daily resurrections: parting thoughts on El Salvador since the election

msr-sueno-cumplido

Woman holding a placard reading “Monsenor, your dream has been fulfilled. The people have freed themselves at last from the yoke of repression.”

My last day in El Salvador was the 29th anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, murdered in a hospital chapel in San Salvador, by assassins under the command of School of the Americas graduate (and ARENA party founder) Roberto D’Aubuisson (just in case you had any lingering doubts about how great US complicity in the Salvadoran tragedy has been). Since his death, the bespectacled, unassuming Romero has become a figure whose stature almost rivals Che Guevara’s as a Latin American popular hero. He spoke out clearly and boldly against the murderous repression that swept the country in the late 1970s. He opted to place his church at the service of El Salvador’s poorest people; when he demanded that the soldiers stop murdering them for protesting peacefully against their poverty, he was killed.

As I mentioned, I’ve never found any organized religion very convincing as a mechanism for social progress — or spiritual fulfillment, for that matter. Individuals within many different faiths have touched me with their commitment, their courage and their ability to tap a source of inspiration from the deepest wells of human nature. I have no doubt there is something real beyond the material, but religions, like states, like corporations, like armies — like most of the structures that dominate our lives – have little or nothing to do with bringing most humans closer to that essential, incomprehensible source of meaning and healing.

Which is what makes the exceptions, the true believers who are truly prophetic, truly altruistic, truly visionary, so exceptional. A friend, daunted by my descriptions of the dark side of reality in El Salvador, asked how under such terrible, unaltered conditions: ongoing poverty, violence, corruption, psychosis, degradation – healing could even begin. But on March 24th, in the bright blue morning, in a white chapel decked with flowers, hundreds of people came to honor one man’s ability to commit himself to fight against suffering with all the considerable but insufficient power he had. El Salvador’s Vice President to-be Sanchez Cerén, former leader of another insufficient struggle, the guerrilla war, was one of those who came to honor him. What I realized then and there was that in El Salvador, the healing happens all the time. It has to. Everything is celebrated, everything is remembered, time is always taken to eat and drink and dance and sing. To fit the most horrific, unforgivable death into the overarching negentropic cycle of life. Because there simply isn’t any other way to be alive that’s worthy of the name.

El Salvador's President and Vice President to-be in another lifetime

El Salvador\’s President and Vice President to-be in another lifetime

Is there any progress there? I don’t know, or at least I don’t know yet. Is there any such thing as progress anywhere? I don’t think we can point to it, in any way that really matters (we’ve demonstrated in recent years that victories we thought were permanent, over everything from slavery to small pox, are only provisional). In the North, our notions of eternal progress are unraveling as fast as the arctic ice is melting and the mountain of toxic debt, like that pile of sludge in Tennessee, is pouring into the rivers of our economy. But there is a way to live fully and to participate fully in the possibility that life can be a closed circle of energy that will sustain the generations. Learning that way is our task. El Salvador has been my teacher, and I’m grateful.

Meantime, while I philosophize, they are getting down to work. Women’s groups, community groups, youth groups, prisoners’ groups, neighborhood organizing committees, professional organizations, party structures are all meeting now and will be during the next two months to assess how to move the process forward.

We can help. If you ask how, I’ll tell you, but I’ll just be telling you something you probably already know:

Keep working, keep listening, keep speaking your truth.

Keep learning how to live in some way that’s worthy of the name.

Ali Primera, Venezuelan master of Latin American New Song, sings his El Sombrero Azul (which has become the alternative Salvadoran national anthem) at a Central American peace concert in Nicaragua.

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what they were up against

El Salvador - woman paid to voteWoman being paid for vote - close-up
Two photos of a woman being paid for her vote by ARENA party activists (from FUNDASPAD, photographer unknown)

What follows is a translation of a letter from Lorena Pena, former FMLN guerrilla commander, describing in detail the conditions under which this election victory happened:

How the FMLN won the election in El Salvador
March 18th, 2009
From Joel Suarez in Havana, Cuba: Lorena Pena is an FMLN guerrilla commander formerly known as Rebeca. She has held a number of party posts, has been a representative in the National Assembly and is now a representative in the Central American parliament (PARLACEN).During the Salvadoran mayoral elections in January, Rebeca was the campaign coordinator for Violeta Menjivar, who ran for re-election [as mayor of San Salvador]. The extreme right-wing candidate Norman Quijano organized a massive fraud which enabled him to defeat her. The FMLN’s activists learned from that devastating experience.

This is a short account by Rebeca of how the Salvadoran poor were organized so that they could finally win governing power in America’s “Little Thumb:”

At last, the victim’s turn

(Ed: the phrase el turno del ofendido — the victim’s turn– is from a poem of that title by Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton)

“I swear to you all that something’s wrong with me, because I haven’t been able to cry as I should at this news. We fought tooth and nail, with everything we had. The loss of the capital city showed us the enormous scope of the fraud perpetrated by the ARENA party. So in the two months [since then] we’ve had to turn things around to an extent that it should have taken 10 years to do.

But what’s really important here is that there was a sort of “electoral insurrection,” in which hundreds and thousands of people surrounded the different locations where foreigners who’d been issued false national identity cards (known as DUIs) and then listed in the electoral rolls were being housed: Cuscatlan Stadium, the Olympic Village in Ayutuxtepeque, in 5-star hotels. They stayed there all night, and they followed them and stopped them at the voting places the next day.

In Guarjila, in Arcatao, in Corinto, in Sociedad and Carolina, in all these remote little towns on the border, the campesinos set up road blocks, put chains across roads, did everything they could to stop the buses coming in from Honduras and to send back those who came in to vote.

It was really the poorest people who set themselves the task of tracking them down, even though there were riot squads guarding the ARENA activists directing caravans of hundreds of buses until they were lost among the crowds. More than one of these people took fright and refused to go and vote, and some even fled into the coffee plantations on the slopes of the San Salvador volcano early Sunday morning, where helicopters hovered overhead trying to find them with searchlights and the ARENA people hunting for them like lost cattle. There’s no doubt we have to purge these bloody voter rolls. I just want you to understand that Funes closed the campaign more than 11 points ahead in all the polls, and he has won the election only by two percent.

And it hurts not to have been on top of this in time, since they did exactly the same thing to Violeta.

Another thing was that there were brigades of FMLN community leaders and campesinos going door to door to get out the FMLN vote, bringing people to their polling place. This was very effective: we gave this task to our best activists, as well to be at the polls themselves.

I’m happy and surprised at the same time, knowing that if all this hadn’t happened in the San Salvador mayoral election, we’d be regretting it now. But it’s over, and I think that we still haven’t fully understood the extent to which we’ve been able to change things.

My mother Angelita went with me at 10 pm, in her wheelchair, to the celebration at Masferrer Circle. There were 50,000 people there on Sunday night, all along General Escalon Way, and everywhere in the city there were cars, flags, red-dressed human pyramids in pickups, good ones or old clunkers, whatever, and thousands of people walking up the avenue on foot.

Another thing that impressed me was the slums of Escalon, cradle of the oligarchy, where there are tiny paths leading down into the ravines where the shacks are; there we saw the poorest of the poor waving and cheering at every car that passed.

Restructuring will come soon. Let’s keep writing: I’m not vengeful, but I’m happy to see that at last the victim’s turn has come.”

Christy’s note:
Here’s the last stanza of the poem that’s on everyone’s lips now:

Ahora es la hora de mi turno
Now my hour, my turn has come

el turno del ofendido por años silencioso
the victim’s turn, silent for years

a pesar de los gritos
despite the shouts

Callad
Be silent!

callad
be silent

Oíd.
Hear me.

darkness and noise

I don´t think I´ve ever been in El Salvador at a time when the past weighed so heavily on present events. At every gathering of FMLN supporters and activists I´ve attended in the past week, festive or serious, the first thing people do is congratulate each other: “Felicidades!” as if the election were a new baby or a college graduation. It is touching, as if everyone who has worked for or with the FMLN all these years is given collective credit for having created this victory somehow, no matter how small their contribution.

But then, almost immediately, brows furrow, anxiety enters expressions, there´s a sense of people squaring their shoulders and steeling themselves. “We have to take some time to celebrate this,” they say, “because now the real work begins.”

After, or rather during one of these events, an all-night vigil at the cathedral in downtown San Salvador for the martyred archbishop Oscar Romero, the “saint of the Americas,” assassinated by death squads 29 years ago, two friends of mine, both former guerrilla fighters, and a younger FMLN activist, one of the young men active in Guarjila in the attempt to defend the election against massive ARENA fraud (by importing foreigners en masse as I wrote earlier) decide to take a break from listening to the sounds of revolutionary Latin American folk music by various bands who have come to play outside the cathedral, and dash off towards a nearby dive bar one of them appears to know quite well. It´s probably one of the worst looking holes I´ve ever been in, anywhere, from Istanbul to Tegucigalpa to Cape Town. The entrance is almost invisible from the street; it looks like no more than a dark gap between the rickety market stalls that crowd in on all sides. Inside it´s basically a warren of corrugated tin walls, blackened by the smoke from portable fryers and grills, where shapely but tired looking girls wearing stretch pants and mini-skirts tend the various small watering holes that inhabit the warren. In ours there´s a battered television playing music videos silently and a monstrous electronic jukebox that screams absurd pop music at full volume two tables away. The red formica-top tables are sticky with spilled beer. At least one patron has collapsed in a stupor, a few others sit in various stages of inebriation with an array of brown Pilsner bottles in front of them.

We drink, and make the obligatory toasts to the electoral victory, and the conversation begins with dreams and hopes, plans, advice for the new government (which won´t actually take power until June 1st), for the party (which doesn´t have a clear majority of seats in the National Assembly) of desires to see even the beginnings of a cleansing of the structures that have permitted and promoted nothing less than grand theft and organized murder on a countrywide scale for two decades now, and basically before that, forever. The task is enormous, and who is going to do it? Everybody knows the opportunists have begun getting their portfolios ready to maneuver themselves into the free money of a patronage job, whether they belong to the FMLN or other parties.

And what about the rest of the activists, the people who have worked tirelessly and with little recognition and considerable risk for the cause all these years? As the empty beer bottles pile up on our table, the conversation moves from present and future to the past. The war stories begin: the bloody battles, prison, betrayals, miraculous rescues, mere survival. One of two men says suddenly, and with a huge weight of guilt that seems to hover over his sunken shoulders: “So many times I ask myself: why am I not among the dead? Why did this one die and not me?”

Everybody´s traumatized, everybody´s crazy. Everybody has PTSD, if you want to put it that way, but there isn´t any treatment, except booze, and there isn´t any relief except the hope that things will change someday if those who still can just keep working hard enough. This is the real cost of the system we have so blithely or torpidly or hopelessly accepted all these years, and allowed our government to promote throughout the world, because it promised all sorts of shiny gifts, and delivered them to a happy (or unhappy) few: Not just the dead, but the living too. Exhausted girls serving medicine to traumatized men in a place full of darkness and noise.

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.

the longest day

was yesterday. But it´s over, and for a little while at least, there´s an air of celebration everywhere.

EL SALVADOR - ELECCIONES

I wrote that in some ways this country seemed locked in a kind of frozen (odd metaphor for a tropical country) state, fighting the same battles over and over, never giving up but never winning either.  This is really the first crack in the ice.  The left, no matter how moderate, has NEVER, ever won a national election here.  Fraud, manipulation, violence — we saw all those things in the last two days, but this time the result was different.

In the polling station where I spent the day, we saw a series of  “irregularities,” as the formal term goes, the most serious of which was a family of Hondurans, poor people, evangelicals, escorted by a an intimidating group of burly men in ARENA tee shirts straight to the voting booth. Their IDs checked out, because, as they said, they had voted in the January elections in Chalatenango. Which is to say that the fraud perpetrated in the last election was meant to be a two-(or more) for-one: once people had a history of voting with a fake ID they could be called in as many times as necessary. In this case, the whole group was allowed to vote because there was no legal way to challenge them at that point — their accents, their ignorance of the most basic facts about their supposed native country weren´t enough.  It was clear evidence that the people of Guarjila and the other border communities had been right to be concerned.  But this time it was not enough. The fear campaign wasn´t enough.  The fraud wasn´t enough.  The propaganda that the two million Salvadorans living in the States would lose their residency status wasn´t enough.

This time, for the first time ever, the music we heard as the results came in wasn´t the blare of a fascist military anthem, but the revolutionary songs that the students, the guerrillas, the poets, the country people had created for that time whose coming was believed in but never known.

getting to the election

Things gallop along so quickly here at times like this. A longer version of the Guarjila story will have to wait — it´s 3 am the day of the elections, and in an hour and a half someone will be coming to take me to a San Salvador polling station, where I´ll be observing the voting as an official elections monitor for the rest of the day, and into the night. The polls are open from 7 am to 5 pm only, but as I learned yesterday at half-day long training by the grassroots development organization sponsoring me as a monitor, there´s an incredibly labyrinthine series of bureaucratic procedures and formalities that accompanies the vote and the tallying, and any step along the way there can be violations that would impugn the results.

There are supposedly over 4,000 elections observers in the country now, I sat in a room with about 40 of us and listened to a description of a process that sounds like a toxic mixture of medieval Spanish bureaucratism and malevolent Kafkaism.  Basically the whole infrastructure around voting in El Salvador is managed by the political parties themselves, and heavily weighted towards the party in power.  People don´t vote close to where they live, necessarily, they’re assigned by last name to a polling place in their city or town; there are 460 polling places in 262 municipalities.  It´s entirely possible to show up at a place where you´ve voted all your life and not appear on the rolls, and there is no immediate redress for this. At each polling place there are officials who represent the political parties who actually process the votes as they come in, and some macaroni-like mathematical formula for ensuring that all the parties in a given election have equal representation at each table where ballots are issued and cast, instead of having some sort of independent body, no matter how nominal to oversee the vote. The party representatives at those tables are the ultimate arbiters of who gets to vote and who doesn’t.

This is the first time ever that Salvadoran nationals have been allowed to be elections monitors, and this is a great advantage, for by the end of the training I was depressed at the number of procedures I´d be poorly able to assess from simple unfamiliarity with the whole complex system.

After the training, we were greeted with the news that the electoral council that oversees elections nationally had simply decided arbitrarily during the day that enough monitors had been registered, and said: no more, even though inscription was supposed to continue until 8 pm, and there were many of us who had been authorized to receive accreditation days or weeks ago who hadn´t yet gotten our badges.  As with all such situations in El Salvador, the only way to address an arbitrary decision by the authorities is to confront it head on and stare it down. So we went barreling off to the Radisson Hotel, where the official accreditation had been taking place. Talk about your medieval castle of privilege, whose iron gates were initially closed to us — the place was crawling with cops and other not so easily identified authorities, who seemed to have no problem waving through a line of gargantuan  SUVs sporting the red, white and blue ARENA flag.

While most of my attempts to be well-equipped and organized have been defeated by my chaotic circumstances, as I knew they would be (I forgot to bring a watch, and since my phone doesn´t work, this is turning into a major inconvenience. And yesterday my glasses broke; this has never happened in the five years I´ve had them) I did happen to have a photocopy of the email I received before I left the US with the full list of officially approved monitors sponsored by this organization in which my name was included.  It was commandeered by one of the grassroots organization´s people — I never saw it again, but a few minutes later I was called inside the gate with the other woman who´d been in the same car with me, a Salvadoran exile who turned out to be from Daly City.

We hustled into the gleaming, be-fountained, commodious lobby full of dye jobs sporting shiny facials and little black dresses and another much more eclectic crew of internationals with laminated badges strung around their necks, and then to a long line of nervously waiting people outside the ballroom.

I don´t know what happened to them, but we were told to go a different room it took us another series of wrong turns to find, and when we found it, there were only a couple of bored-looking functionaries there and no line at all, and that was our victory –having got there, to that room, I mean.

After some back and forth in which we simply repeated what we were told by the grassroots reps to say, which was that we had been on the official list for more than a week already (which in my case at least was true) the miraculous badges at last appeared.

I left my Daly City friend to find her son-in-law and ride on out of there, jubilantly (as she, in true Salvadoran form, had left everything till the last minute and even forgotten to bring her passport with her earlier in the week, when she could easily have gotten her accreditation) and I was seen into a cab at the main entrance by a smiling young man who spoke earnest English to one of the sleek entering guests, and then I took the long ride down the mountain from the castle to Sandra´s house, now full of far-flung friends (Mexico, Chile, England) from the solidarity days in town for the show, eating pupusas, drinking rum and gossiping like old college classmates.

Dawn’s approaching. So now we´ll see what today will bring.

deep into the country

Some places are capable of immersing you totally and immediately in their reality; this has been one for me and many others. And I´m not an easy person to be so drawn.

Probably it´s due to the people I know here, like my friend Sandra, who grew up in upstate New York but who has lived here for over half her life now, has a son whose father is Salvadoran, and is one of those whose adopted country is now and for always her real home.

“The process,”  the political movement that perhaps began with the formation of guerrilla movements in the 70s (and yet has an older history: the guerrilla forces took their name Farabundo Marti, from the leader of an indigenous revolt in the 1930s, when there was already a strong Marxist movement in the country as well) has continued to consume the lives and passions of thousands of Salvadorans and expatriates like Sandra too, has never faded, nor, obviously, has it reached any kind of overarching victory in all these years since the civil war ended.

So staying with Sandra, in her little cement row house on a shady cul de sac in one of San Salvador´s sprawling barrios is like being plunged immediately and deeply into the political realities of the country, for example in conversation over morning coffee the day I arrive, with a middle-aged woman named Lila who stops by to talk about what´s happening with the campaña sucia, the smear campaign being waged in the press against the left. She mentions the accusations that the left is brainwashing children, which like all these accusations is meant to call up the FMLN party´s history as a guerrilla force, and in this case, probably their use of child soldiers during the insurgency. But this is not an abstract reference to her. As we sip our coffee she shares that her son joined the guerrilla army at 14 and died in combat.  Her face, so animated a moment before, becomes stoic as she copes with the obvious pain of that memory. She tells how, for a child whose parents were in the struggle and for whom the war and the movement were a daily reality, adult understanding comes early. “I never urged him to do it, but it was his decision.” “We can´t hide from the history of that time, from the realities of the war,” she says, knowing that others will construct that history as it suits them, and they have the power and money to turn the complex horrors of war into a simple story of “terrorism,” “communists” and “brainwashing.”

There´s concern on a number of fronts by FMLN activists like Lila who went through the war — concern that the young presidential candidate Mauricio Funes, a TV personality and Obama-like reformer, with no real agenda for structural change, will not be able to convince many people that there is enough real difference between the parties now to make it worth voting. And that meanwhile the right-wing ARENA party, even though its 20 year rule has brought no noticeable improvement to most people´s lives, will still succeed in scaring many others with the bogey man of the FMLN´s guerrilla past.

But for many FMLN supporters, there is also the real concern of fraud –massive or not, enough to make a difference in the now statistically tight race.

That same day, Thursday,  in the afternoon, Sandra and I board one of the careening buses on the trunk road north out of San Salvador toward the Honduran border. We are going to the town of Guarjila, a rural community where there is strong support for the FMLN. A group of activists has set up an impromptu roadblock  for traffic coming in from nearby Honduras.

The reason is strong evidence that ARENA has been paying Hondurans to cross the border, providing them with false ID numbers, and preparing them to vote in the election on Sunday.  It´s believed that this was done during the legislative and municipal elections in January, possibly on a massive scale, and that in some of the contested areas it may have made the difference between victory and defeat.

The right-wing newspaper El Diario de Hoy (most of the papers are right-wing, but this one froths at the mouth a good deal more than some) has a small story accusing the FMLN suporters in Guarjila of harrassing Hondurans who have simply come into the country to buy medicines.  Vigilantism is the obvious implication, the papers are full of stories of pre-electoral violence and threats between groups of supporters.

Sandra, whose work as a grassroots educator, one of those whose job has been to help keep the movement going all these years by providing information and training to communities like Guarjila, is supposed to give a talk and show a video there about the evidence of fraud in the last Mexican elections, when the reformist candidate Lopez Obrador lost by a hair to US-backed Calderon.

She arranges for a friend to come and stay with her ten year-old son Camilo when he gets home from school, a situation her work makes somewhat common, I understand. I´m still ragged from the overnight flight, but don´t want to miss this chance to see what´s happening in an area where the realities of what´s at stake here are very clear. Guarjila is one of a number of small places in this mountainous border region where the guerrilla war was principally fought, and from which thousands of people were displaced by US supported army terror in the 1980s.

The brightly painted bus blasts pop tunes from a deafeningly good set of speakers as it tears up the highway, taking the curves with a speed that torques you flat against the side of the bus or the person sitting next to you at every turn. Sandra and I spend the time  catching up on mutual acquaintances and napping during the two hour trip of about 40 miles through the parched brown Salvadoran countryside (this is the bottom of the six-month dry season), pocked with the occasional green stand of fruit trees — mangos, bananas, cocoanut palms — or slashes of growth along the muddy river banks.

We have to wait an hour and a half in the regional capital of Chalatenango for another smaller bus to take us to Guarjila, over a road that seems like a dry river bed in places, full of rocks that slow us to a crawl. I´m seeing all around me a country that looks frozen in time, almost 20 years since the war ended and the businessmen declared that now development and modernization could really begin…

We arrive in the town as evening falls, and I am immediately transported into a scene I became familiar with during the war, when I took groups of well-intentioned gringos to regions like this to learn about the realities of the war.  Seemingly everywhere there are carefully hand painted banners and murals honoring guerrilla heroes of the war, and staunch defenders of the community like the Jesuit priest Jon Cortina, six of whose brother priests were murdered by the army in 1989 along with two women who kept house for them.  A red FMLN flag hangs over the community center. An open air sound system plays old revolutionary songs, and there´s a small movie screen with red and white plastic chairs set out in front, right there at the crossroads, where the video Sandra has brought will be shown.  Last night, she tells me they apparently screened the entire four-hour version of Steven Soderbergh´s CHE, which I haven´t even seen yet.

And there at the road block are wiry men wearing not the red and white baseball caps and tee shirts of the FMLN´s civilian supporters, but the unmistakable black and olive fatigues and cloth caps of the old insurgency.  Frozen in time: the war has never ended here in some way.

They tell us that yes, Hondurans have been confronted on the buses coming it and the tactic has been to tell them in no uncertain terms: it´s all very well if you are coming to shop or see a doctor, but your ID papers stay with us, and we´ll give them back to you as soon as you leave later today

There´s more to the story — it´s going to turn into a long night in Guarjila, but the computer I´m working on is slowing to a crawl with today´s internet traffic, so I´ll have to take this up later. In the meantime I wanted to say that there´s a story about what it was like for me in the war years in the guerilla zones here that tells just one tale of that time, but one that might shed some light on why those of us who were in El Salvador in those years still care about what happens here.