Our Central America tour (13): the Salvadoran civil war

We are now about half way through our grand tour of Central America.

At Perquin, Wednesday morning’s breakfast was eggs as you like them and brown beans puréed. Beans and/or rice seem to come with every meal in this part of the world which is fine but puréed brown beans have an appearance more suited to a toilet than a restaurant. We spent all morning around and in Perquin which is in the Morazan province in the far north of El Salvador near the border with Honduras that was involved in a lot of fighting during the civil war. In effect, Perquin was the guerrilla capital.

Outside Perquin! we took an unmade road to a village called El Mozote which became infamous on 11 December 1981. On that day, in an operation called “Anvil And Hammer” [for more details click here], army troops persuaded people from the surrounding communities to come to the centre of this village where the men, woman and children were separated before around 800 of them were massacred. One of the few survivors, a woman called Rufina Amaya Marquez, was determined that everyone should learn about the atrocity and campaigned for it to be known nationally and internationally.

Today the village has constructed a memorial with silhouetted metal figures of a man, a woman, a boy and a girl holding hands. Behind these figures is a wall with plaques commemorating the names of many of the victims. We were told the story by a young woman called Estrella who was six at the time of the massacre. The pain was still evident in her voice and eyes and our guide Sandra chose not to translate the full descriptions of some of the macabre horrors that unfolded. It was a very moving account, but one of our group – a particularly pompous and portly man who will remain nameless – was chatting as Estrella spoke and Vee publicly and loudly rebuked him.

We returned to Perquin to view a museum on the civil war together with a mock up of a rebel camp. We were accompanied by a former member of the FMLN called Rafael who, since the peace agreements , has worked as a guide. He served with the insurgents for a decade (1982-1992) and was wounded by bullets hitting his fingers and left foot. He was remarkably lacking in bitterness towards his former enemy which he put down to a need to forgive and his evangelical faith.

The Museum of the Salvadoran Revolution consists of three rooms of photographs, posters and weaponry illustrating the conduct of the civil war (all the descriptions are in Spanish so it is good that we had local guides). The reproduction of an FMSN camp includes a short stretch of underground tunnel and a suspension bridge with open slats and naturally Vee & Roger experienced both. Finally Rafael donned combat gear and brandished an M-16 rifle for some photographs.

It had been an emotional morning. The suffering of the Salvadoran people during the civil war was terrible with over 90% of the deaths caused by Government armed forces supported – and in some cases trained – by the. US military. People – like members of our group – who have comfortable lives in peaceful and developed countries cannot imagine the horror and brutality of a civil war.

We returned to our hotel briefly for some lunch and then at 1 pm set off south for the capital. We had a brief comfort stop at a supermarket close to yet another active volcano called Volcan Chaparrastique (2130 metres). We had a briefer comfort stop at a service station opposite a Korean textile factory. By now, we are becoming used to seeing armed guards but this place actually had two machine gun-toting guards. it was 6 pm, after a drive of five hours, when we arrived at our hotel in the capital city of San Salvador.

The Hotel Mirador Plaza is our best hotel so far by far – huge rooms and all the facilities one would expect. The famous four went out for dinner, walking a couple of blocks in minimal lighting to the local World Trade Center which houses a variety of restaurants. We chose a place called “Bennigan’s” which billed itself as “American food. Irish hospitality”. The former was fine; the latter involved the staff wearing a variety of green hats. It was hard to imagine we were in the capital city of one of the most murderous nations on earth. However, one of our group wandered off alone in a different direction, found armed police on street corners, and felt distinctly uncomfortable.

Tomorrow … Honduras.


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