The SHARE Blog

The Latest on Tutela Legal: Attorney General Intervenes, Archbishop Changing Discourse

October 28, 2013

"Historic memory is not private property."

“Historic memory is not private property.”

Just over three weeks have passed since Monsignor José Luis Alas Escobar, Archbishop of San Salvador issued a decree to close Tutela Legal, the Archdiocese’s renowned human rights legal aid office, and every week the situation becomes more complex. The Archbishop continues to change his discourse about the reasons for the closure. Victims’ access to the office’s archives, which include documentation of over 50,000 cases of human rights violations, including 80% of the cases in the 1993 Truth Commission report, remains questionable.

In the most shocking intervention since the initial bombshell of Tutela’s closure, on Friday October 18th, representatives of the Attorney General’s Office forcefully entered the Archdiocese declaring their intent to seize the archives. The media began to announce the presence of the representatives of the Attorney General’s Office in Tutela Legal around four in the afternoon, and members of human rights organizations gathered outside the Archdiocese to verify the proceedings.

David Morales, Human Rights Ombudsman immediately requested entrance for his representatives, but both the Attorney General and the Archdiocese denied their entry. A police unit, however, was allowed in. Members of human rights organizations asked Monsignor Urrutia why representatives of the Human Rights Ombudsman’s office were not allowed in and he simply lifted his hands, as if washing them of responsibility.  Representatives of FESPAD reported that around 8:30 in the evening, two trucks and a lab vehicle with the back end covered belonging to the Attorney General’s office and a car with its license plates covered exited the Archdiocese. Covering license plates was a tactic commonly used by death squads in the 1980s.

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Institutional Crisis: Road Paved to Fraud

October 23, 2013

Only one month remains until elections in Honduras, and the crisis in Honduran public institutions has only deepened. The Honduran people have faced a multitude of deep-rooted systemic injustices for decades, which have only been aggravated further by the coup. Impunity ranges from human rights violations in the 1980s, to dozens of murders in the context of the coup, to the current homicide rate, the highest in the world in 2012.  

Last month, Guillermo Lopez Luna, a Honduran magistrate spoke at a forum on impunity in Central America, sponsored by FESPAD, the IDHUCA, and the International Commission of Jurists. Lopez stated that Honduras faces “a complete collapse of the System of Justice,” with the Honduran police, judiciary, and the Public Prosecutor’s office characterized by corruption and inefficiency.

Additionally, the Honduran Congress has taken several actions to consolidate influence and control over the judicial system. As far back as 2003, the International Commission of Jurists noted the intervention of political parties in the Honduran Justice System. In the last year, the Honduran Congress has enacted at least three unconstitutional interventions in the judicial system:

  •  Removal of four Supreme Court Magistrates
  • Replacement of the Attorney General and Adjunct Attorney General for a longer term than outlined in the constitution

  • Election of Judiciary Council members limited to an organization of Judges aligned with the Honduran oligarchy

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Developing Women’s Rights: Roundtable Event in Chalatenango

October 16, 2013


Women of CCR

Women of CCR

In the 1970s, the valiant women of Chalatenango began organizing their communities, combating historical human rights abuses, fighting for women’s rights, and against mining. Today, almost four decades later, the women of the CCR (la Asociación de Comunidades para el Desarrollo de Chalatenango) continue to stand up for the rights of their communities. Made up of over 100 organized rural communities in Chalatenango, the CCR comprises one of the four CRIPDES regions with which SHARE partners.

Empowering women to be leaders within their communities lies at the center of transforming gender relationships in El Salvador. On September 25th the Women’s Secretariat of the CCR held a roundtable event  to strengthen this movement through an exchange of information and discussion of current events among the women who work tirelessly to continue this movement.

The roundtable included the women from different communities in the CCR, a representative from ISDEMU (the Salvadoran Institute for Women’s Development), two representatives from the Ministry of Education, and a representative from CORDES (a close partner of CRIPDES that provides technical training and support for agricultural initiatives). This roundtable touched upon various themes, including: domestic violence, liberating women from their silence and encouraging them to denounce crimes committed against them, promoting literacy at the regional and national level, and promoting women’s rights through advertisements on community radio stations.

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Norman Quijano: From Mayor to President?

October 14, 2013

Norman QuijanoThis is the second post in a three-part series introducing the three main candidates for presidency, representing UNIDAD (a coalition of the GANA, CD and PCN parties), ARENA, and the FMLN. Six months remain until Election Day on February 2nd, when a team of elections observers will join SHARE to ensure a free and just electoral process for El Salvador in 2014.

On August 15th, Norman Quijano took leave from his position as the mayor of San Salvador to focus on his official presidential campaign for the ARENA party. Although the elections polls show too many discrepancies to predict a winner, Quijano is a strong candidate because of his popularity as mayor of San Salvador, having won a second term in 2012 by a landslide.

Norman Noel Quijano Gonzalez was born on November 2nd, 1946 in Santa Ana to a middle class family. He graduated from the University of El Salvador in 1977 with a Bachelor’s degree in Odontology. He continued his studies for oral surgery in Argentina, Cuba, Colombia and the United States. Quijano was first introduced to politics under the reign of then ARENA mayor Dr. Armando Calderón Sol, when he served as the Manager for Social Action of San Salvador from 1989 to 1994 . He then held the position of Board Secretary of the Legislative Assembly from 2006 to 2009.

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Hospitality in El Salvador

October 8, 2013

The following blog post was written by Faith Haining. Faith is a member of the UCC Salem High School Youth Group and traveled to El Salvador in July, 2013. 

On our trip to El Salvador, we saw hospitality everywhere. Every person we met along our trip treated us as if they had known us for years. For example, the woman who ran the guest house, Sonia, was sort of like our mother on the trip. The moment we walked in the door on the first night, she hugged and kissed us and made us so comfortable. She cooked for us, always asked how we were doing, and pampered us when some of us were sick, even dropped by the store to get us extra drinks. When I say that I only knew her for 10 days, it doesn’t seem realistic.

UCC Salem Youth Group

UCC Salem Youth Group

 We also saw a lot of kindness on our daily visits around the city. In places like the churches, the stores, and the organizations we visited, people always wanted to give us the best seat. If someone dropped something, several people would reach to help you, and help you find the right song in church if you didn’t know. And despite the fact that some of us weren’t the best Spanish speakers, they would try and help us and explain things to us so we could understand. While being there, we were almost treated like royalty. But what is even more amazing than that is that’s how everyone treats each other there. Every day. People in El Salvador show this kind of hospitality to their family, friends, and even strangers from another country. The fact that all these people were so generous to us, even though they might not know our names, it really made us feel comfortable, and I almost miss that now that I’m back here.


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Press Conference Decries Closure of Tutela Legal and Call to Action

October 5, 2013

ACTION ALERT: SHARE AND OTHER ORGANIZATIONS WILL CONTINUE TO COLLECT SIGNATURES FOR THE INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY PRESS STATEMENT MENTIONED BELOW THROUGH MONDAY AT MIDNIGHT. We will publish the press release in a Salvadoran newspaper. Please contact Bethany Loberg, to sign on or send a contribution. We seek signatures from organizations and from religious, academic, and human rights leaders. We will be sending an action alert individuals can participate in on Monday or Tuesday next week.

Victims and Human Rights  Organizations gather outside the Archdiocese's offices

Victims and Human Rights Organizations gather outside the Archdiocese’s offices

This morning, representatives of a variety of human rights organizations, members of Christian Base Communities, and victims of human rights abuses held a press conference to denounce the actions of Archbishop Jose Luis Escobar Alas of El Salvador to close Tutela Legal, the Archdiocese’s human rights legal aid office on Monday. This blatant disregard for human rights has divided the Catholic Church and infuriated many groups that continue to fight for justice. The conference took place outside of the Archdiocese´s offices and included the reading of a press statement and a moving letter to the papal nuncio signed by nearly thirty civil society organizations, including CODEFAM, COMADRES, FESPAD, PROBUSQUEDA. CPDH Madeleine Lagadec, the National Health Forum, the San Antonio Abad Christian Base Community, and FUNDAHMER, amongst others. The conference also featured the reading of a press release expressing the solidarity of the international community.

Representatives of Salvadoran human rights organizations expressed their grave concerns regarding the abrupt closure of Tutela Legal. In addition to indignation at the way the employees of Tutela Legal were treated, they worry that this is a measure to ensure impunity for past human rights violations will persist. The press release expressed four explicit demands:

1. Guarantee the integrity and security of all Tutela Legal’s case files of human rights violations, permitting the victims access to their files.

2. Revoke the decision to close Tutela Legal.

3. Declare Tutela Legal’s archive of human rights violations historic and cultural heritage.

4. An invitation to the Archbishop to reflect on his decision to close Tutela Legal and publicly ask pardon for his actions, or otherwise be removed from his office or resign.

reading press statement

The international solidarity press release signed by over 30 organizations, including all the historic U.S.-El Salvador solidarity organizations as well as the Center for Justice and Accountability, School of the Americas Watch, Sojourners Magazine, Friends of Co-Madres, and the National Lawyers Guild Task Force on the Americas, expressed outrage at the closure of Tutela Legal and concern that Tutela Legal’s archives be respected. The statement emphasizes solidarity with the first two key demands of Salvadoran civil society: a guarantee for the security of all of Tutela Legal’s records and access for the victims, and secondly, to reverse the decision to close the legal aid office, to reinstate the staff members fired unjustly, and above all to maintain the same spirit of work instilled by Archbishop Romero and  Archbishop Arturo Rivera Damas, and Dr. Maria Julia Hernandez. Full press release in English here: FINAL International Solidarity Tutela Legal ENGLISH-1.

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Archbishop Closes Historic Human Rights Office

October 1, 2013

Yesterday Salvadoran Archbishop José Luis Escobar Alas ordered the closure of Tutela Legal, the Archdiocese´s human rights legal aid office, started originally by Monseñor Romero. The members of Tutela Legal have fought tirelessly for human rights in El Salvador, and Tutela has been a SHARE partner since the early eighties. STAY TUNED FOR ACTION ALERTS!!!

Protesters outside Archbishop's office on Tuesday morning.

Protesters outside Archbishop’s office on Tuesday morning.

During Monseñor Romero´s time as Archbishop, he maintained the doors to the Archdiocese open to everyone at all times, especially the poor and defenders of human rights. In contrast, today, when representatives of a variety of human rights organizations and Christian Base Communities arrived at the offices of the Archdiocese to inquire about the closure of Tutela Legal, the security guard threatened to shoot the seven that entered, and slammed the gate shut in the face of the group gathered outside.

Yesterday afternoon civil society responded with shock and indignation to the news that Archbishop José Luis Escobar Alas ordered the closure of Tutela Legal, the Archdiocese´s human rights legal aid office. Tutela Legal has represented many important cases of human rights violations during the civil war at the national and international level, including the El Mozote Massacre, Monseñor Romero´s assassination, and the Sumpul massacre. Tutela Legal also coordinated community organizing work, human rights trainings for churches, and represented current cases of human rights violations, like the Record Car Battery Factory Case.

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Stop Mining in El Salvador!

September 29, 2013

New Law Proposed by Mesa Nacional Frente al Mineria

"We demand approval of the Law that Prohibits Metallic Mining"

“We demand approval of the Law that Prohibits Metallic Mining”

On Tuesday, September 17th the Mesa Nacional Frente la Mineria Metalica (MESA), or National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining held a public forum to unveil their new proposal for a law which will prohibit all forms of metallic mining in El Salvador.

Mining has ravaged the Salvadoran countryside since the early 1800s, polluting rivers for generations and displacing thousands of Salvadorans. Communities in rural El Salvador have had enough; El Salvador is the most vulnerable country to climate change in the western hemisphere, largely due to deforestation, which future mining would only exacerbate.

Metallic mining has the worst environmental track record of any type of mining. This method relies on the use of lethal chemicals to extract desired metals like gold, silver, and copper. The method proposed for mining projects in El Salvador uses two tons of cyanide to extract one ounce of gold.

The Mesa represents communities that are affected by mining and will present this new proposal to the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly on October 1st.

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Order of Capture for Ex-Minister of Public Works: A Step Towards Justice for Corruption!

September 26, 2013


The Monseñor Romero Boulevard connects San Salvador to Santa Tecla and Merliot

The Monseñor Romero Boulevard connects San Salvador to Santa Tecla and Merliot

Salvadorans across the country were outraged to learn that the construction of the Diego de Holguín Boulevard, recently re-named the Monsignor Romero Boulevard, which connects San Salvador to Santa Tecla and Merliot, cost the Salvadoran people nearly 100 million dollars. The extravagant price was due to the infamous corruption under the presidency of Elias Antonio Saca of the ARENA party, currently presidential candidate for the UNITY party. 

Following the installation of the new Minister of Public Works, Gerson Martinez, under the Funes administration in 2009, the ministry conducted an investigation of the case and presented evidence to the Attorney General’s Office to proceed with their investigation. After a long silence, just over a week ago news broke of the capture of eight individuals involved in this case, including former Deputy Minister of Public Works, Sigifredo Ochoa Gomez and the former Minister of Public Works, Jorge Nieto, who was the main actor implicated as responsible. The Attorney General´s office issued the arrest warrants.

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Power in Community Living: Reflections from a Former Delegate

September 20, 2013

Daniel currently serves as the Earl Hall Religious Life Fellow at the Office of the University Chaplain at Columbia University. Daniel was ordained at UCC Salem this August. In June he accompanied the youth delegation from UCC Salem.

Many of the people with whom we met through the partnerships with SHARE were organizing themselves in order to achieve specific community-based goals.  Whether a community was petitioning the government to replace a bridge or an organization was trying to pass legislation to oppose hate crimes, the people we met were deeply committed to the power that an organized community can have over and against massive institutions.

UCC SalemDelegation

UCC Salem Delegation

I saw direct connections to this belief and liberation theology, where God is understood as being with the poor and the Kingdom of God is an earthly attainable sense of justice to be reigned in by the people.  Too often I let my own theology react to the world.  What I saw in El Salvador was a beautiful theology to which the world was reacting.  God’s people are tasked with the responsibility of creating justice, and the people we met were embodying and living that theology out.  

I was so heartened and blessed by the examples of local sustainable community living out a belief in organizing for justice.  I feel I better understand how to encourage and take part in similar movements within my own communities.  I better understand what God is expecting of God’s people.  I better understand what God calls me to, having seen the lived theology in El Salvador.

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