Thursday, November 24, 2005

A government which refuses to assess responsibility

The refusal of the government led by the ARENA party to investigate responsibility for the extent of damage caused by natural disasters is similar to its refusal to look at responsibility for atrocities committed during the civil war. This critique is made in the October 19, 2005 issue of Proceso, the publication of the University of Central America, now available on its web site:

According to the present ARENA administration, both God and nature would be mainly responsible for the last national tragedy. God, because he created things in an imperfect manner, he created a country in a high-risk area, subjected to earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, and eruptions. Surrounded by volcanoes and mountains, many inhabitants had no choice but to build their houses in the outskirts or by a river, and these conditions make peopleÂ’s lives even more vulnerable. Nature, on the other hand, would play the role assigned by God and punish the population in a merciless way. This is how, with such a misleading interpretation, the country is under a permanent threat, and, therefore, people have to learn to live at risk, in a country that could become an enormous shelter full of victims. The administration of ARENA rejects any sort of investigation to establish the identity of the responsible ones. According to this party, no one is responsible for the present tragedy. This is the old argument that tries to run away from any kind of explanations. Since the war was an issue that involved everybody, nobody is responsible for it; since so many people are killing each other, no one has to give any explanations about the crimes against humankind. In summary, it is better not to wonder about whose responsibility this is, and resign ourselves to our own destiny, whatever it might be.

It is very common to try and make God responsible for the catastrophes, but this is wrong. The spirit of creation is not our enemy, or different from humankind. People, with their actions, do turn it into a menace. Therefore, it is unacceptable to say, just like President Saca does, that "we Salvadorans have been created in adversity". We are the ones that have turned the environment into adversity. To blame God for this is to overlook the irresponsible manner in which urbanizations, shopping malls, and roads have been built, an explanation that the ARENA government avoids every time its actions are questioned. The same institutional weakness, an evident factor in the lack of territorial planning and urban development, also governmental responsibilities, is another aspect that explains what happened. The governments of ARENA have under appreciated the development of the nucleus of informal power, which has replaced the juridical and the social organization of the State. The institutional weakness is the responsibility of the Executive authority, with its President leading the way, it is also the responsibility of the other two powers, of the local governments, and of some of the construction companies (those companies that the system allows to act without any boundaries, and that are not sanctioned when there are deaths or damages).

Thousands of Salvadoran families live in high-risk areas, not because God wants them to live like that, but because they have no choice. They do not have access to a safe home. They do not qualify for a loan, and the governmental housing programs do not count them among their beneficiaries. Their members do not have a permanent job, and if they do, their income hardly allows to them purchase the bare essentials. The few possessions that they have are all part of a personal sacrifice. That is why they refuse to leave their homes. They know very well that if they lose their few personal belongings, no one will support them to replace what might get lost. To lose these things means more misery. It is easy to order that people have to be evacuated, but for those who have no place to go, these orders are very hard to accept. These families do not live like this because they want to, but because they have been forced into this situation through different mechanisms.

The refusal of the powers which rule El Salvador to look at those mechanisms, structures and policies which exacerbate the human suffering each time a natural disaster strikes, guarantees that history will repeat itself in tragic ways.


Mysterious Me said...

This kind of stuff blows my mind. But he sad part is, the US backs it up. This shifting blame stuff really is sad, and it´s really too bad peole fall for it.

Anonymous said...

Of course the current government won't do anything to find people responsible for war crimes, nor for possible causes that lead to natural disasters reaping through the human population. The reason that they won't do anything are two: despite the fact that a majority of construction companies build with reckless abandon in terrains that are known to be high-risk areas and can go ahead with impunity, it's because they are part/supporters of the current regime. The reason why the current government won't seek out justice against those who commited crimes against humanity during the war, it's because this would require for the current government to prosecute some of their supporters or even some of it's current members. The reason why people can go with impunity after commiting serious acts of corruption (ANDA, INSEPRO/FINSEPRO, among others), is because this would require to prosecute their own members. That is why, as long as ARENA remains in power, there won't ever exist any transparency within the country in order to exact justice. You can't just have justice in a country, where the whole regime is rooted in corruption. Just imagine how "destabilizing" would it be if the current government just exposed it's dirty laundry. I for one believe that the country will remain in the current cesspool that ARENA has created for another decade, then people may start demanding for answers (this would become the responsibility of the future generations).

Regarding US support. We are taking about the nation that supported the government during the civil war, so I believe it's pretty easy for them just to turn their heads the other way again. Besides, the US is too busy with it's global war against "terrorism" to even worry (assuming they care), about the conditions of one of their neighbors. Or maybe since ARENA is an uber-supporter of the US, they are okay with whatever happens here as long as ARENA is in power.

Anonymous said...

By the way, I commend you for your stupendous blog. Carry on with the great work!

lars said...

I am part of those that fled the country in the 1980's. I was a child back then, but I still have vivid memories of the few but horribly impacting moments of that time. Yes, I remember the chants, "Patria sí! Comunismo no! Alianza El Salvador." I remember how my grandmother would reprimand us if we used the term, "escuadron de la muerte" (death squadron) in our play. I didn't know what it meant back then, and only now am I really beginning to understand its full meaning and historical context.

I was raised in the US and I was taught to embrace everything we did in the name of democracy. I didn't know then what that really meant. I didn't know it meant the murdering of my own people by an equally corrupt and undemocratic US led regime. I didn't know...

I served in the US NAVY and I love the US, but it hurts to know that now, just as then, we're exciting countries into furious wars, in the name of a unreal theorical concept of democracy; a concept that we don't even quite understand.

As far as this article is concerned, I don't know how else will these poor Latin American be punished. Are we out of God's favor? Why must our lands be so damned condemed? No, people can't go else where, and there simply isn't enough funds to move these people from these dangerous zones. But that's not a unique case to these countries. Lousiana, Indonisea and Pakistan are all examples of how corrupt government officials allow special interest groups the right to do as they may for meager contributions to their political parties, even if it jeopardices the lives of their own citizens. However, there are many cases in these Third World countries where the construction is not done by engineers, instead it is done by the hapeless victims of poverty with inappropriate materials. Often times, necessity leads them to lay their foundations on illegally appropriated government lands which are at insuiatble places for construction.

Anonymous said...

Is this where we act surprized? Anyone who has even a hint of the history of Latin Amaerica will see it is the same sad story.