Human Rights Award: The Continued Fight to Save Valle del Ángel

The Rose Garden at the UCA - with memorial posters for 
the six Jesuit priests and two women who were murdered on
November 16, 1989. (photo taken in 2022)

Segundo Montes, S.J. was a physicist, philosopher, sociologist, theologian, humanitarian, teacher and Jesuit priest. His writings are extensive, and he is well remembered for his humanitarian work with internally displaced people and refugees during the 1980's civil war in El Salvador. It was during that time, that he founded the Human Rights Institute at the UCA (Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas). He, like several of his colleagues at the UCA , was originally from Spain. He followed his heart and his calling and became Salvadoran, teaching sociology and defending human rights. 

On November 16, 1989, Segundo Montes was murdered, along with Ignacio Ellacuría, Ignacio Martín-Baró, Juan Ramón Moreno, Joaquín López y López, and Amando López,  together with Elba Ramos and her 16 year-old daughter Celina Ramos, by a military death squad. The bodies Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter were discovered by Elba's husband (the gardener) who planted roses where his daughter, wife and the priests were murdered. The martyrs of the UCA  are honored and remembered each year during the week of November 16th with a vigil, a mass and other special events. 

Pilgrims gather before the vigil and the walk with farolitos (little lanterns)
(November 12, 2022)

The alfombras (carpets made of colored salt) 
33rd anniversary of the UCA martyrs (November 12, 2022)

For the last few years, the UCA planned to give out a new human rights award, named for Segundo Montes. Due to COVID, that plan was delayed. This year, the Segundo Montes Human Rights Award was given for the first time:  one award to an individual, and one award to an organization or group.

Translation:  Segundo Montes Human Rights Award
of the Central America University José Simeón Cañas (the UCA)
Tuesday, November 15th at 2:30 pm in the Segundo Montes Auditorium

Through the "Save the Valley of the Angel" network, we learned that the Colectivo Salvemos Valle de Ángel was nominated to receive the award for an organization's distinguished work in defense of human rights. As we have accompanied our friends, especially in the Salvadoran Lutheran Church and in Nejapa with this work, we asked if we could attend the ceremony, celebrate this achievement, and share the story with the solidarity community.

The purpose of the Segundo Montes Human Rights Award is to acknowledge the good works individuals and groups do and to encourage the building of networks and alliances in defense of human rights.  Father Andreu Oliva, Rector of the UCA, gave opening remarks in which he recalled historic advocates for the defense of human rights, including Father Rutilio Grande, Saint Oscar Romero and survivor of the massacre in El Mazote, Rufina Amaya. He postulated how wonderful it would be if we did not need to defend human rights, if El Salvador were a country where all of the people lived with dignity and freedom and their human rights were respected. Until that day, however, we need to stand up to the powers of oppression, and defend the rights of the people and the planet.

Representatives of the Save the Valley of the Angel Collective
applauded, held up signs and called out their slogans.

Get out, Oligarchs! Get out, Dueñas family!
(Signs defending the land and aquifer from wealthy developers)

After the nominees were announced, and the individual award given, the emcee announced the winner of the group award: Campaña Cuidadana Salvemos Valle El Angel (Citizen Campaign Save Valley of the Angel). The campaign against overdevelopment on the north side of the San Salvador volcano has been long and frustrating. The call to protect the Valley of the Angel grew out of work done by the Foro de Agua (Water Forum), a consortium of citizen and social groups, which worked tirelessly to get the Salvadoran legislature to pass a water protection law (finally passed in December 2021). For years the Foro de Agua has protested the depletion of the aquifer in Nejapa by businesses such as Coca Cola, and they are part of the movement (along with churches, community representatives, ecological organizations and human rights groups) calling for the government to protect the aquifer, the forest, the rivers, the soil and the agricultural land in the valley.

Road development to accommodate more traffic in the valley.
(November 2022)

"The violence of the state against nature is violence against women. 
Dueños get out of Valley of the Angel!
(Photo courtesy of Salvemos Valle del Ángel, September 2022)

The banner in this photo calls for the protection of the micro-aquifer
of the Chacalapa River (in Apopa) from contamination due to a mega-development
of a commercial center and housing units in Valle del Ángel.

(Photo courtesy of Salvemos Valle del Ángel, September 2022)

After announcing the winner of the award, the emcee asked 2 or 3 representatives from the Colectivo Salvemos Valle del Ángel to come to the stage.  The exuberance of the members in attendance could not be contained.  

A few members of the collective came up to the stage to accept the award

The video of the entire ceremony is posted on the UCA Facebook page.  Pastor Santiago was first to speak on behalf of the group, stating that the doing the work together as churches in coordination with citizen groups follows the footprints of Father Rutilio Grande. The right to water is a human right. Water is not a commodity. All who live in the cities, towns and farms on the north side of the San Salvador volcano have the right to safe, clean water.

The second speaker stated that the collective receives the award with love and gratitude, but more importantly, they receive it as a motivation to continue to fight for their rivers, their water. This is a fight by the people who live there. Her passionate fight against the wealthy landowners is the fight of grandmothers, mothers and children.

To be recognized for their consistent, faithful work is a well-deserved honor for the Collective to Save the Valley of the Angel. The group's response to receiving the award illustrates the power of community organizing, the power of human rights education, and the power of bringing different sectors of society together to make a difference for the common good. Congratulations. The fight continues.

Everyday people being recognized for their perseverance in their
fight to have access to water. 

Water protection march
(Photo courtesy of Salvemos Valle del Ángel, September 2022)


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