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El Salvador
United States

new internationalist
issue 172 - June 1987


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A plea from El Salvador

They say we have a democratic government in El Salvador, one that is helping the poor. But it's all lies. True, there aren't as many people dying in the war as there were from 1980 to 1982. But there are still people dying - of hunger. That's because we aren't allowed to feed ourselves. Thousands of people have had to move from the countryside to the city. The Army has forced us out.

I'm originally from San Vicente. The Army would come and destroy our crops and our animals - even burn our houses. We had to flee into the forest and wait they had gone. That was very hard on the children. There was almost nothing to eat there and we had to put up with the hunger and thirst and the insect bites. The children cried all the time. They couldn't understand why there was nothing to eat. My husband's parents lived with us then: they died during this time - of hunger, I would say.

[image, unknown] The Army said they were looking for guerrillas. But we never saw any. The guerrillas used to come at night. All we could see was their footprints in the morning. But that would be more than enough for the Army to intimidate us.

One night the Army took my husband away and killed him. Later they killed two of my brothers as well. You couldn't protest - or they would come for you too. They destroyed the few things that we had, so in 1983 we decided we would have to leave. I came to the city of San Salvador with my parents and the five children. I never imagined I would be here. We are country people; we don't know how to live in the city; farming is all we know about.

The Church people were the only ones to help us when we arrived. I went to the refuge run by the Archbishopric and stayed there for a while. They do help you there, but it's very overcrowded, not a normal life. I was lucky. The Church was able to give me a piece of land on the edge of the city and now we have a little shack. I work on the land with the help of my father (though he's 76 years old). But I also go to the city to sell what I can - so I can buy things like sugar and frijoles*. My mother looks after the children while I am away. The only problem with trying to sell things is that there are too many sellers and not enough buyers - you see so many people in the streets selling oranges or tomatoes.

The Government has done practically nothing. And things have been even worse since the earthquake. They appealed for all that international aid in the name of 'the people', but what happened to it? Mostly they kept it for themselves. What the Government should do is allow us to go back to our villages - that would solve most of our problems.

But we are doing what we can while we are in the city. We've organized self-help groups here. Mostly they are of women and children, since many of the families have lost their men. Teachers come here to give classes in first aid and literacy. Sometimes they are other Salvadoreans showing solidarity with us. But there are also international volunteers - often taking a risk coming to help us. The Government has made some of them leave the country. It means a lot to us that they are prepared to come.

We need health education because we can't afford to go to the general hospital if we get sick - they will charge us for a consultation. And the literacy classes are not just for the adults, but for the children as well. It costs money to send children to school - for the fees and the pencils and exercise books - and many of the families cannot afford to pay. Some of the people here who have studied to second or third grade also volunteer to help the others.

Instead of helping us prepare for the future, all the Government seems to be doing is producing more crises, more repression, more hunger.

And as for the guerillas, the Farabundo Marti Liberation Front (FMLN), they are looking for a violent solution. But for us a violent situation is no solution at all. It would be us who suffered - and we have suffered enough. We don't want to see more families without their fathers.

Frankly we don't care who is in power as long as they let us get on with our lives, whether it is the Government or the FMLN. If the Government were to fulfill its promises that would be good enough. But we are sick of their promises. They say they are going to solve the housing problem, but then they burn our houses. They say that they are going to solve the employment problem, but then they crowd people into the cities. They say we are going to get health care, but then they make us pay in the hospitals. They always do the opposite of what they say.

We would like our friends overseas to show solidarity and to put pressure on the Salvadorean Government to let us solve our own problems and work in the way that we know best. People need the freedom to organize themselves and to help themselves - and that's something which at present we don't have.

'Teresa Ramirez' (not her real name) is a Salvadorean campesina farmer. This article is based on an interview with the NI.

*Black beans - a staple food in Central America.

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