Voice of the Voiceless

As told by his daughter

There is a temporary lull in our conversation when I sneak in a question to our friend, “Was your dad in the war?”

Little did I know that this simple question, a typical one we ask nearly everyone we interview because there is virtually no family in El Salvador who is exempt from having a family member involved in their recent civil war, would begin another hour and a half’s worth of story about her beloved father.   He is a local hero who an article I read after returning refer to him as “the Lone Ranger mayor of El Salvador.”

Because I don’t actually have his permission to use his name, I will not do so, but I guarantee that all the information is true.  I have verified it in numerous sources.

My dad was not a fighter in the war, but he had an encounter in the war.  We lived in San Salvador where the military had a 10 PM curfew. Our family was driving home just after that time from my grandmother’s house just 100 meters from home with my eight-month old brother in the backseat beside me.  He was crying and our mom reached back to pull him into the front seat with her to comfort him when the gunfire began.  It hit the front passenger side of our car.  My mom’s leg was badly hit and my baby brother’s abdomen was damaged.  My dad and I were okay.  Dad stopped the car and yelled to the military that he had kids in the car and there were severe injuries.  The military claimed they thought we were FMLN because we drove a red car.  They sent a taxi with white lights flashing which took all of us to the hospital.

My mom lost a great deal of blood and she was fearful of losing her leg.  Before she was taken to surgery a very old man with white hair and a long white beard came to her calmly reassuring her, “I am in charge of the surgery and you will not lose your leg; it will be fine.”  When she awoke after the surgery, she checked to find her leg was still intact.  Several surgeons came to check on her and she kept asking to talk to the chief surgeon describing him to them.  There was no one on their team that fit that description.  She believed it was God. 

My brother also survived and needed to have several surgeries as he grew physically.  I was only four years old and have no memory of that event. 

Our family had no medical insurance to cover the hospital or doctor expenses and my dad kept requesting help from the military.  They only responded with threats and intimidation to our whole family’s safety. Dad would not stop making requests. Finally, one day he received a phone call, “We are across the street from your daughter’s kindergarten.  She is coming out of school right now.”  My dad jumped into his car and drove at lightning speed to my school, and pulled me out of class for a year fearing for my safety.

Dad always had a heart for the poor.  When we would go to the beach on weekends to camp in tents, we took along piñatas filled with candy and invited the local children to join us in games.  Later we asked my dad if he would build us a beach house, but not in this location because it was always full of mosquitoes. Dad loved the tranquil location and told us “If you want a beach house, it must be here or there will be no beach house at all.”

A community home in the poor community

As we got to know the local children, we also got to know the local families who would approach my dad with requests of things they needed.  Over the years he built a school, put in electricity, and public water for the entire community in order to help larger groups of people.

The community then asked if he would consider running for their mayor.  This was a three-year commitment and he was a businessman and wasn’t sure he could do this.  Eventually he agreed to run when some of the people told him, “You can serve as the voice for the voiceless.”  Again, he saw this as a way to represent a larger group of folks. 

During this time his only granddaughter developed a life-threatening cancer diagnosed on her second birthday.  He is extremely attached to this little girl and wanted to drop out of the mayoral race in order to be available to her and his daughter for their needs. 

Grandpa and Granddaughter are inseparable

He apparently had a little chat with God; perhaps a bargain was made.  We aren’t  sure but the suspicion is that if the beloved granddaughter would improve, he would agree to devote his life to serving the poor of the community.  Also his wife and daughter felt he should stay on course with his plans.  They felt this would be best for him and be a diversion to keep him from going into a depression.  He agreed to stay in the mayoral race and won the election.

The now five- year old granddaughter continues to be in remission with yearly MRI checks at the hospital.  He is running for a second 3-year term for mayor this March.

A now healthy granddaughter

One of the recent fights he has been faced with goes back to a 1984 local chemical company that went bankrupt abandoning huge amounts of agricultural chemical waste on its property. The locals first noticed “no birds.” Then they began developing kidney disease and dying.  At least 54 deaths are attributed to the toxins that have leaked into the soil and water supply.  The specific toxins are related to Agent Orange the U.S. used in Viet Nam and have shipped to places like El Salvador to increase their sugarcane production. They include toxaphene, sponto, and parathion.  Barrels were even exploding!

Distant sugar cane fires with chemicals are deadly for workers

When this mayor contacted the government for help, he got no response over and over again.  He decided to get the media involved by staging several protest marches on the main road to the airport and inviting all the media he could.  Not only local media came, but CNN did stories on this situation which by now had been going on for two years.

BINGO!  Now all of a sudden there was intervention and the property was cleaned up as barrels of toxic waste were on a freighter headed to Poland.  Poland was to receive a hefty price for this when all of a sudden the locals in the small coal mining town got wind of it and wanted no part of this stuff coming their way and put a halt to it.  One report is that Poland claimed they did not have the ability to neutralize the stuff.

No one seems to know where the freighter ended up, or what the status of this toxic mess is.

Meanwhile, the concerned mayor is doing his best to promote alternatives to working in the sugarcane industry for the people of this community.

Sugar cane remains a large industry in this poor country

He is indeed the “voice for the voiceless.”

The poor need to have a strong advocate


    Afflicted with Hope / embracingelsalvador.org is one of many outreach ministries at
    Saint Stephen Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA)
    30 West Main Street, PO Box 266
    New Kingstown, PA 17072

    Tax deductible donations for support of this work in El Salvador may be sent to the above address.