Saturday, December 04, 2010

El Salvador, friends, and more

I just returned from a short visit to El Salvador.

The reason for going was to meet with the overseeing organization as well as Cordaid's (the funding organization) representative for Caritas Santa Rosa's disaster management project. It was a good meeting and there will be funding for the project for the coming year. Original plans for a five year project are in the works as the Dutch government is considering making major cuts in its international aid programming.

It was good to be in El Salvador. There are lots of reports of violence there - and both Honduras and El Salvador are plagued with violence. I thus found this poster one many streets.
Where is your brother?
He is your blood.
He is your people.
In God's name, change right now!
The Catholic Church of El Salvador

But despite the situation. I didn't stay in the hotel. I took advantage of the trip to see people in El Salvador whom I haven't seen in a while, as well as to visit a few bookstores. I also took the Honduran Caritas worker whom I accompanied to visit the UCA, the Jesuit university, to see the memorials to the martyred Jesuits and the two women, killed in November 1979.

I was very moved by my visit on Thursday with Padre Pedro Cortez, a Salvadoran priest I worked with in 1987 when he was in San Roque parish in a very poor area of San Salvador. He is now pastor of a parish in Cuscatancingo, just north of San Salvador and has been there for about ten years. We talked about our experiences and about his efforts, forming base communities, getting a credit and loan coop set up, and several training programs for youth - to help them resist the allure of the gangs.

Padre Pedro is one priest who has been committed to the poor all his priestly life. He was among the priests who stood with the poor in the late 1970s and the 1980s when that was dangerous. And he has continued that.

I haven't seen him for more than four years but I plan to try to stay in touch a little better.

I also visited Sister Peggy O'Neill in Suchitoto. She has been connected with Suchitoto since 1987 and has started a Centro Arte por la Paz, a Peace center using the arts. It's always a joy and a personal and intellectual challenge to meet with Peggy. She is an inquiring and thoughtful person and loves to share ideas, but ideas grounded in reality, in particular the reality of the poor.

The center has an incredible museum, set up by young people, of the Suchitoto region. I was quite impressed but didn't have time to view any of the 45 videos they have. I will have to take time to go back (and maybe spend a few weeks there to try to finish the book I am writing on the role of the church in the struggle for justice in the parish of Suchitoto.

I also had a chance to visit some friends who live in a rural community, Haciendita 2. In 1992, when I spent 7 months in El Salvador, much of it helping in the Suchitoto parish, I spent time with Esteban and Rosa Elbia Clavel and their family. Going back they are still there with many of their children and grandchildren. Esteban and Rosa Elbia fled El Salvador in the late 1970s because Esteban was threatened because of his work with the church. They returned as the war was drawing to a close and finally settled here. Esteban has been ill (as a result of chagas) but is doing better, though he has to slow down and for about a year was very weak. It was so good to see them. Sadly I only had about two hours with them since I wanted to get back to Honduras before nightfall.

Esteban and Rosa Elbia

Though I left Haciendita 2 about noon, there were loads of delays and I didn't make it back until 9:15 pm. The worst delay was from Ocotepeque to Santa Rosa. The bus left at 5:30, instead of 4:30. Then about 3/4 of the way up the hill outside Ocotepeque we stop - engine problems - which were solved in less than 45 minutes.

But then, having arrived in Santa Rosa, but not by the main terminal, the bus was stopped by the police and the military. What happened was bizarre. Two men with no visible police or military identification with ski masks and large automatic weapons entered the bus and walked down the aisle. They hardly asked anyone for id. But they stopped by a Honduran-American - a US citizen - who was int eh bus on the way to San Pedro Sula with a friend. They looked over his passport and then had him get off the bus. The guy was large and tall, with a beard and a pony-tail. I had talked with him a bit and knew he was a truck driver in the US. They took him off and looked at his papers and had him identify his luggage.

As I looked outside the bus I saw several police, including - I belief - Bonilla, the local head of the police in the region. Hmm!

As I look back, I wish I had gotten off the bus and asked a question or two. It seemed bizarre that this guy alone was singled out. (I guess they thought he looked suspicious - since he "looked different," though he was born in Honduras.

But what was really disturbing was the way the armed men entered the bus. It was scary - and I wondered if they were a gang or something. Is this the way public security will be being enforced - with what come across as intimidating and terrorizing tactics? That does not inspire me with confidence on the training and professionalism of the Honduran military and police - especially since bribes are still being offered and taken.

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