Making Their Voices Heard

Florence Larkin and Sara Torres

Prince Edward Island is best known for potatoes, sandy beaches and Anne of Green Gables. But it is much less known for the developments in international solidarity work that have taken place there in the past few years. A network of Islanders concerned about developments in Central America has grown through the early ’80s, and has, by now, achieved a profile in PEI that is the envy of similar groups in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

One of the most dynamic of these organizations is the Island Branch of Friends of AMES (Asocacion de Mujeres de El Salvador), the principal women’s association of El Salvador. Formed in March 1985, the Island Branch has seen a slow but steady increase in membership. Dedicated to making Islanders more aware of the political and economic situation in El Salvador, the Friends of AMES have developed an Education Program comprised of a short drama, a slide presentation, a map demonstration, pictures and a question and answer session. Many groups across the Island have viewed the Program and the Island Branch hopes to gain an even wider audience for it in the coming months.

Already this year the Island Branch has participated in two international campaigns. The first of these was the 1986 Children–to–Children’s Campaign. In a country where the death rate for those less than five years of age is 50%, primarily due to malnourishment and other preventable problems, the plight of children cries out for international action and attention. The Campaign was aimed at providing Salvadoran children in rural areas, and young refugees outside the country, with proper daycare, integrating child care, nutrition and education.

The Island Branch also participated in a second international campaign this spring. The Mothers’ Day Campaign, launched by Salvadoran women, aimed at having May 10 (Mothers’ Day in El Salvador) declared as a day of International Solidarity with Salvadoran women. Special emphasis was placed on the problems of mothers whose children have gone missing during the turmoil that has wracked the country over the past decade.

The international community was asked to support the campaign by sending telegrams, letters and petitions to El Salvador’s President, Napoleon Duarte, protesting the human rights violations, imprisonments, tortures, rapes and kidnappings that are ram–pant in the country; and to encourage him to re–open dialogue with the opposition FMLN/FDR, in the hope of bringing about a peaceful solution to the seven–year–old civil war.

Inside El Salvador, May 10 was marked by a large demonstration — 550 women, members of the Committee of Mothers and Relatives of the Assassinated, Disappeared and Political Prisoners, dressed in black for mourning, took over the main streets of the capital, San Salvador. Also marching were a number of women representing Friends of AMES in both Canada and the United States. A mass was held to honour the countless mothers killed by government troops, and a political–cultural rally was staged in a city park. During the march women’s activist Laura Pinto appeared, released only the day before the rally by the authorities after three days of torture and rape. The government had hoped, vainly, that her release would intimidate the women, and prevent the march itself.

Laura Pinto toured Canada in 1983, giving testimony to the fight for justice in El Salvador. To many Island women she is more than just a name and the brutal treatment she has received has had a large impact on them. Shortly after the May 10 march Pinto was again taken into custody and, to date, her whereabouts are still unknown. As the Island Branch’s contribution to the Mother’s Day Campaign, a petition signed by Islanders was sent to President Duarte, several women’s organizations sent letters of support to the Salvadoran women and money was raised to help pay for an advertisement, protesting government policies, that was placed in one of El Salvador’s largest newspapers. The Mothers’ Day Campaign seems to have had some effect. Their efforts, and those of other popular organizations in El Salvador, have pressured the government into dialogue: a series of negotiations is now taking place between government and opposition forces, following a 19–month hiatus that had. been brought about by the government side.

The Island Branch of Friends of AMES has more activities planned for the coming year. A Women–to–Women Outreach Program will be established to gather, distribute and share information about women in all developing countries. This program will be designed to establish links and common understanding between Island and Third World women.

As well, a Women’s Health Education Campaign will be sponsored in the fall. A program to educate women In El Salvador in basic health care and nutrition will be conducted. Internationally, and on the Island, funds will be raised to send health care items, which are prohibitively expensive in El Salvador, to Salvadoran women. Plans are also afoot in the Island Branch to sponsor a tour of a Canadian woman recently returned from a trip to El Salvador.

Women formed the Island Branch of Friends of AMES because of their belief in the popular struggles in El Salvador. They have made their voices heard. Theirs, and the voices of others in the region, can only hasten the day when dignity and peace will come to El Salvador.

Those interested in the activities of the Island Branch of Friends of AMES can write to them at 81 Prince Street, Charlottetown. PEI. CIA 4R3, or telephone (902) 492–3790.

Published in the Connexions Digest, Volume 11, Number 1, Spring (April) 1987



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