FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Revisiting Guazapa

by WHITNEY COLE And ALEXANDER BROCKWEHL

The new documentary film Guazapa: Yesterday’s Enemies begins with the monumental event in the country’s modern history – the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero. It was he, more than any other contemporary Salvadoran, who possessed abiding empathy for the poor and instilled hope in the hopeless. His tragic death, as well as the massacre of innocent civilians that took place at his funeral, constituted the last straw for those modest heroes who, like Romero, were apostles of nonviolent change.

The bloody civil war that followed is illustrated through scenes from Don North’s and Dr. Charlie Clements’ first Salvadoran venture to Guazapa in 1983, when they lived with the guerrillas who were locked in a life-and-death struggle with the established U.S.-backed government.

Twenty-six years later, North and Clements revisit Guazapa in order to illuminate the conditions of a country nearly two decades removed from civil war. They return to find many survivors whose testimonies assert that while ostensible stability has arrived to the country, the shadow of the conflict – in which 85,000 innocent civilians lost their lives – still lingers and continues to shape the modern Salvadoran experience.

As shown by the survivors’ stories, life for many Salvadorans has only marginally improved since the war. Organized gang violence has replaced the political violence of the 1980s and ‘90s, with vulnerable, marginalized youth entering the drug industry for lack of viable financial options. El Salvador’s economy has reached rock bottom, increasing unemployment and further dividing the impoverished masses from the privileged elites. Amid increasing corruption and a highly polarized electorate, Mauricio Funes was elected in 2009, just before the film’s release. Funes is presented in the film as a potential source of change and hope for El Salvador, but it is still too early in his term to determine whether or not this speculation will be substantiated.

North and Clements’ documentary also highlights a number of themes that are relevant to a study of not only El Salvador, but also of twentieth- and twenty-first-century hemispheric relations. While not belaboring the point, the film makes frequent reference to U.S. intervention in the 1980s. At the time, the U.S. government rationalized supporting a series of Salvadoran military regimes on the grounds that they were democratically elected, but as Doctor Clements points out in a debate on “Crossfire,” free and fair elections mean little when human, legal, and civil rights are not being protected by the elected government. Clements’ assertion that clean elections do not guarantee good governance challenges the virtues of strictly procedural definitions of democracy, and calls into question the oft-relied upon American perception that legitimate elections constitute the lone prerequisite to acquiring the designation of being a democracy.

In combining past footage with a glimpse of present-day El Salvador, the film exposes the psychological ramifications of the civil war that extend far beyond the quantifiable. A 1992 Amnesty Law, issued when the Arena party had total control of the federal government, ensured that the military regime would be exempted from any form of legal punishment for its role in countless deaths and disappearances. This law left the loved ones of those who died during the epoch of military rule with a desire for justice that will never be satiated. As North and Clements’ film suggests, in order for El Salvador to progress it will have to assume the daunting task of reconciling the oppression and violence of its past with the realities, needs and goals of the future.

Whitney Cole and Alexander Brockwehl are research associates at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs

This article was original published by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.

 

WORDS THAT STICK

 

May 04, 2016
Kshama Sawant
It’s Not About Bernie: Why We Can’t Let Our Revolution Die in Philadelphia
Conn Hallinan
Baiting the Bear: Russia and NATO
Joshua Frank
Hanford’s Leaky Nuke Tanks and Sick Workers, A Never-Ending Saga
Paul Craig Roberts
TIPP: Advancing American Imperialism
Ted Rall
Hillary to Bernie Supporters: Don’t Vote for Me!
Eric Draitser
Hillary Clinton and Wall Street’s Neoliberal War on Latin America
Leslie Scott
The Story of Jill Stein: Putting People, Peace and the Planet Before Profits
Ann Garrison
Building the Greens Into a Mass Party: Interview with Bruce Dixon
Tom Clifford
Crying Rape: Trump’s Slurs Against China
Lawrence Davidson
Getting Rid of Bad Examples: Andrew Jackson & Woodrow Wilson
Ellen Brown
Bank of North Dakota Soars Despite Oil Bust: A Blueprint for California?
Nelson Valdes
Is Fidel Castro Outside or Part of Mainstream Thinking? A Selection of Quotes
Jesse Jackson
Don’t Send Flint Down the Drain: Fix It!
Nathan Riley
Help Bernie Keep His Halo
Rivera Sun
Remembering Nonviolent History: Freedom Rides
Clancy Sigal
Rachel and the Isolationists: How Maddow Blew It
Laura Finley
Changing the Conversation About “The Woman Card”
CJ Hopkins
Coming this Summer … Revenge of the Bride of Sophie’s Choice
May 03, 2016
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Policy Resumé: What the Record Shows
Michèle Brand – Arun Gupta
What is the “Nuit Debout”?
Chuck Churchill
The Failures of Capitalism, Donald Trump and Right Wing Terror
Dave Marsh
Bernie and the Greens
John Wight
Zionism Should be on Trial, Not Ken Livingstone
Rev. John Dear
A Dweller in Peace: the Life and Times of Daniel Berrigan
Patrick Cockburn
Saudi Arabia’s Great Leap Forward: What Would Mao Think?
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Electoral Votes Matter: Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders vs Donald Trump
Chris Gilbert
Venezuela Today: This Must Be Progress
Pepe Escobar
The Calm Before the Coming Global Storm
Ruth Fowler
Intersecting with the Identity Police (Or Why I Stopped Writing Op-Eds)
Victor Lasa
The Battle Rages on in Spain: the Country Prepares for Repeat Elections in June
Jack Rasmus
Is the US Economy Heading for Recession?
Dean Baker
Time for an Accountable Federal Reserve
Ted Rall
Working for US Gov Means Never Saying Sorry
Dave Welsh
Hunger Strikers at Mission Police Station: “Stop the execution of our people”
John Eskow
The Death of Prince and the Death of Lonnie Mack
May 02, 2016
Michael Hudson – Gordon Long
Wall Street Has Taken Over the Economy and is Draining It
Paul Street
The Bernie Fade Begins
Ron Jacobs
On the Frontlines of Peace: the Life of Daniel Berrigan
Louis Yako
Dubai Transit
Bill Quigley
Teacher, Union Leader, Labor Lawyer: Profile of Chris Williams Social Justice Advocate
Patrick Cockburn
Into the Green Zone: Iraq’s Disintegrating Political System
Lawrence Ware
Trump is the Presidential Candidate the Republicans Deserve
Ron Forthofer
Just Say No to Corporate Rule
Ralph Nader
The Long-Distance Rebound of Bernie Sanders
Ken Butigan
Remembering Daniel Berrigan, with Gratitude
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail