poor-farmer saint
Prophet of the people that screams their ancestral fears
Rutilio Grande, grand, grand

En el marco de la visita de la Delegación SOA Watch, los y las estudiantes de la Escuela se involucraron en la discusión y la lucha por el cierre de la Escuela de las Américas (ahora conocida bajo el nombre de Instituto del Hemisferio Occidental para la Cooperación en Seguridad).  Reconocer y escuchar la voz de las víctimas mediante el testimonio de doña Irma Reina, la reflexión en torno a la infame historia de esta autollamada Escuela y relacionar estos hechos al 20 aniversario del informe de la Comisión de la Verdad nos permitieron reconectarnos con una parte de la historia cargada de impunidad, injusticia y desigualdad tan vigentes hoy en día como antes.

Marking the visit of the SOA Watch Delegation, the students from the school were involved in the discussion and struggle for the close of the School of the Americas (now known as Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation). We recognized and listened to the voice of the victims via the testimony of Irma Reina.  The reflection about the infamous history of the self named School and relating these facts to the 20th anniversary of the report of the Truth Commission, permitted us to reconnect with a historical weight of impunity, injustice and inequality that is as true today as in the past.

Irma Reina sobreviviente de 3 masacres
Así, no podíamos de dejar de conmemorar a Monseñor Romero, mártir, profeta, pastor del pueblo salvadoreño.  Siendo tan difícil hacer un reconocimiento a su vida, creemos que la mejor manera de recordar su legado es diciendo MONSEÑOR VIVE… Y SEGUIRÁ VIVIENDO en nuestras mentes y corazones.

Cada estudiante, maestra o maestro expresó el significado de Monseñor en su vida.

In addition, we could not leave out the commemoration of Monseñor Romero, martyr, prophet, and the Salvadoran people’s pastor.  To start with it was so difficult to recognize his life, we believe that the best way to remember his legend is saying LONG LIVE MONSEÑOR …and HIS WILL CONTINUE LIVING in our hearts and minds.
Each student and teacher expressed the significance of Monseñor’s life.

Siendo marzo un mes de reconocimientos a quienes han dejado huella como Monseñor Romero, el Padre Grande o el aporte de mujeres, reconocidas o anónimas, quienes han cambiado el mundo, apuntamos en nuestra agenda de celebraciones un tema social cada vez más vigente: EL AGUA. 

March was the recognition of those who have left their mark like Monseñor Romero, Father Grande, as well as the recognition of the role of woman, well-known or anonymous, who have changed the world.  Toward the end of March we turned our agenda to celebrate a social topic each day more relevant: WATER.

Aunque es un derecho humano, alrededor del 50% de la población salvadoreña no tiene acceso a agua limpia.  La población rural, especialmente las mujeres, dedican un importante porcentaje de su tiempo en la recolección del agua.  La falta de acceso y/o la escasez de agua limpia están causando efectos negativos a la salud.  La mortalidad infantil es mayor entre las familias que carecen del servicio.  Así que la mejor manera de celebrar este derecho fue bebiendo un buen vaso de agua limpia y haciendo compromisos por la protección de este recurso. 


 Even though it is a human right, around 50% of the Salvadoran population does not have Access to clean water.  The rural population, especially woman, dedicate and important percentage of their time collecting water.  The lack of access and/or the scarceness of the clean water has many negative effects on health.  The infant mortality is high in the families that lack this service.  Due to this, the best way to celebrate this right was drinking a good class of clean water and making commitment to protect this resource.

We remember:


Friday, April 5, 2013

Learning from El Salvador’s Ongoing Struggle for Peace, Dignity and Inclusion

by Marilyn Langlois

Locking eyes with one of the people before me and reaching deep into my heart, I took my turn and aid, “Marilyn Langlois, California, mediadora, Perdón.” All 25 of us from throughout the United States on our recent School of the Americas Watch delegation to El Salvador made a similar statement on three occasions to our hosts, giving our name, state of residence, profession, and apologizing for not doing more to stop our government from the key role it played in the atrocities committed against Salvadoran peasants and advocates for the poor during the 1980-1992 war.  

We spoke with community organizations that included survivors of the war, elected deputies on the Human Rights Commission of the country’s Legislative Assembly (equivalent to a Congressional committee), and to the general public via a press conference held at the Monument to Memory and Truth, a huge stone wall in a public park etched with tens of thousands of names of people who were murdered and disappeared. 
Monument to Memory and Truth,
Parque Cuscatlán, San Salvador

Survivor tells of family members lost in the war.

We were well received by a variety of community members and officials, most of whom who share our vision of society free of militarization and where the root causes of violence like economic disparities and social exclusion can be fully addressed. The SOAWatch movement advocates closing the infamous School of the Americas/WHINSEC at Fort Benning, Georgia, which has a sordid history of training Latin American soldiers in killing, torture and other means of repressing the poor. We met with members of El Salvador’s military high command, who have become more open to civilian oversight in recent years, but remain under US tutelage. When we asked the Subchief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to refrain from sending Soldiers to SOA/WHINSEC, as well as withdrawing Salvadoran personnel from the United Nations military occupation of Haiti, he listened politely and said he’d get back to us.

Vice President Salvador Sánchez Cerén voiced strong support for both of our requests, noting that dismantling the SOA/WHINSEC will be a step forward to peace, and that the UN has lost prestige by participating in missions such as the one in Haiti. Vice President Sánchez further stated that the US continues to impose its vision of national security (prioritizing military readiness over uplifting the poor) on El Salvador, while he and his party (FMLN) aspire to achieve greater independence and sovereignty. Although the massive repression and killing by El Salvador’s US supported army ended with the 1992 Peace Accords, the war on the poor waged by economic elites continues in this country as elsewhere.

Vice-President Salvador Sánchez Cerén (3rd from right),
the FMLN candidate for President in 2014, with members of our delegation

During our visit I found many common struggles shared by Salvadorans and the residents of my home town, Richmond, California (with a diverse community that includes many Salvadoran immigrants), in the areas of violence prevention, environmental justice and public access to airwaves. 

We met with Padre Antonio in the Mejicanos area of San Salvador, where gang activity is rampant. His holistic approach to violence prevention has many parallels to our work here in Richmond, calling for more education, housing, employment, job training and less emphasis on incarceration and police repression. A truce negotiated between the two main gangs a year ago has resulted in a dramatic decline in murders, but economic and social problems still need to be addressed. As Padre Antonio stated, “The truce is not the solution, but without the truce, there is no solution.” 

We met with anti-mining activists of the organization MUFRAS-32 in San Isidro, Cabañas province, who are advocating to protect their rivers from certain severe contamination if Canadian mining corporation Pacific Rim is allowed to begin operations there. So far a moratorium on mining is in place, but Pacific Rim is suing El Salvador for loss of potential future profits (!) based on CAFTA . The financial stakes for big corporations in this struggle are high. In 2009 Marcelo Rivera, a leader in the anti-mining movement, was murdered, and when a lawsuit was filed to hold the perpetrators accountable, two witnesses were killed. Similar to Richmond’s growing number of murals in outdoor spaces showing a vision for our city free of the toxic pollution from the Chevron oil refinery, MUFRAS-32 activists use art and public murals as part of their campaign to educate the community.

“Mining Contaminates my Nation.”
Activist Hector Berrios, mural in San Isidro with vision for a healthy future

We met with staff of the community radio station Radio Victoria in Victoria, Cabañas province. Even though the 1992 Peace Accords assured the right to free speech and access to air waves, they faced huge obstacles before managing to acquire one frequency (92.1) that is shared among ten local community radio stations in the northern region of El Salvador, with programming coming local residents sharing information that is unavailable in the corporate media. Radio Victoria is near the Honduras border and has provided much coverage during and after the 2009 coup and on-going repression in Honduras. It emphasizes youth leadership development and trains young people to be journalists and work in the station. Radio Victoria has faced threats and harassment, reminiscent of attempts to sabotage community radio stations here in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The words of Monseñor Oscar Romero, who was murdered by US trained snipers during a church on March 24, 1980, still ring true today, offering us an ongoing challenge to restructure our society so that everyone can live with dignity:
“Si queremos de veas un cese eficaz de la violencia, hay que quitar la violenzia que está en la base de todas violencias: la violencia structural, la injusticia social, el no participar los ciudadanos en la gestion publica del país, la repression…”

“If we really want an effective end to violence, we must remove the violence that lies at the root of all violence: structural violence, social injustice, exclusion of citizens from the management of the country, repression…”
--Sept. 23, 1979

April 3, 2013

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

SOA WATCH Delegation to El Salvador, March 2013

by Lisa Sullivan

If ever there were a more compelling tale to  provoke a stampede to shut the doors of the School of the Americas, it would be the tale of tiny El Salvador. As 25 of us discovered on a recent SOA Watch delegation there, even former  supporters admit: the time has come.

Perdon: Asking for forgiveness at the memorial wall
The legacy of that school is etched in blood on the hearts and minds of Salvadorans, and on the walls, parks and pastures of their cities and towns. A wall in central San Salvador with 35,000 names engraved, most of them murdered by orders by  SOA graduates.  A makeshift cross under the shade of a conacaste tree where four bodies of US churchwomen were dumped. A garden where rose bushes grow on the spots where six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter were murdered by the SOA- formed Atlacatl Battalion.  A closet with the possessions left behind by Monseñor Romero, assassinated on orders of an SOA graduate. There are no shoes: Romero was buried in the only pair he owned.

That is the image that clings to me the most. El Salvador was a nation of one pair of shoes.  After  dozens of people attending Romero's funeral were gunned down, the massive crowd scrambled for safety. The next day,  many  returned cautiously: they were looking for their one lost pair of shoes.

But, these one-pair-of -shoes-per-person were our sworn enemies. From the mid 1980's to early 1990's, we sent a million dollars a day to the Salvadoran military to wipe them out. We printed handbooks to show just how to torture them. We taught their fellow citizens how to shoot down those dared to raise their voices   The blood of tiny El Salvador is on all of our hands.

Father Roy Bourgeois at the
Human Right Committee Meeting 
This is why we began our delegation's first meeting, in El Salvador's Congress, with just one phrase: forgive us.  As we filed into a  hearing room with the Justice and Human Rights Commission, most of the congress members were busy on cell phones or laptops.  Each of us stood to say our names, our professions, our town and then, one word:  perdon. By the time the 9th or 10th person stood, there was utter silence.  As we reached the last person, there were tears. Hearts broke open, real dialogue ensued, and at the end of the session, even those representing the rightwing parties agreed that this school must close.  

SOAW group with Tony Saca
Thanks to the hard work of the Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad (CIS) and its director Leslie Shuld, who did a stellar job of setting up the delegation, all three candidates slated to run for president next February agreed to meet with us at length. GANA candidate, ex President Tony Saca charmingly side-skirted the issue via his US-embassy translator. ARENA's vice candidate went to great lengths to try to explain how his party is changing, without offering a position on the SOA. What else could he say, given that ARENA's found Roberto D'Abuisson ordered the murder of Romero. 

Talking the with ARENA vice-presidential candidate
Only Salvador Sanchez Ceren, candidate for the FMLN and current vice president was unhesitant and uncompromising in his support: closing the SOA is a just and moral cause. I share this vision with you.... as long as this school exists, hate and war .. will be the result. El Salvador must become sovereign and independent and make its own decisions.   We can only hope that he will win and be firm in his commitment to sovereignty. His current boss, President Mauricio Funes allowed the US embassy to replace his entire FMLN Security ministry with handpicked SOA graduates.
FMLN Presidential Candidate supports the closing of the School of the Americas
El Salvador is a place where the Pentagon's two rote arguments for keeping the SOA open just don't hold water. Those arguments are: 1. It's a new place with a new name, and 2. All those messy problems were in the past.The  publicity department of WHINSEC seems to be doing a poor job, as even the High Command of the Salvadoran Armed Forces used  the term Escuela de las Americas (Spanish for School of the Americas) to refer to the current school. During our hour long meeting, only one of the 12 commanders at our meeting table used the term WHINSEC. Some even visibly flinched when we showed them the list of graduates with each name methodically blacked out with magic marker by the US government. They had been told it was a source of pride to be an SOA graduate.

Above all, the Pentagon insists that the problems of the SOA lie in the past. El Salvador, however, the past is the present.  In a country where  tens of thousands of children were orphaned, where hundreds of thousands lost family members, where millions fled north, where millions more left without a mom or a dad, the present is a predictable outcome of such a past.

It is therefore not too surprising that more people have lost their lives at the hands of gang members and criminals in the decades following the war. When Lady Liberty refused to open her arms to those fleeing the US-funded civil war, survival was found in the only space providing welcome in US teeming cities: gangs.  This made-in-the-USA problem became El Salvador's own, as daily planeloads  of jailed gang members were shipped back to El Salvador, some not speaking even a word of Spanish. Should it be a surprise that the streets of San Salvador became such tough places? Valiant efforts by many, such as Fr. Antonio Rodriguez of the Mejicanos parish, have made significant inroads of incorporating this lost generation into the fabric of society. A truce between the two major gangs has halved the murder rate, but all agree that much needs to be done.

SOAW delegation meets with Father Antonio Rodriguez

And should it be a surprise that the land itself of El Salvador was left open for pillage? When the blood of its youth was left spilling in the streets and the muscle of its work forces packed north to do the jobs no one else there wanted, all was left was the tiny land of El Salvador itself. Under the empty cornfields and deserted pastures the eyes of hawks saw gold. No matter that the water itself must be poisoned to eke it out, life itself is dispensable in El Salvador. Or, so thought the mining corporations before they faced opposition from community leaders such as Marcelo Rivera Moreno, who was kidnapped, tortured and murdered in 2009. Although the Salvadoran government currently has a moratorium on mining contracts, the Canadian Pacific Rim company has invoked a provision of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and is seeking $200 million in damages.

SOAW delegation participates in the Procession to commemorate Monseñor Romero
On our last day in El Salvador I was reminded how this fragile land continues to push open our hearts.  At the sign of peace in the anniversary mass for Monsenor Romero, Salvadorans hugged us with sincerity. The final blessing from the altar was an invocation that we should all be Romero. Yo soy Romero! shouted the crowd. Then the final words solidaridad con  Honduras! They suffer today what we did yesterday.
How unique I thought, how totally like El Salvador. To embrace strangers whose nation had caused them untold suffering, to assume forthright the task of building justice, to step beyond one's pain to help one who suffers even more. El Salvador breaks you open and spins you around, but then you land on your feet and know which direction you are heading.  

The SOA Watch Delegation visits Romero Community 

 To learn more about the movement to close the School of the Americas check out the SOA WATCH website.