Don't Touch the Idols

In the Bible it says: “Unless a grain of wheat falls upon the ground and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

In 1989, a death squad of the Salvadoran Armed Forces dragged six Jesuit priests out of their beds and splatted their brains on the ground at the University of Central America in San Salvador, El Salvador.  Two women, a mother and daughter, died with the priests so that there would be no witnesses to the horrendous crime.  The world was shocked.  The American Ambassador said he wasn’t sure if the forces of the left or the right were responsible for the deaths.  The international community demanded a full and independent investigation.  The Salvadoran government, stalled for time.  Finally, when the US Congress withheld 50% of military aid, the colonels ran out of time.

The Jesuits and their two women co-workers were the grains of wheat that fell upon the ground and died and bore fruit in the 1992 Peace Accords that ended a 12-year civil war.

Another grain of wheat has fallen upon the ground in Honduras in the person of Berta Caceres, an internationally known and feted champion for the poor, the indigenous and the environment.  Will her death bear fruit?  Will her death so shock the world that it will demand justice and safety for those who remain in fear of death?   That is the question before the United States today. What will the Obama Administration and the Congress do so that Berta Caceres’ death will not have been in vain?

Berta Caceres was murdered.  Why?  Because she touched the idol, the idol that is money and power and privilege.  This is not the first time and it won’t be the last that those who touched the idols have lost their lives.  In fact, it happens quite often.

Father Ignacio Ellacuria was an internationally known philosopher and rector of the Jesuit University in El Salvador commonly referred to as the UCA.  Berta Caceres won an important award for her work protecting the indigenous people and the environment of Honduras.  Ignacio Ellacuria spoke out for a negotiated settlement to the civil war in El Salvador.

Now, the wealthy and corrupt of Honduras didn’t much care about the indigenous concern for the damage of their land represented by the Agua Zarca dam project.   There was lots of money to be made and Berta and her people were getting in the way.  The same thing happened in El Salvador when Canadian mining interests wanted to extract the wealth of that tiny, poor and tragic land.  The people got in the way and so someone had to die because that is how it is when the big fish are ready to eat the little fish.

The worse thing an advocate for the poor or the environment can be is successful.  Perhaps the Bertas and Ellacurias should start to turn down awards.  When you shine an international light on the social sins in the Third World you become quite dangerous and you have to be struck down in dramatic fashion.

The poor, the campesinos in El Salvador and the indigenous people of Honduras are also dying but they die slowly.  No one notes their passing.  When the big fish are around they don’t even notice the minnows.

Members of Congress will circulate letters demanding an investigation.  The Administration will talk tough to the Honduran government.  Secretary of State John Kerry is in a good position to help because of his work on human rights in El Salvador.  But, will the US government take away the money?  Taking away the money was what brought the murderous Salvadoran high command to the table.  Why not try that again?

The Honduran government might note a bit of irony in all the demands for justice.  The powers in Honduras are used to getting their way with the United States.  After all, when these same people took an elected President from his bed and sent him in his pajamas to Costa Rica what did our government say?  For a few days we declared that it looked like a coup as did other countries throughout the region.  But, upon reflection we concluded that we could work with the new guys.  We might call it a hostile takeover.

Whatever you might say about the displaced President Zaleya he was in fact elected.  Free and fair elections came at a premium in places like Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.  In 1994, El Salvador held an election when the results were accepted by the losing side.  Amazing.  Democracy was something to hold on tight to in Central America.  The US of course was only in these countries to secure the success of democracy but when the going got tough, well it was only one election.  It is a messy business, democratic elections in Central America.  And those other new young democracies in Latin America?  Well it was only one country and they will get over it.  

There is nothing new under the sun.  You don’t have to go to Latin America.  Martin Luther King, Jr. touched the idol when he concluded that the right to sit at a lunch counter did not mean you had the money to buy a hamburger.  Bobby Kennedy asked what if God is black and then marched on the White House.   If only they had known that the world loves a noble failure but they insisted on winning.

So, Berta is dead and the money continues the flow.  Life goes on.  Don’t touch the idols.