EL Salvador 14
Thu, 31 Jan 2008
Hi all....Well this is it!....the last installment. I should really be packing and getting some sleep because it is late and we are leaving for the airport at 4:30am.... Oh well....as they say, one can always sleep at home.
We have seen and heard a lot of things today that capture what this country is all about. Now it's just a matter of remembering them!
First, just a few more facts that follow from yesterday that I find rather interesting. The average remittance sent back to El Salvador by families living outside the country is $321 per month. The average number of years of education of these ex El Salvadorans is 9 years.....so they are probably working in rather low level jobs. The possibility of a recession in the US would really impact a country like this!
Our first stop of the day was the memorial wall in a very large park in the center of the city. On it are inscribed the names of 24,000 people that were murdered or missing from the war years. The names are recorded year by year with Oscar Romer´s name being on the 1980 list. This is by no means all the people killed. This was a project started by NGO´s in 2003 as a way of healing the people and giving some closure to those years of the war and it's atrocities. Associated with this wall is another wall with an artistic series of pictures depicting the highlights of the recent history of El Salvador. The first big event of this century was the massacre of the indigenous people in the early 1930´s by the Spanish and ending with the most recent war. It was full of symbolism of the polarization between the rich and poor that has always been the case here.
Our next stop was the main Basilica where Oscar Romero´s funeral took place as well as the square in front where many were killed among the throngs that attended his funeral. The building is absolutely massive ....the upper part of the church being used for services of the more upper class families and the basement for ordinary folk. Romero´s tomb is in the basement and we of course visited that.
The rest of the day was spent at the University of Central America campus. This is the campus where the 6 Jesuits along with a housekeeper and her daughter were killed in the massacre in 1989. This is such recent history (in my mind) it is hard to imagine that these things were happening not so far away. There is a small museum with many mementos of both Oscar Romero as well as the Jesuits that were killed. One is able to go through the area where the killing took place as well as visit the Jesuit chapel (which also has a number of symbolic paintings). I tried to imagine the atmosphere on the campus after such a horrific event!
After lunch at an off campus Mexican restaurant, we went back to the Jesuit center to meet a young Jesuit by the name of Andrew K. He is from Missouri and still in the process of studying (it takes 10 years!). Education and building bridges to the international community are important aspects of their work here, so he is happy to speak to groups like ours. He tried to put together the picture of what led up to the assassination of the 6 Jesuits and generally give us some understanding of what we have seen since we've been here. It was absolutely fascinating to me! I will try to give you a bit of a picture..... The Jesuits were kicked out of El Salvador early in this century as countries in this part of the world were starting to acquire their own identities. By the 1940´s they were invited back by the elite class (by the 14 families that basically owned this country) because this had become mission territory. Two events in the 1960´s changed the course of history in this part of the world. 1) Vatican II (which asked the question of how the Catholic Church will enter the modern era and 2)Cuba fell to Fidel Castro and these countries were forced to choose their side.....US or Cuba
The reality of most of the people here was poverty . Choosing to be on the side of the poor meant that the Jesuits were in conflict with the power structures of the ruling governments. Gande, a friend of Romero and a Jesuit, was murdered in 1977 and so Romero was forced to take stand on the side of the oppressed and was murdered 3 years later. In the 1980´s, 75,000 people disappeared...there was a CIA presence and death squads that were accountable to no government. There was a coup attempt in San Salvador in 1989 and the Jesuits were seen as sympathizers. There was the perception that the rebels could win and so the military was sent in to take the Jesuits out. It was a calculated move and one that finally incited outrage (finally) by the international community as to what was going on here! Many of the murders are known but many have been given asylum in the US and were given amnesty as per the peace agreement. The reality today is that many things have not changes here. El Salvador is a deeply polarized world. You get the luxury car show rooms in the high end malls and kids dressed in rags begging on the other side of the road. There is an identity crisis here. There is no indigenous population left here (all killed in the 1930´s) so the country has become like the 53rd state with Burger King, Wendy´s, KFC.....and using the dollar as currency.....their identity is rooted in the US. The source of many of the wars here is rooted in the US economic interests in these countries and how the political structures here might threaten that. Just think what the pending recession will do!!. The poverty and life in general in the country here is quite different than in the city. In the country you feel like you have gone back half a century! There is violence here in spite of the friendly pleasant demeanor that we see in the people here.....10-13 people are found dead every day in the middle of the city! This is a place where faith and hope should not exist....and yet it does! There is great hope for the future here in the people and we have seen it through these projects that Rainbow of Hope works with many times since being here. Obviously I have simplified many things here but there is a whole set of complex issues.....not easy to understand and many rooted in history. It was all quite overwhelming to think about. It is a dynamic situation and there are many signs of hope for political change.
The rest of the day was spent checking out another group for a potential project, going to a coffee shop, wandering around the campus, debriefing, and going out for supper again at the Mayan cafe which has become a favorite of ours. You can count on 2 hours for going out for supper here....speed and efficiency of service doesn't seem to be a high priority!
I still have a few things to pack and will try to grab a few hours of sleep!
So I will sign out for the last time from here and try to wrap my head around the -30C in Saskatoon that someone just told me about! It is midnight here and probably about 24C.
Hope you have enjoyed the reading as much as I have enjoyed the writing. Now I will have to contend with the 1000+ pictures I have taken!
V & C