#ygkc abroad: Insights from El Salvador

Councillor Robert Kiley with a group of international observers during the 2019 El Salvador presidential election. Submitted photo.

Intense, longstanding party rivalries meet warm family greetings despite partisan colours. Multiple beers during lunch and dinner, with some moonshine after you eat, meets prohibition and abstinence from alcohol on and around election day. Simple ballots meet complex coalition calculations.

These are three perceived paradoxes the people and politics of El Salvador had me pondering while visiting the geographically small, materially poor, but culturally rich Central American country, from Thursday, Jan. 31 to Saturday, Feb. 09, 2019.

I travelled from Kingston to El Salvador as an international observer for the presidential election – The results of which broke the country’s otherwise longtime two party alternating rule. The FMLN socialists, who held the top post since 2009, were replaced by the young, attractive, centrist social media star. No, not Justin Trudeau, but GANA’s – newly joined – Nayib Bukele. The right wing coalition under the ARENA banner came second. I also brought formal greetings from Mayor Paterson, in a letter, to municipal counterparts across the countryside and to well respected members of the National Assembly.

I enjoyed my trip thoroughly. It was free from the sickening stereotypes of gangs and caravans presented in the Western press. My most excellent guide was my dear friend Ignacio Malgar, who first came from SAL to YGK as a refugee in the 1980s. In those years, the nation was fraught with civil war: a bloody 13 year battle that pitted farmers and local left wing activists, backed by the then USSR and their allies, against the rich, capitalists and the ammunition heavy USA.

Since then, Ignacio has been engaging our community with adventures like mine; stories of heroism, imprisonment, diplomacy, and forgiveness and amazing charity work for his native land. Indeed, many Kingstonians have gone before me on similar missions, with an especially large contingent a decade ago, including my now fellow Councillor Jim Neill.

Councillor Robert Kiley with Kingston resident Ignacio Malgar (Right) and member of the El Salvador National Assembly Nidia Diaz (Left). Submitted photo.

Many Kingstonians have also enjoyed the food and fellowship of the annual Oscar Romero dinner, which started in the Limestone City in 1990. The meal is held every March to commemorate the late, famed, Salvadoran social justice priest and peacemaker. Romero was martyred in the same month while presiding over mass, a year into said civil war. The dinner raises funds for projects in El Salvador, like building sports fields for kids and supporting local, sustainable agriculture for families.

With that in mind, it is my pleasure to invite you to this year’s Oscar Romero dinner on Saturday, March 16 at 6pm, at St. John’s Anglican Church (Queen Street), on behalf of the Kingston Central America Solidarity Committee and Mr. Malgar. I will give the keynote, reflecting further on insights from the perceived paradoxes above, and sharing photos along the way. I hope you will join us.

Tickets are $25 and can be purchased by calling Ignacio directly at 613-547-4237.


Robert Kiley is a Kingston City Councillor, representing Trillium District, and world traveler. He tweets @robert_kiley.

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