Thursday, March 31, 2011

Congratulations Pro Busqueda: Government Publicy Recognizes Children Disappeared During the Armed Conflict

A seemingly endless line of children, youth, and the occasional adult gathered outside the Feria Internacional in San Salvador the morning of March 29th, 2011. Everyone trickled through the gates one by one and rushed toward a huge ampitheatre decorated with kites and crawling with people for the Day of the Children Disappeared During the Armed Conflict. While the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly first named March 29th the Day of the Children Disappeared During the Armed Conflict in 2007, this Tuesday marked the first time the Salvadoran government participated in the celebration, publicly acknowledging the many children who suffered forced disappearance and separation from their families during the armed conflict. Pro Busqueda coordinated this exciting historic commemorative event together with the Salvadoran Secretariat of Social Inclusion, lead by First Lady Vanda Pignato. 

Probusqueda, a Salvadoran non-profit organization dedicated to searching for those disappeared as children during the armed conflict, has spearheaded the fight for truth, justice, and reparations for disappeared children and their families. After seventeen years advocating for families of the disappeared and working with many individuals who were disappeared, for Pro Busqueda to finally hear the government's acknowledgement of responsibility for the many children forcibly taken from their families during the war marked a historical moment. Father Jon Cortina, S.J. started Pro Busqueda together with families from the community of Guarjila shortly after the end of the war. Families have reported over nine hundred cases of disappeared children to the staff of Pro Busqueda, who have found over three hundred people, and continue to search for more than five hundred. Pro Busqueda brought a number of young people who were disappeared and have since been found to the commemoration on Tuesday.

Members of Pro Busqueda opened the event reminding everyone that it was a morning to pause and remember the those children torn from their homes, to share the search so many families and individuals have walked, and through this moment of truth step toward justice and begin to build sanity and reconciliation for El Salvador. They then brought the crowd together chanting “No los olvidamos,” We do not forget them. School groups, individuals, and organizations from all fourteen departments of El Salvador added their voices.

Much of the crowd surged to their feet at the announcement of President Mauricio Funes' entrance. As Funes slowly descended the main staircase with his wife at his side and a trail of dignitaries, members of Pro Busqueda, and victims of forced disappearance behind him, he shook the hand of each of the kids and young adults lined up alongside the stairs, a wide grin lighting his face. Once Presidente Funes and his wife took their seats on the stage, the official commemorative act began. The act included the introduction of a postage stamp for the Day of Children Disappeared During the Armed Conflict, featuring a child's footprints, prizes awarded to university students who wrote essays about disappeared children, and speeches by Ester Alvarenga, Coordinator of Probusqueda, and President Funes. As icing on the cake, those gathered had the pleasure of listening to internationally renowned singer/song-writer Julieta Venegas perform following the commemorative act. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

In the Words of Romero...

On all of our delegations that travel to El Salvador, we take the time to visit the Divina Providencia, run by the Carmelite nuns, and also the place where Oscar Romero lived and died. In a recent visit to the small house where Romero lived, one of the sisters in talking about Romero's homilies said: "People close to Monseñor used to say: "Be careful with what you say in your homilies!" And Monseñor would respond by saying that in preparing his homilies, he would write down everything that he was going to say, but as soon as he stood up there in front of all the people and the words starting coming out, it was different than what he had prepared. That to say that he felt that it was a power greater than him that was speaking." Here are some of those prophetic words:

"We have never preached violence, except the violence of love, which left Christ nailed to a cross, the violcen that we must each do to ourselves to overcome our selfishness and such cruel inequalities among us. The violence we preach is not the violence of the sword, the violence of hatred. It is the violence of love, of brotherhood, the violence that wills to beat weapons into sickles for work."

"I will not tire of declaring that if we really want an effective end to violence we must remove the violence that lies at the root of all violence: structural violence, social injustice, exclusion of citizens form the management of the country, repression. All this is what constitutes the primal cause, from which the rest flows naturally."

"This is the fundamental thought of my preaching: Nothing is so important to me as human life. Taking life is something so serious, so grave-- more than the violation of any other human right-- because such bloodshed only negates love, awakens new hatreds, makes reconciliation and peace impossible."

"There is one rule by which to judge if God is near us or is far away-- the rule that God's word is giving us today: everyone concerned for the hungry, the naked, the poor, for those who have vanished in police custody, for the tortured, for prisoners, for all flesh that suffers, has God close at hand."

"What good are beautiful highways and airports, beautiful buildings full of spacious apartments, if they are only put together with the blood of the poor, who are not going to enjoy them?"

"Peoples are free to choose the political system they want but not free to do whatever they feel like. They will have to be judged by God's justice in the political or social system they choose. God is the judge of all social systems. Neither the gospel or the church can be monopolized by any political or social movement."

"El Salvador's liberation need not mean so much bloodshed; there is still time. If we all bring to bear the goodwill to renounce material things and seek those of divine worth, we can certainly find the way. Naturally, there must be the courage to yield in regard to what has become an untouchable institution, one at the base of all forms of violence: institutionalized violence, the country's injustice."

Commemorating Father Rutilio Grande

Saturday March 12th marked the 34th anniversary of Father Rutilio Grande's martyrdom. A priest from El Paisnal, Rutilio Grande spoke against the injustices at the hands of an oppressive government, and dedicated his life's work to organizing the impoverished, marginalized rural farmers of El Salvador as they demanded respect for their rights. Members of the army shot him to death along with two other people, in 1977 on his way to give mass. Community members and social organizations continue to commemorate his life and death every year to hold up his example of commitment to the people and communities, and of speaking out for justice as a model for youth, men, women, and children to follow today, in the midst of continued inequality.

While El Salvador is no longer at war, economic wealth and job opportunities remain concentrated in the hands of a few. A culture of violence continues, manifesting itself in one of the highest murder rates on the continent. In the midst of these and other challenges,  it is essential to build an identity Salvadorans are proud of, and remember people who touched and transformed the lives of many to believe in themselves and to work for love and justice.

This year over 800 people gathered in Aguilares to commemorate Father Grande, in an event coordinated by UCRES and the local government. Most people came from neighboring communities, though some came from other areas of El Salvador, and even a few from other countries.  From Aguilares, everyone joined in walking to The Three Crosses, the monument constructed in memory of Father Rutilio Grande, Nelson Rutilio Lemus (16), and Manuel Solórzano (72), at the site they were gunned down at on March 12, 1977. Today a paved road surrounded by dusty, tranquil looking fields runs past the monument.

Perspectives on Obama's Visit to El Salvador

For two days this week, El Salvador was in the world media spotlight when US President Obama visited. Various news outlets did a wonderful job highlighting a variety of important, and often controversial, issues regarding Obama’s visit and US-ES relations more generally. Here is a selection of those thought-provoking perspectives in their own words:

A Missed Opportunity at Romero's Tomb
For Maryknoll Fr. Roy Bourgeois, the visit was at best a missed opportunity. His organization, SOA Watch, revealed that Romero’s killers were trained at the U.S. Army School of the Americas, now named the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC).
"I and many other human rights activists were hopeful," he said, that Obama would acknowledge "that Romero and thousands of others were killed, tortured and disappeared by graduates of this school."
"Obama didn’t even acknowledge, let alone apologize for, the U.S. role in El Salvador," Bourgeois said.
Read more at:

US Funds for Security Initiatives: Human Rights and Sovereignty?
During his visit to El Salvador, President Obama announced $200 million to finance “ security and anti-narco trafficking in Central America at a joint press conference held on Tuesday, March 22nd with his Salvadoran homologue, President Funes. Among other issues, there are serious human rights concerns:

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Dear Mr President: Please Renegotiate CAFTA

Dear President Obama:

On your upcoming trip to Latin America, we ask that you state your support for renegotiation of the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and for El Salvador’s request to have dismissed a pending CAFTA investor-state arbitration suit challenging El Salvador’s environmental and safety policies relating to metals mining concessions.

Letters From El Salvador: Final day in Huisisilapa

The next day we awoke to the realization that we were about to
encounter an extremely enthusiastic and talented group of soccer players. A game was scheduled for 9:30 am on the cancha, or field, seemingly the hottest place in the entire
community. A team of Northwest Students (and a few guest players) and a
team of Huisisilapan community members were formed, and the game began,
with many excited spectators. Numerous people, from both sides, opted not to
play, and sat, talking and mingling, in the shade next to the field.
This was preferable, as each time a player would come off the field,
both the sunburn, and sweat soaked clothing was extremely apparent.
However, by some miracle, or by the kindness on behalf of the
Huisisilapan team, the Northwest School prevailed, winning by one goal.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Members of Congress call on Obama to support environmental protection and trade reform in El Salvador

A press release from CISPES regarding Obama's stay in El Salvador.

Members of Congress, policy experts call on President Obama 

to support environmental protection and trade reform in El Salvador

Washington, D.C. & San Salvador - As President Obama travels to El Salvador, leaders in Congress and national policy organizations are calling on him to support the Salvadoran government in protecting the country’s environmental and social rights rather than succumbing to pressure from multinational mining corporations.

Nineteen House Democrats and over 140 environmental, religious, and human rights organizations signed letters to the President asking him to amend investment rules in U.S. trade policy, to prevent corporations from challenging other countries’ regulations through private arbitration.  The letters also ask Obama to denounce a $100 million lawsuit by a Canadian mining company, Pacific Rim, against the government of El Salvador for allegedly violating the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).

“I urge President Obama to offer support for El Salvador’s legitimate right to develop policies protecting human rights and the environment,” said Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), who co-sponsored the congressional letter.  “The U.S. should applaud El Salvador’s commitment to promoting the health and well-being of its citizens, and the protection of the environment.  Instead, our trade policies enable North American mining companies to sue the Salvadoran government for upholding its legitimate right to protect its air, water, and soil.  This is unacceptable; I’m grateful to my colleagues for joining me in calling on the President to raise this issue during his upcoming visit to El Salvador.”

Social Movement Presents Demands to Obama

Protest in front of the Salvador del Mundo monument
The MPR-12 Movement along with a number of other groups in the social movement held a march this morning to present their demands to President Obama during his visit to El Salvador.  Those demands include:

-Close the U.S. military bases in Central America
-Close the ILEA (U.S. run police training academy in El Salvador)
-Revoke CAFTA
-Respect the rights of immigrants
-Freedom for the 5 Cuban political prisoners in the United States
-Not allow the reintegration of the Coup Government in Honduras into the OAS
-Stop the military agression in Libya

Some photos and quotes from the march:

We are here as the MPR-12 Movement to denouce the Free Trade Agreement, and also so that people know how militarized this whole region is. Obama said that he would demilitarize the region and instead he has increased military presence here, we are here so that people know that.
-Carmen from the Dimas Rodriguez Community in El Paisnal

Repeal CAFTA

For us it is a contradiction that the leftist government here is being so servile to the U.S. government when we still have many great challenges like the Free Trade Agreement that allows North American mining companies to come in and exploit El Salvador. We think that the Free Trade Agreement should be revoked because it has made the situation for farmers in the country much worse.
-Guiselle, from the UST (United Workers Union)

Respect for immigrant rights!!!
One of the reasons that we are here is to ask Obama to respect the rights of immigrants living in the United States. We think that the Salvadorans living in the United States for many years have the right to be there so that they can continue to support their family members. We have the right to be here to peacefully protest since El Salvador is a democracy that allows for these type of gatherings.

Stop Bombing Libya!
We think that it is a disgrace that while Obama is visiting Central America, Libya is currently being bombed....These photos that we have here with us are of our martyrs in Honduras. Many of them were disappeared and killed during the coup in Honduras. They were our friends and companians and that is why we remember them.
-Honduran protester
Hondurans killed in the conflict following the 2009 coup

Monday, March 21, 2011

Letter From El Salvador: Day Three- Return to Huisisilapa

During the delegation, Northwest students and teachers participated in two one-night homestays in the community of Huisisilapa. Families returning from refugee camps in Honduras in 1991 founded the community, starting with a swath of overgrown land, and the few belongings they had brought with them. In the initial years, community members taught students to read under the trees. Today Huisisilapa has elementary school all the way through high school, a dream few rural communities have realized. This next excerpt describes returning to Huisisilapa for the second homestay.  
The next day we arrived earlier than usual, around 9:30 am, after a decent distance traveled to the soundtrack of “The Sound of Music”. We got off the short bus, throats hoarse from a good group sing-a-long, and dispersed to go to our various home stays. That morning the plan was to participate in the Polaroid photography project, in which each family, as well as those who were staying there, had their picture taken. Then each person photographed was asked to attach their image to a piece of paper and write about their personal hopes and dreams, as a form of intercultural and personal exchange within the household. For this morning activity, however, we were only taking the images.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

First Success Against Commerce Group!

Great news everyone! The ICSID (International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes) has discarded one of the suits filed against El Salvador by Commerce Group! This is a small but important success for the government and people of El Salvador in keeping mining and its negative health and environmental effects out of its country. We want to send a huge thank you to all of those who called, sent letters, e-mails, and faxes to the Commerce Group- you have helped the Salvadoran people win one part of the battle, but it still not over! The urgency against other mining companies like Pacific Rim continues! Please continue your support as we continue our support of the Salvador people against mining.

For more information see the Decision here

Letter From El Salvador: Day Two- Sihua Batucada

In the afternoon of the 26th, Northwest students and teachers met with an empowered group of young women receives trainings in sexual and reproductive health from the Institute of the Woman, IMU. These young women have also formed their own drum band, the Sihua Batucada. SHARE supports these women with partial high school scholarships.

After a full morning of exchange, we continued to Suchitoto,
where we shared a particularly good lunch with a group of young
Salvadoran women who, not only go from town to town talking about sexual
and reproductive rights in the face of criticism, but also have their
own drum and dance group called Sihua Batucada. We got to know a little
bit about them through intermingling between chewing at the lunch table,
but even more so when they presented their cause through a presentation.
This was a particularly interesting meeting, primarily because El
Salvador is a notoriously religious country; the country’s name means
“The Savior”, or Jesus Christ.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Letter from El Salvdor: Day One- Scholarship Youth Assembly

      February 20th to March 4th, twenty-four high school juniors and seniors along with five teachers from the Northwest School in Seattle Washington joined SHARE for a thirteen-day delegation. The Northwest School has strong roots in social justice, and has been in partnership with SHARE and our sister organization UCRES for several years now. For the past two weeks, Northwest students had the opportunity to interact with Salvadorans their age who are active leaders in their communities, to meet with members of various organizations working towards justice in many areas, to visit the community of Huisisilapa and stay with families, and to travel to Cabañas to learn the latest in the struggle against mining, amongst other things. During the delegation, the teachers wrote home to the students' parents every couple of nights to share events and emotions. One night, one of the students wrote the letter home. Over the next few days we will share excerpts of her letter.

For the first excerpt, on February 26th, the delegation spent the morning with high school and college students who SHARE and sistering groups like Northwest support in their studies and leadership development lead by UCRES, one of SHARE's counterparts.

Amicus Brief: Environmental and Human Rights Impacts of Mining

Dear SHARE community,

We continue our support of the anti-mining groups in El Salvador. Many of our delegations have witnessed first hand the health risks, human rights violations, and environmental impacts that mining can cause. We realize the importance this issue has to our base of supporters and would like to share with you all what could be a very helpful case against mining in El Salvador.
(If you would like to read this and other articles in Spanish, please visit our Spanish Blog)

Amicus Brief Highlights the Environmental and Human Rights Impacts of Mining in $77 Million Investment Arbitration Case

Washington, DC: On March 2, 2011, the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), on behalf of civil society organizations of the Mesa Nacional Frente a la Minería Metálica (Mesa), filed an amicus curiae brief in the Pac Rim Cayman LLC v. Republic of El Salvador case, currently being heard at the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). The Mesa is a coalition of human rights and environmental organizations working to ban metals mining in El Salvador.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Romero Justice Week 2011

Dear friends,

As February comes to a close and we enter into March, here at the SHARE Foundation we remind ourselves to pause, to fully appreciate the living, breathing legacy of Archbishop Oscar Romero. We invite you to join us by planning an event or space to come together in solidarity with the Salvadoran people in celebration of Romero's life, his dedication to the poor and marginalized of El Salvador and the world, and his untiring denouncement of the structures of injustice and oppression. To offer ideas and materials for commemoration and reflection, we have created the Romero Week Packet, They Must Be Educated for Love; Romero's Legacy and the Right to Education. (click the link to download the packet)

On this 31st anniversary of Monseñor Romero's death, we have an opportunity to honor his legacy and recognize those that continue to walk in his footsteps. In honoring the incredible example of love and justice that he laid his life down for, we can celebrate Romero's life by raising awareness around one of the keys to creating sustainable development in El Salvador today: access to education. The Romero Week Packet includes information on Romero's legacy; the struggle to access quality education; examples of transformative education in El Salvador today, a sample spiritual service; quotes, prayers, reflections, discussion questions and ideas for action.