El Salvador Update – December 1996
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HOLA, HOLA, HOLA!
I’ve never liked guilt-tripping. I’ve always left the concept of sin to the Catholic Church. When I was four, my mother said, “There’s millions of people starving in China. Eat your dinner.” I said, “Ma, name one.” – Abbie Hoffman
The rains ended abruptly in October, quickly leaving the soil parched, like a wrung out sponge. Since then, we have been in the midst of moving ourselves to another house in the “new” colonia which is being built 10 minutes away from Perquin and is affectionately named “The 10th of January” in honor of the first offensive led by the guerrillas in 1981. The colonia is a community of 37 houses of ex-combatants, each taking great pride in showing off his or her wooden window shutters, tiled floors and florescent lights. We have gone from having a couple hours of running water daily to bathing and washing in the local springs nearby nestled amidst blossoming orange trees and wild flowers. Having been in the midst of building a composting latrine, we are still dodging for trees in anguishing moments of bursting bladders. Why move? This new colonia has a spicy amiable flavor to it, compared to our previously more sterile environment mainly made up of local aid workers. We may well be surrounded by more battled warriors with guns now, but feel safer as our abode is brimming with visitors and “corazon” (heart).
The gardens seem to be on the up and up lately. After barely cultivating anything in a soggy, frustrating winter, the women have regrouped with vigor and passion as they start again. Having said this, however, a couple of weeks ago, Rosa, one of the women who works in a garden, had her house burnt down, losing everything but what she and her family was wearing. Luckily, no one was hurt, but they have been devastated financially and morally. Is it coincidental that ARENA, the political party in power, was having their political convention and fiesta at the same time in her town when Rosa’s house went up in smoke? Possibly, and to be fair there has been no proof. But when one considers that Rosa and her house were key coordinating points for youth, women and even a monthly Mass (as the priest is not allowed to use the church, again due to political divisions) this incident starts to stink of arson.
What’s been remarkable nevertheless, has been the rallying of the community to overcome this plight. It has shifted from a family catastrophe to the restoration of community pride and commitment. Men, women, youth and children from numerous communities have been donating food, a bag of cement, or even a spare cup or spoon; all to rebuild the lives of Rosa’s family. As I (David) walked onto the charred site ready to help and where a dozen men were busy constructing a new concrete house, 23 eyes (one of the lads lost an eye in the war) watched hesitatingly as I showed up to publicly assume a tiny piece of their burden. In a land where there is no fire or home owner’s insurance, where the poor are left with each other and their own covenant, I suddenly have begun to understand what the term “solidarity” means. And I have been wondering ever since what have we lost, or even ever had up in the North, and this has been tugging at my inner being since…
We have brokered an agreement with US AID, which will see the garden vegetables going to 1) the women’s families, 2) the children at the Centro Infantil, and 3) possibly franchise supermarkets or hotels in San Miguel, a city 2 hours away. Though I still feel uncomfortable with them slowly switching from sustenance to cash crop farming, I try to remember that it is usually only us from the North who have the luxury to debate such issues as globalization and environmentalism. For your farming “campesina” what matters is whether there is food on the table today, not why leaf lettuce gets a better price than radishes. If they can make a little more cash which goes into their pockets, who are we, the rich from the Minority World who directly or indirectly contribute to this system of exploitation, to say to them that it is unethical? I can try to help them understand the global picture, but also want to accompany them in their decisions.
The Centro Infantil have finally started classes again. Once again, there is a new coordinator at the school. In the short time that I’ve (Eugenia) been here – there have already been 4 different coordinators. The latest, although Salvadoran, is imported from the capital. It has been frustrating to see the lack of trust and respect which exists amongst the locals, where even families remain divided. The last few coordinators have been from Perquin but have left due to a lack of acceptance from others. But the locals readily accept the “leadership” and mandates of foreigners and city folk. I have been thwarted as I realize that suggestions or opinions are often interpreted as instructions and mandates. It has been difficult to know how to approach issues with sensibility and integrity and which can break the submissive cycles of colonialism and imperialism.
Nevertheless, we are excited to have the children back for another year. Last Wednesday, we had a de-licing campaign with the support of a local doctor. Unfortunately we can’t change the family conditions as easily as we can pluck the little buggers from their heads. In our home visits to promote the center – the greatest obstacle we encountered from the mothers was their reluctance to send their children to pre-school for their fear of staying home alone. An all too common response to our inquiries about registering their children was: “I think the Centro is a great idea and I’m all in favor of the school but if I send my youngest ones to school, I’ll be alone. What would I do all day?” And to this, I didn’t have the slightest idea of how to respond. Economic difficulties yes – we can work together and resolve the issue. But how does one respond to something as fundamental as what it means to be a “fully actualized women” in this society? What does one say to someone who sees her children as equivalent to her value and worth – how can I convince her to send her children to the pre-school when she sees being childless, even if for a day, as being “useless”?
It is with this intimate issue that I am struggling with now. Everyone that I’ve talked to is fully in support of a pre-school that provides an alternative education along with a balanced diet and healthy atmosphere. But that’s the easy part – once the children are there. The challenge to is know how to reach out to the rest of the family, especially the mothers, on such delicate issues as self-worth and self-esteem.
Part of our reason for writing this newsletter is to give a voice to the voiceless, so that Salvadorans are not just statistics, but take on a human element. This December 10 will mark the 15th anniversary of the massacred in El Mozote, perhaps the largest in recent Latin American history. On the this day, hundreds will gather at the massacre site, a hamlet 10 kilometers from our house, for an all-night vigil to remember the atrocities which for 11 years much of the world refused to believe, and US President Reagan had dismissed as “propaganda”. One of only two survivors, Rufina Amaya Marquez has served the world as one of the most eloquent witnesses of what happened in El Mozote. I (David) spent an afternoon in her home about a week ago, and learned more about her struggle and commitment to nurturing human rights in this country and abroad. Her father, Jose, also accounted parts of that fateful day, showing me 2 healed holes in his leg where he had been shot while working in a nearby vegetable garden.
The American trained Atlacatl Battalion entered El Mozote, as helicopters and planes had bombed around the hamlet causing everyone to hide in their houses. Soldiers entered the village with their M-16’s yelling “SALGAN!” (GET OUT!). Rufina and her husband Domingo emerged with their 4 children and were ordered to lie down in the street, face down, along with the rest of the villagers. For hours they were verbally abused, kicked, and accused of collaborating with the guerrillas – “Where are the guerrillas — where do they keep their guns?” But none of the villagers answered because no one knew. Women were ordered to return under house arrest with no food, where they kept awake for the night as the men and older boys stood for hours until the sun rose the following morning. They were put into groups of 5 or 6 and ordered to walk in various directions. Rufina’s husband was among them as she peeked through a window and saw him bolt forward, but there was nowhere to run. The soldiers brought him and the others down with short bursts of fire. They then strode forward, unsheathed the farmers’ machetes, jerked their heads back sharply and beheaded them. This continued for the morning until the soldiers went back to the houses saying to the women “now it’s your turn”. They pulled away children from their mothers and marched them outside where pools of blood covered the ground. Screams of terror encircled the women as babies were being thrown in the air and stabbed with bayonets, others hanged from trees.
As Rufina was in the last group, she managed to run behind a crab apple tree as the soldiers started to light houses on fire. She crawled into maguey and hid as she heard her son crying, “Mommy! Mommy! They’re cutting us! They’re killing us!” Screams dwindled to a few voices and finally ceased through the second night… Eventually, Rufina was found by farmers and taken to the guerrillas by the end of December. She was one of two survivors to escape the massacre, as it is estimated that over 1,000 people, mostly women and children, were murdered in El Mozote and surrounding hamlets. In 1992, 143 bodies were identified including 131 children under 12 years of age. The majority of cartridge cases recovered had discernible head stamps, being manufactured in Missouri, USA, as did all but one having had been fired by US manufactured M-16 rifles.*
Soon it will be Christmas and we look forward to seeing David’s parents who will come for a visit. If you follow the tradition of putting up a tree and placing gifts underneath it, we ask that you remember why. We ask that you remember that there are many in the world who have little, but give so much. This year Rufina, Rosa and many others are also decorating their homes for Christmas and have hopes for peace on earth. They can be living role models for people like us, so rich materially, so spiritually poor. We leave you with a quote from the Hindu mystic, Krishnamurti, from “Freedom From The Known”.
“We are each one of us responsible for every war because of the aggressiveness of our own lives, because of our nationalism, our selfishness, our gods, our prejudices, our ideals, all of which divide us. And only when we realize, not intellectually but actually, as actually as we would recognize that we are hungry or in pain, that you and I are responsible for all this existing chaos, for all the misery throughout the entire world, because we have contributed to it in our daily lives, and are a part of this monstrous society with its wars, divisions, its ugliness, brutality and greed — only then will we act.”
Salut! Love, Eugenia & David
* Look for Mark Danner’s book, The Massacre at El Mozote, Pub. – A Vintage Original, 1994