To learn more about Salvadoran Pastors Ruth and Alex Orantes, and for information about contributing to support their ministries in El Salvador, please visit

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Suchitoto 13 facing charges of terrorism -- Report from SHARE Emergency Delegation

The constitution gives me the right to express myself freely! I am not a terrorist!

Photos from the SHARE Delegation visits with the "Suchitoto 13" who were arrested on charges of terrorism during peaceful protests in July 2007. Patricio (left, with Marina Pena who is the director of SHARE's office in El Salvador) was tortured during the police detention. Rosa, Facundo, and Lorena (right) were among those protesters detained for 20 days.

Watch this YouTube video of some of the detentions.

Claudia Rodriguez recently returned from El Salvador where she was a member of SHARE's emergency delegation in response to the July 2nd arrests of 13 protesters in Suchitoto who are facing charges of terrorism. The delegation
met with several of the defendants, the Salvadoran Human Rights Ombudsman Humberto Luna, representatives from CRIPDES, and others. Thank you to Claudia for sharing her personal report and photos from the experience.

Dear Friends,

I am back from El Salvador. My time as part of the SHARE emergency delegation was great and very intense. Below this message there are some pictures that I want to share with you.
We visited Suchitoto and the Guillermo Ungo community outside of Suchitoto that was repressed by police and military forces on July 2, 2007. The Guillermo Ungo community started in 1992 as a settlement for peasants communities that were in refugee camps and for ex-combatants of the FMLN that has just demobilized. I visited this community in 1992 as a high school student doing research for my sociology class. Back then I remember being moved by the spirit of this community. People had just settled, were extremely poor and had only a few belongings (the UN had given some people small kitchens and basic furniture). But people were happy and eager to start a new life without the horrors of war.

Going back was special for me. I was impressed on how the community had progressed. I was glad to see the corn fields, the women's organizations and the school, that unlike most rural schools offers from kindergarten to high school. I was not surprised though. I knew of the amazing social capital that characterized this community. For example, they have installed 19 water systems to supply the community (made up of about 7 villages). People contributed their labor and CRIPDES (Christian Communities for the Development of El Salvador), CORDES and the European Union provided the funding. A woman told me, "I got splinters in my hands digging the holes for the wells". But the community's self determination is not a characteristic that the government appreciates, on the contrary, it is seen as a threat, particularly because the town is considered a supporter of the FMLN.

This is why when President Saca chose Suchitoto to announce his "water decentralization program" the community got very suspicious. They do not want the government to take away their water system to give it to private corporations. They wanted to participate in the presidential event but they were not invited. For this reason they decided to hold a forum in Suchitoto at the same time as the presidential event as a way to protest. In their forum they were going to explain how they manage their water supply. But little did they know that they were going to be attacked by the police and anti-riot units before they could even start the forum.

My heart ached when I heard the testimonies of people beaten up and being chased back to their communities by military forces who were spraying tear and pepper gases even inside the houses without caring about the children and the elderly. The school also had to be evacuated. The police and army forces basically took over the community and stayed there over 8 hours. About 25 people were also injured by rubber bullets. This situation: the military presence and repression, and the helipcoters flying over the community brought to the Guillermo Ungo Community bitter memories of the civil war.

We talked to 5 of the people who were detained. Patricio Valladares talked about his head injuries from the beating he received during detention. He spent three days in the hospital until the judge ordered him back to jail. He still suffers dizziness and headaches. The testimony of the women was heartbreaking, the way they were treated, the inhumane conditions in prison and the arbitrariness of the whole process. These women are so amazing that they also became advocates for the other inmates, denouncing the barbaric conditions that all the women prisoners face.

The thirteen people that were detained were released on bail but are still facing charges of terrorism. The judicial system is so corrupt that the chances on them being sentenced are quite high. This is a political case, and the government's message is clear: any protest critical of government policies will be prosecuted as terrorism. The anti-terrorist law establishes convictions of 40 to 60 years in jail. There is a great concern among people and community organizations that the new policies represent a return to State terror. The accused people and their supporters are afraid that the government will sentence them in order to get its message across. They have a great hope that the international community can help change the direction of this crazy situation.

For the above reasons we need to activate local and international solidarity once again until the charges are dropped. The SHARE Foundation is planning to hold a congressional hearing to speak about this situation. If possible they want to bring Human Rights Ombudsman, Humberto Luna to give his testimony. Political pressure might be the only way to free these social leaders. After being there, listening to the testimonies and looking up the people's eyes, I feel very committed and motivated. One more time, I really appreciate your support on this cause!

Claudia Rodriguez

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Plans and Dreams for the Coming Year (minutes from September meeting)

This past Sunday (Sept 9th) was our first scheduled meeting of the year -- but also a very busy Sunday and weekend for lots of folks at CBC! See below for a number of updates and other info that we want to share at the start of this new church year.

Remember -- you can always check the Salvador Partners blog ( ) to find announcements, meeting dates, and other information.

UPCOMING MEETINGS FOR THE FALL -- Our next official meeting will be on Sunday, Oct 14th. This will be an open forum after worship with a panel presentation by Salvador Partners and New Orleans Task Force about these two partnerships in the life of the CBC congregation. Also mark your calendars for Nov 4th and Dec 2nd.

ORANTES FUND -- Thank you to all of you who faithfully contribute to the Orantes Fund! Ron and I have talked about sending out a "Salvador Partners Newsletter" mailing to contributers from CBC and to all the other individuals, congregations, and organizations who contribute to give some updates as we move into the end of the year.

POSSIBLE TRIP TO GEORGIA FOR SCHOOL OF THE AMERICAS PROTESTS IN NOV -- The plan had been to combine with Peacemakers (also meeting) to talk about possibilities for some of us attending the November protests at Ft. Benning, GA. Ron and I did get together with Stephanie to share some information and ideas. I have put together some basic info for the CBC bulletin and newsletter inviting folks who want to think more about that to let me know. Caroline and Kathy are on board to go. I know some of the youth who went on the delegation in June were interested in thinking about this as a follow-up experience. The Romero Interfaith Center folks in Philly are beginning to get organized to do another trip down this year, so we could possibly join up with them. They have sent adults and teenagers several times. Speak up if you want to be included in doing this!

LEARNING ABOUT THE SCHOOL OF THE AMERICAS -- Whether we get a trip together for Georgia or not, several of us are interested in doing some education at CBC re: School of the Americas. The plan is to work with Peacemakers to organize some of this -- probably starting with showing a video about the SOA. Watch for more info -- and if you have ideas to share or if you want to help, let me know.

SALVADORAN GUEST IN PHILLY IN MID-OCTOBER -- We will have opportunities (week of Oct 14) to connect with a Salvadoran guest coming to Philly to give updates about the status of the situation with the human rights violations and trials of the 13 people who were arrested in Suchitoto in July, right after the youth delegation. This will be a fundraising tour to help with the legal expenses for the upcoming trials. More info to follow.

PLANNING A WORKING MEETING WITH ALEX AND RUTH IN JANUARY -- We've had conversations about a very brief, very focused working meeting in El Salvador to talk with Alex and Ruth and representatives from Shekina and Shalom about future plans. Probably will happen in January.

2008 ADULT / YOUNG ADULT DELEGATION TO EL SALVADOR -- We're hoping a group of interested CBC folks will want to think about participating in SHARE's springtime delegations. Our last two CBC delegations have been for youth, and there have been a number of college young adults and others who have expressed interest in a trip to El Salvador.

2008 INVITATION FOR ALEX AND RUTH -- We're talking and dreaming about inviting Alex and/or Ruth to join CBC in attending the Alliance of Baptists convocation that will be held in New Orleans in 2008! This would be a great opportunity to build on the Alliance connections for Ruth and Alex, and also a great chance to interact with our New Orleans partners at St. John Baptist. If that doesn't work, then maybe we could work on inviting them for the Baptist Peace Fellowship "Peace Camp" in summertime 2008.

NEWS FROM SHEKINA AND SHALOM -- We heard from the church folks in Madison, Indiana, that they are helping to purchase land for Shalom (Alex) to begin constructing a permanent church / community center in Atiquizaya. Ron has written to Alex and Ruth to find out more about that and to see about a meeting in January for future planning session. Caroline heard from Susy Fuentes in San Francisco Bay Area that their family is getting settled but the church they are attending is not the same as Shekina and they miss their church friends!

PROPOSAL FOR 2008 CBC BUDGET -- We submitted a request for $300 for mission group expenses (phone cards, mailings, books/video resources, food for special events) and recommended a 5% increase for a total of $10,500 in the Outreach budget for El Salvador Partnerships (that's the money for SHARE and for Shekina/Shalom).

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Annual School of the Americas protests in November

CBC's Salvador Partners and CBC's Peacemakers invite you to consider taking a stand for justice!

On the weekend of November 16-18, 2007, thousands will gather at the gates of Ft. Benning in Columbus, Georgia, for the Vigil and the Nonviolent Direct Action to Close the School of the Americas. The weekend will include a massive rally, nonviolent direct action training, workshops, benefit concerts, puppet shows, teach-ins and more! You can find out specific details on the SOAWatch website.

Some of us have been considering making the trip to Georgia this year to participate in the Ft. Benning events, possibly joining with others from the Romero Interfaith Center of Philadelphia. Adults and teenagers from St. Vincents, Tabernacle United Church, and the Builders Delegation (which includes Mishkan Shalom and others) have participated in previous years. Here's what Joanie Brooks had to say about her past experiences on the trip:
  • It is an overwhelming experience of solidarity, to be certain. One year we had two people from El Salvador with us. One of the two, Alberto, who had been through the war, lost a leg, and stood in the bitter and damp cold for an entire day demonstrating, said that day was the best day of his life. He was so moved by so many people standing in solidarity with him and his people.
Let us know as soon as possible if you are interested in thinking about taking part so that we can get folks together to work out logistics.