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El Salvador's Humanity and Dignity
by Congressman Joe Moakley

ENEMIES OF WAR brings back some incredible memories for me, as well as re-stirring difficult thoughts of the cruel treatment of the innocent people of El Salvador. I'm reminded of the sacrifices made by El Salvador, a tiny country the size of Massachusetts, which lost 70,000 non-combatants to brutal violence in the war. I'll never forget times like the day I heard four American churchwomen were murdered, or the day I learned of the massacre of 900 civilians at El Mozote. And I am constantly reminded of the fact that the United States shares in some responsibility for these regrettable times. El Salvador was the recipient of $6 billion in military aid from the United States in the 1980s - the second largest recipient of U.S. military aid next to Israel.

priests giving service
Father IgnacIo MartIn Baro (one of the Jesuits murdered in1989) presiding at mass in El Salvador's countryside
Courtesy U.S.-El Salvador Sister Cities
Among these memories are my thoughts of the slain Jesuits. The senseless Jesuit murders of 1989 is an event that literally changed the war in El Salvador, and likewise changed my life forever. For my entire public life, over some 40 years, I have remained what people call a "bread and butter" politician. Taking care of the everyday local problems of my constituents in the greater Boston area is what has always been important to me. Tracking down people's social security checks, working for better health care for everyone, helping those less fortunate to have adequate housing, cleaning up our environment, and working to create jobs are the reasons I've stayed in public life.

However, despite my inclinations to work on local problems, no other event has affected my life as the Jesuit murders have. I believe the investigation of that horrible event, and subsequent efforts of my colleagues and I to end the war, is the greatest cause I have ever been involved in. Stopping the endless killing and working to return a sense of humanity to Salvadorans - those are the accomplishments that hold the greatest meaning in my heart.

drawing
Child's drawing, Los Amates
Courtesy U.S.-El Salvador Sister Cities
During my travels to El Salvador, I met and worked with some of the most inspiring and intelligent people I will ever know. The brave Jesuits, who despite the brutal execution of their brothers continued their work on behalf of peace and justice, will remain in my heart forever. I am never happier than when I have returned to their residence to sing, laugh and tell stories with my Jesuit friends. And I will never forget the brave and kind Salvadoran people. Despite their poverty, despite the country's unrest, despite the fact that they didn't know if they would live to see another day, the Salvadoran people persevered. The Salvadoran people have taught me so much, on a variety of topics. However, more than anything, they've taught me about human decency, dignity and kindness. I am amazed, every time I think of the Salvadoran people, of how hard they have worked for a better life for everyone. It gives me strength to continue working to do the same.

Massachusetts' 9th District Congressman Joe Moakley led a task force to investigate the deaths of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador. Moakley's investigation began an international process that led to the end of the civil war and the beginning of a profound change for the country. Joe Moakley died of leukemia in May 2001. Kwame Holman of PBS' "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" reports on Moakley's life and work.

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