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April 11, 1986 - Image 14

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1986-04-11
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Pilar's story -Escape from persecution

Last week, Daily reporter
Caroline Muller met with - Pilar
Celeya and her family at the Frien-
ds Meeting house in Ann Arbor.
The Salvadoran family came to
Ann Arbor in July, 1985 as part of'
the sanctuary movement, a
nationwide group of churches and
synagogues devoted to providing a;
safe shelter for Central American
refugees. The interview was tran-
slated by Residential College
senior Mary Dorst
Daily: What city are you from
in El Salvador?
Celaya: San Salvador, the capital of
El Salvador.
D: What was the reason for your
family's decision to flee the country?
C: Because of government per-
D: The fear of persecution?
C: No, actual persecution.
D: Why were you persecuted?
C: "We were all union workers in El
Salvador. I am one of 10 children. Of
the 10, eight were involved in union
movements. This is the reason why
we hadeto leave the country -
because the government suspected
everything that was associated with
unions. I started getting involved with
unions in 1973. All my brothers were
also participating at that time, and
Aurelio began in 1975. So we had
protests in the streets and demon-
strations. We had work stoppages so
that we could demand better con-
ditions and so on. We weren't just
going to sit there and do nothing. We
decided to participate and be a part of
the work demonstratons and mar-
These had very grave consequences
for us. My husband was working as a
union organizer for about three years,
and I myself for about seven. One of
my brothers was captured in a factory
in 1979 with 25 other workers. We were
detained for eight days. And after
these eight days, they were given
liberty because of a lot of pressure
brought by unions. Even though they
were given liberty, by the time
another week had gone by, people
started disappearing.
At this time, my husband and my
brothers realized what was hap-
pening to their friends in the factory
- that they were turning up tortured
and zo forth.
D: Tortured?
C: Some turned up tortured, the
others vanished. They gave up their
jobs and moved out of the house they
were living in so that the government
wouldn't find them there. This was
September 3,1979.
From this day, until February of
1980, my husband and my brothers
only came to the house every once in a
while to pick up clothes, or do
something briefly.
At this time we were very sure we
were being watched, and that the
government was looking to see if we
were in the house. I also stopped
working at the time because I feared
returning to my factory. So Feb. 17,

1980, a death squad visited our house.1
A death squad is like an arm of the1
Salvadoran. military. This isn't of-
ficially acknowledged by the gover-
nment, but this is true, because no of-,
ficial of the death squad has ever been1
captured by the government or im-1
prisoned. .
So 7:30 in the evening, a member of
the death squad came to our house9
asking for a glass of water, but really1
wanting to see who was in our house.
They thought that they saw my
husband and my two brothers in the
house, but they actually saw a young
friend, my younger sister's boyfriend,
and my brother-in-law. My brother-in-
law always worked as a security
guard in the factory, and was never
involved with any union activities, so
he didn't think it was dangerous for
him to stay in the house.
He went outside to see what was
going on. He didn't even get to the
border of the property, because the
death squad shot him, and he died in-
stantly from a bullet in the heart. The
children jumped under the bed at that
point, for they have learned to protect
themselves. But the death squads
came in and started shooting at the
men. They killed my younger sister's
boyfriend, and wounded our 18-year-
old friend. Everyone tried to protect
themselves. My younger sister, who
was 18 at the time, was also shot
across the legs very severely, and
they also wounded a 5-year-old girl.
When they couldn't see any more to
shoot, just because the room was so
filled with smoke, they didn't leave it
at that, they shot up every little thing
we had, and shot completely through
the roof, destroying it.
As soon as we were really sure they
had left, we went out to see what we
could do to help the people who had
been injured. Sometimes I forget
,whan I'm telling this testimony of
ours to include this part, that later
this very same night, three members
of a death squad, different members,
came to the hospital where my sister
was being treated for her wounds, and
tried to arrest her also. Fortunately,
we had some friends who were
working in the hospital, who knew
her, and prevented the death squads
from taking my sister away. We
couldn't ask the police to help us
because they were the very same
death squad people. Our friends
helped switch hospital rooms and
promised us that they wouldn't let just
anyone in, except us. From that very
night we had to leave our house, never
to return to it again. Eighteen of us
had been living there, and we scat-
tered to different parts of El Salvador.
My sister was in the hospital for
more than a year, because she was
machine-gunned right across her
legs, and they had to operate on her
again and again. We always went to
visit her there.
We knew that we could in no way
leave the country at that time, with
my sister still in the hospital. That
would have been completely im-
possible. She was in the hospital for
the entire year of 1980, and then Jan.
26, 1981, they found another of our

brothers, who was a union member.
He was taking care of his three month-old
daughter at the time in the neigh-
borhood where he was living, and they
completely surrounded the house and
beat him and captured him, and they
left the daughter with some neigh-
bors. So, for an entire eight days he
just disappeared from us, we had no
idea where he was, or what was hap-
pening, .and he was subjected to tor-
tures this whole time. They gave him
electric shocks and a whole series of
tortures in the national jail. They
wanted him to admit to a whole list of
charges that they drew up, which he
was completely innocent of. So for
eight days he denied them, saying,
'No, I will not admit to something I
am not guilty of.'
At the end of these eight days, he
finally admitted to these trumped-up
charges because the government let
him know exactly where each one of
us was living, addresses, how many
people were in the house, and that they
would attack with a machine gun
everyone in these houses unless he
admitted to the charges. And no one
knew where we were, not even the
Red Cross. 'So if you don't admit to
these charges,' they said, 'we'll kill
you and everyone of your family
members also.' He had to memorize

pages and pages of charges that he was
accused of, and read them on national
D: What did they accuse him of?
C: That he was the head of a whole
band of terrorists, and that he was
guilty of all the things the National
Guard had accused him of in this
position, that he had given medical
help to the guerrillas. Many, many
charges, and he just had to accept
them all.
The International Red Cross spoke
with him, but couldn't see him,
because the authorities wouldn'tlet
them see him because of all the tor-
tures he had received. They could
only speak with him. So it was two
weeks, maybe a month later, that
they put him in the infamous Mariana
We visited him the entire year when
he was in prison, at least once a week,
to give him food and see how he was
doing, because they hardly even gave
him food in prison.
In the beginning of this year, 1981,
my husband, Aurelio, and my
brothers had to leave immediately,
without thinking about passports or
documents or anything. They just

D: While your brother was still in
C: Yes. They left the country along
with my sister-in-law, walking almost
all the way without any money, until
they finally managed to get to Mexico.
D: How many miles was this?
C: It's a 40-hour bus ride, but that's
if you go straight. They tfiey did a
heck of a lot of walking. Sometimes
they had to sleep under trees and
travel at night, under the security of
Myself, my mother, and the
children - practically all women and
children - were the only ones left
there, and we stayed in El Salvador
until they finally let my brother out of
prison on December 12, 1981. My
problem was that as soon as they gave
him liberty, I had to sign a statement
saying that he was being released.
They had all the facts, my name, my
address, my signature, and
everything else, and as soon as they
let him out, he went immediately to
the Mexican Embassy to seek refuge,
and they also couldn't get rid of him
there because he would have been
killed instantly if he were on the
streets. So as soon as he was released,
it just became an even worse night-

mare for me. Aurelio and almost By 1944,t
everyone had left already, and I had completely si
to. go from one -place to another to doing, not re:
protect ourselves and myself, to hide and other hur
from the authorities during all of and the peol
December '81, and into January '82. anymore unti
So it wasn't until the first week of fice, out of the
February, 1982, that I finally was able In 1944, th
to leave the country. We borrowed strike. Eveni
money for the bus tickets to leave, for been killed in
my mother and children. We arrived to the street
in Mexico in February of 1982 without 'folded arms
a fixed place to be. We had been going real happy at
from here to there for so long in El was kicked o
Salvador we had nothing in Mexico, just followed
really. there has ju
We were in Mexico until last year, military men
when we had the opportunity to come 50 years. The
into the U.S. and continue in our kind of repr
struggle here. Even if we can't par- out of the
ticipate in marches in El Salvador maiming the
now, we can bring our message to respecting ar
North Americans and tell them of our It wasn't u
struggle and our situation in El finally starte
Salvad again into ur
D: Did you know you were going to wouldn't star
live in the Quaker church before you were compl
came to Ann Arbor? treatment th
C: We knew since we were leaving military dic
Mexico that we would be coming to movement b
Ann Arbor to live with the Quakers. the union
D: Have the people in Ann Arbor growing littl
been receptive to you? ferent work
C: The reaction has been very, very have tremen
good. Many people have told us that themselvesa
they did not know what .was happen- this. This is h
ing in El Salvador. Since we've involved wit
arrived here, and have been able to began in 197
give our testimony, people who didn't begun before
know anything really at all have The move
joined in solidarity with us, and there are uni
are very interested in learning and strugglin
what's really going on. D: Are th
D: How would you describe the at- union movem
titude of the police since you've been C: There isc
here? federation of
C: Well, I don't think they really that is pro-g
mind we're here. We haven't really rest of them a
had any encounters with them. They D: Do they
know we're here. government?
D: Let's back up a little bit. What unions are re
the unions like in. El Salvador? Are C: They'r(
they similar to ones in the U.S., where for a changE
they work for better wages and change in a
working conditions? basic rights
C: I don't know much about the change so th
union movement here in the U.S.,.but can choose t
I do understand that it is very dif- try, not so th
ferent from the unions in El Salvador. been before,
Salvadoran unions fight just to sur- the United S
vive. They fight and struggle just to government:
get enough to eat, to be able to Many peop
educate their children. They don't have democratic

e people were just fed up,
ick of what he had been
specting the right to life
Oman rights of the people,
ple agreed not to work
il this man was out of of-
e country.
here was a huge, huge
though 32,000 people had
1932, everyone just went
ts in what we called a
strike.' The people were
t first when this dictator
out of office, but he was
by another dictator. So
st been a succession of
n ruling the country for
y've continued the same
ession - kicking people
country, killing them
em, torturing them, not
ny rights whatsoever.
ntil 1968 that the people
d organizing themselves
nions, because they just
nd for it anymore. They
etely fed up with the
ey were getting from the
clators, and the union
egan again. From 1968,
movement has been
e by little in each dif-
place, and the people
dous courage to organize
and work together like
ow I, in 1973, began to get
th union work. Aurelio
5, and my brothers had
I did.

public schools there like we do here.
They fight to be able to buy medicine,
to be able to cure themselves of
illnesses and injuries, for the basic
dignities that belong to human beings.
From 1922 to 1928 in El Salvador,
there was a period of a group of
presidents that gave a slight opening,
a slight opportunity to workers, to
unions, to the people. In 1930, there
was a president that gave quite a bit
of space for people to organize. Then
in 1931, there was a military man who
overthrew this more liberal president,
and from that moment on, the union
movement has just been destroyed -
he cracked down on everyone.
In the beginning of 1932, there was
what they call 'The Massacre,' where
32,000 people were killed - rural
people, farmers, students,
professionals . . . everyone. For the
next 14 years, the union movement
was completely stopped because of
this president.

Salvador nov
struggling? M
This is be
choose Duar
him put ther
put there b
doesn't have1
It's only f
relations, sot
and say to1
working ag
The gover
people and t
of taxes. B
already quite
does continu
D: Are you
of El Salvad
C: The b
repression is
to stop sendi
teacher, wh

ment hasn't stopped,
ions organizing, working
here factions within the
one union, the CGS (Con-
tf Salvadoran Workers),
government, but all the
are not.
want to see a totally new
It seems as though the
e not necessarily asking
e in government, but a
ttitude, so that people's
are respected, and a
at the people themselves
he leaders of their coun-
hat it continues as it has
with the government of
States choosing who our
shall be in El Salvador.
ple ask, 'Well, if there's a
government in El
w, why are the people still
Why is there war?'
cause the people didn't
te, didn't choose to have
e. He's like a puppet, he's
by other forces and he
the support of the people.
or image, for public
that they can hold him up
the people, 'Oh, you're
gainst the democratic
t.' But it's really not
nment continues to kill
o repress the people, and
there's this new package
ut they've been taxed
e a lot, and the repression
u optimistic for the future
best way to stop the
s for the U.S. government
ng arms to El Salvador. A
o is dead now, said that if

could finance the family's basic nece>
possible legal fees if the group was
migration officials.
But the Friends' commitment to heli
outweighed even the worst-case scen
the U.S. had not sent arms to ElI
Salvador, the war would have beenx
over years ago. And the governmentc
here is sending napalm bombs to El1
Salvador that are being dropped onr
the people. They send the government
of El Salvador very sophisticatedt
weapons that can kill lots and lots of1
people at one time.
D:How many people support the
present government?
C: Sixty thousand people recently
marched in protest against the gover-
nment in El Salvador. Every day,
more and more unions appear,
although each person knows that it is
death that awaits them by doing this,
and people continue to disappear.
I don't know what the unions in the
U.S. ask of the government, but in El
Salvador we're asking first, that they
respect our right to life, and second,
that we are assured work. We fight to
have access to health care, because,
for instance, there's only one hospital
in the whole capital. We're asking that.
we can educate our children, that
we're paid enough so that we can af-
ford to give them an education. We
ask that they build more schools
because the ones that they have do not
reach the entire school population,
and this is why there is 65% illiteracy
in El Salvador.
D: How do you see the role of the
church in El Salvador?
C: In the beginning of 1977, Oscar
Romero became the archbishop of the
country, and he brought tremendous
changes to the Catholic Church. He
brought about the right of rural people
to organize themselves, because it

had said in our constitution that rural
people do not have the right to
organize themselves. But after
Romero came in, he obtained that
right for them. He just became in-
volved in everything. He very much
understood the misery of our people.
He went to every single corner of the
country, talking to people, finding out
what we needed, and what the
situation was.
D: Would you say the government
respected him at first?
C: Yes, at first they thought he
would be just as conservative as all
the other archbishops that had
preceded him. But when they began to
understand that what he was really
doing was speaking for the people,
and being interested in their misery,
they immediately started accusing
him of being subversive, and a
terrorist, and all this stuff. They
called him the communist priest.
D: Is it fair to say that Romero
brought about the first real change in
thinking for the Salvadoran people,
that he made them believe that they
had power themselves, or that they
could do something to change their
C: Yes.
D: What role could the University
play in furthering the sanctuary
C: I do think that the University
could invite us to talk in the classes,
because there are so many students
that just don't understand anything
(about El Salvador). If they invite us,
with much pleasure we would go and
speak in classes.



Ihe Celayas are among refugee families currently aided by the Sanctuarv movement.

6 Weekend-April 11, 1986

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