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El Salvador Update

[Noah Bullock, who visited St. Mary’s earlier this month to discuss global mission and development in El Salvador, has sent us an update on his work there. Click here to read the entire post. Visit for information on Noah’s project, and to sign up for his monthly newsletter. – Editor]

Watching the Vote Count By Jeff Hammond and Noah Bullock

With my trigger finger on the shutter release, I stand beside a voting booth snapping photos of final voters leaving the election center in the leftist stronghold of Soyapango. Throughout the day Noah and I had been driving from one municipality to the next, observing and documenting what could be a historical day in the history of El Salvador. Today the opposition party (FMLN) has a good chance at winning the presidential elections for the first time in history. The police make their presence by lingering around the entrance. Over a dozen of them watching the outside, waiting for the unknown. The voting center itself is now void of the noisy crowds that filled the booths throughout the day. The loud conversations about political parties and fraudulent voters is replaced by long, heavy breaths. As the crowd forms on the perimeter of the voting center, you can feel anxious eyes focusing on the booths. People climb the fences, peering through the iron bars watching the final counts. Teams of volunteers affiliated with the competing political parties man the voting booths to certify the vote count. Only if you stand next to the booth can you hear the murmurs of people counting the ballots. The silence is periodically broken as busses and cattle trucks filled with red clad voters scream down the highway honking and cheering.

As I’m opening the back of my camera to load another roll of film, a whistle cracks and a man calls out shouting from a nearby booth: “Este vez es diferente!” (this time is different). Onlookers and party members respond in unison, Mauricio Presidente! (Mauricio is President). One by one, the booths call FMLN victories. Red flags begin waving more frequently. Shouts grow louder and more dynamic until every booth finishes counting. As it becomes obvious the FMLN won the majority vote in Soyapongo, Noah and I drive to another municipality to pick up fellow election observers. Before we reach the next municipality, the radio announces the national results. Maricio Funes, the candidate for the FMLN party wins the election, making official the first ever victory for the leftist political party.

The landmark election in El Salvador last March is a reminder that many democratic practices, such as the alternation of power, are still very young in El Salvador as in most of Central America, and many democratic institutions are yet to be tested as power changes hands. In the wake of the military oust of Honduran President last month, a Salvadoran right-wing parliamentarian, Donato Vaqueran, recommended to President Funes, that “he should have a mirror, in which, he can see himself with President Mel Zalaya,” alluding to the potential for conflict when constitutional powers are tested.[1] These ongoing domestic disputes, however, are unfolding in a different international political climate. Both regionally and internationally, governments are showing that they favor protecting burgeoning democratic institutions in Central America over political ideologies. In response to the coup in Honduras, for example, governments across the political spectrum have refused to recognize the legitimacy of the coup government in Honduras. Similarly, during the Salvadoran election, the U.S. State Department made it clear that it would not intervene on behalf of either party and would recognize whichever party was fairly elected. Central America is closing on a historic opportunity to deepen the democratic integration of traditionally marginalized political perspectives and begin to peacefully address old points of conflict. The elections will be only the first of many tests for El Salvador as they undergo the “first peaceful regime change since the nation became independent 171 years ago.”[2] In the coming months Salvadoran politicians and society will have to hash out issues of constitutional power, civilian control of the military, accountability, judicial independence, as well as, the concession, sharing, and possession of political power.

To view a slide show of election day photos by Jeff Hammond click

Quote of the Week

“Anyone who wishes to be considered humane has ample cause to consider what it means to be sick and poor in the era of globalization and scientific advancement.”

– Dr. Paul Farmer

General Convention Remembers Oscar Romero, Prophet and Martyr

By Noah Bullock

On March 24th, 1980, a sharp shooter parked outside the open doors of the chapel of the cancer hospital, La Divina Providencia in San Salvador, and with a single, silent shot, assassinated Archbishop Oscar Romero. Oscar Romero was appointed Bishop of San Salvador under the assumption that he would not be a protagonist in tumultuous and dangerous times. As Salvadoran society descended into violence, Romero spoke out against both insurgent and government violence and called for national reconciliation. In the blood shed that lead up to the civil war, The Bishop emerged as one of the most powerful voices in defense of human rights, peace, and the poor of our time. From his final months to his murder, Romero held no illusion about the threat against his life, and he came to believe that his death was inevitable. He was convinced that he would have to give both his life and his death to his people that they would be moved to work peacefully for a just distribution of power and wealth.

Today, visitors can see artifacts of Romero’s life and ministry at a small museum that the nuns at the Divina Providencia maintain. In my last visit to the hospital in May a nun the pointed out a new statue of Romero outside the house where he lived. The statue was donated to the hospital, and upon receiving the gift, the priest in charge had the words “Oscar Anulfo Romero, Prophet and Martyr” cut into black iron letters and hung on the wall behind it.

The nun told me that when they added those words to the statute, people in the church began to criticize Romero calling into question the “prophetic” nature of his message, work, and ultimately, his status as a martyr. While Romero was alive he accepted criticism and persecution as inseparable response to speaking truth to power, he said in a homily, “persecution is something necessary for the Church” because, “the truth is always persecuted.”[4] In his life and his death, the truth that Romero spoke, was a testament to the poor, the exploited, and the marginalized. Contemporary criticism validates that this truth is no less threatening to the modern stewards of systemic injustice and inequality than it was in Romero’s time.

The nun at the hospital explained that in response to the criticism from conservatives in the church, the priest added a second phrase below the original letters on the wall so that it now reads, “ Romero, Martyr and Prophet, the poor called him without preventing judgment from the church.” When seen from the perspective of those whose rights he defended, Romero’s legacy as a prophet and martyr is indisputable. My tiny guide concluded as much, noting that the critics were quickly quieted after the addition of the second phrase.

Thirty years after his murder, the victims of structural poverty, violence, and exploitation have not disappeared and for that reason, the memory of Romeo’s truth must not either. This past week at the General Convention in Anaheim California, The Episcopal Church voted to include Romero in the calendar of saints that the church celebrates each year. This was a significant move in defense of not only the legacy of a saint, but our contemporary struggle to hear the voice of the voiceless and understand their cause as our as our common cause to bring about a more humane world.

March 24: Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, 1980, and The Martyrs of El Salvador


We have raised almost $9,000 brining us close to our July 31st goal of $15,000. With this initial funding we hope to secure the basic resources to get the project under way (rent, food, and transportation). We are looking to purchase a used vehicle with four-wheel drive in order to guarantee safe transport of the research team and photography equipment and enable us to access communities without reliable roads. The project will officially start on the ground in El Salvador on august 1, 2009.

Four-wheel Drive vehicle – $5,000 Monthly Rent – $350 Monthly Stipend (Food & Personal Expense) – $350 per person

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