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Reflecting on El Salvador…Finding the Meaning of Life…Touching Hope

by Marta Benavides

RQ has reported in past issues on Marta Benavides’ work to develop sustainable agriculture in El Salvador. Following the devastating earthquake that hit El Salvador in January of this year, Marta sent this letter to her friends and supporters in the wider Reclaiming community. For more information, see note at end of story — editors.

Dear friends,

I write to you with a heavy heart, yet in the knowledge that all is well, because we are of the Spirit, and only Love and Goodness can come from the Spirit. This is the centeredness from where we must see all that is occurring, and the “knowingness” that must guide our work, our dreams and aspirations. These have been very hard times, and literally, we are suffering pain, death, and tribulation. It is hard, very hard to describe what it is to see your country in shambles, the dear mountain that I have loved as I grew up, literally falling on people and towns, on rivers, and all over the roads and Panamerican Highway. We cannot communicate with one another. People are literally stranded on the high tops of a mountain that we are afraid would fall if only we breathe hard. Rescue operations are difficult because many have to be done by air, and the people stand still, not able to move for fear of creating one more landslide. The Earth, the Cordillera del Balsamo (our own Rocky Mountains, Alps, Sierra Madre) has opened big cracks, swallowing people and caserios, villages that we will never see again.

Yes, it is hard to live with these constant tremors — more than 3000 since the first major quake on January 13. And now the second one, just one month later, has devastated what little had been left standing. It is hard to see our lack of preparation, officially and otherwise. It is hard to hear the call to take responsibility, not only to respond immediately to the crisis, but also to immediately get rid of the archaic ways of thinking, of the lack of vision. Many people have damned the quake. Maldito terremoto, or terremotos they say. They are the cause of our lack: of our disgrace and lack of venture.

Yet, it is not these earthquakes that are the problem. There are other quakes that are at the root cause of our terrible situation, and we must know this, for we must not enter into mending and rebuilding. We must know that the colonization and neo-colonization experience has made us live impoverished lives, has forced us to live without good education and health benefits. We have always produced rich and delicious commodities to export to the North. We are said to be developing or underdeveloped nations, taking as a reference those who are the developed ones. This development is fed from exploiting our peoples and making maquilas — foreign factories — to be built on our best land. They are still standing and producing, reducing the salaries of those who do not show up on time because the roads are destroyed and they most go the long way around.

Our government has created a National Commission of Solidarity. How things change! It used to be that people were put in jail, or even killed for trying to be in solidarity, or even using the word. But that is not working. What has worked is that we Salvadorans are figuring out solutions: from getting our dead out of the landslides, to feeding and taking care of those who were left homeless or orphaned. International solidarity became present immediately, but it was hard to get it out to the people because of lack of preparations, bureacracies, polarization, politici zation, and because of the landslides that covered the whole of the national territory.

But the people found and created ways. Relatives, friends, humanitarian groups, and the army became involved in rescue operations, not like in 1986, when they just kept their eyes on what civilians were doing. The new national civilian police have a community national branch, and they joined with civilians, with church, university, and human rights groups to figure out ways. All the TV stations and other media groups also became collection centers to receive and distribute help, as well as to help people to enter into communication with stranded relatives and friends. Everyone started to help. The Green Cross, which was started by the Salvadoran people during the war, because the Red Cross could not adequately respond to all the needs, has played a very important role in rescuing and getting support to the hard-to-reach places. New ways besides the usual ones were developed by international aid and solidarity. The Venezuelans, with their large experience due to their own landslides, came with equipment and all the material aid to support and rebuild one of the worst-hit towns. So have the Nicaraguans.

The Spanish government, which besides taking responsibility for one town, has brought technical support. And even though they are a government of the Right, they dared to give direct material aid — despite the protests from our government — to the Left opposition party, because they are seen as a major force in El Salvador. They had a reconstruction project in more than half the municipalities that they lead.

The Catholic Church is looking for ways to lead in housing, where the need is for more than a million new houses. The rains are coming, but we must work not only to resolve the immediate needs, but to build a new nation, which demands new ways of thinking and doing.

The government decided at the end of last year to “dollarize” our economy, because, they said, that will be good for investment and exporting, but this is a demolition quake to us. In the manner that it was done, it was nothing less than a coup d’etat: the Constitution was violated, and we feltraped. We were never consulted. It destroys our economy. It has forced our reserves to buy dollars. Our central bank will not be able to determine our monetary policies, nor make our independent financial decisions and maintain our autonomy, all in violation of our Constitution. These policies will be decided by the US Federal Reserve Board. But the government is convinced of how beneficial this is for us, and for the payment of our foreign debt as well.

In the middle of this tragedy, the government announced that it will not seek the cancellation of our debt, since it would not be good for our credit rating, nor for our dignity. “Dios mio,”we say, where are these people’s brains and hearts?

Meanthile, some humanitarian agencies believe that the best way to help is by sending us small toiletry kits. But the big US corporations that produce such articles are well and producing, in spite of the tragedy, right here in El Salvador! Exxon Corporation, with a hamburger transnational called Biggest in El Salvador, announced that they can donate about 10 cents of a dollar for each purchase that is made, to nourish hope in El Salvador! Meanwhile, the big transnational oil companies raised their price from $1.39/gallon of diesel to $1.47 the next day! Solidarity? There are many ways!

So, what can be done?

Understand. Make a commitment to understand and help to create the difference. So much is needed. We in our group, continue with our commitment for the Decade of Education for a Culture of Peace. We do trainings to get people to understand that we must build, not to rebuild. We are developing a program to monitor and get support and cooperation to where it is most needed. We have a team of people working on strategic planning and on programs to work on the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being of people and groups. These trainings are given by national and international people and entities who are experts in the subject areas that are most needed. We are carrying this in a sustainable way, not creating new structures but through coordination of existing people, groups, and entities who are already committed to these types of processes and work.

We are issuing a call to our friends to make a commitment to work with us during the next ten years to carry out these trainings that will bring together already-committed people of towns, church, cultural, school, health, Red and Green Cross, public workers, interested citizens, international workers, universities, etc., so that they learn where the resources are and help people access them. We want to develop the possibilities and willingness of people to understand the need to work cooperatively, not in competition, but centered in the well being of the most needy, and what is the best for all. This we are already practicing. This is what governance is all about. This is what being Siglo XXIII (Twenty-Third Century) is all about.

With gratitute for the moral and economic support all friends have given us — my love and best to you,

Marta Benavides,
International Institute for the Cooperation Amongst Peoples, and Siglo XXIII

Tax deductible donations to support this work can be made through Dr. Cheryl Desmond at Circle of Love-El Salvador,, Doris at Agricultural Missions, or Judy Isaacson at the Interchange Inst.,