Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Green March

On Thursday, June 2nd the "Green March" was held in Ilobasco, the 2nd largest city in the Department (Province) of Cabañas, El Salvador.  Early in the morning people starting being picked up along designated routes in the rural areas and villages.  Everyone then assembled at one of 3 designated areas.  We travelled in a caravan to Ilobasco.  There was great line of trucks with people standing in the back, buses, pick-up trucks and a few private vehicles.  Once we arrived in Ilobasco, we piled out of our vehicles and were organized into two lines.  Banners and signs were distributed.  We were led by a vehicle with an exterior sound system and another pick-up truck brought up the end.  We walked until we were on the main street.  I’m sure that there were several hundred people.  Speakers explained why El Salvador needs a law to prohibit mineral mining.  The signs and banners were powerful.  There is one sign in particular that I find both incredibly impactful and disturbing at the same time – the sign says “Our Martyrs for the Environment” and has pictures of the 3 people from this area who have been murdered because they were involved in organizing there communities against the Pacific Rim mine opening in San Isidro.  On this sign is also a photo of a fetus in a womb.  Alicia Dora Sorto was 8 months pregnant and carrying her two year old son when she was shot and killed.  Her two year old survived his wounds, but her unborn child (who was named Emanuel meaning God with us) is considered the 4th martyr.  People passed out printed material to passers- by.  I remain deeply moved by the determination and passion of the Salvadorian people to stop Canadian Mining Companies from beginning operations.  The participants included men, women, children in arms, children walking, teens, and seniors. 

My immigration status as a tourist prohibits me from participating in “internal political struggles” and as a result I was an International Observer.  This actually gave me the opportunity to move through the whole demonstration, taking pictures and seeing what was happening in different areas.  In the process I met two other foreigners, both Americans who were also “International Observers” – one a young woman is in El Salvador with the Peace Corps.  Her host family includes one of the women who I wrote about last week, who helped us invite people to the march.  The other was an American man who came to El Salvador to do volunteer work, fell in love and married a Salvadorian woman. They live in the United States but return with their child every year.   The threat of mining is very concerning to his wife’s family and so he was asked if he wanted to attend the rally. 

On a logistical level I am always amazed at how well these events are staged.  Partly I think that it is because from an observer’s point of view it is hard to pinpoint the event leader.  Rather it is more like an organism with several moving parts with everyone knowing their role.  While a group at the “head” of the demonstration were speaking there was a group at the “back” who handed out bags of water (think of half a milk bag) and later food to the crowd.  In the end garbage was collected, people walked back to their vehicles and the road was re-opened to traffic.  Incredible!

On Sunday I had the opportunity to attend Iglesia Bautista Emanuel (IBE), the other United Church of Canada (UCC) partner in El Salvador.  This Sunday marked the 47th Anniversary of the Church and so it was a real honour to be able to attend as a representative of the United Church of Canada.  As I understand it, the UCC became involved with (IBE) during the war and has continued to support the social justice work of this brave church.  Of course, the hospitality and warmth of the Church members both in helping me to get there (as it is very far away from where I live) and to welcome to the church was great.  On a personal note, it has been a long time since I have attended a Protestant Church.  I was very grateful for the opportunity to worship in a style that was somewhat familiar.  Two of the hymns I knew in English and there was bulletin with the words printed in Spanish.  What a gift it was to be able to sing a hymn in Church.  This is actually one of the “things” that I miss the most about being here.   

I’ll write more about my English classes (yes plural) in another blog.  However, let me say that I really enjoyed being able to “give back” in a small way to my colleagues here at ADES.  This week was been a lot of fun as we have all practiced greetings and introductions together.  I am amazed at how brave my colleagues are at practicing in front of each other and me.  This week we are learning the alphabet and numbers.  Yes, rest assured I am teaching them that the final letter of the alphabet is “zed” and not “zee”…this is after all a class of Canadian English!  

People from one of villages arriving in a truck for the march.

"People can live  without gold, but not without water"

"The women of Cabanas say no to gold mining"
"The poor farms of Cabanas demand a law that prohibits metal mining"

This is the sign with the 4 environmental martyrs.

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