Unpacking

 Me with a tree in chalatenango, el salvador

Me with a tree in chalatenango, el salvador

After a couple months in El Salvador and backpacking in Guatemala, my return to Canada was a huge culture shock… more of a shock than my first few days abroad. Everything seemed extravagant when I returned, like seat-belts (chicken buses don’t have seat-belts; nor do the back of the pickup trucks we’d hitch rides on).

I know Canada gives me so much that I take for granted. But what is harder to cope with is my realization that my life here does directly impact the lives of those I met on my travels. It is because of the wealth and luxury of where I come from that they are deadlocked in a struggle for the right to their own resources. That violence still exists because of the interests of our corporations. That greed, money, and power do have direct consequences for many.

Although I was vaguely aware of this, I now carry stories with me of people who have suffered and fought because of these injustices. I can’t reverse that. On a social level, Peggy McIntosh says we must unpack our “invisible knapsacks” to understand our privileges and how we benefit from them. If we are so lucky to not need to be aware of a reality for our survival, that is considered a privilege. The saying “ignorance is bliss” takes on a whole new level of meaning.

While traveling, I met with some of the staff working at Radio Victoria in Victoria, Cabañas, El Salvador. They told us about some of the death threats they’ve received because of their mission to report truths on mining from neighbouring countries. The National Round-Table Against Metallic Mining has also had to deal with these threats. Some of them have abandoned their families for this work, as they do not want to put their partners or children in danger. Some of their co-workers have already been assassinated, or come home to find animals killed on their front stoop. One employee was sent abroad for her safety. One man, Hector, told us how his brother was kidnapped and found dead in a well. He described the evidence of torture they found on his body. And rather than be scared, Hector is more involved than ever in the fight to stop mining.

If mining is allowed in the country, the pollution of water would be devastating for locals. Many would be displaced, again, for open-pit mining sites. And if the economic model follows that of neighbouring countries with mining, no more than 2% of profit made off this sector would stay in the country… the rest would come to us. Many El Salvadorians would not be trained to work these mining sites. In Guatemala and Honduras, many foreigners are brought in to work the sites. Once a site has had its resource drained, the corporation moves on to the next site, leaving a giant pit and environmental destruction in its wake. 

Now that I am back, I continue to celebrate the small wins El Salvador has made against OceanaGold. I have worked to educate myself about others on the issues they are facing, while sharing my experience in my travels. This blog is a new way for me to share with you what I have witnessed. I experience weltschmerz, or world pain, now my eyes have been opened to these realities. I actively practice hope and self-care to keep from dwelling on what I sometimes think is a hopeless expectation for a better world.

I thank you for letting me share all this with you. I hope this is only the beginning of a journey towards a more informed world, where social injustices and realities created by current paradigms are rendered visible to all, even those benefiting from exploitation. This is the first step to understanding. And if, like me, you follow global affairs and experience weltschmerz from the things you learn, I have one last resource to share with you.

When things are especially difficult, I find the words of Dr. Cornel West especially helpful. His lens comes from a Christian reality, but his perspective speaks truth to all. 

Life is especially complicated in a globalized world. But West presents a solution that is relatively simple—to live lives of truth and justice, we must learn first how we want to die. He believes there is no power greater than love. With a foundation of love and caring for fellow human beings, we will work to be more aware and cause less harm in our approach to life.

 Sunset over antigua, guatemala

Sunset over antigua, guatemala


Monique Veselovsky

Monique Veselovsky has always loved the art of the story.  As an advocate for social justice, she understands the power of storytelling in overcoming difference.  Her greatest desire is to create dialogue and share knowledge, for there is no greater story than someone’s lived experience.  

She hopes to tell her story here.  

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Understanding and Strength

When I remember my time in El Salvador, one community particularly stands out: the community of San Jose Las Flores of Chalatenango. We got to spend a whole evening with the community's council in a meeting after supper, along with visiting their school (that teaches popular education curriculum), an eco-tourist site, the hospital, and a nearby massacre site from the war. Many of the council members had been active in the resistance against the military. Maria, one of the women on the council, had eight children while she was fighting, all of whom she took care of in the 'jungle' (it was more like a forest, but with giant tarantulas) where guerrilla resistors were in hiding. Her children grew up living amongst the damp trees, sometimes sleeping in moss, always afraid the army would come and burn their forest down (this was a tactic the military used to scare those in hiding out of the woods – there are still hillsides charred with the remains of burned woods today). She was so strong, and at one point, she turned to me and smiled, squeezing my shoulder. This was the most humbling moment of my trip – that this woman, who had endured so much, was so open to share her story with a group of privileged Canadians, who indirectly benefited from mining (our mining corporations invest in Canadian pension plans, something I wasn't aware of but many El Salvadorians knew) that destroys communities just like hers in neighbouring countries.

The people of this community also described to us how, once they were re-located to this area from refugee camps during the war, the first thing they did was plant trees. Their town is full of hills, and the trees are essential to prevent soil erosion. “We do not need to have laws to tell the people not to cut the trees,” one man said. “The trees are important for us to grow food, so we know it is a universal rule not to cut the trees.” 

San Jose Las Flores also sits on top of precious metals that Canadian and Australian mining corporations want. This community is extremely active in the fight against mining. “We picked up guns for this land once, and we will do it again,” one community leader said when he met with a mining representative. The thing is, if the corporation manages to get just one individual to sell them a piece of the land, then the company's rights are immediately established within the community. Corporate rights of multinationals often trump the laws of a community once they are 'active participants' of the local economy. So, just like with the trees, the community is consensus not to sell to OceanaGold (or anyone else), otherwise the entire community will be at the mercy of the corporation.

 A mural depicting the importance of women in the economy. Many of the local businesses are run by a women's cooperative in San Jose Las Flores, including the chicken coop and la cantina.

A mural depicting the importance of women in the economy. Many of the local businesses are run by a women's cooperative in San Jose Las Flores, including the chicken coop and la cantina.

The strength of these people, living in a region that was essential to strategic planning in the resistance of the 1980s, is unlike anything I can describe. I apologize to you, my reader, and hope that this introduction to San Jose Las Flores has opened your hearts even a little bit to the experiences of those battling our corporate interests. 

Since I've been back, San Jose Las Flores has proven its strength by becoming the first mining-free territory in El Salvador. This has led to other municipalities in Chalatenango voting to ban mining as well. The hope is to have the entire province ban mining through the community consultation vote.


MONIQUE VESELOVSKY

Monique Veselovsky has always loved the art of the story.  As an advocate for social justice, she understands the power of storytelling in overcoming difference.  Her greatest desire is to create dialogue and share knowledge, for there is no greater story than someone’s lived experience.  

She hopes to tell her story here.  

Join her on:

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Spirit of Resistance

 My university roommate and me leaving for pearson airport, where we will board a flight to san salvador, el salvador.

My university roommate and me leaving for pearson airport, where we will board a flight to san salvador, el salvador.

The sights, the smells, the traffic… everything was different in El Salvador. The heat, at first, was almost suffocating. And in the middle of the city, which consisted of a series of roundabouts clogged with traffic, we’d see people hanging out of their door-less vehicles, yelling at each other, honking and swearing; "squeegee kids" approaching our bus when it was stopped in traffic or at a red light, cleaning our windows and reaching out for change; young men and women  trying to sell us anything from coconut water to sunglasses; and everyone was speaking Spanish. It didn’t matter that I had a basic understanding of the language. Everyone spoke so quickly that I could only pick up a word here and there.

Although our schedule was jam-packed, going to talks and meetings in five different regions within the country, our headquarters was Hotelito Casa de la Amistad in San Salvador. We traveled with Miguel, our guide/drill sergeant, and Oswaldo, our driver. Miguel was a father of three boys, and a loving partner. We became good friends during this trip, and he eventually invited me to sit in the front of the bus with him and Oswaldo. Every morning I would share a stick of gum between the three of us. Miguel and I would laugh at Oswaldo, who would slowly break off the tiniest piece of gum, chew it, and swallow before breaking off another tiny piece. He could make that piece of gum last a 2-hour journey.

 "communities in resistance against neoliberal politics" -- mural promoting various cripdes programs within the chalatenango region of el salvador.

"communities in resistance against neoliberal politics" -- mural promoting various cripdes programs within the chalatenango region of el salvador.

It was during these long drives that I would learn about Miguel’s personnal experience during the twelve-year war. Like many, Miguel joined the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (or FMLN), the insurgent group to the oppressive regime, in the resistance against the country’s government. After the war, Miguel began working for CORDES, a grassroots NGO that continues to achieve transitional justice for the people of El Salvador. CRIPDES, the regional version of the umbrella organization, distributes funding from CORDES within communities through a micro-loan program, while also running CORDES programs for youth, keeping them out of gangs, as well as education programs about various issues, such as the environment, and violence towards women.

Although these organizations were working to rebuild peace and heal a population – so many civilians were killed by the military that everyone had at least one relative that had gone missing or been murdered – a new threat grew in the years after the peace accords were signed. Various mining corporations, including Canada's Pacific Rim (now OceanaGold), moved in and were granted exploration rights to the land. 

Luckily for El Salvador, their neighbours in Guatemala and Honduras had already experienced the devastating effects of foreign mining. El Salvadorians were able to educate themselves based on the experience of the countries around them, and have been resisting mining in their country ever since.


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Monique Veselovsky

Monique Veselovsky has always loved the art of the story.  As an advocate for social justice, she understands the power of storytelling in overcoming difference.  Her greatest desire is to create dialogue and share knowledge, for there is no greater story than someone’s lived experience.  

She hopes to tell her story here.  

Join her on:

Instagram
Twitter

Eyes Unveiled

What if I were to tell you that, from 1980 to 1992, the U.S. backed a war that killed 75,000 people, 97 percent of them civilians, and left 96 percent of families living below the poverty line? 

What if I were to tell you the U.S. invested over $6 billion in this war, money used to buy weapons and train a military that killed innocents, massacred villages, and displaced a population?

What if I were to tell you the U.S. also trained, on their soil, assassins who killed religious leaders seeking social justice for their people?

This might seem hard to believe, so I’ll start from the beginning.

I began my postgraduate life as a student of English Literature.  I had a passion for reading, for characters—I loved how you could get into somebody else’s head—and how these characters could transform your perspective.  The characters of my books taught me to stop, to think, to be patient, and to know that there is always a motivation behind someone’s actions.  You never know what secrets can be revealed if you just listen to somebody else’s voice.

Though I loved my program, I was drawn to another, the Social Justice and Peace Studies program—referred to as SJPS—that was uniquely taught at my school.  I wanted to challenge myself, to learn something new, which was why I enrolled in SJPS’s introductory class.  And this class was like an addiction: I began learning how the world worked, and I just couldn’t stop.

I decided to pair my English major with a major in SJPS.  This has been both the best, and the worst, decision I have ever made. 

 Coffee cups collected in a garbage audit at the university library. part of a photo series i did for a visual essay on waste and the environment in my introduction to social justice issues.

Coffee cups collected in a garbage audit at the university library. part of a photo series i did for a visual essay on waste and the environment in my introduction to social justice issues.

You see, growing up as a middle class, first generation Canadian, living a life full of privilege and free of worry, things were pretty good.  My reality was presented to me like a beautiful tapestry, an intricately woven pattern of coloured thread.  SJPS introduced me to the first loose thread in this tapestry, and encouraged me to pull.  And as I pulled this one loose thread, slowly the entire tapestry began unravelling, destroying my reality and revealing what was behind. 

While in my third year of studies, I was presented with the opportunity to travel to El Salvador with 11 other students.  The trip was being led by a law student, Selvin, himself a graduate of the SJPS program and a native of El Salvador.  I had learnt about Canadian mining issues in Central America, so I knew this trip was important.  What I didn’t realize was the transformative impact it would have on me.  I would hear stories and listen to voices that provided insight into the theory I had learned, and make the issues I’d read about in the classroom all too real.  


Monique Veselovsky

Monique Veselovsky has always loved the art of the story.  As an advocate for social justice, she understands the power of storytelling in overcoming difference.  Her greatest desire is to create dialogue and share knowledge, for there is no greater story than someone’s lived experience.  

She hopes to tell her story here.  

Join her on:

- Instagram
Twitter