Wednesday, September 2, 2015

900 Homicides: What It Means and What To Do

(Note: this is an excerpt from a piece I wrote for Cristosal's August newsletter)

"For those living outside El Salvador, Romero's call is the same today as it was thirty five years ago: to stand in solidarity with El Salvador."

In August, El Salvador has seen over 900 homicides - an average of 29 per day; an astounding number for a country of only 6.3 million people. This year has seen a rapid rise not only in social violence, but especially more frequent confrontations between police or military and gangs. Some accuse gangs of using homicides to pressure the government into negotiations, while others point to the government's sanctioning of "cleansing" squads and increasingly repressive military tactics to arrest and kill suspected gang members without trial.

Along with this tragic loss of life, the violence is tearing apart the fabric of Salvadoran communities, reflected in internal and external forced displacement rates. In 2014, 288,900 people were internally displaced by violence - forced to flee their homes due to threats of extortion, kidnapping, rape, gang recruitment, and death. The number of both internally and externally displaced people is expected to increase in 2015 due to increased gang violence, combined with active persecution of especially young males by police and military, an action backed by a recent Supreme Court decision categorizing all gang members as "terrorists." 

In a 1977 homilyArchbishop Romero prophesied"The names of those... who suffer the effects of violence will change, but there will always be violence as long as we do not change the roots that cause this violence.”

These roots are far-reaching and deep, an inheritance of decades of protracted violence, inequality, and social exclusion. But they also are not inevitable. Cristosal and its staff firmly believe that through the creation of preferential options for the poor and the victimized, options that build capacities for individuals' protection, for individuals to rebuild their own communities and to recognize the inherent rights and dignity in themselves as well as in the other, a new future is possible. 

It is only through concerted and innovative collaborations that this future will be possible. Cristosal's in-country and regional partners, including the Anglican Churches of the Central American Region and the Council of Human Rights Ombudsman, have recognized the phenomenon of forced displacement as a regional priority, including the protection needs of victims. Our partners in the United States and Canada continue to advocate for the recognition of Northern Triangle migrants fleeing violence as refugees. And nationally, Cristosal's Human Rights and Community Development Programs work tirelessly to build safer, stronger communities, advocating for legislative reforms to guarantee victims' protection, while building citizen capacities to organize and design their own communities' development.

The Salvadoran Blog Super Martyrio recently adopted Romero's homily in a call to today's members of the Church, gang members, youth and decision-makers, and the international community. For those living outside El Salvador, the call is the same today as it was thirty five years ago: to stand in solidarity with El Salvador. To encourage and support those sectors of Salvadoran society to seek the common good of the people, to demand that your governments support policies that address the roots of the violence, and that respect the fundamental rights of the victims. To continue to "come and witness", to travel to El Salvador (through experienced and secure exchange programs like Cristosal's Global School). In these moments of extraordinary crisis, we must resist the temptation to turn away, to be intimidated into inaction. It is in precisely these moments that solidarity, participation, and partnership are an absolutely necessity.

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