As an outsider it’s difficult to understand not only that this beautiful country we are learning to call home was once torn apart by war, but also to comprehend how such kind hearted people could have advanced to a state of war in the first place. To understand the pre-war situation better, we interviewed one of the local residents in Nuevo Gualcho, an ex-Guerilla whose role it was to speak to rural communities about the political crisis of the time in order to gain support during the revolution.

There was a multitude of factors that led up to the start of the conflict but popular belief is that economic crisis, unemployment and lack of work were the main triggers. Alongside this lay an elitist government, with no public consideration/participation whatsoever, and electoral fraud that was supported by dominant coffee plantation landlords.

Slowly there was dissent growing within the masses of farmers, students, teachers and civil servants. Between 1960 and 1970 these demographics started marches and mobilisation for wage increases and better conditions.

In 1970 to 1980 many of them increased their participation and commitment by forming multi and inter sectorial partnerships between each other. The PDC, MNR and UDN unions made one national union to participate in the electoral race for power.

The government retaliated to this by carrying out assassinations and many people disappeared and were found violently murdered. Therefore from now on politically driven people and groups had to keep their beliefs secret and become clandestine.

Due to this the several break away groups and pacts that were not unified came together, maybe to decrease their chance of detection, and one front was created: FMLN. This was the one party that would be the face and arm of the fight back against the oppressive regime and on 10 January 1981 they started their first armed offensive. Many, if not all, of the fighters involved genuinely thought this would be a shock and awe fight and the government would finally see the conviction they had and back down, but the struggle lasted for twelve years. 

Today, the vast gaps left behind in family trees are a constant reminder of the sacrifices made in the fight for a country of equality and basic human rights. The fight is still not over, workers receive below minimum wages, especially in rural areas, with many fleeing illegally to the United States under the illusion of better future prospects. Many of those who attempt the trip across the border don’t survive the journey. 

However, the political battle continues, with many charities continuing the work of those who were willing to take arms for the rights of generations to come. Our partner organisation, MSM (Movement of Salvadorian Women), are one such charity striving for gender equality, particularly in rural area, with the war a constant reminder of the extremities that occur under extreme suppression, and the necessity to amend social injustices through progressive peaceful agreements.  

The civil war divided a nation, but it also unified those who envisioned an El Salvador of equality and improved human rights. Today, the message spoken by José Santos Rivas, one of the principal figures in the community here in Nuevo Gualcho, is the importance of continued peaceful negotiations for equality in mindfulness of the blood that has been shed, “the youth have to remember, they have to remember so that the past doesn’t repeat itself”.

Written by ICS volunteer Amelia Hunt