From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Shooting of Missionary in El Salvador Appears Purposeful

Date 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 
local conflict.  
     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 
New Service. 
     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   Web page: 


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