Day 21: The Civil War.
Tuesday 21 December 2021

Telling, briefly, the story of El Salvador is important to understand how it is possible that a prosperous country, with extremely fertile land and a beautiful landscape, can find itself one of the poorest in the world. Nothing happens by chance and every human action has consequences. The one in which we find ourselves is a small piece of land that has literally been oozing blood for five centuries.

The Spanish Conquistadores arrived in 1524, led by Pedro de Alvarado, then the area was called the Kingdom of Cuzaclan and was home to ancient peoples, that we call pre-Columbian, as if there was not even dignity in what existed before the arrival of Europeans. And instead they had culture, history, religions, traditions and even names: they were the Maya, the Pipil, the Lenca and the Xinca. 

It wasn’t easy for Alvarado’s troops. But a combination of lethal diseases and war superiority, within two years, enslaved the few survivors to the systematic extermination of the natives. The Spanish were looking for gold, but in this area there wasn’t much. However, they found a very fertile land that they dominated for centuries as part of the kingdom of New Spain. 

The society they built here can only be described as the most violent form of feudalism the world has ever seen. A few families controlled huge landed estates. The rest of the population were peasants and laborers. More like slaves. Tobacco, cocoa, coffee, indigo, cotton and sugar cane were cultivated here. All precious goods on western markets. But the locals were left with nothing. Neither products nor land.

When Napoleon conquered Spain at the beginning of the 1800s, the independence movements inflamed all of Central America. But you know how human events end. Let everything change so that nothing changes. In the new independent state of El Salvador there was a semblance of democracy, but politics and wealth were all in the hands of “las catorce familias”, the fourteen families as local historians call them, all direct descendants of the most prominent conquistadors who had arrived centuries before. Huge landowners, too powerful to be undermined, too rich. For the next two centuries it was they who dictated the law. Getting themselves elected Presidents, promulgating laws in their favor, repressing in blood any form of criticism.

It was in this general environment that in 1979 the two Colonels Ramos and Avendano seized power through a military coup, financially subsidized by the United States. Not that the Americans hadn’t supported every corrupt previous government for decades. They have always considered this part of the world their playground and have always done good business here. But by the 1970s, the old President Romero no longer seemed to be able to control the growing dissent, and Washington feared a socialist revolution, as recently happened in neighboring Nicaragua. So better to fund the younger, more violent and more fascist military dictators.

But the people do not accept this, and within a few months groups of rebels are organized throughout the country. They end up coalescing into a single large reactionary socialist movement: the Front for National Liberation Farabundo Marti, which chooses as its headquarters the highlands north of the Morazán region, deep in the most inextricable jungle.

We take you to the jungle of Morazán to meet the guerrilla! (With end subs)

This is where we are heading today. North of the ancient village of Perequin. Here, the training camps, tactical shelters, and logistics centers of the rebels have been preserved intact, musealized. It makes quite an impression to enter the dense vegetation, to see the holes dug in the ground where the militiamen lived, the wooden bridges and rope pulled to ford rivers and overhangs. The weather is uncertain, it’s hot but at times we are hit by an intense rain. The mosquitos devour us alive. We discover the stories of these men, united to free their families from oppression. We see the remains of American bombs, dropped at random to try to suppress the guerrillas, we walk in the craters left by the explosions.

Yes, because despite the economic supremacy and the best armaments, the army of the two dictators can not get on top of it. The FMLN has a perfect knowledge of the territory, the support of the population, hides in the bowels of the earth and attacks at night, with lightning actions. From the depths of the jungle they use free radios to incite the population and invite the military to desert. They seem unstoppable.

It is for this reason that, on December 10, 1981, the Atlatcl Battalion, fresh out of a U.S. training school, armed with the best American weapons, trained in anti-guerrilla actions by the best stars and stripes trainers, enters the small farming village of El Mozote. They find it packed with people because the population is converging there from all the neighboring towns, devastated by carpet bombing. That seems to be a quiet area for them. 

Although the village was known for its neutrality, the inhabitants were very Catholic and always refused to provide food and support to the rebels, they lock up the entire population in the houses, the church and the small infant school next door. On the first day they torture and interrogate the men. Towards evening they begin to kill them. On the second day they round up the women in the square. They rape them and shoot them. On the third day they slit the throats of children, even those only a few months old, and hang them from the trees of the school.

The El Mozote massacre is the largest carnage in the recent history of Central and South America.

We visit the shrine in the pouring rain. In silence. While an elderly guide tells us about those hours of terror. In the mass grave there are 800 unrecognizable corpses, but more than a thousand people disappeared in those three days. We try to read their names on the commemorative plaques, one by one, but there are too many. We don’t even try to read the names of the more than 140 children.

The civil war in El Salvador will last thirteen years. There are many episodes we could have told you about, but we have chosen the most representative one. This is what we are talking about when we tell you that we are privileged. That our well-being and our freedoms are the result of chance. Undeserved.

As we make our way to La Union we are of few words. We can’t help but think how behind these stories there is always power, money and the economic interests of those who control it. Our hope is that introducing in countries like El Salvador a digital currency, without borders and without masters, capable of redistributing wealth from the bottom up, based on different logics, with controlled issuance and capable of marginalizing man in its governance and management, could really be a unique opportunity to create a fairer and more equitable society.

But maybe it’s just an illusion because we won’t know how to be worthy of Bitcoin either.