Monday, September 28, 2009

This past Saturday, in the small community of Las Araditas in El Paisnal, El Salvador, the rural communities from the municipalities of El Paisnal, Aguilares, San Pablo Tacachico and Suchitoto, came together to commemorate their martyrs. On September 29th, 1979, thirty years ago, community leaders Felix Garcia, Patricia “Ticha” Puertas, Apolinario “Polin” Serrano and Jose Lopez were killed by the armed forces when their car was pulled over on the road to Santa Ana. Feliz, Ticha and Polin were all leaders of the the Christian Federation for Salvadoran Peasants-Union of Peasant Workers. Inspired by the theology of liberation and the words of priests such as Rutilio Grande, these illiterate peasants organized themselves to fight for their rights. Their deaths were mourned by all those who knew and loved them, including Monseñor Romero who was still alive at the time of their deaths.

Now, thirty years later, one can see the impact that these martyrs had on the population that lives below the Guazapa hill. SHARE counterpart, UCRES: United Communities of Northern San Salvador and La Libertad, planned the event with the support of the mayor of El Paisnal and pickup trucks full of people from over twenty communities, from as far as Chalatenango showed up to participate in the commemoration event. UCRES President Alex along with community leader Guadalupe and Salvadoran Supreme Court Magistrate, Mirna Perla, led the people in singing the “Hymn of Unity” with its cry of “the people united, will never be defeated.” After all participating communities were welcomed, and the local parish priest talked a little about the history of the organized communities in the region, the people participated in a a mass celebrated by the two local Catholic priest and three Lutheran ministers. The mass was followed by lunch and live music. One of the most inspiring part of the entire commemoration was the number of youth in attendance. Youth who were not even born at the time that these community leaders were killed, but have been told the stories over and over by their family members. In a country where events from the war are often glossed over or ignored by mainstream culture, the collective memory of the organized communities steps up to keep the spirit of their martyrs. So much so that the lives of these four peasants are still being celebrated by hundreds of people, thirty years after their deaths.

Laura Hershberger, SHARE Grassroots Solidarity Coordinator

Guazapa martyr Apolinario Serrano “Polin” as remembered in the biography of Oscar Romero “Memories in Mosaic”

HE ARRIVED ONE DAY in a big rush, making great sweeps with his visored cap and flapping his hands as was his habit. "Ay, my head's so full already, nothing more will fit in it!!"
He understood that a head was like a warehouse to store ideas in. And he had already learned so many new things that even that prodigious memory of his wasn't enough to remember everything.

"I need to learn to read and write. To be able to tore more!" For three years there had been resistance to Chamba and Cauche teaching him literacy. But now that it was decided, he was there within three days. No one read as nimbly as he did.

Polín. Apolinario Serrano. From El Líbano canton, at the foot of the Guazapa hill. A cane cutter since he was a kid, with fingers deformed from so many harvests and so much machete. A nomadic hog raiser from over near Suchitoto with his network of connections that only he knew about. One of the hundreds of Delegates of the Word born with the experience of the Aguilares parish. And, without doubt, the most brilliant of them all.

And soon thereafter, the most inspired of El Salvador's peasant leaders. What a special kind of leader Polín was! He could put any audience in the palm of his hand. He laced his speeches with proverbs, with jokes, with stories from the Bible. And more than anything, with reality.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Salvadorans Seek a Voice To Match Their Numbers

This article was published in the Washington Post yesterday.  SHARE Director Jose Artiga is quoted.

Salvadorans Seek a Voice To Match Their Numbers

Summit Aims to Raise Political Visibility

By N.C. AizenmanWashington Post Staff Writer

 September 24, 2009

For nearly three decades Salvadoran immigrants have been among the nation's

 most organized newcomers, founding clubs to raise money for schools back home, establishing medical clinics for new arrivals and battling in Congress and courts to gain legal status for tens of thousands of political dissidents who fled persecution by the U.S.-backed government during El Salvador's civil war in the 1980s.

Yet, even as Salvadoran immigrants and Americans of Salvadoran descent have grown to number 1.6 million -- essentially tying them with Cubans as the nation's third largest Latino group -- they have mostly shied from direct participation in U.S. politics.

About 150 of the community's most prominent leaders from across the country gathered in Washington to change that Wednesday.

"This conference is about stepping it up to another level of visibility, performance and power," said Maryland Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-Montgomery), a co-organizer of the First Salvadoran American Leadership Summit.

"When we first came to the United States, it was just about survival, so that's what our organizations focused on," Salvadoran-born Gutierrez said. "Now we have a community that has evolved, but I think we're kind of stuck in that service model. . . . We have to either create new political institutions, or we have to expand those current organizations so they also play a political role."

Conference participants plan to lobby more than 80 members of Congress on Thursday in support of efforts to offer illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. Wednesday's meeting included strategy sessions on how to influence the immigration debate and ensuring that Salvadoran Americans are fully counted in the 2010 Census.

But participants stressed that the larger purpose was simply to overcome their geographic dispersal, personality differences and longstanding ideological divisions stemming from El Salvador's civil war to convene as a group for the first time.

"We're not here to look for unity, because unity is a romantic dream that is hard to reach," said Salvador Sanabria of Salvadorans in the World, one of the four largest organizations. "We're here to come to this round table without hierarchy to find a consensus about the actions we can take to help our community."

Among the clearest points of agreement was that Salvadoran Americans should insist that any legalization plan adopted by Congress allow about 200,000 Salvadoran illegal immigrants who were granted temporary legal status in the wake of a 2001 earthquake to be the first in line to become permanent legal residents.

Indeed, several participants pointed to the unusual interests of those Salvadorans as an example of why they need to organize as a separate, national Salvadoran American movement.

"We have a separate identity even as we're part of the larger Latino community," said Jose Artiga of the SHARE foundation, which promotes development in El Salvador.

For all the event's optimism, there are some daunting obstacles to transforming the numerical strength of Salvadoran Americans into political clout. According to an analysis of Census data by the Pew Hispanic Center, 47 percent of U.S. residents of Salvadoran descent are not citizens. And 26 percent more are citizens but are still children, leaving only 27 percent who are currently eligible to vote. And it was perhaps telling that much of the discussion at the conference was in Spanish.

Still, many took heart in the political success of Salvadoran Americans in the Washington region. While far more Salvadorans live in California, their influence there is often overshadowed by that state's much larger Mexican American population.

By contrast, its 134,000 Salvadoran immigrants comprise the Washington region's largest foreign-born group. The figure is greater if their U.S.-born children are included.

That might explain why the nation's four highest Salvadoran American elected officials are from Washington. In addition to Gutierrez, they are Arlington County Board Chairman J. Walter Tejada (D), the summit's other co-organizer; Maryland Del. Victor R. Ramirez (D-Prince George's); and Prince George's County Council member William A. Campos (D-Hyattsville), who were also in attendance.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Buen Pastor Artisans

This was an interview done with artisans from the Buen Pastor community outside of Aguilares in Northern San Salvador. Buen Pastor is a sistering community of Good Shepherd in Kansas and works with SHARE's counterpart UCRES.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Delegate Reflection

This reflection was written by Laura Davison, a freshman in Journalism at Missouri University. Laura participated in a SHARE delegation this past June with her church Good Shepherd which is located in Kansas City, Kansas.

Here I am, Lord.

Here we are: Ten of us, four adults and six students, riding a bus to El Buen Pastor, a community of about 100 people in central El Salvador. As we sat there, slightly perspiring partly from apprehension and partly from the heat radiating off the sticky vinyl seat, the nervousness, excitement and French toast from breakfast mixed in our stomachs. We weren’t sure what to expect, do and say in a country in which most of us had spent less than 24 hours and where we spoke very little of the language. And how were we supposed to react when we arrived in El Buen Pastor, a place we had heard about for years but all of us, save one, had never experienced? What were we to say? What were we to offer? We felt powerless. Sure, we had been preparing since January for our stay in El Salvador. But as we passed pickup trucks with workers crammed into the bed of the truck on the way to find work for the day, mothers and children selling fruit in run down shacks on the side of the road and dirty dogs roaming the street, the reality of a country suffering from high unemployment, poverty and gang violence set in. We really were out of our element.

But before any of us could process anything we are seeing, the bus slows and pulls off the road where a crowd of people waits. Children, mothers with babies and an old man waving a red balloon stood at the gate of the community waiting to greet us. We had arrived at El Buen Pastor.

Is it I, Lord?

It’s easier to forget that El Salvador exists, especially in times when our own country is engaged in multiple armed struggles and the state of the economy is uncertain. As we were travelling to El Salvador, we all had second thoughts about coming. It would be easier to have never seen the reality that 7 million Salvadorans live every day.

There is nothing subtle about the need in El Salvador. And even though El Buen Pastor has many advantages that other rural communities do not because of the twinning with Good Shepherd, they are not exempt from this need. Too many men are unable to find enough work. Women, homosexuals and those who live in poverty continue to struggle for human rights. Gangs make neighborhoods unsafe at night. Too few students complete high school, and even fewer attend college. Every business, home and store protected with metal gates and razor wire is a blatant reminder of the desperation in El Salvador.

But the unsettling feelings, though uncomfortable, were necessary. They forced us to reevaluate what is important. And we were forced to look at ourselves and see what we wanted to change about how we treat other people.

The people of El Buen Pastor were rich is so many ways that we are poor. We have never been treated more hospitably. They were willing to give us things they didn’t even have for themselves. When there wasn’t an open pew in mass, some community members left mass and walked several blocks to get chairs so we could sit down. When the water wasn’t running for the shower and toilet in the guesthouse, they immediately began to fix the problem so we could be comfortable. In their homes, they don’t have showers and toilets. They had built the bathroom in the guesthouse so delegations could be more comfortable. It was the little things they did that showed us that we were not visitors whom they had never met before, but rather they considered us family.

I have heard you calling in the night.

In addition to visiting El Buen Pastor, we visited another community near San Salvador called Las Nubes, meaning “The Clouds” in Spanish. This community of 14 houses is nestled on the side of a dormant volcano where low-lying clouds occasionally hang. This mountain is property of a television station, and unbeknownst to the company, these families have lived there for nearly fifteen years. The community at the base of the volcano, San Ramon, had even forgotten people were living here. The people live in shacks of corrugated tin that would look pitiful even in comparison to the modest homes in El Buen Pastor. By our standards, these structures would be unfit for animals. The people of Las Nubes had no electricity, and until recently, no source of water in the village. Last year, the people didn’t even have enough food to feed themselves, so they went down the volcano to ask San Ramon for help. San Ramon is also a poor community. Even so, they have helped feed the people of Las Nubes and build a pipeline to carry water up to volcano once every eight days. This was the poor giving to the desolate.

It’s impossible to see things like this and not be compelled to act.

I will go, Lord, if you lead me.

As we left El Buen Pastor and El Salvador, we left with new friends, new perspectives, but most importantly we no longer felt powerless.

While El Buen Pastor needs financial support that is not the only way to assist them. We learned that our time, our support and encouragement are also much-needed gifts. Solidarity is the most important resource we can give them

The people of El Buen Pastor taught us important lessons of humility, hospitality and hope. And, we, just by listening to their stories, worries and dreams, we were able to validate their lives.

I will hold your people in my heart.

Friday, September 4, 2009


Monseñor Romero Coalition

Press Release

RomeroThe Monseñor Romero Coalition, of which the SHARE Foundation is a member, wishes to inform the Salvadoran civil society and the international community of the launching of a citizens campaign entitled "MONSEÑOR ROMERO: TRUTH, JUSTICE AND HOPE."

In the context of the thirtieth anniversary of the martyrdom of Monseñor Romero in March of 2010, this campaign wishes to enhance the figure of Monseñor Romero as a world symbol for commitment to the poor, through the struggle for truth and justice that reclaims human rights for the oppressed and victims of violence.

The focus of the campaign will be to demand the completion of the recommendation given in 2000 by the Interamerican Commission for Human Rights (CIDH) in regards to the case of Monseñor Romero. These recommendations have yet to be fulfilled by the government of El Salvador.

The opening activities will commence on August 15, 2009, in Ciudad Barrios located in the department of San Miguel, the birthplace of Monseñor Romero. There will be a mass, a public forum and a procession starting at 10:00 a.m., all of which will be coordinated with the Parish of Ciudad Barrios.

The campaign will consist of public activities, press conferences, community meetings and other activities focused on the prophetic message of Monseñor Romero. It will also consist of the public demand that the state authorities fulfill the recommendation given by the CIDH. All activities will occur starting with the launching of this campaign and culminating in the commemoration event on March 24, 2010.

The Monseñor Romero Coalition will publicize all activities that occur as well as an action taken by state authorities in regards to the requirements presented to them.

The recommendations of the CIDH for the Romero case that have by unfulfilled by the Salvadoran state, in regards to those declared responsible for the assassination are the following:
  • Carry out a complete judicial investigation that is effective, impartial and with few obstacles, with the means of identifying, bringing to court and penalizing all the intellectual and material authors for the crime established in the above stated report without damaging the decreed amnesty;
  • Compensate for the consequences of these violations, including the payment of just reparation;
  • Adapt internal legislation to the American Convention without affecting the General Amnesty Law.
Monseñor Romero is a light of truth, justice and hope for the entire world, but especially for his loved people of El Salvador.

San Salvador , August 13, 2009

French filmmaker Poveda killed in El Salvador

SAN SALVADOR, Sept 2 (Reuters) - Suspected Salvadorean gang members killed French filmmaker Christian Poveda, whose 2008 film "La Vida Loca" crudely depicts the hopeless lives of members of the infamous Mara 18 street gang, local police said on Wednesday.

Poveda, 53, was shot on a road 10 miles (16 km) north of the capital of San Salvador, as he drove back from filming in La Campanera, a poor, overcrowded suburb and a Mara 18 stronghold.

President Mauricio Funes said in a statement on Wednesday night that he was "shocked" by Poveda's murder and ordered a thorough investigation.

"La Vida Loca" (The Crazy Life) closely followed the lives of several heavily tattooed gang members, some of whom were jailed or killed during the shooting of the film.

Poveda first came to El Salvador in the early 1980s to cover the civil war that ravaged the poor Central American for over a decade. He returned after the armed conflict was over to cover street gangs.

The Mara 18 and rival Mara Salvatrucha gangs make up a huge criminal network that runs from Los Angeles, where a diaspora of Salvadoreans lives, down through chunks of Central America.

Authorities estimate there could be as many as 30,000 so-called mareros, who sell drugs, rob illegal migrants or extort businesses in the tiny country of just 5.7 million people.