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

Monday, October 5, 2009

Alex Orantes - Reflections on Violence in El Salvador

Yesterday two old men were buried. The father and the uncle of an FMLN friend. The details are dreadful: They were surprised at home by the killers, who without having a word attacked and beaten them. They were slain by machetes and were found naked but they were not robbed. I was there at night for the visitation and there were a lot of people from the community, almost everyone from the FMLN, from the Catholic Church and Evangelical Church, accompanying this beloved family and the two murdered old men that were dearly appreciated by the community.

In recent days, a clown that used to spent the day juggling and begging at a street light, about 1,500 meters from where we live, was murdered. Later I knew that he had AIDS. It is very sad, he was shot right there. His surviving wife is pregnant and it is possible that she has AIDS as well, I hope her baby doesn't carry it. This young man was related to an FMLN activist.

A lady, who used to sell fruits in the street, was shot without mercy at the gate of the Baptist School, in front of students, parents, and teachers.

These violent acts should not take anyone that has had the misfortune of witnessing more terrible things in the past by surprise. However, they deserve a special analysis. Why this happened in a county administered by the FMLN? Why did these crimes happened in public places and in front on many people? It is true that we have been hearing about the violence in the country and particularly in places that are known as violent, Why in Santa Ana, with a national and local FMLN administration?

I have a feeling that there are obscure interests and financing in all these. It seems like there are groups that are up in arms and show the anger that characterized them in the past, when they feel that their interests are at stake. We are deeply concerned that these increasing violence is a prompt by political-economical reasons.

Our suspicion is not a result of an absurd imagination. Recently, in the context of elections, presidential or by district, the media invaded us with news of mutilated bodies found in different parts of the country, most of them young women, bounded, with marks of violence, and some cases burned, and others with acid in their faces and bodies.

Everything was leaving doubts about concrete actors, in other words, there was no interest to investigate whom was directly involved in these crimes. But something curious about it, was that the ways in which the people were assassinated were very similar to the ones executed in the 70's and 80's by the National Guard and the Police. Then, it is not difficult to think about the possible sources of all this violence in the present as it was in the past.

Many people are thinking the same, Is it possible that there are groups that are willing to do anything to make the FMLN administration look bad by increasing crime, violence and fear, that were the conditions needed to seek support from the right wing?

The truth is that the blood shed by our brothers and sisters is still screaming for justice.

Our God is still nailed to the cross, in the people humiliated by their poverty, their unemployment, fear and uncertainty, and their own violent deaths. In spite of the strength of our hope, it seems like the Golgotha is chasing us, and wants us to get used to life in these conditions, without the right of constructing a society where every person, regardless of their ideology or religious creed, is a life of value before God. God is shot in each brother surprised by this macabre violence that seems to have a hairy hand, a hand that pays coins to betray and that lifts the people on the cross.

We are always awaiting for a new reality. A reality that we have worked so much to have and that many have died dreaming about it. This unexpected reality is being built.

I have learned a lot from working as the administrator of the Santa Isabel's Cemetery. I get to know each case, the hurting families have to indicate some data about the dead, like age, gender, cause of death, etc. I get to know the tendency of violence. When I arrived to the cemetery in July, I found it abandoned and neglected, full of bushes and shrubs, an adequate place for drug dealing and robbery. It needed a good cleaning but it is approx 70 acres of land. We requested the support of inmates in the phase of trust and 40 inmates have been working for a month with us, and we provide them with lunch every day.

They were not incarcerated for giving our flowers and poems but for assassinations, rapes, kidnapping, drugs, gang-related crimes, etc. It is a small group of a population that has been incarcerated for 5, 12, 17 and 25 years. In all that time they have not had any judicial processes or rights. The food they are served is provided by a company whose owner is a deputy of ARENA, the food is trash and a torture. However, there is a lot of money in that business. We hope that the new government would put an end to this mistreatment. This instance, is just to point out that there is population roting in Salvadoran jails and in the census they represent the curse and the devil of society, but they are only victims of their own penalty and of the penalty of others that should be there instead of them, with collars, untouchables that were for a long time protected by the government.

The violence is very concerning but as alarming as it sounds, it is important to identify the causes in order to provide an integral solution and not the accustomed hard way to those who end up being victims of an unjust system that will take a long time to change. The fight continues, despite the fear, our conscience illuminates us to not punish the cat for the scratch and set free the hyena, the vulture and the jackals to destroy.

I love the prayers and I am glad to know that there are a lot of people, here and there, with a heart beating for this Salvadoran land and for its people. Also, I'm convinced that there will be no changes without a creative and just action, nor changes without working hard. Honduras is a greater example of the solidarity of the right wing in the world to defend their projects, violating the democracies by chasing, suppressing and assassinating its people. The actions of the past remain alive in old structures but hope is growing in its organization.

This outburst of letters and words will not bring back life to those who are victims of this cruel violence.

God is with us, I hope.
Alex Orantes
translated from the Spanish by Yatzaira Marcano (member of Central Baptist Church)


Please consider making a gift to the Cielo Azul Fund in order to send a message of solidarity to Alex and Ruth Orantes and the communities where they work. Please see instructions above for how to send your contribution.

Alex Orantes' disturbing analysis of the harsh realities of life in Santa Ana arrives just as the Cielo Azul Fund is launching a fall campaign to insure that the work of peace and justice that Baptist pastors Ruth and Alex Orantes have been carrying on will continue to grow. In the weeks and months after the March 2009 election of Mauricio Funes as President of El Salvador (“the first President to support the needs of the poor in 150 years,” as one Salvadoran activist put it), we have had great hope for the future of a people who have struggled so long for a dignified life free from political, economic and criminal violence. But this latest report from Alex about violence on his very doorstep is a reminder that hope can be very fragile. More than ever, our friends in El Salvador need spiritual and material support to continue build communities based on faith, justice and service to all who are in need.