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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

El Salvador Journal 2005 Part VI

Our history lesson included the FMLN, still a strong presence in the country. The FMLN, named after Farabundo Marti, the leader of the indigenous insurrection of the 1930’s is a coalition of leftwing groups that formed in 1980 to present an armed front to the military government of the country. Most of the areas we visited are controlled by the FMLN, now a legitimate political party. Many of the people we worked with, including Miguel and Damian are ex-FMLN fighters.

The key to understanding the war is land. Most of El Salvador’s land was tied up in large latifundios. A very small number of people controlled most of the land in the country. The land produced coffee for export to the United States and other countries. During the war the Americans supported the government with cash - $1.5 million a day. They also assisted with military advice and weaponry. The US embassy in San Salvador was a huge bunker. People believe that the war would have been over sooner if not for this high level of support from the North.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Emergency Update and Action Alert

December 21, 2009

Anti-Mining Activist Ramiro Rivera Assassinated in Cabañas;

Demand an investigation and an end to the murders!

Ramiro Rivera Gómez, vice-president of CAC (Comité Ambiental de Cabañas/ the Environmental Committee of Cabañas) and a local leader in the community struggle against the environmentally-destructive gold mining projects proposed by Pacific Rim, was assassinated on Sunday, December 20, 2009 in the Trinidad neighborhood of Ilobasco, in the department of Cabañas where he lived.

Héctor Berríos reports that Ramiro Rivera was killed by hitmen carrying M-16 rifles. Ramiro’s thirteen-year old daughter who was with him on Sunday afternoon was also injured but is reportedly in stable condition.

On August 7 of this year, Ramiro Rivera was shot 8 times, but survived the vicious attack. Oscar Menjívar, previously implicated in physical attacks on anti-mining activists, was arrested and charged with Ramiro’s attempted murder. Community members report that Menjívar had previously worked for Canadian mining company Pacific Rim; Pacific Rim denies that he has ever been an employee.

Since his recovery, Mr. Rivera had been under the protection of two police officers from the Witnesses and Victims Protection Unit of the National Civilian Police. On the afternoon of December 20th, they were apparently unable to protect him.

Since June of 2009, when anti-mining and FMLN activist Marcelo Rivera (no relation to Ramiro) was found tortured and killed in Cabañas, there have been continued attacks, death threats and attempted kidnappings of community members and activists who have vehemently opposed the proposed El Dorado gold mine. The Ministry of Environment denied mining exploitation permits to Pacific Rim, a Vancouver-based mining company, which subsequently announced a $77 million dollar lawsuit against the Salvadoran government under CAFTA, the U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement (watch the Real News video here).

Despite the overtly political overtones of this wave of violence, local police authorities and the former Attorney General's office have classified these cases as common crimes. Salvadorans are fearful and outraged by the continued violence but also by the inability or unwillingness of the police and the office of the Attorney General to protect community activists like Ramiro Rivera and to halt the violence.

Join the international response to this repression of anti-mining organizers in Cabañas TODAY. Call on the Salvadoran authorities to carry out an exhaustive investigation of these crimes and their motives.


E-mail Rodolfo Delgado, head of the Organized Crime unit of the Attorney General’s Office (Sample e-mail text at the end of this alert) This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it Please copy Human Rights Ombudsman Oscar Luna to your email, via his front desk:

Please forward a copy of your sent email to This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

SAMPLE E-MAIL (English translation below):

Estimado Señor Rodolfo Delgado:

Como miembro de la comunidad internacional, quiero expresar mi profunda preocupación por lo más reciente hecho de violencia contra un líder social en Cabañas, el asesinato de Ramiro Rivera Gómez. Después de que él fue baleado ocho veces en agosto del 2009, fue bajo la protección de la Unidad de Protección de Víctimas y Testigos de la Policía Nacional Civil.

El asesinato de Ramiro Rivera parece otro hecho de violencia sistemático que ha traspasado en Cabañas desde el junio de este año: el secuestro y brutal asesinato del activista Gustavo Marcelo Rivera; las amenazas de muerte a periodistas de Radio Victoria, al director de la Asociación de Desarrollo Económico y Social Santa Marta (ADES) y a varios líderes comunitarios de Cabañas; el sabotaje al sistema electrónico de Radio Victoria; y los intentos de asesinato de los líderes comunitarios, Padre Luis Quintanilla y Ramiro Rivera.

Considero que existen suficientes evidencias para presumir que el asesinato de Ramiro Rivera y los demás crímenes están relacionados y forman parte de una campaña para intimidar a las organizaciones sociales en Cabañas. Es preocupante que la Fiscalía, bajo la dirección de Ástor Escalante, adjudicó a priori estos crímenes a la violencia común, ignorando las evidencias y antecedentes presentados que indican la naturaleza política de los eventos.

Por lo tanto como miembro de la comunidad internacional, hago un llamado para que ahora bajo la dirección del nuevo Fiscal General de la República Romeo Barahona, la Fiscalía realice una investigación imparcial, exhaustiva y efectiva en el caso del asesinato de Ramiro Rivera y de todos estos casos, para dar a conocer a los autores intelectuales y materiales de estos crímenes y garantizar así la protección de los líderes sociales en la región de forma verdadera.

Después del asesinato de Marcelo Rivera en junio, más de cien organizaciones de los Estados Unidos y Canadá mandaron una carta a la Fiscalía expresando su preocupación grave con los atropellos a los derechos humanos. También el Congresista Jim McGovern de los Estados Unidos expresó la misma preocupación en reuniones con el Señor Fiscal General, Romeo Barahona, y representantes de la Administración del Señor Presidente Mauricio Funes, durante su visita reciente a El Salvador.

También le estoy mandando una copia de este mensaje al señor Procurador para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos, licenciado Oscar Humberto Luna, quien ha mostrado un compromiso fuerte para proteger la seguridad y los derechos humanos de los líderes sociales en Cabañas.

De quedar estos eventos en la impunidad, se estaría generando un clima de temor e incertidumbre para los demás líderes comunitarios, contrarrestando así los avances logrados en el proceso de democratización del país.

Agradezco de antemano sus gestiones para agilizar las investigaciones y espero que pronto se haga justicia en estos casos y se brinde protección a las víctimas y reparación a los familiares de Ramiro.

[Tu nombre/ Your name]


Translation of Email:

As a member of the international community, I want to express my profound concern about the most recent act of violence toward a community leader in Cabañas: the assassination of Ramiro Rivera Gómez. After being shot eight times in August, Mr. Rivera was under the protection of the Victims and Witnesses Protection Unit of the National Civilian Police.

The assassination of Ramiro Rivera appears to be another systematic act of violence that has occurred in Cabañas since June of this year: the kidnapping and brutal assassination of the activist Gustavo Marcelo Rivera; the death threats against journalists at Radio Victoria, the director of the Association for Social and Economic Development (ADES) and other community leaders in Cabañas; the sabotage of the broadcasting equipment at Radio Victoria; and the assassination attempt against the community leaders Father Luis Quintanilla and Ramiro Rivera.

I believe there is sufficient evidence to assume that Ramiro Rivera's murder and the other crimes are linked and part of a campaign to intimidate community organizations in Cabañas. It is alarming that the Attorney General’s Office under the direction of former acting Attorney General Ástor Escalante attributed these crimes to common violence, ignoring the evidence and antecedents that indicate the political nature of these events.

Therefore as a member of the international community, I now call on the Attorney General’s Office under the leadership of new Attorney General Romeo Barahona to carry out impartial, exhaustive and effective investigations of the assassination of Ramiro Rivera and all of these crimes in order to bring to justice the intellectual and material authors of these crimes and guarantee the protection of other community leaders in the region.

After the assassination of Marcelo Rivera in June, over 100 organizations in the U.S. and Canada sent a letter to the Attorney General’s office expressing their serious concern about the human rights abuses. Representative Jim McGovern of the U.S. Congress expressed the same concern in his meetings with Mr. Attorney General Romeo Barahona and with representatives of the administration of Mr. President Mauricio Funes during his recent visit to El Salvador.

I am sending a copy of this message to the Human Rights Ombudsman, Mr. Oscar Luna, who has shown a strong commitment to protect the security and human rights of social movement leaders in Cabañas.

Leaving these crimes in a state of impunity creates a climate of fear and uncertainty for the rest of the community leaders, undermining the advances in the democratic process in El Salvador.

I thank you in advance for your efforts to speed up the investigations and I hope that there will soon be justice in these cases and that the victims' lives will be protected and Ramiro’s family will be compensated for their loss.

[Your name]


El Salvador Journal 2005 Part V

We went to a lot of meetings in the first two days in El Salvador. On our second full day we met with Equipo Maiz, the Corn Team, who gave us an alternative history of El Salvador. History is so important if we want to get a true measure of the character of a country. This is the specialty of Equipo Maiz. They have worked since 1983 with small communities to develop a greater understanding of the people’s situation. Through workshops on gender issues, civil participation, privatization and leadership, they hope to equip people with the knowledge to better understand their current situation. They also specialize in telling the story of El Salvador’s past.

A key point in the story. In 1932, the government exterminated over 30,000 indigenous people after a failed revolt. This has resulted in the total denial of the native heritage of the Salvadorans. Unlike Mexico and Guatemala, there is no talk of an indigenous culture in El Salvador. There are really only two indigenous communities now in El Salvador. You can see the native heritage in the faces of the people, but the culture is kept in check. People fear a return to the 1930’s. They have good reason for their fears. Other countries like Haiti and Guatemala have suffered from similar disasters.

Equipo Maiz uses artwork to illustrate their talks on the history of El Salvador

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

El Salvador Journal 2005 Part IV

The past and the future are so close here. We were on our way to see a community that is growing and developing, but we had to pay homage to the past first. You can’t understand El Salvador without listening to the stories of the struggle. In Rio Lempe, I would like to think that the people are beginning to turn the corner on this long battle.

Funding has provided support for the development of local products including gourmet cheese, organic fruits, cashews and sugar. Community supports include an eye clinic, a water purification plant that provides good drinking water to the community, biological pesticide control and a biogenerator that provides methane gas for cooking.

The community has also developed a fishing co-op that seeks to return a greater share of the profits to local fishermen. Training has also been provided on filleting and salting processes. CORDES has also supported the development of an eco-tourism facility - Hostal Lempa Mar.

Hostal Lempa Mar consists of four cabins that can sleep three persons each. The hostal is located on the Lempa River and offers and excellent restaurant where visitors can enjoy local produce including red snapper taken from the Lempa. Apart from the peace and serenity of the Lempa, this facility also offers kayaking and boat rides on the Lempa. During the week, these same boats are used by the fishing co-op.

Profits from the Hostal stay in the community and all employees of the Hostal are members of the local community. Plans are in place to develop hiking trails in the area and it is hoped that Hostal Lempa Mar will soon be able to promote to the international community through the Internet.

Hostal Lempa Mar. Great fish and an afternoon ride on the Lempa

This area was devestated in the recent flooding

Monday, December 7, 2009

El Salvador Journal 2005 Part III

While the Peace Accords were signed in 1992, the struggle continues. The people of El Salvador continue to struggle for basic human rights, access to clean drinking water and good quality education. In the rural communities the provision of good quality health care continues to be a very real concern. Families struggle to make ends meet. The minimum wage provides a worker a salary of $154.00 (US) per month. CRIPDES and other social organizations estimate that the cost of living is closer to $625.00 a month. Prices continue to rise for basic services like water and transportation; wages are not keeping up with these increases. It is becoming increasingly difficult for families to survive.

In 1994, CORDES was created out of CRIPDES to provide technical assistance for rural communities. CORDES locates close to the communities it supports They are committed to developing productive activities in these communities in agricultural production, financial planning, entrepreneurial support, and public policy development and prevention and risk management.

The best way to describe the work of CORDES is to talk about Rio Lempe. CORDES is very active in this former insurgent enclave. This was the site of our first visit into the country. We visited a small community that is located on the site of a former cotton plantation. The previous owners deserted the area during the war. The present community located on the plantation after the Peace Accords in 1992.

The Rio Lempa, San Vincente

This was the story wherever we went. Relocated communities are trying to make a go of it with little government support. Most of these communities have very dramatic stories of the conflict. This on was no exception.

We visited a small community museum where captured arms are stored in a room with bullet-pocked walls. The local commander gave us a tour of the facility. His picture, from earlier days, with military uniform and black beret, were part of the display. We also visited the site where 28 insurgents are buried after a battle with the military in the community.

This is a country of graves.

One of the captured guns from the community museum. Note the holes in the walls.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

El Salvador Journal 2005 Part II

Our first full day was spent with two organizations, CRIPDES and CORDES. CRIPDES is our sponsoring organization. They had hired Roberto as our interpreter for the trip and we met him at the CRIPDES offices. Roberto and Miguel became our good friends and our best sources of information. Much of what we know about the lives of Salvadorans came from their stories.

We were introduced to Marta Lorena Araujo, President of CRIPDES, and Janet of CORDES.

CRIPDES started July 14, 1984 as an organization to support the people of El Salvador during the war. Originally, they worked with displaced people. CRIDPES works in 300 communities in El Salvador to support these communities in the establishment of basic services like health care, clean drinkable water, basic education and electricity. This reconstruction process began in earnest in 1986 when CRIPDES began to assist rural communities to relocate from refugee bases in Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.

The repatriation process is one of the early achievements of CRIPDES. In this they worked without government assistance. Support did come from the international community for the building of homes, roads, water infrastructure, education and health care. This rebuilding process continues to this day.

Monday, November 30, 2009

El Salvador Journal 2005 Part I

This is the first journal I wrote while in El Salvador in 2005 as part of a Development and Peace delegation

El Salvador Journal

Twelve days of journeying and learning

Paul McGuire July 2005

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 from the management of the country, repression. All this is what constitutes the primal cause, from which the rest flows naturally.

Oscar Romero SEPTEMBER 23, 1979

This is my journal documenting my trip this year to El Salvador. I took over one hundred pages of notes while on my trip. I do not intend to make this a faithful recording of these notes. Rather, this will be my account; words and images of ten days of learning. I hope this journal will serve as an accurate recounting that will help people gain a better understanding of what took place.

Our days centered on encounters with Salvadoran groups. We usually met with these groups for three hours. This gave us a chance to learn about their history, their current work projects and their goals for the future. We became very good listeners and the stories that we heard were inspiring.

Travel to El Salvador can take the better part of a day. We left Ottawa at 6:30 in the morning and arrived in the capitol, San Salvador around 8:00 PM. We met our guide, Miguel at the airport and we were transported to the Oasis, our home for the next ten days.

The Oasis is an incredible place. Run by ex-combatants, Damian and his wife, Carolina. We met groups, mainly from the US, who were there to work and visit sites from the war and local work projects. The place was rarely empty, a very interesting mix of people. There is some hope here. The United States has done a great deal to hurt this country. It is refreshing to see so many American students willing to learn some of the history of the long relationship that exists between the United States and El Salvador.

Oasis, San Salvador

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

“We Won’t Let them Turn our Town into a Desert”: The Salvadoran Resistance to Metallic Mining

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

by Julia Kaminsky, NY CISPES. Originally published by American Jewish World Service, one of ASIC’s international partners

“Que bello”—how beautiful, whispered my 17-year-old neighbor Chepe as we stepped back to admire our work, paintbrushes still in hand. What had started out that morning as a faint sketch on an otherwise unremarkable wall was now colorfully taking form as a mural of a crane encroaching upon a lush landscape. A steady stream of people had been arriving since the morning—on foot, on bicycles, in the back of a rusting red pickup—all eager to take up brushes and declare their opposition to gold mining in their town.

In March 2008, I arrived in San Isidro, a rural municipality of 10,000 people in Cabañas, one of El Salvador’s poorest regions. I was there to volunteer with Asociación Amigos de San Isidro, Cabañas (ASIC), a grassroots community-development organization. When I first set foot in the dusty town, I had no idea that I was walking into the epicenter of a national and international battle.

The gold-rich subsoil of northern El Salvador has attracted various foreign mining companies, among them Pacific Rim, which operates the most advanced gold exploration project in the country. It operates in San Isidro, near tributaries of the Lempa River—the lifeline of much of Cabañas and El Salvador. Exploratory drilling—the process by which the company finds gold deposits—has deepened groundwater levels, causing water sources in several of San Isidro’s rural communities to dry up.

A local activist, Graciela Funes, pointed to an empty cement tank that once was a well, saying, “People used to come here to wash their clothes, bathe, and bring water to their houses. I am afraid that we will be left without water.”

If Pacific Rim were to receive the extraction permit that it seeks from the Salvadoran government, the results would be disastrous. In a single day, the mine would use 900,000 liters of water—a quantity that could sustain the average Salvadoran household for 20 years. It would also use two tons of cyanide and other toxic substances, which would end up in the rivers, groundwater, air and rain.

Due to heavy deforestation, a long dry season, and inadequate facilities for treating wastewater, Salvadorans’ access to potable water is already low, particularly in rural areas. And given the importance of water for agriculture—the principle livelihood in the region—residents are outraged that their land is being ravaged for foreign economic gain.

In collaboration with local youth and other community groups, ASIC has painted three murals in San Isidro that celebrate the environment and denounce the exploitation that threatens to destroy it. They are part of an awareness campaign designed to get community members involved in the anti-mining movement.

When we finished our project, the community held a celebration inaugurating the murals. Hundreds of people from surrounding municipalities attended the event, which included a performance by 22-year-old rapper Wilfredo Lainez, a local hero for his socially conscious music. That day, he gazed out intently at the audience as he rapped: “We won’t let them turn our town into a desert.”

Armed with paint, words, and homemade beats, the people of San Isidro—from lawyers, to farmers, to young kids dreaming of a better life—are uniting, a veritable David up against a bulldozer-clawed Goliath. They have been joining forces with similarly affected communities throughout El Salvador and Central America through coalitions like the National Roundtable against Metallic Mining (see below). It is my hope that their work will pay off, and that access to clean water will become an inalienable right for all rather than a privilege for some.

I asked Ramiro Rivera, a community leader from a nearby town, why this cause is so important. He replied: “We are asking for respect, because even as a small community, we have dignity.”

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Road From Aguilares: Twenty Years Later: Remembering the Martyrs of El Salvador WILLIAM REISER | NOVEMBER 16, 2009

A group of highly trained Salvadoran soldiers entered the campus of the University of Central America in San Salvador shortly past midnight on Nov. 16, 1989. While their primary target was the president of the university, Ignacio Ellacuría, S.J., they murdered and mutilated nearly the entire Jesuit community—Ignacio and five others. A seventh member of the community, Jon Sobrino, S.J., was in Thailand teaching a course on Christology. The soldiers also murdered Elba and Celina Ramos, the Jesuits’ housekeeper and her daughter, who slept on campus that night to escape the anxiety caused by the bullets and artillery around the neighborhood where they lived.

What happened that night brought home grimly yet powerfully the prophetic dimension of teaching and research, when these activities are informed by an option for the poor. The 32nd General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, which met in 1974-75, put the entire order on record: “The mission of the Society of Jesus today is the service of faith, of which the promotion of justice is an absolute requirement.” The 33rd General Congregation (1983) reaffirmed that direction and insisted that “we wish to make our own the church’s preferential option for the poor.”

A Weak-Willed Congress

The civil war in El Salvador lasted 12 years, from 1980 to 1992, and claimed 75,000 lives. The incompetence of American foreign policy with respect to the conditions that led to the conflict and in understanding who benefitted from the U.S. support of the Salvadoran military was appalling. As a result of the assassinations at the university, a weak-willed U.S. Congress finally began to face the problem of U.S. complicity in the Salvadoran situation. Representative Joe Moakley, Democrat of Massachusetts, was appointed to lead an investigation that turned out to be as courageous as it was eye-opening. El Salvador was not the only place in Latin America where the poor were being abased. Nine years earlier, four North American women who were returning to El Salvador—two Maryknoll sisters, an Ursuline nun and a co-worker—were raped and murdered on their way from the airport. And two days before Archbishop Oscar Romero was gunned down at the altar on March 24, 1980, another Jesuit, Luis Espinal, was ambushed in La Paz, Bolivia, and silenced for his defense of the rights and dignity of the poor.

The stories of such “martyrs for justice,” as Father Jon Sobrino calls the slain Jesuits and many others, do not begin with the martyrs themselves but with the people on the bottom—the victims of poverty, miscarriages of justice and class prejudice; the throwaways and the “disappeared.” The story of the Salvadoran Jesuits, for example, takes us to the political, social and economic oppression endured by peasants so poor that they needed to be catechized before they could imagine that the world could be different. What would El Salvador look like if God’s will were done on earth, just as it is in heaven?

Father Ellacuría and his companions understood that the mission of a Christian university as an apostolic instrument is not disconnected from the economic and political conditions of the society in which it is located. On the contrary, the university’s mission derives directly from its awareness of the everyday reality that poor people endure. But as Father Sobrino explains in his essay “The University’s Christian Inspiration,” because a university needs resources it is almost by necessity implicated in a world of economic and political power, and “this incarnation amid power tends to distance the university from social reality as lived by the poorest and most marginalized.” Indeed, even the church has to be careful never to lose sight of the world of the poor, and contact with it. Preachers and teachers whose hearts and intelligence are immersed in that world are more attuned to the deeper rhythms of Scripture. Distance from the poor leads to distance from God.

Aguilares and Rutilio Grande

Aguilares was the village where Rutilio Grande, S.J., had been working and the place to which his close friend, Oscar Romero, rushed when he heard the news of Grande’s assassination on March 12, 1977. It was also where Romero later, as archbishop, experienced a profound spiritual awakening. The bishop’s “place,” he came to understand, is with his people; he is never more bishop than when walking alongside the poorest and most vulnerable of his diocese. Aguilares was also where the Jesuits, so suspect in the eyes of El Salvador’s elite and of Archbishop Romero himself earlier, came to be of one heart and mind. The poor were powerless. Christ became poor, which means that he also became powerless. And the reason for the impoverishment both of Jesus and the people? Because, in El Salvador, others had become rich and privileged at their expense. Poverty is visible, but the oppressive forces that create structural violence are usually hidden. One needs the lens of solidarity to perceive those forces, and Aguilares gave the archbishop the lens that enabled him to identify what he saw as crucifixion.

Father Ellacuría and the other Jesuits in his community had already undergone their “Aguilares moment,” the flash that shatters the familiarity hiding the underside of everyday life. What immediately grabs attention is that they were murdered, not the conversion process that led to the radicalization of their vision. In the case of the archbishop, however, it is less his murder that fascinates us than the story of how a conservative churchman became prophetic.

By contrast, Ignacio Ellacuría’s conversion, his embrace of the central categories that came to be associated with the theology of liberation, unfolded gradually, largely through reading, study and discussion. His theological orientation was rooted in the Second Vatican Council. He had fully digested Paul VI’s encyclical Populorum Progressio (1967) and the documents from the Second Conference of the Latin American bishops in Medellín, Colombia, in 1968. His doctoral work in philosophy sharpened his ability to decipher the historical reality that was El Salvador. Apostolic activity without a vision of the kingdom of God tends to validate itself in terms of helping people into the next life but at the risk of meekly acquiescing to the way things are now. Apostolic activity with a vision of the horizon wants to transform the world. It is a faith that does justice, which means that the church—especially its pastors and teachers—tries to make its voice heard in the political arena. As a result, Romero encountered severe opposition among the Salvadoran elites and their military, and in some corridors of the Vatican.

Because the demands of social justice often require stepping into a country’s political life, Father Ellacuría found himself immersed in negotiations between the government and the revolutionary resistance during the course of the country’s civil war. What is intriguing is how he came to his view of justice and liberation by reading and studying and through the clarification of thought and expression that results from conversation and argument. As they fulfill their mission, Christian universities facilitate such a shift in perspective. Some people actually do read their way into conversion. St. Ignatius did so while recuperating after the battle in Pamplona, although even in his case some spiritual lessons were learned only from experience and not from books.

Ellacuría’s Aguilares Moment

I suspect, then, that Ellacuría’s Aguilares moment was in fact extended over some time. While he read, studied and talked, the world in front of him never lost its political and social immediacy. His ability to imagine was not insensitive to “the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted,” as the opening line of Gaudium et Spes put it, by class loyalties or ecclesiastical privilege or doctrinal mindset. Since fear keeps truth at bay, it closes our eyes to hard realities we need to face. The Jesuits’ Central American Province newsletter noted: “When people would ask Ellacu if he were not afraid he would say no, but, he added, he no more took credit for that than for lacking a sense of smell. He just didn’t have one.” The world of the poor and of victims was not outside, awaiting full access to his mind and heart. It was already within him.

Jesuit colleges and universities become effective instruments insofar as they have a critical mass of faculty members and staff who share the same Christian inspiration that Ellacuría and his companions brought to the Catholic university in San Salvador and by which they transformed it. The hard part is not assembling the critical mass, however; it is discovering that inspiration and keeping it alive. Here I draw on personal experience. By 1988 I had been teaching theology for 10 years. The theology was in line with Vatican II. I drew widely and appreciatively on liberation theology and Catholic social teaching; the forceful words of the Society’s 32nd General Congregation about justice and faith struck a deep chord. To this point, I could follow Ellacuría. But then, over the course of a weekend, I came face to face with poverty among families no more than a mile from the campus in Massachusetts where I was living and working.

A Late Personal Discovery

Within weeks I was looking at the underside of life in rundown apartments, where shadows and shouts awakened long-buried fears about violence, about different lifestyles, about brokenness and isolation. The memory of Romero—not his martyrdom but his enlightenment—enabled me to make sense of what was happening. I myself was passing through an Aguilares moment, and the people I met were Latino. It was a moment of feeling terribly disoriented and unmoored, yet at the same time untied and excited. Even now, more than 20 years later, I cannot figure out why the discovery took so long in coming. Its delay was not for lack of better training or critical reflection, nor was it for want of forceful church documents and living models. More likely it had to do with fear and insecurity: not a fear of death so much as a fear of hostility, violence and failure, of not knowing how to respond to circumstances and backgrounds so different from my own and so greatly beyond my control.

The next step is obvious. We develop friendships with the very ones who have made us unsettled and afraid. While we might not be as free as Jesus when it comes to seeking the company of those at the margins, at least as a start these friendships enable us to move beyond fear and insecurity, defensiveness and hostility. These relationships reshape how we observe, interpret and respond to the world. The lesson of the martyrs is that whether we think of the world in local or global terms, there is no way to escape the route toward the mortal conflict that tears society in two, except by what Paul called “this ministry of reconciliation.” Working for justice is absolutely essential. But if suspicion and estrangement are not overcome, the kingdom of God remains only partially realized. We may be able to read ourselves into the horizon of justice, but we cannot read ourselves into freedom from fear. The way to that liberation passes through the villages and homes of the poor—the road that leads from Aguilares.

William Reiser, S.J., is a professor of religious studies at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Update from Real News on Pacific Rim's suit against El Salvador

El Salvador's gold fight goes international

After activists block their permit, Canadian company uses US trade agreement to sue Salvadoran gov't

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


We will be having our first meeting for our July 2010 trip.  If you are outside the Ottawa area and would like to be involved, please e-mail Paul McGuire (address below)



Thursday, November 12,

Frank Ryan Catholic School

Collective of Ontario Teachers Moving for Peace, Action, Development, and

Relationship in El Salvador

Unite with us for the third trip in forging sustainable links between Ontario Teachers and communities in El Salvador


 “Because there is nothing more genuine and honest than being involved in communities taking charge of their own lives.” Maureen Bourke, Gr 12 religion teacher, Holy Trinity H.S.

 “Because it’s a total rush seeing that social justice and economic sustainability is about survival and not just trendy catchphrases.” Wayne Ng, social worker, Student Services

 Because you love adventure and learning outside of the box

 Because you want to learn about meaningful partnerships with grassroots development agencies such as Development and Peace, Salvaide, CRIPDES, etc..

 Because your sense of social justice and analysis of the critical issues affecting people in the North and the South matters

 Because you want to witness El Salvadoran social movements as…

 Communities attempting to protect their own land from Canadian mining ventures

• Workers defending their rights in maquila and agro-export plantations

• Farmers collectivizing over the impact of biotechnology on food security

• Peasants (campesinos) struggling to recuperate land

• Women struggling to fully participate in their society

 Because you want to apply such experiences to the social teachings of the Church

This meeting is for all Board staff members who would like to join our delegation this July. This introductory meeting will take place November 12 from 4:00 – 5:30PM. Please contact Paul McGuire for more information.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

El Salvador listed as one of top ten countries to visit!

Lonely Planet, the travel guide publisher, has released the 2010 edition of its Best in Travel report. This year, incredible as it might seem, El Salvador was listed as one of the top 10 countries in the world to visit. From the report:

El Salvador sneaks up on you: in lefty lounge bars in San Salvador, at sobering war memorials and musums, and along lush cloud-forest trails; it's a place of remarkable warmth and intelligence, made all the more appealing for being so unexpected....Ane when it comes to cities, none in Central America is smarter or cooler than San Salvador, with first-rate universities, museums and galleries, a vibrant bar and live-music scene, and an array of progressive NGOs, both local and international.

The number one country in the list was New Zealand. The other countries named in Lonely Planet's top 10 were Germany, Greece, Malaysia, Morocco, Nepal, Portugal, Suriname, and the USA.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Stories of War and Hope

Stories of War and Hope  From Tim's Blog

Worth a visit is the website El Salvador: Stories of War and Hope. The website has collected oral testimonies of participants in the events of El Salvador's civil war. The words of these participants put a human face on that tumultuous period for an English speaking audience.

One Story

Defending Our Town - Miguel

Miguel (not his real name) grew up in a town terrorized by death squads. When he was merely six years old, he was forced to witness the death of his own first grade teacher. Historically, this event coincides with the repression against teacher's strikes (1969 and 1971) organized by the ANDES-21, or National Association of Salvadoran Educators.

By the time he was twelve, Miguel and other children in the town decided to create a defense group, armed with slingshots, to try to put a stop to the nightly kidnappings and murders. The group of approximately 50 adolescents slowly became a small guerrilla as they confronted the army with stolen weapons. They eventually joined the FMLN when the war exploded, and Miguel was among the survivors who “liberated” his town from the armed forces to incorporate it into guerrilla-controlled territory.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Impact of Global Warming on the River Basins of the Lempa River in El Salvador

By voicesfromelsalvador

This week, El Faro posted a story on a recent environmental report that identifies the Lempa River Basin as one of the regions particularly vulnerable to climate change. Dr. Edwin P. Maurer and his colleagues from the University of Santa Clara authored the report, in which they find that storms in the Central American region will continue to grow in both intensity and frequency. Their review of climate change models also reveals that the region is also vulnerable to more frequent droughts.

The Lempa River Basin is the largest river system in Central America, passing through Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador before emptying out in to the Pacific Ocean. With a drainage area of 18,000 km2, it is directly affected by changes related to global warming, according to the report. In addition to providing water resources to cities and communities throughout Central America, the Lempa River generates an estimated half of El Salvador’s energy via hydroelectric dams. The report attempted to answer 3 main questions. The first, what are the projected changes in the rain and temperature in the river? The second, what are the projected changes in the flow of the river? Lastly, will the impact of climate change be statistically significant?

The report found that by the end of the 21st Century, the Lempa River Basin will likely experience the following changes:

The average temperatures will rise 1.9-3.4 degrees centigrade, with the highest increases during the months of June and July;

Climate change models agree that the region will be drier, with a 5-10% decrease in precipitation – they project that May and June will be much drier, extending the dry season well into the first half of the rainy season;

The flow of water to the largest hydroelectric dams will decrease by 13-14%;

July and August will experience the greatest decrease in flow of water, falling off 21-41%;

The capacity to generate electricity will likely decrease by 33-53%.

The report’s findings have serious implications for El Salvador. The authors advise that agencies in charge of water management in the region prepare for a reduction in water resources for consumption purposes, and energy production. The impact will also affect agricultural production, at very least shortening the growing season, which traditionally begins in early May. Farmers who depend on the Lempa River to irrigate their crops may also have fewer water resources with which to do so. El Salvador’s water supply has already decreased in recent years, with dramatic drops in water tables, and widespread contamination of the country’s surface waters. A further decrease in water resources could be catastrophic.

The report also has implications for the El Chaparral Dam project in Northern San Miguel. While El Salvador’s demand for energy may increase, investing in another hydroelectric dam seems like a poor use of limited resources when other options such as solar and wind energy production are viable.

Though much of the report discusses the impacts of droughts and decreases in precipitation, the climate change models also predict that the region will experience stronger storms more frequently. This could mean that regions such as the Lower Lempa region San Vicente and Usulután could experience even more flooding.

Industrialized countries such as the U.S., China, India, and others have time to lower their carbon emissions and lessen these impacts. Until they do, communities in the region ought to begin preparing. Possible steps may include strict water management regulations that ensure equal access to water resources, and end the large-scale contamination of surface waters with industrial and municipal waste. El Salvador and its neighbors ought to continue its fight to prevent mining activities that threaten water resources such as the Lempa River with heavy metals and other toxic waste. The government of El Salvador must fulfill its obligation to complete the systems of levees and drainage ditches that protect the Lower Lempa of Usulután and San Vicente, and other regions from flooding during strong storms, prolonged rains, and mismanagement of the hydroelectric dams. And each community ought to have risk management and emergency response plans in place that anticipate all scenarios and consider impacts on food production and economic development. Most importantly, we should all take greater steps to lower carbon emissions, and pressure governments of industrialized countries to agree to tougher regulations that lower emissions.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009



By Dr. Juan Almendares, October 2009

The military coup in Honduras of 28 June, 2009, has been stripped of its democratic facade. The watchwords of the ‘de facto regime’, that have emerged from the violence, are: "God, Law and Order".

The regime has openly adopted the methods of Stroessner, the late dictator of Paraguay, on declaring a State of Emergency - in reality a State of Siege - that aims to suppress all resistance and silence all opposition. It has closed down Radio Globo and CHOLUSAT SUR, two principal media houses that have continuously and valiantly provided news on the real situation in Honduras.

The legitimate president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya Rosales, together with his family and associates, have been subjected to physical and psychological torture; and for all practical purposes deprived of their liberty in the embassy of Brazil, in violation of international treaties.

International pressure has forced the de facto regime to dialogue with President Zelaya. But this is a solipsistic dialogue that is being prolonged cynically and endlessly, with the aim of legitimising the forthcoming [November 29th] `presidential elections´ being conducted by the illegal regime under their `democracy´.

The country is divided between the coup forces and the anti-coup forces. The two sides have completely different and antagonistic philosophies, discourses, practices and methods.


The golpista (coup) philosophy assumes that it is the owner of reality, by right, and by inheritance. This 'reality' is fixed and immutable. It is established and sanctified by the god of the powerful and the theology of armed and violent oppression; a reality in which the gilded world of the rich is in confrontation with the oppressive world of the poor and with those who have no right to justice and to love.

The golpistas´ conception of the world is based on an a-historical, ontological vision; one in which the social being has no place and the people do not exist.

It is this frame of reference which justified the military coup that aborted the holding of a non-binding poll - the "Fourth Ballot" - in which the people were to be asked their opinion on the installation of a National Constituent Assembly.

The golpista ideology holds that the "Constitution is God." It's advisors and practitioners are disciples of the Pentagon's 'School of the Americas' and of the extreme right in the United States and Latin America.

The epistemology underlying the vision of the golpistas is one that totally ignores the potential of the people as subjects, capable of understanding and changing social reality.

Knowledge and education are a function of the market and of capital accumulation. The regime´s assumptions of its own validity and political legitimacy go along with a kind of legal formalism in which the law is completely separate from social life.

This view is not only perverse but false, for it flagrantly distorts the truth. It denies that a military coup took place, falsifies records and ignores the systematic violations of human rights and corruption.

The method of the golpistas is to promote a "syndrome of attrition and of physical, mental and political exhaustion". The strategy seeks to defeat the opposition by means of irregular warfare; media, religious and military terrorism; detentions, beatings and torture. It includes assassinations of leaders, teachers, artists, youth and women - femicide has increased by 60 percent.

The economic cost of the military coup, in the first three months, has been over $800 million, implying a loss of nearly $30 million a day.


But in the face of all this pain and suffering a giant has awoken; a new hope has been born. The Honduran people has rediscovered itself. Moved by its dreams of freedom, it acts in defiance of those who have hitherto sought to shut it out from the making of history.

The myths of media power have been shattered. The powerful, with their technology of manipulation, have failed to deceive the people. The walls of silence have collapsed. Charcoal burners, the colours of the earth, have served as tools for the working people and artists in the making of their own history: in writing, painting, dancing, acting, singing the poetry of freedom; confronting tanks, shrapnel, toxic gases and treacherous daggers with shouts of pain and anger: "!Golpistas! Golpistas!".


A people have been born, a new hope, in the form of the National Front Against the Military Coup. Its objectives are organized mobilization to struggle against injustice, to build political power through genuine participation of the citizenry in the National Constituent Assembly and to profoundly transform the Constitution of the Republic.

Its principles are based on "Non-Violence". It has sustained over one hundred days of heroic marches under the sun and the rain of bullets, beatings, stabbings and the terror of noxious gases.

However, in a country still under military occupation by the United States, where the cowardly Honduran armed forces and police spend huge amounts of money at the expense of hunger and disease of children and environmental destruction by multinational corporations; they will never extinguish the courage and the voices of nonviolence shouting in every corner of Honduras: 'Long Live the Resistance!'

The martyrdom and heroism of the Honduran Resistance is a call to all peoples of the world for no more military coups and no more military bases in Latin America.

It is a call for human and world peace; for respect for the dignity of our peoples and for their history; for social and environmental justice in the heart of Mother Earth.

The path of hope and liberation, in the face of crimes against humanity, is through full consolidation of the Resistance as a nonviolent political, cultural and spiritual force that builds and leads the taking of power.

No change that is genuinely democratic can occur if it excludes the National Front Against the Coup as the largest and most significant political force in Honduras. It is the most indisputable historical fact of our present and of the future; a force with which the people dream and are constructing the dawn of a new day for our country.

Juan Almendares, Tegucigalpa, October, 2009

Landline: 504-237-5700; Cell-phone 504-9985-4150

(Google translation revised by Norman Girvan)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Action Alert: Tell Pacific Rim to Drop the $77 Million Lawsuit Against El Salvador

In the department of Cabañas, El Salvador, communities have been protesting against a proposed gold mining project by Pacific Rim, a Canadian mining company. Their concern? That cyanide used to extract gold would poison El Salvador’s largest river, the primary source of drinking water for millions in the country. Their protests were strong enough to shut down the El Dorado gold mining site. In 2007, the Ministry of Environment denied Pacific Rim’s permit to start drilling for gold.

But Pacific Rim is not listening. Instead, the company is suing the Salvadoran government for $77 million for “lost profit” (read more about the Pacific Rim lawsuit). How can they do this?! The U.S. Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) protects the “rights” of corporations over national laws that safeguard workers and the environment. Chapter 10 of CAFTA gives private foreign investors the “right” to sue for “profit infringement” and extort millions of dollars from governments like El Salvador.

Since the U.S. Congress voted to approve CAFTA in 2005—by a mere two votes—the cross-border resistance has continued. The Salvadoran people have successfully mobilized to block the privatization of health care and water and other policies tied to this “free” trade agreement.

But death squad violence in El Salvador has resurfaced since the passing of CAFTA, specifically targeting trade unionists, resource rights activists and members of the left political party, the FMLN (Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation). In June 2009, the anti-mining struggle turned deadly when outspoken community leader Marcelo Rivera was tortured and killed. The right-wing Attorney General has refused to investigate this as a political assassination, or to investigate numerous death threats, kidnapping and assassination attempts in Cabañas.

Pacific Rim’s lawsuit could devastate El Salvador’s economy, taking state funds out of necessary social programs like farming, health care and education and putting it in the pockets of corporate shareholders in North America. Call CEO Thomas Shrake and demand that Pacific Rim withdraw its lawsuit and respect the will of the Salvadoran people by closing the mines!

CALL Pacific Rim Headquarters today -- from the U.S. 1- (888) 775-7097 or from Canada (604) 689-1976 -- and leave a message with the corporate secretary (see call script below).

You can also email Pacific Rim directly.

For more information on local actions and the anti-mining struggle, please visit

* Find out about actions happening this week in U.S. and Canadian cities near you

* Check out recent CISPES Updates and Action Alerts

* Read the CISPES lawsuit info-sheet “CAFTA’s Golden SWINDLE”


Use the following script to contact Thomas Shrake, CEO and President of Pacific Rim:

To call from the U.S. dial 1- (888) 775-7097, or from Canada (604) 689-1976, then leave a message for the corporate secretary:

1. Hello, I am calling to urge President and CEO Thomas Shrake and the Board of Pacific Rim, to drop the lawsuit you filed against the government of El Salvador. Local and national civic organizations have been actively opposing the El Dorado mine since 2004. Salvadoran environmentalists, economists and social movement leaders have roundly rejected the mine, and now this outrageous lawsuit, on a number of grounds.

2. Choose 1 or 2 of the following points.

· Environmental: Salvadoran community activists and environmental organizations have consistently denounced the devastating environmental impacts that would result from the El Dorado mine. The mine would contaminate the river that serves as the primary source of drinking water for the majority of Salvadorans and use over 10,000 gallons of water a day. All this in a country where 30% of the rural population lacks access to potable water.

· Trade justice: The Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), the basis for Pacific Rim’s lawsuit, was widely opposed throughout the U.S. and Central America. Citizen advocacy groups in El Salvador charge that CAFTA is unconstitutional and have brought the case before their Supreme Court. As CAFTA’s legitimacy itself is in question, Pacific Rim’s lawsuit appears even more bogus.

· Economic: According to economic experts, the mine provides no long-term economic benefit for El Salvador, only for Pacific Rim. The gold mining industry contributes only 0.04% to El Salvador’s GDP while foreign companies like Pacific Rim plan to take away millions in profit.

· Human rights: I have heard first-hand accounts of horrible political violence against community members in Cabañas who have actively opposed the El Dorado mine. Even if Pacific Rim did not directly instigate this violence, the murder of Marcelo Rivera, and the attempted assassinations of Father Luis Quintanilla and Ramiro Rivera are undoubtedly a result of Pacific Rim’s presence. The fact that people are risking their lives to fight against El Dorado shows just how unwelcome gold mines are and how disgraceful this lawsuit is.

· Sovereignty: This lawsuit infringes upon the rights of sovereign governments to protect the interests of their people as they see fit. Each country has the right to determine how its land is used, as well as the fate of its natural resources. Your lawsuit tramples on those rights.

3. It is shameful that Mr. Shrake is willing to wreak profound economic damage on an entire nation for the financial gain of his company. These lawsuits will hit the poorest people in El Salvador the hardest. If Mr. Shrake has his way, much-needed funding for social programs like health care, food and housing will go directly into the pockets of your shareholders.

For these reasons, I again urge you to withdraw the disgraceful lawsuit that Pacific Rim has filed against El Salvador. that Pacific Rim has filed against El Salvador.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Make Poverty History Video

As we gear up for a monumental event on October 16th, 17th and 18th, we want to share with you our latest video. "You Can End Poverty", launched on YouTube this week, focuses on a powerful truth: We are the first generation with the power to end poverty. Each one of us holds tremendous power to effect real change like never before. Our collective mobilization can send a clear message to world governments that we refuse to be silent in the face of ongoing poverty and inequality. We can achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals and end poverty 2015. Learn how we can do it.

Check out this video and join me in Standing Up Against Poverty!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Pacific Rim - panel discussion

Pacific Rim, a Canadian mining corporation with operations in El Salvador, has launched arbitration procedures against the Salvadoran government and is demanding millions of dollars in compensation for “failure to fulfill its obligations” under the C...entral America Free Trade Agreement, CAFTA-DR. If the law suit succeeds, other companies that hold exploration licenses covering over 20% of the country’s surface will follow suit. Is CAFTA the new “El Dorado” of Canadian mining companies in Central America? This panel invites you to debate these and other important related topics

Invited speakers:

Bernardo Belloso and William Castillo, Reps of the 2009 Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award Winners: La Mesa Nacional Frente a la Mineria en El Salvador; and

Jorge Velarde, Ph.D. Candidate, Université du Québec en Outaouais

Date: Friday, October 23, 2009
Time: 7:00pm - 9:00pm
Location: University of Ottawa--Colonel By Hall, room B205

This public lecture will be presented in French and Spanish. English translation will be available. A short documentary will be presented to facilitate the discussion.

Event sponsored by The School of International Development and Global Studies, Territorio Libre, SalvAIDE and the Salvadorian Canadian Association of Ottawa

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Threats to journalists in El Salvador

This morning one of our community correspondents received a written threat outside the front door of his house, saying they were still around, that he better be careful, that it would be better to leave and mentioning different people in the radio and saying he better stop expressing opinions against mayors and national assembly deputies or we will all be sorry, soon they will kill another and that they receive orders from above.

We are denouncing this new threat and also threats against a young woman around 20 years old from San Isidro who was very close to Marcelo Rivera and Jose Beltran. She has been followed, had men outside her house in the middle of the night pointing to her bedroom and received a threatening phone call.

we ask again that you denounce these threats to the General Attorney´s office, his name is Romeo Barahona, in San Salvador:

Jesse Freeston []

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Compadres Journal Part VIII

It is interesting to note the reaction of our delegation members to their meetings with teachers and civil society organizations. There was an increasing awareness of what people are working for in El Salvador. They also gained a good understanding of the country’s recent, violence history. We visited sites where Jesuit priests were killed in 1989. We went to mass in the basement of the cathedral next to the tomb of Oscar Romero. We visited the chapel where Romero was killed. We heard many stories about the savagery of the war and its lasting impact.

My sense from the teachers is that El Salvador is a country where we can contribute a great deal. We have a sense of the spirit of the people and the incredible difficulties they have endured. I think this is a place where we can contribute and we can learn.

We have great wealth, and with wealth comes responsibility. We need to share what we have with those who want a better society. We have all the tools and we are very good at what we do. If we turn our focus to El Salvador, what can we accomplish?

Post script: We expect to hear soon what next year's project will look like. It will be more focused than the last two years and will be designed to allow Canadian teachers to interact in a meaningful way with educators in El Salvador.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Continuing problems with Pacific Rim in El Salvador

This article comes from upside down world. It goes into the Pacific Rim response to accusations made against it regarding the violence in Cabañas. Investor confidence in the company seems high and plans to pursue the lawsuit against El Salvador continue on track.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Compadres Journal Part VII

The analysis is very important for us. Too often, we are willing to give without ever asking the question – why is it really necessary to give? Why are they so poor and we are so rich? Whatever we do in El Salvador, it will be important for teachers to understand the root causes of the poverty they see.

What does economic and social development look like? CORDES believes in following an approach that is different from the current economic model. For CORDES, it is important that the producers are the owners of the production chain. The market is simply an instrument to allow people to share the wealth.

There is a strong focus on food security, crop diversity and fair trade. There are many examples of projects that CORDES has funded that allow people a greater share of the wealth. These include women’s co-ops producing cheese and cashews for national and international markets, production of fruits and vegetables for the national market, production of organic sugar and the training and technical assistance for local fishermen with the objective of selling produce nationally.

One example of CORDES work is cashew production. The communities are involved in the total production process from the planting of cashew tress to the production of cashews and cashew juice for export to Brazil. Production is going well; they now have machines to extract the cashew from the husk. Before this, workers would bask the hard nut to get to the cashew. This is part of the organic agricultural movement that also includes the production of sugar cane, vegetables as well as non-chemical pesticides.

Cashew production at a CORDES project in the Bajo Lempa region
The cashews are exported to Europe

CORDES also has links to other Latin American organizations. They have taken part in international forums on transitioning from war to peace.

If we ask the question, what does it mean to build a better world, CORDES members would respond it means a world that is more just than now. There is a need for change in the North. The level of consumption is too high in Canada and the United States. We need to learn to consume at a responsible and realistic level. There needs to be more solidarity with the North to better understand the challenges of the Global South. What CORDES has seen through their student program with Spanish universities is that the students go back transformed and better able to follow responsible consumption practices. What would happen if our teachers were exposed to such an environment?

Because of the economic crisis, there are now fewer remittances from the North. Remittances is a major source of income for the people of El Salvador. People who are working in Canada and the United States send money back to their families. The flow of money is beginning to dry up. This leads to further economic pressure on the people. More opportunities need to be created for youth so that there is incentive to stay in the country. For example, in Bajo Lempa there is a youth project to produce clay bio-filters for water. The technical expertise for this project comes from Brazil. The filters can extract over 90% of bacterial contaminants in the water. There is only one production centre in all of El Salvador and the filters are in high demand.

The bio-filter project

Monday, September 14, 2009

Compadres Journal Part VI

It seems to me that there are some good possibilities for partnership in this area. Unlike San Jose Las Flores, there are few international partners working with the schools. The University of Barcelona sends students each year to work in the schools. There is some exchange of information through this partnership, but the teachers want more. Here we can explore ways to exchange ideas and develop strong, sustainable links.

There seems to be some amount of hope in the country now. We met with many civil society organizations who now for the first time feel that they will be heard by the government. In the case of CRIPES, there is the possibility of government funding. Some of their senior members are now part of the government. Their agenda for change is quite ambitious. In our discussions with their leaders they outlined their plans. The strategic plan for the future of CRIPDES is designed to build a new world for Salvadorans. They are putting the focus on the welfare of the people. There is a driving desire to change the poverty that has existed for years. People need to reclaim their right to speak and advocate for themselves. Specifically, CRIPDES needs to create opportunities for youth so that they stay in the country. The first step is to provide greater access to higher education. There is also a need for a political plan to protect the environment and provide clean drinking water for all people. It is essential that organizations continue to work with women’s groups as well. CRIPDES also plans to continue work on mining and water privatization, lack of access to resources and credit. There also needs to be more security so that people feel safe in their local areas.

discussions with local CRIPDES group in
Bajo Lempa

Another Salvadoran organization, CORDES clearly outlines what needs to be done for the growth of the country and its people. This is taken from an interview with the CORDES director of international relations.

CORDES works closely with CRIPDES in many communities especially in the area of local economic development. CORDES is active in half of the Departments of El Salvador. More specifically; they work to support food production, technical assistance, housing and infrastructure. After the war, there was no infrastructure. With the help of international agencies, CORDES has been able to work on the development of many communities. Their main source of funding is from international groups and they have established links with some universities in other countries.

CORDES started working during the war accompanying Salvadorans in their struggle. Sine the war, their work has developed in three distinct directions:

1) Analysis of the condition of the people and their social and economic conditions
2) Developing a plan for the future – what dreams do Salvadorans have for their future?
3) Economic and social development for the people

Saturday, September 12, 2009

What would you like to be?

One of the really interesting visits on this trip was to one of the schools in the Bajo Lempa area.

We had time here to talk with the students about their future.  Their answers reflect that students where ever they are want the same things for themselves and their families.

Notes from high school students – what do you want to do in the future?

“I want to be a lawyer to fight the injustice that occurs is El Salvador”

“I would like to study journalism because it is active and I like the news”

“I want to go to university and be a professional and get a doctorate”

“I want to get a good job to help my community and help my family”

“I want to get a college education. It is very difficult because transportation is expensive. If I can’t go I would like to find work”

“I want to get a degree in language or business”

“I would like to be a lawyer so I can be a help to my country that has suffered so much”

“It is our role to help people in return; they have helped us”

“I want to study communications so that I can defend myself and am prepared”

“I want to get a degree in public accounting and help those in need and to defend myself”

“I would like to study medicine in the university”

For these students to get to university, they will need assistance.

I wonder how many of these students will get the opportunity to fulfill their dreams. It has always struck me as so unfair that students with so much energy and promise do not get the opportunity to develop their skills to the point where they can lead change in their country.

At the same time, there is no question that education is the key to their future.  Over the years since this visit, I have met many young committed Salvadorans who are doing their utmost to make their country strong.

We can never lose hope when so many young people aspire to change the world.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Compadres Journal Part IV

This is a system just now receiving support from their government. The current vice-president is a former teacher. Teachers now have growing expectations that things will change for the better. What a wonderful time to get involved in partnership with Salvadoran educators!

We visited schools in the Bajo Lempa area and in San Jose Las Flores. There is a great discrepancy between the schools in these areas. San Jose Las Flores has a thriving school community headed by Nelson, a true education innovator. Their first schools were built from the rubble of crumbling buildings. Nelson started teaching with a third grade education. His students used charcoal to write on rocks. By the end of the war, a group of teachers were able to upgrade their education and become certified. Now there is a branch of UCA, the Jesuit University in San Jose Las Flores. Over 300 students have signed up to take courses at this satellite school. Teachers now receive training in the community. This community has had a long-lasting connection with the Sisters of Ascension in Spain and from the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts through the Sister Cities Program. Linkages with groups outside the country work very well to assist the Salvadoran people to develop strong, vital communities. This is part of the social and economic rebuilding that needs to take place throughout the country. While communities like San Jose Las Flores receive a good deal of help from international donors, there is no question that the local people are the ones in control.

The schools in Bajo Lempa receive less support. Teachers in this area are poorly paid and many student come to school without food or water. Transportation is a major expense for parents costing up to $1.00 a day. The teachers are completely dedicated, apart from teaching; they are responsible for the physical maintenance of the school. The administrator of the school has the standard duties of one running a school, but she receives no compensation for these duties.

Meeting with high school students in Bajo Lempa was a wonderful experience. For over an hour we asked them about their lives and struggles, but we mainly focused on their hopes. I record them all here, one thing is very obvious, they want to be a part of the change that is coming to El Salvador.

meeting with high school students
in the Bajo Lempa area

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Compadres Journal Part III

Students from the Bajo Lempa area

I think we have learned a great deal about education over the last two years. The schools are understaffed and underfunded. The previous ARENA government ignored the schools for twenty years. The attention is only turning to the education of children now with the election of the Funes government. On both trips, participants spent a good amount of time talking with students, teachers and administrators about the challenges they face every day.

The list of difficulties is long, but it leads to many ideas on how we can contribute in a meaningful way. Here are a few examples gleaned from discussions with teachers this year. Most teachers work two shifts a day – up to ten hours – in order to make ends meet. The building and unkeep of the schools is the responsibility of the teachers and the surrounding community. If you need new lights, the teachers provide this, if you need furniture, the school turns to the community, if you need to build a school, you build it. Traditionally, no help comes from the government. On a professional level, teachers yearn to learn more about advanced teaching methods but there is no provision for releasing them from their weekly duties. Any professional learning would have to take place on the weekend. This is not practical given their working conditions. In fact, there is no school specifically designed to train teachers in El Salvador.

Children can travel up to two hours to reach school and many come to school hungry. There are few resources to assist students with learning difficulties. Often these students leave school to find jobs selling items on the streets.

Wall painting in San Jose Las Flores
depicting the first schools in the area

Many students are pulled from school to help their parents with farming or fishing chores. While many of the students we spoke with aspire to achieve great things, access to high school and especially university is limited. The state of education is in very poor shape, but we should remember that twenty years ago, there were no teachers and few schools. Students were taught by teachers with only slightly more education than their students under the trees. In some cases, schools were strafed by government planes.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Compadres Journal Part II

Over the past two years, we have gained a greater understanding of the work of CRIPDES. The NGO started during the war assisting refugees to return to the land they had abandoned at the start of the conflict. The organization has evolved from resettlement to social and political organizing. They now work in 350 communities across the country. They work on a whole host of issues, including land redistribution, mining practices, the privatization of water and the empowerment of youth and women.

For our part, our teachers have mainly come from the Ottawa Catholic School Board, but we are working on expanding to other parts of the province. This year, we had our first teacher from Toronto. We have brought relatively small groups down for the last two years and this has enabled us to explore different ideas on partnership for the future. Each trip builds on the last. We now have a good idea on where we should be heading. CRIPDES along with Salvaide are now working on ideas for a project. After two years of trying to define what we are about and what we will do, it is very appropriate to turn this task over to our hosts who have such a complete understanding of the social, political and economic situation in El Salvador.

students at recess in El Pacun

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Compadres Journal Part I

The Compadres Project

The Compadres project represents a two-year effort to develop partnerships between Ontario teachers and teachers in El Salvador. Compadres stands for Collective of Ontario teachers moving for peace, action, development and relationships in El Salvador. The idea of this project is to forge links that can be sustainable and that lead to programs of benefit of all involved.

As the project has developed we have gained a number of important partners. Salvaide is a Canadian NGO that has been instrumental in setting up our links to groups in El Salvador. They play an important role in bringing Canadians and Salvadorans together. Development and Peace is the development arm of the Canadian Catholic Church. Development and Peace has supported partners in El Salvador for over twenty years. On this visit, we talked with many of the partner organizations associated with Development and Peace; all are involved in bringing about social, economic and political change in El Salvador. One of their main partners is CRIPDES, centered in San Salvador. CRIPDES was the host organization for our trips.