In a remarkable statement the president of El Salvador has apologized for human rights abuses committed by the state during country’s 12-year civil war. He said the right-wing authorities who governed the country at the time had committed grave human rights abuses. … Today I reaffirm my preferential option for the poor, as taught by our bishop-martyr and spiritual guide of the nation, Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero … (and award) the highest honor in El Salvador to the Jesuit priests who were assassinated in 1989..

January 16, 2010

In the first place I want to take a moment to send a message of solidarity and accompaniment to the government and the people of Haiti. This government wishes to collaborate in some small way and so we are immediately sending a group of firefighters to help in the search and rescue of victims. These will soon be joined by members of the Armed Forces and the National Police. We will be sending food and medicine to help alleviate the tragedy that our brothers and sisters in Haiti confront.

On this 18th anniversary of the signing of the peace agreements we participate in this celebration as an act of remembrance of historical transcendence. Thus, it is an honor for me to preside over this ceremony and to know that I am accompanied by the highest authorities of our country, by members of the diplomatic corps, representatives of international organizations, legitimate representatives of the people, mayors, senators, business and union representatives. I express my thanks to all of you this morning.

I also thank the thousands of Salvadorians who in your homes accompany us through the means of communication. I am especially grateful to all of those who, directly or indirectly, suffered the consequences of the armed conflict that was concluded precisely as a result of the peace agreement which we remember today … those who took part in these negotiations are here with me.

When the majority of the people of El Salvador voted for this servant to become the President of the Republic, you did not only give me your support but you also gave me a mandate to walk the path of change. You did not want me to walk the path of confrontation and struggle, the path of violent transformation and even less the path of deepening antagonisms between sisters and brothers.

The people of El Salvador requested that we no longer walk on the path of inequality and injustice and poverty. The people wanted to look at the reality of their situation, the past and the present, but especially the future in order to begin a journey of unity and progress for all, in order to bring about a reconciliation that cannot be achieved by denying history but can only come about through the truth and justice.

….I believe that this celebration today is a reflection of the desire of the people of El Salvador to recover the importance of January 16th, to see this date as key in order to clothe ourselves in the spirit of these agreements that are constituted as the greatest social contract with the history of El Salvador.
Truth and justice as the foundation of reconciliation oblige us to recognize the decisive advances that the peace agreement has had on the pacification and the democratization of the political life our country. These agreements lead us to admit the unpaid debts that constitute an obstacle to the unity and fraternity of the people of El Salvador.

My intention this morning is to read an important page of our recent past in order to move toward a future in which wounds are healed as the past is resolved, to move toward a future in peace which supposes leaving behind a painful and tragic phase of our history.

The message that I want to communicate today is part of the State’s debt which we accepted eighteen years ago, a debt to all the citizens of this nation and it is my responsibility at this time as the highest representative of the state to recognize that we have this debt and to begin to pay this debt off.

In light of a conscious, equable and responsible reading of the letter and the spirit of those agreements, I have made a resolution that I want to communicate and that I grant has true historical transcendent significance.

As head of the executive branch of the nation and in the name of the State of El Salvador I want to speak about the armed internal conflict that concluded in 1992. I recognize that people who were members of state agencies, including members of the Armed Forces and the Security Forces, committed grave violations of human rights and abuses of power. They engaged in the illegitimate use of violence, broke the constitutional order and violated basic norms of civil society. Among the crimes they committed we mention here massacres, arbitrary executions, forced disappearances, torture, sexual abuse, arbitrary depravation of freedom, different acts of repression. All of these actions, in their great majority, were taken against people who were unable to defend themselves and people who had nothing to do with the conflict.

I publicly recognize the responsibility of the state in all these events, the actions that were taken and the actions that could have been taken but were not taken in order to resolve these situations. The State has an obligation to protect its citizens and to guarantee them that their human rights will be respected.
In the name of the State of El Salvador, I ask forgiveness for all that I have just spoken about.

I ask forgiveness of the children. In the name of El Salvador I ask forgiveness of the boys and girls, young people, women and men, older women and men, women and men religious, campesinos, workers, students, intellectuals, opposing politicians, activists for the cause of human rights.
I ask forgiveness of those who have been unable to end their mourning because they do not know the whereabouts of their loved ones.
I ask forgiveness of the martyrs who with their lives defended peace and yet have never seen any recognition for their sacrifice.
I ask forgiveness of mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters.
I ask forgive of each of every one of those affected and their families, all those who for years have carried the drama in their hearts without any assistance for our institutions.

Some of these victims have appeared before International Tribunal which recognized their right to forgiveness. To them I also address my petition. To all of you I give my highest respect.

May this request for forgiveness dignify the victims, may it help alleviate their pain and contribute to the healing of their wounds and the wounds of all the people of El Salvador. May this gesture contribute to the strengthening of peace and seal our national unity and build a future based on hope.

On January 16, 1992, El Salvador signed a peace agreement and committed itself to say “never again” to many things: never again to violations of human rights, never again to the use of violence, never again to the abuse of institutions, never again to repression in order to silence ideas.

Today we add another “never again” to this list: never again will we turn our backs on victims, never again will we deny their reality.

This request for forgiveness which we have formulated today leads us as of this moment to assume a strategic objective as a result of this governmental gesture, namely, giving dignity to the victims of all these situations without which this act would have no meaning and would only lead to greater frustration.

In order to make this objective concrete I have decided to create a commission that will have as its only purpose: to propose to the President moral and symbolic and material means of reparation. The financial possibilities of the State must be taken into consideration but at the same time I am asking this commission to offer a time frame for all of this. This Commission will be composed of representatives from the National Defense Ministry, the Foreign Relations Ministry, Ministry of Heath, Ministry of Housing, and the Secretariat Social Inclusion. The Procurator for the Defense of Human Rights will be invited to act as an observer and will have the status of consultor.

The process of giving dignity to victims has begun in this new El Salvador and today it receives its greatest and most decisive expression. This government has mapped out a new vision for governing the country. In recovering the spirit of the agenda of democratization and human rights of the peace agreement we also establish an Economic and Social Council which is in the spirit of the Economic and Social Forum contained in the agreements.

Within our institutions we have entered into dialogue with the organizations who defend the rights of victims and achieved some important agreements with them.
On November 18, 2009 the President of the Republic presented the Order José Matías Delgado, (the highest honor in El Salvador) to the Jesuit priests who were assassinated in 1989. You will remember that it was right that this ceremony should have taken place in the Presidential House, in the Room of Honor, and so on November 16th (the same day that the Jesuits and two of their collaborators were assassinated) I had the honor of presenting this award to their families and friends.

I also want to announce today that once these ceremonies are concluded I will sign a decree creating a National Commission that will search for children who have disappeared. This Commission will meet the required standards of the International Court of Human Rights. This is not only a symbolic act but it is an executive action taken on behalf of a one specific group of victims who were defended for many years by our now deceased brother, Jon Cortina. Today we honor him and we express our gratitude to him.

The Executive Branch commits itself to actively collaborate with national and international competent authorities that investigate cases where human rights have been violated. It is the obligation of the State to do this and this President will not avoid this responsibility.

Ladies and Gentlemen: another chapter of the peace agreements which the State of El Salvador agreed to but has not fulfilled is its obligation to guarantee the rights and demands of those wounded during the war. Thus there is a great debt that obliges us to pay a pension to these individuals and previous administrations have not faced this debt.

My government will attend to these legitimate demands according to the financial means of the State and when we are able to reach an agreement with those involved. For this purpose next week I will establish a dialogue with representatives from the organizations of those wounded and incapacitated during the armed conflict and with delegates of the government. We will attempt to come to an agreement on the amount of this debt as well as the manner and the time in which this debt should be paid off.

In this same regard I want to inform you that within the next few days the Fund for the Protection of those Wounded and Incapacitated during the armed conflict will be fully operative. There will be programs for social and productive reintegration, mental health, work readiness programs and a system of institutions credit.

Dear People of El Salvador: Beginning today, a symbolic date in our history, we initiate a new relationship between the State and human rights organization, organization that protect the wounded and incapacitated. In this government you have an ally who will collaborate with you in your work.

This recognition of illegal activity and processes and the acceptance of responsibility for these actions as well as the request for forgiveness which today we placed before you should not be taken advantage of by an minority sector of our society in order to bring about discord and division.
We need acts of love, never again acts of hatred. We needs acts that give dignity to people, never again acts that harm people. We need acts of solidarity, never again acts of selfishness. We are aware of the fact that the structural causes that lead to the armed conflict are, in many cases, unable to be solved, especially those of an economic and social nature.

This government of change has begun a process which has as its purpose economic development, the just distribution of wealth, and the inclusion of all people in the social system. Therefore, as a response to the spirit that animated the signing of the peace agreements in 1992 I will work to deepen the values of democracy and national unity and commit myself to work those most in need especially those most vulnerable.

Therefore today I reaffirm my preferential option for the poor, as taught by our bishop-martyr and spiritual guide of the nation, Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero.
Our nation need to walk the path toward full democracy which implies not only the systemic casting of our votes but also involves guaranteeing equal opp0ortunity and social justice. There will be no lasting peace or harmony as long as there exists in our country inequality, misery, exclusion from education and health and work and culture and social progress.

This path is possible but only within the framework of national unity. The political struggles of democracy cannot and should not compromise this path which is the path that the people of El Salvador have chosen: the path of peace, fraternal living, love of neighbor.

As I have always said: every Salvadorian is our brother; every Salvadorian is our sister.

Many thanks again to all those who are present here in this ceremony. Thank you especially you who are vicitims, thanks to you and your families for receiving my request for forgiveness in the name of the State of El Salvador.

May God bless El Salvador and the people of El Salvador. Thank you.