El Salvador’s vice president visits Felton man
By Peter Burke
The vice president of El Salvador paid a visit to Felton last week while on tour in Santa Cruz County.
Salvador Sanchez Cerén, El Salvodor’s Vice President, spent an afternoon with Felton resident Les Gardener, discussing the relationship between El Salvador and Santa Cruz County.
“There are a lot of Salvadorians in Santa Cruz County who are not recognized (as being from El Salvador),” Gardner said. “He feels it is important that there is a cultural exchange and much more awareness than there is.”
Sanchez Cerén came to Santa Cruz County to participate in a Sister City ceremony between Watsonville and the city of San Pedro Masahuat in El Salvador. He also visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute to share about potential collaborative work around marine protection. He presented new policies recently approved in El Salvador to establish sensitive marine habitats similar to California’s marine sanctuaries.
Sanchez Cerén’s visit with Gardner was his lone stop in the San Lorenzo Valley.
Gardner is a prominent politico in the county who has supported relief and humanitarian efforts in El Salvador since two devastatingly large earthquakes struck the Latin American country in January and February 2001. He and local documentarian Bob Gliner visited El Salvador after the quakes on a delegation with Congressman Sam Farr (D-Calif.). Gliner and Gardner’s aim was to document the devastation in an effort to raise support for the country in the United States. Gardner’s experience stuck with him.
“I went to towns and there was nothing left,” Gardner said. “You break down almost; it’s so intense.”
Gardner had intended to visit the country, make the film and then resume his life in the United States; but it didn’t work that way. Instead, the film, titled “El Salvador: Crisis and Challenge” began showing all over the country and raised a significant amount of money for El Salvadorian relief efforts. Additionally, Gardner said, the film may have been a factor in convincing congress to double the U.S.’s original commitment of $55 million toward relief.
Since then, Gardner has facilitated the donation of four American Medical Response ambulances filled with medical supplies to towns in El Salvador, including an ambulance this year that serves San Marcelino, where, according the Sanchez Cerén’s delegation, it provides benefit to 10,000 people who previously used private vehicles. Upon Sanchez Cerén’s visit, AMR has donated another ambulance that will serve San Pedro Masahuat.
Gardner said he was surprised at Sanchez Cerén’s knowledge of California’s issues.
“He had a real awareness of U.S. and California politics,” Gardner said. “There are 1 million Salvadorians in California and he talked about that and how to help them here.”
Gardner said Sanchez Cerén also hopes to provide opportunities for Salvadorians who have trade and business skills to return to their home country to help move the country forward.
Gardner said he and his wife continue to travel to El Salvador several times a year.
“We love El Salvador and we love El Salvadorian people. We want to do everything we can to make El Salvadorian lives better.”