Tuesday, November 08, 2005

A Sticky Situation

In El Salvador, having a plan is really not the best way to conduct life, at least not in my opinion. It has been my experience that in this "mas o menos" culture, a lot changes in a short period of time. And with that, even time is sort of relative anyway. Plus, there are just those days when you have to change everything you wanted to do, abandon ship and get the heck out!

Case and Point:
Yesterday, was a Monday, one of those Manic Mondays they call it. I decided to sleep in (until 7:15am) and got up to do some work on the website I was putting together. Usually I read the news in the morning, but I was pretty consumed with what I wanted to do, so I skipped the news and said I would read it later (mistake numero 1).

I did my thing on the website and then went to meet my friend so that we could have some lunch and then go to a museum about the history of the war here.

So I met my friend around 12:15pm and we went to get lunch. The comedor was packed and so we had to get food to go, and we at it in the park (which is sketchy at night). Then we board a bus and go to the museum that she says is open ALL day (at least that’s what they say). Well, as it turns out, the museum is closed until 2pm. Operation: Change Plans!

We decided to go to the Cathedral in the center of the city. This is where Romero’s body is and there’s a lot of life downtown too. Plus, I have to meet another friend there later in the day, so it sort of worked out perfectly for me.

We hop a bus and off we go to El Centro (a sketchy area, but part of the Salvadoran experience). When we get to the Cathedral, we hop out and there is a whole mess of people in the park (more than usual). Across the street, at the Cathedral, the doors are closed (they are open during the day for free flowing traffic) and the gates are plastered with "Anti-Articulo 103" posters.

I say to myself, "this looks like a protest!" Then I survey the scene a little more.
Most of the people in the park are men, and some groups of them are starting to get energized, and there are men in the bell tower with masks. I think again, "this is probably not the best situation to be in."

So I get out my little book that has phone numbers to call my other friend to tell her to meet at another place. While I thumb through the book, a police officer comes up to us (not my favorite group of people) and he asks in plain English what we are doing there.

I respond in Spanish that we were going to see Romero but the Cathedral is closed and so I was going to call a friend and we were going to hop on a bus again. He continues to speak in English and says that we need to leave now, that the situation is very dangerous. According to him, gang members took over the church because they want "their rights, or something like that." He also includes that they are not suppose to be protesting.

I thank him for the heads up and that we are leaving as soon as I alert my friend. He says that’s a good idea!

Well the phone card doesn’t work, and right about that time there was a loud noise and people started to flock to the other side of the park....our cue to leave. We hop a bus back to where we came from.

I get back to work and try to call my friend, but have to wait for my coworker to call a bunch of people first. Life is all about patience here. I try and try to get through, but I can’t
Plan B: I talk to Luis and ask him what to do about my meeting with my other friends back in the hot zone. He says, "I have experience with these sorts of things. "By the time you get back, the people will have left."

It doesn’t seem to me that Salvadorans are the type to give up so quickly, but I took his word for it because he IS a Salvadoran and he "has experience".

So I hop back on the same bus and head to the Cathedral. When I got there, the mob was also still there, and my friends, gringos like sitting ducks on the side of the street.
I said, "Dude, we’ve got to get the hell out of here!"

Five minutes later, we start walking. Process is always slow with a group of people (especially people caught in the moment). We walk a bunch of blocks away from all the action to the place where I later bought my new guitar (I am starting lessons).
We made it in once piece!

The Reality:
There is a maximum security prison in Zacateculuca that is affectionately known as "Zalcatraz". This prison houses criminals from the gang Mara Salvatrucha (many of the members once lived in the US and have been deported back due to crimes committed).

The people in the park protesting were members of a group called COFAPES (family members of the incarcerated) as well as other gang members. They were protesting Article 103 which was bringing about reforms at the prison around visitation rights.

The protesters were denouncing the really horrible conditions of the prison as human rights violations (the facilities really stink and people are really packed in there ie overcrowding.) and they wanted some changes.

Now human rights groups are trying to work with them and settle this matter in a peaceful way. The president of El Salvador said "they do not have any justification." So there you go! I haven’t heard anymore lately, except that the Cathedral is still being occupied. But that’s the story in a nutshell.

My opinion:
I really have no opinion on the situation, except that I can see where the people are coming from. I am a bit disturbed that the media is portraying the protesters as a bunch of gang members (as if gang members shouldn’t have rights...plus, there was a lot of family there too).
At any rate, I had a different experience I guess you would say and I am alive! What are ya gonna do?

For further reading about the prison situation, check out these links

LA Times

No comments: