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Monday, January 25, 2010

El Salvador 2005 Journal IX

Access to services is a human right. As women’s groups trained by the Consensus Table work to pressure local governments through the budget process and training programs, it is hoped that progress for women will be possible.

A sample of one of the gender policy documents published by the Consensus Table

We continued our education by spending the afternoon with CDC – Centro Para La Defensa del Consumidor. Knowledge is power and this agency has done a great deal of work to protect the Salvadoran consumer through research and data gathering. They maintain that once organized, people can struggle successfully for their own rights.

They work to support the protection of human rights by pressuring government agencies to respect the rights of the people. They work at the grassroots level with links to national and international organizations on issues like genetic engineering, health care, CAFTA (free trade), and water.

CDC teaches people to become more vigilant. ANDA, the country’s water agency has been infamous for its over billing of the people. CDC has trained people to read their water bills accurately. They have revealed that ANDA has over billed its consumers by over $20 million dollars. This effort was organized through ‘fairs’ where people were invited to bring their water bills for analysis. During these sessions the corruption of ANDA was exposed.

This is a poster from CDC. It shows a woman with her water bill. The headline relates how ANDA, the government water agency has defrauded the people of $20 million dollars by overcharging on its bills.

Friday, January 15, 2010

El Salvador 2005 Journal VIII

Our next visit was to Concertacion des Mujeres – the Women’s Consensus Table. One of their slogans is “El Trabajo y la Salud son mis derechos, empleo si, pero con dignidad.” Work and health care, these are my rights; work yes, but with dignity. These women display a great determination to bring justice to a country where human rights remain a low priority.

The consensus table was formed at the suggestion of Development and Peace. They work on women’s issues and have made significant steps in developing public policy and increased civic participation by women.

In a country where the protection of human rights has always been lax, women’s rights are always at risk. The health and safety of women in this country are key issues of concern for this group. Women suffer from high rates of violence and abuse. As in many Latin American countries women have been marginalized. The Consensus Table works with women’s groups to develop leadership skills among community leaders. The group plays a key role in an increasing number of municipalities in the budget formation process.

In this way, the Consensus Table is working to develop policies that support positive change for women. Many women are subject to violence in El Salvador. Last year, over 200 women were killed by their partners. This is an alarming trend that is increasing. Girls and women have a higher illiteracy rate than men. It is important for communities to look for ways to support the education of these people.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

El Salvador 2005 Journal VII

At the end of a long day of visits, we visited the offices of Pro Busqueda. The office was started by Fr. Jon Cortino, a Jesuit priest in San Salvador. Fr. Jon was one of the seven priests targeted by the military in 1989 for assassination. Incredibly, he was not at the university the night the priests were killed. He continued to live in the country for the rest of the war and returned only in 1993 to start an organization that has done a great deal to bring families back together.

In 1993, his new organization was able to locate five children who had been taken by the military during the war. This was a common practice. The children would then be given or sold to families that were looking to adopt a child. The following year, Sobrino had 75 requests and found 13 boys. His organization has now solved 301 cases and has found children in over 13 countries including Canada. He has even been able to take the Salvadoran government to court for Human Rights violations. The International Court has ruled in his favour. He is still waiting for the Salvadoran Government to acknowledge the ruling of the court.

His stories read like a detective novel. Requests for information come from all over the country. His investigators return to the site of the abduction looking for clues. In most cases, the families have moved on, in many cases more than once. Someone hears of a story of where the family has relocated. The trail often leads in a wide circle as families attempt to move to locations near their original settlement. With good community support the investigators can be very successful.

Jon Cortino

He tells great stories about how to resurrect after a great and hurtful conflict. The walls of Pro Busqueda are pasted with the pictures of family reunions. Families separated by great tragedy share a moment of unexpected joy.