Thursday, April 1, 2010

El Salvador

Hi, All:
For those of you interested in my Human Rights travels, I went to El Salvador March 19-27 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero on March 24, 1980.
A year ago Salvadorans elected Mauricio Funes, a member of FMLN (the former guerillas), as President. That election has made a
considerable difference in official attitudes in that country.
President Funes officially apologized on behalf of the government for the violence against the people. He declared March 24th a National holiday. He dedicated a special mural, "Homage to Monseñor Oscar Arnolfo Romero," by Rafael Varela, at the San Salvador airport on the anniversary. He is moving to take civilian control over police and the military (aware of the possibility of a Honduras-type coup if he moves too fast). Things are looking better.
Despite that, there are still major problems in El Salvador. Crime is still rampant (the Chargé at the U.S. Embassy, with whom we met, said there is no safe place in El Salvador). The latest wrinkle is private extortion, where petty criminals threaten to harm members of a person's family unless regular payments are made. Because of impunity (less than 5% of all crimes are even prosecuted), people have essentially only the choices of paying or moving, and many people cannot move all their family members.
A second problem is the continuing contentions of conservatives that Romero was a Marxist Communist who threatened to turn El Salvador into another Cuba or Venezuela. In Cinquera in the North, where the guerillas were active, a new conservative Priest insulted people at Good Friday processions last year by calling the banners containing photos and statements of Archbishop Romero "garbage." He subsequently closed the Church. On December 23, the local Bishop (who is also conservative) came to "purify" the Church. He ordered a group of nuns who had accompanied him to literally tear the photos of victims of the violence from the Church walls and burn them, which they did. The Bishop then excommunicated the congregation and again closed the Church. At a later date, the Priest showed up with 140 people from other communities to tear down the Church. Church members put their bodies in front of the Church ("If you want to put that pickaxe into the Church, you will have to put it through me first," said one woman), and after hearing from community members, the others left without harming the Church.
Even though the Bishop has now been replaced, the Catholics of Cinquera are still unable to attend and worship at the Church in their own community.
The theme of the delegation was "Romero vive! (Romero lives). In El Salvador, I witnessed that in the people.
Frank Schneider

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