When Bolivia’s former President, Evo Morales, fled into exile and when people in neighbouring Chile took to the streets in massive numbers to protest for a democracy that delivers for them, a friend texted to say, “how I miss having Sally around to discuss Latin American politics, I’d love to hear what she makes of all of this”.
Sally would have been outraged about the rapid spread of right-wing events taking place across Latin America over the past year. From the continuous crackdown on dissidents in Nicaragua, to the expelling of the anti-corruption commissions in both Honduras and Guatemala, and the threatening presence of military in the national congress of El Salvador. Moreover, she would have been terribly saddened by the burning of the rain forests in the Amazon.
Sally would have spoken out passionately about two vulnerable groups with whom she empathised greatly: migrants and human rights defenders. The first ones, making their way via “caravanas” (convoys) of unprecedented scale through Central America to the United States; the second ones making headlines when her beloved Honduras recorded the second highest rate of killings of Human Rights Defenders in the world, particularly those defending land and environment.
But she would have been excited and rejoiced from “small victories”. She would have injected you with her optimism. She would have been thrilled to see Guatemalan indigenous human rights defender Abelino Chuub Caal declared innocent of all charges and freed from prison, and she would have taken pride in telling anyone who met him in Ireland when awarded Trócaire’s Romero Award that she knew him personally.
She would have found hope that a better Honduras is possible when seven men were sentenced for the murder of environmentalist Berta Caceres, and she would have seen this as a positive step towards the identification of the masterminds of the killing. But she would have also reminded us that it is still a long journey to justice as hundreds are still being threatened and/or detained and imprisoned, like the Guapinol defenders.
Sally would have been immensely proud that the courageous work of partners and communities under threat was acknowledged by Irish Aid when they visited Trócaire in Honduras last year. She also would have been thrilled to see the stories of some of those communities feature so strongly in this year’s Lenten campaign.
Sally loved to interact with people, she loved to listen to other people’s stories and she was herself a wonderful storyteller. She was an extrovert as long as the focus was on others, her work or the communities she was comfortable. Sally was shy and dismissive when the focus was on her. And so she would have been mortified with the outpouring of love, grief and accolades that followed her tragic untimely passing.
Those who grieved Sally were a reflection of the scope and diversity of her wonderful life. Indigenous groups, human rights activists, community members, university students, her peers, academics, Bishops, Sisters, politicians, ambassadors, and Presidents past and current all commemorated Sally’s passing.
And of course, she was mourned by her many, many friends across the world and her dear family in Honduras and in Ireland. We have all had to find strength to come to terms with the suddenness of Sally’s passing. As she would have expected, Trócaire has continued her fight for Justice. She would expect nothing less.
We miss Sally, but we were blessed that she chose Trócaire as the organisation through which she would deliver her commitment and passion for Justice for over 30 years. We learned so much from her. Her values and passion still live in the organisation and in how we work.
To talk about Sally is to talk about justice and human rights, but also about courage, commitment, empathy and perseverance. Let us embrace those values, as we remember her today and celebrate her life, even more so now in the current unprecedented times we are living in.