From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Shooting of Missionary in El Salvador Appears Purposeful
04 May 1996 16:08:08
96134 Shooting of Missionary in El Salvador Appears Purposeful
by Alexa Smith
LOUISVILLE, Ky.--Though details of the case are murky, the Feb. 2 shooting
of a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission worker in El Salvador is looking
more calculated than random.
The Rev. Alejandro Hernandez -- who works in a Lutheran community
ministry that reaches about 700 families in the Chalatenango region in
central El Salvador -- was shot twice in the face while sitting in the
driver's seat of a car full of teenagers.
Deaf in one ear as a result of the assault, Hernandez is recuperating
from reconstructive surgery on his jaw. He remembers only that he was
approached by two men who asked if he was the Rev. Alejandro Hernandez and
then one man opened fire. "My case," Hernandez told the Presbyterian News
Service, "is not the only case. There are hundreds of cases. Every day
people are shot, killed.
"I don't know exactly who did it ... but they didn't take any money
and they didn't take the vehicle."
A spokesperson for the Salvadoran Lutheran Synod understands the
attack as one on the church's work and is pressing authorities to
aggressively investigate the case. Such an investigation may not begin
unless Hernandez makes a statement to police.
"This type of act [violent assault] -- while it has disappeared from
the U.S. media -- continues, and it continues to be a threat to lasting
social peace in El Salvador," according to Jeff Herzog of the Committee in
Solidarity with the People of El Salvador in New York City.
The reasons? Most El Salvador watchers cite extreme economic
instablity and the subsequent emergence of mafialike groups formed to
protect the personal fortunes of those who lost jobs and influence when El
Salvador's civil war ended, such as those who were downsized out of the
country's security forces. Such gross instability is sanctioned, some
reports say, by El Salvador's ultra-right-wing business and political
leaders, who want to regain the power they lost in the 1980s.
The homicide rate in El Salvador is now 10 times higher than that in
the U.S. Human rights organizations say that 9,000 El Salvadorans were
killed in 1994 and 8,500 more died in 1995 -- staggering statistics since
the war is over, according to Presbyterian Gary Cozette of the Chicago
Religious Leadership Network on Latin America. Citing one human rights
report, Cozette said that kidnapping and carjacking are a "growth
industry," and at least four women a day report being raped.
"This crime war could be even more bloody than the civil war," said
Cozette, adding that it is critical that El Salvador's ill-equipped
civilian police be funded well enough to investigate these crimes and its
judicial system be reformed so it may prosecute accused criminals without
fear. But neither is happening yet.
"The people who are commiting these crimes are directly tied to the
old security forces," said Cozette, a former Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
mission volunteer in El Salvador. "They have access to automatic weapons,
sent down during the war from here.
"It's a big problem," said Cozette, who is frustrated that these
crimes go uninvestigated. "We need to know who is carrying this out.
That's absolutely critical if death squads are going to be dismantled."
PC(USA) El Salvador liaison Julia Ann Moffett is puzzled as to exactly
who might want Hernandez dead. Acknowledging that even El Salvadorans are
vague about who might have attacked Hernandez, Moffett said the community
reconciliation and pastoral care work Hernandez does to bring peace between
neighboring communities still traumatized by the war might be a threat to
some who benefit from continuing economic instability. She does not
dismiss other theories as well, including seeing the shooting as the
solitary act of an emotionally disturbed person or as the outcome of a
However, Moffett said, while their source is unknown, the shots were
fired death-squad style.
Though not familiar with the Hernandez case, Herzog said the shooting
is not an unfamiliar scenario to church and human rights employees who
educate El Salvador's poor. "The targets are not high-ranking leaders.
It's the mid-level people who work with the poor in grassroots
organizations. And it is [done]," he told the Presbyterian News Service,
"in order to sow fear."
Now recovering, Hernandez wonders who wanted him dead, since his work
seems more pastoral than political.
In a telephone interview, Hernandez said the public protests of the
1980s -- in which the church had a highly public role -- are over. He now
understands his community work and his pastoral care of those
psychologically damaged by the war to be the spiritual work of the local
church. "There were wives with husbands assassinated. There were people
with kids assassinated, kids with parents assassinated. We've been helping
these people reconcile with God because a lot of people lost faith in God
because of what happened to them. They blame God for what happened," he
said, adding that others still blame people in nearby towns who held
different political views.
"There are members of neighboring communities who fought as guerilla
or as army. And we're working on that process: to not see themselves
anymore as enemies, but as brothers and sisters," he told the Presbyterian
But Hernandez admits that it appears that he was singled out. "A lot
of people think it's crazy to say that. I'm not one of the most prominent
political people, not one of the most prominent religious people involved.
I'm a normal Presbyterian co-worker. It's kinda weird to think I was
singled out," he said, pausing. "We don't know."
Hernandez is El Salvadoran. He is awaiting more surgery to rebuild
his eustachian tube to stop the constant ringing in his permanently deaf
ear. He is still on a liquid diet, since he is unable to chew.
For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
phone 502-569-5504 fax 502-569-8073
E-mail PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
Browse month . . .
Browse month (sort by Source) . . .
Advanced Search & Browse . . .