The Pink, Bloodied & Reconstructed Walls of History: RL Reporting from El Salvador

March 11, 2009


Saludos from El Salvador, land of my ancestors and of ghosts loving and hostile, a land that’s -again- on the verge of volcanic, platetechtonic shifts of consciousness – regardless of the outcome of this week’s historic elections. In the short time since landing last week, my own consciousness has been shaken by the central fact of Salvadoran life today: how absolutely and passionately people here are ready for change. Even small talk in this small country is full of big ideas –democracia, cambio, justicia-and other things we who are Border Walled-off from the insurgent continent can learn from. For those of you that don’t know me personally, intimately or otherwise, there would simple y sencillamente be no Of América without the people of El Salvador, their espiritu de lucha, mi espiritu de lucha.

Those of you who visit the site regularly may find some of my dispatches a bit more personal than usual. For example, as I prepared for the trip, the “journalist” within cautioned against exposing too much of my personal or political past. I even hesitated about sharing the pic above taken from within the pretty pink walls my aunt’s room in the province of San Vicente; I think the culture of fear and paranoia that fills the tropical (and very polluted) air here had infected me and manifested its noxious symptoms in the cautious voice of the journalist. But as I thought about it, having family that has sympathies for the right-wing Arena party -family that I love despite politics- is a fact of life for many a Salvadoran whose heart was not mangled or killed during the 12 year civil war. Furthermore, the frontal, direct assault on the hydra-head of Fear is nothing if not the great defining trait of people on the verge of another big revolutionary step.

It’s late and I’ve been on the road. So, the best thing I can do with remaining energy is to preview one of my stories by sharing pics from a recent visit. Am trying to share the stuff that reporters stationed behind the guarded, air-conditioned walls of hotels in San Salvador might not be able to.


This pic is from San Vicente, my mom’s hometown. This is the view from the cobblestone street in front of my grandmother’s house, a street I used to float paper boats on. I also used to chase giant green dragonflies on the street with Luisito, my best childhood friend when I visited San Vicente. Luisito disappeared one teen year and I later found out he flew off to join the FMLN, El Salvador’s former guerrillas, who are now well-positioned to win the Presidency in this Sunday’s elections against the Arena party (pictured in pic of pink wall). Luisito called my aunt after being injured in combat. He wanted to speak with his mother before he died and my aunt was the only one with a phone back then. His radicalization and death weren’t something you talked about in small town San Vicente-even after the war ended in 1992.

This picture is interesting because the busloads of FMLN supporters, several of whom are members of Luisito’s family, are standing in front of his home wearing the red shirts and scarves and waving the red flags, something unimaginable years back. Thought it was also interesting that the FMLN campaign office is located across the street from Luisito’s.

You might also note the big red, white and blue flag of the Arena party, which is behind in most polls. Further in the background is the white wall of the Iglesia del Pilar, a colonial church, where ,in the 1830’s, Nonualco indian leader Anatasio Aquino took the crown of San Jose and crowned himself King of the Nonualcos after he and 3,000 men rebelled against local land barons. Aquino was later betrayed, beheaded and buried in the San Vicente cemetery where my family is buried.

Aquino and other indigenous leaders were adopted by the FMLN as symbols of their struggle while Arena draws inspiration from people like Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez, the dictator who started El Salvador on the road to modernization after slaughtering between 20,000 to 30,000 mostly indigenous people in what historians call “La Matanza” or the Great Killing of 1932. He ruled until being ousted in a coup in 1944 and was later assassinated (more below)

My aunt showed me the wall where, as a girl, she saw Martinez’s troops execute criminals, indians, alleged subversives and other personas nada gratas. I walked over to the wall and also found one of the big treats of my trip thus far: Aquino’s tomb. Right in front of the tomb, radical students, some of whom were gathered in front of Luisito’s and the FMLN office, painted a mural last year on the same wall where Martinez’s troops killed many innocents. In their younger days (1980’s), older, 40-50 something others in the FMLN crowd gathered for electoral activities had come down from the mountains pictured behind the walls and hid in the cemetery before launching military offensives inside the town.

The pink, bloodied and rebuilt walls of El Salvador will be voting on Sunday too.

9 Responses to “The Pink, Bloodied & Reconstructed Walls of History: RL Reporting from El Salvador”

  1. Tigre Says:

    “Furthermore, the frontal, direct assault on the hydra-head of Fear is nothing if not the great defining trait of people on the verge of another big revolutionary step.”
    Thank you for posting this. I look forward to reading more. I’m printing this quote and posting it somewhere where I can see it often. Thanks to you and the brave people of El Salvador.

  2. el-omar Says:

    “on the verge of volcanic, platetechtonic shifts of consciousness” would this statement imply that a terremoto (earhtquake) is on the horizon? One that would shake the very foundations of conscience with such force that it would change the order of things for better or worse. Or is it a philosophical view of the need for this event to occur? I will with anticipation await your postings, and what would a reporter be without his or her humanity.

    • robvato Says:

      Thanks Omar & Tigre. Volcanoe image came to me because yesterday I was in a town called Izalco, which sits at the foot of a giant volcano that had a thick white cloud of smoke. One of my friends there-a direct descendant of the indigenous leader who led a rebellion that was put down in 1932- told me that she thought the smoke signalled a possible eruption. She is very optimistic about change and described eruptions she’s seen as “glorioso” sites. So there you have it: the image is meant to be positive.

  3. Carlos Macias Says:

    Read an analysis of the upcoming presidential elections in El Salvador:

  4. JMB Says:

    Tell the people of El Salvador to vote as THEY please. The fear mongers in the US have absolutely NO power to do any of the crap they threaten to do. Their Party is almost dead because Estadounidense have overwhelmingly voted them out into near oblivion.

    People are tired of the BS. The Cold War has been over for decades.

    Move forward into the 21st Century.

  5. RaiulBaztepo Says:

    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language 😉
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

  6. Rodolfo Says:

    I hate Arena because they are capitalist pigs, but where do you get that Arena draws inspiration from people like Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez?

    Being a capitalist pig and a mass murderer are too different things. When you lose touch with reality like that, your arguments lose power.

    Have a nice day.

    • robvato Says:

      Thanks for your comments. i guess we inhabit a different “reality” when it comes to Salvadoran history & politics, Rodolfo; My comments are informed by three things: reports like that of the UN Truth Commission, which found that 95% of the 80,000 people killed during the war were killed by the Salvadoran government and its military & paramilitary forces; interviews with Arena party leaders who still laud Hernandez Martinez for “cleaning up” El Salvador with his military as when they killed 30,000 mostly innocent indigenous people; and, lastly, the experience, in the 80’s & 90’s, of losing friends to and of receiving death threats from Arena-linked paramilitary death squads who signed their letters with names like “The Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez Patriotic Front.” These are the kinds of things that led me to the fantastical idea that Arena followed Hernandez Martinez murderous playbook. Sorry if my perspective offends or doesn’t fit your “reality,” Rodolfo.

  7. Rosa Says:

    Came accross this site explaining to my grandson the history of my grandpa.. El Presidente” Max Hernandez Martinez. WOW. I did meet him and walked for miles along side him in the hills or ElSalvador and Hunduras, never knowing of his past , as a child, of course, I would not.
    I remember the day, the phone rang to tell us of his death. I was 12 then, and somehow I knew what the call was before they answered the phone. My grandpa was dead. Maybe nobody ever said I am sorry to all those families, who lost their loved ones, but I will say it. I am sorry for what my grandfather did to hurt anyone. The next generations are much different than he was.

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