Ciudad Romero, El Salvador
Relationship established 1990
The community is settled in the Department of Usulatan.
In May 1980, the residents of the city that was to become Ciudad Romero were forced to leave El Salvador. The civil war had drawn too near their homes in the villages surrounding the town of Nueva Esparta in the Department of La Union. The people fled to the hills to hide in caves without food or protection against the cold.
They left El Salvador on foot to seek refuge in Honduras, where the Honduran army pressured them to return to their country and captured and tortured members of their group. Thanks to international solidarity organizations, they were visited by the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees, who recognized them as refugees and arranged for their asylum in Panama.
The 365 community members who traveled to Panama built a refuge in the mountains along the Atlantic coast by the river Belen. They baptized their community Ciudad Romero in memory of their beloved bishop Oscar Romero, who was assassinated in El Salvador in March of 1980.
The isolated community built homes using the local vegetation, cultivated crops, began a school, and secured needed supplies with fourteen-hour trips to the city of Colon in small motor boats.
They never lost hope of returning to their country.
In 1989, the community elected a Committee for Return to El Salvador to coordinate and prepare for repatriation. After waiting months for authorization, two community members managed to visit El Salvador to investigate possible sites for resettlement. Following a long and frustrating debate with the Salvadoran government about where the community would be allowed to resettle, one hundred community members began a four-day march to Panama City.
They held a twenty-four-hour vigil in front of the Salvadoran Embassy and a permanent vigil at the UN headquarters in Panama City. The remainder of the community joined them after completing four separate journeys by boat. Finally, the Salvadoran government decided to allow the community to settle in the Department of Usulatan, but continuing issues of documentation and the exact date of the return home required a hunger strike to secure a signed agreement.
In January of 1991, the community finally returned to El Salvador. Years of human rights violations, confrontation with government officials, disastrous hurricanes and floods, and discouraging crop failures have plagued the community, but today its citizens are proud of their cement block houses, electrification, school, and community center. Ciudad Romero is governed by an elected Directorate and has a thriving population of one thousand.
Sister City Structure/History
St. Paul’s involvement with Ciudad Romero stems from an effort to directly respond to the material and human rights situation in El Salvador.
The St. Paul – Ciudad Romero Sister City Project is an ongoing journey of understanding. We search for meaningful ways to respond to social, economic, educational, and emergent needs of the Ciudad Romero community. We facilitate friendly communication between citizens of St. Paul and Ciudad Romero through letters, delegations, and fund-raising. Our project connects St. Paul school children and teachers with their Ciudad Romero counterparts through classroom projects, pen-pal letters, school supply drives, teacher exchanges, and presentations. We partner with Voices on the Border to sustain and enhance our Sister City relationship. Our journey is ever changing, as we and our Ciudad Romero friends grow, develop, and respond to economic, social, and political change.
St. Paul – Ciudad Romero Sister City Project members:
- Martha Aby
- Rebecca Cramer
- Terri Ellison
- Bev Gause
- Martha Johnson
- Laurie McGinley
- Janice Smith
Current Sister City Projects: Continued funding for educational efforts and other projects in the community and a planned delegation to community during the summer of 2007.