Monday, September 10, 2012

Another young Salvadoran martyr, 1980

On September 10, 1980, Ana Julia Escobar, a 16 year old catechist, community leader, and worker with Caritas was killed in Tenango, along with two other young people: one of them worked with the church and the other was involved with the guerrillas. Their hands were tied behind their backs, and they were shot in the head and the chest and two of them were decapitated - the work of the death squads. Julio was not decapitated but was cut all over her arms and body. As her brother Damián, a friend of mine, told me the story, all I could think of were the stories of the martyrs of old, especially the martyrdom of the apostle St. Bartholomew, who was flayed alive.

Years later, Doña Mirtala from Tenango wrote the following poem which was published in  Carta a las Iglesias:

I am going to sing this song of many woes.
What happened in Tenango took place all over.
Wednesday, September 10, 1980, it happened,
the death squad entered at 11 in the morning.
Forty of the squad of the National Guard they came, combined forces,
and so they killed seven of those whom they had denounced.
Of the seven who died I will tell you the names of three
of those who are massacred - Carmen, Julita, and José.
Carmen, Julita, and José, the light of heaven shine on them,
for being good companions they remain in the same tomb.
Their three mothers weep as if they were infants,
with tears in their eyes they moisten the tomb.
Válgame, holy child; válgame, holy God,
the Salvadoran fatherland has become a holy field.
So I leave you my song, I am going away.
We must not forget the blood of these companions.

Damian had shared the story  of her death with me in 1995. Here is a portion of his account:

   Wednesday September 10, 1980, at ten in the morning, twelve men in olive green uniforms with E-3 rifles arrived at my house. My sister Ana Julia was grinding corn for tortillas. She worked in the community directiva, the community council, as secretary, and she was also a catechist. She was 16 years old. She was an exemplary young woman in the community and in my family. Everyone was proud of her. In one room of the house there was a young man, José, who was about twenty and was also a member of the directiva comunal. He was the son of a good friend of my dad and was also a relative. His house had been burned and they had nowhere to live. My dad had given them shelter since there were only three of them in their family (mother, father, and son). And our house was big enough to fit the two families.
  José was on a bed, with a very high fever. He could not get up.
  The men who came to the house tied the thumbs of José and Julia and took them out, beating them. We didn’t know that, because my brothers and sisters weren’t in the house. We were playing in the patio of my grandmother’s house, about fifteen meters  away. I saw everything and heard all they were saying. They were insulting them with foul language. But I didn’t know why or where they were taking them away. I ran to tell my grandmother what I saw and she wanted to go see what was happening. When two of the individuals pointed their rifle at us, one of them said, “Don’t move unless you want to die; go inside and close the door.” We locked ourselves inside; my grandmother and all of us were crying. But the door had a little hole where you could see into the street. Through the hole I saw them take them away, beating and shoving them. The young man, extremely ill because of his fever, fell; they lifted him with a stick and they were kicking him. Fifteen minutes later we heard three shots but we didn’t know where they came from.
   At noon my mom arrived, crying, very frightened, holding onto to her arm which was fractured. I asked her what happened. “The soldiers came after me, shooting at me,” she said. “And I had to throw myself down a gully and go through the grass so they wouldn’t follow me. Maybe they thought I was killed when I threw myself down the gully and they stopped following me.”
  Without any explanation and without understanding anything still, I asked her, “Why did they follow you?” “Son,” she answered, “these days no one escapes; all the poor and all of us who live here are persecuted, because the soldiers think we’re guerrillas, even though we aren’t. But we live here and they don’t respect anybody — children, young people, and the old all pay the same.”  I then asked, “Who are the guerrillas?” “Those who defend the people,” she told me.
  Then my mother asked about Julia. I didn’t know what to say. The only thing I knew was that some men took her away. I had to say the truth. She got very quiet and then started crying and shouting like a mad woman: “They killed my daughter.” My grandmother came to comfort her and gave her something to calm her down.
In the late 1990s, the Salvadoran Catholic Church undertook a project of compiling a list of martyrs to submit to the Vatican. This list would be part of the year 2000 millennium celebrations in Rome. A representative of the church came to Suchitoto seeking information on martyrs. Julia Escobar was mentioned as one of the possible martyrs. However, her name was not included in the final list since, some alleged that she was involved in activities of one of the guerrilla groups. But she was not killed in combat but was taken from her home and brutally murdered.

She is a witness, one of many people of faith who died in El Salvador before and during the civil war, seeking justice for the poor.

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