Magazine article ReVista (Cambridge)

A Search for Justice in El Salvador

Magazine article ReVista (Cambridge)

A Search for Justice in El Salvador

Article excerpt

IN THE SMALL RURAL TOWN OF ARCATAO, Chalatenango, Rosa Rivera clung to the hope that one day she would find the remains of her disappeared mother and father and lay them to rest in peace. Others sought to exhume mass graves hoping to recover bodies of nearly 1,000 relatives massacred in the Río Sumpul. Centro Bartolomé de las Casas (CBC) accompanied Rivera and other survivors on journeys of truth-telling and justice-seeking that include exhumations of clandestine cemeteries, healing rituals and reburials. They constitute just one example of work supported by the Ignacio Martín-Baró Fund for Mental Health and Human Rights, furthering the development of small group's psychosocial training, organizational capacity and financial resources. This is not an abstract cause for us, as we both actively work with the fund.

We met each other for the first time in New York City at a conference commemorating the 25th anniversary of the assassination of the Salvadoran social psychologist and Jesuit priest, Ignacio Martín-Baró, whose ideas have opened new horizons for the field of psychology in El Salvador and across the globe.

I (Lykes) had met Martín-Baró in Cuba in 1987 during the XXI Congress of the Interamerican Society of Psychology (SIP). I was struck by his presentation on "lazy Latinos." He challenged us as psychologists to deconstruct this commonplace, demeaning description of Salvadoran peasants that, despite its kernel of "truth," obscured economic and power inequities that underlay assumptions about Salvadoran labor and this labeling process.

At these meetings I savored his humor, his guitar playing, and the urgency with which he engaged in gatherings some of us had organized to discuss forming a transnational network of activist psy- chologists committed to accompanying local Latin American communities build knowledge "from the ground up." I could not have imagined then or in subsequent gatherings with him in Boston and Berkeley that these schemes and dreams would be cut short by the actions of the U.S.-trained Atlacatl Battalion two short years later.

Just a week after I (Portillo) turned 15, San Salvador was occupied in the largest offensive launched by the guerrilla forces in November of 1989. I never met Martín-Baró, but I remember TV coverage that included his dead body and those of his Jesuit brothers on the grass at the University of Central America (UCA). Four years later, I began my studies in psychology at the UCA. I studied Martín-Baró's writings and learned about his life through surviving colleagues and commemoration acts on campus. I was drawn to his ideas and particularly to his proposal for a psychology of liberation, which voiced the need to construct a psychology that responds to the needs of the oppressed.

We, the two authors, reconnected in Boston where we are collaborating in the Martín-Baró Fund ( The fund was established in 1990 by a small group of psychologists, activists and advocates who sought to extend Martín-Baró's liberatory psychology by supporting programs in the global south developed by and in communities affected by institutional violence, repression and social injustice. The fund seeks to encourage innovative grassroots projects that promote psychological well-being, social consciousness and active resistance by means of grants, networking, and technical support. Coordinated by an entirely volunteer group and housed at Boston College's Center for Human Rights and International Justice, the fund has supported a total of 183 projects directed by 97 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in 32 countries. A total of $1,090,878 has been distributed among these organizations.

Although small and limited in resources, the fund is one of the few sources of support for organizations in the global south whose understanding of and engagement with the effects of statesponsored violence and gross violations of human rights is systemic and structural. …

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