wrholt (wrholt) wrote,

The passing of an uncelebated hero

My mother called me this morning with the sad news that her friend Amparo Palacios died yesterday after years of declining health.

Mom introduced me to Amparo nearly 20 years ago while I was visiting Mom in Washington, DC. They had first met a few months earlier when Amparo found her way to Mom's church community shortly after she arrived in Washington in 1988 from her home in San Salvador. Her husband, Edgar, stayed home in San Salvador to care for their 3 children and to continue his work as the pastor of a Baptist congregation and as the director of El Comité Nacional para la Paz (the National Committee for Peace), a Salvadoran grass-roots NGO that was working to end the civil war. Amparo came to Washington to manage the day-to-day work of lobbying the US Congress and other government officials on behalf of the Committee. She spent the majority of her time in the US for the next several years, until after the peace accords were signed in 1992.

Those years were difficult ones for the Palacios family; death threats from both the government and FMLN, the kidnappings and killings of some of their colleagues and fellow peace activists, the kidnapping and severe beating of their son, Edgar Junior, and sending Edgar Junior away to live with Amparo's family in Monterrey, Mexico, and multiple visits from Salvadoran troops to "search" their home.

On two occasions I accompanied my mother and other friends of hers on 2 different 1-week trips to El Salvador to visit the Palacios family and to learn more about the situation there, and also to help celebrate the high school graduations of their daughters Amparito and Xochitl (SO-chee-tul).

We made our first trip in October 1991, about 18 months before the peace accords were signed. We took rooms at a chain motel in San Salvador (Hotel Siesta), and we spent the week attending Amparito's graduation celebrations and making day trips to different places in the capital and around the country; we visited some tourist spots and met with different groups of local peace activists. The signs of the war were everywhere, even though we deliberately avoided going to any conflict areas. I saw:

-Armed soldiers stationed 24-hours a day in front of our hotel, in front of every public building, at every bridge or overpass, and at major intersections.
-Scheduled daily power outages of several hours duration every day rotating throughout the country.
-Rifle, shell, and bomb damage everywhere; damaged walls, boarded-up windows, temporary wooden bridges over rivers next to the twisted metal beams the bombed-out originals.
-Random stops and searchs by soldiers (I was stopped and searched on two separate occasions).
-No screens on the hotel's windows, and the only television was in the lobby.
-Helicopters coming and going at any and all hours from the military base next door to the hotel.

We made our second visit in October 1993, about 6 months after the peace accords were signed. We took rooms at the same hotel. In addition to attending Xochitl's graduation celebrations, we toured many places in San Salvador and around the country, visiting some of the same places and meeting some of the same people as on our first trip, and also visiting some new places and meeting some new people. The signs of war were still visible, but many things had changed since the signing of the accords:

-Very little military presence on the streets and roads, and no random stops and searches.
-Electricity was supplied 24 hours a day.
-War damage was being repaired everywhere.
-The hotel had screens in all of the windows, and televisions installed in every room.

The peace was not an easy peace for at least the next few years after the accords were signed; Edgar continued to work for Salvadoran NGO's that worked to reduce government corruption and bring perpetrators of atrocities to account, and he continued to be harrassed and to receive death threats. By the late 1990's Edgar and Amparo no longer had the physical and emotional strength to continue that work, and they moved to Washington, DC when Calvary Baptist Church offered Edgar a position as an associate pastor ministering to the local Latino community. Their children live in different countries: Edgar Junior and his family live in Mexico; Amparito and her family live in Santiago, Chile; and Xochitl and her family live in the family home in San Salvador.
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