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[This article was writtin in September 1997. Marta has helped make progress on many of these issues, but more work remains to be done. We encourage you to donate at the address given below.]
Marta Benavides is a longtime friend of the extended Reclaiming Community. For many years, she has worked tirelessly among her people in El Salvador, living in small communities that exist on the edge of survival, attempting to teach the principles of ecology, permaculture, and sustainable ways of living to El Salvador's rural poor. Among people who go hungry while producing food for export, she has introduced home gardens and taught nutrition. To farmers dependent on high-priced, poisonous pesticides, she has taught the principles of organic agriculture. To communities whose ancient ties to the land have been shattered, she has brought pride in culture and connection to the sacred spirit of the earth. To those made hopeless by poverty and war, she has brought hope.
Now we have an opportunity to help support her work in a moment of crisis.
El Salvador is the most ecologically devastated country in Central America. For more than a decade, from 1980 -1992, a brutal civil war raged. The poor, the peasants, and remnants of the indigenous peoples wanted land, for their survival, for the future of their children, for the hope of preserving and reinvigorating their culture. The land of El Salvador has not been in the hands of the Salvadoran people since the advent of colonization five hundred years ago.
In 1992, peace negotiations sponsored and monitored by the United Nations brought the hope of land to the common people of El Salvador. In theory, the land was to be more fairly redistributed. In reality, land was bought from wealthy owners at high market prices--in some rural areas of El Salvador, land sells for $10,000 per acre in U.S. dollars! Farmers were offered thirty-year loans, but in order to afford land many people had to group together into co-operatives, often relocating into areas where they were not familiar with the soil, the climate, or the growing conditions. They were offered no technical or financial assistance to cultivate the land--only the opportunity to borrow yet more money at interest rates of 18% or more to pay for seeds, equipment and pesticides.
Elections are now approaching, and the National Legislative Assembly has recently passed a devastating new law. The law pretends to help farmers, offering a 30% reduction on loans to those who can pay in full by March or June of 1997. But those who cannot pay must shoulder the burden of much higher interest rates on the full amount of the loan--which will mean that many groups will lose their farms and homes.
Three co-operatives that Marta has worked with extensively are in danger of losing their lands if they cannot pay the loans and get the reductions. The Co-operativa Rural de Planta Nueva is a group of twenty-five families of the indigenous Lenca people who were resettled in the west from their traditional homes in the east. A second indigenous community in the east, Associacion Civil Lenca, also including about twenty-five families, includes traditional sacred caves, rare remains of El Salvador's ancient culture. on their threatened land. The third group, Hacienda Canada, is a peasant co-operative of about sixty extended families in the west of El Salvador. The peasant and indigenous groups in the west also sponsor a trade school, Mutualidad, in Acajutla, Sonsonate, that draws as well from other small rural and fishing villages. All of these groups participate in various levels in involving children, youth and adults in the sustainability process, in learning organic farming, preserving and using medicinal plants, conflict transformation, and projects in which children teach children.
We of the greater Reclaiming community believe in the importance of Marta's work, and many of us have pledged our spiritual, political and practical support. $40,000 is needed to save the land of these three groups. Many fundraising efforts are underway. We ask you to contribute as much as you can. Money raised through these efforts will go to pay the loans, to save the ancestral caves, to form a technical-trade school for the children of two of the collectives, to provide legal assistance for the people's groups, and permaculture support.
Your tax deductible contribution can be made to:
earmarked for the El Salvador Friendship Fund
P.O. Box 14404
S.F. CA 94114