The Martín Baró Endowed Program was established to honor the memory of slain colleague and distinguished member of the University of Chicago community, Father Ignacio Martín Baró, who lived a life committed to the human values of democracy, social justice and service to the poor, silenced, and dispossessed. Ignacio Martín Baró was an ordained Jesuit priest, born in Spain in 1942. Upon joining the Jesuit order, Martín Baró was sent to El Salvador where he studied psychology. He came to the University of Chicago in 1976 to pursue graduate studies and three years later received his doctorate in Social Psychology.
Upon returning to El Salvador, he found himself in the midst of a violent civil war, which had been ravaging the country for more than a decade. Despite many death threats and brutal acts of repression suffered by colleagues, students and friends, Father Martín Baró continued to pursue a brilliant teaching and research career as pastor of a rural parish on the outskirts of San Salvador. Before his death, Martín Baró reflected upon the merging of his responsibilities as an academic researcher and defender of the poor. In the prologue of one of his many publications, he wrote:
It is possible that the pages that follow may lack the level of objectivity customary in the academic world. By way of explanation, I can only point to the fact that many of these pages have been written in the midst of extreme circumstances –-with the police monitoring our home, in the aftermath of a colleague’s assassination and the moral impact of a bombing that destroyed our workplace. But we also believe that these experiences have let us enter into the world of the oppressed, to feel more closely the experience of those who carry the weight of years of oppression on their shoulders, and who today are rising up with a new history. There are some truths that one discovers only through suffering or at critical points in extreme situations.
On the morning of November 16, 1989, Father Martín Baró, along with five Jesuit brothers, their housekeeper, and her daughter became victims of their commitment to the dispossessed of El Salvador. That morning armed soldiers took them away and executed them one by one.
The Ignacio Martín Baró Endowed Program was created by then-President of the University of Chicago Hannah Holborn Gray to honor the life and memory of this extraordinary individual.
The endowment is administered by the Center for Latin American Studies and has supported a series of major public lectures, which have greatly enriched the intellectual life of the University of Chicago. Martín Baró Lectures have been delivered by theologian and intellectual founder of liberation theology, Father Gustavo Gutiérrez (1995); Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide, former President of Haiti (1994); and Rubén Zamora, social activist and former presidential candidate in El Salvador (1993).
The endowment also has supported the PFCHR through its co-sponsorship of the 1997-98 course, Human Rights in Guatemala, and annual prizes for the best graduate and undergraduate human rights essays. In 1999, in addition to co-sponsoring the Ignacio Martín Baró Essay Prize for Human Rights, the program supported a Human Rights Internship in Latin America. College Student Zoila Rendon worked with the Asociación Pro-Busqueda de Niñas y Niños Desaparecidos in San Salvador, El Salvador.