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."