What Salvadoran bloggers are saying -- echoes of the past

The past two weeks have seen much discussion in the Salvadoran blogosphere about crimes committed during the civil war in El Salvador which continue to have considerable impact on the society. In particular, bloggers explored considerations of impunity and historical memory arising from the assassination of Oscar Romero and disappearances of children during the war.

The 26th anniversary of the anniversary of the assassination of archbishop Oscar Romero was March 24th. Bloggers Hunnapuh, Jjmar, demander, Tim, and Rebeca all paid homage to the martyred "voice of the voiceless." Just as Romero's assassination in some ways marks the beginning of the civil war in El Salvador, Aldebarán notes that March 24th also marked the 30th anniversary of the military coup in Argentina that brought in 7 years of dirty war, in which tens of thousands disappeared or were tortured by government forces.

This year's anniversary was marked by a surprise revelation -- one of the Salvadoran military officers involved in the conspiracy, Alvaro Saravia, gave an interview to El Nuevo Herald asking the Catholic church for forgiveness for his role. Saravia also disclosed that he is writing a book which will identify persons and actions involved in the assassination plot. Blogger Soy Salvadoreño hopes that the book will help shed light on past events and strike a blow against impunity in the country.

Impunity is also at issue in the the case of the Serrano sisters as many Salvadoran bloggers point out. In 2005 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) granted a judgment against El Salvador arising out of the kidnapping by government forces of two little girls, Ernestina y Erlinda Serrano, during the early years of the civil war. The IACHR judgment required El Salvador to pay reparations to the family, to actively search for the girls and other missing children, and to have high public officials make an act of public contrition.

The time came to make the act of public apology and El Salvador's foreign minister made a public appearance at the cathedral in Chalatenango before crowds including the Serrano family. But he did not apologize. The foreign minister expressed only that the government of El Salvador "lamented" the things which had happened to the Serrano family. The lack of an apology outraged the gathered crowd, as did the notable absence of Salvadoran president Tony Saca at the event.

Soy Salvadoreño goes behind last week's public event and pulls together all of the facts and testimony of the Serrano case from the proceeding before the IACHR. In addition, he notes the tragedy that the Serrano case was not an isolated instance. Pro-Busqueda is an organization founded by Jesuit priest Jon Cortina dedicated to reuniting disappeared children from the civil war with their families. Soy Salvadoreño notes that in investigating more than 700 cases of disappeared children, Pro-Busqueda uncovered the government's policy of taking children to orphanages without any attempt to reunite them with their families. Judges would willingly declare the children abandoned, and the children put up for adoption. More than 120 children have been located in 11 foreign countries as far away as Europe. Soy Salvadoreño also compiles a collection of links to all the coverage that other Salvadoran bloggers have given the story over the past 18 months.

Jjmar at Hunnapuh laments that the government's failure to apologize for the Serrano case sends a message of impunity to the population. This is seen as emblematic of a government which is unwilling to take responsibility for the acts in the past or o provide guarantees that they will not happen again.

At Enfrentamientos, Aldebarán notes that for years, Pro-Busqueda reunited disappeared children with their parents, and the country's newspapers buried the stories in their internal pages. Yet when the government finally sets up its own commission to search for children years later (and only because the IACHR judgment required it) its first and only successful case is celebrated with front page headlines in the conservative papers. Ligia at Que Joder also blogged about the efforts of Pro-Busqueda to gather support to pressure the government into complying with the judgment.

US-El Salvador Sister Cities reports that activists have gone on a hunger strike in Chalatenango to protest the government's failure to take responsibility and comply with the IACHR judgment.

On a contrary note, however, El Visitador adds comments on the blog of Soy Salvadoreño advancing the argument of the government and others who claim that the Serrano sisters never existed.

These spirited discussions in the blogosphere over impunity are not reflected in Salvadoran mass media. The existence of bias in that media during coverage of the recent elections was the subject of a debate in Spanish and English the blogs of Tim and El Visitador. Tim started the discussion with reference to a study of election coverage in El Salvador which showed that the governing ARENA party received significantly more favorable mentions in newspapers and television than did the leftist FMLN. El Visitador countered with comments arguing that the authors of the study were prominent members of the "global left" and then continued his attacks on the study on his own blog.

Originally posted at Global Voices Online.


Anonymous said…
Tim, the Romero anniversary was interesting to watch also from a media observer's perspective. In a Q&A at the Vatican on March 24, Honduran Cardinal Rodriguez once again hailed the increased coverage of the anniversary within Salvadoran media. The Cardinal's observation is simply that in the last years, the local press has begrudgingly acknoweledge the street marches and other events that commemorate the day. I was in El Salvador in March 2000 for the 20th anniversary and was shocked to see the next day that Salvadoran dailies described "tens of people" gathering at Plaza Barrios, while the Manchester Guardian estimated the crowd in the hundreds of thousands. This year, the Romero anniversary may have become a staple in local coverage -- though none of the papers carried any "Special" sections dedicated to anniversary coverage. EL DIARIO DE HOY had a special section for certain big news events like the recent elections, as well as for special interest feature items like a recent telethon and for Valentine's Day. LA PRENSA GRAFICA had news event specials like the recent mystery over dead turtles washing up on Salvadoran beaches, and a feature interest special on Valentine's Day, also. None of the big papers had a special on the Romero anniversary.

Most Salvadoran papers carried the news about Captain Alvaro Saravia, one of the accused participants in the murder, offering to come clean with all the details. Although when LA PRENSA GRAFICA first reprinted the AP wire story, they ommited any mention of ruling ARENA party founder Roberto D'Abuisson being historically implicated in the murder. EL DIARIO DE HOY mostly carried brief blurbs reprinting wire stories, devoting no local assets to the story. LA PRENSA did a more comprehensive job, fleshing out wire stories with some original copy to pick up comments by local human rights activists and clerics, for instance. LA PRENSA also ran a few stories about Romero commemorations, including three stories in its "Departamento 15" section detailing celebrations by Salvadorans abroad. DIARIO CO LATINO ran several Romero stories beginning early in the week of the anniversary, and coupling its coverage with the Serrano sisters case and the Saravia declarations from a truth investigation perspective. However, none of these papers ran any critical analysis or commentary. Surprisingly, the business oriented DIARIO EL MUNDO ran a number of straightforward stories on the anniversary and the Saravia revelations. EL MUNDO was the first Salvadoran paper to break the news last year about (now limp) newfound momentum in the canonization cause. The news magazines RAICES, EL FARO, and NUEVO ENFOQUE carried commentary pieces about the Saravia remarks. RAICES carried the full text of the Saravia interview.

In short, I give the Salvadoran press a C+ for their coverage. A B for LA PRENSA; a B- for CO LATINO; a B- for EL MUNDO; a C+ for EL FARO and NUEVO ENFOQUE; and an F for EL DIARIO DE HOY.

Carlos X.
San Romero Discussion Group