Wednesday, February 10, 2010

El Salvador Immersion Blog: Day 5

Saint Peter's Vice President for Advancement Michael Fazio is visiting El Salvador until February 12 as part of Ignatian Colleagues Program. Today's blog entry is part of a series of his reflections during his trip. To read the series from the beginning, start here

My head hurts.

Today was a day of contradictions. Much of what follows is presented with thanks to my Ignatian Colleagues. I surely hadn't thought of all this; but together, we've come up with quite a list.

First, we met with a representative of the Salvadoran Association for Private Enterprise (ANEP is the Spanish language acronym). This group works on behalf of the private businesses in the country, 18,000 of which are classified as small businesses; 2,000 that are medium to large. Investing in education, building schools and getting children involved in activities that would dissuade gang entry are important initiatives for ANEP. Nevertheless, the gentlemen with whom we spoke admitted that El Salvador is progressing much like a student who is taking one class a semester. It might take 25 years or more for the country to graduate, but by that time a new world will be upon us and much of what was learned may no longer be viable.

We then met separately with congressmen from ARENA and FMLN. The social realities of these two gentlemen were diametrically opposed. The ARENA rep declined to admit that El Salvador was ever involved in a true civil war. Rather, he said the communist forces of Vietnam, Cuba, Russia and other Central American lands had infiltrated the land and the minds of some Salvadorans forcing the conflict. He even stated that the deaths of the UCA Jesuits and Archbishop Romero cannot be attributed to ARENA. Essentially, he said it was a mystery, despite facts to the contrary. Naturally, the FMLN rep saw it differently (as do most history books). As a result of widespread injustice and human rights violations a guerrilla movement formed to oppose the ARENA government in the early 1980s. No one thought the battle would last 12 years. FMLN was formed out of this guerilla movement after the signing of the Peace Accords in 1982. It is now their time to lead.

We discussed with the ARENA rep the fact that immunity was granted to all assassins after the signing of the Peace Accords. Countless Salvadorans want the legislature to overturn this law so that the murderers can be brought to justice and the families of the victims can learn the truth behind the deaths of their loved ones. ARENA believes that "forgiving and forgetting" is the best policy; if the law were overturned, both parties would lose political support which would destroy the country's political structure. There surely seems to be a major contradiction between what is truly important - political support (for individuals that have done a pretty lousy job of leading) vs. opening an honest dialogue to address the atrocities that have permanently wounded so many Salvadoran citizens. How a person can actually rationalize this stance is beyond me. It's pretty disgusting actually.

Another contradiction would almost be humorous if it were not so sad. ARENA's three principles are God, country and freedom ("Much like the U.S.A.," as the congressman said.). He was very proud that God is a part of the party. He was quick to point out that FMLN does not speak of God at all. Yet, ARENA, stated objectively, has ruled El Salvador (until recently) for more than 20 years in a most un-Godly manner.

How's this for contradiction? Romero rests in peace in the basement of the cathedral in San Salvador. However, the founder of Opus Dei is featured in a huge painting right next to the altar. This is but one example of the contradictions between faith and the church in this country (and dare I say perhaps even in the U.S.). Since Romero was killed, there has not been as large a voice for the people. The hierarchical Church has in some ways impeded the possibility for justice in El Salvador. And yet, the faith that the Salvadoran people hold dear is nothing short of inspiring.

And here is another notable contradiction: the U.S. government sent $1 million a day to El Salvador during the Civil War to support the ARENA regime. The assassins of the UCA Jesuits were trained by U.S. soldiers, some on U.S. soil. Yet, today the Salvadoran people are in solidarity with America, and vice versa. In many respects they want to one day be like us. This is because many Americans have come to El Salvador to bear witness to the Salvadoran story for justice and help communities rebuild. But also, it is true that approximately one-third of the Salvadoran population actually resides in the United States. Remittances from family members who send money back home account for a huge portion of El Salvador's GDP. So the country has a vested interest in the success of the United States. (El Salvador adopted the dollar in 2001 as its official currency.)

Driving down Salvadoran streets is one big contradiction in itself. Next to the mega-sized movie theater are what look like hundreds of tin-roofed shanties. Next door to the Pizza Hut are several fruit stands run by some of the poorest citizens. Next to the modern KIA dealership is a restaurant with broken windows and half of a roof.

But we have a choice; a contradiction of options so to speak. We can run, or we can stand. Before this trip it was very easy for me to run and avoid seeing the truth of the political situation here and the abject poverty. I could simply change the channel or not read the article. I could live within my little bubble. Now, I believe I will be more aware. I will take notice. And I will encourage friends, family and colleagues to take notice, too. Will this be enough, though? I struggle mightily with this. It is very easy to feel a sense of futility. Thankfully, ICP exists for exactly this reason. This is truly an incredibly strong network of smart, insightful individuals committed to the same ideology. Together, I really do believe we will stand together and make our institutions stronger. 


  1. It's not "the hierarchical church" that impeded the possibility for justice. It's corrupt elements within the hierarchical church. Why does it have to be "faith [vs] church?" You're throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

  2. You are absolutely correct that, sadly, there are corrupt elements within the Church which lead to injustice. But the Church in El Salvador has also taken the stance on several occasions to not get involved in politics. Romero himself, in his early days as Archbishop, stated his role was to pray for the people, not denounce the atrocities the Salvadoran government was carrying out. With time, he changed his mind. Massive oppression is still occuring in El Salvador but since Romero was killed the people have not had a voice in the Church. This is what I was referring to when juxtaposing faith/church. The people have incredible faith and yet their Church has not been in their corner as Romero was.