Tuesday, July 31, 2007

School days & a look back at the revolution
(El Salvador Day 2)

We got up bright and early, thanks to roosters who decided that just because it's only 3:30 in the morning is no reason to wait to start crowing. Once we'd had our pan y café, we played a little while with the youngest of my brothers-in-law and nephews -- you can see Marco testing his weightlifting skills in the picture at right -- then went a little ways down the hill for my first visit EVER to the local school. (We normally come in December, halfway through the vacation period.) At the school, we came along just as classes broke for a mid-morning snack. I unexpectedly ran across our niece, who is now in second grade, and her teacher's pride. Couldn't get any pictures of her that day, though, as she's always been a bit camera-shy. The other kids were tickled pink to be photographed; once they saw you can look at the digital picture right away, it was hard to get a picture at all for all the kids that crowded into the frame! Eventually I ended up using the video feature because it was the only way to get a clear shot of everyone. The children were adorable, and when the bell rang for them to return to class, I practically had to chase some of them back to their teachers. In the afternoon, we headed over to Perquín for the second of our planned "tourist" stops, a visit to the Museum of the Revolution. On the way, I took a number of snaps of the political symbolism that's painted on everything that doesn't move. The last time we were in the country, the northern and eastern departments mostly had FMLN's red-and-white colors with the star logo, whereas this time around there's far more ARENA support evident than before, as well as minor parties unfamiliar to me: PCN, CD, FDR. When I see ARENA's red-white-and-blue, I can't help wondering if that choice of colors was made at the founding of the party as a tip of the hat to the country that had so copiously funded the government's counter-revolutionary attacks; by some sources, U.S. support at the height of the 1980s civil war reached $1 million per day. ARENA is the party of the president, and was founded by Roberto D'Aubuisson, who is honored even today despite being widely recognized as a leader of the death squads and most likely the one who gave the order for the murder of Archibishop Óscar Romero (according to the UN investigations). Many people I spoke with in the area either believe that ARENA stole local elections, while others argue they simply were successful in the scare tactics they used, such as warning people that electing the leftist FMLN would result in soured Salvadoran-U.S. relations that could end in their relatives' being deported, which would mean the end of the remittances on which many, especially the poorest, have come to depend. Even though I consider that a sleazy way to stay in office, I can't say that it's necessarily untrue, especially in the current U.S. climate. By the time we reached Perquín, it was pouring rain and I wasn't sure we were going to be able to make it to the museum site. Someone who rented that truck before us must have used the 4x4 on flat highway roads, because it didn't grab nearly as well as the two vehicles we had last time (first an SUV and later a pickup). After considerable driving around, we found the museum and parked across the road, which meant waiting about half an hour under a shelter for the torrents to subside. There was a little shop outside that I was hoping to check out on the way back to the vehicle, but we ended up without time because we needed to run an errand in Gotera on the way and we spent quite the long visit once inside. You aren't permitted to take any photos inside, which is understandable but frustrating, as I could never hope to capture all the information that covers the walls of the five interior rooms. I had a little orange felt-tip and a single sheet of paper, which I covered front and back with tiny writing in an attempt to reproduce as much as possible of the printed material and the layout of the displays. Later this week, I'll transcribe my notes, but for now I'll try to rough it out. The first room tells the beginning and foreshadowings of the war ... poor living conditions, particularly in the north and east, student protests that were put down brutally in 1975. One particularly moving picture shows a naked child facing off with a phalanx of armed government men with their faces obscured, large weapons over their shoulders and those big plastic shields out in front -- the picture bears the legend, "La represión sin rostro, la inocencia desnuda." (Faceless repression, naked innocence) I don't deny that such pictures are chosen to evoke specific emotions, but it's effective. On another wall was a tribute to those massacred at El Mozote in 1981, a shameful event whose cover-up and denial both by Salvadoran leaders eager to curry favor and by Reagan-administration types eager to be curried and loathe to accept that perhaps it was time to cut off funds. I doubt I will stop wondering any time before heaven how different things might have been if Carter had followed through on Romero's pleas to end the support, or if people hadn't been so eager to deny that a government we supported killed a village of some 900 people, mostly children, and labeled even babies as "subversives." (Look it up if you don't believe me.) Others have written about the surrealism of displays of ordinary machine guns, the remnants of a helicopter that carried Atlacatl Battalion co-leader Lt. Col. Monterrosa, the outer room with its reproduction of a Radio Venceremos installation, complete with cardboard egg cartons lining the walls as makeshift acoustical tile. A room midway through the inside quarters shows support posters from all over the world, many in German or Valencian, others from France, Italy, Ireland, and Mexico. Artifacts included everyday items such as shirts, bags, patches, even a calculator marked "Genovelio." A related exhibit is marked "Life in the camps," and shows medicines, first aid kits, and backpacks, together with other items arranged around the theme of the "four fronts": western, central, paracentral, and eastern. Outside the museum is a large crater, made by the dropping of a 500-pound U.S.-made bomb. A disarmed sample of just such a bomb appears in front of the crater, and the guide told us that was the smallest of the three bomb sizes used: 500, 750 and 1000 pounds.

(My husband later showed me a dry valley near his childhood home that had been a lagoon, but dried up when the government dropped two large bombs there. "How did you hear of it -- did people tell you?" "Tell me? No, I heard the bombs with my own ears.") Another display in the early rooms shows various compañeros (comrades) who were killed in the early days, including one grouping that is exclusively women. I asked one of our guides, a man in his mid-40s, if he had known any of the people pictured on the walls, and he answered that he had known and worked closely with most of them. He was in the guerrilla from age 16 to age 22. He was most informative and reflective ... toward the end, as we were standing in the room dedicated to the ceasefire and 1992 Chapultepec peace accords, I asked if there were anything he regretted or wished his superiors had done differently. His answer, after a bit of clarification on my question: "We learned that violence is not the solution. Thank God for the peace accords -- it was a rest for us, because if after 12 years of fighting, with arms, equipment, supplies, 24-hours vigilance, being ready every day and night, we still didn't win, then we never were going to."

1 comment:

ProudTexasWoman said...

P.S. It took considerable tinkering, but the pictures finally are working ... now time to get back to my story.