After 12 years of civil war and nearly two decades of neglect, war victims of El Salvador are demanding the government give them a pension on which to survive. A 1993 law created a pension program for the 40,000 people disabled by the war, but continual underfunding has left many people without coverage.
Associations of disabled people have urged the government to do more. The latest push for expanding benefits occurred on January 13, when members of the largest group representing war victims marched on the Legislative Assembly to demand payment of benefits withheld by previous administrations. Days before the march, other war victims’ groups occupied a church to get the government to listen to their demands.
The groups, composed of former guerrillas and members of the military, seek to resolve a regional problem created, in large part, by US intervention. Nicaragua and Guatemala, too, have large numbers of war victims.
Using my knowledge and experience in disability and antiwar organizing, I want to work with victims of war in Central America to build cross-border solidarity and to support their campaigns, particularly the fight for pensions. Please consider helping to fund my work. Find details below.
My work with veterans began in 2005, in my second year at Kent State University. At the beginning of the year, military recruiters, trying to make combat look fun, set up a rock-climbing wall students could use for free. David Airhart, an Iraq and Afghanistan vet against the wars, climbed the wall and hung a peace banner from it. For his actions, the university threatened to expel Dave.
The Kent State Anti-War Committee, which I had recently joined, subsequently launched the Hand Off Dave campaign. The campaign soon gained the support of Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky and other notable progressives. The campaign focused on advocacy and outreach to oppose the university’s attempt to limit free expression. Through this work, Dave and I developed a close friendship. Ultimately, the campaign was successful and Kent State dropped expulsion proceedings.
Following that victory, I spent three years working with Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), as well as other antiwar groups in Ohio. I participated in Know-Your-Rights training, targeted at enlistees who were having second thoughts. We provided information about their options.
In the past year, I have continued my work with IVAW and begun working with the Civilian-Soldier Alliance and Veterans For Peace in Portland, Ore. A large part of my work with veterans is helping to fund the GI coffeeshop in Fort Hood, Wash., which provides mental-health services and resources for resisting deployment. IVAW’s current campaign, Operation Recovery, focuses on preventing the redeployment of injured vets, estimated at 20 to 50 percent of those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I am also working with the Portland Central America Solidarity Committee. Having focused on Latin American politics at Kent State, the group fits with my academic interests. As a hub of activity in Portland, PCASC has given me more organizing experience among communities affected by militarism.
Why Central America? Why now?
Central America and Mexico in the past five years have seen a sharp rise in militarism and instability, as well as increased US aid and posturing in the region. Under the Merida Initiative, a counter-narcotics campaign which provides $1.6 billion in US military aid to Mexico and millions more to Central American countries, drug violence has swelled since 2006. Mexican drug gangs have extended their operations into Guatemala and Honduras.
After some vacillation over the Honduran coup that overthrew President Manuel Zelaya in 2008, the Obama administration is arguing the coup’s legitimacy to the international community. And last year, the US sought Costa Rican approval to station battleships along its long-peaceful shores.
With the militarism and instability, Central Americans are more likely to be victims of war, be it the drug war or state terror directed at opponents of the coup. A necessary step in creating peace in the region is bringing together victims of war in the US and victims of US-sponsored war in Central America.
Several benefits arise from international solidarity among victims of war:
- Groups of people affected by war can band together to share experiences and strategize next steps.
- US soldiers and military families who draw the connection between their struggles and those of Central Americans can better advocate for eliminating US military presence in the region.
- Bringing together war victims from North America and Latin America can serve as a bulwark against US foreign policy that favors the oligarchy over the will of the people.
To make a tax-deductible donation, please make the check to:
Education Without Borders
and mail to 2249 E. Burnside c/o Pcasc
Thank you for your support,