Orbiting Dicta

Monthly Archives: March 2009

Journey to El Salvador


El Salvador, named for Jesus, is geographically the smallest country in Central America.  About the size of Massachusetts, it lies on the Pacific coast – the only country in Central America without an Atlantic seaboard.  The population is about 7 million, making El Salvador one of the most densely inhabited areas in the Americas.  A democratic republic, following decades of  military rule and a terrible civil war from 1980-92 that resulted in the death of 75,000 people (mostly the rural and urban poor), this nation has occupied a large place in the world’s attention – especially among Catholic Christians (El Salvador is about 50% Catholic) who keenly recall the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1980, the rape and murder of four American missionary sisters and a young lay volunteer in the same year, and the assassination of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter by a military death squad at the Jesuit University of Central America in 1989.

In just over a week, El Salvador will experience a presidential election in which power may pass from the long-dominant ARENA party to the more liberal FMLN party.  However the election goes, it will mark a great step forward in El Salvador’s political development.  Teams from a number of countries are streaming into the little country to observe and monitor the elections.  Although without authority to deter or prosecute electoral fraud, the sheer presence of thousands of volunteers, most of them college students, will go far to assure a free and open election.

I will be accompanying one of these teams from Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois.  The 11-day trip promises to be an exciting and demanding adventure.  I will not be able to send any reports during the trip, but I shall post some observations when I return.

When Mercy Seasons Justice

According to the Reuters News Agency, international donors including the Gulf Arab states, the United States, and the European Commission have now pledged over $3 billion to rebuild Gaza after the devastating war waged primarily against civilians by Israel in January. The proviso is that the funds are not passed through the Hamas-controlled government which, while legitimate, rankles European and American sensitivities because it foolishly refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist.  That may well be the last trump card it holds, but the time to return it to the desk has long since passed.  So far as I know, Israel has made no offer whatever to compensate for the billions of dollars of damage done to Gaza’s infrastructure, not to mention 1,300 deaths, at least a third of which were those of defenseless women and children.  Police stations, hospitals, and schools were specifically targeted and destroyed.  Already in short supply, electricity, water supplies, and sewage control were all but obliterated in the onslaught.

Israel, which was not represented at the conference in Egypt, will continue to maintain its stranglehold on the border, restricting the entry of both humanitarian and construction supplies as the government sees fit.  Whether Egypt will relax its less stringent but still tight border controls remains to be seen.  In the meantime, the children, women, and men of Gaza, including the elderly injured, and inform, continue to suffer. 

The quality of mercy is not strain’d, Shakespeare told us.  It may well drop as the gentle rain from heaven, but not on Gaza so long as Israel remains committed to corporate punishment and draconian (and outlawed) methods of conducting international violence, not to mention annexing more territory in the West Bank for its illegal settlements.  If Palestinians (and anyone else) nurtured hope that the Obama administration would make a difference to the plight of the poor and suffering in that stricken area, they must be cruelly disappointed.