Friday, April 30, 2010

Immigration Challenges for El Salvador

One of the people we met with works for Catholic Relief Services in the area of immigration.

The issue of immigration is huge in El Salvador for several reasons:
1) 2 million Salvadorans live in the US; 6 million in El Salvador. Los Angeles, California, is the 2nd largest Salvadoran city in the world. Immigrants have been coming to the US for over 100 years. We were told that the majority of immigrants are documented, but some are not, including those who have entered illegally via coyotes through Mexico.

2) Remittances from family in the US provides 18% of El Salvador's GDP. It is the single biggest source of income in the country - $3.6 billion. The national budget is $3.6 billion. Remittances to Mexico are larger in terms of dollars - $25 billion - but only represent 3% of GDP.

3) Almost every family has migrant family members in the US. Some households receive up to 60% of their income from remittances - the average is 30% of household income, averaging $200 per month.

4) Because of the recession, remittances are down. And in some cases, remittances are going in reverse. Families in El Salvador sending money to family members in the US.

Obviously, immigration and remittances are high on the radar of average citizens and they watch for cues from the new administration very carefully. The social impact on families is huge as parents and children are not uncommonly separate for long periods.

The four main causes of immigration:
1) Economic opportunities. There are simply not enough jobs, especially following the collapse of the coffee market.
2) Violence. Immigration during the 12 year civil war, and leading up to it, was large. But violence is still a huge problem. The homicide rate for youth aged 15-30 is double. There were 4,368 homicides last year alone; the highest level of violence in all the Americas. One reason given is the "criminalized culture of youth" plus increased narco violence over the last 5 years. And deportations from the US have increased significantly, adding to an already challenged economy.
3) Family reunification.
4) Natural disasters and climate change. Hurricanes, drought, floods, and earthquakes - especially the deadly earthquake in 2001.

Globalization has had a very negative impact as have free trade agreements. As they described it: it's good for goods. It's bad for people.

Immigration policy in the US was described as outdated, dysfunctional, inhumane, and unjust. A law in 1965 sought to make immigration policy more equal - created a quota system that each country would be able to send 20,000 per year. But Lithuania and El Salvador have very different needs, for example, and it has created a huge backlog.

What would be just and humane immigration? The 20,000 quota should not include family unifications. Family unity should be a priority.

Final request: Support the DREAM Act

Jon Sobrino's Lecture

We were incredibly fortunate to hear a giant of liberation theology give a lecture as part of a weekend of events at the University of Central America commemorating Romero's assassination. I actually was in a separate room from the lecture in order to have earphones with translation. Others in our group wanted to be in the actual auditorium, but agreed that after an hour and a half of lecture in Spanish, they missed out. My group watched on a huge screen.

Father Sobrino would have been murdered by soldiers in 1989 along with the six Jesuit colleagues with whom he lived, but he was in Spain on a speaking tour. Just a little reminder: government soldiers came in the middle of the night and dragged the six priests out onto the lawn and shot them in the head - claiming their were the brains of the guerrilla movement. We saw a display of their blood soaked clothes and a Bible that had been cut in half by automatic rifle fire. Soldiers also went to the room of their housekeeper and daughter and murdered them too. Among the most disturbing images of the whole trip, one that is still vivid in my mind, are pictures in an photo album at the Romero Center of brains laying strewn around on the grass. They keep this gruesome record for public display in order to Never Forget.

So, on to the lecture. Sobrino told us that after the first priest was murdered in 1977, (Father Rutilio Grande, whose grave we visited. A young boy and old man were in the car with him and also killed) Romero, as Archbishop, declared that that weekend there would only be one mass spoken in the entire country. At the Cathedral in San Salvador. Other church leaders objected and created a controversy. "Mass is for the glorification of God," conservatives argued. They were on the side of the government which didn't want too much attention paid to this atrocity. In return, Romero quoted 4th century bishop Iraneus: "The glory of God is the human alive. And therefore, the glory of God is that the poor live." Romero prevailed.

A couple of other quotes from lecture:
"One must accept conflicts that come from fidelity to God."
"A martyr is consequently merciful." This one has particularly stayed with me. The word martyr is used in public frequently in El Salvador. It's a word that most of us have difficulty with, especially given the terrorism of our current age. But Salvadorans consider the word necessary when describing the acts of terror against them and to honor those who died speaking out for the poor.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

What Moved Romero?

What moved Archbishop Romero from conservative priest to outspoken critic?

From Archbishop Romero's last pastoral letter:
1) Extreme Poverty and Social Injustice
a) faces of hungry children
b) faces of peasants denied land to work
c) faces of workers not allowed to organize
d) faces of the sub-employed
e) faces of the urban marginalized
f) faces of the elderly marginalized

2) Deterioration of the Political System
a) no citizen participation
b) violence because of repression
c) inability/unwillingness to resolve crisis

3) Government Attitude
a) a suspicious tolerance of violence
b) no toleration of protest

4) Ideological Foundation of Repression
a) everything was couched in protecting "national security"
b) no freedom allowed to organize
c) opponents are "enemies"

He also denounced the lack of judicial administration and impunity of crimes. He said, "justice has been prostituted."

All of this moved Romero from conservative priest to outspoken critic of the government. And hero of the people.

Presentation by Carlos Ayala at the Romero Center at the University of Central American, March 19, 2010

Friday, April 16, 2010

New Internet Commercial

Hi all,
Check out the new United Church of Christ ad called "The Language of God."

Friday, April 9, 2010

During the Civil War

El Salvador's civil war began in 1981 and lasted almost 12 years - but only because a huge infusion of cash from the United States kept it going. Ten days after the war started, Reagan was inaugurated. He declared, "no more communists" - like the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. However, before placing all blame on Reagan, Archbishop Romero had written several times to President Carter, pleading on behalf of human rights, to stop funding El Salvador's right wing military. Carter didn't respond.

In 1981, $150 million in military aid was spent to destroy the FMLN (the left); $277 m in 1982; $378 m in 1983 and increasing to $531 million in 1984. In total, $6 billion was sent by the US to aid the military in El Salvador, not including training for assassins at the School of the Americas. That is $1.5 million per day of the war, or seen another way, $1 million spent per citizen - resulting in the deaths of over 70,000 citizens. Imagine what spending $1 million dollars per citizen would have done to eliminate the very poverty that was at the heart of the struggle.

The war was brutal and bloody - and dirty. In 1989, six Jesuit priests were shot in the head as the "brains of the opposition." Their housekeeper and her daughter were also assassinated by soldiers at their residence on the campus of the University of Central American in San Salvador. It was this outlandish occasion that caused even the United States to question their support of the government and led in part to pressure to sign peace accords in 1992.

Since the signing, they have had 18 "conflict free" years. But the origins and reasons for war were not solved - such as land ownership, unemployment and poverty. And added to the mix - terrible violence. El Salvador has the highest level of violence is all the Americas. Last year, 4,368 homicides.

For 20 years following the end of the civil war, the party that created the death squads and fought the war against the people had been elected over and over. However, a president from the opposition (FMLN - former guerrillas) was elected in 2009 and took office on June 1st. It's a difficult time to govern given the world economic recession, but the new government has begun to offer state apologies to victims of the war (to the consternation of the right) and has publicly embraced Romero as a hero, promising stamps in his honor, a mural at the airport, and other ceremonial honors. The task of addressing the poverty and violence remain enormous challenges - overcoming the debt of the previous government and the fact that the national assembly is still dominated by the right wing.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Influence of Liberation Theology

Continuing the talk at Equip Maiz:
The reforms of Vatican 2 had a major impact on change in El Salvador. Latin American bishops met in Medellin, Colombia, in 1968 to interpret the meaning of Vatican 2 for their countries. From this meeting grew what is called liberation theology. Most importantly, that the poor had the right to dignity in this life, not wait through suffering until the next. This was put into practice in local parishes through small Base Christian Communities, first formed in 1969. The purpose was twofold: evangelism and raising consciousness. To teach that every human has dignity and rights. Many peasants didn't know about the constitution and the rights it already contained. They began, with the help of priests and other community organizers, to demand their rights. The growing left wing in El Salvador can be credited in large part to the Church, which is so central to public life in El Salvador (plus student groups, unions, community groups). An amazing thing to ponder given the current situation.

A "left wing" president was elected for the first time in 1972, but the military wouldn't let them take power. This was repeated in 1977. Again thwarted by electoral fraud. Some wonder whether the civil war would have occurred if these presidents had been seated. After the second flawed election, the left began resistance, including taking over the block outside the Cathedral. Eighty days later, the army shot into the people gathered in the square and killed more than 100 and captured many more.

From 1977-1980, the left grew and the country underwent a political convulsion. The government pushed back. Disappearances grew, persecution increased, torture, maiming and more. This was the time that Romero was archbishop. He was assassinated in 1980, while saying mass at the chapel of the hospital where he lived, by order of military commanders from the highest levels. (This was confirmed by the driver just last month). He was killed on March 24, 1980. On May 15, 50 people were killed in a massacre. On November 27, leftist leaders were tortured and killed. On December 2, four North American Catholic sisters were raped and killed. A civil war was declared on January 10, 1981. It lasted for almost 12 years.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Some Insights on Early El Salvador

Hi everyone. I'm kind of caught up now that Easter has passed, so I can share some of the information and experiences from my trip. I'll break the information into smaller pieces and add a little every day.

This is information from the group Equipo Maiz that teaches the history of El Salvador from a "People's" point of view. They gave us an excellent overview.

The indigenous peoples of El Salvador have had a very difficult history. The Spanish arrived in 1524 and imposed harsh violence. Resistance lasted 15 years, but they eventually became a Spanish colony. But the Spanish didn't want the corn (maiz) that was their major crop. They wanted to grow indigo for export back to Europe (used to dye clothing blue). This meant that all the people living on the flat lands by the ocean (very little of El Salvador could be called flat) were relocated to the hills and mountainous areas. When the price of indigo dropped in the late 1800s, coffee plantations were started, but they needed the hills and mountains, so another forced relocation of the people. Anyone who resisted was killed. The lands of the indigenous were given to people with enough money to start coffee plantations - by decree of the president. They were kindly given shacks on the edges of the plantations, but with such a good deal - free rent - they were expected to work for free. Their lands taken, they became virtual slaves.

A peasant uprising in 1932 failed and resulted in a coup by General Martinez who ruled in a Hitler-like manner for over 30 years. This was followed by a succession of presidents chosen from the military who brought constant persecution. It was during this time that many Salvadorans began leaving for the United States. And the seeds of the coming civil war were planted.

This is a very brief, simplified, version, but it did help provide us with the context of violence and repression that has been part of this country's history.