Volume IX, Number 1: Winter 2001
In this Issue:
The second major earthquake to hit El Salvador in a month (January 13 and February 13) struck much closer to Tenancingo, doing major damage to the Departmental capital of Cojutepeque, the nearby village of Candelaria, and the town of Santa Cruz Michapa, which one passes through just after turning off the Pan-American Highway on the way to Tenancingo (see map). At this writing, no official report has come from Tenancingo, but SHARE staff is working on obtaining one. CRIPDES staff is gathering a census of the damages in communities they work with, among them Tenancingo.
[Note: Dave Johnson communicated the following late on Friday, February 16.] "In the midst of a day-long meeting, I squeezed in phone calls to Amalia and CRIPDES, both promised to send me data in writing by the end of the day, sadly, nothing has arrived. However, the picture is becoming clearer, Tenancingo was hit harder than we expected. I have only been giving two numbers, and both were verbal and not official, one from CRIPDES and one from Amalia. Amalia informed me that in Corral Viejo all but 15 homes have been rendered uninhabitable. I was informed by CRIPDES that over 500 families in the Municipality of Tenancingo have had their homes significantly damaged or destroyed."
On February 18, the overall death toll from the second earthquake stood at 283, with almost 3,000 injured and well over 100,000 people categorized as victims. The Department of Cuscatlán, where Tenancingo is located, registered the leading number of deaths with 146. A number of these deaths occurred in schools that collapsed, and classes nationwide were cancelled until damages could be assessed. The United Nations reports that, with this second earthquake, more than one in six or 1.3 million Salvadorans are homeless.
Finally, on Saturday, Feb. 17, a third quake of magnitude 5.3 shook the capital city of San Salvador. The early reports are of two deaths, some minor damages and landslides, but much more serious stress on the already-worn patience and hope of the people.
On Saturday, January 13, at 11:35 AM, two large tectonic plates collided beneath the Pacific Ocean off the coast of El Salvador. The result? An earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale shook the country, especially the coastal plain and all cities, towns and hamlets nestled on the slopes of the mountains and volcanoes of the tiny country, wreaking havoc, destruction, and death.
At that precise moment-or rather, for 50 solid seconds that seemed an eternity-I was sitting in the chapel on the grounds of the Divine Providence Cancer Hospital with a group of college students from Saint John's University and the College of Saint Benedict. Those who have been to El Salvador or are familiar with the biography of Archbishop Oscar Romero know that it was here in March, 1980 that he was assassinated, gunned down while saying mass.
That morning our group was listening to Madre Rosa as she was just beginning the story Romero's time as archbishop. All of a sudden, there came the sound of what seemed to be a loud wind. But a violent shaking immediately ensued, rocking the whole building. Our group was all mid-westerners, and we looked to Madre Rosa for cues about what to do. She stood still, praying for those who were dying at that moment. This was no temblor, she told us when we recovered our wits and the shaking subsided, this was an earthquake.
Madre Rosa and the students moments before the quake.
Inexperienced as we were, we all thought she meant it had just made it into the earthquake category, for not much in the church had fallen. Had we known how unusual that was, we might have been more apt to believe her when she told us that Monsignor had saved us and held up the church because of our faith. Most of us thought we were lucky, but fools for not running outside. Even our driver, Romeo Duarte, came rushing into the chapel, astonished that we were all sitting there so calmly (though our hearts were pounding), listening as Madre Rosa resumed telling the story of Romero's martyrdom and message.
Only as the afternoon wore on did we begin to discover how serious an event we had lived through. What we thought was tropical haze was smoke drifting from the San Salvador volcano, smoke set free by the shaking. There were a few buildings with broken glass, and long lines of people at phones on every street corner, shaking their heads and trying the phones in vain. The radio first reported the earthquake at 5.9 on the Richter scale-quite a significant experience for Minnesotans, but far from the 7.6 it turned out to have been (apparently the measuring instruments were affected by the quake itself). Telephone and electricity were knocked out, but gradually restored as the day went on and we began to discover just how destructive this quake had been.
However, even the press concentrated on the spectacular and tragic landslide at Las Colinas in suburban Santa Tecla, where the whole side of a mountain gave way, burying scores of homes and killing hundreds (the exact numbers are still not known). What was not reported so quickly or completely was the devastating damage to rural El Salvador. Many of the areas hardest hit were areas that had just begun to recover from the effects of Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and heavy flooding in 1999. Some of these areas are in former conflicted zones, one-time centers of guerilla activity, and quickly accusations began to fly that the government was neglecting these areas; then, just as quickly, counter claims that the FMLN was politicizing the tragedy.
|College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University students explore earthquake wreckage in the town of Tecoluca.|
What we saw confirmed the neglect and made the FMLN's charges seem simple truth-telling. We visited the town of Tecoluca on Monday (Tenancingo is actually sistered within El Salvador with Tecoluca, and coordinates with its mayor on training workshops, etc.) There we saw severe damages-90% of the housing destroyed or rendered uninhabitable throughout the municipality, which reaches down the west side of the Lempa River to the coast-but no official aid or even government personnel assessing the situation, despite the fact that they had driven past Tecoluca to other hard-hit towns. This situation was repeated in many rural areas. We did see workers from Caritas (Catholic Relief), from Red Cross, and from a housing NGO, but no one from COEN, the Committee for National Emergencies.
Instead, in an interview that morning, a representative of the government's Secretary for Family Life said that they would direct aid to Tecoluca, but that there was no organization in place to help channel it. had I not been in El Salvador, I would have found this odd: Tecoluca had been a very organized community through the war, and had made marvelous strides since the Peace Accords. Mayor Carlos Cortez, was selected to represent the organized communities of the Lower Lempa at the International Summit on Hurricane Mitch Reconstruction in Stockholm in 1999. Not organized?
But being in Tecoluca itself, the students and I saw how fraudulent the government's claim was. Not only had the mayor's office already conducted a neighborhood-by-neighborhood census of damages and needs, but local committees within the barrios had set up citizens watch patrols to prevent the theft of what belongings the people had been able to salvage from their ruined homes.
|The Tecoluca Emergency Committee processing their census of local damages, The government said there were no reliable local channels for aid, but the group saw a different story.|
Throughout the following week, we read and heard reports that this same mayor was politicizing the situation, was not assisting families that supported the government party, ARENA, etc. What seemed far more likely is that the ARENA government itself was trying to undermine the efforts of local authorities who had proven so effective that they made the government look bad. The Government of El Salvador's record in administering the aid they received after Mitch is very poor-word is that they used some of it to pay off disgruntled members of war-time "civil patrols"-those who had turned in their neighbors as guerillas and communists, or, what amounted to the same thing, catechists and delegates of the Word.
So the political side of things was very disheartening. But it wouldn't really be fair to say that the common people were neglected completely. Church and humanitarian organizations were stepping in as much as they could, and many mayors' offices joined in with these since they couldn't rely on the federal government and were truly serving their people the best they could.
As for our own itinerary, it was shaken up as well, but this problem paled next to the plight of the more than 1,000,000 victims or damnificados as they're called in Spanish. What we did learn as we made our way through the remaining two weeks of our stay, jumping out of our skins at the seemingly incessant aftershocks, is the resilience of this beleaguered people, their faith and confidence in God, their warmth and friendliness even amid this disaster that shook the whole nation. We were for a time intimate witnesses of a national heartache, privileged, in a strange way, to share the pain and anxiety of those all around us. And that moved me, moved us all, even more than the earthquake had.
Contributions to El Salvador Earthquake Relief
You can send contributions for Earthquake Relief in El Salvador to:
Partners Across Borders
As soon as we are aware of damages and reconstruction plans drawn up by the Mayor's Council or Emergency Committee in Tenancingo, we will make a decision about what funds to allocate for relief there, and how much to send on to SHARE for relief efforts in other areas.
Donation of material goods as emergency relief is very rarely helpful. The time for sorting and the cost of transportation is prohibitive. However, look for information on PAB's collection of goods for Tenancingo to be brought down this summer.
More information can be found on SHARE's web
The Diario de Hoy, one of the two major daily papers in El Salvador, published an article criticizing the mayor of Tenancingo for accepting earthquake relief materials, despite the fact that the town, according to the report and the headline, was not affected at all. This information is patently false, and was provided by a spokesman for one of the ARENA-sponsored organizations in town that are actively trying to undermine the success of Mayor Amado Lopez and the Municipal Development Council in addressing the real needs of the people of Tenancingo.
The article, published Wednesday, February 7, is headlined, "Tenancingo Does Not Need Help, But the Mayor Says 'Yes!'" The source of this misleading information is the so-called "Association for Integral Development of Tenancingo." This organization's very name suggests that the Association for Development of New Tenancingo that PAB is sistered with, as well as the mayor's new Municipal Development Council, are not really "integral" or involved with the whole development picture. Some of the members of this supposedly more inclusive association are apparently people formerly involved with the sistering relationship who turned their backs on the Association and now support the governing party, ARENA.
The real story of how the earthquake affected Tenancingo and the legitimacy their receiving aid is told by Dave Johnson, 1999 PAB delegate and current SHARE volunteer. Here's Dave's report:
This past weekend I sat down with Amalia Flores, to discuss the earthquake which rocked El Salvador on Saturday the 13th. Amalia shared with myself and Br. Dennis Beach, a member of the PAB sistering committee, the damages sustained in Tenancingo and the surrounding cantons. Amalia also discussed the municipal-wide response to the graver damages which presently plague, and will continue to plague, communities throughout the departments of San Vicente and Cuscatlán. The following is a summary of the information Amalia shared with us:
- 217 homes from the 16 communities which comprise the Municipality of Tenancingo have been damaged.
- Of these 217 homes, Amalia estimated that 45% will need to be completely reconstructed.
- 315 children under 5 have been affected as a result of damage to their homes.
- 268 children between the ages of 5 and 15 have been affected as a result of damage to their homes.
- 3 churches have been damaged.
As the numbers demonstrate, various families within the Municipality of Tenancingo have been victims of the earthquake. However, only having experienced, relatively speaking, modest damages, the people of Tenancingo have rallied around dire needs of those from the towns of San Ramón and Candelaria from the department of Cuscatlán and San Nicholas Lempa from the department of San Vicente.
Sunday morning, the day following the earthquake, an emergency committee was established; the committee was comprised of one representative from each community. Members of the emergency committee went home to home within their respective communities collecting everything from rice and beans to shoes and clothes. Additionally, the committee collected several hundred colones which will be used as a donation to help buy corrugated steel and tarps for temporary housing. Around the country, the response from the poor for the poor has been tremendous. After all the goods were collected and organized, two fully loaded trucks were sent off to their respective destinations within Cuscatlán and San Vicente.
Amalia, in reflecting upon relief and reconstruction, commented that to date, many of El Salvador's badly damaged towns have received no formal aid from the central government. She went on to say that Tenancingo, like many other communities, will rely upon cooperation with national and international NGO's, such as CRIPDES, to further assess earthquake damages and to determine where to focus reconstruction efforts.
[For those who read Spanish, the Diario de Hoy article is linked here: http://www. osb.org/pab/DdH-070201-Tenancingo.htm
|Partners Across Borders needs to elect new
coordinators, a secretary and a treasurer. We will be receiving nominations from February
through May, with elections in May. New officers begin office in September. Call
320-363-2997 (Dennis) or 320-252-9520 (Judy) for information or nominations.
Partners Across Borders meets the 3rd Wednesday of every month at the Diocesan Pastoral Center, 305 N. 7th Street, Saint Cloud at 7 PM. All are welcome!
Would your Church or Community Group be willing to sponsor a delegate to travel with us to Tenancingo? See information on back. Would they like to host a PAB crafts sale or want to hear a speaker talk about PAB, about El Salvador, sistering and solidarity? Call 320-363-2997 (Dennis) or 320-252-9520 (Judy).
Partners Across Borders' newsletter is edited by Dennis Beach, OSB. It appears three times a year. Articles or ideas are welcome! Note: This edition is a little late because the editor was in El Salvador in January, and still processing events when he returned!
In 1995, when only three delegations from the Saint Cloud area had traveled to visit our sisters and brothers in El Salvador, PAB hosted four people from Tenancingo. Now, some 6 years later, with the 10th Saint Cloud delegation making plans to travel south, we've decided it's high time to repeat the invitation and bring more of our Salvadoran brothers and sisters up to visit us. Such events are very important, for as rewarding as travel to visit them is, it is limited to the few who can go each year. This will be a wonderful opportunity for many more people to learn about and participate in our friendship with the people of Tenancingo.
A committee has begun to plan the delegation's activities, and they need volunteers to help with the following: 1) Host Families (please see next column!), 2) Planning welcome and farewell ceremonies, 3) Transportation (driver with vehicle) 4) Translators and others to accompany group to meetings; 5) people to videotape meetings and events, 6) Hosts for various meals, including perhaps a parish or worship community that would host a Welcome Dinner and another to host a Farewell Gathering.
The committee is gathering ideas about where our Salvadoran guests should visit. The time, while ample, is not unlimited. If you would like to schedule a visit to a school, church or community group, please contact Rosanne Fischer at 320-251-1100 (Mission Office).
Partners Across Borders will be hosting a four person delegation from our Salvadoran sister city, Tenancingo, during the month of October, 2001. The exact dates are not yet set, but the proposed ones are October 4 - 16. The delegation's weekday hours will be scheduled and taken care of by group activities, but we are looking for host families to attend to our guests at night, and on some of the weekend times. Opening up your home to a guest will be a wonderful way to get to know our Salvadoran brothers and sisters on a personal level without having to travel to El Salvador-something many are unable to do.
YOU NEED NOT SPEAK SPANISH TO BE A HOST FAMILY!! It is amazing how much one can communicate even without a common language. We will work with host families to set up access to translators when the need arises. Non-Spanish-speaking families in the past have found it an enriching experience.
Ideally, host families will be part of a larger faith community into which our guests will be welcomed. At least one of the weekends they are here, the Salvadoran guests would be available to speak and/or enjoy fellowship with the host family's church community. Please contact Rosanne Fischer, at (320) 251-1100 to find out more about hosting, or to express interest in being a host family.
The PAB delegation going to El Salvador in July is collecting the following items to
bring to Tenancingo.
Tuesday, January 30, 2001
We just returned from El Salvador on Friday-were there through the earthquake and the first few weeks of its aftermath. On all my trips to El Salvador I have worked with the SHARE Foundation, which has offices in country as well as in San Francisco and Washington DC. SHARE's mission is slightly different from the one you describe, although they may also know organizations dedicated to service.
Rather than having "service" as its ideal, SHARE focuses on "solidarity," which means accompanying Salvadoran people in grass-roots organizations and communities as they themselves set direction, work on social change, promote leadership, plan and carry out education projects including gender education, promote development on all levels from specific projects to advocacy and rallies and marches, and foster small-scale economic initiatives in community groups. SHARE insists on not doing things FOR Salvadorans, but instead being a supportive, accompanying presence that can validate and affirm and encourage self-determination. In addition to direct accompaniment and encouragement in El Salvador, SHARE bears witness to the "Western World" about this work of the Salvadoran people-the grass roots or "base"-and bears witness to it as well to various levels of Salvadoran society itself.
Most of the work SHARE does builds on already existing relationships. For example, my January course brought students to the sister city where I've been visiting for three years. While these students themselves didn't know much about SHARE or our sister-city organization, Partners Across Borders, it became clear to them that they were viewed as an extension of our sistering group and of the SHARE Foundation itself. This means that SHARE also has to be a bit selective about what kinds of experiences they facilitate. The experiences work best when they can form some sort of organic connection with relationships that have been long in developing-reaching out of this past on into the future. A key element of this is that the future for Salvadorans ought to be their future, not a future somehow constructed for them by even well-intentioned Christian charity. This comes into play at many levels-unemployment is so rampant that it doesn't make sense for a group of American youth to build something that Salvadorans can build better, given the right resources. Even providing resources is tricky, for one of the drawbacks of donations (as much as material support IS needed, especially in the wake of a disaster like the earthquake or Hurricane Mitch) is that they can seem to absolve the government of its own responsibility. Thus, sometimes solidarity means finding out what the needs, plans and impediments are and coming home to talk about this, to write letters to the US embassy or the Salvadoran Ministry of Whatever to give witness to the needs the people have themselves determined and to their readiness to work concretely for development.
Don't get me wrong-I'm not denigrating service work. Still, I am very much in support of the kind of accompaniment and solidarity that the SHARE Foundation fosters, and in fact believe it is the only truly moral way to work for change in that beautiful but tragic country. Although the path into the future is one that the Salvadorans themselves must choose and even make as they walk, they are certainly happy to have company on the journey. But this is a slow way, without a lot of the immediate satisfactions of painting a wall or serving a meal. It involves a lot of talk about the past and possibilities for the future, and this can be frustrating, especially for young people who want to DO something. However, that very human but often inappropriate urge to do is just not the approach SHARE takes.
I hope this didn't come across as negative, but I really do believe that solidarity-which means working on ourselves and our relationships more than working on some THING down where poor people live-is what is most important in accompanying the Salvadoran peoples' efforts to build a new country for themselves out of the war, out of centuries and decades of oppression, out of earthquakes and hurricanes and floods. For all I know your group may already be in line with these concerns and beliefs, which focus not so much on changing THINGS as on changing ideologies and systems, and especially on helping assure that Salvadorans from every level of society are involved in and leading the thinking and the decisions and the actions that promote change.
I'm not sure if SHARE would be able to handle your group, as their first commitment is to facilitating delegations from their 40 sister parishes in the US, and their staff is small. But they're certainly interested in having those who can share their vision and join them in accompanying the long but inspiring struggle of the Salvadoran people.
Dennis Beach, OSB
Universidad de Centro America, San Salvador, El Salvador
|A single junta bullet
flew down the aisle
of the chapel,
over the heads of parishioners,
over the body of Christ,
past the chalice
of the blood of Christ,
the heart of Archbishop Romero.
Spilling onto the stone floor,
|flowed up the mountains, through the veins
of guerillas for a decade and back again,
then spurted from the machine-gunned bodies
of six Jesuits, a housekeeper,
and her thirteen year old daughter.
In twelve years Romero bled
from 75,000 Salvadoran dead;
his bloodstains found
on dug up clothes
wrapped around the bones
of slaughtered children
and the corpses
of raped churchwomen.
Romero's heart is buried,
but there is blood everywhere.
Though they try desperately,
Romero's blood will not wash off
the murderous hands of the generals and statesmen,
congressmen and presidents,
whose six billion dollar
exploded Romero's heart
all over the world.
© 2001, WIlliam Kelly
The following song by a Venezuelan group describes the tins shacks or "casas de cartón" [literally "cardboard houses"] that will become standard housing for many Salvadorans following the earthquakes. Many shanty towns in San Salvador have been living this way since the 1986 quake, and many others live this way because of the social inequalities the song describes
Casas de Cartón
|Que triste se oye la lluvia
En los techos de cartón.
Que triste vive mi gente
En las casas de cartón.
Viene bajando el obrero
Arriba deja la mujer preñada
Que triste se oye la lluvia
Niños color de mi tierra
|Que triste viven los niños
En las casas de cartón.
Que alegres viven los perros,
Casa del explotador.
Usted no lo va a creer
Pero el patrón-
Que triste se oye la lluvia
|How sad sounds the rain
On the cardboard roofs.
How sadly live my people
In their cardboard houses.
The worker is descending
He leaves above his pregnant wife
How sad sounds the rain
Children the color of my earth
|How sadly live the children
In the cardboard houses.
How happy live the dogs
In the house of the exploiter.
You are not going to believe it,
But the boss-man-
How sad sounds the rain
© 1983 West Side Latino Records, for Los Guaraguao