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El Salvador

new internationalist
issue 199 - September 1989


Echoes of silence
Yanira lives in Los Angeles, yet she and her family are still
threatened by the death squads of El Salvador. Paul Baker
explains why her example fills him with hope.

I'm really just a musician. Nothing would make me happier than simply to take the guitar out to friends, beguiling the time with the beauty of flamenco and the tenderness of the old songs of Scotland, And to leave it at that. But the 'purely musical' option long ago ceased to exist, for me anyway.

I live and work now in Los Angeles, within the family of Yanira, a young Salvadoran woman who wanted food, water, education, housing and health for her people. She worked and organized for them. And she was kidnapped, tortured, mutilated and raped by the death squads of El Salvador. t live here trying to prevent her being killed next time. And to stop the death squads carrying out their most recent threat: to pull the head off her little son Mario Emesto.

Because they mauled her so dreadfully - they raped her with a sharpened stick - she is still in constant pain, even two years later. She will probably never be able to have another child. She has gigantic medical bills: for what they did to her, she has to pay. And she lives under the constant shadow of a major operation costing in excess of $20,000. She's lost her home - her boss is frightened and will not take her back. She's constantly threatened with more violence to herself, to her family and friends. Mario Emesto is traumatized. Yanira has just turned 24.

Yet living within her family and community my overwhelming impression is of her profound courage. And even, with so much stacked against her, of laughter and irrepressible life.

Two moments catch her spirit for me. The first, just after we moved into our first 'safe' house, was a little family singalong. Yanira, still very ill, asked for one song: Mi Venganza Personal. This was originally a poem by Tomas Borge, one of Nicaragua's Sandinistas. Himself tortured by Somoza's National Guard, he was forced to watch them kill his wife. He wrote: 'I will be revenged upon your children: when they've the right to schooling and to flowers . -. When that day comes I'll greet you with "Good morning" and there will be no beggars left to haunt us .. My revenge will be to reach to you, my brother, with these the very hands which once you tore and tortured, without the strength and power to rob them of their tenderness.'

Can you imagine how moving it was to hear Yanira singing that? From then on, she seemed to start gaining on life once more. And far from letting the death squads stop her work, she's now US co-ordinator of the Union of Salvadoran Women for the Liberation, dedicated to forging a world sisterhood of women working for peace with social justice. As I write she's away on a speaking tour of the East Coast, pain or no pain, healed or not, death squads or

The other moment came during an interview for the Los Angeles Weekly. 'Will this terrible experience stop you?' she was asked. She replied simply: 'In most cases, when they kill her child, or the woman herself is raped, she gathers more strength to continue, so this won't happen to other women. We're all scared. All of us feel that it could happen again at any time. But if we didn't do it this way, we'd be letting them sow terror and allowing it to stop our work. And we're not going to let that happen.'

Yanira does not see herself as special. 'There are thousands they've done this to in El Salvador,' she says. 'I'm one of the lucky ones: usually they kill you as well. And if you can't have more children, you adopt some of the little ones orphaned by the war. Obviously.'

Obviously.' It's this matter-of-fact, day-to-day courage and hope that keeps me in Los Angeles. The songs ring more truly there. In challenging our infantile greed, our murderous consumerism, Yanira and her compas (friends and comrades) share with us a life worth living for. And so worth dying for.

With support from friends in Scotland and the US, Echoes of Silence, the project within which I work, has managed to provide Yanira with a basic income, to add to her own indomitable spirit, to keep her alive and organizing, speaking, campaigning. But still more important is that we're now beginning to live as one real extended family: Scottish, Salvadoran, North American, Chilean, English. Part of the growing world people whose first allegiance is to the children of all the earth, at home within all the lovely interdependencies of our tiny, fragile planet. One world, one family, one song. And that song a love song for, as the Nicaraguans say, 'Solidarity is the tenderness of the peoples'.

Echoes of Silence tries to give voice to those whose voices are suppressed, especially through music and the arts. They can be reached at 41 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1EL. Scotland or at 686 South Arroyo Parkway, Suite 162, Pasadena CA 91105, USA.

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New Internationalist issue 199 magazine cover This article is from the September 1989 issue of New Internationalist.
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