Friday, February 12, 2010

El Salvador Immersion Blog: Day 7

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
Today reminded me of the possibilities that exist for El Salvador.

In the morning, we visited the U.S. Embassy and met with two officials who explained America's current role in El Salvador. They had to walk a fine line in answering our questions but overall they did a good job of highlighting the fact that America is working closely with the Salvadoran government to curb the rampant corruption that exists in the country, especially within the government itself. Financial incentives (including $463 million to build a major road in northern El Salvador) are tied to benchmarks that indicate the corruption is diminishing. The U.S.A. is also working with Salvadoran officials to make prisons effective, rather than fraternities where gang activity is planned and orders are given to those outside of prison walls. Wire-tapping is one initiative the State Department is working to implement -- cell phones are smuggled into jails and are used to coordinate violent activity every day.

In the afternoon we visited a free trade, organic coffee cooperative. We toured the facilities and were treated to some of the best coffee I have ever tasted. The cooperative employs more than 400 people who work extremely hard. With the help of NGOs, the coop has created ties to American and European markets, where a cup will sell for $5 or more. Five dollars is also the day's wage for the women who separate the good beans from the bad (see photo). It's astonishing that those who do the most work within the production cycle get paid the least. Pickers, those who pick the beans from trees in scorching heat every day, make $1 for every 25 pounds that are picked. On a good day, a picker can make $15-$20, though it is only a seasonal job. This is not a unique phenomenon to El Salvador. This same issue exists around the world. I guess I always knew this; I just hadn't given it a lot of thought. Nevertheless, it is pleasing to know that, like the massacre survivors I discussed yesterday, there are Salvadorans who are working tirelessly to reach a bright, new day for themselves and their families.

Tomorrow marks our last day together before we set off on Saturday morning. My head and heart are both still swirling. I continue to struggle with what to make of all of this. I've never really been a power-to-the-people, rally-attending, letter-writing kind of guy -- and I probably never will be. And while I am in solidarity with the Salvadoran people, I cannot help but to think of the injustice that exists in Jersey City and Cleveland (my hometown) and in so many other places across the United States. Where and on what do I focus?

The Jesuits tell us to be agitated in the face of injustice. I have passed that test. How I incorporate all this into my work at home and at Saint Peter's is a test I've yet to take.

Photo: Women separating coffee beans at a free trade, organic coffee cooperative in El Salvador.

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