Higgins urges El Salvador to reject ‘amnesia about the past’
President ‘deeply moved’ to return 31 years after investigating civil war atrocities
President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins told El Salvador’s president Mauricio Funes that the Irish people knew well from the Northern Ireland peace process of the need “to understand the tasks of ethical memory”. File photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
President Michael D Higgins has drawn parallels between the conflicts in El Salvador and Northern Ireland on his first visit to the Latin American country since 1982, saying it was important for the country “to reject amnesia about the past”.
In his first speech since arriving in the Salvadoran capital last night, Mr Higgins told the country’s president Mauricio Funes at El Salvador’s presidential palace that the Irish people knew well from the Northern Ireland peace process of the need “to understand the tasks of ethical memory”.
Mr Nunes commended the Irish President’s “tireless work” in defending human rights and his “profound love” for the Latin American region, and particularly his own country.
At a ceremony at the presidential palace, he awarded with Mr Higgins with the Orden Nacional Jose Matias Delgado en el Grado de Gran Cruz Placa de Oro, the highest honour El Salvador can bestow.
After receiving the award Mr Higgins said that, during his visit to the country in 1982, he had seen “the dead bodies of some of the poorest people of the world - as a consequence of the actions of some of the most power people in the world”.
Earlier, Mr Higgins had said he was delighted to return to El Salvador as President 31 years after he led an Irish parliamentary delegation to investigate atrocities during the country’s civil war and to see a country now firmly committed to resolving social and economic issues through peaceful means.
He was “deeply moved” to visit in “a time free from war, a time marked by political stability, and the opening up of new horizons of economic opportunities,” he said.
“We in Ireland are also aware that redressing the consequences of conflict takes steady, careful work, involving as it does not only conflicting memories and narratives of the past,” he said.
Mr Higgins said that it was also necessary to deal with “a legacy of material destruction, of economic marginalisation of certain social groups and communities.”
The President said that he and Mr Funes had spoken at a meeting earlier of the biggest challenge to fostering a thriving economy and society – the struggle against unemployment and, in particular, youth unemployment.
President Funes and his wife Dr Vanda Pignato greeted the President and Mrs Higgins on their arrival at the presidential palace. Afterwards they witnessed the signing of an agreement between Minister of State for Development and Trade and Development Joe Costello and El Salvador’s foreign minister Jamie Miranda.
Later today, Mr Higgins will speak to El Salvador’s parliament and at the University of Central America where six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter were murdered by government forces in November 1989. One of the Jesuits, Armando López, had studied theology at Milltown Park in Dublin.