Salvadoran refugees aided by camera-wielding clergy. Publicity aims to deter attacks on those fleeing to Honduras
On one side of the square in the small Honduran village were more than a dozen Salvadoran national guardsmen. On the other side was a contingent of Honduran soldiers. In the middle stood terrified Salvadoran refugees who feared they would be carried off and killed.
Armed only with cameras, Dr. Raymond DeHainaut of Tampa, Fla., and two Canadian ministers drove into the square, jumped out of their jeep, and started taking pictures of the soldiers. Their mission, set by the World Council of Churches last week, was to try to intimidate the soldiers with publicity. They hoped by this tactic to protect the refugees from the reported widespread killing and harassment of civilians that has been said to typify the Salvadoran civil war.
The three won. Despite their weapons, the soldiers and guardsmen fled from the cameras, Dr. DeHainaut said in an interview after he returned to Tampa.
DeHainaut is part of the campus ministry at the University of South Florida. His work with the World Council of Churches in Bogota, Colombia, several years ago made him a prime candidate when the council went looking for volunteers to try to help the refugees in the Salvadoran civil war.
Three months ago, he said, hundreds of Salvadorans were killed when they tried to cross the border from El Salvador into Honduras. But two weeks ago, he added, an attack by Salvadoran national guardsmen on refugees was stopped because Americans were present.
''At this point, the Salvadoran military is very sensitive about international publicity because they have to keep their aid coming from the United States,'' DeHainaut said.
The World Council of Churches decided the best way to put pressure on the Salvadoran military to stop harassing refugees was to send North American ministers into Honduran border villages and refugee camps each week to witness what was happening and to take pictures.
DeHainaut said he was called Nov. 20, and two days later he was on his way to Honduras, armed with his camera and several rolls of film. He arrived in the village of LaVertud within sight of the Salvadoran border where more than 3,000 refugees crowded into a camp, and hundreds of others were scattered in surrounding villages.
''The refugees appreciated our presence,'' he said. ''They're afraid if all the North American (observers) pull out, they'll be at the mercy of the soldiers.''
The Honduran soldiers were a little more sympathetic to the refugees than the Salvadoran guardsmen, he said. The Honduran soldiers did not seem to mind when the Salvadoran national guardsmen crossed into Honduran territory.
''Those who help the refugees are accused of being communists,'' he said. ''But these people in the refugee camps are not communists. They are mostly old people or women and children who are apolitical peasants. All they want is to get away from the soldiers.''
On Wednesday Nov. 25, while Americans were preparing for their Thanksgiving, DeHainaut said he was sitting close to a radio when he heard Salvadoran soldiers were entering the Honduran village of Valladolid.
''We jumped in a jeep and raced to Valladolid,'' he said. ''When we got there , we saw 12 or 13 Salvadoran national guardsmen in the square. We jumped out and started taking pictures. They panicked and left, but the villagers and refugees said between 25 and 40 Salvadoran soldiers had been in the village, and they (the refugees) were terrified they would be carried away.''
Honduran soldiers were in the square at the time, he said, and he asked one why the Salvadoran soldiers were allowed across the border. He said he was told the Salvadorans wanted to buy cigarettes. But he said he couldn't figure out why 25 to 40 soldiers suddenly needed to buy cigarettes.
''The Salvadoran government says there are no troops in the area,'' DeHainaut said. ''But I saw them. There's no mistake of what I saw.''