Friday, April 9, 2010

During the Civil War

El Salvador's civil war began in 1981 and lasted almost 12 years - but only because a huge infusion of cash from the United States kept it going. Ten days after the war started, Reagan was inaugurated. He declared, "no more communists" - like the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. However, before placing all blame on Reagan, Archbishop Romero had written several times to President Carter, pleading on behalf of human rights, to stop funding El Salvador's right wing military. Carter didn't respond.

In 1981, $150 million in military aid was spent to destroy the FMLN (the left); $277 m in 1982; $378 m in 1983 and increasing to $531 million in 1984. In total, $6 billion was sent by the US to aid the military in El Salvador, not including training for assassins at the School of the Americas. That is $1.5 million per day of the war, or seen another way, $1 million spent per citizen - resulting in the deaths of over 70,000 citizens. Imagine what spending $1 million dollars per citizen would have done to eliminate the very poverty that was at the heart of the struggle.

The war was brutal and bloody - and dirty. In 1989, six Jesuit priests were shot in the head as the "brains of the opposition." Their housekeeper and her daughter were also assassinated by soldiers at their residence on the campus of the University of Central American in San Salvador. It was this outlandish occasion that caused even the United States to question their support of the government and led in part to pressure to sign peace accords in 1992.

Since the signing, they have had 18 "conflict free" years. But the origins and reasons for war were not solved - such as land ownership, unemployment and poverty. And added to the mix - terrible violence. El Salvador has the highest level of violence is all the Americas. Last year, 4,368 homicides.

For 20 years following the end of the civil war, the party that created the death squads and fought the war against the people had been elected over and over. However, a president from the opposition (FMLN - former guerrillas) was elected in 2009 and took office on June 1st. It's a difficult time to govern given the world economic recession, but the new government has begun to offer state apologies to victims of the war (to the consternation of the right) and has publicly embraced Romero as a hero, promising stamps in his honor, a mural at the airport, and other ceremonial honors. The task of addressing the poverty and violence remain enormous challenges - overcoming the debt of the previous government and the fact that the national assembly is still dominated by the right wing.

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