The Brutality of El Salvador's 'Democracy'

Daniel Sanchez, a Spanish priest now serving in El Salvador, in many ways embodies the spirit of the Salvadoran people. Like his adopted country, he appears small and frail at first glance. But a closer look reveals an immeasurable faith in God and an insatiable hunger for peace in that blood-stained country. Called "the atomic flea" by some for his undying energy, Fr. Daniel has spent the last five years turning a garbage dump in the capital city of San Salvador into a thriving faith community made up mostly of poor Salvadorans displaced by the war.

Father Daniel has been targeted before for his work with the poor and displaced in El Salvador. His "subversive" activities have included helping to build a day care center, a health clinic, sewage facilities, and homes for those in his parish community -- Mary Mother of the Poor. He's even received death threats. But when Sanchez was accused in April by the new vice president of the country, Francisco Merino, of participating in a bombing attack on his home, it was a disturbing signal of things to come.

The Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), the party of the oligarchy and death squads, is now firmly in power after winning the March 19 presidential election. And the officially sanctioned intimidation and repression against the church and humanitarian organizations are already on the rise.

Tutela Legal, the internationally respected human rights office of the Catholic Church, was recently accused by the Salvadoran Armed Forces of a smear campaign against the military and ARENA. Tutela Legal has documented the rise in death squad activity in recent months and had recently condemned the Salvadoran military for a massacre at a rebel field hospital and for killing three journalists who were covering the March 19 election.

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