Posts Tagged ‘Peace’

Romero’s Legacy: 35 Years Later

March 27, 2015

“We cannot remain quiet in such an unjust world.”

The last week has drawn thousands of people together from around the world to honor the 35th anniversary of the assassination of Monseñor Oscar Romero. From marches to forums to meals shared, the silence of injustice was broken and Romero’s Legacy of Truth, Justice, and Peace lived on in a very tangible, inspiring way.

“We suffer with those who have disappeared, those who have had to flee their homes, and those who have been tortured.” Read More »

High Levels of Forced Displacement Threaten “Peace”

February 2, 2015

Forced Displacement is a phenomenon from which the Salvadoran population has suffered for decades. During the 1980s, hundreds of thousands of people were forced to flee from their homes to escape the violence of the Salvadoran military. Today, an estimated 130,000 Salvadorans are displaced around the country due to gang violence. In the wake of the commemoration of 23 years since the signing of the Peace Accords that ended the Armed Conflict on January 16th, 1992, many have taken the time to reflect on whether or not Salvadorans are living in peace today.


Celia Medrano, Projects Manager at Cristosal, meets with the Drew Delegation

At the beginning of January, SHARE’s delegation from Drew Theological Seminary met with Foundation Cristosal, a human rights and community development organization working to provide resources for victims of forced displacement. Upon hearing the news of the thousands of children arriving at the US-Mexico border this summer, Cristosal began preliminary research concerning the topic of forced displacement in El Salvador. They soon realized that this part of the Salvadoran population has very minimal access to resources that would assist them in their search of security.  Those who have been displaced as a result of gang violence make up only about 2.1% of the national population. Though this percentage may seem small, it is higher than that of Colombians who were displaced during the Colombian armed conflict. Read More »

Guitars Against Guns

January 14, 2015


Guillermo with the Drew Delegation

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:

“¡Gloria al Señor, gloria al Señor!
¡Gloria al Patrón
de nuestra tierra: El Salvador!
No hay redención de otro señor.
Sólo un Patrón: ¡nuestro Divino Salvador!”
(Glory to God, Glory to God!
Glory to the patron
of our land: El Salvador!
There is no redemption in any other god.
Just one patron: Our Divine Savior!)

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:

“Pero los dioses del poder y del dinero
se oponen a que haya transfiguración.
Por eso ahora vos, Señor, sos el primero
en levantar tu brazo contra la opresión.”
(But the gods of power and money
oppose the transfiguration.
And for that, now, God, you are the first
to raise your arm against the oppression.)

Salvador de Mundo Statue; photo cred:

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.

Case of Padre Toño illustrates corruption in Salvadoran justice system

September 17, 2014

Toño with GeovanniLately here in El Salvador, we have been witness to high-profile court cases that illustrate the level of corruption in the Salvadoran justice system. The first came as the arrest of Spanish priest Antonio Rodriguez (Padre Toño). Padre Toño is known internationally for his revolutionary work in gang rehabilitation in San Salvador–something that no one else in El Salvador dares to attempt due to the danger that lies in becoming too close to gang members.  In late July of this year, the trailblazing priest was arrested not but a few days after he had publicly called out the Attorney General for his lax response to the increasing homicide rate (connected to the gangs) in spite of the famed truce. Back in March 2012, a deal was cut with the leaders of El Salvador’s two largest gangs–MS 13 and Barrio 18.  At that time, the homicide rate dropped by over 33%. However, in the last few months, death tolls have risen higher than before the creation of the truce. Padre Toño recognized this spike in homicides as a failure of the truce, and that it is time to reassess El Salvador’s gang problem. Unfortunately, instead of being given the opportunity to improve the situation, he was arrested and charged with the following:

  • Introducing contraband into the jails (i.e. cell phones)
  • Pulling political strings for high up gang leaders to get moved to lower-security prisons
  • Collaborating in illicit acts, specifically collaborating with leaders of Barrio 18

Read More »

Will Peace Persevere?

June 20, 2013

Promises are easy to break. One moment of uncontrolled frustration, one temptation too strong to turn from, one selfish choice turns the strongest, well-intentioned promises to dust.

Press conferences are indefinitely suspended. source:

Press conferences are indefinitely suspended. source:

In Las Cañas of Ilopango, gunshots erupted for a period of about ten minutes on June 1st. Though there were no deaths, just two cars riddled with bullets, this is at least the sixth time residents have heard gunshots in the past month. Ilopango was first municipality declared free of violence, after the leaders of the two main gangs in Las Cañas stood together on stage and promised the locals that the war between the gangs was over and that they no longer had to live in fear. However, bursts of violence and tensions that remain among gangs are testing promises like this, with these gunshots serving as a jolting reminder that the gang truce is not a passive one. Mediators, government powers, and gang members must devote themselves every day to establishing long-lasting peace for El Salvador.

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Perspectives on the Gang Truce Part 3: Rehabilitated Gang Member Giovanni

December 14, 2012

Gang member on the 100th day of the truce, April 2012. Photo from BBC

This is the third blog post in a three part series discussing a truce that began between El Salvador´s main gangs, the MS 13 and 18th Street gangs, in March of 2012. The homicide rate in El Salvador dropped from an average of 14 a day to 5, and has continued at this level for just over six months now. This fall, the Passionist Social Service (SSPAS) and the Foundation for the Study and Application of the Law (FESPAD) hosted a forum on the opportunities and challenges the truce provides for creating a sustainable peace process. Raúl Mijango, one of the mediators of the truce, and Geovanni Morales, Coordinator of SSPAS´ Reinsertion Program, offered two perspectives on the truth. In this third entry of the series, Geovanni discusses the truce. 

Geovanni, a gang member who has gone through rehabilitation processes with SSPAS and now coordinates their reinsertion program, does not share Mijango´s optimism. ¨I am neither in favor of nor against the truce. ¨ Geovanni iterated that he did not get to where he is today because of the truce, but because SSPAS opened a space for rehabilitation and insertion, a place where he could be accepted and supported.

Youth living in poor urban areas face a high level of repression and discrimination from the police, military and broader society. Gang members, especially those with tattoos, encounter an even deeper stigma and extremely limited opportunities for employment.

Geovanni asserts that because de-escalating their involvement in violent gang related activities means distancing themselves from the deep level of support, understanding, and acceptance from their fellow gang members, and because of the societal discrimination that gang members face whether or not they are active in their gangs, having a support system is essential for youth that want to transform their lives. Otherwise they face hostility from both the gang that has been their family and from society. ¨I have wanted to distance myself from all of the violence that I have lived and seen. When I started to work with re-insertion, fellow gang members started to say ¨this guy´s gone soft.¨

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Perspectives on the Gang Truce Part 2: Raúl Mijango Mediator

November 16, 2012

In March 2012 a truce began between El Salvador´s main gangs, the MS 13 and 18thStreet gangs. The homicide rate in El Salvador dropped from an average of 14 a day to 5, and has continued at this level for just over six months now. This fall, the Passionist Social Service (SSPAS) and the Foundation for the Study and Application of the Law (FESPAD) hosted a forum on the opportunities and challenges the truce provides for creating a sustainable peace process.  This is part two in a series on the truce and features two perspectives presented at the forum: Raúl Mijango, one of the mediators of the truce, and Geovanni Morales, Coordinator of SSPAS´ Reinsertion Program.
Raúl Mijango, mediator

As one of the mediators of the gang truce, Raúl Mijango expresses great excitement for the possibilities the truce opens up. He sees the beginning of the truce in March as a historic date in the Salvadoran peace process, and a game changer in addressing ascending levels of violence in El Salvador and the world. Mijango called attention to the truce´s success in preventing the deaths of over 1,600 Salvadorans who would have been killed in the last six months if the violence had remained at 14 homicides a day.  He also noted that while the international community has reacted with amazement and support, the Salvadoran society has had very little reaction to or support for the change.

Photo Credit: Danielle Mackey

For Mijango, in order to address these issues it is crucial to recognize that El Salvador´s struggles with violence, gangs, and criminality is not simply a rising wave of crime, but is in fact a new manifestation of social conflict. He sees this conflict as rooted in a failure to move forward with public policies that addressed socio-economic divides after the armed conflict. Instead, the socio-economic gap has only widened and the government did little to respond to the initial development of the gangs in the 1990s.


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Perspectives on the Gang Truce: Part one

October 12, 2012

In recent years security and poverty comprise the two most pressing issues Salvadorans typically express. News about El Salvador often focuses on levels of violence among the highest per capita in the world. However, in March 2012 a truce began between El Salvador´s main gangs, the MS 13 and 18th Street gangs. The homicide rate in El Salvador dropped from an average of 14 a day to 5, and has continued at this level for just over six months now. At the end of September, the Passionist Social Service (SSPAS) and the Foundation for the Study and Application of the Law (FESPAD), both of which have run and supported youth violence prevention and rehabilitation initiatives for years, hosted a forum on the opportunities and challenges the truce provides for creating a sustainable peace process.  Over the next two weeks, SHARE will feature a multi-part series on the truce and various perspectives presented and the forum and beyond. This first installment offers a summary of the first six months of the truce.

Geovanni Morales, a rehabilitated gang member and current coordinator of SSPAS re-insertion program for gang members, shares his perspective.

In March 2012, digital newspaper El Faro broke news of a truce between El Salvador´s main gangs, the MS 13 and 18th Street gangs, and that the director of prisons had moved thirty high level gang leaders from maximum security prison where they received no visitors and spent only three hours a week in sunlight, to lower security prisons with visiting privileges. Shortly thereafter, ex-FMLN legislator Raúl Mijango and Monseñor Fabio Colindres emerged in the news as lead negotiators in the truce.

 While initially government officials including Minister of Justice and Security David Munguía Payés denied any involvement in or relation to the gang truce, in June Munguía Payés accepted the truce as a piece in his plans to address security problems in El Salvador. In early September, in an interview with the Faro, Munguía Payés and Mijango presented the negotiations with the gangs as carefully planned within the Ministry of Justice and Public Security, with the approval of president Funes. The following week, President Funes dismissed this angle on the truce, re-asserting his previous explanation that the negotiations evolved from an initiative of the Catholic Church that the government has simply helped facilitate. Read More »

How Do You Begin to Forgive? A Reflection on Reconciliation

September 13, 2011

“How can forgiveness begin when those who are responsible for these crimes have been granted impunity by the Amnesty Law? Bishop Chavez said that in order for peace to come, the Salvadoran people should seek truth and justice with the intention of purifying the memory of those who were killed or disappeared.”

Bishop Rosa Chávez also told us that in order to bring about change in El Salvador, we must change our own reality, and first bring about change in our own country. Near the end of the meeting, he left us with some powerful words: “We are one human family. We are saved or lost together, that is the only path.”

The following reflection on meeting Monseñor Rosa Chavez was written by Anna Kincaid, a member of Good Shepard Parish in Shawnee, KS, who participated in a SHARE delegation this June.

While in El Salvador, the Good Shepherd delegation from Shawnee, Kansas had the opportunity to meet with the Auxiliary Bishop of San Salvador, Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chávez.  Just before meeting with him, our delegation had visited the Monument to Memory and Truth.  We heard the stories of two women who had several family members’ names on the wall who were killed during the civil conflict.  Again, in the meeting with the bishop, the pain from the war that the Salvadoran people still feel was reinforced because he mainly spoke about the process of reconciliation following the war. 

Read More »

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