1993 May 30 – El Salvador trip (Bulletin Letters)
Some Reflections on El Salvador
The sights and smells of El Salvador continue to flood my mind and heart. One thing has moved on though. I came back with some kind of stomach bug. After three days of taking antibiotics, I’m back on solid ground. God bless modern medicines!
There were fifteen of us on the delegation sponsored by the Share Foundation and the Des Moines Presbytery. The objectives of the delegation were to get a first hand look at conditions facing post civil war El Salvador and to visit the Des Moines Presbytery’s sister community of El Tablon.
While in El Salvador, we visited four different poor communities in three different areas in the country. We visited an orphanage . We tour the campus of the University of El Salvador. We talked to people in each community we visited. We visited and were briefed by organizations working to improve the lot of the poor through economic development and political advocacy. We were introduced to people and organizations working on human rights and the up coming elections.
We visited the Jesuit University of Central America and toured the house were the six Jesuits were killed in 1989. We had a briefing with a staff person from the Universities “Center for the Study of the National Process”.
There are many things I would like to share with you about my trip and hope I can in the weeks and months ahead. Much of what I saw and experienced in El Salvador was no surprise. I have been reading and studying about El Salvador and talking to people who lived and work there for many years. I’ve seen first hand the direct effects of the war on the El Salvadorian refugees who have taken shelter at the Des Moines Catholic Worker over the years.
Yet nothing could have prepared me for the actual experience of being with and visiting people in El Salvador who suffered so much during the war. What an inspiration it was to talk to regular ordinary poor people who took heroic personal risk in their struggle against a horrendous repressive government. Seventy five thousand people were killed during the 12 year Civil War, most of them noncombatants, victims of Rightist “Death Squads” and the US backed and trained military. In a country of five million people, there is hardly a family in El Salvador that hasn’t experienced some kind of personal tragedy during the war.
The recently released United Nations Truth Commission Report confirmed what many of us in the Peace Movement have been saying all along, that %95 of the human rights violations in El Salvador were committed by the military and Rightist Death Squads. The UN Report actually listed the names the military officers responsible for gross human rights violation. The majority of these officers were graduates of the School of Americas in Fort Benning Ga.
The same people who struggled so gallantly during the war are now giving it their all to improve the economic conditions of the poor and political life of the nation. They realize that with the signing of the Peace Accords, an historic moment exists for the poor in El Salvador to improve their lot. They believe their armed struggle has earned them this opportunity.
I was very surprised that there was little animosity with the people we met with against us. Considering the direct relationship the USA government had with the El Salvadorian military and ruling elites, I thought people would hold us more accountable for our governments policies. Instead, we were welcomed as close friends and supporters of their struggle. Many of them understood that not all US citizens supported our governments policies towards El Salvador during the war. They appreciated our presence and welcomed our on going support. They understood that without the international support they received during the war they could not have won the concession they did with the Peace Accords.
We started our delegation by visiting the chapel where Archbishop Oscar Romero was kill and ended with a visit to the National
Cathedral and the tomb of Romero. It was a fitting beginning and closing experience. Every where we went in the country we saw pictures of Archbishop Romero. The El Salvadorian people are a deeply religious and faithful people. They saw in Archbishop Romero a Church leader who truly stood with them and for them during their darkest times. His death seemed to cement their national resolve to carry on with their historical struggle.
Archbishop Romero’s death and the death and suffered by so many other Church people put the Catholic Church on the right side of the struggle, the same side that Jesus took during his lifetime. When visiting the Romero sites and touring the home where the Jesuits were killed I was never more proud of being a Catholic and never more ashamed of our governments policies.
My visit to El Salvador has deepen my resolve to continue the peace and justice work that I have been devoted to for so many years. I also hope to return to El Salvador next March to help observe and insure a fair national election. I would welcome opportunities to share with groups or individuals about my trip. Please feel free to ask me if you are interested.