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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Compadres y Comadres in December

There are now a few days to reflect on what has been accomplished over the past year and what challenges lay ahead for our program.  On the very positive side, we had a very successful trip this year.  I think we broke new ground by staying in San Jose Las Flores for most of our trip.  Staying with families made all the difference.  We learned so much more about daily life in the community and by the end of our stay, we were very comfortable talking to people and walking the streets of the town.  

I think we also learned much more from our hosts than we would have if we had not stayed with them.  The stories they told us were truly stunning.  Their stories on the war were the most personal and tragic I have ever heard.  We were truly honoured to share these moments with our hosts.

On a more negative note, I have to say it is distressing to see how difficult it has been to attract people to take part in our experience.  At this point, we have two people committed to coming with us.  This time last year we also had two people.  I think I can say that we have certainly done our best to spread the word about Compadres y Comadres, but the results are disappointing.

One hope remains.  There has been some good work done to link the experience up to a professional development course - Religious Studies Part II.  If it is possible to get through all the bureaucracy involved in this process, we may be able to bring this program to teachers throughout the province.  Teachers will be able to take part in our journey and obtain credit as well.  

We have tried this route once before and were not able to get approval.  My great hope for 2012 is that we will be successful.  If we are, the new year should offer all sorts of opportunity for people to get involved in our next trip to San Jose Las Flores.

In this case, we will be able to build on the successes of last year and we will be able to improve the learning that takes place while we are in El Salvador.  Having the backing of a major university will certainly be an impetus to make our experience even more meaningful!

So for now, we will continue to reflect, and I will continue to work on my Spanish.  A new year always brings new promise!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Compadres in November

It seems these days I spend my days reading other people's blog posts. In my day job, I am a principal in a small elementary school here in Ottawa. People have lots to write about and i guess, so do I.

I would like to write a series of posts on Compadres. The project includes teacher and student trips and there are all sorts of possibilities for the future.

Right now, I am working on recruiting participants for the July trip. One of our participants has put together a great video collection of pictures from last July - I am happy to share it here.

It is hard to say how many people we will be able to attract for this year's trip.  We have had an introductory meeting and lots of good e-mail traffic.  There is also the possibility of linking our program up to university credit.  I hope I will soon have more to share on this soon.

For now, as the days get cooler and darker, I am working on my Spanish via Skype with a great teacher from Celas Maya!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Planning for the group of 2012

We held our first information session today. You have all received the main presentation we used today and there is not much to add to this. Now, I am working on developing a group for the 2012 trip.

A few important notes:

1) I am looking for a commitment by December 15. By this date, I am asking for a deposit cheque of $500.00 made out to Compadres. I will use this first cheque to secure a reservation on flights - I want to do this early so I can get a good price for us.

2) I am happy to visit your school to do a presentation on the upcoming program. All that I ask is that you gather a few people together for the presentation. No other commitment is necessary. I have found it is important to have a face-to-face meeting before people commit, so I am willing to come out - the presentation is ready!

3) I am ready to bring a group down as long as I get four people. Do you know someone who should come down with you?

4) This will be a terrific trip - we plan on building on the success of last summer and we will be looking for ways of making the experience even better than what we planned last year!

Thanks to all those who have been in contact with me through Facebook, e-mail and phone. We are slowly building a group which is the way I like to do things.

Please feel to write me with your questions, concerns and requests!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Compadres meeting tomorrow (Monday, November 7)for new program

Here is our newest presentation!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Floods in El Salvador - Join SalvAide's $100,000 Campaign to Help

How to help flood victims in El Salvador 
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SalvAide and its Salvadoran Partners Respond:
Torrential rains over the last few days in El Salvador have devastated coastal areas with heavy flooding and mudslides (click here for BBC coverage). Poor hydroelectric dam management has only exacerbated the crisis.  Salvadorans have not seen such devastation since Hurricane Mitch.  SalvAide's Salvadoran sister organizations, CRIPDES and CORDES, are on the ground and mobilizing relief efforts in one of the most affected flood zones - El Salvador's Lower Lempa River region (Bajo Lempa). With more than two decades of experience in grassroots community organizing and development in the Bajo Lempa, SalvAide's sister organizations have been quick to respond with:

  • evacuation and emergency shelter
  • food and basic health needs
  • rescue and further disaster mitigation
  • plans for reconstruction 

We Need your Support!

The need remains great, so SalvAide is aiming high.  Our goal is to raise $100,000 for ongoing relief and reconstruction efforts.  The best way to help is with a tax-deductible donation that SalvAide can channel to our partners on the ground as soon as possible to purchase emergency supplies, fund relief efforts, and rebuild for the future.
Ways to Contribute:
Please help us reach our goal!

Donations from Canadian residents over $20 will receive a charitable donation tax receipt for income tax purposes.
For more information, call us, send an email to, or visit Thanks very much in advance for your generous support and solidarity!

14th Annual Benefit Cocktail & Auction

Thursday, 27 October, 6:30PM
Ukrainian Hall
1000 Byron Ave, Ottawa (map)
Tickets: $40 ($15 tax receipt)

Entertainment by Shaman Rhythms
Licenced and catered gourmet cocktail

Silent & live auctions plus raffles

*All proceeds go toward flood relief efforts in El Salvador*

Call 613-233-6215 or email for tickets.

Flooded farmer's field - lost livelihood
Temporary shelter 
One of many flooded communities
Copyright © 2011 SalvAide, All rights reserved.
You received this message because you currently or previously supported SalvAide and its work.
Our mailing address is:
219 Argyle Avenue, Suite 411
Ottawa, Ontario K2P 2H4

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Monday, October 17, 2011

URGENT: Flooding in El Salvador - How to help flood victims!

Flooding in El Salvador - How you can help relief efforts!

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SalvAide Emergency Solidarity Appeal
Severe Flooding in El Salvador


To date:

Thousands evacuated
Hundreds more stranded
Dozens killed

SalvAide partners CRIPDES and CORDES are present in the affected areas:Torrential rains over the last few days in El Salvador have devastated coastal areas with heavy flooding and mudslides (click here for BBC coverage).  Poor hydroelectric dam management has only exacerbated the crisis.  SalvAide's Salvadoran sister organizations, CRIPDES and CORDES, are on the ground and mobilizing relief efforts in the most affected flood zone - El Salvador's Lower Lempa River region (Bajo Lempa).  With more than two decades of experience in grassroots community organizing and development in the Bajo Lempa, SalvAide's sister organizations have been quick to respond with:

  • evacuation and emergency shelter
  • food and basic health needs
  • rescue and further disaster mitigation


We need your support!

The need remains great and urgent care is still needed.  The best way to help is with a tax-deductible donation that SalvAide can channel to our partners on the ground as soon as possible to purchase emergency supplies and to fund relief efforts.

  • Call 613-233-6215 to donate with Visa or MasterCard
  • Donate online through CanadaHelps by clicking here
  • Donate through Meridian-Desjardins Credit Union branches using account number 420501-9 (please note the purpose of your deposit when donating at the branch)
  • Send a cheque to: SalvAide, 219 Argyle Avenue, Suite 411, Ottawa, Ontario, K2P 2H4

Donations over $20 will receive a chartitable donation tax receipt.

For more information, call us or send an email to  Thanks very much in advance for your generous support and solidarity!

Our mailing address is:
219 Argyle Avenue, Suite 411
Ottawa, ON  K2P 2H4

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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Crisis in El Salvador

There is a great deal of information coming out of El Salvador this week about the flooding that is taking plce. Some estimates predict that the flooding will ruin as much as 60% of the crop yield this year.

Thousands of people have been displaced from their homes. La Prensa has a good gallery of photos on the flooding.

Here re some excerpts from other blogs:

Tim's Blog

The country is under a state of emergency. In a press conference Saturday night, president Funes called for all elements of Salvadoran society to pull together. As of tonight some 13 thousand Salvadorans have been forced to flee their homes, and the death toll has risen to 10.

Emergency efforts to distribute food are underway for families forced from their homes. Donations are being received from many sources, and the Salvadoran armed forces are participating in distribution of emergency aid.

Cristina Starr:

we are under constant rain here, 5 full days now and no clear end in sight.

a tropical depression is just sitting here by the coast and another possible storm approaching, the whole coast and central volcanic mountain chain are under red and orange alert, highly vulnerable, rivers are swollen and flooding surrounding areas, some bridges are out, 2 out of 4 border crossings to Guatemala are closed.

the president has declared a state of emergency so that all resources can be directed to responding to saving lives and repairing damage as well as looking for international aid.

there are 13,000 people in 170 shelters, 8 people have died mostly due to mudslides, the soil and rivers are over-saturated, classes are suspended.

Voices From El Salvador

Voices staff is headed back down to the Lower Lempa tonight, where a total of some 2,570 + personas are evacuated, and many more unsure of how they’ll get through the storm. Many families are also camped out along the road, with their homes flooded out, but unwilling to go to a shelter.

We are meeting up with a delivery of mattresses from our friends ADES, in Cabañas. The mattresses will be delivered to the Amando López shelter, where 460 people are currently sharing 30 mattresses.

The Prensa Grafica reports 8,000 people evacuated at the national level, but since the numbers have been increasing rapidly this afternoon, we imagine that it is much higher.

An emergency appeal is being organized through Salvaide

I will send out more information when an appeal has been organized.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Salvaide Fundraiser - October 27th

Please contact the office if you want tickets! Please support Salvaide in the work they are doing with Salvadoran partners

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Compadres y Comadres Trip - summer 2012

Compadres Staff Trip to El Salvador Summer 2012

Are you interested joining us on a 12-day trip to El Salvador?

key features:

meet key civil society organizations in San Salvador

visit sites associated with Oscar Romero

live and work with teachers in the community of San Jose las Flores

visit the beautiful town of Suchitoto

enjoy a wonderful day at the beach!

If you are interested, please contact Paul McGuire at

you will be added to our e-mail list

upcoming events:

We will have an information table at Christian Community Day - Ottawa, October 7th

Information meeting Monday, November 7 - details to follow

please see for more information

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Teacher’s stories, the return to San Jose las Flores – July 10

The church was one of the few buildings standing when the community returned in 1986 It was very important that all teachers had a chance to tell their stories. Everyone had been exhausted by the end of the previous day’s session. Today, Lidia continued with her story. When she was 12 years old, she lived in the mountains. She saw this as a privilege, she was alive. She and other teachers talked about trying to share these experiences with their students. The parents are reluctant to do so. Like the others, she has lots of nightmares. Morena continued by relating how her father was killed when she was six years old. The army was following them so they got used to hiding and running all the time. She is still very nervous and anxious much of the time. She and her family lived in Honduras for two years. When they returned in 1990, the community was already rebuilding houses in San Jose Las Flores. Still, the army attacked the people. Several times they would shoot at the people from the hills above the town. Her cousin was killed and her sister was injured in these attacks. Much of what happened to these people remains unresolved. Several times, our group leader Migual spoke of the need for justice – a need that remains to be fulfilled. The trauma remains he believes, because there has been no justice. Others say that God will punish those who committed these crimes. We asked them why they decided to come back here when there was so much danger. They quickly answered that many of them had been running for six years and were simply ‘burned out’. The community and the FMLN was looking for an alternative to hiding in the forests. To illustrate how the community was resettled, the teachers then showed us an old video taken during a mass celebrating the return of families to San Jose Las Flores. The footage is incredible and really needs to be seen by a wider audience. You can see some of the teachers as young children. They all look malnourished, afraid and hollow. Surrounding them in the background you can see FMLN troops guarding the community. The town has been totally ruined. The only recognizable building is the church. A mass is taking place and the people are celebrating their return from the refugee centers and the forest. The local people are accompanied by people from Spain and the United States. They also had the support of their local bishop. It was a great privilege to share these old videos with our friends. It was like watching home movies in someone’s basement! They laughed and cheered when they saw someone that they knew. As the videos continued, we saw the community celebrate their first corn harvest. This was three months after the first video. The difference was startling. The children played and laughed and looked healthy and happy. He community was being rebuilt. There was an obvious sense of community pulling together to reclaim their homes. You could tell already that these people were not beaten and that after all that had happened, these people would survive.
A banner celebrating the 25th anniversary of the return to San Jose las Flores

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Sumpul River Massacre

The Sumpul River near San Jose las Flores It is impossible to discuss education and the development of a new generation of Salvadorans without discussing the impact of the war and specifically the Sumpul River Massacre. Every teacher lost family members during the war, each has a story to tell about the massacre. When we asked the teachers how they deal with the massacre 31 years later, each teacher asked to speak. Nelson started with his story. Nelson was two years old when the massacre took place. He lost his mother and his seven-month old brother at that time. She disappeared, he drowned in the river. The family of Nelson’s mother was totally wiped out at this time. In total, 15 people from his family were killed, many drowning in the river as they fled the army who was determined to clear the area of anyone who could support the insurgents. Nelson was obviously traumatized by what he experienced. He still sees dead people when he sleeps and sometimes he gets depressed. He says it helps when he talks to his daughter Ireni. Sometimes they try to imagine what her uncle would look like now if he was alive. His experiences have motivated him to do the best he can for the current generation of students. Another teacher talked about what she remembered as a three-year old. She recalls crossing the Sumpul to get away from the soldiers. She saw her uncle get shot as he tried to carry a body across the river. Many of the people who made it across the river were shot by Honduran soldiers who were supporting the Salvadoran army. In some cases, babies were thrown on bayonets and pregnant women were cut open and their babies were ripped from them. This teacher still dreams of soldiers following her. Esperanza followed by telling her story. She was four years old in 1980. Everyone had to run because the army was coming. Her mother was found and she was killed. Then the soldiers put the body where the community could see it, but they were unable to get to her mother to recover the body. The army captured a group of children and pretended to prepare to shoot them also, but the children were able to escape when the soldiers were distracted. Her grandfather was also killed, he was decapitated. To survive, people had to dig holes in the ground. They wore dark clothing so that they could hide from the planes that searched for them. The people hid from the army in the woods where they had no clean water or access to health services. Many times they encountered people hanged in the forest by the military. Her husband also lost his mother at this time. Today they find it difficult to describe what they experienced to their grandchildren, the children find it hard to believe the stories. Many people are sick today, Esperanza believes due to the trauma they suffered during this period.
Mural from the town of Arcatao Chalatenango - Central American Politics Teresa continued. In her area, the army would paint white or black hands on the doors of peoples’ houses. They did this in the night, but no one really knew what the hands meant. After several hands were painted on their door, Teresa’s grandmother took the children to a refugee centre. Her father had already been killed in the war. Any man in this area was considered by the army to be an insurgent. If you were captured, you were tortured. They would routinely cut off part of the body ending with the eyes. Estella was eight years old when the army came to her village. Three of her brothers were hiding with 25 other people. They were found by the army – all of them were killed. Estella was hiding in another house. The soldiers called to them and asked them to come out, but they had the wrong house. Because of this mistake she survived. Her father found the bodies when he returned to the village. He had to wait three days before it was considered safe to bury the bodies. One young boy did survive buried under the bodies. He was found by guerillas two days after the shooting. The teachers continued on and on with stories of atrocities. People were burned alive in their own ovens or hung up like piñatas. Others were impaled on sticks or were mutilated. People broke down as they told their stories. In a country where family is everything, all these people live missing aunts, uncles, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters. The pain is still there; it has not been dealt with or resolved. This was an incredibly powerful session. Almost every teacher had a chance to speak. Finally, Nelson said we had to stop; the teachers had to get ready for afternoon classes. Something had certainly changed by the end of this session. The teachers had shared with us some of the most painful memories they live with every day. Our relationship has changed in some very important ways.
Vilma started teaching in the forests when she was 12

Sunday, August 21, 2011

We meet the teachers of San Jose Las Flores – July 8

An early classroom in the woods as depicted on a wall mural at the school On our first full day in San Jose las Flores we sat down with the teachers we would be working with for the next week. There was Blanca, Jose, Lydia, Morena, Abalose, Esperanza, Nina, Douglas, Salvdor and Vilma. They taught from kindergarten to grade 9. Before learning more about their education methods, we needed to understand how this community had developed over the years.
Some of the teacher group we met with every day at the school In 1986, Bishop Damas was invited into the area to witness the plight of the people. He was able to see what was happening to the people and how they were being oppressed by the army. The bishop publically denounced what was going on and resolved to help the people reclaim their towns. On June 20th, 36 families who had previously taken refuge in the Church were escorted back to San Jose Las Flores. They were joined by people who had spent the previous six years hiding in the mountains. The community they returned to had been completely destroyed in earlier battles. Gradually, the town was rebuilt and people started to look for projects to sustain the community. Women started a community kitchen and a bread shop. While the projects were small, the projects allowed people to take charge of their own development. The people also built their first school out of adobe.
One of the community project – the bread shop The teachers started to tell us how they organized themselves. We learned first that they actually chose their own principal! A principal is chosen for a three-year term. The principal can stay on if the teachers agree to this. The principal is not paid any more than the teachers and it was very evident that they all worked together as a team. Decisions affecting the school were debated and decided upon as a group. The students are very motivated to come to school. There is little specialized equipment in the school, but this is changing due to donations from Holy Trinity High School here in Ottawa. The school now has a computer lab of twelve computers. The school lacks specialized equipment for art and phys.ed and there are no special programs in these areas, there is very little support for students with learning disabilities. The roof is in need of repair, there is no science lab and there is a lack of good textbooks. Still, the teachers are patient, they are aware that they lack a great deal, but they are seeing some change especially with support from outside the community. This year for the first time, the school has an English language teacher (Salvadore). There are also plans to dedicate a teacher to work with kids with learning disabilities. They are also experimenting with afternoon enrichment classes in art and phys.ed. Usually, the primary and junior students go to school in the morning. The teachers are now volunteering their time to develop some of these enrichment studies.
Kindergarten kids line up for the morning snack The teachers also discussed the need for psychological and emotional support. The students they work with all come from families that were traumatized in the war. Students are also malnourished so there is a need to provide children with healthy food while they are at school. The teachers are now considering projects that will allow students to grow food and raise livestock. They are even thinking of raising fish on the school grounds. We all see that there are lots of challenges facing the school community. The exciting thing about these people is that they are constantly planning new and innovative ways to solve these problems!

Moving to Chalatenango – July 7

We have now moved our group to Chalatenango. We will be in this very interesting and beautiful part of the country for the next eight days. We began our journey by meeting members of the The Association of Communities for the Development of Chalatenango-CCR. This arm of CRIPDES was founded in June of 1987 during the armed conflict in El Salvador, as an answer to the need to repopulate the communities of the North-eastern part of Chalatenango that had been destroyed by the armed conflict. (Sister Cities website) One of their board members is Nelson Orellana-Secretary of Popular Education, from San José Las Flores. Nelson will be our host while we are in san Jose Las Flores. We also met other board members working on women’s issues and health. The CCR started as a response to the displacements caused by the war. People in the region no longer had access to health care and education. For the first time, we learned that the children during the conflict learned under the trees in the mountains. People developed methods of popular education based on the desire to keep basic education services going even though the war raged al around them. Nelson started as a teacher when he himself was in grade 5. This was typical of the teachers at that time. We will learn much more about this later. Over time, these volunteer teachers were trained and certified to work in towns throughout the department. They are unified by their desire to build a better society out of the ruin on the war years. There are now 19 schools and over 1700 students in the communities surrounding Chalatenango. Another major theme that was discussed in this introductory session was mining. This is a topic we will come back to later in this journal. It makes a great deal of sense that this is a major concern for the people of Chalatenango. Members of the CCR spoke to us about their struggle to return to the land in the midst of the war. They tell stories of people being escorted back to their communities by nuns, priests and members of the international community. People continued to be killed by the military for years after they returned to the towns and villages. People who have struggled so valiantly for their lands will not now easily give up territory to mining companies from the North. More on this later.
Our first meeting with Nelson in the offices of the CCR

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

[Tim's El Salvador Blog] Officers indicted for Jesuit murders surrender

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Begin forwarded message:

From: Tim Muth <>
Date: 8 August, 2011 11:59:29 PM ADT
To: Blog Group <>
Subject: [Tim's El Salvador Blog] Officers indicted for Jesuit murders surrender

The prosecution in Spanish courts for the murder of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter took another step forward today. In May of this year, the Spanish court indicted 20 former Salvadoran military officers for participation in the planning, execution and coverup of the murders. That indictment resulted in an arrest warrant going out through Interpol. Today, nine high-ranking retired military officers, surrendered themselves at a military barracks. The BBC describes:

Nine former Salvadoran soldiers have turned themselves in to face charges that they shot dead six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter during El Salvador's civil war.

They had been indicted in Spain under its universal jurisdiction law, which holds that some crimes are so grave that they can be tried anywhere.

The killing became one of the most infamous of El Salvador's civil war.

El Salvador will have to decide whether to extradite the nine to Spain.

The men handed themselves in at a military base after reportedly hearing that Salvadoran police were going to detain them under an international arrest order issued by Interpol.

A total of 20 former soldiers, including two former defence ministers, were indicted by the Spanish court.

Among those in custody is Gen Rafael Humberto Larios, the minister of defense at the time of the massacre. Somehow, however, I have my doubts that these retired officers would voluntarily turn themselves in without some prior assurance that the Salvadoran justice system will not extradite them to Spain. Of the remaining 11 defendants, General Emilio Ponce has died, and the other ten are not yet in custody.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Compadres y Comadres Journal - 2011 Our visit with the Concertacion de Mujeres – July 6

Concertacion de Mujeres – July 6

Women’s sewing co-op in San Salvador

We asked to meet with representatives of the Concertacion as part of our orientation this year. It is difficult to really understand the relationship between men and women in El Salvador, but we felt it was important to get some sense of how things are for women and especially how things are changing. Rosa, the President of CRIPDES spent two hours talking about women’s issues with us. I hope this session will become a regular part of our delegation program. Later, after meeting with Rosa, we were able to visit a women’s sewing co-op to see an empowerment program in action. The women are currently making t-shirts for the Canadian Federation of Students. I hope they will soon be able to make Compadres y Comadres shirts for us!

In 1995, a collection of women’s organizations and Development and Peace started the Concertacion as a way to develop awareness in El Salvador of the inequality that exists between women and men. The group decided to work in marginalized communities and with the rural poor. Their main goal was to talk to women about their rights. Inequality exists in many ways, women are victimized by the police, and there are no long-term shelters for women who are being abused by their partners. Men still play a dominant role in the family and in society in general. This position is reinforced by the Church in most cases.

It was explained to us that work needs to be done to change attitudes amongst women and men. Women are being taught to realize that they have rights and options especially when they find themselves in an abusive relationship. In general, the task of promotion of equal rights focuses on three main initiatives – the promotion of women’s rights within society, the education of women so that they know what their rights are and the development of economic initiatives to help women become more independent. Micro credit projects were mentioned several times as a way to help women develop some independence.

The current government has initiated the development of women’s centers in some of the rural communities. These centers will act as a resource for women when they need medical care or legal advice. The government is also refurbishing the main maternity hospital which has for years suffered from very overcrowded conditions.

                                Rosa speaks to us about women’s issues in El Salvador

Monday, August 1, 2011

Compadres y Comadres Journal 2011 - meeting with Mesa National Frente a la Mineria Metalica

One of the issues of greatest importance to NGOs in El Salvador is mining. We touched on this topic on our first meeting with CRIPDES. On our second day, this was the focus of our morning meeting. There is not a strong tradition of mining in El Salvador. The Mesa is learning from the unfortunate experiences of other countries in Central America. While some people believe that mining will be good for the country, there is great concern that mining operations will have a negative impact on the fragile environment of El Salvador.

Free trade agreements like CAFTA allow international companies to come in and exert authority over the national government of the country. Currently, Pacific Rim is suing the government using mechanisms available under CAFTA.

Why is there such opposition to mining in El Salvador? First, the environment of the country is fragile. El Salvador’s major river, the Lempa is shared with Honduras. El Salvador relies on the river for irrigation, power, tourism and fishing. There is grave concern that mining operations would deplete this vital national resource. Most of the potential mines are located in the north of the country. Most of the agricultural production also occurs in the north. This is a country that already relies on food imports and needs to put more land into production. Mining is a threat to initiatives that encourage food production.

While mining companies argue that their operations will bring jobs to poor underemployed areas, it is also recognized that 98% of the profits from mining will flow back to the country of origin, leaving very little permanent wealth in El Salvador.

There is also an unacceptable social cost to mining. As mentioned earlier, there is a high social cost to the search for minerals. In Cabanas, five people have died in fighting within communities. There is concern that there will be more violence in an area that has experienced a great deal of violence over the past twenty years. Apart from the murders, Radio Victoria a community radio station in Cabanas has received many threats in reaction to their reporting on the mining issue.

The solution may lie in creating a law against mining in El Salvador. Such a law exists in Costa Rica and is being studied by the government. While proposals are being studied, Pacific Rim and other mining companies continue to pursue claims against the country.

Compadres y Comadres Journal 2011 - our meeting with CRIPDES

July 4 Meeting with CRIPDES

First day, our meeting with Rosa and Bernardo of CRIPDES

We met with Rosa and Bernardo, the current president and vice-president of CRIPDES respectively. Always on our delegations we begin to set context by meeting with our hosts, CRIPDES. Rosa started with a history of the organization. Formerly the Christian Committee of the Displaced, CRIPDES was founded in 1984 to support people displaced by the Salvadoran civil war as they returned to their homes. At the time, there was much repression in the countryside. Massacres had taken place on the Sumpul River in and around Suchitoto, San Vincente and other areas. People were forced to move from place to place. Many left for Honduras, Nicaragua, the United States and also San Salvador. Most of the original board members were women. CRIPDES quickly got involved in resettling the displaced population. They linked themselves to Salvaide in Canada and Sister Cities in the United States.

It was hard to bring people back to the countryside; the army did not want the people resettled. There were no services for the people, no access to education or health care. People had to learn to help themselves. They became their own teachers and they had to learn how to look after each other medically as well. People also did not have access to clean drinking water or even land. CRIPDES worked with communities and helped them to become organized.

After the war ended, the struggle continued. CRIPDES assisted women as they advocated for their rights. They trained popular educators in order to get schools going again. This work is on-going, some communities have schools and teachers however in other areas, there is a lack of teachers and schools. There is a great deal of work to do in this area!

CRIPDES has done a great amount of work on the issue of water privatization. Rosa was amongst several staff members who were imprisoned a few years ago as they took part in protests against water privatization policies of the government. CRIPDES members were actually charged as terrorists under post-911 legislation. The charges were eventually dropped, but the law they were charged under still exists.

CRIPDES works in 390 communities across the country. They are divided up into regional groupings that include the CCR (Chalatenango), PROGRESO (Suchitoto), San Vincente and La Libertad. Within each community there are local organizations. Good, strong organization is certainly the key to success for CRIPDES. Throughout the organization, there is a strong emphasis on programming for youth and women. Training is the key and CRIPDES uses popular education methods to empower youth and women.

CRIPDES, along with many other Salvadoran groups focuses on the issue of mining. National and especially international laws favor the exploitation of mineral resources by mining companies. Most of these companies are Canadian. The main problem is that El Salvador is a densely populated country. People live where companies want to mine. Currently there are 29 mining projects on hold as the current Salvadoran government studies the possibility of banning mining outright in the country.

The drive to exploit these resources has led to violence, especially in Cabanas, where Pacific Rim is hoping to develop a gold mine. Five people, including a woman eight months pregnant, have been killed over the past two years as a direct result of this conflict. An economy based on exploitation is not sustainable. CRIPDES advocates for the development of a local economy focusing on local crops and animals. Tourism is also being encouraged as a well to develop resources in a sustainable fashion.

This was our introduction to the work of CRIPDES. Themes relating to mining and sustainable development will reoccur throughout our meetings.

CRIPDES logo outside the main office in San Salvador

Friday, July 29, 2011

Compadres reflections - Setting Context

Over the next few weeks, I will be taking some time to reflect on some of the pictures I took while we were in El Salvador this year.  My first picture is from a section of monument to civilian casualities during the war.  I chose this as the first picture because visits to the memorial, the Jesuit University and the site of the murder of Oscar Romero are essential to setting a context for our visit.  I realize now that much of our trip is about setting context. 

We need to understand the struggle of Salvadorans before and during the war.  It is essential that we know that over 70,000 civilians were killed over a 14-year period.  This is still a nation where the injuries of this war go unresolved.  There was no 'truth and reconciliation' commission here.  As Miguel says, we can forgive, but never forget, but we can't forgive until we know who we must forgive.

As I reflect on how Compadres y Comadres will work in the future, I will remember always to set context.  What has happened here?  How does this have an impact on the present?  What will the future hold?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Classes start for another day in Xela

Here is our classroom. We will spend the next five hours working on our Spanish!
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Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Great series of articles by Rights Action and Canadian mining practices in Guatemala and El Salvador.  Canadians robbing the poor of Latin America.


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Rights Action - July 20, 2011



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By Grahame Russell, July 2011

The Global Educator Journal (British Colombia Teachers for Global Peace & Education) Summer 2011:


On a given day, a Canadian might read the business section of her favourite newspaper or on-line news service, to check the price of gold or nickel and see how her investments are doing.


Yet, the price of metals is not only the profits they bring to company directors, shareholders and other investors, from private equity funds to pension funds like the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), but also the prices that people pay in terms of environmental destruction, harm to personal health and human rights violations.


In today's global order, where trans-national companies often operate with immunity from prosecution and accountability, shareholder and investor profits go, all too often, hand in hand with environmental destruction, harm to personal health and various human rights violations.


HUDBAY MINERALS & NICKEL MINING IN GUATEMALA:Violent evictions, gang rapes & the killing of Adolfo Ich

  • The bcIMC (BC Investment Management Corporation) has $281,061,874.50, and the CPP (Canada Pension Plan) $42,000,000, invested in HudBay Minerals.

In January 2007, Skye Resources (bought by HudBay Minerals in 2008) participated in the violent evictions of a number of indigenous Mayan Qeqchi communities in the municipality of El Estor in Eastern Guatemala).  These are their ancestral lands long before mining companies arrived in the 1950s, claiming "ownership".


Hundreds of huts were burned to the ground; all personal property was destroyed or stolen; community member's crops and animals were destroyed or stolen. Hundreds of families - young and old, men and women - fled into the hills and forest for weeks, before returning to rebuild their huts and replant their subsistence crops.


In one community, Lote 8, 11 women villagers were gang-raped by private security guards, hired by HudBay Minerals (then Skye Resources), and by soldiers and police.  This atrocity is only recently coming to light.


On September 27, 2009, Adolfo Ich, a Mayan Qeqchi teacher and community leader in El Estor, was captured by HudBay's security guards, hacked with machetes and then shot. Hours later, family members found him dead in the company building where the security guards had dragged him.



The attempted killing of Diodora Hernandez  

  • The bcIMC (BC Investment Management Corporation) has $142,239,000, and the CPP (Canada Pension Plan) $177,000,000 invested in Goldcorp.

Since 2005, Goldcorp Inc has been operating a very profitable and harmful open-pit, cyanide leaching gold mine in the Mayan Mam region of western Guatemala; a mine strongly opposed by much of the local population.  Since 2000, they have operated a similar mine in central Honduras, with most of the same harms and violations occurring, and with the same local opposition.


At 7pm, July 7, 2010, in the rural community of Sacmuj, two men came to the small hut of Diodora Hernández asking for coffee. As Diodora was bringing them cups of coffee, one man shot her in the right eye and ran off into the night.


Miraculously, Diodora survived. After 3 months in the hospital, she is back in her community, with a prosthetic eye, still opposing the expansion of Goldcorp's mine onto her land.  Goldcorp, a Canadian-American company, acknowledged the men had worked in its mine, but deny any responsibility for the attempted assassination.



The killing of four community members


In July 2009, the body of Marcelo Rivera, a teacher and community leader, was found dumped in a well. He had been 'disappeared' weeks before. Signs of torture were found on his body, including burn marks; he was missing toe and finger nails.  On December 20, 2009, Ramiro Rivera Gomez and Felicíta Echeverría were killed. On December 26, 2009, Dora Sorto Recinos (8 months pregnant) was murdered in the community of Trinidad.


These killings occurred in the department of Cabañas, bordering Honduras, where Pacific Rim Mining Corp., a Canadian-American company, wants to mine for gold. Prevented from mining by widespread opposition, Pacific Rim is now using a World Bank "mediation" procedure to sue the government of El Salvador for $100 million in "lost profits". No one has been held accountable for the killings, neither in the World Bank "mediation" process (where murder charges can't be filed), nor in any court in El Salvador or Canada.




These abuses happen because it is Canadian public policy to push for the expansion of our mining and investor interests around the world, while opposing attempts to enact enforceable civil and criminal law standards that could be used to hold our companies and investors accountable.


North American mining companies benefit from immunity from prosecution in many countries where they operate mines - like Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. In the sphere of international law, they operate with immunity.


And, they operate with immunity from prosecution and accountability in Canada where the major corporate and investor decisions are made. There are no criminal or civil laws on the books to hold Canadian companies and investors accountable for harm or violations caused directly or indirectly by their business operations elsewhere.


Over the past few years, there were efforts in Canada to pass legislation - Bill C-300 - that would have provided a judicial framework for some government oversight and possible sanction (withdrawal of public funds a company might be receiving) in the case of mining company wrong-doing.


Bill C-300 would not have provided for criminal law sanctions where crimes were committed; it would not have provided for civil law sanctions, or for remedies to the victims of mining company activities if wrong doings and harms were proven.  Even at that, Bill C-300 was defeated in October 2010.


Civil cases recently filed in Toronto (by Klippensteins Barristers & Solicitors) - "Choc v. HudBay Minerals" (for the killing of Adolfo Ich) & "Caal v. HudBay Minerals (for the gang rape of 11 women in the community of Lote 8) - are based on common law remedies and provide a possible crack in the Canadian wall of immunity from prosecution and legal accountability, and will need substantial political and financial support.




This opposition to enacting criminal and civil legislation to hold our companies accountable is self-serving and hypocritical.  I wager that the mining company executives, investors and politicians who opposed the enactment of enforceable legislation swear by the values of democracy and the rule of law - just not when applied to their corporate and investment activities abroad.


Were these executives, investors and politicians victims themselves in their home communities of environmental and health and human rights violations caused by corporate activities, they would demand nothing less than full legal accountability and sanctions for the wrong doing and remedy for the harms and losses.




It is a public policy issue. Canadian governments, independent of which party is in power, support the expansion of Canadian mining and investor interests across the world, claiming that mining is good for "development", while ignoring or outright denying that Canadian companies have directly and indirectly caused harm and violations to communities around the world.




It is an investment issue. Investors from the wealthier sectors of society, and their private investment funds, through to a majority of Canadians with deductions paid into federal and provincial pension funds, benefit from the profits that mining companies - and other resource extraction companies and weapons producers - generate around the world.


Yet, there is little demand from investors that corporate activities be regulated by enforceable environmental, health and human rights standards.


Assurances of "responsible investing" by pension trustees and the management of bcIMC, for example, amount to little more than 'window dressing' in an attempt to hide what is really happening in the marketplace.




With notable exceptions, our media relegates corporate and investor issues to the business and financial pages and does not properly report on environmental destruction, harm to personal health and other human rights violations that Canadian companies can and do cause.




Most people would not, I believe, agree with unjust enrichment - the fact that their investments (private and/or public pension funds) benefit from corporate operations that are directly or indirectly causing environmental destruction, harm to personal health, and other human rights violations.


Until Canadian citizens hold our investment funds, corporations and government accountable to abide by enforceable environment, health and human rights standards, in all business and investment activities, at home and abroad, then the price of these metals will remain profitable for companies, shareholders and investors, and deadly for communities around the world.




Grahame Russell is a non-practising lawyer, an Adjunct Professor in the Geography Program at UNBC (University of Northern British Columbia), and author.  Since 1995, he is a co-director of Rights Action.  Rights Action funds community development, environmental defense, disaster response and human rights projects in Guatemala and Honduras, in as well as Chiapas, El Salvador and Haiti.)


To learn more about these issues, in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, and about the education and activism going on across Canada and the US, contact Grahame:,  


For more information about Canadian mining related issues and struggles around the world and in Canada:




for indigenous and campesino organizations defending their communities and environmental well-being from mega-"development" projects (like mining), and working for truth, memory, justice and real democracy in Guatemala and Honduras, make check payable to "Rights Action" and mail to:


UNITED STATES:  Box 50887, Washington DC, 20091-0887

CANADA:  552 - 351 Queen St. E, Toronto ON, M5A-1T8






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