Friday, April 13, 2012

Cartoon 21: The Salvadoran Guerrilla

We spent a week in San Antonio de los Ranchos, a community that organized to form part of the guerrilla during the war in El Salvador in the 80’s and 90’s.  Whoa, the stories.  One woman shared that during the war she was a lookout and a community organizer helping protect the civilians that escaped to the mountains fleeing the violence.  She told us of one of her many memories of the attempts of the military to extinguish the people in resistance in the mountains.   She barely escaped by running through a rain of bullets to a nearby peak only to watch the 16 remaining families massacred.  Later, to reunite with the group who had gone in the other direction, she had to walk through where the bodies of her loved ones still laid.  This woman is the one waving in the picture above.  She now directs a social organization that plays a huge role in maintaining a unified community through arts and education. ( )

The feeling of harmony, unity and safety in this community made it stand out from others.   Folks there told me that this was because religious and community leaders helped organize the people there before the war in resistance against continual oppression by the government and elites supported by our US tax dollars in form of military aid.  The human rights violations were so bad that many of the powerful members of the church took to the mountains as well as part of the guerrilla.  In another community that we visited, a man told us the story of how his family had to provide food and shelter to both guerrilla and government at different times depending on who was controlling the area.  He remembers a time when his grandmother fought with a guerrilla priest because he burnt down a church.  The priest explained that in current circumstances, the holiness of the space had been violated as it was being used as a military post. 

I was told that the war ended when the guerrilla had gained enough ground to negotiate with the government as equals.  The peace agreement included the formation of a political party comprised of members of the guerrilla, the Frente Farabundo Marti de LiberaciĆ³n Nacional (FMLN).  While we were in San Antonio de los Ranchos, it was election time and a large part of the community organized to offer political education and to get people to the polls.  At the end of election day, there was a huge community wide party in the main plaza to celebrate the victory of the FMLN in their county.

For me it was incredible to see almost an entire community organized around building the reality that they want for themselves.  It made me think of how back at home we are so separated, at least in middle class communities.  The possibility of self-sufficiency often leaves us living lives that are completely independent from our neighbors.  Too often in my life I've left the government to do the work of deciding for me how our cities, states and country run.  I let them decide by what rules I play.   I think that’s something that I want to do when I get back: dedicate sometime to creating a community, city, state and a country that really represent the values that I think are important.

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