Remembering Ignacio Martin-Baro

"It is clear that no one is going to return to the imprisoned dissident his youth; to the young woman who has been raped her innocence; to the person who has been tortured his or her integrity. Nobody is going to return the dead and the disappeared to their families. What can and must be publicly restored [are] the victims’ names and their dignity, through a formal recognition of the injustice of what has occurred, and, wherever possible, material reparation. . . . Those who clamour for social reparation are not asking for vengeance. Nor are they blindly adding difficulties to a historical process that is already by no means easy. On the contrary, they are promoting the personal and social viability of a new society, truly democratic.  Ignacio Martin-Baro

On November 16, 1989, six Jesuit scholars, along with their housekeeper and her teenaged daughter, were marched at gunpoint into a courtyard on the campus of the Pastoral Centre of the José Simeón Cañas Central American University (UCA) in San Salvador, El Salvador.   They were then shot to death.  The gunmen were members of an elite unit of the Salvadoran army who had been dispatched to the university to deal with Jesuit priests regarded as "known subversive elements" for their support of rebel forces.   While one of the priests, Ignacio Ellacuria had been specifically targeted by the army, the others were also killed to eliminate any potential witnesses.   While the gunmen left a cardboard sign claiming that the rebel group FMLN had been responsible, a subsequent investigation determined that the killings had been ordered by the military.  Full details fo the murders would later be outlined in the Report of the UN Truth Commission on El Salvador. 

The murder at UCA would mark a turning point in the Salvadoran civil war though the hunt for justice has been long and frustrating.  Along with pressure from the Jesuits and the colleagues of the dead scholars at UCA, Spanish and Salvadoran human rights groups have managed to keep the pressure on the El Salvadoran government to ensure that the murdered Jesuits are not forgotten.   Since this November marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the UCA murders, social justice activists around the world commemorate the six murderered scholars as well as their contributions to liberation theology and social science, most of which was published after their deaths. Nacho[1]

One of the dead priests, Father Ignacio Martin Baro, has been particularly honoured for his contributions to social psychology as well as being a pioneer in liberation psychology.   Defined as the psychology of oppressed and impoverished communities around the world, liberation psychology arose in the 1970s as a response to more traditional psychological theories that fail to consider social problems or develop real solutions to these problems.   For much of his career as a social psychologist, Martin Baro focused on the "de-ideologising potential" of social psychology and how it could be used to understand the continuing violence in El Salvador.  

Though Martin Baro's work, and liberation psychology in general, is still largely unknown outside of Central America, the Liberation Psychology Network and prominent academics such as Noam Chomsky continue to tell the world about his work.   In writing about Martin Baro, Chomsky has said that the murdered priest/scholar had a "rare combination of intelligence and heroism to the challenge his work sets forth 'to construct a new person in a new society.' His life and achievement are a true inspiration."   In my own book, The Everything Guide to Overcoming PTSD, I wrote about Martin Baro's work on the psychology of chronic fear and the impact that it can have on people living in dangerous settings.  

Martin Baro's work has also helped inspire the push for reparations stemming from the Salvadoran civil war.   As he wrote, "It is clear that no one is going to return to the imprisoned dissident his youth; to the young woman who has been raped her innocence; to the person who has been tortured his or her integrity. Nobody is going to return the dead and the disappeared to their families. What can and must be publicly restored [are] the victims’ names and their dignity, through a formal recognition of the injustice of what has occurred, and, wherever possible, material reparation. . . . Those who clamour for social reparation are not asking for vengeance. Nor are they blindly adding difficulties to a historical process that is already by no means easy. On the contrary, they are promoting the personal and social viability of a new society, truly democratic."

Ignacio Martin Baro's legacy remains an inspiration for people facing repression around the world.   He will not be forgotten.

           

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