We held a Memorial Service yesterday for my lifelong friend Chema Mendez, and among those who came were two of my old comrades from the days when we fought for the rights of landless peasant farmers in El Salvador during the civil war of the 1980s. Joe Campos, Richard Oulahan and I all spent a lot of time in El Salvador supporting the peasant farmers unions, especially the Union Comunal Salvadorena, whose General Secretary, Rudolfo Viera, was murdered along with my boss Michael Hammer and our Legal Advisor, Mark Pearlman, by a right wing Death Squad. Chema, Richard, Joe and I survived to complete their work, and today many hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans have ownership of small plots of land or cooperatives that afford them a living with dignity instead of being chattel on large plantations formerly owned by the oligarcy.
In some ways, my work still feels like a protracted military campaign. The risks are different now, and probably not as elevated (microfinance doesn’t threaten the establishment the way expropriation of people’s land did), but some societies where we work don’t want their women and impoverished population to be empowered, preferring to lock them away or keep them as a vast reservoir of cheap labor.
It’s hard to say good bye to an old friend, especially one with whom you fought so many battles. Plus, you know that some day, your turn will come. When it does, I just hope I can look back on as many accomplishments in the struggle to build a better world as Chema could.