On March 19, 2013, in Parque Cuscatlan, San Salvador, friends from the School of the Americas Watch apologized on behalf of U.S. citizens for the complicity of our government in the deaths of 75,000 victims during the war in El Salvador. It took place in front of the memorial wall in San Salvador that bears the names of 75,000 victims, and mothers of the disappeared were present. It was a moving day, according to friends who took part, both for them and for the Salvadorans present. It was a real privilege to work with the delegation to draft the apology see below).
Today, we stand on Holy Ground, before this historic memorial to the victims and martyrs of the war, to humbly ask pardon for the complicity of our nation in bringing so much sorrow, so much destruction, so much death to your people.
We come representing the movement to close the School of the Americas (SOA), the military base that trains Latin American armies to kill their people. We come representing the tens of thousands of North Americans who gather every year at the gates of the SOA, to nonviolently resist and shut down this school of assassins. We come representing the more than 170 women and men – some of whom are standing before you today – who have crossed the line onto the military base in the U.S. in nonviolent protest, and who collectively have served more than 300 years in federal prisons for their actions.
For more than 12 years, our country sent $6 billion in military aid and support – a million dollars each day – to arm and train your soldiers and security force personnel to detain, torture, disappear, and brutally kill more than 75,000 men, women, and children, persons whose names appear on these memorial walls.
We come in sorrow, to ask pardon, to accept responsibility, and to renew and deepen our commitment to solidarity in reparation to the victims and their families, and to the Salvadoran people.
We come also in joy, knowing that the blood of the four North American church women – Maura, Ita, Dorothy, and Jean – whose names are also inscribed on these walls – was mixed with the blood of your people in a bond that seals our solidarity forever with the Salvadoran people.
Every year, in November, as we commemorate the martyrdom of the six Jesuit priests, a young Salvadoran mother and her daughter, tens of thousands of our fellow citizens gather at the gates of the School of the Americas in Ft. Benning, Georgia to close it down, as we remember the names of the victims killed by soldiers and officers trained at this school of assassins.
We remember in a special way, Rufina Amaya, who joined us at the gates on many occasions. We remember the committees of mothers who have so courageously spoken truth to power. We remember your human rights defenders, especially Herbert Anaya, at whose home I stayed so many years ago.
The Salvadoran military who were responsible for the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, the four North American church women, the six Jesuits and their housekeeper and her daughter, as well as the massacre of thousands of precious Salvadoran men, women, and children who perished at the Sumpul River, in La Quesera, in El Mozote, in El Calabozo, in Los Llanitos, at the Gualsinga River – these Salvadoran military were all trained at the School of the Americas.
The lives of each of these Salvadoran victims have a claim on our lives, that we never forget them, nor the circumstances in which they were killed, nor the responsibility we bear as North Americans, for their deaths.
It is for that reason that we are here today, to remember them, to ask for pardon, and to offer reparation – by our words here today, but also by our lives and commitment to solidarity.
The reparation to which we pledge ourselves is first of all moral reparation – a commitment to divulge the truth about the role and responsibility of our nation in the deaths of these victims.
We pledge ourselves to make economic reparation by supporting with our solidarity the projects that truly favor the education, health, nutrition and welfare of the majority poor in El Salvador.
We pledge ourselves to make political reparation by standing in solidarity with your loved ones in the U.S., who deserve a legal immigrant status in order to work and support their families.
And we pledge ourselves to protect, in Eduardo Galeano’s words, “the right to dream,” – yours and ours – that “another world is possible,” and to defend, in Victor Jara’s words, “the right to live in peace.”
We will continue to struggle, to hope, to cross borders, and to tear down the walls – like those of the SOA and the U.S-Mexico border – that divide us and that have no right to exist because they only oppress, and exclude, and bring suffering and death to the poor. We will not be silent, we will resist nonviolently, we will stand in solidarity with the people of El Salvador.
Finally, we call on President Obama, on our Senators and Congresspersons, to offer their own official words of apology and deeds of reparation; and we call on our fellow citizens to make this pledge of reparation and solidarity their own.
Yes, we stand on Holy Ground today. All of El Salvador is Holy Ground, as one of your theologians said, because wherever great suffering and great love converge, we are on Holy Ground.
In a few days we will be commemorating the martyrdom of your beloved pastor, prophet, and martyr, Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was killed at the altar because he dared to call on your military and on our President, “In the name of God, in the name of the suffering people, stop the repression!”
We close by saying thank you. Thank you for receiving our words of pardon. Thank you welcoming us to your country. Thank you for your courage and dignity and humanity. We are sincere in saying that our lives have been forever changed and enriched because of your lives. You have shown us, and show the world, what it means to give your lives out of love for others – especially the poorest – and to struggle unceasingly, but with joy, for a more just and more fraternal world. Thank you.