Learning from El Salvador’s Ongoing Struggle for Peace, Dignity and Inclusion

BY TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 8 April 2013

Marilyn Langlois – TRANSCEND Media Service

Locking eyes with one of the people before me and reaching deep into my heart, I took my turn and said, “Marilyn Langlois, California, mediadora, Perdón.”   All 25 of us from throughout the United States on our recent School of the Americas Watch delegation to El Salvador made a similar statement on three occasions to our hosts, giving our name, state of residence, profession, and apologizing for not doing more to stop our government from the key role it played in the atrocities committed against Salvadoran peasants and advocates for the poor during the 1980-1992 war.

1Survivor tells of family

Survivor tells of family members lost in the war.

We spoke with community organizations that included survivors of the war, elected deputies on the Human Rights Commission of the country’s Legislative Assembly (equivalent to a Congressional committee), and to the general public via a press conference held at the Monument to Memory and Truth, a huge stone wall in a public park etched with tens of thousands of names of people who were murdered and disappeared.

We were well received by a variety of community members and officials, most of whom who share our vision of society free of militarization and where the root causes of violence like economic disparities and social exclusion can be fully addressed.   The SOA Watch movement advocates closing the infamous School of the Americas/WHINSEC at Fort Benning, Georgia, which has a sordid history of training Latin American soldiers in killing, torture and other means of repressing the poor.  We met with members of El Salvador’s military high command, who have become more open to civilian oversight in recent years, but remain under US tutelage. When we asked the Subchief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to refrain from sending Soldiers to SOA/WHINSEC, as well as withdrawing Salvadoran personnel from the United Nations military occupation of Haiti, he listened politely and said he’d get back to us.

Vice President Salvador Sánchez Cerén  voiced strong support for both of our requests, noting that dismantling the SOA/WHINSEC will be a step forward to peace, and that the UN has lost prestige by participating in missions such as the one in Haiti.   Vice President Sánchez further stated that the US continues to impose its vision of national security (prioritizing military readiness over uplifting the poor) on El Salvador, while he and his party (FMLN) aspire to achieve greater independence and sovereignty.  Although the massive repression and killing by El Salvador’s US supported army ended with the 1992 Peace Accords, the war on the poor waged by economic elites continues in this country as elsewhere.

During our visit I found many common struggles shared by Salvadorans and the residents of my home town, Richmond, California (with a diverse community that includes many Salvadoran immigrants), in the areas of violence prevention, environmental justice and public access to airwaves.

Vice-President Salvador Sánchez Cerén (3rd from right), the FMLN candidate for President in 2014, with members of our delegation

Vice-President Salvador Sánchez Cerén (3rd from right), the FMLN candidate for President in 2014, with members of our delegation

We met with Padre Antonio in the Mejicanos area of San Salvador, where gang activity is rampant.  His holistic approach to violence prevention has many parallels to our work here in Richmond, calling for more education, housing, employment, job training and less emphasis on incarceration and police repression.  A truce negotiated between the two main gangs a year ago has resulted in a dramatic decline in murders, but economic and social problems still need to be addressed.  As Padre Antonio stated, “The truce is not the solution, but without the truce, there is no solution.”

We met with anti-mining activists of the organization MUFRAS-32 in San Isidro, Cabañas province, who are advocating to protect their rivers from certain severe contamination if Canadian mining corporation Pacific Rim is allowed to begin operations there.  So far a moratorium on mining is in place, but Pacific Rim is suing El Salvador for loss of potential future profits (!) based on CAFTA .  The financial stakes for big corporations in this struggle are high.  In 2009 Marcelo Rivera, a leader in the anti-mining movement, was murdered, and when a lawsuit was filed to hold the perpetrators accountable, two witnesses were killed.  Similar to Richmond’s growing number of murals in outdoor spaces showing a vision for our city free of the toxic pollution from the Chevron oil refinery, MUFRAS-32 activists use art and public murals as part of their campaign to educate the community.

We met with staff of the community radio station Radio Victoria in Victoria, Cabañas province.  Even though the 1992 Peace Accords assured the right to free speech and access to air waves, they faced huge obstacles before managing to acquire one frequency (92.1) that is shared among ten local community radio stations in the northern region of El Salvador, with programming coming local residents sharing information that is unavailable in the corporate media.  Radio Victoria is near the Honduras border and has provided much coverage during and after the 2009 coup and on-going repression in Honduras.  It emphasizes youth leadership development and trains young people to be journalists and work in the station.  Radio Victoria has faced threats and harassment, reminiscent of attempts to sabotage community radio stations here in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The words of Monseñor Oscar Romero, who was murdered by US-trained snipers during a mass on March 24, 1980, still ring true today, offering us an ongoing challenge to restructure our society so that everyone can live with dignity:

“Si queremos de veas un cese eficaz de la violencia, hay que quitar la violenzia que está en la base de todas violencias:  la violencia structural, la injusticia social, el no participar los ciudadanos en la gestion publica del país, la repression…”

“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…”   –Sept. 23, 1979.

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Marilyn Langlois is a TRANSCEND member and Convener for the USA region, and community organizer and mediator in Richmond, California.

 

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 8 April 2013.

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