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“The younger generations have not lived the hardship of times of conflict that existed in the recent past of El Salvador, but it is necessary that they understand its implications and work so that it does not happen again”

She is a feminist and a political activist. She formed a part of the Association of Women for Dignity and Life, also called “Las Dignas,” since its creation in 1990, and she eventually directed the Association between 2002 and 2004. her commitment to human rights and justice lead her to found in 1996 the Civil Society Committee which promoted the construction of a memorial dedicated to civilian victims of the violation of human rights during the war. It was a memorial that for the families of the victims would signify truth, justice, dignity and, in part, reparation. Today she lives in Bilbao and she works in the area of investigation at the International Institution of Development and Cooperation Studies in Hegoa.

The 6th of December, 2003 was an unforgettable date in the memory of Gloria Guzmán. It is difficult to express the mix of sentiments shared by so many Salvadorans as they collectively celebrated the fruits of their determination in the fight for truth and justice. On this day in Cuscatlan Park in San Salvador the Monument for Memory and Truth was erected. It was a memorial for civilian victims; people who were assassinated or who disappeared during the armed conflict in El Salvador from 1980-1982.

“In a rational sense, I felt certain that we were carrying out one of the most important acts of the post-conflict times. It was an act of resistance and rebellion in the face of impunity, it was something that offered a physical representation of the victims of these times. And behind each name carved into the monument was a story of the violation of human rights which had not been brought to justice,” explains Gloria. But words are still so difficult to chose when one things about the personal significance of this act. As Gloria says, “As the daughter of kidnapped parents and a family who had been assassinated, I felt a sense of relief, because we had created a space where we could elaborate our pain that we had postponed during the times of conflict.”

Since Gloria was a young girl, she was connected to public organization. As the daughter of a family who participated actively in religious communities, student movements and neighborhood organizations, her political commitment and her sense of community and social justice developed very early within her spirit. “There was a lot of organized community life: if we had to fix potholes in the street, prepare cultural festivities, or hold activities for Christmas celebrations, everyone came together, young and old. So here were planted the seeds of organization of many people that later went on to join the different organizations that fought when the repression became unbearable and any social protest or demand was met with military action. My own father had to leave the Union (he was the secretary general) due to repeated death threats,” she recalls. As she remembers this time, she also recalls the tragedy that came in light of the repression: “I remember that so many of the young people of these times were later assassinated…”

Alongside many other Salvadoran women, during the war she found herself faced with aggression, militarism, and the authoritarianism of the state directed at the support bases of the National Liberation Front of Farabundo Marti. Like many other Salvadoran women, she was conscious during this time of the discrimination suffered especially by women as well as the necessity to join in the fight for women’s rights. Her feelings of obligation towards the cause led her in 1990 to join the Association of Women for Dignity and Life, or Las Dignas, a group for which Gloria worked actively to promote the recognition of women in her country as citizens with rights and their involvement in all areas of society.

From a feminist point of view, peace is not existent without respect for women’s rights, nor without the right to truth and reparation. Having this in mind, Las Dignas came up with the idea, along with members of other new social organizations, to construct a memorial for the civil victims of the armed conflicts. They attempted to make a reality the recommendation in the report of the Commission of Truth, backed by the United Nations, to erect a national monument in memory of the victims of violence. As the Salvadoran Government ignored this and other recommendations, the civil society, particularly women, kept alive the call of justice for the victims and their families. Gloria explains, “It was an initiative promoted and dominated in majority by women. We were women of diverse ages, backgrounds, and experiences, and we succeeded in constructing this project because we were convinced that what we were doing was necessary not only for the past, but also for the present and the future of the people in our country.”

After seven long years of work, on the 6th of December, 2003, they celebrated the inauguration of the Monument of Memory and Truth, a wall 90 meters long made of granite slabs that contained the names of 25,626 civilian victims of the armed conflict. “In order to head this project and to guarantee the final product of our work, I had to distance myself from my own pain. Although it wasn’t easy, it was possible because I knew the people needed a symbolic space to dignify and represent their pain. I saw myself reflected in the people that placed flowers near the names, and I felt the force created by every one of us who was there. But, besides organizing this day, it was the work that I did over the various years that brought me a sense of reparation. I knew that I was doing this for my family, for each of their lives and for all of them together. I am convinced that continuing on this path to justice and not to lay paralyzed brings tremendous reparation and to the people that have lived broken lives due to the magnitude of the violence caused by the Salvadoran state,” remarks Gloria.

On top of the sense of reparation and justice that the project gave her, Gloria also acknowledges the educational benefits that she worked for: “The younger generations have not lived the hardship of times of conflict that existed in the recent past of El Salvador, but it is necessary that they understand its implications and work so that it does not happen again.”

With her heart full of more comfort than the times before that 6th of December, Gloria made the decision to continue on her path to justice outside of her country. In 2005, she began her trip of personal discovery, but above all it is a trip to seek out new forms of activism for justice in a context that requires many people that share her capacity for commitment to her cause.