Keeping the message alive
The Central American University (UCA) in San Salvador provides a focus for intellectual, moral and social action in support of the poorest sectors of society
Throughout the conflict in El Salvador in the 1980s and early 1990s, the Central American University (UCA) in San Salvador was a leading force in the defence of human rights and an outspoken opponent of the state-sponsored military repression.
In November 1989, six Jesuit priests from the university and two female co-workers were murdered by the army.
In spite of the violence and repression, the UCA has continued its pastoral role, promoting peace and reconciliation and helping to maintain an awareness of the country’s history.
Representatives of the university appear in the national media to debate current affairs and to propose policies to improve the culture of democracy and good governance.
The UCA has a programme of scholarships to enable young people from low-income families to access a university education. Its wider social outreach programme includes a human rights office (IDHUCA), a national radio station (YSUCA) and a centre for theological reflection. Jon Sobrino sj, the well known theologian, is based at the university.
Marielos Torres works as the interface between these programmes and the international organisations that support them financially.
El Salvador’s top radio station
Radio YSUCA ranks as El Salvador’s top radio station for listener participation, and is one of the top three radio news channels.
It is widely recognised as a radio station with a courageous voice on issues of poverty, Christian values and human rights.
With correspondents in 10 of the 14 geographical departments of El Salvador, it produces news programmes, reports and public opinion surveys with radio listeners, educational and cultural programmes, and debates on local issues from around the country.
It also broadcasts music programmes promoting messages of solidarity and social justice from across Latin America.
“Radio YSUCA is the realisation of a dream of Father Ignacio Ellacuria, the rector of the UCA, assassinated in 1989. It is a space which responds neither to governmental nor public interests and so permits free expression by the citizens,” says Marielos.
Migration and free trade
The official minimum wage is just a quarter of what is needed to cover basic needs
Some of the University’s work focuses on trade-related issues such as migration and the impact of free trade on Central America.
Marielos is concerned that El Salvador is no longer ranked as a poor country by the international community.
The Salvadoran government has put out a message that El Salvador has now one of the strongest economies of Latin America, leading some international organisations to make the country a low priority for development aid.
“Although the official figures show the economy improving” she says “behind these figures there is a different reality. The economy is really dependent on remittances sent by Salvadoran migrants in the USA, more than US$ 3.8 billion per year.
“A further aspect of our dependence on the USA is the dollarisation of our currency. Since the dollar was introduced in 2001, everything has got more expensive, but salary levels have stayed the same,” she explains.
“The official minimum wage is about £90 a month, just a quarter of what is needed to cover basic needs.”
And in some rural communities, like Puentecitos, the average family income is just £18 a month.
“People think that because the war is over, things are better, but in fact there is a real problem of social violence,” she says.
“Many young people, faced with a lack of opportunities and a lack of identity within their society, find themselves drawn into gangs and organised crime.”
The University’s human rights institute, IDHUCA, is widely recognised as one of the leading organisations on human rights in El Salvador.
It has been central in reforming and strengthening the Human Rights Ombudsman to become an effective and independent voice in the defence of human rights in the country.
It has also been the watchdog of the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the National Civil Police force, both of which have begun to improve their culture and practice.
The IDHUCA holds a Festival of Migration each year to highlight the dangers and discrimination faced by migrants from Central America as they try to build a better future for their families away from their original communities.
Commemorating the martyrs of El Salvador means keeping alive their memory and their message
The Pastoral Centre is staffed by theologians of international renown. They organise cultural festivals and theological reflections to celebrate the memory of Salvadorean church martyrs, including Archbishop Romero, the Jesuit martyrs and Father Rutilio Grande.
“Commemorating the martyrs of El Salvador means keeping alive their memory and their message,” says Marielos.
Marielos says she finds her work satisfying “I can see the benefits the work has for the poor majority in this country,” she says “and I like the spirit of collaboration and support.
"As a representative of one of CAFOD’s partner organisations, I also thank CAFOD supporters – thanks to you, our work is making a real difference.”