WHERE ARE THE CHILDREN?

Date: 2005-12-04
Source: CBC Canada

Video Desciption:

Where Are The Children

is the story of the quest to find children who disappeared during the civil war in El Salvador, children who were sometimes sold into international adoption and other times taken into military families.

The driving force behind this quest is Father Jon Cortina, a Jesuit priest from Spain who came to El Salvador in 1955 to teach engineering and later got caught up in the chaos of war.

In 1989 six Jesuit priests who taught at the University of Central America in San Salvador, along with two house-keepers, were murdered at their dormitory by the Salvadoran military. Father Cortina lived with them but happened to be away for the night. He was in the small village of Guarjila, in the state of Chalatenango, where he also served as the local priest. The village residents sheltered him from further danger.

When asked by CBC reporter Joan Leishman if his faith had been shaken by the massacre, he replies adamantly that it was not and adds, "When I saw the way in which these people believed in God in spite of what they had suffered in all the military operations and the bombardments and the cruelty -- and they believed in God -- I thought that God is here more than anywhere else."

After the war ended, when he discovered that many of the disappeared children in the area around his village were alive, he formed the group Pro-Busqueda (Association in Search of Missing Children) to trace the children and reconnect them to their families. Its purpose is to give children the right to their identity and for the families, the peace of mind of knowing their children are alive.

After the war ended, when he discovered that many of the disappeared children in the area around his village were alive, he formed the group Pro-Busqueda (Association in Search of Missing Children) to trace the children and reconnect them to their families. Its purpose is to give children the right to their identity and for the families, the peace of mind of knowing their children are alive.

Since 1994 the group has searched thousands of files, done hundreds of interviews with eyewitnesses, convinced an American state government laboratory to lend their DNA equipment to the search, and found more than a two hundred children in eleven countries.

Leishman, a former CBC News correspondent for Latin America, follows the detective work of Pro-Busqueda staffers as they travel to remote areas to question families, take DNA samples and psychologically prepare families for reunions. And she talks to Father Cortina about his work, his passion for El Salvador and his faith in the face of the evils he has witnessed.

Along the way Leishman encounters Tomas Oliva, a father who lost four children in a military raid who now knows his children grew up in Switzerland, the United States and with a military officer in El Salvador. Each day he looks at the picture of the son and daughter he has met and lives in hope of a reunion with his other two daughters.

Leishman meets Peter Cassidy, a young man who has learned to straddle the two worlds of the El Salvador of his birth and the United States of his growing years. He has an adopted mother in New Jersey and a grand-mother in El Salvador, who knows him as Ernesto Sibrian. His mother was shot dead by an army soldier while she was holding Ernesto/Peter. The bullet went through her body and into his arm, where it remains.

Retired General Adolfo Blandon tells Leishman he regrets the child trafficking that happened in his country and regrets the war that so damaged his country.

Later Leishman visits Suyapa Serrano, a woman who, with the help of Pro-Busqueda and Father Cortina, has forced the government to acknowledge the reality of disappeared children. She has taken the case of her two younger missing sisters to Inter-American Court of Human Rights, faced lawyers who said her sisters never existed, and in March 2005 won a judgment against the government of El Salvador.

Where Are The Children is a story of the evils done in war, the wounds that persist and the painful healing that has to follow.

CREDITS

Reporter: Joan Leishman
Producer: Debi Goodwin
Editor: James Ho Lim
Cameraman: Doug Trent
Additional Camera: Peter Zin
Audio Post: Stephen Stepanic
Colourist: Susan Chambers

LINKS

Salvador's Dirty Secret: On Dec. 1 the CBC Radio program, Dispatches, had Joan Leishman's personal memoir on the disappeared children of El Salvador. (Listen in RealAudio.)

Pro-Busqueda - Association in Search of the Missing Children (El Salvador)
mirror site for Pro-Busqueda (both web sites are in Spanish)

Where are the "disappeared" children? - Amnesty International report on El Salvador, July 2003.
      Elsewhere there is an interesting International Criminal Court Simulation based on the AI report.

The Disappeared Children of El Salvador - a field study of truth, justice and reparation (By Christine Lagström, University of Lund, Faculty of Law. Masters thesis, Spring 2005. 79 p.)

Saint Louis University Recognizes Jesuit and Alumnus with Highest Honor: Jon de Cortina works to find kidnapped children from El Salvador (November 8, 2005) Background on Father Jon Cortina, S.J. short bio, 2001

After 25 years 'St. Romero of the World' still inspires - National Catholic Reporter, April 15, 2005
      The last section of this article is about Father Jon Cortina and Pro-Busqueda. (Links to more about Archbishop Romero are below.)

The Forlorn Search For Children Missing In War - article about Margarita Zamora and Pro-Busqueda (IPS/GIN - May 25, 2004)

Healing: on re-uniting Savadorans - article about Cortina and Pro-Busqueda from Company (Jesuit magazine), 1999.

Country profile: El Salvador - BBC

Case of Serrano-Cruz sisters v. El Salvador. Judgment of March 1, 2005 - Inter-American Court of Human Rights (in Spanish, 152 p.)
      We could not find their written decision in English from 2005 but there is a press release from Amnesty International: El Salvador: The government must comply with the ruling of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case of the Serrano sisters, 1 April 2005.
      And this 2001 document of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights about the case : Ernestina and Erlinda Serrano Cruz

El Salvador's suffering lingers on (By Mike Lanchin, BBC, 9 July, 2004.)
      "Although 22 years have passed since her two siblings disappeared at the height of El Salvador's civil war, Suyapa Serrano still clings to the hope they might still be alive."

Central America: Legacies of Rebellion - Part 2: El Salvador
      A 25 minute radio documentary about El Salvador by Mike Lanchin, made in 2004. The last part is about disappeared children.

Reuniting El Salvador families by Charles H. Brenner (about using DNA analysis)

Oscar Romero
      If that link does not work, try their page of " Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero Resources on the Internet ."

Oscar Romero of El Salvador: informal adult education in a context of violence - the encyclopedia of informal education, 2005. By John Dickson.

Resources for Catholic Educators: Oscar Romero - Listing of on-line resources

The Jesuit Martyrs of EL Salvador: A Research Guide - Saint Peter's College Libraries

NOTE: The CBC does not endorse and is not responsible for the content of external sites. Those links will open in a new browser window.

NEWSWORLD BROADCAST TIMES:

Sunday, December 4 at 8:00 PM ET**
Monday, December 5 at 4:00 AM ET
Thursday, December 8 at 10:00 PM ET
Friday, December 9 at 1:00 AM ET
Friday, December 9 at 4:00 AM ET

**World premiere during the Cinema Real Documentary Festival.

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