Monday, November 06, 2006

2 de Noviembre -- Día de los Difuntos

This is an email from Pastor Brian Rude, our missionary to El Salvador. Shared with Brian's permission.

2 de Noviembre -- Día de los Difuntos

Day of the Deceased. As if El Salvador needs such a day. Every day in El Salvador seems to be the Day of the Dead. But a special day for everyone to commemorate their deceased? No doubt it is therapeutic, healing--spiritually, emotionally, socially. So everyone heads to the cemeteries on this day. The cemeteries are already over-crowded with the dead--the beaten, the bullet-ridden, the diseased . . . and the occasional "anciano" or "anciana" who has filled out his or her days, approximating fulfillment of God's promise for an abundant life. On this day, these "Camposantos" (Holy Grounds, cemeteries, graveyards) become yet more over-crowded, with the living, with the survivors, with the not-yet-murdered, with those who have not yet succumbed to one of many easily-curable, yet mortal-considering-the-circumstances diseases.

The settings are not always so therapeutic. Yesterday I drove by (below) the embankment of a cemetery which had collapsed onto this road below during a severe rainstorm a year ago. Skulls and bones had littered the roadway, a mystery and a delight to the many children living in the neighbourhood, a horror to the families of those scattered relatives, and a pain in numerous parts of the anatomy to the municipal graveyard-maintainers. Now, a year later, draped black plastic keeps more corpses from sliding down on to that road, covering commuters in a surprise "Day of the Deceased" encounter from above.

Death is never far removed from anyone living in El Salvador. At 12 murders per day (55 per 100,000 per year), almost anyone can expect to be affected at any moment. While in Canada in September, reading one of the daily Salvadoran newspapers on the Internet, I learned of the murder of a man (the names were reported that day only because there was an unusually high number of 18 murders) with the same name, of the same age, and from the same town as a good student / friend / colleague of mine throughout my 18 years in El Salvador. I didn't get any responses to my e-mails of enquiry. I did see this friend at church, quite alive, a couple weeks ago, unaware of the death of his "tocayo" (someone with the same name). The outcome was not such a relief in the case of an almost-housemate, a good friend of our household, who enriched our social and cultural lives, always with a classic movie in hand, an intriguing outing in mind or a wise and learned contribution to the discussion. An engineer with a successful career, he was murdered in what seems to have been a car / card / cellphone robbery in early September. Lutheran Bishop Gomez' nephew was murdered about 3 weeks ago, apparently in a car robbery, while resisting allowing the robbers access to his home and family. His 10-year-old son was allowed to escape, after witnessing the murder of his father. Last Sunday, another housemate was celebrating his graduation from law school at a dinner-party for almost 200 family members, friends and neighbours. The joy of this celebration was shattered by news received as we were leaving the party just after midnight. We learned of the murder of one of the invitees who had not attended, a friend and neighbour to most of those in attendance, just a block from the home of the graduate. While I often avoid parties, aware that they too often erupt into life-threatening scenarios, in this case this young man might still be alive if he had attended the party.

As distressing as the deaths themselves, are some of the reactions to these murders. In some cases the person is said to have been "pleitista" (argumentative) . . . as if that justifies or rationalizes murder. Or someone had just purchased a new car . . . so perhaps was asking for it, like a rape victim having provoked the rapist with the clothing she was wearing. Or: "he was such a good person . . . sure didn't deserve to be killed in such a brutal manner." As if there are those who do, in fact, deserve to be killed in such a way. The fatalism, the resignation, are most distressing. It is as if God willed these tragedies, or as if wayward human beings brought them on themselves. What will it take to re-sensitize an entire nation, an entire culture, to transform a culture of death into a culture of life?

Resistance and protest are only now beginning to manifest themselves. Ironically, it is the US Ambassador who has sparked some of this reaction over the past couple weeks. Of course, part of his strategy--which seems like an attempt to "Guantanamize" El Salvador, by throwing the remaining 12,000 gang members into prisons--hardly seems like an appropriate, wise, or even legal reaction to the crisis. Doubling the number of inmates in already seriously over-crowded prisons would be a recipe for further tragedy. Or is that what is desired? And isn't there some detail in modern law which requires a trial and a sentence before locking the masses up perpetually? There are still some in El Salvador who appreciate and want to protect the civilized advances of recent centuries (millenia), resisting such a retreat to the age of the Bushmen. And do such national leaders assume that the streets would thus be forever rid of all such "terrorist" elements, as if the contributing factors would be thrown behind bars along with the supposed malcreants, as if there were no youth or children--younger brothers, even sons--waiting to take their places, or even make the current predicament seem calm and controlled by comparison?

Then there's the nagging doubt about who really are the culprits, the "terrorists", as they're so readily labelled today. Who is really doing the killing, for starters? "Gang-related" crime statistics vary dramatically (between 75% and 15%), depending on whether you're listening to the President of the Republic, or reading the forensic lab reports. And there are no witnesses in El Salvador. Anyone with any instinct for survival keeps their eyes, their ears and their mouth shut . . . which seriously limits the already deficient investigative capacities of police and prosecuting attorneys. A witness protection plan has been discussed over the past year or more, but it's not likely that anyone would entrust his or her life--or the lives of their family--to such a plan, if ever it were put into place. The government's response to the US Ambassador's push for speedy resolution to the crisis, joined soon after by the business sector, was yet another law, against "organized crime", after being assured from all sides that their many new and improved laws have done nothing but exacerbate the crisis, and that existing laws are more than adequate, if there only existed the political will to address the roots of the crisis, and the real issues, which are numerous and complex--a challenge which will require the involvement of all sectors of society, a piece of wisdom which this self-proclaimed "government with human sense" resists viscerally.

The government's definition of "terrorist", for example, is hardly the one understood by the masses. Mothers blocking traffic, demanding drinking water for their babies, aren't necessarily understood by the public to be terrorists, though the president's new anti-terrorist law defines them as such. Those mothers might define as "terrorist" a government functionary who stole $100 million from the national water systerm, thus depriving their babies of drinking water, and ultimately of health and life. Yet said functionary is now--still--comfortably sheltered in Paris (France, that is, not Ontario), where, reportedly, he recently received a courtesy visit from El Salvador's anti-terrorist President, on his way to the Vatican.

We, and many others, continue to respond as we are able, the government's closed-ear, closed-door policies notwithstanding, hopeful that El Salvador's rates of violence and death will fall in line with global norms, someday soon. We continue to believe that every day of the year is "El Día de Los/as Vivos/as", the Day of the Living.

Paz y Vida,
Brian Rude
ELCIC Pastor / Missionary living and sharing life in El Salvador

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