Friday, January 22, 2010

Remembering El Salvador for Martin Luther King Day, Part 1

This past summer, students from Eastern Michigan University travelled to El Salvador on a delegation with SHARE. On Monday, Martin Luther King Day, they gave presentations on their trip to El Salvador in connecting the experience to the human rights that Dr. King advocated for. This is the first part of the talk.

Introduction, presented by Katie

Universal social justice is the right of everyone in society to have a fair share, based on the principle that all people are created equal. Unfortunately, this is a concept that is often times forgotten. We get caught up in school, with work, with our families. It's easy to forget sometimes that even though so much progress has been made, there is an entire world out there fighting for their right to justice and equality. As Martin Luther King said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable...Every step towards the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.

Today, we are here to share our experiences in El Salvador with you. We spent two weeks meeting with human right activists, government officials and community leaders. We abandoned the comforts of our normal lives to live in the homes of the rural Salvadorans who struggle with social injustice every day. We'll begin our discussion with an eye opening look into health care in the third world. We'll also talk about what it's like to be young in El Salvador, what it's like to be a woman in a culture entrenched in sexism and we'll end our discussion talking about transnational corporations and the deadly battle over mining rights that is going on as we speak. In doing so, we hope to bring to light the social inequalities of El Salvador and show you how you can get involved with their struggle.

At the end we will answer any questions you may have and Dr. Stahler-Sholk and Dr. Judith Kullberg will talk about how you can get involved in the program this summer.

Without going on any further, let's begin with Kendra and her discussion of health care in El Salvador.

Health Care, presented by Kendra:

“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it”

This quote from Martin Luther King Jr. explains why I am speaking to you today. During my trip to El Salvador I say many problems in the medical system there that desperately need attention. The right to adequate medical care is not a new theme; in 1948 the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of human rights. This recognized what rights all persons should have regardless of nationality.

Article 25 states: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.” El Salvador became a member of the UN in 1968 and now has not, along with many other countries, brought these universal human rights to fruition.

Of the many locations we visited I found the health care sectors the most disturbing and hopeful. We met with the doctor's union of El Salvador, Sindicato de Medicos Trabajadores - SIMETRISSS. We spoke to Dr. Rene Soto Perez and Dra. Evelyn De Calderon, they told us of the White March when the medical workers took to the streets to protest the privatization of the health care system; because many of the people of E.S. cannot afford medical care on their own. After speaking with Dr. Soto he conveyed his hopes that we would use our knowledge to help bring change to the world and his country.

We also visited the Private Hospital Diagnostico where Dra. Daniela took us on a tour. Most were private rooms and looked much like our hospitals in the U.S. Patients who wished treatment needed to have the money to pay for services. If the patients were not able to pay they would be stabilized then sent to the public hospital.

Next we visited the public hospital Rosales with Dr. Melendez, this hospital was built in the 1900's. The first rooms we visited were large dormitory style with beds lining both sides of the room. Renal patients were being dialyzed by draining their blood into buckets then taken to be cleaned, and then returned to the patient's body. There were also insufficient numbers of ventilators for the number of patients needing them. Those without machines had an attendant pumping a manual ventilator to keep them breathing.

The intensive care unit had only 16 beds and so many patients die before an opening can be found for them. This hospital is one of the major public hospitals in the country, so many people travel great distances to receive treatment. They then may have to wait days before they are admitted. Dr. Melendez hoped by our visiting we might help bring attention to the lack of funding that the public hospitals receive. This hospital has a very nice section that German funding helped to build but sits empty due to a lack of funds to staff it.

I would like to share one more of Dr. King's quotes with you:

“The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: 'If I stop to help this man what will happen to me?' But… the Good Samaritan reversed the question: 'If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?'”

If we do not learn to care for the rights of people who are without rights, we are all diminished. And we all deserve the right to health, be it here in the U.S. or in El Salvador.

Youth Issues, presented by Jeff:

One the most marginalized groups of people in El Salvador are the youth. A quote about this I heard so frequently that I wrote it down verbatim was “To be young in El Salvador is a crime.” That's a pretty grave statement was you consider that a third of the population is between 15 and 24. (27% in US)

The reason for this discrimination is the prevalence of gang violence in Salvador. It means a young man can be pulled off the street at any time and scrutinized by the police. In the eyes of the police, any young person is a possible gang member. And in fairness, in a country where education is underfunded and unemployment rates are considerable, the gangs have a powerful draw.

The State Department will you tell that since schooling through high school is free, 92% of the population has at least a 9th grade education. This might be close to true in some urban areas but it is truer to put the education level at sixth grade since local communities will come together to build elementary schools but can rarely come up with the funds to build a high school. University education is also underfunded, which may be deliberate since university students are on the forefront of fighting for youth rights, among other important human rights issues. Student organizations at the universities play a huge role in developing interest and motivating young Salvadorans to participate in political and social issues. In fact, the student organizations we met with were very much stunned by our own low level of involvement in United States issues. It was barely conceivable for them that voter registration drives were about the extent of our participation. To them, apathy is the enemy.

We can definitely take a lesson from them and try to be more actively involved in domestic and global issues. For us here in the States, supporting human rights in El Salvador happens in a couple ways. Some USAID projects have had positive influences in difficult areas of the country. These projects seem to be the most successful at the local level. As such, we can't underestimate the power of letter writing campaigns. Most of the people who vote on these projects never know how efficient or inefficient they are.

Perhaps more difficult is convincing our politicians to respect the social and cultural rights of the people of El Salvador. This means not always viewing the country through a corporate lens. Fostering a relationship of respect with today's youth in El Salvador could earn us a strong regional and global ally and begin to reverse a multitude of errors made in Latin America.

1) Eastern Michigan Students in El Salvador
2) "Everyone to fight for the right to water and health care"
3) Youth in urban San Salvador

Remembering El Salvador for Martin Luther King Day, Part 2

This past summer, students from Eastern Michigan University travelled to El Salvador on a delegation with SHARE. On Monday, Martin Luther King Day, they gave presentations on their trip to El Salvador in connecting the experience to the human rights that Dr. King advocated for. This is the second part of the talk.

Women's Issues, presented by Jillian:

El Salvador has always been a sexist society. Woman were finally given the right to vote in 1950 but even today it is very difficult for women to attain high positions in society, especially in politics and government; only until the last election was a woman allowed to run for Vice President. The issues of sexism in El Salvador were escalated during the war and still remain quite high today. Women are subjected to beatings, rape, young pregnancy, and a lack of support from the government and other institutions.

It is very common for the work of a woman in El Salvador to be overlooked or claimed to be done by men. For example, in many local communities it is the women who work to get electricity, running water, and schools but when those goals are achieved men are given the recognition rather than the women. Women are responsible for maintaining the home and taking care of the children in El Salvador, on top of this many women work long hours in the factories. Many men in El Salvador do not appreciate or understand women or the amount of work they do in the home and in the community. It is common for women to be beaten by their husbands to the point of needing medical attention, because of this policies have been created that make it the doctors responsibility to report such cases, however, with the situation of the health care system it is difficult for proper attention to be given to situations of battery.

Rape is also common in El Salvador, unfortunately, there is not enough trust in public institutions for these crimes to be reported. There has been a history of the police and the institute for the development of women to be negligent and slow to respond. Many women who report their rapes have felt reviolated by the police either physically or mentally. When a women reports that she has been raped it is common that they have to retell what happened, in detail, up to 15x to complete strangers; this has added to the mistrust of the institutions. It is not uncommon for young children to be raped by family members, 40% of women who give birth in El Salvador are between the ages of 12 and 16 years old as a result of rape or a lack of sex education. Due to strict abortion laws in El Salvador a woman is unable to have an abortion for any reason what-so-ever; even in the case of a 12 year old girl being raped.

After hearing about all these terrible things that women experience at home, one may ask why the women don't leave. In El Salvador, women are very dependent financially on their husbands. Work options for women are limited, especially once they get older. In order for a woman to get a job at a bank in El Salvador she must be at least 1.65 meters tall, the average height in El Salvador is 1.55 meters, she must also be thin, attractive, and younger than 25 years old. Women who are in the 30s and on have a very difficult time finding work and will end up working as a street vendor or in the sweatshops. In the sweatshops women are forced to work under terrible conditions; generally they have 12 hour days, many without food or water breaks, and it would not be uncommon for a woman to be denied a bathroom break. Sweat shops pay a minimum of $176 dollars a month; the factories may be moved to the country side so they can pay less.

There are women's groups in El Salvador that are working very hard to help educate women on their rights and to support them in their endeavors. International assistance allow these groups to have mobile units to move around the country so that women who are unable to come to the main city of San Salvador can get help too. Examples of what women's organizations do are: educate women on violence, health, sex, human rights, and they also provide support to local development projects. Some groups will work directly with women who are victims through utilizing teams of lawyers, psychologists, and community advocates. One group has begun holding masculinity workshops to teach men healthy masculine values, however. these workshops generally have a small turn out.

Currently the Italian government is funding media ads to promote equality to help end sexism in El Salvador. This was done after there was a rise in violence against women. There is a term “femicide” in El Salvador because of the rates of women being killed; also, if a husband kills his wife it is written off as a crime of passion and is not punished. There has also been a recent rise in violence against the transgender and homosexual community; the Roman Catholic Church and fundamental organizations in El Salvador have started a campaign of intense homophobia. Hopefully, the international community will be able to continue their aid for organizations who are trying to change the mindsets of many Salvadorans who currently do not understand the true value of the Salvadoran woman.

Mining Issues, presented by Crystal

During our time in El Salvador it became clear that corporations do not value the lives, or the land of the people who live in poor regions around the world. This is due to the fact that in the logic scheme of capitalism human life and the environment have no monetary value. Sadly, the market is the only measure of worth, even to the human beings running these corporations. About a month before we left for El Salvador the brutally tortured body of Marcelo Rivera was found at the bottom of a dry well-- in the department of Cabanas in northern El Salvador. Marcelo Rivera was one of the leading anti-mining activists in Cabanas. He was targeted, tortured and murdered to send a message to all those who opposed the mining. Marcelo fought against Pacific Rim's plans to mine in the northern El Salvador because of the human and environmental costs. Pacific Rim's mining method pumps a mixture of water and cyanide into the ground to separate the gold from the other minerals. Not only does this poison the ground and the water, it kills livestock and people.

During our trip we traveled to Cabanas and visited the town where Marcelo lived and worked. We met with a handful of people who had recently received death threats, most of whom were affiliated with a public radio station primarily run by the local youth, called Radio Victoria. Radio Victoria provides residents in this poor, rural area with their own means of communication. One of the youth workers was an 18 year old journalist whose grandmother had been beaten a few days prior. Her attackers told her that they would be back to kill her grandson. He was forced into hiding and only returned to tell us his story. We also met with Miguel Rivera the brother and activist partner of Marcelo. As we walked around the town with them we were followed and watched by men that worked for the Mayor. The mayor is pro-mining and also a member of the ARENA party, the party of the death squads during the civil war. It is believed that in an attempt to keep this mayor in power Pacific Rim has given substantial amounts of money to his election campaign.

After witnessing the situation in Cabanas for ourselves we turned to the US Embassy in El Salvador to express what we had observed. We presented our point of view as to how U.S aid and foreign policy could be used to make a positive difference instead of contributing to the problems in El Salvador. We assumed that one of the largest embassies in the world would be making great efforts to support the Salvadorans' in their efforts to build peace and to protect the rights of the Salvadoran people, especially after the U.S. spent $6 billion dollars to support the repressive military that caused so much suffering in El Salvador during their 12-year civil war, that lasted from 1980-1992. Sadly it did not take long for us to realize that there are mechanisms in place that protect corporate interests over human rights and human life. Although this realization is deeply disturbing, there is a bright side. The U.S. embassy and the Salvadoran Government do have the capacity to do something and will if they receive pressure from us. The fact is that there are people dying for corporate interests. We as U.S. Citizens have a voice and I feel it is our responsibility to use it. It is easier than you think to get involved. We must fight against transnational corporations' unchecked power and hold them accountable for their actions. Help us and all Salvadorans in our fight for justice today by filling out this request for action.

1) Women in rural El Salvador
2) Marcelo Rivera

Monday, January 18, 2010

In Solidarity with the people of Haiti

SHARE encourages you to support the relief effort in Haiti after the disastrous earthquake last week.

Stand With Haiti

Funes asks for forgiveness

This past Saturday, January 16th, El Salvador celebrated the 18th anniversary of the signing of the peace accords that ended the Civil War. The Peace Accords were signed in 1992 in Mexico City and were negotiated by the Salvadoran government at that time, the FMLN and members of Salvadoran political parties. The Peace Accords, demobilized the guerrilla troups and created a new police and armed forces that included members of both the former guerrilla troups and the former National Guard.

On Saturday, President Funes gave a speech in honor of the signing of the peace accords in which he ask forgiveness for the government's role in the atrocities committed during the civil war. This is the first time that any Salvadoran President has done so. At the end of the ceremony, the President also signed an act that created a commission to find the missing children from the war. The ceremony was followed by a free public event at the National Fairgrounds that included music, dance and cultural acts.

Hurricane Relief from the World Food Program

This report was written by SHARE employee Carmelina Urquia, on the work that SHARE did with the World Food Program to request and administer food relief for families affected by Hurricane Ida.

The SHARE Foundation, together with the support of the World Lutheran Federation, was able to administer food donated by the World Food Program and The Secretary for Social Inclusion, for families affected by Hurricane Ida.

On January 7, in the CRIPDES Sur La Libertad offices, food packets were handed out to three of those communities affected by the heavy rains caused by IDA.

Those communities were: the community 13 de enero where sixty families where given food packets, Chilama, where twenty-three families were given food packets, and Estero Mar where forty-seven families were given food packets. In total, one-hundred and twenty families benefitted from the hand-outs.

These food packets were given to the communities as part of the emergency response effort, a second packet will later be given to the same families with the same quantities of food. The orginial packet of food given out contained the following:

Corn: 99.21 pounds

Rice: 33.69 pounds

Beans: 16.53 pounds

Oil: 2 liters

The delivery was done in a orderly and satisfactory fashion for the benefitting families. For the SHARE Foundation, it has been a great achievement to be able to support the families most affected and with the most needs. By doing this we hope to best fulfill our objective as an organization.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Vigil in Trinidad, Cabañas

This reflection was written by Tedde Simon, SHARE Grassroots Coordinator, about the vigil that took place in Trinidad, Cabañas, last Friday night.

On Friday, January 8th, the National Working Group Against Metalic Mining and communities affected by ongoing violence against anti-mining activists invited the Salvadoran people and the international community to a vigil in rememberance of Ramiro Rivera and Dora Alicia Santos. The vigil, denominated the Ecumenical Vigil for Justice and Dignity for the Victims and Population of Cantón Trinidad, Cabañas, took place in Trinidad, where both anti-mining activists were killed on the eve of the new year.

It is a long drive out to Trinidad, and I can't help but think that sometimes, it seems that things simply don't seem to change for the better here. The names and faces, the specific struggle people were involved that led to their death or torture, the specific sector of the rich and powerful responsible for represion, perhaps; but the overall structures of powerful repressing powerless, especially those powerless that organize to confront the structures of power that impoverish and opress, don't change. Political and economic violence and exclusion went on long before I came to know El Salvador; long, in fact, before I was born. And here I am, years after the signing the Peace Accords, driving down a horrible, dusty, bumpy road in the dark in what certainly feels like the middle of nowhere, on my way to honor and remember people who offered up their lives in defense of their rights and in defense of their communities, their earth, their dignity (in an assasination attempt in August of 2009, Ramiro was shot 8 times by a known Pacific Rim promoter; armed men with black masks surrounded Dora Alicia's home just days before her murder).

Somewhat ironically, as it certainly eased my driving burden, I was enraged to see that the road from Ilobasco, a major town in Cabañas, to Trinidad was under construction. Aside form a few rural communities, there is nothing out this far, tucked away in a remote corner of a mostly forgotten department. Nothing, that is, except Pacific Rim's profit margin.

Who is funding this road construction? None other than the United States, through the Millenium Challenge Corportation. The Northern Highway in all its glory, millions of dollars poured into road construction not where it is most needed, not where communities are asking for it, not investment in health or education or sustainable local development. A two-lane road, winding through the hills alongside a steep drop-off overlooking beautiful, pristine mountains brimming with vegetation, water, life ...and, as Salvadoran analyst Dagoberto Gutierez says, the curse of having gold in your soil. This highway is like a red carpet—laid out by the United States government—at the feet of a multinational corportation. A welcome mat—at the front door of someone else's home—for a guest uninvited to this rinconcito of El Salvador.

A red carpet, a welcome mat, now stained by the blood of anti-mining activists who dared stand up to this giant.

Much like many aspects of Salvadoran life and reality, the vigil has a startling dichotomous nature that challenges your sense of how to best honor the dead and almost throws you off balance—at once, the atmosphere is tragic, even hopeless, and life-giving. There are moments of solemnity, saddness, fear contrasted with moments of joy, friendship, living life to its fullest. Some 250 people participated throught the afternoon, evening and into the night in what was a standard vigil agenda: an ecumenical service presided over by two Catholic Priests, a German Lutheran Pastor, a Friar and a Baptist Minister; testimonies shared by community leaders, detailing the difficulties they face in organizing and motivating people to continue forward, with no financial renumeration and ever-increasing risk; activists, encouraging people to continue the struggle; representatives of NGOs expressing messages of solidarity and international support; cultural activities including local musicians, fire-jugglers, poets and theater pieces; and lots and lots of dancing and laughing and socializing and café with pan dulce.

Father Luis Quintanilla, vocal opponent of metallic mining who survived an assassination attempt in August when he was forced into an unknown SUV by masked men, reads a beautiful, moving reflection as part of the homiliy, connecting the life and legacy of Monseñor Romero with the anti-mining struggle and calling all present—and those not—including community members, members of civil society, government officials, members of the National Civilian Police, and the international community to participate in and support the anti-mining struggle at whatever cost:

...Those that believed that they could carry out their profitable businesses here did not take into account the resistance of the people of Trinidad, they thought that they only had to come, excavate, and line their pockets with gold; they though that the people were stupid, that with just a few dollaros they would conform; but they didn't take into account that Ramiro Rivera would confront them, they didn't expect that our brother Santos Rodriguez and his wife Dora Sorto would confront them. That is why, today, they...threaten the journalists of the Radio Victoria and carry out attempts against the lives of our brother and sister enviornmentalists. It is painful for these people that those in the East, in the West, in the North and in the South oppose them in resistance. We have come to sit down at the table of the Kingdom, the kingdom that is Justice, peace, love and truth...

The modern Pharisees continue to tell us not to get involved in trouble, leave things as they are, it's dangerous, don't promote disorder, and they accuse us of being agitators, of working people up. In reality, they are not interested in our security. They are simply concerned upon seeing that people are finally becoming aware, and they know that they is not convinient for their egotistical and miserable interests...As leaders of this people, as members of social organizations, of communities and churchers we cannot retreat, we cannot throw in the towl, we cannot end committing the injsutices that we ourselves denounce.

While Father Quintanilla speaks of coming together to sit at the table of the Kingdom of God, those of us still standing at one in the morning feel that, maybe, there is a better expression of justice, peace and love—grabbing each other by the hands and dancing, freely, to music truly Salvadoran in nature, played by Salvadoran youth from one of the organized communities fighting multinational mining corportations. In a way, it is an invitation to the international community: find, create, new, different forms of resistance against today's oppressors. And an invitation for us, to join our Salvadoran brothers and sisters as they dance and sing, march and resist.

"The call," Monseñor Romero once said, in a homily whose meaning was woven throughout the vigil, "is simply to understand each other, to dialogue; for justice, and for love."

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Update on Cabañas

Dear Friends of El Salvador,

We wrote to you on December 26 to inform you of the death of Ramiro Rivera, anti-mining activist and vice-president of the Cabañas Environmental Committee (CAC). Rivera was murdered alongside his neighbor Felicita Echeverría in fron of his thirteen year old daughter. This was the second attack on Ramiro Rivera, the first one committed/carried out in August of this year when he was shot eight times by hitman Oscar Menjiver. Ramiro was from the small community Canton Trinidad, where the level of gold found in the ground is higher than in most other parts of Cabañas.

Tragically, on the very day we sent the last email, another person fell victim to the violence in Canton Trinidad. Dora “Alicia” Recinos Sorto, eight months pregnant at the time, was shot and killed while returning from the river where she was washing her clothes. She was carrying her two year old son in her arms when she was shot. The child was shot in the foot, but survived the attack. Alicia, who was thirty-two years old and the mother of six children, was an active member of the Cabañas Environmental Committee alongside her husband Jose Santos Rodriguez. According to witnesses, armed men showed up at Alicia's home looking for José just a few days prior to her killing, and he had previously been attacked with a machete by Oscar Menjiver, a well-known promoter of Pacific Rim Mining corporation. Menjiver is currently in jail for his attempt on Ramiro Rivera's life in August.

As you can imagine, the people of Cabañas are living in fear, as this a horrible end to the very violent year of 2009 for the environmentalist struggle in Cabañas. The first victim of the anti-mining movement was environmental activist Marcelo Rivera, who was disappeared, tortured and murdered last June. Various other members of the anti-mining movement have fallen victim to threats as well, including Father Luis Quintanilla and the community radio “Radio Victoria,” whose staff has received a slew of threats by text message and email throughout the year. One of the threats, via email, after the killings of Marcelo and Ramiro, read: We're not messing around. We've shown that we have the logistical and financial capacity to get rid of who we want, it doesn't matter if you have a whole battalion of police watching your back like dogs, we'll shoot you when we want to, the deaths will continue and nothing is going to stop the revenge that has begun...”

Unfortunately, the local police and mayor's office as well as Canadian mining company Pacific Rim write these murders off as unrelated instances of common crime in El Salvador. In regards to the December murders, Pacific Rim posted this statement on their website: The same anti-mining groups that have wrongfully implicated PacRim in the murders have portrayed the incidents as the result of an allegedly hostile conflict related to the debate over mining in El Salvador. However, there is no evidence indicating these violent acts bear any relation whatsoever to the debate over mining in the country. PacRim encourages all parties affected by the recent violence in Trinidad to rely on the appropriate legal processes to determine the true facts of these cases.” The United States Embassy in El Salvador took a similar tone when they chastised the environmental movement in Cabañas for blaming the mining companies for the violence without concrete proof and placed blame on anti-mining activists in the zone for the escalating violence. However, the sub-director of the National Police Department, Augusto Cotto had a different tone in a statement made on ContraPunto, on online Salvadoran news source, in which he is quoted as saying: It's clear there is a link between the two homicides (of Ramiro and Alicia). The acts have to do with the differing opinions for and against mining exploitation in the zone. Both homicides show evidence of previously planning and were committed by hired assassins.”

SHARE, The National Working Group on Metallic Mining in El Salvador, and a number of other organizations, communities and individuals in the social movement are working to ensure the safety of the affected communities with a team of lawyers who are working to request protection from the Organization of American States (OAS). In the long-term, they will work on presenting a case in the Salvadoran Supreme Court to declare CAFTA unconstitutional under Salvadoran law, based on the Pacific Rim lawsuit. We will also work to mobilize Salvadorans to demand that the Attorney General properly investigates these murders. Now more than ever, the people of El Salvador are standing strong to say NO to the mining in El Salvador, as mining companies have shown that economic interests rule over concern for peoples lives.

For the people of El Salvador, international solidarity is incredibly important in this difficult time. Please stay informed, as we plan to send out more information over the next few weeks on ways you can speak out against the violence in Cabañas, based on the direction of organizations and communities in El Salvador. For immediate action, visit the CISPES (Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador) website at:

Thank you.

In Solidarity,

The SHARE Foundation

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A reflection on San Isidro

This piece was written by Mariah Hennen, a senior a Cretin-Durham Hall in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Mariah participated in a SHARE delegation this summer during which she and her classmates visited San Isidro, Cabañas. Mariah wrote this piece as part of her college entrance application upon hearing about the assassination of Ramiro Rivera, anti-mining activist, a few weeks ago.

The day was, like all the others on the trip, hot and humid. My back was stuck to the fake leather of the bus seats, my window propped open as wide as possible to allow any breeze to swirl around my body in an attempt to cool down. I was seated in the middle of the bus, surrounded by sixteen classmates, three teachers, two group leaders, the bus driver and Guadalupe. The bus was full of chatter and laughter, comforting sounds that seemed to complete the beauty of El Salvador. Even with the hot sun streaming in, El Salvador seemed to be the perfect paradise.

I had left the hostel in San Salvador earlier that morning, ready for a day full of new sights, sounds and ideas. I was traveling in El Salvador as part of a group from my high school. We were hopefully to return home with a better understanding of the social and political issues within El Salvador, to return home to MN recognizing that many of El Salvador’s political and social issues are closely tied to the U.S. For almost two weeks I traversed the country in hope of learning about El Salvador. But this was not why I had decided to complete this trip. I was searching for more than just this understanding. My reasons for attending were not as lofty, perhaps, as the stated purpose; I went because I wanted to change. I was tired of my life as it was, I wanted to see and know the world in a new way. Studying the politics of another country was just an added benefit.

August 7th and the bus was winding its way to San Isidro in the region of Cabanas, El Salvador. Halfway through the ride Guadalupe, a senior member of our tour organization SHARE, started to explain why the bus was headed to this tiny pueblo in rural El Salvador. She told of a struggle that had erupted between community leaders and a Canadian mining company after the mining methods utilized were found to be dangerous and detrimental to the health of the area. After speaking in Spanish, Guadalupe abruptly switched to telling her story in English, a security precaution she said. Recently, the struggle between Pacific Rim Mining and community organizers had turned deadly. Marcelo Rivera, a well-known and well-liked community organizer had been kidnapped, tortured and killed on June 18th, 2009 only little more than a month before I arrived. Today, I had been brought to be witnesses to the threats and danger the rest of Marcelo’s comrades found themselves in.

Seated in plastic chairs, the remaining members of San Isidro’s organizers told me of the frequent death threats they received, of the scare tactics they were subject to. They spoke without emotion until they mentioned Ramiro Rivera. That very morning he had been shot in the back eight times. He was in critical condition.

I was so mad and so helpless. As I walked the cobbled streets of San Isidro to the cemetery where Marcelo is buried, I struggled to understand what was happening here. I was filled with questions – what could I do? How could El Salvador, a country that on the ride here had seemed so serene, hold so much danger for its people? What is the worth of a mineral? Where is government protection for those who need it most?

About a week ago I received an email from El Salvador. Ramiro Rivera, the anti-mining activist who was shot the day I was in San Isidro, had been murdered. He was one of the most outspoken activists against mining in Cabanas. To receive this news brought back the anger I felt that morning in El Salvador. I had to act.

My common application essay was written. It was a solid piece of writing; one that I am sure would have been well accepted. But I realized that this story was what I needed to write about. I wrote this essay for Marcelo and Ramiro, for when I was so helpless and asked, what can I do?, there was only one answer that could be given. Spread the word of what happened, they told me. Marcelo and Ramiro Rivera gave up their lives to fight for their families, communities and the environment. They may have been silenced, but I will continue their fight for them, as I know others in San Isidro also continue to do despite the danger.

It is incredible how much one experience can change your life. The night of August 7th, after returning to the hostel, I wrote this in my journal, “Marcelo is kind of like a new Oscar Romero. However, for me, he is a much more real figure. I’ve been to his grave, seen his work and met his family. Marcelo died for what he believed in. I hope I have that courage.” I returned home soon after this, but I still have not forgotten Marcelo or Ramiro’s fight. I left for El Salvador yearning to be changed. I came back a drastically different person. On days when I’m overwhelmed about the world and my position in it, I remember those who continue to fight for what they know is right. I am renewed by the belief that one person can change the world and so I start to fight again.


1) Mariah and her fellow CDH students in El Mozote during their delegation

2) Painting of Marcelo Rivera in San Isidro Cabañas

3) Photo of Ramiro Rivera, courtesy of