Updated: April 24, 2009 Added Pt 2
At Summit Obama interested in “looking forward”, but many live the past every day – report from El Salvador
Past is Present in Latin America
The possibly incommensurable views of two hopeful presidents as Obama looks to the future; Funes to the past.
April 20, 2009 – On April 17, 2009 US President Barack Obama’s opening remarks at the Summit of Americas at Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, stated that, ” [he] didn’t come here to debate the past. [He] came here to deal with the future.” Ramón Rivas, Founding Director of the Museum of Anthropology at El Salvador Technological University, talked with Real News producer Jesse Freeston and says that this might not be the best approach when it comes to addressing the problems of Latin American countries like El Salvador, a country on the brink of a changing political climate that is steeped in a bloody and troubled past. When incoming Salvadoran President-elect, Mauricio Funes, declared victory on March 15, 2009, his words echoed past sentiments of people’s hero, Monsignor Óscar Arnulfo Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador. Romero was assassinated March 24, 1980, in the same year that Funes’s older brother, Roberto, was murdered by uniform police.
Funes promised on March 15, to carry on “the prophetic message of our martyred Bishop, Monsignor Óscar Arnulfo Romero, who declared that the church will always favor the poor. This idea will guide my actions, looking always to side with the poor and excluded.”
“Romero’s assassination was one of the major precipitating events to El Salvador’s brutal 12 year civil war fought between the FMLN guerrilla army and the US-backed military government. The war ended with the signing of peace accords in 1992, one of the stipulations of which was the creation of a UN truth commission. When that truth commission concluded one year later that 85 percent of the human rights abuses during the war were committed by government forces, the ARENA administration immediately passed a general amnesty law, prohibiting prosecution of crimes committed during the war, a law that still stands today,” Freeston says.
Rivas also discusses the “unconstitutional” dollarization of El Salvador’s economy that occurred in 2001. “On January 1, 2001, the country woke up using the US dollar without any prior consultation. It was a state secret.
Nobody knew anything about it. They dollarized the country overnight—an unconstitutional move. Of course there was the well-known, dreamt-about free-trade agreement that favors the big business owners over the small business owners. Naturally, all this has been approved, with applause, by the defeated ARENA government,” Rivas says.
Tomas Peres, a construction worker in San Salvador, describes the hardship of living under the ARENA administration: “The last 20 years under ARENA, we have been marginalized. Since 2000 our salaries have been frozen. We no longer make the wage we earn; we make the wage that the private companies want us to make.
Now we want the government to recognize what we need from it, and that they approach us to find out what our needs and wants are, that they fund housing and legalize this land.”
As much as Obama hopes to imbue hope with his forward-looking statements in the Americas, there is no denying the residual effects of political strife and civil war on the daily lives of El Salvadorans. Freestons states that the rise of leftist politics in El Salvador is another example of anti-imperialist resistance in the region. “Whether Obama chooses to acknowledge the history that brought us to this day will be up to him. But what cannot be denied is the existence of a more unified and independent Latin American people than any previous US president has ever seen,” Freeston says.
Past is present in Latin America Pt2
Latin American leaders, born out of US backed repression, demand an end to 50 year-old US-Cuba standoff