Sunday, May 1, 2011

Río de los Bueyes memorial ceremony

Saturday, 4-30-11

Today we went to a community that I had never been to before. It’s called Río de los Bueyes which means Oxen River. It is a caserío of the canton of Corozal but they have their own Directiva so they function separately from the rest of Corozal. We left at 7:30 and it took a little over an hour to get there. Since it was much further down the mountain than Berlín it was a lot hotter.

The area in the community where we were going to be spending time is a beautiful place. It’s in the shade on one of the biggest conacaste trees I’ve ever seen. I saw some kind of large parrots flying around in them. Nearby is a large, metal bridge that takes people from one side of the ravine to the other side. This is especially important during the rainy season when the ravine would become a river and be uncrossable at most times. On the other side of the area lies a huge field of sugarcane. The sugarcane is young right now since harvest time has past. Not far from the open area are several humble homes and the school.

Driving through the hills

The Road to Rio de los Bueyes

The large concacaste tree

For perspective, that's me by the tree

Bridge across the ravine

Very helpful during the rainy season

Sugarcane field with baby plants

Playing with part of the wire fence

Sweeping the ground

The school in Rio de los Bueyes

Today and tomorrow the community is having a memorial celebration in remembrance of the people who were killed in the community during the Civil War. This community was a red zone during the war and most people were part of the FMLN (the guerillas). A lot of people from Río de los Bueyes were killed here during the war and a lot of ex-combatants now live there. This is the 16th anniversary of “Heroes and Martyrs in the Fight” remembrance that they’ve had. We went there today because Balmore was asked to give a Celebration of the Word (like a mass) in memory of those who died during the war.

Civil War
Here is a brief summary of the Civil War in El Salvador. For more information go to the “Civil War” category in my blog. The Salvadoran Civil War (1980–1992) was a conflict in El Salvador between the military-led government of El Salvador and the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), a coalition of five left-wing militias. Significant tensions and violence had already existed, before the civil war’s full outbreak, over the course of the 1970s. During the course of the 12-year war an estimated 75,000 people or more were killed, 7000 people went missing, and the US government gave a staggering $6 billion to the Salvadoran government’s war effort.

The UN Peace Commission that investigated allegations of humans rights abuses after the war found that most of the atrocities (disappearences, murder, rape, torture, etc.) committed during the war were carried out by government. “Based on collected testimony the commission attributed 85% of the acts of violence to State agents (the government), which took place predominantly in rural areas. Approximately 5% of the acts of violence were attributed to the FMLN.”  

In accordance with the Peace Commission, the government agreed to various reforms, including dismantling paramilitary groups and death squads and replacing them with a national civil police force. Furthermore, land was to be distributed to citizens. In return, the government granted amnesty to those responsible for human-rights abuses (i.e. the government and military).

Where the remembrance was held

Welcome to the memorial ceremony for the fallen

When we arrived in Río de los Bueyes the whole area was decorated with FMLN signs, balloons, and colors. There were several signs nailed to trees in the area.

Fallen comrades in the struggle, to victory!

Long live our martyrs

For our dead, we swear to overcome.
For the revolution to death

Long live the working class, long live May first

Remembering the past so that history does not repeat itself.
Long live our heros, heroines, and martyrs!

On one of the walls in the area where the remembrance was held were several paintings of important people to the FMLN: Commander Renate, Anastasio Aquino, Feliciano Ama, Farabundo Marti, and Schafik Handal. I couldn’t find any information about Commander Renate so that might have to wait until we return to the community. I’m guessing he was a leader in the community of Río de los Bueyes.

Anastasio Mártie Aquino (1792–1833) was a Salvadoran indigenous leader who let the Insurrection of the Nonuaclos, a campesino uprising in El Salvador during the time it belong to the Federal Republic of Central America. Aqino was eventually captured. He was tried and condemned to death. He was executed by firing squad in San Vicente. His head was cut off and displayed in an iron cage with the label “Example for rebels.” It was later taken to the capital. Up to the present day, Aquino has been taken as a symbol of rebellion and liberty by sectors on the political left.

José Feliciano Ama (1881–1932) was an indigenous peasant leader, a Pipil from Izalco in El Salvador, who participated and died in the 1932 Salvadoran peasant uprising call La Matanza (The Slaughter). In the early morning of January 22, 1932 Ama lead the Pipil peasants of Izalco into the uprising against the landlords. With several hundred supporters he marched to the capital of the department Sonsonate. There the mayor was killed by insurgents, but landlords accused Ama, who fled into the hills of Izalco. There he was found by soldiers, captured, and hanged in the center of Izalco.

Augustín Farabundo Martí (1893–1932) was a social activist and a revolutionary leader in El Salvador. He led the peasant uprising that was eventually suppressed by military at a cost of the lives of 30,000, virtually eliminating indigenous people of El Salvador. The peasant uprising was against dictator Maximiliano Hernández Martínez and crushed by the Salvadoran military only ten days after it had begun. The rebellion, fomented by collapsing coffee prices, enjoyed some initial success, but was soon drowned in a bloodbath (this was called La Matzana). President Martínez, who had himself toppled an elected government only weeks earlier, had the defeated Martí shot after a perfunctory hearing. The FMLN (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional), named in honor of Farabundo Martí, was formed was formed as an umbrella group on October 10, 1980 from the left wing guerilla organizations and since 1992 is a left wing political party in El Salvador.

Schafik Jorge Handal (1930–2006) was an important Salvadorian politician. Born in Usulután, he was the son of Palestinian Arab immigrants. He was a guerrilla leader in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and a member of the group that brought five opposition forces together to found the FMLN. Following the signing of the Peace Accords in 1992, the FMLN converted itself from a guerrilla army into a political party, and Handal served as its general coordinator. He was the FMLN’s candidate in El Salvador’s 2004 presidential election but was defeated by the candidate of the ruling conservative ARENA party, Antonio Saca. Handal died less than two years after his failed presidential bid of a heart attack.

Commander Renate

Four men important to the FMLN

List of the Fallen during the war from
Rio de los Bueyes. Over 150 in total.

Around 9:00am today they started playing some music over the speakers. One particular song stuck out to me. I knew I’d heard it before but couldn’t think of where. Kathy said it plays in a lot of different places. She also mentioned the revolutionary museum in Perquín. That’s where I’d heard it before! It’s called: “El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!” (The people united will never be defeated) . I did a little researching about the song and here’s what I found:

This is one of the most internationally renowned songs of the Nueva Cancion Chilena (New Chilean Song) movement. The music of the song was composed by Sergio Ortega and the text written by Quilapayún. The song was composed and recorded in June 1973. It was initially composed as an anthem for the popular unity government, reflecting the spirit behind the mass mobilization of working class people who had elected Salvador Allende for the socialist transformation of Chile. The song was interpreted and recorded by a number of music groups shortly after it was composed and performed publicly by Sergio Ortega and Quilapayún. New Chilean Song music ensembles such as Vientos del Pueblo, Inti-Illimani among others, made successful recording of the song that filled the airways and the backgrounds of political rallies.

After the U.S. backed September 11, 1973 Chilean coup the song became the anthem of the Chilean resistance against the Pinochet regime, both within Chile and among the community of Chilean exiles and their political allies abroad. However, it was especially after Pinochet's September 1973 coup that the group Inti-Illimani (also from Chile) made it famous around the world. During the course of time the song has been used in various protests around the world, many of which have no direct connection to the Chilean coup or Latin America. The lyrics have been adapted or translated into many languages.

At the celebration today I recorded them playing the song on my camera but couldn’t get it to upload to my blog. After two hours of trying and consulting with Matt I finally decided that it wasn’t going to work. Here is a link to the song on YouTube. If you put the song into the search engine on YouTube you can find it. But this link has photos of when the current FMLN president, Mauricio Funes, won the election in 2009. I would highly recommend giving it a listen!!


In Spanish
El pueblo unido jamás será vencido! El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!

De pie cantar, que vamos a triunfar, avanzan ya banderas de unidad y tú vendrás marchando junto a mi y así verás tu canto y tu bandera al florecer. La luz de un rojo amanecer anuncia ya la vida que vendrá.

De pie marchar, que el pueblo va a triunfar; será mejor la vida que vendrá, A conquistar nuestra felicidad y en su clamor mil voces de combate se alzaran; dirán canción de libertad. Con decisión la patria vencerá.

Y ahora el pueblo que se alza en la lucha con voz de gigante gritando; adelante!
El pueblo unido jamás será vencido! El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!

La patria está forjando la unidad; de norte a sur, se movilizará, desde el salar ardiente y mineral, al bosque austral, unidos en la lucha y el trabajo, irán, la patria cubrirán. Su paso ya anuncia el porvenir.

De pie cantar, que el pueblo va a triunfar. Millones ya imponen la verdad; de acero son, ardiente batallón, sus manos van llevando la justicia y la razón. Mujer, con fuego y con valor ya estás aquí junto al trabajador.

Y ahora el pueblo que se alza en la lucha con voz de gigante gritando; adelante!
El pueblo unido jamás será vencido! El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!

In English (to the best I can understand)
The people united will never be defeated! The people united will never be defeated!

Standing to sing, we’re going to succeed, advance the flags of unity and you will come marching together and see your song and flag flourish. The red light of dawn announces the life to come.

Standing to march, the people will triumph; there will be a better life will come, to win our happiness and your battle cry of a thousand voices rises up; you will speak a song a freedom with our fatherland victorious.

And now the people stand in the fight with a loud voice crying, go ahead!
The people united will never be defeated! The people united will never be defeated!

The fatherland is creating unity; from the north to the south it will be mobilized from the burning salt and minerals to the southern forests, united in struggle and work, the country will be covered. Its passage has already announced the future.

Standing to sing the people will triumph. Millions already impose that the truth of steel battalions are on fire. Their hands are bringing justice and reason. Women, with fire and courage, you are already here together with the workers.

And now the people stand in the fight with a loud voice crying, go ahead!
The people united will never be defeated! The people united will never be defeated!

The Mass
At 9:30am cohetes (noise makers) were set off and the mass began. It followed the same structure as other masses with readings, singing, and the homily. He spoke about the war and important figures of peace during the war. Remembering God’s messages are never easy to remember during times of war. It can also be easy to forget that God cares for all of us. Balmore continued and talked about how this community was a model of organization for other communities. He never specifically said why, only that other communities have looked to this one to see how to organize themselves in order to better their lives.

I noticed the band that would be playing later during the day setting up during the mass. Kathy told me they were from Corozal. Two people had missing arms. They were probably lost during the war as Corozal was also an area where a lot of fighting took place. In fact, the old church in Corozal was destroyed in the war and there is a nearby cemetery where the dead were buried during the war. Just this year, a new church was built thanks to the help of Ankeny Presbyterian Church.

Welcoming everyone

Preparing for the mass


Balmore giving the homily

The Memorial Wall
When the mass was over we had a quick lunch because we had to leave to go back to Berlín for meetings. But before we left someone from the community took us to see a new memorial wall that’s being built. They haven’t figured out exactly what they want to do with the wall yet so Blanca was giving them some suggestions. The might paint a mural on the wall. We’re hoping that in the future, when the wall is done, delegations can visit the wall and listen to testimony of people who fought in the war.

De la memoria nace la esperanza. From memory, hope is born

The memorial wall in the process of being built

A painting on canvas

Honor and Glory to our heroes and martyrs
for peace with social justice

Drawings of Feliciano Ama and Farabundo Marti

Washing and bathing stations in the river

There's a lot more water when it rains

Several people were there making food

By 11:00 a lot more people had arrived
and the memorial ceremony was in full swing.
Unfortunately, we had to leave so the Team
could attend important meetings in Berlin.

To give you an idea of what life was like during the war I’ve included some quotes from a book I read last year. “The Massacre at El Mozote” by Mark Danner tells the story of the massacre that occurred in El Mozote in 1981 during the civil war in El Salvador. Included in the book is historical information about the civil war, events leading up to the massacre, the mentality and plans of the government soldiers, the day of the massacre, reports from El Salvador about the massacre, US involvement in the war, and unearthing the truth about what happened there.El Mozote is only one of hundreds of massacres that occurred during the war.

Testimony from a “guide” of the Salvadoran army about El Mozote:
“It was so terrible that we had to jump over the dead so as not to step on them. There were dogs and cows and other animals, and people of all ages, from newborn to very old. I saw them shoot an old woman, and they had to hold her up to shot her. I was filled with pity. I wished we had gone out and fought guerillas, because to see all those dead children filled me with sadness.” (Danner, 1993, pg. 81).

In reference to death squads and US knowledge:
“Some civilians were certainly involved, particularly on the funding end, but there can be no doubt that the ‘dirty war’ was basically organized and directed by Salvadoran Army officers—and no doubt, either, that the American Embassy was well aware of it. ‘There was no secret about who was doing the killing,’ Howard Lane, the public affairs officer in the Embassy from 1980 to 1982 told me in an interview. ‘I mean, you formed that view within forty-eight hours after arriving in the country and there was no secret at all about it—except maybe, in the White House.’ (Danner, 1993, pg. 27).

One part of the book that made me laugh and want to cry at the same time was a statement by a congressman (Gerry Studds, Democrat of Massachusetts) in the early 1980s regarding US denial of a massacre at El Mozote: “If there is anything left of the English language in this city…it is gone now, because the President has just certified that up is down and in is out and black is white. I anticipate him telling us that war is peace at any moment” (Danner, 1993, pg. 132).

“Of the two hundred and forty-five cartridge cases that were studied—all but one from American M-16 rifles—184 had discernable headstamps, identifying the ammunition as having been manufactured for the United States Government at Lake City, Missouri.” (Danner, 1993, pg. 159).


Matt said...

This must have been quite an incredible experience. All of the signs, and murals are some amazing and the song "El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!" is very moving.

gringainelsalvador said...

Thank you for sharing this about the Civil War, and esp. the song originating from Chile with the youtube link. A hysterical fear of communism/socialism was such a driving force of many U.S. dirty deeds in the 70s and 80s, that I get nervous when I hear people fling the phrase "21st century Socialism" around loosely.