Published: March 23rd 2012February 7th 2012
The old stocky lady with a red dress and white apron walks you around with a smile on her face. Shrapnel ruins a home here, a large crater from a bomb there. At the beginning, she explains the mass massacre of a thousand people. All said seriously than as we walk again she goes back to her jolly self.
She’s a volunteer and shows around, the few people who bother to come here, the continued legacy of Claudia Bernadi an Argentine activist who helped exhume the mass graves here. Most places in the world try to forget civil wars but every now and then one place sets a reminder that sometimes we shouldn’t forget and act like it never happened because if we do it may happen again.
I was in the north East of El Salvador, a country only a generation into freedom from civil war. As you go from place to place in Central America its hard to grasp at times, especially when you hit major tourist spots every time, the unrest that diseased most of the region. Costa Rica and Panama didn’t have any major problems so it was here I would
try and grasp the recent history of the region.
The place I wanted to get to was the recently reinhabitated village of Mozete. The best overnight spot to get there was Perquin the major town of the mountainous north-east. As I arrived the main square had the 2012 election campaign in full swing. Nationalist Republican Alliance or
ARENA Party had the loud stereo system blaring, seating for the crowd. The whole party for the region was on stage having a quick few minutes to stake their claim to be mayor or in the cabinet. In between speakers, loud music would deafen the eardrums. At the conclusion what appeared to be food was given out from their office building.
Around town had many paintings on the walls depicting life of the locals. They were of happy images of life in the mountains but things weren’t that way years ago. In Perquin there is a Museo de la Revolucion, which explains the guerilla effort to seize power from the corrupt leaders.
The museum is all in Spanish and a great way to re-confirm your Spanish is shit. Still I got
bits and pieces. There are many pictures of women being involved in the process. Women with guns, woman in guerilla camouflage uniform, as well as nurses taken blood from someone.
Out the back there are a few bullet proof cars and further on is the example of the radio station FMLN. ‘Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front’ is a combination of 5 Guerilla organisations. It is a powerful group within El Salvador. It is not only a symbol of resistance but a radio station and a political party. Currently it holds 35/84 seats in the legislative assembly.
During the civil war the station would be in the forest moving from place to place, announcing messages to the people. The original station is now enclosed by a concrete building at the museum, no trees or caves of the hills. But covering those walls are egg cartons used to capture the sound.
That sound had a voice that took years for the international government’s and people to hear and act on. Another part of the museum is the gradual awareness of the outside world of their plight.
I know that many
are over U2 and especially Bono but in 1987 the song Bullet the Blue Sky was dedicated in part to this war as well as a broader sense. It was only after I left here it occurred to me to re-listen to the words more carefully.
The final lyrics basically tell the story on how the world sees America in a lot of these struggling regions of the world (some minus the whole war thing.)
“And through the walls you hear the city groan
Outside it’s America
Outside it’s America
Across the field you see the sky ripped open
See the rain through a gaping wound
Pounding on the women and children
Into the arms of America.”
“Running into the arm of America” is the catch 22 of the situation for these people. America is saying they are there to help but than those open compassionate arms sometimes come in the form of US made and donated weapons.
In the case of El Salvador in 1980’s it was Ronald Ragen’s government who pumped up the ammunition stocks of the
government to alleviate the threat of communism. The government’s side militia was the elite US trained Atlacati whose atrocity is best viewed in Mozote. Evidence can still be found with US made bombs and massive craters surrounded by trees.
On the suspicion that the village is harboring guerillas about 600 soldiers split up in groups of 5 and traveling down from Perquin. They marched in after telling the mayor that the villagers had nothing to worry about on December 10, 1981.
Taking control of the area they informed everyone to return to their homes. If they came out they would be killed. On the morning of the 11th
the town was asked to meet again at the plaza and this time segregated into groups. Men and older boys in one, woman and children in another. The woman were taken into several houses close by.
**The last two lines of the next paragraph may offend**
At 8am the executions began with the men and older boys. In the afternoon they did the same to the women after separating the women from 9 years and they then raped, tortured then
executed them. I still don’t understand how grabbing a girl who’s not into you than with full knowledge that she is going to be dead the moment after you ejaculate can be arousing? Maybe these guys should just have a wank first to ease the adrenalin.
Next they separated the children from the mothers and more of the same concluding with the killing of the children (no age was spared) in a chapel and thrown into a parish home.
These images are hard to imagine when walking around. It’s a quiet village and I feel a bit shitty coming here because its obvious the only reason why I’m here? There is no other reason to be here. Whilst most of the place is back to normal there is a small area that still holds the scares.
Close to a small corn field a crater from an American bomb still lies there. A tree is dead and alive; the dead part lies angled whilst a rejuvenated part grows around it. Further on the scale of land removed is seen up an overgrown shrubs and some stone bricks. I am then told I
am standing on top of a house. To the right was the kitchen. The left was the common room.
FMLN has now moved on from the days hiding from place to place leaving behind the original microphone and antenna to the museum and is now stations itself 5 hours away in the capital San Salvador.
Some see the commercialism of the radio program as a sell out. Either way it is very hard to avoid seeing or hearing them. Cars go around advertising the station and their election posters had a black cross on it which I took as, ‘No! Bad party, no vote.’ When in fact it means to cross them for your vote on Election Day.
It’s not straightforward to get to Mozete especially when a miscommunication meant I missed the only morning bus that connects to the other only bus that passes Mozete but I got there and back eventually. Via pick up truck, hitch-hiking and around 10kms of hiking.
Despite its frustrations in not getting an easy run it had turned out to be the best part of the Central American trip thus far.
The highlight was getting in the back of a truck holding onto a pole whilst my feet found ground between vegetables. That ride killed 6kms of walking for me. At the end I wanted to pay but the driver refused.
This was a different part of Central America for me, a real part where everyday people live. Bucket showers in the cool climate emphasis that point too. Its rural with just the basics, which are now becoming more complex with a Millennium initiative from America providing more basics like electricity.
From the rural few days I hit the capital, which was another world. Dominated by American fast-food chains like KFC, Taco-Bell, Pizza Hit, to Guatemala’s Campanero. They even have multiples of supermarket chain Wall Mart.
My guidebook described it as the nicest of the Central American cities. It doesn’t have much to beat and can probably be skipped but if you have time the main features are its art.
Galleries have popped up and the main art gallery provides some interesting viewing. It is behind the Monumento del a Revolucion, which is soviet looking monument if I’ve ever
Inside the modern building there are quite a few levels and sections. The best ones were the gallery towards change with art dedicated to the 1980-1992 period. Interestingly a lot of the work had bright colour, mixed in with the dark images and colour schemes. The cut on the sole of a persons feet than blood dripping down was less colourful.
The contemporary section was a mix between, ‘What the hell are they thinking’ to ‘That is impressive.’ The 24 spray bottles lined up next to each other from white, moving to grey than black was pleasing to the eye. Another with yards of measuring tape wrapped around some fat persons body was a good photo too.
Art is always interesting way to grab an idea of a nations thinking especially when going through wartime or recovering from it. Sometimes it gets more recognition from the nation as a form of helping the country recover. But in El Salvador art seems to have always been there.
In the Central Historic area a concrete arc looking structure is covered in the decades of soot that’s built up
from the polluted air. Inglesia el Rasario from the outside seems a waste of time but inside is one of the most artful dominated churches I’ve been in.
Stain glass drains the sunlight to varying colours as it illuminates it with the colours of the rainbow. I have not seen anything like it before. Unlike the stain glass in regular religious buildings. It’s taken on an artful touch with little holes in the windows of various sizes allowing the light to peer through. On top of that the walls have a small shrine dedicated to the sun and copper tools with a white illuminating background.
I would put Rasario up there with a must see religious site in the world although it would be one of those lower on the list and an effort to show some originality in the list. (…)
There is however the Cathedral Metropolitana, which was closed on a Sunday. (?) It sits tall on Plaza Barrios, which is currently being renovated. Inside there too is some art masterpieces. Unfortunately I couldn’t see it and also with all the metal work going on in the square was
unable to really capture the plaque commemorating the 6 Jesuit priests who were shot during the civil war.
The Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1977 cancelled repair work on the cathedral to feed the countries hungry instead. In March 1980 he was killed. This is seen by some as the final straw before the country went into turmoil.
Since El Salvador is off the radar (just slightly) I went to the beach to maybe grasp a more local beach experience. I kept on hearing that I should go to El Tunco and for the life of me I probably should have ignored them because if so many tourists say go there than its more than likely full of tourists. So that’s what I got but in truth it is more subdued to the rest of the coastal areas I’d been.
The beach was average really based on my biased Australian point of view. I’ve also found that in surfing places the beaches are ordinary. I can’t really comment on the surfing conditions with complete knowledge but for body surfing the waves it had enough power to ride along the wave like you
are on a board.
I could have explored a bit more but JP5 has toned down a bit. Motivation is waning, travel by myself with my own thoughts only in my head I needed a boost. El Salvador gave me a little burst of energy. But for the next month the trip would change to the refreshing better as thedribbleman meets up with his sister and her new fiancé for the remainder of the Central American trip.
I was going to try and provide a U2 link but Bono craps on in every version so type in google Sepultura’s version instead. They cut out the last few lines, which is a shame since that is probably the most meaningful part of the song for me. But U2 do cut out that line now when they play live. It appears so Bono can crap on again.
- It also should be noted that things are pretty cheap here. $1 gets you about an hours drive on the bus. Around 50 cents for a coke, they also provide you with the weakest straws I’ve been given in the world.
There are more photos below