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30 Years of Accompaniment & Solidarity Towards Social Transformation

The Martín-Baró Initiative at Grassroots International

Ramsay Liem, now professor emeritus of Boston College and Visiting Scholar at the BC Center for Human Rights and International Justice, and I were on our way to BC to meet online with friends and colleagues in California, Santiago, Chile, Buenos Aires, Argentina, and, we thought, San Salvador, El Salvador. We had met each other in various venues throughout the 1980s and forged a loosely affiliated group of what today might be called critical psychologists.  Our hope was to learn more from our southern colleagues who were working in the midst of violent conflict and exploitation, the product of collusion among U.S. military and corporate interests and entrenched local dictators. Our plan was to have our first internet exchange that fateful morning of November 16, 1989.

The MBF began grantmaking in 1990 and has supported 217 projects in 32 different countries distributing more than $1.3 million dollars in small grants ranging from $2,000 annually in our fi rst years to 2019 grants of $7,000 yearly for each project, renewable for up to three years. The MBF prioritizes projects in countries negatively affected by U.S. political and military policies and practices, thus striving to critically educate the U.S. public about the use of its taxes and resources abroad. Although small and limited in resources, the MBF is one of the few sources of support for organizations in the global South whose under standing of and engagement with the effects of state-sponsored violence and gross violations of human rights is systemic and structural.

Casually listening to National Public Radio on our drive to BC, our lives were upended when a news bulletin announced that our friend, social psychologist and Jesuit priest, Ignacio Martín-Baró and his colleagues had been assassinated at their university, the latest of the many brutal violations in El Salvador since the launch of the Salvadoran armed confl ict. Ignacio, or “Nacho” as we called him, was killed by the Atlacatl Battalion that had been trained in what was then called the School of the Americas in Ft. Benning, Georgia, paid for by U.S. taxes that we now know totaled more than $4.5 billion in aid to El Salvador between 1980 and 1992.

Commemorating Nacho

Two thousand nineteen marks the 30th anniversary of that brutal act in 1989. We gathered recently to remember Nacho and others who lost their lives during those 12 years of armed conflict as well as so many others globally who have been killed as they struggle for their and their communities’ rights to a good life or buen vivir. We also commemorated one initiative launched in the U.S. that drew on Ignacio’s early challenge to “liberate psychology” through supporting his vision of “a new people, a new society” – the Ignacio Martín-Baró Fund for Mental Health and Human Rights (MBF). The Fund partners with those organizing and resisting the horrific effects of state-sponsored violence in El Salvador and beyond and raises funds to support their efforts to foster psychosocial wellbeing and social transformation. We draw on our own activist scholarship and work as psychologists closely aligned with Ignacio’s understanding that mental health is “…a dimension of the relations between persons and groups more than an individual state … the manifestation, in a person or group, of the humanizing or alienating character of a framework of historical relationships. …. [psychosocial] treatment must address itself to relationships between social groups which constitute the ‘normal abnormality’ that dehumanizes the… oppressor and the oppressed, soldier and victim, dominator and dominated, alike” (Martín-Baró, 1994, pp.109-111).

Ignacio’s liberation psychology deeply informs that political education and guides the decisions we make during our grant making where priority is given to underfunded local groups who integrate human rights with community health, wellbeing, and active resistance to political repression and social injustice. Our work is one small but critical initiative through which we in the North, drawing on the words of Carlos Martín-Baró (see insert in this issue), seek to sustain and extend Nacho’s voice.

Next Steps in our Journey

Through its education and grantmaking the MBF crafts a praxis that shifts the reductionistic focus of psychological paradigms from intraindividual processes to social relations that sustain or rupture the “normal abnormality” of ongoing “limit situations” – guided by Ignacio’s insights into and unrelenting opposition to the Salvadoran counterinsurgency war that took so many lives including his own. The Peace Development Fund ( has served as our fiscal sponsor and avid supporter over much of our third decade. We thank their staff, most particularly Kathy Sharkey, Ray Santiago, and Delia Kovac, for the multiple ways in which they enhanced our fundraising and administered our grantmaking.

Through these 30 years of solidarity and financial support, we at the MBF have seen more and more of the small community-based groups that we have supported build networks through new partnerships that generate broader social movements who can more effectively represent their interests in our increasingly global community. Towards increasing the breadth and depth of our activism and solidarity, the MBF announces our transition to a new partnership with Grassroots International (see below, this page). We welcome this new relationship through which we will continue to raise funds and recommend grants to community-led efforts that promote education, psychosocial wellbeing, and the pursuit of social reparations and a more just and equitable world. As importantly, we welcome new opportunities to extend our reach through accompanying human rights activists who daily risk their lives as they, in the words of Nacho, construct new persons in a new society. Finally, we invite you to support our next steps through making a generous end of the year contribution to us at Grassroots International, noting in the memo that it is for the Martín-Baró Initiative.