Comadres (Committee of the Mothers)

Loved Ones of the Disappeared

Comadres (Committee of the Mothers) is an organization in El Salvador of relatives of those who had been imprisoned, disappeared, or killed in the Salvadoran Civil War.

Context & Background

During the late 1970s and through the 1980s political turmoil in El Salvador eventually erupted into war. An oligarchy of rich families controlled the government through the Salvadoran military. Insurgent groups developed to try to install a leftist government that aimed to be more responsive to common people’s needs. The government and military established death squads that would often seize people viewed as subversive, which included religious leaders, union leaders, students, human rights activist, and many others. Tens of thousands of people were killed and many thousands disappeared. The U.S. was involved in supporting the government and training the military, including officers who were implicated in the death squads. At the height of the violence around 1,000 people were being killed each month.

Organization Founding

Comadres was established in in 1977 with the support of Archbishop Oscar Romero to try to gather information about the relatives of members who had been taken by authorities or in many cases who seemed to disappear without a trace. They sought information from the authorities, but they also gave out information to the public about what was happening and who had disappeared or been killed.

María Teresa Tula

Hear My Testimony by Comadres founder María Teresa Tula

Hear My Testimony by Comadres founder María Teresa Tula

María Teresa Tula was one prominent leader of Comadres. Her husband’s body was found with a bullet to the head two days after he had been taken by police as a witness to another incident. That was in 1980, the same year Archbishop Romero was assassinated. In 1982 she fled with her children to Mexico City, which became her base for international travel to speak about the abuses in El Salvador. Then in 1986 she returned home. She was arrested, tortured and raped. After four months in prison international pressure resulted in her release. She then fled to the U.S. and applied for asylum, very difficult for Salvadorans because of the U.S. support of the Salvadoran government and military. After 7 years, however, her appeal was finally granted. Now living in the U.S. she works to partner organizations in the U.S. with Salvadoran organizations.

Growth & Work

Comadres grew to over 500 members. The women of Comadres passed out flyers with information. They occupied government offices to draw international attention to what was happening in El Salvador. The women went to the garbage dumps to find bodies left there which they photographed to help families identify their loved ones.

Horrors Carried Out by the Salvadoran Government

The government responded by raiding their offices, seizing materials and making arrests. Forty-eight of the members of Comadres were kidnapped, tortured, and usually raped by military-related death squads. Five of these women were murdered. But the courageous women of Comadres continued their work and witness to the horrors of what was happening and the toll that the conflict was taking on the Salvadoran people.

Continued Work After the War

Though the war is over, the work of Comadres continues, albeit with little outside support. They continue to explore cases to determine what happened to those who disappeared. They conduct human rights education. They provide trauma healing programs for families of those killed or disappeared. They also advocate for economic support and compensation from the government because of the severe economic hardship of the survivors. They participated in a project to build a wall to commemorate the victims of the war, a project in which the government refused to participate.

Recognition

In 1984 Comadres received the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights Award, acknowledging their courageous work for human rights in El Salvador. Bono of the rock band U2 visited El Salvador with his wife. U2 then wrote Mothers of the Disappeared about Comadres and a similar group in Nicaragua.

See Also

Related Interfaith Peacemakers Profiles

Relevant External Resources

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