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Day 2 in El Salvador - the UCA

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Day 2 – Thursday June 16

Slept well – a good 8 hours. Got ready and went downstairs at 7am and moved to the patio with my computer. I figure 1 ½ hours of work before the immersion day begins. I answer some email – uh-oh – a student says they cannot see the homework assignments I set up the day before. I try to check the course website to find out what is going on. The Internet connection is soooo slow and I feel I am back in the 1990’s with a 56K modem. But the assignments are there but I did not set one up correctly for the students to upload their assignments. I fix the assignment on both class websites and email the students the corrections.

We get on the bus at 8:45am and head down the hill to the University of Central America, UCA, pronounced ‘ooka’ by the locals. We go into a nice brick building and I am struck by how pretty it is inside, with an atrium-style courtyard and breezeway. We go into a small classroom that barely fits the 13 of us to watch the documentary Enemies of War.  The film brings to life some of the people and images we read about prior to our trip, and we will meet some of the people interviewed. The film includes the story and struggle of a typical campesino (peasant) and his family who fled the death squads and fought the rebels. Parts of the movie brought tears to my eyes – it was moving and graphic, showing the dead unsanitized as is usually the case back home.

We leave UCA and drive about 35 minutes to a squatters camp called Oscar Romero. There we find a community of 75 families who are trying to make a subsistence living on a few acres of land. We are regaled by several leaders of the community of their tale of woe. Having lost everything in the earthquakes of 2001, over 200 families take over a piece of government land. They hear that the government will help build houses for landowners who lost their homes in the earthquake. But there’s the rub – they lost their homes but did not own the land. So they took over some government land in the hopes of getting help. The story that emerges is one of corrupt government bureaucrats and ever changing requirements. A large cement company is buys an adjacent parcel of land for several dollars, yet the same government agency tells these people that it will cost them over $8000. Evidently, the agency thinks they will never come up with the money, but a foundation helps them and they come up with the money. Surprise, surprise! The land is no longer for sale but is being deeded to another government entity. After years of battles with agencies and government committees, the group, now down to 75 families, buys the land. But their troubles don’t stop there. Now the government is refusing to supply the community with clean drinking water and children die of dysentery and other water-borne diseases.

I leave with a greater understanding of how a nation such as ours that is governed by the rule of law makes life and living so much easier. How do you bring a concept such as the rule of law to entire peoples who have entirely different traditions. Latin American nations such as El Salvador have over 400 years of corruption, brutality, and a division of classes. Might makes right, and I do not have any simple answers…

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