I came to Haiti last week with El Salvador on my mind, and notes toward a second blog post about efforts to end the violence there.

And then news arrived of the murder in the northern part of Cabañas department of two young men, one of whom worked in an AIDS education project that I know and love.

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“Rest in peace, companion in the struggle for prevention of violence based on gender and HIV…”

Eduardo Méndez and Melvin Beltrán, both 19, were apparently murdered on Saturday, Sept. 12. My friend and their mentor, Brenda Hubbard, wrote on Facebook that their bodies were found Monday on an isolated path going from Santa Marta to nearby San Felipe, where they had planned to attend a dance. At this time there are no details about the murders; they are being investigated.

Based in Victoria, Cabañas, near the border with Honduras, the Community AIDS Committee (CoCoSI) has received occasional support over the past 15 years from the United Church and the Primate’s Fund of the Anglican Church of Canada.

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Photos courtesy CoCoSI

Eduardo (featured in the CoCoSi Facebook memorial on the right) joined CoCoSI as one of the first CoColoco clowns and continued on to become CoCoSI’s theatre coordinator. Melvin was the son of Antonio Beltrán, the principal of the school in Santa Marta.

Together with the Santa Marta Association for Economic and Social Development (ADES), Radio Victoria, and several other community groups in the area, CoCoSI was born from work of survivors of El Salvador’s civil war, and their sons and daughters. It promotes gender justice and respect for diversity in towns where overcoming machismo, homophobia and transphobia are huge challenges.

“There are no words to describe the pain of losing Eduardo and Melvin,” wrote Brenda. I can but add my voice to those of Salvadorans who remember those who have died and say: “¡Presente!”

Vidalina Morales

The banner: “Youth Forum: Youth facing the situation of gangs and the role of state institutions”

Youth confront stigma

In formal terms in El Salvador, the United Church of Canada works with two partners: Emmanuel Baptist Church and ADES. But there are other less formal connections, like those with CoCoSI and Radio Victoria, and with other churches and their leaders. Each works to end violence.

Earlier this month, ADES and other groups held a forum on youth, gangs, and the role of state institutions. Participants were welcomed by Vidalina Morales (left), president of ADES (and a leading proponent of the ban on metals mining in El Salvador).

Pablo Ayala

Photos courtesy of ADES

Pablo Ayala (left)of Radio Victoria spoke of the “social judgement” that is levied against youth.

Today’s violence, he said, is fruit of “bad policies” practiced by successive governments and that it cannot be resolved by “high school chats.” Confronting violence requires leaders to visit communities and to listen to youth.

“We have had enough of stigmatization and criminalization of youth,” said Pablo.

Meanwhile, Emmanuel Baptist Church is working within a new ecumenical venture, the Pastoral Initiative for Life and Peace (IPAZ). IPAZ is “born as an effort to unite the Church in the face of an overflow of bloody deeds that continuously occur with ever-greater levels of irrationality, and the need to respond with the witness that is of the Church since its origins in favour of those in greatest need, accompanying those who suffer and search for a solution to this situation. As IPAZ we feel the need to work pastorally in the midst of this crisis. Our actions search for and promote peace, justice and human reconciliation as biblical, Christian imperatives.”

In a recent statement, IPAZ made a series of calls:

To the agents of the State:

  • That their actions be subject to the Constitution of the Republic, which they have sworn to fulfil and uphold, especially Article 2 which says: “Every person has the right to life, physical integrity, security, work, property and possessions, and to be protected in the conservation and defence of these.”
  • To collaborate among themselves, proposing to the country a way forward that is viable and different from the present framework of confrontation and violence.

To the Government:

  • To listen to advice that comes from other sectors and to consider life that our constitution consigns life a supreme value.
  • To maintain obedience to the state of law, and avoid making use of the state’s force that is disproportionate and unjustified, falling into grave and flagrant abuses of human rights.

To the Political Parties:

  • That they not politicize, polarize or make this problem an ideological or partisan theme.
  • That they not promote nor legitimize acts of violence and confrontation.
  • That they themselves consider justice and peace in the search for the common good.

To leaders of the organizations of the people:

  • To build consensus in favour of life, equity, justice and peace.
  • That they raise their voices and promote initiatives for the construction of peace that contributes to the transformation of society.

To the Churches:

  • To maintain themselves in prayer and clamour before God, for life and for the conversion of this country.
  • To strengthen pastoral work that promotes communities of solidarity.
  • To strengthen and/or develop a Culture of Peace and Non-violence so as to continue to be instruments of peace, justice and love.
  • To accompany IPAZ so that, as an instrument of God adhering to Christian ethics, it searches in this time of crisis to contribute to reconciliation, solidarity, justice and peace in our society.

To young people:

  • To participate in ways that are active and conscious of the building of peace, assuming the principals and values of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • To be protagonists of change in our society, so that they guarantee a future of lives that manifest dignity, solidarity, justice and peace.

To the communications media

  • That they fulfil their mission of sharing information objectively, and contribute to sharing the values of a culture of peace in our society.

To the gangs:

  • To end all violent actions that provoke bloodshed, that cause Salvadoran families to mourn, and that generate climates of tension, insecurity and fear.
  • We raise our voice in favour of life, and we ask you in the name of the God of Life: Stop killing, stop extorting and killing police officers and provoking pain in the impoverished families of this country.

To the entire nation:

  • To make every possible effort to turn the page on this painful page of our history, building a new national accord that allows for understanding and leads to pacification, reconciliation, justice and peace
  • To show actions that bring us together as compatriots in favour of reconciliation and peace.

IPAZ hopes to hold an international peace conference during the days following the March 24 commemoration of the martyrdom of Blessed Oscar Romero, and I hope to attend together with other friends and colleagues who seek to make peace in El Salvador.

 

One Response to Blessed are the peacemakers

  1. Tom says:

    Bless you, Jim, I can feel your pain and sorrow. It never stops, these assassinations of good people like Eduardo and Melvin. Thank you for your solidarity with them and all the groups like CoCoSI. I wrote a poem about Syrian refugees last week…ending with: Jesus was there-Jesus is there. It is so in Cabanas El Salvador.

    Love and peace

    Tom

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