Thursday, April 29, 2010

Press Release for the Marcelo Rivera Case

Thanks to our friends at CISPES for sharing this with us.


For Immediate Release

Wednesday April 28, 2010

Contact: Alexis Stoumbelis, Executive Director of CISPES – 202-521-2510

The International Community asks for a fair and impartial ruling in the Gustavo Marcelo Rivera murder case

Organizations in the U.S. and Canada continue to worry about impunity in the murder of the environmentalist

San Salvador, El Salvador. With the first hearing in the case of Gustavo Marcelo Rivera scheduled for Friday April 30th, organizations in the United States and Canada continue being concerned about the murder case of the environmentalist in Cabañas.

According to Alexis Stoumbelis, the Executive Director of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), “For decades in El Salvador justice has been a privilege of the powerful. It's time to change this way of acting and truly show the will to end impunity in this case and all the cases of violence against members of the social movement.

Since the forced disappearance of the environmentalist on June 18th, 2009, the Rivera case has received international attention and has generated concerns about the security and human rights of communities affected by mining. On July 24th, 2009 one hundred and eight international organizations sent a letter to the Interim Attorney General, Astor Escalante Saravia, asking for a thorough, effective and impartial investigation to find the intellectual and material authors of the crime, in order to prevent other similar tragedies. In January of this year, after the murder of three other environmentalists in Cabañas, one hundred and forty organizations once again demanded justice in the cases of violence against leaders in Cabañas, including the Rivera case.

According to Laura Haylock, Director of the Canadian organization Salvaide, “mining activity and the presence of transnational mining companies tends to create social conflict and violence. Activists in Mexico and Guatemala have lived through experiences of violence and murders very similar to those in Cabañas.

Rivera was a recognized leader in the struggle against mining in El Salvador and also played a protagonistic role in denouncing fraud that lead to the suspension of elections in the municipality of San Isidro in January of 2009. He was a member of the National Roundtable against Mineral Mining, which has played an important part in the struggle against mineral exploitation in El Salvador and against the case of the mining company Pacific Rim, who is suing the government of El Salvador for $100 million.

According to Emily Carpenter, the Director of the National Network of U.S.-El Salvador Sister Cities, “leaving the murder of Rivera Moreno in impunity would create a climate of terror, uncertainty and danger for the rest of the leaders and social activists, counteracting the advances achieved during the process of democratization in the country. That is why we are calling on the Supreme Court to guarantee a fair and impartial process in the preliminary hearings this Friday.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Romero vive, la lucha sigue!

The following reflection was written by Joe Miller, master's student at Boston College and member of the Paulist Center's sister committee, after his participation in the March 2010 Romero delegation, commemorating the 30th anniversary of Monseñor Romero's martyrdom.

Romero vive, la lucha sigue! Romero lives, the struggle continues. In some ways, the situation in El Salvador is better than twenty years ago. The civil war has ended; whole parts of San Salvador are not under siege, and for the first time in the country’s history, a progressive president is in office. But still, the shanty towns exist. Health care continues to be far out of reach for the majority. Community leaders who oppose gold mining in the rural areas are being assassinated. Gang violence and theft abound, and El Salvador has the highest murder rate in the Western Hemisphere (about 12 murders a day); and one of the highest in the world, and some people are still hungry or at least struggle to provide food for their family. Because the danger is now more clandestine, and not ‘in-your-face’ as during the war, one can no longer assume they are in a safe area just because there’s no visible military, paramilitary, or rebel presence.

What has not changed, and maybe even gotten stronger, over the almost 20 years since the Peace Accords, is the hope the Salvadoran people have for liberation – for a lasting, true, and just peace. When I first told my grandmother that I spent part of her gift to me on a plane ticket to El Salvador, she asked me, “why would you do such a thing – it’s so dangerous and unstable down there!” My response did not come out exactly in the same way, but I knew that part of the reason I resolved to travel to El Salvador to commemorate Monseñor Romero’s martyrdom was tied up in how he is such an inspirational spiritual figure for me; and traveling there to be with the people as they remember their own ‘Good Shepherd’ was simply something I had to do.
I would encourage anyone who is interested in learning more about El Salvador to get involved with the sister community. When he was receiving frequent death threats Monseñor once said that as a Christian, he did not believe in death without resurrection. “If they kill me, I will rise in the Salvadoran people.”

This is an undeniable fact. Romero has indeed risen in the more than 50,000 people who marched on the streets in the memorial procession on March 21; in the people of the department of Cabanas who are resisting the exploitation of their land by gold mining companies; in Alirio, of the village of San Isidrio, who no longer sleeps at home due to the death threats he has been receiving for nine months; and surely in the small boy in San Salvador who sold pens to our group as we ate lunch; the man who we all bought ice cream from in Parque Cuscatlán. Yes, the struggle for justice still continues. But I cannot help but add onto the chant I began this reflection with:

Romero vive, la lucha sigue con esperanza!
Romero lives, the struggle continues with hope!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Three teachers assassinated in UCRES region

Dear UCRES Sisters and SHARE supporters,

I regret to write you under these circumstances, but unfortunately, violence is all-too-often a part of daily life, reality in El Salvador.

On Monday evening, April 19th, two teachers and the director of El Ángel school in San Juan
Opico, municipality neighborhing San Pablo Tacachico, were kidnapped, shot and killed. Classes were immediately suspended and marches took place in the area to protest ongoing violence and impunity. Indignation and fear are palpable.

Scroll below to read the UCRES press release along with a letter of condemnation, condolensce and solidarity drafted by SHARE. We would like to send this to UCRES and communities as soon as possible, ideally tomorrow. PLEASE let me know (tedde@share-elsalvador) as soon as you are able whether we can add your parish, school or committee signature to this letter, and circulate this information within your community. As we get more information on this case, we will be sure to pass it along.

Thank you for your accompaniment in the joyful and sorrowful times,

Tedde and the SHARE El Salvador team


UCRES demands an exhuastive investigation of crimes against community leaders and teachers.

The Union of Rural Communities in Northern San Salvador and La Libertad, UCRES, expresse or condemnation, repudiation and indignation of the assasinations that have occured in the department of La Libertad against community leaders and teachers.

Over the past three years, assasinations have been registered in the communities Husisilapa, William Fuentes and Ita Maura, in the municipality of San Pablo Tacachico. The first incident of violence, in the community Willian Fuentes, was fatal, in which a nine-year old girl was killed after a shooting perpetrated by unknown subjects. Four youth were injured in this event. In Huisisilapa, neighboring community to William Fuentes, a shooting left three young people and an adult woman dead, with other youth wounded. In this same form, shootings have occured in Ita Maura, the community next to Huisisilapa, causing the death of three youth and injuring three more, including a young woman. In February 2010, there was yet another assasination in Husisilapa, this time taking the life of a 45-year old woman. Husisilapa and Ita Maura are organized repopulated communities that, in 1991, founded UCRES, and William Fuentes is an organized community of former FMLN combatants.

Very recently, violence took hold in another sector of the population. This April 19th, 2010, Felipa Audelia Barillas Ayala, 44 years old, her sister and kindergarten teacher Marlene del Carmen Barillas, 35 years old, and computer and english teacher Tomás Antonio Gómez, 38 years old. These three people were killed by gunfire on Monday night in the La Copinola stream, in La Hacienda Talcualuya, located in the caserío El Ángel, in San Juan Opico, La Libertad. The three taught at the public school in El Ángel.

UCRES condems these violent acts and demans that the respective state branches, but prinicipally the Attorney General and the National Civilian Police, carry out an extensive investigation to find those responsible for these killings and that impunity no be allowed to continue to rule, as it has before and as has occured with other cases on the national level.

We request that sister and allied organizations unite with us to demand that the Executive put in disposition the necessary resources in and most ideal people to find the whereabouts of the true culprits and that justice be done. Local authorities have not been capable of uncovering the truth in these cases.

Facing this context, we declare our complete solidarity with the familes and friends in mourning and with the communities and we confirm our commitment to truth and justice, as preached by Father Rutilio Grande and Monseñor Romero.

Finally, we make a call to civil society, to redouble our efforts to put an end to impunity, to join forces in a common, pacific struggle to articulate and promote the denouncement of these crimes and in defense of human rights, for a society without violence in our region and in our country.

The question we ask ourselves is: When does it end?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

El Salvador: comic rent-dodger against extortion

This grassroots movement against gang violence has recently sprung up in San Salvador.

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) -- Crime-weary Salvadorans refer to street-gang shakedowns as rent. So anti-crime activists are using a comic rent-dodger to encourage them to reject extortion attempts.

The Don Ramon Citizen's Movement has printed posters of the lanky, weedy deadbeat from the long-running Mexican television comedy "El Chavo del Ocho."

Movement organizer Ernesto Lopez says Don Ramon "always had an excuse, and the courage" not to pay rent.

The show that originally aired in the 1970s involves the endless attempts of Sr. Barriga ("Mr. Paunch") to squeeze rent out of the wily Don Ramon.

El Salvador's Mara street gangs charge millions of dollars in protection money annually from motorists, bus drivers, store owners and others.

-posted by the AP

In their manifesto, the Don Ramon Citizen's Movement stated:

"Ours is a call to civil courage and taking responsibility for our communities. It's not about responding to violence with more violence. Its about Salvadorans taking back what is ours, that the gang members come back to being among our circle of friends, that respect goes back to being something that you earn with work and decency, not threats and violence, that "the barrio (neighborhood)" goes back to being a place of coexistence and joy, not a territory being disputed by gangs.

Our call is to overcome fear. We can no longer permit fear to paralize us. We have to raise our voice and show that we, the decent people, are stronger. The face of Don Ramon spread through the city so quickly because it is a symbol that the majority of us are tired of staying quiet.

Don Ramon is not just a face that we have adapted to express that were are tired of this, and that as individuals we are willing to take responsibility for our families, for our communities, for our El Salvador. There is no political party, church or ministry behind this campaign. We are all Don Ramon."

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A reflection on accompaniment

This piece was written by SHARE Grassroots and Tours Coordinator Danielle Mackey and it was published on her blog and in the Volunteer Missionary Movement's publication Bridges. It does a wonderful job of talking about the type accompaniment that we work for here at SHARE.
On Saturday at midnight I stood ankle-deep in tawny sand, observing the waves. The tide of the Pacific is magical at that hour. Its foamy edges strain to reach higher, starving for the beach. In its hunger it breaks down the oldest, most durable bits of earth— pummeling rocks into slivers of sand— simultaneously undoing and recreating the stuff of life. It's funny how watching the ocean in its most eternal, basic function can be mystical.

The ebbs and flows of life in El Salvador mandate these reminders of consistency and beauty from nature. I can learn how to be from this nature. For example: last week I was preparing a magazine piece based on my two years of blog entries from this little country. I found myself surprised by the way that my learning has happened: two steps forward, one step back. Again, and again. My final entry was a perfect example of the trend: I wrote about a discussion of sexism in El Salvador that I had helped lead, in which I advised visiting students to have a healthy suspicion of male strangers; two days later, I had a kind and connective human moment with a young man selling coffee on the street. I am starved for these moments of learning, of breaking down existing knowledge and building it into something wider and deeper.

In my job at the Share Foundation I accompany delegations of people from the United States as they experience the daily reality of El Salvador. The most recent group came from Georgetown University's Magis Immersion and Justice Program. The three professors, nine students and I spent three days in a rural community called Santa Monica. Santa Monica is several hundred families living in sheet metal homes sewn into the landscape by laundry lines and small vegetable gardens, all of it bordered by dusty roads. The scarce work to be found is in sugar cane harvesting, susbsistence farming, or making the 2.5 hour trek to the capital to work as an armed guard.

Santa Monicans radiate with a certain intimacy with life— tough stuff included— which seems to leave them wise. In a brief conversation with one man from the community, he showed me this quality while leading me through the awkward forward-and-back learning dance I can't seem to avoid.

It was the evening of the first full day in the community. The group had eaten a traditional dinner of red silk beans, eggs scrambled with tomatoes and onion, fried plantains, thick corn tortillas and fresh cheese. We were seated in a circle preparing to close the day with a reflection when a host father of two of the young Georgetown men tapped my shoulder. I got up, exhausted and a little irritated by this five-millionth question of the day, in the middle of an intentionally quiet time. We separated ourselves from the meditative group and he asked, “I was just wondering, can we wash our host boys' clothes for them?”

The question took me aback. Washing clothes in the Salvadoran campo means doing it by hand-- rolling the round chunk of electric blue soap around a wet clothing item, scrubbing in brisk motions with a small brush to reach each tiny thread of fabric, and then rinsing and wringing it countless times to chase away the soap. T-shirts take about five minutes, and tougher matierals like jeans or bed sheets up to ten. It's a hefty job.

The more I thought, the more I cringed—and not for the logistics of clothes-washing, but rather for the implied position into which that pushes the host family: service. We visit the community to learn from them; they graciously open their homes and daily lives for us— complete strangers— and ask only for a few days of companionship in return. I'd imagine that it is very hard to open your tin shack to a visitor who comes from a country which you see through the lens of the television— fancy cars, decadent restaurants, Desperate Housewives. The desire to be a good host is cross-cultural. What can you do to make someone from that golden world feel comfortable in your hard-won impoverished life? It must take true humility.

We're aware of this dynamic in our visit to the community, and we want to compensate for the unfair way the world works. We want to serve these people. Certainly not the other way around.

“No,” I say to him, shaking my head vehemently, “Please no, it's not necessary.”
Their host father looks hurt, bruised. He looks away. He speaks softly, avoiding my eyes.
“But it's the only thing we can give.”

Whoa. This delegation guide—this young woman who has been learning for two years now and claims to finally understand a thing or two—knocked ever-so-gently to her naive haunches.

I understand: this man is not really asking about washing clothes. He is asking about washing feet. Śhould anyone be excluded from gifting themselves? Clearly, no.

As I later discussed this moment with the delegation, we realized that there were many forces at play. For instance, most times in life, we members of the U.S. middle-to-upper class are in the position of giver. Donating money to Haiti and soup cans to the food drive, or serving meals at the homeless shelter. Thoughtful things to do. But maybe we forget to think about the ownership inherent in this situation: we are the owners of the resources. We choose to dish them out. When, where, and how. That is powerful. Charity implies a hierarchy, and the giver is at the top. Sometimes, we might forget about this central part of our economic interactions, because we concentrate on how we're alleviating need. It feels good to give.

How does it feel to not be at the top? Many of us in the United States have the luxury of ignorance about that. Many of us can only imagine. Read this paragraph, and then close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths. Think: have you ever had to ask for a few dollars from a well-dressed stranger to afford your next meal? How would it feel to need? Could you maintain eye contact while you asked?

This might bring up indignation, desperation, shame. These clamouring feelings, summoned only when we begin to feel rock-bottom vulnerability, could lead us to further questions: Who “owns” the right to food? To solid housing? To life?

In that swift moment, I watched the whole game turned on its head, when someone born into the societally-mandated “low” position of receiver asked to be giver.

And so my learning rhythm continues: one step back, two steps forward, led by the generous people of El Salvador. My contract with Share is up in August, and I'm staying here. My time with VMM and Share has supported me through finding my balance in this tiny country, and I now wish to accompany others as they do the same: I am applying to teach in the bilingual schools around San Salvador. One step at a time. This mystical, eternal project of learning continues.

-- April 2010

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Romero and Holy Week on NCR

During our Romero Delegation in March, we were joined by Pat Marrin, a reporter for the National Catholic Reporter. Pat chronicles his visit to El Salvador for the Romero Anniversary throughout Holy Week, in six different blog entries. Click on the below link to access the first entry and scroll down for the following posts.

Thanks for sharing with us Pat!

Monday, April 5, 2010

UN Expert on Violence Against Women Reports on Visit to El Salvador

22 March 2010


In conclusion of her three day follow-up visit to El Salvador, last visited by the mandate in 2004*, the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Human Rights Council on Violence against Women, its causes and consequences, delivered the following statement:

“At the outset, I would like to express my deep appreciation for the full cooperation extended to me by the Government of El Salvador. I am grateful to all my interlocutors, including State officials, representatives of civil society, representatives of United Nations agencies and international organizations. I am also particularly grateful to the victims and families of victims of violence that shared their personal experiences with me.

The objective of this visit, which comes six years after the visit conducted by this mandate in 2004, was to review progress made on the recommendations provided by my predecessor, assessing the current situation of violence against women and the State response to such violence.

While acknowledging that this Government has been in place for less than a year, El Salvador has come a long way in institution building and human rights protection since the end of the twelve year civil war in 1992. By acceding to numerous international human rights treaties, El Salvador has shown its commitment to place the human rights of individuals at the centre of its policies, laws and institutions. This position has been reiterated by numerous State officials during this mission.

In the area of violence against women, my discussions indicate the Government’s intention to fulfil its due diligence obligations in terms of both international and regional human rights frameworks. One indicator of this are the current national law reform proposals on violence against women, equal opportunities and promotion and protection of the rights of children and adolescents. With regard to international instruments, ongoing discussions on the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women, the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Rome Treaty are another indicator of such willingness.

However, while I commend the Government on these initiatives, I am concerned at the significant challenges that continue to exist in the area of violence against women and girls. As noted in my predecessor’s report in 2005, “[…] the failure of authorities to investigate, prosecute and punish those responsible for gender-based violence has contributed to an environment of impunity that has resulted in little confidence in the justice system. Impunity for crimes, the socio-economic disparities and the machista culture foster a generalized state of violence, subjecting women to a continuum of multiple violent acts, including murder, rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment and commercial sexual exploitation”. My discussions with both State and non-State actors, as well as the testimonies I have heard, reflect the continuing accuracy of this reality in El Salvador today.

Of particular concern to me is the growing prevalence and forms of such violence, especially the alarming rise in the numbers of murders of women and girls and the brutality inflicted on their bodies, which is often accompanied by kidnapping and sexual assault. A recent study by ORMUSA indicates the number of femicides has increased from 378 in 2008 to 570 in 2009, this being the highest number of femicides in the last 11 years in the country. Some of my interlocutors have described this phenomenon as reflecting a “culture of hatred towards women” and an indicator of the failure of the criminal justice system. Other forms of violence that were identified and continue to be prevalent and pervasive are domestic violence, sexual abuse against women and children in the home and the community, violence and sexual harassment in the workplace, particularly in the maquila sector and the domestic sphere, police-related violence and sexual commercial exploitation.

Another issue of concern relates to the overcrowding and unsanitary conditions in the women’s prison that I visited. While in 2004 the number of prisoners was 650, at the time of my visit there were 1344 female prisoners, including 24 pregnant women, and 25 boys and 25 girls. I am also concerned at the situation of women and girls in the domestic and maquila sectors, including those working in their homes for the maquilas without a contract, which were described by some interlocutors and direct testimonies as a modern form of "human slavery".

I applaud the focus on prevention and model-of-care approach articulated by many institutions. However, the issues of accountability and addressing impunity also form part of the due diligence obligations of the State. Action or non-action by the criminal justice sector reflects the commitment or the failure to fulfil, to respect and to protect the rights of all citizens. During this mission, I have received information that indicates weaknesses in investigation and prosecution as well as inappropriate sentencing. An example that illustrates this is reflected in several cases of abortion that have been prosecuted. One case brought to my notice by both the State and the non State sector concerns a woman who was sentenced to 30 years in prison despite the evidentiary burden not having been satisfied.

As indicated in the 2005 report, “the criminalization of abortion is discriminatory primarily for poor women, as women of higher social standing are said to have access to other options for dealing with unwanted pregnancies. The majority of cases involving illegal abortions brought before the courts involve poor, under-educated young women who induced abortions by using unsafe methods in unsanitary environments, which contributes to health complications or deaths”. The interpretative conflict between the constitutional provisions and the Penal Code has led to the criminalization of abortion, which is having a direct impact on the current high rates of maternal mortality and adolescent pregnancies, and thus denies women and girls the right to control their bodies and their lives.

In light of the information I received during this mission, the recommendations in my predecessor’s report are still applicable and relevant. I support and reiterate the need to take action under these five broad categories: (a) create a gender-sensitive information and knowledge base, including through the creation of a statistical commission; (b) ensure the protection of women and girls through legislative, investigative and judicial reforms, including though the establishment of a specialized investigation and prosecution unit on femicides; (c) strengthen institutional infrastructure, including through the allocation of appropriate resources in order to enable sustainability and effectiveness; (d) initiate further training and awareness programmes; and (e) monitor and enforce international and regional human rights standards.

My findings will be discussed in a more comprehensive way in the report I will submit to the United Nations Human Rights Council at its 14th session”.
Ms. Rashida Manjoo (South Africa) was appointed Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its causes and consequences in June 2009 by the United Nations Human Rights Council for an initial period of three years. As Special Rapporteur, she is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. Ms. Manjoo is also a Professor at the Department of Public Law at the University of Cape Town.