The Words of the Gonzales Family

Religious Freedom in El Salvador and Panama

Jesus Gonzalez
November 15, 1998

Last year I was call to go to El Salvador and Panama to clarify our activities in the media and help with some crisis that we were facing there in our relations with the Catholic Church and the authorities.

The general situation regarding religious freedom in El Salvador can be describe as acceptable. There is a clear separation between church and state and different religious groups and Christian churches apart from the Catholic Church are growing and flourishing in the country without any restrictions or discriminations from the authorities.

The incident that we suffer in August last year in which the immigration authorities began the expulsion of 5 Japanese volunteers of the FFUWP was promoted by the pressures of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church to the government authorities. Before that, a very well orchestrated campaign of misinformation in the media was created by the same authorities of the Catholic Church, and unfortunately, we were not responding or presenting our side of the story.

The government took action because of these pressures and also motivated by the unfavorable reports of the media that generated bad public opinion (including pools in favor or against the presence of the Japanese volunteers) about the activities of our movement that was always label as "Secta Moon"

Because we were not responding to the press, the authorities miscalculated and assumed that we will obey the demands of a simple letter from the immigration department asking the Japanese sisters to leave. The Ministry of Interior that handles the immigration affairs was totally shock and surprise that we defended ourselves through legal action presenting an appeal to the Constitutional Supreme Court on the grounds of a clear violation of human rights granted by the laws and the Constitution. This is why, the whole issue was resolved very simply in a friendly meeting with the Minister of Interior, which ended the illegal expulsion of the Japanese sisters, they offer them residence visas in exchange for our abandoning of the legal appeal against the immigration authorities.

In addition we were able to change public opinion through the media and clarify most of the miss understandings about the activities of the FFWPU. Besides, we have the opportunity to meet with the main Bishops to inform them and clarify our positions and activities.

The main lessons from this incident is that we need to have a constant communication between ourselves, with the governments, the media and other churches or groups. In other words a permanent department of PR with capable an professional members that constantly foresee and prevent potential problems and not merely react to emergencies.

Jesus Gonzalez Losada

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