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Memories of El Salvador

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I just met a Salvadoran in Central Park who grew up during its 10-year civil war (Please see this post or read the book it describes for more information). I was only able to speak to him for 15 minutes, but he was gracious enough to allow me to take notes.

Here, then, is his half of the conversation, as it occurred. His English was not fluent, so I took liberties with sentence structure and pronunciation, so to better render the exchange for this format. He was the son of a relatively prosperous landowner in El Salvador.

Guerrilla here refers to the Salvadoran insurgency, while “The Army” or The Government” refers to the US-sponsored entity.

“I was born in ’73 – the war started when I was six or seven. The government, they came to our house one day and they said, ‘This area, this is all the Guerrilla territory. Either you’re with us or you’re with them. You have 72 hours to leave, otherwise you’re with them. ‘

It was a big rain the night before, and we had to leave the village the next day at 2 in the afternoon. It was a heavy, heavy rain. We had to leave everything except the clothes we were wearing. We didn’t go back until 4 years later, and everything was completely ruined – the animals, all gone, and we didn”t find anything in our house, we find no tables, no chairs. Most of the village was destroyed by bombs, thrown by the government’s planes.

They have to catch the terrorists – and if you’re not a terrorist, you have to leave the house, so they can eliminate them; find them and kill them. I think that’s what the idea was – why they made us leave.

And oh, it was so sad, because you know, coming from a wealthy family, now everyone had to find a way to survive, start again from the beginning. We had zero, no house, small tiny apartment for 8 people. Ended up selling mangoes, fruits in the streets. It was so sad.

I lost a brother in the war, an older one. We were so poor in those days. The government – when you were 18 you had to go to the army, by law. So he was killed.

Oh, they would take anyone who can hold a gun. If you’re 14 – you go with them. Sometimes younger than that. There was a lot of kids in the guerrilla. The army, though, you had to be 16 to join.

I remember when these guys from the guerrilla came to my mother and ask her, which of your sons will go with them. And she says none of them. So they say, well, we’ll kill them both, because if they don’t go with us, they’ll go with the government. Finally my oldest brother said fine, I’ll go with you. He offered himself in order not for us to be killed. Six years later he was dead.

Sometimes my mother, she cooked food and brought it to him in the mountains – you know how a mother is, she wants her child to eat. But the last couple times we went to see him in the place we always see him, he never shows up. So my mother started to get worried – she goes to her friend, and her friend says, “Oh, Rufino, he’s dead – I just heard”. Yeah, I remember that. After we found out we all suffered so much. I remember.

It was a point in her life when my mother had one son in the guerrilla and one son in the Army. I used to see her crying every day, every day, and praying that the other one survives.

And everyone was turning their neighbors in. It was like this: the army, the guerrilla, they had ways to find out about you – so lets say your family and my family, we’re not friends, all I have to do is say to the army, ‘that family over there, they’re part of the guerrilla, they’re giving information’ – then that family won’t wake up. Or you could go to the guerrilla and say that family supports the government. It’s the same thing. They’ll be killed. I saw three or four families like that.

I heard gunshots and shouting one night. I remember waking up one morning, and everyone was saying “They shot the Rodriguez! The whole family! The army left the bodies in the street for days.

I saw fighting few times. We were traveling in buses, and sometimes the bus gets shot – a lot of people get killed. And that’s how the guerrilla protests, they burn villages, bridges – destroy public property.

It was hard to tell who was who between government and guerrilla. The only way we could tell was that the guerrilla had a few women with them, and they dressed less… appropriate than the soldiers. But a lot of times it was hard to tell who was who. They both did the same things.”

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Written by pavanvan

August 26, 2009 at 1:48 am

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