Friday, August 13, 2010

Remembering Women in El Salvador

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Comadre Alicia Garcia Dies

On Wednesday, August 11th, Alicia Garcia, one of the founding members of the Committee of Mothers Monseñor Romero, passed away after over thirty years of unending struggle in defense of human rights and for justice in El Salvador

After witnessing the student massacre of June 30, 1975 from the Maternity Hospital where she worked at the time, sheltering students running from the National Guard and watching bodies thrown into military trucks, never to be seen again, coupled with the disappearance of her own son, Alicia accompanied women searching for their loved ones in prisons, morgues, and mass graves. When he was named archbishop, Monseñor Romero encouraged the Comadres to form a committee to search for their loved ones, support each other, and denounce violence together. At every Sunday mass, Monseñor Romero would read a list of disappeared, tortured and killed people that the Comadres compiled as they received information and testimonies from victims and families of victims.

Because of their extensive library of documents and photographs of the death squad and military violence during the 1970s and 1980s, the Comadres offices were bombed many times. In meeting with delegations, Alicia would often share her own heart-wrenching testimony of the disappearance, torture and death of her children and her unending search for their whereabouts and sometimes, her own stories of torture at the hands of the military.

From accompanying women to morgues, mass graves, and prisons during the war, Comadres, with Alicia in the forefront, formed a crucial part of the Pro-Monument Committee, which created the Monument to Truth and Memory in honor of the civilian victims of the civil war. When she spoke about this monument, Alicia would emphasize the story behind each name, the struggles for justice, the family left behind, many of whom never knew the final resting place of their loved one. “To never forget,” she said.

Alicia continued to call for an end to impunity and investigations into human rights violations during the war, worked with victims and orphans in mental health issues, and shared her story and the story of thousands of Salvadorans with younger generations and international delegations to ensure that the past is never forgotten.

As we mourn her death, we also celebrate her life and take it as an example for our own. Alicia, who faced unfathomable hardships and unsurmountalbe odds, never gave up her faith or her struggle for justice. During the war, she was a beacon of light and strength for thousands of mothers whose loved ones had disappeared, and became a beacon of light for an entire society against violence, repression and injustice. She is a call, a reminder, to continue the work for justice and in defense of human rights, whatever the cost. Alicia, we will not forget.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Letter to the Editor: Mining in El Salvador

The following is a sample Letter to the Editor to raise awareness about the struggle against metallic mining in El Salvador. Please help us educate others about the threat of mining and of US corporations by sending this letter to the Editor of your local or state newspaper, posting it on your blog or facebook page, and sending it to friends and family. Feel free to edit in your own experiences in El Salvador, your own reflections, and please, when you get published, send us the link!

Dear Editor,

We are writing to express our concern about a series of violent events in El Salvador linked to US foreign and trade policy, directly involving multi-national corporations with bases in the United States. Underground, cyanide-leach gold mining operations in this tiny Central American country threaten to do severe damage by polluting streams, rendering livestock ill or sterile, and compromising the health of children and adults. Communities that would be devastated by these effects have organized in resistance to mining and the multinational corporations, and have faced the consequences.

Ongoing violence and threats towards community leaders and activists—including a local radio station and priest—culminated in three assassinations in 2009. In June, activist Marcelo Rivera was kidnapped and tortured, his body found at the bottom of a well bearing marks of a death squad assassination. A spate of killings in the days before and after Christmas left community leader Ramiro Rivera and eight-month pregnant Dora “Alicia” Sorto dead.

Taken in isolation, these events may seem merely representative of the crime and delinquency that so deeply affect El Salvador today. However, the controversy surrounding this issue has been especially heated and violent. We must also take into account the high stakes of this debate: millions of dollars in profits for Pacific Rim and other multinational mining corporations on one side, and an environmental death sentence for El Salvador on the other. I believe there is sufficient evidence to assume that the recent violence is an attempt to quiet these Salvadorans: that it is politically-motivated intimidation against the communities of Cabañas and others in the struggle against mining.

Pacific Rim has taken action against the country of El Salvador through the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) via its U.S. subsidiary, claiming that having allowed research at the El Dorado mining site, the government has no grounds to delay permits. The Commerce Group has done the same and together, the Salvadoran government is facing nearly two hundred million dollars in arbitration. If the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes of the World Bank—a body known for its support of corporate interests to the detriment of communities, democracy and human and environmental rights, sides with Pacific Rim, it would force El Salvador to open to mining operations, putting at risk the environment, agriculture, water sources, and human health.

There is a growing public demand—voiced through protests and advocacy actions, by groups both inside and out of El Salvador—for action by law enforcement agencies. Those responsible for the violence in Cabañas have not been identified; it appears that those who commit political crimes, even of the most egregious kind, still go unpunished in El Salvador. We encourage the Secretary of State and U.S. government representatives in El Salvador to urge the Salvadoran government to carry out a full and honest investigation of these events in Cabañas. We urge U.S. citizens to pressure the Pacific Rim Mining Corporation, the Commerce Group and other multinational mining corporations to drop their cases against the Salvadoran state and fully withdraw from El Salvador.


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Women with Corbos in El Pino, Las Mercedes

The vegetable garden project in El Pino, Las Mercedes is an incredible testament to the effectiveness of organizing in women's empowerment. Before this project, there was not a women's committee in El Pino. According to the women themselves, the communal vegetable garden has motivated and encouraged women's organization greatly. Women in this community are working together in synch, old and young, side by side, and are seeing the fruits of their labor. There are twenty-three people in total working this plot of land, including five young men. The work is done as collectively as possible, and there is certainly no shortage.

Their seeds are sown on the side of a steep hill, that ends, hundreds of meters below, on the banks of the Suchitlan reservoir. Aside from agriculture, which puts the beans and tortillas on many families' plates, many in El Pino scrape by with fishing.

Because it is not possible for all of the members of the committee put in the same amount of work, when the crops are harvested, people will receive an amount relative to the time they contributed. Because of the size of the group, and with larger families in this community, the women believe that the harvest will go towards mostly towards family consumption.

Here's a snipet of our conversation:

Is this your first time planting fruits and vegetables?
Yes, its our first time.

How do you like it so far?
It's a lot of work, but its definitely worth it.

And how do you feel working?
GOOD! It's hard work, but we have fun, and we laugh a lot.
It's better to work together, united, because you don't notice the work so much!

It's our first time using a corbo, too!

And they erupt into laughter, each woman immediately aware of the machete in her hands, the all-purpose tool traditionally carried by campesinos. A man's tool, off-limits to these campesinas. Suddenly, the women realize that they are doing something out of the box, something bold and daring. And not only do they like it, but they're good at it, too!

Scaling the sides of the hill, the women use these weapon-tools to dig holes, to whittle the ends of sticks and poles to put into the ground, to cut weeds and clear land. The simple act of using this tool gives them a sense of power and independence, and the sucess of their vegetable garden has enabled them to see that they have many abilities and skills beyond tortilla-making, sweeping and child-rearing.

As the dark rain clouds collect overhead, and the thunder rumbles among the Chalate mountains, we are proudly shown the seedbed, where tomato seedlings are protected from the big rain drops that could damage them by a mosquito net, and then the retaining wall, built with large rocks, to protect from mudslides. The women plan to build a number of these along the hill; after the most recent national emergency, they fear losing this labor of love in the next storm.

What do you hope to acheive with this project?
We hope to continue, to continue planting and harvesting, and working. And we hope you keep visiting us! And keep supporting us, especially with seeds, and especially in our organization.