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Published: February 20th 2014
Centro Monsegnor Romero
Commemorating the missionaries who were killed and articles found at one of the massacre sights.
We did not know much about El Salvador before coming here and as we were only giving it a week of our time we thought we should find out a little bit about it. We had planned to cram in a busy day of culture with the modern art museum, the anthropology museum and the memorial to Monsignor Romero but San Salvador is incredibly hot and not really designed for walking so we only managed the two. Attempting to walk anywhere in the western part of the city involves navigating non-existent pavements alongside huge, congested, dusty main roads, getting strange looks from everyone as to why on earth you are trying to walk anywhere.
We started at the memorial to Monsignor Romero which is set in the grounds of the university, right next to our hostel. El Salvador is most famous for its brutal civil war in the 80s and this memorial museum tells the story of the assassination of the priest Monsignor Romero that was a catalyst for the fighting.
Romero was a Catholic priest who was sticking up for the rights of the poor in El Salvador and denouncing the injustices that he saw in the country.
The country was under the rule of the military who were funded by the US to fight the spread of communism. For this Monsignor Romero was shot in the heart in his church as he was saying mass. The procession of mourners were then also fired upon.
We were shown around the memorial museum by a student of the university who thankfully spoke English, although she kept apologising if she got a word wrong (her English was fantastic). The memorial was set up originally by Jesuit priests in the centre for theology inside the museum. Then, in 1898, six of the priests as well as the gardener, housekeeper and their daughter were murdered inside the university by the military. The rooms where they were murdered have been kept as a memorial and the clothes that the priests were wearing are now part of the museum, along with evidence used in the trial of the soldiers.
The museum also has a memorial to four American and one Salvadorean missionaries who were raped and murdered by the security forces. It also has artefacts from several massacres carried out by the military, one of a village where they murdered over 1000
civilians, mostly children. I won’t go into the stories on here as they are too horrific. Due to the amnesty at the end of the war, no one has ever been held to account for these government sanctioned ‘death squads’. The sole survivor of this massacre has written a book about it called ‘Fireflies in the Mozote’.
There is now a rose garden planted where the priests were murdered and they are buried in the onsite church.
The thing that struck me the most about the memorial was the bravery of the priests and missionaries, for standing up for what was right even if it cost them their lives. Monsignor Romero believed that even if he was killed, he would be resurrected through the people. His martyrdom would be to the benefit of the people because he could be killed, but not his ideas.
The girl who showed us around the museum was very passionate about telling these stories as she believed that the people of El Salvador should not forget their past. She says that the new generation are not interested in politics, and in the last election coming up only 53% of people turned up
to vote. I think this is similar in most parts of the world, especially in the UK, but with El Salvador having such a turbulent recent history I would have thought that people would pay a bit more attention to what is going on.
El Salvador now seems fairly stable, there are two big gangs who seem to hold a lot of power and the government in charge at the moment has called a truce with them. There are certain areas you are told not to go to and you have to take the usual precautions of asking around and not going anywhere after dark but we did not feel unsafe at any time.
Our first night in San Salvador we walked home from the cinema at the local shopping mall and about halfway thought this is really not a good idea. The buses stop at 5pm and everyone travels by taxi, making the pavements even quieter.
The city is quite developed compared to most cities in Central America but this does mean that it has embraced US culture in a big way. We only had one day and two nights in the city so we didn’t
see all of it but the more affluent west side of the city was pretty much a string of shopping malls filled with American fast food chains and stores which feel like you could be in any city in the world. The strip that we visited was starkly contrasted by a shanty town on the opposite side of the road. It must be strange to live in a tin hut underneath a brightly lit billboard showing you what your life could be like.
Our decision to grab something to eat before the cinema was a big mistake. As the only options were fast food chains I decided to try a Taco Bell. It was vile. A horrendous plastic version of Mexican food with extra cheese sauce and mayo bluergh. Good cinema mind.
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