The SHARE Blog
Guitars Against Guns
During the Salvadoran Armed Conflict, not everyone fought the power of the military by taking up AK-47s. Some took to the streets in protest, others served as popular teachers and nurses. One young man, Guillermo Cuellar, used his guitar to confront the oppression. Cuellar wrote the songs for the Salvadoran Popular Mass commissioned by Monseñor Oscar Romero. Last night, SHARE’s delegations from Drew Theological Seminary had the privilege of sitting down with the great musician to not only enjoy his melodic voice, but also to hear his powerful testimony.
One day at mass, Monseñor called me out in front of the entire congregation, “Why don’t you write a song for our Patron Saint, the Divine Savior of the World.” What could I say at that moment? “Sorry, Monseñor Romero, that is too large of task for me, I’m only 20 years old!” Of course I couldn’t say that, so I nodded my head politely, ensuring that Monseñor would have the song he requested as soon as the creative energy came to me.
A year later, I still didn’t have anything. It dawned on me that I had yet to write a Gloria song for the popular mass I was composing at the time. Maybe I could make those songs one in the same. All of a sudden, the song started coming to me:
I surprised myself, and thought, “Hey! That’s pretty good! Let’s see where this goes…” Verse after verse kept coming to me. By the time the fourth and last verse came to me, I was excited and scribbling away. It practically wrote itself:
I was so pleased with myself. However, I knew that Monseñor came from a more conservative background, and I wasn’t sure how he would respond to the image of God lifting his fist against oppression. Nevertheless, I kept it in there. Don’t get me wrong, I did my research. I had an argument prepared to defend that verse. Have you noticed that the monument, Salvador del Mundo, in San Salvador has it’s arm raised? Well, it does. I was pretty convinced by just that fact alone, but I knew I should look to the Bible for anything that may help my case. Quickly, I found Isaiah 10:1-4, which says the following:
“Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? To whom will you run for help? Where will you leave your riches? Nothing will remain but to cringe among the captives or fall among the slain. Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised.”
“And there you have it,” I thought to myself. There is my Biblical defense. It was time to turn the song into Monseñor Romero.
I will never forget the day that I gave him that song. Arriving at his office at 9am on March 21, 1980, I encountered throngs of people waiting to meet with Monseñor. I spent three hours waiting my turn to speak with the beloved and extremely popular, that particular day, archbishop. Lunch time came around, and Monseñor left his office to go eat. I squeezed my way through dozens of people just to hand him my song. When the paper hit his hands, he took a moment to read it, nodded his head, folded the paper up, a stuck it in his pocket for safe keeping.
“Well, he must not have read it. Because if he had, I couldn’t imagine him nodding,” I decided. Well, I concluded it best to talk to him about the song when perhaps he was less busy. My plan was to go to his office again on Monday. But, for those of you who know your Salvadoran history, you’ve already figured out how this story ends. I never did get to talk to Monseñor Romero about my song. Monday March 24, 1980, an unknown assassin pulled up to the chapel at Divina Providencia to murder our prophetic voice.
That same year, I was forced to flee the country for what would be 13 years. A few years into that exile in Mexico, a friend came to me with a tape of Monseñor Romero’s last homily, you know, the one that sealed his fate. I had never been able to bring myself to listen to it. My friend convinced me to play the tape because Monseñor mentioned my song. “What? Will I finally be able to know what he thought of it,” I nervously pondered to myself.
And, there it was. In the middle of the mass, he mentioned my song, but not just the song. He addressed the last verse.
“This is a good song, but the last verse, yes, the last verse is the best part.”
I finally knew what Monseñor thought of my song years after his passing. For the first time, I knew that the entire popular mass was “Monseñor approved.”
Guillermo Cuellar didn’t mean for his songs to become as widely known as they are today. With his guitar, he was able to respond to the guns of the armed conflict. Little did he know that his words would out live the guns, bullets, and bombs of the military. When faced with adversity, may we all turn to non-violent ways to confront our own oppressors. The power of the arts is timeless and cannot easily be destroyed. May Guillermo’s songs continue to be sung and inspire the next generation world-wide to use their guitars against today’s guns.
SHARE (your) Inspiration: Blanca Vazquez
2014 End of the Year Highlights
CSV Scholarship Student Profile: Kenya
CSV Scholarship Student Profile: Daniela
Delegate Spotlight: Diane
Our new blog series, Delegate Spotlight, will feature past participants from SHARE’s major delegations. A delegate is someone who travels with a group (delegation) to El Salvador to learn about the history, politics, and people to better accompany the Salvadoran people. Interested in becoming a SHARE delegate? Check out our major delegation page for information on the upcoming Romero Delegation in March!
Spotlight on: Diane Clyne, Sister of Mercy
I need to keep hearing the people’s analysis, understand the steps that they take, and listen to their wisdom on the path to a more just global reality.”
El Mozote: Celebrating Resilience and Life
On Saturday, December 13th, hundreds of people made the pilgrimage to the site of one of the bloodiest massacres during the Salvadoran armed conflict. The massacre at El Mozote in 1981 ended the lives of close to 900 men, women, and children. The youngest child brutally murdered that day was three days old. For decades, the Salvadoran government denied and covered up this travesty.The El Mozote Massacre has come to emblemize the violations of human rights that took place at the hands of the national military during the 12 years of the armed conflict.
The event this past Saturday evoked the memory of the lives lost 33 years ago. However, more than anything, the crowd celebrated the resilience and present life of the Salvadoran people. Symbolically, the commemoration demonstrated that no force can truly kill a collective strong spirit, nor halt a people’s movement towards justice, equity, and human dignity.
This notion is naturally and tangibly captured in one of the only buildings left standing today from the massacre. On the corner adjacent to the church, one can still see the bullet holes left on the exterior wall of the now crumbling structure. The gray of the concrete is solemn and shocking. However, the image that catches more attention is the lively green vines crawling along the entire surface offering to heal the 33 year-old wounds and bring life back to the building.
The Salvadoran military, specifically the Atlacatl Battalion, thought by draining the civilian-filled pond on December 11th, 1981 they were ending life. In a concrete sense, they did end over 900 lives that day. However, what they intended to be a screeching stop to the popular movement served as a catalyst that still propels the Salvadoran people today to work towards a life where no one is oppressed, where all have equal opportunity, and where all life is considered sacred. May we continue to move forward justly with the lives lost at El Mozote as our inspiration.
Women’s Leadership: An Interview with Zulma Hernandez
Zulma Hernandez on Women’s Leadership
My name is Zulma Hernandez. I’m from the town of Comasagua, in the department of La Libertad. I want to tell you a bit about how I got involved in community organizing. I began in my own community, as a member of the women’s committee, then became coordinator of the women’s group. I was also part of the board, I was the secretary, and little by little, I became more involved as a leader in the community, participating in various activities organized by the community council. Later, in 2001, I was elected president of the Comasagua Women’s Association, made up of several women’s committees from different communities in the area. CRIPDES and CORDES really propelled the organizing efforts. I was president of the women’s association from 2001 to 2006, and I think it was a space for me to get more involved in community organizing work, a place that trained me and formed me to be a leader, but especially allowed me to work with women. Then in 2006, I was chosen to represent Comasagua on the CRIPDES Sur Board of Directors. Because at the time, CRIPDES Sur didn’t have a work team, per se, but rather a board made up of representatives from the different municipalities. So that’s where I started to get more involved in community organizing.
These spaces have allowed me to learn and gain experience in community organizing, but what has really helped me become a leader has been the educational or formative experiences, the trainings I’ve received, etc. I’ve had the opportunity to participate in several “diplomados” or certificate programs, I think these kinds of opportunities have helped me a lot as a women leader.
Currently, I’m part of the work team at CRIPDES Sur as the supervisor of a project from Oxfam America called Community Savings and Loans. I’m also the representative for the Grassroots Sistering work area in CRIPDES Sur La Libertad, and I’m also a member of the CRIPDES National Board of Directors.
What inspired you to become a leader? Where did that come from?
I was inspired by my community. Knowing that we had problems there, I wanted to be part of the group that would figure out how to resolve those issues. Also knowing the problems or challenges that women face. Learning about the problems, having the same problems myself, and learning how to resolve the issues and accompany those processes, that is what has inspired me. Working with women is what I like best. The fact that I am a woman, and knowing the situation of women in the communities, is something that motivates me to continue working and accompanying women’s organizational processes in the region with the goal of better development for women in El Salvador.
A little more about the Women’s Leadership Academy “Marianela Garcia Rivas”
The Academy is named after Marianela Garcia, a woman leader in the struggle of the armed conflict. It is a school for different women leaders from the municipalities that make up each CRIPDES region, to teach leadership skills. There are three modules for the first year. The first is for women entrepreneurs; the second for political formation, and the third will focus on social leadership. We hope these three modules strengthen the participants’ leadership skills. Specific topics haven’t yet been discussed, but we hope they’re linked to the needs that the participants express.
The project for 2015 is really a pilot project that will be tested out in two CRIPDES regions: in the town of Tecoluca in San Vicente and in Colón, La Libertad. The proposal for the Academy has been written, and we’re currently in the fundraising phase. We hope that there are good results from the fundraising efforts!
Tod@s Nacimos Libres e Iguales
Title translation: We are all born free and equal
The United Nations recognizes December 10th as International Human Rights Day. Here in El Salvador, all of the major actors in the human rights arena gathered on Wednesday to give a report on the status of El Salvador’s struggle for human rights during 2014. David Morales, Human Rights Ombudsman began with encouraging news of the various achievements and advancements of human rights during the past year. Some of these include the promotion of the Law for Equality and Equity and the Law Against Violence Towards Women, the continued development of governmental programs like CONMIGRANTES and INJUVE, and a Constitutional Reform recognizing the rights of the indigenous population.
Luis Monterrosa, Director of IDHUCA , followed with his concise analysis of where El Salvador is still lacking. He identified four major concerns. The first is the overwhelming culture of violence that plagues every department in the country. His second point melted into the prior because it is, as he described it, “the conservative ideology” that aggravates and perpetuates the culture of violence. “Conservative,” in this context, does not refer to any political party or ideology but rather to El Salvador as a whole. Monterrosa firmly asserted that because Salvadoran conservative ideology prohibits the creation of a space for dialogue and resolution, violence in the country has exploded to never-before-seen levels. “It is our silence and conservative approach that has gotten us to where we are. Look at the case of the 17 women incarcerated for miscarriages. Look at the number of displaced persons due to violence,” Monterrosa passionately pointed out. His third concern is the justice system that failed time and time again this year. He denounced the Attorney General’s Office and the Legislature for not acting as they were elected to act. “They can’t be questioned. Look at the case of Padre Toño!
They do not administer justice in compliance with the law” Monterrosa fervently accused. He ended his discourse with his fourth concern: “None of these issues are new.” Perhaps this is the most frustrating observation for human rights promoters and defenders. Is there an end to human rights violations in sight? How do we even begin to tackle huge issues like the culture of violence or the failed justice system? The European Union, also present at the forum, suggested two plans of action. Starting in 2015 two new violence prevention programs will commence. One is aimed at caring for the victims of forced displacement, tending to their needs, and ensuring their safety. The other entails creating a network of human rights defenders and promoters educated on how to create a culture of peace. The European Union also administered funding for the defenders and promoters to teach classes to youth on the same topic.
Padre Andreu Oliva, the Rector of the UCA, reminded all those in attendance that if we are to see progress and an end to human rights violations in El Salvador, we are all to actively accept our roles as promoters and defenders of Human Rights. If we are a united front working together, we can insight change.
“Promotores y Defensores de los derechos humanos somos tod@s.”-P. Andreu Oliva
“We are all promoters and defenders of human rights.”