OPSEU Social Justice Fund / Horizons of Friendship Tour
February 16 – 27, 2008
From February 16 to 27, Sandra Snider, EBM Region 7
and Chair of the OPSEU Social Justice Fund joined a tour sponsored by the
Horizons of Friendship in Cobourg. The goal of the tour was to visit small
community projects, one of them supported by OPSEU’s Social Justice Fund through
A Brief History of El Salvador
El Salvador is the smallest Spanish-speaking
country in the Western Hemisphere. In 1524 Conquistador Pedro de Alvarado
conquered El Salvador. By 1540 indigenous resistance was crushed and the country
became a colony of Spain. El Salvador declared its independence from Spanish
rule in 1821 and joined the United Provinces of Central America with Guatemala,
Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica in 1823. It broke away from them in 1836 to
form its own government. The Republic of El Salvador was established in 1839. In
1932 a military coup overthrew the only democratically elected President and
15,000 peasants were murdered. A succession of military dictatorships followed
and in the 1960s the right –wing National Conciliation Party (PCN) took power
and began a ruthless attack on the population of this tiny country.
In 1968 the theology of liberation was taking root
among Latin American bishops and in 1977 Jesuit priest, Rutilio Grande, S.J. was
the first of seven priests killed in the service of the poor in El Salvador. His
death began the radical change in the Archbishop – Archbishop Oscar Romero. The
Violence and repression escalated and the United States increased its military
and economic aid to this brutal regime. The Faribundo Marti Liberation Front (FMLN),
named after a 1930s revolutionary leader, emerged in the 1970s to fight for land
reform and against the unjust regime.
The Devastation of Civil War 1979 –
The anti-government guerilla activities intensified
as the right-wing regime continued to crush the people and 30,000 people were
killed by army backed right wing death squads. The final toll at the end of the
war was 75,000 killed.
In February 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero wrote a
letter to Jimmy Carter, president of the United States saying, “Please do not
send any military or economic support to this government or there will be a
blood bath in my country”. By the end of the war, the United States had invested
over $6 billion in support to the brutal regime.
On March 23, Romero called on soldiers to obey the
higher law of God and not kill their brothers and sisters. On March 24, 1980
Archbishop Romero was assassinated in a small chapel in a centre for cancer
patients – the place where Romero lived. (One of the nuns told a story of how
they knew that Romero would not agree to move into the small house nearby that
the nuns built for him. Instead they asked one of the cancer patients to give
him the keys. They knew he would not refuse one of his congregation).
A 12 year civil war devastated the people of El
Salvador. Over 75,000 were killed in the war and thousands more fled the country
for refuge in Canada and other countries. The war, natural disasters like
earthquakes and floods and the history of impoverishment – all have drained El
Salvador. Some facts:
· 6.5 million people live in El Salvador
· It is only 21,041 square kilometers in total
· 50% of the people live in poverty, 19% of
which is considered “extreme poverty”
· 90% of the country’s natural water is
contaminated and half the population drinks untreated water
· Natural disasters have made things even worse
for El Salvadoreans – Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and an earthquake in 2001
together left 1,200 dead and more than a million homeless
· The U.S. and major corporations dominate the
economy and privatization is rampart
· Violence and escalating human rights abuses
are rife – poverty and the proliferation of guns have led to high homicide
rates that are12 times higher than murder rates in New York.
Everywhere that OPSEU traveled we heard the same
story – the war had a devastating effect on the psyche of the people. Peasants,
students, workers and internationalists were incorporated in to the struggle and
took up arms. Why? They had witnessed the atrocities – they had walked down the
streets and seen decapitated bodies, people shot down, peaceful mourners at
Romero’s funeral gunned down in the streets. How can you recover from those
In November 1989, six Jesuit priests, their
housekeeper and her daughter were assassinated at the Central American
University in San Salvador.
Rose bushes are planted in the place where the
priests were dragged and their bodies mutilated. Inside were the ravaged bodies
of the housekeeper and her daughter. The housekeeper’s husband is still the
gardener today; he was off the property at the time of the killings.
San Salvador Cathedral where Romero is buried.
During his funeral, 79 people were shot and killed and hundreds more were
“Instead of a purge we got impunity!”
In1992 a United Nations-sponsored peace accord
meant the end of all atrocities – or did it?
After the war, there were various attempts at
1. An Ad Hoc Committee was set up to purge the
Armed Forces and expel those responsible for atrocities such as Romero’s
killing. A Truth Commission was also set up to underline the responsibility
of the state in these crimes. Neither of these has been successful in
bringing those responsible to justice. At least the armed forces have been
removed from the political process.
2. The creation of a national Civilian Police –
to create a more modern, democratically operating police force. This police
force has been responsible for many of the denunciations of human rights.
3. The Accord created the opportunity of
creating a whole new independent judicial system. There was a new Supreme
Court and a new way of electing magistrates, but the situation has actually
become worse again since 2003.
4. A Supreme Electoral Commission was created
and in 1991 the FMLN was recognized as a political party.
The El Salvador of 2008 is still a country of
hunger, violence, poverty and environmental destruction. Despite this, there are
many grassroots organizations struggling to regain dignity and justice for the
thousands of displaced and disenfranchised in that society.
Total population of El Salvador - 6,980,000
47% men, 52.9 % women
40% of population - youth under 19
In 2006 there were 3.3 million living outside
Population density 331.5 per sq km – highest in
Life expectancy – 70.6 years
Poverty (UN figures) – 47.5 %
Water access – 85% in cities; 43% in rural
areas; 64% non-potable
Employed – 54% of men; 41% of women
School attendance – 35% male; 31% female
Infant mortality - 32 per 1000/ in rural areas
– 45 (Canada 3, Cuba 5)
Sister Snider was joined for part of the tour by
OPSEU campaigns officer Brenda Wall. Sister Wall’s report on the tour will be
available on-line soon.
Photos and story by Brenda Wall. For more