the morning(s) after

The outburst of celebration and triumph has quickly died down. The pictures of tens of thousands of people spilling into the streets of San Salvador as the results came in, and dancing and chanting all night have gone around the world, notes of congratulation have poured in to Sandra´s email box, and her friends here (including a Supreme Court justice whose husband, a crusading lawyer and human rights advocate, was assassinated by death squads – as I´ve said, she knows some amazing people) have been over to celebrate and drink toasts late into the night of the following day. The US State Department has very pleasantly assured everyone that it will honor the results, and said how gratified it is that El Salvador´s democracy appears to be flourishing, or something to that effect. The mainstream papers have been full of reassurances that their new president Funes is a nice moderate sort, like Brazil´s Lula, and the powerful business associations here have gone to the press reminding everybody who will listen, that he has promised to leave private property alone, and not to touch the all-important free trade agreement either.

The electoral map that comes out in the paper, following the red-blue iconography of those US electoral maps in Bush elections (except that here, as in most of the rest of the world, red is the exclusive symbolic property of the left) shows graphically just how divided the country is, at the level of provinces and of townships. Fifty-one percent nationwide is no landslide, and at the local level, there are still a goodly number of right-wing strongholds, including the border provinces of Chalatenango and Morazán, once among the strongest areas of FMLN support.

The night of Sandra´s party we sat on the stoop drinking beer and rum, and I listened to a slew of dirty jokes and gossip about various local political figures. The rest of the cul-de-sac was pretty quiet, but we were in a jubilant mood. Sandra, who has preserved a long-practiced level of discretion about public displays of political support, hangs a red and white FMLN flag from her door before we all go to bed.

But in the morning it has somehow disappeared, which leaves her unsettled, and the first news we hear on TV is that the official price of gasoline is going to go up, effective immediately. A day later, the first foreign factory in what used to be called the free trade zone (until the whole country signed on to the Central American Free Trade agreement pushed by the Bush Administration) shut down, throwing 600 people out of work.

The next night we watch an interview with an old campesino who was employed by a large landowner in Chalatenango in 1980, and whose gruesome task was to bury bodies (and body parts — in some cases all that remained) following an army massacre of more than 20 young campesinos protesting the fact that their families were starving while large tracts of land such as this hacienda were being handed out to political supporters of the corrupt government. His emotionless description, as he walks through the empty windswept field covered with a film of dry grass, pointing to the place where a huge common grave was dug, is more chilling than any picture could be. It strikes me that it is still so difficult to accept, even with so much evidence from places like this, that human beings without power are really nothing more than garbage in the eyes of those who are used to power, and are utterly disposable.

That night, March 17, was the 29th anniversary to the day of the massacre. After all these years, at least in part because this man had finally come forward, there would be exhumations of the places he cited, and at least some of the dead could finally be acknowledged and laid to rest. We went to bed much less elated than the previous two nights. Too much blood in the ground here. It seems unlikely that the mild new face of a once-revolutionary movement can really redeem all the decades, the centuries of murder.

In the morning, again that bright, warm, smiling sunshine, trees bursting into vivid flower, all the wondrous fruits of the tropics hanging from the trees and piling up in the market stalls. Then at midday, the heat that stifles and slows everything to a crawl, although it is a city-paced crawl, belching buses, pounding music, people crammed into the tin sidewalk stalls for lunch.

Something has changed, but everything is the same.

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