Mercedes, San Salvador, El Salvador

Mercedes is a resident of the Santa Maria La Esperanza community located within Santiago Texacuangos, a part of the municipality of San Salvador. 
 She is a combative woman who has lived through many tragic and, at the same time, interesting episodes in her life. She lived right through the war in El Salvador in the 80’s and has been a strong and resilient woman who defends the rights of human beings and protects nature.

She opened up the floor by telling me that she is a strong devotee of God, not the God that is run by the church for the people but the God that is within us all.

Mercedes is a avid believer in liberation theology. She explains that God is an energy that attracts goodness, positive emotions such as happiness and is the combination of every element that exists on this planet.

Though she did not take part in the war of the 80’s, Mercedes closely collaborated with the Religiosas de la Asunción and the Maryknoll sisters, four Catholic missionaries who were murdered by the government during the conflict.

The sisters helped Mercedes and many others to prepare themselves to defend their lives and support the weakest, such as children, the elderly and women. They also taught them how to obtain medicines and clothes, etc. Mercedes’ mission was to support the displaced.

During those turbulent years, Death Squads set up by the repressive government persecuted her for being the coordinator of a group of more than 200 young Salvadorians who were aware of the situation and capable of reflecting.

Luckily they never found her but unfortunately her cousins did not enjoy the same luck. The army turned up at the house next door to Mercedes, found the cousins and executed them. She never found out how it was that they never found her but she attributes it to destiny and states, “Ultimately that was God’s choice”.

Mercedes’ dad is a Catechist who was one of the first people to be persecuted in his village by the government during the conflict. Due to this situation the entire family had to spend endless nights up in the mountains. That brought a lot of happiness to their lives; the connection with nature provided them with the strength to carry on and luckily that kept her dad protected from being assassinated.

The violence and all the negativity that was dragged along generated forces that made her stronger and more resilient, positive and optimistic as a woman as well as a human being. She adds, “through pain I could see hope”.

She is an arduous environmental defender and a tireless women’s rights activist. She is part of the committee of the citizens’ assembly and monitors the work carried out by the hospital to make the institution improve. Apart from those activities, she is a farmer and social worker and although she may not earn a living from some of these activities they provide her with happiness.

On a final note we touch on the violence that has been affecting Salvadorian society. Mercedes recognises that violence is structural and that it’s a consequence of injustice. She notes: “violence generates more violence in the end”.

She says that young people are victims of violence. Youngsters get together to find love and because they don’t find it, they try to get it by acting in bad ways.

She tells me something that stands out all of a sudden, that gangs do not exist in her community. This phenomenon which seems very peculiar is a result of the organisation that residents have set up within the village to defend the territory from malpractices. A key element that helps to explain this situation is that the community is comprised of people who were once displaced by the war so they have known how to contain the problem and fight so that gangs don’t infiltrate the area and at the same time gain the respect of the villagers.

When a young person has been detected acting strangely and they are suspected of being involved in gangs, the community immediately takes action by engaging in a chat with him or her.

The community has rigid rules that must be followed, such as:

No gangs are allowed in the territory, drunken people are not admitted, and when a resident sells his or her land it has to be to someone within the community and not to an outsider. In sum, ‘protectionism’ has been a key element to understand the positive functioning of the area, which is regarded as a model community for its peace and prosperity nationwide.

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