The Humanitarian Times

March 24, 2000


- ARCH-BISHOP OSCAR ROMERO DIED 20 YEARS AGO TODAY, SHOT FOR DEFENDING the poor & oppressed. His voiced views threatened Salvador's business & military leaders who assassinated him during Mass. More below.

- CONFLICT OVER SCARCE WATER PREDICTED AMONG ISRAEL, JORDAN, & PALESTINIAN Authority, by former USSR-Pres. Mikhail Gorbachev, on behalf of Green Cross, this week at the World Water Forum in the Netherlands.

- W.MONGOLIA FOOD CRISIS WILL WORSEN, PREDICT FAO, RED CROSS, MSF, ADRA as between 2-5M livestock will have died from severe winter cold.

70% of diets are animal-based: dried meat in winter & dairy in summer.

- 120,000 HOUSEHOLDS WILL NEED INTERIM FOOD ASSISTANCE IN MOZAMBIQUE, having lost their food-crops & access to farmlands. Some 450,000 are currently in 120 transit (accommodation) centers. World Relief, Food for the Hungry Intl, & CARE are helping restore food security with rations & seeds & tools. The rain season is ending & water levels continue to recede; in Feb/March, 6 major rivers in the region had swelled. (Several cyclones form each year in the central Indian Ocean, when temperatures exceed 27C, move west & gain strength from moist air, but then lose strength when hitting land. This year's cyclone Eline was unusual in that it gained strength when it reached Madagascar & Mozambique.) Thus far population-based data indicate that malaria & cholera levels, while high, are not higher than normal levels (same time in past years).


- MENINGITIS EPIDEMIC KILLED 50 S. SUDANESE IN JUBA IN LAST 2 WEEKS paralleling high incidence in nearby Chad (1,400 cases this year) & the Central African Republic (640 cases recorded this year).


25,000 refugees have recently fled the Dem. Republic of Congo to remote areas of Congo Republic (Brazzaville); meanwhile there are over 20,000 refugees from Congo Republic seeking aid in Gabon, in the Franceville & Tchibanga regions. Parliamentarians participating this week in a Zambia conf., Parliamentarian Global Action Task Force, called for timely contributions to support Congo's peace-building. Yesterday delegates attending the EU & ACP (developing countries) assembly called for withdrawal of all foreign troops from Congo.


- ENORMOUS LOSS OF HUMAN CAPITAL WILL BE DUE TO MALNUTRITION & STUNTING of 1B children over the next generation is calculated in a new UN report, "Ending Malnutrition by 2020", submitted this week by the Comm. on Nutrition Challenges of the 21st Century, which called for dramatic new women-focused approaches to end hunger.


- $5B COMPENSATION FOR WW-II SLAVE-LABOR AGREEMENT REACHED THIS WEEK on the final terms of the deal (the German Govt & corporations will contribute equally) & how funds will be directed. $350M will finance a research foundation; Poland & Ukraine will get the largest share of the funds, Czech Rep, Belarus & Russia will get much of the remainder.

-NEW YORK WORKSHOP: HUMAN RESOURCE OFFICERS OF HUMANITARIAN ORG'S will meet & discuss staff preparedness for crisis work, April 27-29.

This is the 3rd meeting of the "Emergency Personnel" network. NGO experience in Kosovo will be reviewed in-depth. Interested NGOs representatives should check: <>



Romero was a part of a wave of change, articulated by Liberation Theology, in which churches & priests sought to work at the grassroots to help the poor respond to racism, colonialism & economic oppression in each local context. Liberation Theology began in the early 60s & spread after 1968 when Bishops met in Medellin Colombia to put the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) into the context of Latin America's problems. It took form in the writings of visionaries such as Gustavo Gutierrez (Peru), Juan Luis Segundo, & Father Samuel Ruiz who retired this Fall after years working in Chiapas S. Mexican. Some argued that Liberation Theology justified violent action (e.g. support of Sandinista rebellion in Nicaragua), but Romero appealed to all sides to choose non-violence. Liberation Theology is now infrequently discussed, per se, in part because the Vatican suppressed it (beginning in 1973; in 1979 US republicans began to criticize it as Marxist), & in part because it succeeded in inducing church awareness of non-negotiable principles: the defense of the vulnerable & the victim, human rights & the biblical bias for the poor & powerless, expressed today in resistance movements & the work of Maryknolls, Mennonites, the Sanctuary movement, & the Jubilee Debt forgiveness campaign

-"WE MAY NEVER SEE THE END RESULTS, WE ARE WORKERS, PROPHETS OF A FUTURE not our own," wrote Monsenor Romero. He made the church "a defender of the nights of the poor & a humanizer of every legitimate struggle to achieve a more just society." Romero bore witness to oppression, spent his later years looking for the imprisoned & disappeared, & opposed US military aid to his govt, warning "political power is in the hands of the armed forces which are unscrupulous in use of this power." Knowing he was to be killed, he protected colleagues by traveling alone in his final days, when he said "I don't want to die, not now..I've never had so much love for life!...If they kill me, I will rise again in the Salvadoran people." His views are collected in several recent books.

Whereas "Oscar Romero, Reflections on His Life & Writings" by M Dennis, R Golden, S Wright (2000, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, ISBN 1-57075-309-1) is an elegant narrative on Romero's beliefs; "Oscar Romero: Memories in Mosaic" (2000 London: CAFOD, & EPICA) is a collection of short memories, quotes & poignant vignettes from Romero's boyhood to March 1980.

Also: M Swedish's 1995 "Oscar Romero: Prophet to the Americas."

- "THE AMBIVALENCE OF THE SACRED: RELIGION, VIOLENCE & RECONCILIATION" by Scott Appleby (2000, Carnegie Corp. of New York; MD: Rowman & Littlefield Pub; ISBN 0-8476-8555-1) argues that a new breed of religious peacemakers are a powerful force for conflict mitigation & reconciliation. It reviews dozens of examples of key contra-violent movements of each of the world's religions, numerous charismatic leaders, movements & NGOs. This book is rich with practical, useful lessons, & is focused on peace outcomes: "the spiritual teaching, moral example & personal courage of the charismatic religious leader, however inspirational, does not relieve the larger religious community from the responsibility of building networks of social action & movements of reform." Effective social action requires organization, equipment, & funding (lacking in Cambodia). Varying NGO roles are pursued in depth, such as the Mennonite Central Committee, that made faith-based conflict transformation into an evolving science, tested by their members who compassionately live within conflict-affected communities, establish enduring relationships, & mediate non-violent solutions. Appleby similarly recounts the pivotal work of Sant'Egidio to mediate between the combatants of Mozambique's long war, culminating in the 1992 General Peace Accord achieved at Sant'Egidio's Rome base.

A lens on social justice is now transforming the work of Catholic Relief Services. The author reviews the experience of N Ireland & finds that "top-down structural processes in the political arena are unlikely to succeed in the absence of parallel & coordinated cultural initiatives to build the social infrastructure of peace. Religious actors can be exceedingly effective in the role of cultural peacemaker... A politics of forgiveness finds its cultural foundation in a re-mythologizing project: the replacement of narratives of righteous revenge with stories & practices that can bind together 2 historical divided peoples in a new pattern of active tolerance...The dismal state of public education in N Ireland -- the prohibitive class structure & low incidence of mixed schools - has been an enormous impediment."



Salvadorans last week voted the leftist (former rebel) FMLN a plurality of seats in the National Assembly, & kept an FMLN mayor of San Salvador.

El Salvador's civil war spanned 1981 to Feb. 1992, killing over 50,000 & displacing 1.2+M civilians. In 1981, 20 months after Romero's murder, the USG-trained Salvador Govt Atlacatl Rapid Deployment Infantry Battalion executed almost 800 civilians in & around the Salvadoran town of El Mozote. The post-conflict Truth Comm. implicated R D'Aubuisson & ARENA in death-squad killings. (Thomas Buergenthal, who served on the Truth Commission, was elected this month to serve on the Intl. Court of Justice) The 1992 Peace Accords, successfully monitored by the UN (ONUSAL) promised political inclusion & land distribution plus extensive micro-credit programs for ex-combatants. Though combatants disarmed, criminal violence (urban gangs) today kills as many persons per year as the war did. The UNHCR-led repatriation of refugees (CIREFCA) & UNDP-led reintegration (PRODERE, financed by the Italian Govt.) helped rebuild a civil society that now includes far more NGOs.

Many displaced from rural areas stayed in cities, compounding urban sprawl & unemployment. War veterans are dissatisfied with compensation.

Though many of the micro-credit loans failed, in technical terms, countrywide the effort succeeded in fulfilling the peace agreement, & peace. One recent study found that although women gained significant new technical skills & social status (including roles in the military), during the years of war, that empowerment did not persist; male- oriented structures & economic opportunities were NOT open to new roles for women. These results will be published soon by the Intl. Center for Research on Women (WashDC) & discussed at an April 13 panel: "Requisites for a Culture of Peace." (contact: Since the peace accords, the economy (production, exports) has rebounded, averaging 3% GNP growth rate. Salvadorans' average annual income is $2,000 per capita. Under-five mortality has improved dramatically, dropping to 35 deaths per 1,000 live births. Following their election victory this week, the FMLN proposed new efforts to promote small & medium-sized businesses.

- "ECONOMIC POLICY FOR BUILDING PEACE: LESSONS OF EL SALVADOR" J BOYCE editor, (1996, Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Pub) argues that post- conflict transition must support political as well as economic stability: not only attention to classic macroeconomic guidelines, but also to equity, peace consolidation, continuing agrarian reform.

Contributing authors examine structural adjustment, environmental threats, the absorptive capacity of peasants (particularly, ex-combatants) to use credit, agriculture's declining terms of trade, the peace accords, foreign aid, & the large volume of remittances.

Appendices provide useful historical data on Salvador's economic performance. The authors recommend reducing military expenditure further, & use of aid conditionality to ensure adherence to the peace accords.

- "THE PROTECTION RACKET STATE: POLITICS, EXTORTION, CIVIL WAR in El Salvador", by Bill Stanley (1996 Philadelphia: Temple Univ. Press; ISBN 1 56639-392-2), recounts the years when Salvador was ruled by an alliance of criminals & anti-communists. Stanley's skillfully tracks the authoritarian power-sharing tradeoffs up until the 1992 peace agreements "eliminated the military's ability to operate a protection racket." Members of the upper class considered themselves well-served by the military-led state & "conservative factions of the military demonstrated great capacity to defend the coercive character of the regime." Stanley cautions against oft-expressed, na´ve hopes that a corporatist state can reform itself. "El Salvador's violent history demonstrates the difficulty of replacing a protection racket state with one based on broad political legitimacy." Stanley Salvador maps the shifting windows of opportunities when the US could have influenced the high command & prevent state violence, concluding "The US was appallingly ineffective in defending human rights in El Salvador."

- - Additional references: In "Humanitarian Challenges in Central America: Learning the Lessons of Recent Armed Conflicts" authors C Eguizabal, D Lewis, & L Minear (1993 Providence, Rhode Island: Watson Inst.) review decades of political developments, conflict, displacement & humanitarian access in Guatemala, Nicaragua & El Salvador, observing, for example, "The relationship between humanitarianism & peace is evident in the appeal of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero to Pres. Carter in early 1980 to suspend all military assistance because of abuses by the armed forces against civilians. Lack of response had deadly consequences for Romero & El Salvador... Those murdered in retaliation (against the rebel FMLN offensive) by security forces leaders. In January 1981 alone, Salvadoran armed Philadelphia: included thousands of ordinary Salvadorans as well as peasant, community, political & trade union "Paying the Price: Ignacio Ellacuria & the Murdered Jesuits of El Salvador" (1995 forces, paramilitary forces & death squads murdered 2,644 civilian non-combatants." In, Temple Univ Press), Teresa Witfield begins with the Nov opinion in months that 16, 1989, murders of 6 Jesuit Priests, & tells how it was investigated & affected intl. followed.

Witfield gives due credit to Congressperson Joe Moakley (D-Mass) who played a critical role in uncovering the truth & compelling the US Congress to finally restrict military aid to Salvador's rulers, a crucial step toward the peace accords. Also, see - "El Salvador, Peace on Trial" an Oxfam Country Profile, by Kevin Murray, (1997 Oxford: Oxfam) a concise summary of Salvador's recent history, the peace accords, reconstruction, & current social problems including vulnerabilities of the landless, poor & victims of crime.


March 24, 2000 The Humanitarian Times

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