The Salvadoran Civil War left its traces on Central America’s smallest country. Not only there is lots of war related street art, the fact that almost 1.5 million El Salvadorans fled to the US has given the country a lot of western influences. But there is way more than that: everywhere you see flags of the political parties ARENA and FMLN. Reason enough to dive into the history of this horrifying war.
Remind me again?
The Salvadoran Civil War took place from 1979 to 1992 and took the lives of around 75.000 people. On one side there was the military government of El Salvador supported by the US and on the other side there was the FMLN guerrilla; a combination of a few left-wing organisations.
Understanding the complex origin of the situation is out of the scope of this article, but broadly the war was caused by the inequality of the rich versus the poor. Coffee used to be 95% of the export of El Salvador, but was in the hands of only around 2%. Consecutive events led to a peasant rebellion in the ‘30s, which was turned down aggressively by the government. Many years and events later this turned into the civil war in the form of FMLN; Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional. Farabundo Martí was the leader of the rebellion in the 30’s, so his name was in some sense honored.
During the civil war the government attacked its own people just because of suspecting someone to be that communist guerrilla. At a certain moment they used death squads trained by the US and child soldiers. The support from the US also came because of the fear that communism would spread in the region. Nowadays, FMLN is a political party and the president of El Salvador is from this party and used to be a guerrilla leader.
The FMLN stronghold
One of the areas where the left-wing had its biggest power was Suchitoto. Interestingly, this is also the region where you will see the most support for FMLN if you look at the flags hanging around. The owners of our accommodation were also not that liked in Suchitoto because they were supporting ARENA, which is a right-wing political party, just like the military government of the war. Or at least, according to people we spoke to.
Experiences from an ex-guerrilla
So being in Suchitoto we hired a guide to walk us around the Guazapa volcano, which is one of the most important strongholds of the FMLN guerrilla during the war. Our guide used to be a guerrilla himself, so hearing his experiences is a fascinating way of understanding the history. Way more than pictures and stories like this do. He was actually shot in the back himself by the army, showing us his scars and telling us many more sad stories. But he also showed how they used to trick the army, bomb craters, encampments, dugouts, a school and bunkers.
As I wrote before, reading about historical events like these or seeing pictures may be interesting, but a guide showing and telling you first hand what happened is way more vivid.
Going to Guazapa and be guided by an ex-guerrilla was one of the most interesting days in El Salvador. We have learnt a lot that day and even with our basic Spanish we could understand a little bit more about the cruel events during the war. Would you visit a guerrilla stronghold yourself? Let me know in the comments!