Michael Riordon

the view from where I live


2 Comments

Stolen Children: a tribute to Cristián Orrego

Cristián Orrego is in the final stages of a struggle with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease).

Based at the Human Rights Center, University of California in Berkeley, and more recently in El Salvador, as a forensic geneticist Cristián inspired and enabled me to write Stolen children.  It documents the deeply stirring birth and life of Pro-Búsqueda (For the search), a Salvadoran citizens’ organization that seeks to find and reunite children and relatives forcibly separated during the 1980s military assault on the people of that battered country.  Their story became a key chapter in my book Bold Scientists, about working scientists who question and defy a range of status quos

When I asked Cristián what motivates him in his often frustrating work, he replied: “I only have to think of the strength and determination of the families, who carry on this struggle for decades in the face of so much official indifference, greed, and laziness—the indifference of a state toward what happened in the past, ignoring that the future will be better by understanding the past, laziness in the sense of a society so indifferent to the loss of its children, and greed in the sense of not wishing to disrupt business as usual.”

I’m posting the Stolen children chapter here, as a tribute to Cristián Orrego, to forensic geneticist Patricia Vásquez Marías, his partner in life and work, and to the people of Pro-Búsqueda.

Stolen Children

In the autumn of 1982, a California couple, Jerry and Greta Fillingim, began the process of adopting a child from El Salvador. Their family story would be intertwined with the history of a people. Only a few months earlier, the Salvadoran army had launched a brutal incursion in the department (administrative region) of Chalatenango, in which forty-six to fifty-three children disappeared, including two young sisters, Erlinda (age three) and Ernestina Serrano Cruz (age seven). No one knows what happened to the sisters after that, or rather, the few who do know hide behind a wall of silence and immunity. One or both of the sisters could still be alive, now in their thirties, in El Salvador or elsewhere. Relatives continue to search.

This story begins a century and a half earlier.

1840: El Salvador, a small country in Central America, achieves independence from Spain.

1932, January: By now, fourteen wealthy families control 90 per cent of El Salvador’s land, mostly growing coffee for export. When prices drop, the lives of campesinos go from grim to desperate. Finally the campesinos rebel, led by Agustín Farabundo Martí. In reprisal, the army kills thirty- to forty-thousand Salvadorans.

1975, July: In the capital, San Salvador, soldiers open fire on unarmed antigovernment protesters.

1977, February: Another rigged Salvadoran election installs another general as president. More than two hundred unarmed protesters are killed.

1977, March: Jesuit priest Rutilio Grande García is assassinated, to silence his outspoken advocacy of liberation theology—interpreting the Christian gospels as a call to struggle for justice and equity. His murder is widely believed to have moved his friend Oscar Romero, the previously conservative archbishop of El Salvador, to embrace liberation theology.

1978–1979: Across El Salvador, popular protests intensify against rising military repression.

1979, November: U.S. president Jimmy Carter authorizes military aid to El Salvador, and American military “advisers” are sent to train Salvadoran security forces.

1980, March 23: In Archbishop Romero’s Sunday sermon, broadcast live on radio, he directly addresses soldiers: “Brothers, you are all killing your fellow countrymen. No soldier has to obey an order to kill. It is time to regain your conscience. In the name of God and in the name of the suffering people I implore you, I beg you, I order you, stop the repression.” The next day, a military death squad assassinates Romero while he conducts mass in a small chapel.

1980, March 30: For  Archbishop Romero’s funeral, more than two hundred thousand Salvadorans fill la Plaza Libertad in San Salvador. Soldiers fire on the crowd from the National Palace. At least fifty people are killed.

1980, May 14: The military, national guard, and death squads massacre at least three hundred men, women, and children trying to flee across the Sumpul River from Chalatenango into Honduras. Honduran troops prevent the fleeing Salvadorans from coming ashore.

1980, October: Five revolutionary organizations join forces in the FMLN, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, named for the leader of the 1932 uprising. In 1980, according to the Roman Catholic Church in El Salvador, army and security forces kill 11,895 people, most of them peasants, trade union members, students, journalists, priests, and human rights advocates.

1981, January: The FMLN launches its first major initiative, advancing swiftly in Chalatenango and Morazán.

1981, December: At the village of El Mozote in Morazán, more than a thousand civilians are massacred by the Atlacatl Battalion, armed and trained by “counterinsurgency” specialists from the U.S. army. That same month, the Reagan administration refuses the FMLN’s offer of peace negotiations, and increases aid to the military. In 1981, according to the Christian Legal Aid Office, army and security forces killed more than sixteen thousand Salvadorans, the vast majority of them civilians.

1982, May–June: Salvadoran army battalions attack northern Chalatenango. The army calls it Operación Limpieza (operation clean-up); the people of Chalatenango call it Guinda (running away) de Mayo. More than six hundred civilians are killed, and approximately fifty children, including the Serrano Cruz sisters, disappear.

1982, July: President Reagan “certifies” to the U.S. Congress that human rights standards have improved in El Salvador, so that new military aid can be authorized.

 

The horror in El Salvador continued for another ten years, until 1992 when the Chapultepec peace accords were signed in Mexico. By year-end, the UN Truth Commission concluded that seventy- to seventy-five-thousand Salvadorans were killed during the war, 95 per cent of them by government forces, 5 per cent by the FMLN. The commission called for perpetrators of human rights atrocities to be brought to justice. But within days, the right-wing Arena government decreed a blanket amnesty for all those implicated in such crimes. That immunity from prosecution still stands today.

International Adoption

The Fillingims Get the Call

I meet Jerry and Greta Fillingim with their daughter Angela in the Human Rights Center at the University of California, Berkeley. Continue reading


Leave a comment

In a tiny country far, far away…

Yemen.  It’s in the news, briefly.  But not enough, not nearly enough.

yemen-war-ruins

Ruling regimes in the US, UK and Saudi Arabia continue to rain down mass murder on this tiny country far, far away, on the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula.  This is their favourite kind of war, one of many directed from above, with impunity, by one US president after another, along with their collaborators and apologists.

As usual the big media reliably pour out a relentless blur of effluent as to the perpetrators’ motives, goals, and actions.  But really it’s not so complicated.  As in so many vicious wars far, far away, this one is about oil and control.  All the horror is merely collateral damage, invisible to the willfully closed eye.

However, up-to-date insight can be gleaned from a few sources, including yesterday’s post by the remarkably well-informed blogger Moon of Alabama, here.


Leave a comment

“Genocide begins with the silence of the world.”

On August 1, The New York Times and other mainstream papers in the US and the UK published a full-page ad written by famous Holocaust survivor and campaigner Elie Wiesel. Part of a vast international propaganda offensive to justify Israel’s latest brutal war on Gaza and its decades-long occupation of Palestine, the ad was sponsored by This World: The Values Network.

Founded by American Orthodox Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, This World describes itself as “dedicated to disseminating the light of the Jewish people and promoting and defending the state of Israel as the supreme embodiment of a nation founded on these principles.”

Gaza ruins, 4Gaza, July 26, 2014. Photo: REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

Among other things, Wiesel accuses Hamas of “child sacrifice,” and reframes the Israeli massacre in Gaza as “a battle of civilization versus barbarism.” In this he echoes Theodor Herzl, a key 19th century European proponent of a Jewish state in the Middle East: “For Europe we would constitute over there part of a bulwark against Asia as well as the advance post of civilization against barbarism.” (Der Judenstaat, The State of the Jews, published in 1896.)

Wiesel assumes that by now, surely his readers will know which label applies to which party in the Middle East.

Apparently some Jewish Holocaust survivors are not so sure.

On August 23rd, as Israel continues to bombard Gaza, 327 Jewish Holocaust survivors from a number of countries countered Wiesel’s attack ad with their own message in The New York Times:

As Jewish survivors and descendants of survivors and victims of the Nazi genocide we unequivocally condemn the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza and the ongoing occupation and colonization of historic Palestine.

We further condemn the United States for providing Israel with the funding to carry out the attack, and Western states more generally for using their diplomatic muscle to protect Israel from condemnation. Genocide begins with the silence of the world.

We are alarmed by the extreme, racist dehumanization of Palestinians in Israeli society, which has reached a fever-pitch.  In Israel, politicians and pundits in The Times of Israel and The Jerusalem Post have called openly for genocide of Palestinians and right-wing Israelis are adopting Neo-Nazi insignia.

Furthermore, we are disgusted and outraged by Elie Wiesel’s abuse of our history in these pages to justify the unjustifiable: Israel’s wholesale effort to destroy Gaza and the murder of more than 2,000 Palestinians, including many hundreds of children. Nothing can justify bombing UN shelters, homes, hospitals and universities.  Nothing can justify depriving people of electricity and water.

We must raise our collective voices and use our collective power to bring about an end to all forms of racism, including the ongoing genocide of Palestinian people.

We call for an immediate end to the siege against and blockade of Gaza.

We call for the full economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel.

“Never again” must mean NEVER AGAIN FOR ANYONE!

Signed,

Holocaust survivors
children of survivors
grandchildren of survivors
great-grandchildren of survivors
other relatives of survivors.

The signers’ names (358 to date; more continue to sign on) and locations are posted here, on the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network.


Leave a comment

Desmond Tutu to the people of Israel: Liberate yourselves!

Gaza rally, LondonGaza rally, London, July 2014

 Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, August 14, 2014:

“If you add together all the people who gathered over the past weekend to demand justice in Israel and Palestine – in Cape Town, Washington, D.C., New York, New Delhi, London, Dublin, Sydney, and all the other cities – this was arguably the largest active outcry by citizens around a single cause ever in the history of the world.”

Read Desmond Tutu’s stirring call to liberation here.


Leave a comment

Inside the Gaza ‘meat grinder’

Dr Ghassan Abu Sitta:  “All the areas around the hospital were being bombed all the time. We then got a call to the emergency room and we were told that the administration and the out patients building had been hit – a lot of families had taken refuge in that area – so we had to go and help.”

Injured Palestinians taken to hospital after Israeli airstrikesAl-Shifa Hospital, July 2014.

During each of Israel’s three major assaults on Gaza, Dr Ghassan Abu Sitta has volunteered as a surgeon at the al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.  A Palestinian reconstructive surgeon, he lives in Lebanon.

This interview with him was conducted by journalist Yazan al-Saadi, and published in the English edition of Al-Akhbar, a Lebanese newspaper.

As of August 18, 2014, the number of Palestinians killed by the Israeli assault on Gaza has risen to 2,016, including 541 children, 250 women and 95 elderly men. Wounded: 10,196.  The death toll keeps rising as more people die from catastrophic injuries.­

 


Leave a comment

Gaza: Why do Israel and the U.S. insist on war?

Gaza, July 27Gaza City, July 27, 2014.  Photo: Oxfam International.

“For the last eight years, Israel and the U.S. had repeated opportunities to opt for a diplomatic solution in Gaza.  Each time, they have chosen war, with devastating consequences for the families of Gaza.”

Why?

The answer is here, in a well-documented account by Sandy Tolan, author of The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East, and an associate professor at the University of Southern California

The only practical response that does not depend on goodwill or common sense from the Israeli or American authorities: the growing international grassroots movement for BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions.

 


Leave a comment

Witness

As the Israeli attack on Gaza and the suffocating military occupation of  the West Bank grind on, and resistance continues on both sides of the apartheid wall, Canadian publisher Between the Lines is featuring Witness, a chapter from Our Way to Fight: peace-work under siege in Israel-Palestine, on the front page of their website.

For free download, here: http://btlbooks.com/files/Riordon_ch_5s.pdf.

cover low res