Peacebuilding in El Salvador

Richard Salem

Former CRS Mediator, Chicago Office; Private Mediator; President of Conflict Management Initiatives

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

A: Patience. Patience, patience, patience. As I said, I've given you in terms of the sequence it would take between first meeting and people doing things. People will do everything to avoid taking on something that is uncomfortable and even dangerous. Getting people to move is just extraordinarily difficult because it often is a huge risk to their own identity, their sense of who they are, their sense their simplicities, of the good and the bad, and indeed in terms of their own lives. It can take an extraordinary amount of patience.

I mean, I'll tell the story another day of going downtown.

My office was in the center of Belfast and there was a main strip and we were just sort of down a side street off the main strip. On the main strip, the bombs went off so often that we were often used as sort of a secondary shelter for people. If peoples' offices had been blown up they'd come around to us to recover, and pick themselves up if they hadn't gone to the hospital to wipe themselves down or whatever. I remember going down one morning to the center of town, it was only about a five minute walk away, and just as I got to the center a shot rang out and a young man fell just a few yards away from me. Gradually the story came through that he was a part-time policeman who had just been shot by the provisional IRA. We left him there and the ambulance came or whatever, and then I was just walking back the same way past the city hall, and a bomb went off just as a passed it. The loyalists had tried to blow up the office of the republicans. I went back to the office and you would think a morning like that hope would be gone. But two or three things had happened where for the first time one of the churches had agreed to do something or other. For the first time community workers had agreed to cross a divide in a particular area. There were three small things that happened, and I suppose what you learn is that it is only today that dreadful things are happening. These may seem small, but the fact that they will over time develop is important, and indeed they all have.

From all of these there are major initiatives, like churches running major programs on anti-sectarianism, like community workers who've gone into politics with a cross over. So, there's a sense of perspective that even in the smallest hopes and beginnings there are possibilities, but you do need that time frame. You do need to have that time frame because of how difficult it is for people to move and for things to shift. So I suppose the first thing is patience and the second thing is hope.