Broadcasting the Civil War in El Salvador: A Memoir of Guerrilla Radio 
 0292722850, 9780292722859

Table of contents :
Map 1......Page 9
Contents......Page 10
Map 2......Page 13
Preface......Page 14
List of Acronyms......Page 16
Introduction......Page 18
1980......Page 66
Tearing Your Heart Out......Page 67
Off to War with a Priest......Page 70
On the Way to El Escondido......Page 73
Rafael: Morazan, a Strategic Project......Page 74
1981......Page 82
Licho......Page 83
The Sky is Taken by Assault......Page 86
The Resurrection of Altagracia......Page 90
The Pain of Calixtro......Page 92
The Massacre at Junquillo......Page 95
Damn! La Guacamaya Never Gives Up!......Page 97
Monsignor Romero in La Guacamaya......Page 98
Jonas......Page 99
Calle Negra, Almost Certain Death......Page 101
Villa del Rosario......Page 106
El Zapotal......Page 110
A North American in the War......Page 111
Juan Ramon, from Bus to History......Page 112
Eighty Devils Set Loose......Page 114
The Torogoces Are Born......Page 116
Benito......Page 118
Alejandro Peluna's Flying Mule......Page 119
Chiyo and Pajarillo......Page 121
Loving Marcela in the Midst of War is Another War......Page 123
Tancho......Page 125
Perquin, Road of Embers......Page 128
Fifth Front......Page 131
Victorino, the Light Within......Page 132
Operation Hammer and Anvil......Page 135
Toni, Montalbo, and Javier......Page 136
Monterrosa Captures Radio Venceremos......Page 139
Radio Venceremos Goes to the Sea......Page 141
Return to Morazan......Page 144
The El Mozote Massacre......Page 146
1982......Page 154
The Cave of Passions......Page 155
The Fortress of Happiness......Page 158
Hell in Poza Honda......Page 161
The Battle of El Moscarron......Page 165
The Incredible Return of Colonel Castillo......Page 172
Ana Guadalupe......Page 174
Manlio, Your Guitar's Beating......Page 176
The First Prisoner Exchange......Page 177
Freedom for Perquin......Page 178
Lesbia and the Idols of Pensacola......Page 180
Every Last One of Us Danced, Colonel......Page 182
Rogelio's Sense of Humor......Page 184
1983......Page 186
Shutting Down Transportation......Page 187
Oswaldo Escobar Velado......Page 189
El Quinto Piso de la Alegria......Page 193
Paty's Memories......Page 197
The Swearing in of the BRAZ......Page 199
The Defeat of the Belloso Battalion......Page 201
The Amatillo Bridge......Page 203
La Antena Is Taken......Page 205
Monterrosa and His War Trophies......Page 207
Atilio and the Smell of Ink......Page 208
Diana the Huntress, an Assassin Sent by the CIA......Page 212
The Bells Toll for Carlos......Page 213
Attack on the Third Brigade......Page 214
El Pedrero......Page 217
We Capture the Butcher......Page 219
El Cheje, the Godfather......Page 221
The Military School in San Fernando......Page 222
General Command in Morazan......Page 226
Sesori......Page 227
Morazan Has a Name: Commander Quincho......Page 230
1984......Page 234
The Legend of El Chongue......Page 235
The Colonel's Logic......Page 238
The Exchange of Colonel Castillo......Page 241
The Trickster is Tricked......Page 242
Nolbo versus the Gringos......Page 245
A Piece of Deerskin, and El Calihuate is Reborn......Page 246
A Stradivarius Violin......Page 248
It Wasn't the Siguanaba......Page 250
Lety......Page 251
Ana Lidia......Page 252
The Carpenter Who Destroyed an Empire......Page 254
A Meeting in La Palma......Page 257
Operation Torola IV......Page 259
To Die Like a Dog......Page 261
The Gringos' Man......Page 262
The Trojan Horse......Page 264
The Sword of Mars of the Mirror of Venus?......Page 269
The Tenacity of the Izote......Page 276
Epilogue, 1992......Page 282
Epilogue, 2003......Page 288
Epilogue 2009......Page 290
Index......Page 292

Citation preview

Broadcasting the Civil War in El Salvador

A Memoir of Guerrilla Radio Carlos Henríquez Consalvi (“Santiago”) Translated by Charles Leo Nagle V with A. L. (Bill) Prince Introduction by Erik Ching

Broadcasting the Civil War in El Salvador



int roduct ion i

LLILAS Translations from Latin America Series



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Broadcasting the Civil War in El Salvador

A Memoir of Guerrilla Radio by Carlos Henríquez Consalvi (“Santiago”) Translated by Charles Leo Nagle V with A. L. (Bill) Prince Introduction by Erik Ching

University of Texas Press, Austin Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies



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Originally published in 1992 as La Terquedad del Izote: La historia de Radio Venceremos. Mexico City: Editorial Diana. Copyright © 2003 Ediciones Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen, San Salvador. Photos courtesy of Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen.

Translation copyright © 2010 by the University of Texas Press All rights reserved Printed in the United States of America First University of Texas Press edition, 2010 Requests for permission to reproduce material from this work should be sent to: Permissions University of Texas Press P.O. Box 7819 Austin, TX 78713-7819 www.utexas.edu/utpress/about/bpermission.html ∞ The paper used in this book meets the minimum requirements of ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992 (R1997) (Permanence of Paper). Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Henríquez Consalvi, Carlos, 1945– [Terquedad del Izote. English] Broadcasting the civil war in El Salvador : a memoir of guerrilla radio / by Carlos Henríquez Consalvi (“Santiago”) ; translated by Charles Leo Nagle V with A. L. (Bill) Prince ; introduction by Erik Ching. — 1st University of Texas Press ed. â•… p.â•… cm. — (LLILAS translations from Latin America series) Includes index. ISBN 978-0-292-72285-9 (cloth : alk. paper) 1. Radio Venceremos (El Salvador)—History. 2. Radio broadcasting—El Salvador— History—20th century. 3. El Salvador—History—1979–1992. 4. Guerrillas—El Salvador. I. Title. PN1991.3.S2H4613 2010 791.44097284'09048—dc22 2010011245



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Izote National flower of El Salvador, white and fragrant, with thick pointed leaves, it is reborn out of its own injured trunk .€.€. it never dies. That’s the resolve of the Izote, the stubborn flower.



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THIS PAGE INTENTIONALLY LEFT BLANK

To those who gave their lives to change El Salvador



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Map 1. El Salvad or



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contents

Map 1â•… viii Map 2â•… xii Prefaceâ•… xiii List of Acronymsâ•… xv Introduction by Erik Chingâ•… xvii Photo section follows Introduction.

1980 Tearing Your Heart Outâ•… 2 Off to War with a Priestâ•… 5 On the Way to El Escondidoâ•… 8 Rafael: Morazán, a Strategic Projectâ•… 9 1981 January 1â•… 18 January 2â•… 18 Lichoâ•… 18 The Sky Is Taken by Assaultâ•… 21 The Resurrection of Altagraciaâ•… 25 The Pain of Calixtroâ•… 27 The Massacre at Junquilloâ•… 30 Damn! La Guacamaya Never Gives Up!â•… 32 Monsignor Romero in La Guacamayaâ•… 33 Jonásâ•… 34 Calle Negra, Almost Certain Deathâ•… 36 Villa del Rosarioâ•… 41 El Zapotalâ•… 45 A North American in the Warâ•… 46 Juan Ramón, from Bus to Historyâ•… 47 Eighty Devils Set Looseâ•… 49

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The Torogoces Are Bornâ•… 51 Benitoâ•… 53 Alejandro Peluna’s Flying Muleâ•… 54 Chiyo and Pajarilloâ•… 56 Loving Marcela in the Midst of War Is Another Warâ•… 58 Tanchoâ•… 60 Perquín, Road of Embersâ•… 63 The Fifth Frontâ•… 66 Victorino, the Light Withinâ•… 67 Operation Hammer and Anvilâ•… 70 Toni, Montalbo, and Javierâ•… 71 Monterrosa Captures Radio Venceremosâ•… 74 Radio Venceremos Goes to the Seaâ•… 76 Return to Morazánâ•… 79 The El Mozote Massacreâ•… 81

1982 The Cave of Passionsâ•… 90 The Fortress of Happinessâ•… 93 Hell in Poza Hondaâ•… 96 The Battle of El Moscarrónâ•… 100 The Incredible Return of Colonel Castilloâ•… 107 Ana Guadalupeâ•… 109 Manlio, Your Guitar’s Beatingâ•… 111 The First Prisoner Exchangeâ•… 112 Freedom for Perquínâ•… 113 Lesbia and the Idols of Pensacolaâ•… 115 Every Last One of Us Danced, Colonelâ•… 117 Rogelio’s Sense of Humorâ•… 119 1983 Shutting Down Transportationâ•… 122 Oswaldo Escobar Veladoâ•… 124 El Quinto Piso de la Alegríaâ•… 128 Paty’s Memoriesâ•… 132 The Swearing In of the BRAZâ•… 134 The Defeat of the Belloso Battalionâ•… 136 The Amatillo Bridgeâ•… 138 La Antena Is Takenâ•… 140 Monterrosa and His War Trophiesâ•… 142



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Atilio and the Smell of Inkâ•… 143 Diana the Huntress, an Assassin Sent by the CIAâ•… 147 The Bells Toll for Carlosâ•… 148 Attack on the Third Brigadeâ•… 149 El Pedreroâ•… 152 We Capture the Butcherâ•… 154 El Cheje, the Godfatherâ•… 156 The Military School in San Fernandoâ•… 157 General Command in Morazánâ•… 161 Sesoriâ•… 162 Morazán Has a Name: Commander Quinchoâ•… 165

1984 The Legend of El Chongueâ•… 170 The Colonels’ Logicâ•… 173 The Exchange of Colonel Castilloâ•… 176 The Trickster Is Trickedâ•… 177 Nolbo versus the Gringosâ•… 180 A Piece of Deerskin, and El Calihuate Is Rebornâ•… 181 A Stradivarius Violinâ•… 183 It Wasn’t the Siguanabaâ•… 185 Letyâ•… 186 Ana Lidiaâ•… 187 The Carpenter Who Destroyed an Empireâ•… 189 A Meeting in La Palmaâ•… 192 Operation Torola IVâ•… 194 To Die Like a Dogâ•… 196 The Gringos’ Manâ•… 197 The Trojan Horseâ•… 199 The Sword of Mars or the Mirror of Venus?â•… 204 The Tenacity of the Izoteâ•… 211 Epilogue, 1992â•… 217 Epilogue, 2003â•… 223 Epilogue, 2009â•… 225 indexâ•… 227



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Map 2. Northern Moraz án, El Salvad or



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preface

Any project of this scale will by necessity be a collective effort. First and foremost, thanks go to Santiago and his fellow compas (comrades) in Morazán for their sacrifices for El Salvador. One component of their efforts was the creation of the original Spanish version of this manuscript, La terquedad del izote. As Santiago will explain, that original manuscript had to be reproduced collectively, thanks to an act of destruction by soldiers in the Salvadoran Army. Since the end of the war in El Salvador, Santiago has committed himself to preserving and sharing the story of that country’s past. His efforts have manifested themselves notably in founding and directing the Museum of Word and Image (Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen—MUPI). The present text is another manifestation of his commitment to preserving historical memory and promoting popular education. If Confucius was right when he said, “Study the past if you would define the future,” then anyone who cares about El Salvador is indebted to Santiago. The process that led to this translation project began in 2004, when Santiago and Erik Ching discussed the possibility of a mutually beneficial internship between MUPI and Furman University. Their idea became reality with the support of Furman University’s Charles Johnson Center for Engaged Learning and its two internship directors, Dr. Marianne Pierce and Susan Zeiger. They recognized the merits of sending Furman students to MUPI as summer interns and helped secure the necessary financial support from Furman’s undergraduate research program, Furman Advantage. Charlie Nagle was the third intern to work with Santiago. The first two, Rachel Kuck (2005) and Derek Gleason (2007), paved the way. Santiago would like to thank Erik Ching, whose persistence made possible the completion of this project and its publication as a book. Thanks, of course, to Charlie Nagle and Bill Prince, as well as to Jocelyn Courtney, for their concerted efforts on the translation. Special thanks to Charlie’s nuanced gift for translation and his ability to capture the original text’s voice and tone. Charlie Nagle acknowledges Dr. A.€L. (Bill) Prince. I am forever indebted to him for his continued support and close supervision during this project. Without

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him, this English edition would not have been possible. I also express sincere gratitude to Dr. Erik Ching for having provided me with this opportunity and to Carlos Henríquez Consalvi for having entrusted me with the translation of his memoirs. I am deeply humbled. Bill Prince thanks Charlie Nagle for his monumental efforts on this project, and Santiago for his trust in their abilities. Erik Ching would like to acknowledge the assistance of Dr. Knut Walter in San Salvador for his many years of professional collaboration and for serving as a font of knowledge about El Salvador and its past. In the context of this specific project, Knut participated in many of the interviews in Morazán and subsequent discussions that led to the writing of the Introduction. Graphic designer Roberto Lovo in San Salvador produced the two maps that appear in the book. Thanks to Theresa May, editor-in-chief of the University of Texas Press, and Virginia Hagerty, managing editor of the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, for their steady support of this project from start to finish. Thanks also to Kathy Bork for her outstanding copyedit. Thanks to the two reviewers— Héctor Lindo and Aldo Lauria—for their evaluation of the manuscript and the Introduction, along with their insightful suggestions for improvements. Our thanks also to Sally Morris for her background photographs of the Izote plant. For readers interested in video images of Radio Venceremos, MUPI’s Web site (http://www.museo.com.sv) has an audiovisual section, which includes images of Venceremos and at least one short documentary with English subtitles. MUPI’s long-term plan is to have extensive materials available online through its Web site, including scanned documents, videos, and audio recordings of Venceremos transmissions. YouTube makes available some videos on Venceremos as well. Type “Radio Venceremos El Salvador” into the search category, and a couple of additional clips of the radio team will appear. Erik Ching Greenville, South Carolina, U.S.A. Carlos Henríquez Consalvi (“Santiago”) San Salvador, El Salvador August 2009



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list of acronyms

ACNUR: Alto Comisionado de las Naciones Unidas para los Refugiados (United Nations High Commission for Refugees—UNHCR) ARENA: Partido Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (National Republican Alliance Party) BPR: Bloque Popular Revolucionario (Revolutionary Popular Bloc) BRAZ: Brigada Rafael Arce Zablah (Rafael Arce Zablah Brigade) CEB: Comunidad Eclesiástica de Base (Christian Base Community) COPPES: Comité de Presos Políticos de El Salvador (The Committee of Salvadoran Political Prisoners) COPREFA: Comité de Prensa de la Fuerza Armada de El Salvador (Press Committee of the Salvadoran Armed Forces) ERP: Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo (People’s Revolutionary Army) FAL: Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación (Armed Forces of Liberation) FDR: Frente Democrático Revolucionario (Revolutionary Democratic Front) FMLN: Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation) FPL: Fuerzas Populares de Liberación (Popular Liberation Forces) FSLN: Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (Sandinista National Liberation Front) FUSEP: Fuerza de Seguridad Pública (Public Security Forces—Honduras) LP-28: Liga Popular 28 de Febrero (February 28 Popular League) MUPI: Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen (Museum of Word and Image) PCN: Partido de Conciliación Nacional (Party of National Conciliation) PCS: Partido Comunista Salvadoreño (Salvadoran Communist Party) PDC: Partido Demócrata Cristiano (Christian Democratic Party)



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PRTC: Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores Centroamericanos (Revolutionary Party of Central American Workers) RN: Resistencia Nacional (National Resistance) UCA: Universidad Centroamericana (Central American University) VOA: Voice of America



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Introduction Peasant Insurgency and Guerrilla Radio in Northern Morazán, El Salvador erik ching

What follows is the story of a rebellion by poor peasants against the government of El Salvador and its benefactor, the United States. The peasant rebels were outgunned, outmanned, and outfinanced, and they ultimately failed to achieve their goal of overthrowing the Salvadoran state. But, remarkably, they fought the Salvadoran Army to a draw over eleven years of war (1981–1992), and they had enough bargaining power at the negotiating table to achieve some of their key objectives, including democratic reforms and an overhaul of the Salvadoran security forces. The author of the memoir is Carlos Henríquez Consalvi, more commonly known by his nom de guerre, “Santiago.” He was a central figure in El Salvador’s civil war, although he was neither a peasant nor a Salvadoran. He was a Venezuelan who came to El Salvador to support the rebel cause and who lived and worked for the entire eleven years of war in the remote northeast of the country, in Morazán department. Throughout the war, northern Morazán was the stronghold of the People’s Revolutionary Army (Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo, ERP). It was one of the five guerrilla factions that made up the Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional, FMLN), the guerrilla army that formed in October 1980 to fight the Salvadoran government. Santiago was not a fighter, although he did sometimes carry a gun and he lived through numerous battles and aerial bombardments. Rather, he was a radio announcer, the main voice for the FMLN’s clandestine radio station, Radio Venceremos (Radio We Will Win). For eleven years, he and his fellow team members broadcast news and variety shows from a mobile radio transmitter in Morazán, oftentimes on the run or under bombardment. The Salvadoran Army and its U.S. ally called Radio Venceremos a propaganda tool and a weapon of war, and, indeed, sometimes it was. But it also provided the primary alternative to the mainstream media sources, which provided an unvarying progovernment viewpoint. Radio Venceremos became one of the army’s highest priority targets. What you are about to read is Santiago’s journal of his first four years of

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the war, beginning with his arrival in Morazán in December 1980 and ending in late 1984, when the FMLN guerrillas reached a military stalemate with the army. After reading his account of the harrowing first four years under fire, it is remarkable to think that the war lasted yet another seven years. Santiago’s story is very personal and provides the insights of one man working and surviving in an intense war zone. In that regard, the journal reveals deeply individual emotions of love and loss, happiness and tragedy. But Santiago’s memoir also tells a broader story, of the nationwide rebellion and its international context, particularly the intensifying cold war and the heavy involvement of the United States under Pres. Ronald Reagan. El Salvador’s civil war killed as many as 75,000 people, wounded another 350,000 or more, sent at least one million into exile, and cost billions of dollars, all in a tiny nation about the size of Massachusetts with a population of around 5 million. Such heavy costs do not occur without intense disagreement over why the fight happened. Subject to acrimonious debate were such issues as the cause of the war, the goals of the rebels, the quality and character of the Salvadoran government and army, and the wisdom of U.S. policy. In a 1984 address to the nation, Pres. Ronald Reagan told his listeners that “El Salvador [has] become the stage for a bold attempt by the Soviet Union, Cuba and Nicaragua to install communism by force throughout the hemisphere.”1 He said the United States would do everything in its power to stop the spread of communism in Central America and therein defend the United States. As is evident from his speech, Reagan believed, or at least wanted his listeners to believe, that El Salvador was the new front line in the cold war. Suddenly, the small and previously insignificant country of El Salvador assumed center stage in the international drama of cold war politics. Hawkish anticommunists like Reagan found themselves throwing their lot in with El Salvador’s elites, army, and government, with their abysmal track record on human rights. Reagan’s domestic opponents in the Democratic Party balked at his administration’s unbridled support of the Salvadoran government, but ultimately they did not want to appear soft on communism before their constituents. And so the aid flowed unabated to El Salvador to the tune of more than one million dollars per day for eleven years. The Salvadoran elites and their allies in the army and government also portrayed the fight in El Salvador as part of the cold war. They commonly appealed to anticommunism and nationalism and insisted that El Salvador was being threatened by the Soviet Union, Cuba, China, or Nicaragua, or all four at once. But for all their posturing toward international affairs, the elites, the army, and the government all knew that the war was much more personal and local. They understood that they were fighting to defend what they possessed against those in their country who had nothing. The difference is that they believed they had a right to xviii broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

their lot and that the best thing for the country was for them to be allowed to continue doing what they had been doing. In that regard they defended themselves in the name of capitalism, Christianity, liberty, and even democracy. Meanwhile, they labeled their opponents as communists, terrorists, and subversives. For their part, the rebels defined their insurrection as an attempt to end once and for all El Salvador’s system of exploitation and exclusivity. They argued that a tiny clique of elites had been running El Salvador like a personal fiefdom for decades, if not centuries. As part of that system of rule, the elites had formed a pact with the army, allowing officers to govern the country as long as they left the elites alone and crushed all opposition. The rebels pointed to repeated attempts to change the system through nonviolent means, only to see every effort violently overcome. Most of the rebels were poor peasants from rural areas who enlisted in the guerrillas through a radicalized Christianity and an embrace of a theology of social justice. Few cared about communism. A small minority of the guerrillas, the leaders mostly, were educated urbanites, and some of them were committed Marxist-Leninists while others were social democrats. Regardless of their differences, the guerrillas stood united in the belief that their fight was just and that their use of violence constituted a form of self-defense. Against accusations that they were stooges for international communists, the guerrillas pointed to the strong diplomatic and financial support from European countries, nonaligned nations of the developing world, and even U.S. citizens who donated millions of dollars to the FMLN’s cause. The rebels claimed that they acquired many of their weapons from the black market, or, as Santiago will show in his memoir, by capturing them from the Salvadoran Army. As should be evident, any interpretation of El Salvador’s civil war is going to be partisan or biased and reflect the interpreter’s perspective. This includes the memoir you are about to read, the Introduction I am writing for you, and Ronald Reagan’s address to the nation in 1984. As the saying goes, one person’s freedom fighter is another person’s terrorist. Naturally, Santiago’s is a partisan account. After all, he was a guerrilla and he believed the insurrection was just and necessary, albeit tragic and unfortunate. As you read his account, you will see that he celebrates guerrilla victories, bemoans the loss of his compañeros (comrades), and celebrates the army’s retreat. At first blush his memoir might seem to portray an unmitigated guerrilla success, notwithstanding the many guerrillas who died in the process. But the fact of the matter is that, during the period covered by the book (1980–1984), the guerrillas scored some of their most impressive military victories. During those years, they pushed the state to the brink of collapse and gained control over 25 percent of Salvadoran territory. It is commonly accepted that had it not been for massive aid from the United States, the guerrillas would have won.

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But simply because an interpretation is partisan does not make it wrong. It is up to the reader to weigh the evidence and determine the viability of any given argument based on the use of sound methodological principles. For the reader who might be unfamiliar with the civil war in El Salvador, let us get one fact established: the overwhelming majority of human rights abuses that occurred during El Salvador’s civil war were committed by the Salvadoran Army and its paramilitary affiliates. The United Nations Truth Commission found that between 85 percent and 90 percent of the human rights violations were perpetrated by the army and its paramilitaries, somewhere between 5 percent and 10 percent were committed by the guerrillas, and 5 percent cannot be assigned responsibility.2 It is a common tactic of the Right in El Salvador and its supporters in the United States to say things like “bad things happened during the war, and both sides made mistakes and committed atrocities, so let’s move on.” A major consequence of this perspective was the blanket amnesty pushed through by the conservative ARENA (Partido Alianza Republicana Nacionalista, National Republican Alliance Party) government after the war. But only one side—the army—used widespread terror in the form of torture and indiscriminate massacres of unarmed civilians to advance its cause. The guerrillas’ violations revolved mostly around kidnapping elites for ransom and assassinating local political officials in guerrilla-held territory who refused to surrender office. The guerrillas were widely recognized as treating their prisoners according to international rules of war. In fact, they hoped their prisoners would join their ranks, and treating them fairly was part of that objective. Therefore, it is methodologically unsound to speak of the guerrillas’ human rights violations as being anything comparable to the army’s. Santiago’s memoir will reflect these facts. The remaining pages of this Introduction will set the stage for Santiago’s story of those four years in Morazán. It will provide an overview of El Salvador’s civil war, with a focus on northern Morazán and the emergence of the ERP. Morazán and the Theater of War In a country marked by poverty and inequality, the department of Morazán has been and continues to be one of the poorest and most remote in El Salvador. Located in the far northeastern corner of the country, it has no main highways passing through it, and its thin, rocky soils are not good for growing crops (see Map 1). Its residents are mostly poor peasants who try to survive on small plots of land, and the few wealthy families that live in Morazán made their money through commerce or by controlling the limited commercial agriculture— mostly coffee grown at higher elevations.3 Morazán is shaped like a rectangle measuring roughly twenty miles on one

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side and fifty miles on the other. It slopes upward from south to north starting at around five hundred feet above sea level at its southern end, the border with San Miguel department, to around six thousand feet above sea level at its northern end, the border with Honduras. At the outbreak of the civil war Morazán had approximately 175,000 inhabitants, a number that today has grown modestly to 250,000. The department has twenty-six municipalities, the largest of which is its capital, San Francisco Gotera, with close to 20,000 residents. Most of the remaining twenty-five municipalities have fewer than 10,000 inhabitants, and since they tend to live in homesteads scattered throughout the countryside, those towns rarely measure more than four square blocks in size. The guerrilla stronghold in Morazán during the war was the northern third of the department, a roughly ten-by-twenty-mile rectangular area north of the Torola River (see Map 2). This region contains only eight of the department’s municipalities, and it had approximately 30,000 people at the outbreak of the war. Half of those people fled the region by 1982 to avoid the fighting.4 Northern Morazán is a beautiful region. Its various hilltops and ridgelines afford panoramic vistas. It has a couple of small but attractive rivers, the Sapo and the Torola. The air is clean and fresh, and pine forests grow at the upper elevations. With good reason entrepreneurial residents today are trying to promote the region as a tourist destination. For outsiders who did not live there in the 1980s, it is hard to image how such a tranquil place could have been the site of such a long and horrific war. Another surprising aspect of northern Morazán is its small size and its seeming inadequacy for a guerrilla insurgency. The terrain is not particularly rugged or difficult to traverse. It offers no jungle, a few modest-sized mountains, and its pine forests and brush offer some cover, but hardly enough, it would seem, to hide a guerrilla army. In short, northern Morazán would not seem a good location to launch a guerrilla insurgency, especially when the enemy’s air force had total command of the skies. Since most readers of this Introduction will never have been to northern Morazán, a brief visualizing exercise might help you to understand what it looks like. Imagine a shallow bowl about the size of a laptop computer. Now imagine a post standing upright in the middle of it about the size of a AA battery, such that the top of post is more or less level with the rim of the bowl. That post represents Pericón Hill, which is located more or less in the middle of northern Morazán. Imagine the floor of the bowl to be approximately 2,500 feet above sea level and the rim to be around 6,000 feet above sea level. Now imagine yourself standing on top of that post (Pericón Hill) looking north. Straight ahead of you and to your right is the mountain range (the rim of the bowl) that marks the border between El Salvador and Honduras, only ten miles away. The rim of the bowl behind you to the south represents two other small mountain ranges, the Ocotepeque

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Mountains over your right shoulder and the Cacahuatique Range over your left shoulder. They lie slightly to the south of the Torola River, so officially they are outside the region considered to be northern Morazán, but they represent the southern end of guerrilla territory. The Torola River cuts across the floor of the bowl about mid-distance between you and those mountains to the south. Continue to imagine yourself standing on top of that post (Pericón Hill) looking north. Now imagine another post to your left, also about the size of a AA battery. That is Gigante Hill, which sits approximately two miles almost due west from you. Now imagine another post just to the north of Gigante, so to your left and slightly in front. That is Perquín Hill. Imagine a small town tucked into the side of that post about one-quarter of the way down from the top; that is the town of Perquín, the so-called guerrilla capital in Morazán during the war. There are no major mountains on the other side of Gigante Hill to your left, so you need to image the rim of the bowl giving way to a series of undulating hillsides and plains extending westward as far as the eye can see. In that direction is Cabañas department, and on the other side of that is another guerrilla stronghold during the war, northern Chalatenango department, approximately forty miles away. Pericón Hill affords a nearly 360-degree view of the bowl that is northern Morazán. And on a clear day if you are looking westward, you can see all the way to the capital city of San Salvador, approximately sixty miles away. The city itself is not visible because it is nestled down into its own bowl, but you can make out the six thousand–foot volcano that stands behind it. The bowl of northern Morazán was a main theater of war for eleven years, between 1981 and 1992. When you take into account that the Salvadoran Air Force had helicopters and fighter-bombers that could arrive at the region from their bases within minutes, and the Salvadoran Army could place as many as ten thousand heavily armed soldiers in the region, it defies logic that a guerrilla army could survive there for eleven years. So how did the guerrillas do it? As with any guerrilla army, mobility was one of the ERP’s most important traits. The guerrillas’ mobility turned the small size of northern Morazán into an asset rather than a liability. The guerrillas preferred to avoid direct confrontations with the army except by their own choosing, because the Salvadoran military held a decided advantage in firepower and supplies. It was smarter for the guerrillas to pick their fights when they could be assured of an element of surprise or when they could use the natural surroundings to their advantage. Otherwise, the guerrillas tried to stay one step ahead of the army, even if that meant fleeing Morazán entirely. Even though the guerrillas possessed no vehicles and had to travel everywhere by foot, they moved quickly. They possessed intimate knowledge of the terrain, and northern Morazán was not large, so they could leave it in one or two days of xxii broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

marching. On the six or so occasions during the war when they fled the region entirely, the guerrillas headed west, south, or southeast to safe havens to wait out the army’s occupation. If the guerrillas’ ability to escape seems unfathomable, realize that a fit backpacker carrying a forty-pound load can walk between two and three miles per hour for eight to ten hours. The guerrillas were well trained, and so most of them could leave the region in one steady nighttime march. Another key weapon in the guerrillas’ arsenal was intelligence. Avoiding a surprise attack was possible by acquiring information about the army’s plans. As long as they knew when the army was coming and from what direction, the guerrillas could plot an attack strategy or map an escape route. They had sympathizers throughout the country, even within the army itself, and so the army rarely caught them off guard with major attacks. When the army planned major ground offensives in northern Morazán, it had to move massive amounts of troops and supplies, which gave the guerrillas days, even weeks, of notification. Furthermore, the guerrillas were usually able to monitor army communications through captured radios and by cracking military codes. Former soldiers who sided with the guerrillas provided a constant update of army codes and plans. The guerrillas also had the advantage of a few army officers joining their ranks, such as Captain Mena Sandoval, who brought a wealth of information on military strategy and tactics.5 In addition to being mobile and well informed, the guerrillas were proficient fighters. The quality of their weaponry may have paled in comparison to the army’s, but the guerrillas were well trained in using what they had. Whenever the army left itself exposed, the guerrillas delivered stinging blows that forced hasty retreats. The guerrillas were nothing if not flexible and fast acting, and so, even on the run, they could turn and make the army pay for pursuing them. An astute reader might ask why the army simply did not stay in northern Morazán when it managed to chase the guerrillas out of the region, or why it did not find out where the guerrillas were fleeing to and pursue them. After all, the army could invade the region with upwards of ten thousand troops backed up by helicopters and fighter-bombers. They also had the advantage of the U.S.-backed Honduran Army blocking the northern border to prevent the guerrillas from fleeing in that direction or using Honduras as a staging ground. By comparison, the guerrillas in northern Morazán never numbered more than five thousand armed combatants, and more typically their numbers were closer to fifteen hundred. So why couldn’t the army simply hold onto the terrain once it invaded? The mobility of the guerrillas meant that they could attack almost any selected army stronghold throughout northern Morazán at their choosing. Normally, being on the defensive in a military engagement is an advantage, but having to defend multiple physical locations throughout an entire region forced the army to spread its resources thinly. In contrast, the guerrillas could pick and choose

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their target and concentrate their firepower on that one location. Thus, they could usually overwhelm any single army outpost. Sometimes the guerrillas attacked an outpost simply to draw in their preferred target: reinforcements coming from another town. Slowly but surely the guerrillas bled the army out of northern Morazán, one outpost at time, with the last post, Perquín, falling once and for all in early 1983. To have defended every town and hamlet in northern Morazán, and to have held onto them in perpetuity, the army would have had to post many thousands of troops. Simply put, it lacked the manpower. After the army had been pushed out of the region, the guerrillas employed the same strategy to rebuff each of its attempts to reestablish control: concentrate firepower on one outpost after another until the army once again gave up and left. The other factor favoring the guerrillas in northern Morazán is that they constituted only a portion of the FMLN’s total army, and their front was only one of three of four throughout the country (see Map 1). The FMLN comprised five distinct guerrilla factions, each of which tended to predominate in a particular geographic region. The two largest and most combative factions were the Popular Liberation Forces (Fuerzas Populares de Liberación, FPL) in Chalatenango and the ERP in Morazán. The other three factions, the Armed Forces of Liberation (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación, FAL), the National Resistance (Resistencia Nacional, RN), and the Revolutionary Party of Central American Workers (Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores Centroamericanos, PRTC), were spread out between the Guazapa volcano, Usulután department, and San Vicente department. Thus, the army’s problem of defending multiple positions at one time applied not only to individual geographic regions, like northern Morazán, but also to the entire country. If the army dedicated a large portion of its combatready troops to one region, then it exposed itself on two or three other fronts, where the guerrillas could deliver devastating attacks. Even though the army had anywhere from five to ten times more active-duty soldiers than the guerrillas (between 50,000 and 100,000 to the guerrillas’ 10,000 at most), as well as tens of thousands more people serving as auxiliaries in the paramilitaries and the army reserves, most of the government’s troops were basically serving as guards. They protected municipalities or infrastructure from the guerrillas. Ultimately, the number of combat-ready troops in the army was not that much higher than the guerrillas had access to. Most of the actual fighting by the army was performed by a few select Special Forces battalions, such as the notorious Belloso and Atlacatl. Liberation Theology and the Peasantry of Morazán Another major reason the guerrillas were able to beat the odds and survive in the small region of northern Morazán was their well-established social network. Most of the guerrillas fighting in northern Morazán were poor peasants from xxiv broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

the region. They might best be described as peasants in arms defending themselves against a government they deemed illegitimate. The process by which some peasants in Morazán developed this militant consciousness and decided to take up arms against the government leads us to ask a more basic question: Why do peasants rebel? Certainly, poverty and exploitation are raw materials for inciting an armed insurrection. But poverty and exploitation by themselves are not adequate explanations. Poverty and oppression are ubiquitous, but insurrections are rare events. In fact, unabated, grinding poverty usually hinders rebellion, because the people living in those conditions have been downtrodden for so long that it is inconceivable for them to risk what little they have. Instead, rebellions usually occur when some sort of trigger breaks the cycle of dependence.6 As a historically isolated and impoverished region, Morazán was a good candidate for an armed insurrection. But what stands out about Morazán is that its history does not provide evidence of any triggers. No major changes in the economic or social structure occurred in the region in the 1960s or 1970s. Neither was there a sudden interest in the region from capitalist farmers or industrialists who might have expropriated peasant lands for commercial purposes. And there had been no economic boom-and-bust cycle in the region that might have given peasants hope, only to dash them in an economic collapse. The region was affected by the inflationary pressures of rising oil prices in the early 1970s, as well as the political turmoil of fraudulent presidential elections in 1972 and 1977. But those events occurred throughout El Salvador, and, furthermore, such depressing economic and political conditions had been typical in Morazán for decades. So why, then, would Morazán emerge as such a hotbed of insurrection in the 1970s and 1980s? The answer to this question is found in the history of a radicalizing Christianity and the growth of a new interpretive consciousness among Morazán’s peasants. Starting in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a new consciousness, primarily Christian in origin, began to take hold among Morazán’s peasants, and some of them began to translate that consciousness into militant action. This new consciousness had its roots in the emergent liberation theology of the Catholic Church, represented by the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) and the Latin American Bishops’ Conference in Medellín, Colombia, in 1968. Those two events marked the emergence of a modernizing trend within the Catholic Church in which Catholic hierarchs called on their followers to take up the “preferential option for the poor,” or to make the plight of the poor a focal point of their faith. The new trend divided Catholics throughout the world between conservatives and reformers. In El Salvador, the liberationist reformers were found in such places as rural Christian Base Communities (Comunidades Eclesiásticas de Base, CEB), the new

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Christian Democratic Party, the Central American University (Universidad Centroamericana, UCA), the private Catholic secondary school—the Externado de San José—the San José de la Montaña seminary, and the San Salvador bishopric. Morazán was a stronghold of the conservative wing of the church, but even there liberation theology made inroads. Morazán falls under the bishopric of San Miguel, which was led by two conservative bishops, Lorenzo Graziano (1968– 1969) and Eduardo Álvarez (1969–1997). Northern Morazán was contained within a single diocese located in Jocoatique that had a single priest, Andrés Argueta, also a conservative and an ally of the bishops in San Miguel. One of the reforms of Vatican II and Medellín was to allow nonordained lay workers to perform some sacraments in hopes of reducing the problems associated with the lack of priests throughout the world. Nowhere was this problem more acute than in northern Morazán, with its one priest per thirty thousand parishioners. To train these new catechists, training centers were opened throughout the country. One was founded in the Castaño neighborhood of San Miguel city and was called the Centro Reino de la Paz (Prince of Peace Center); but it was more commonly known as El Castaño. Two other centers opened nearby, one also in San Miguel city and the other in the town of Jiquilisco in Usulután department. In 1968 Bishop Graziano ordered priests throughout his bishopric to find promising candidates and send them for catechism training in these centers. Obligingly, Father Argueta in Jocoatique began sending recruits to El Castaño from northern Morazán. Unbeknownst to Argueta, and presumably to Bishops Graziano and Álvarez as well, and certainly unbeknownst to the catechist recruits, the training centers were heavily influenced by adherents of the new liberationist theology. The teachers in the centers defined their mission in much broader terms than simply educating peasants in catechism. Instead, they believed it was their responsibility to empower their pupils by giving them the means to employ Catholic teachings to interpret their daily lives for themselves. One of the main scholars to conduct work on this critical period of Morazán’s history, the North American anthropologist Leigh Binford, gathered the following testimony from one of the pupils at El Castaño, expressing her surprise at the curriculum and the nontraditional conduct of the priest-teachers: When I arrived at the center [El Castaño], I was a bit concerned and I asked myself, “What are we going to do here?” At that time the schedule for each day had been written up, and I was looking at it. Well, at such an hour [one class] and such an hour another class. They had themes on community development, health education, agriculture and free themes. I asked myself, “To combine these things as a Christian, how’s it going to happen?” I thought they were going to teach us things about the Bible and to pray. .€.€. xxvi broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

The other thing that bothered me a bit is that I was accustomed to seeing priests in dressed in pants and cassocks. But as I watched them wearing teeshirts and playing soccer with the masses .€.€. well when one has a preconception, all that is a bit strange.7 The priest-teachers at El Castaño faced a variety of problems from their pupils, including passivity, an inability to think critically and independently, and discomfort with speaking in front of groups. The teachers subsequently designed exercises to promote independent thinking and extemporaneous speaking. In a relatively short time, the teachers’ work began to produce results. The pupils began to think for themselves, and they soon acquired a great proclivity for public speaking. In fact, one of the teachers joked that in time he began to dread the sessions dedicated to public speaking because his pupils spoke at great length without concern for time.8 Another priest from northern Morazán noted that the peasants were not stupid or incapable; quite the contrary. They proved tremendously adept and demonstrated a strong desire to learn new skills and apply them to improve themselves and their communities.9 Some of the pupils who demonstrated a high capacity were invited to attend additional courses in other training centers, even abroad in Guatemala and elsewhere. In time, dozens of recruits from northern Morazán passed through El Castaño and the other training centers. Not all of them welcomed or embraced the liberationist curriculum, but most did, and those are the ones who returned to their communities anxious to apply the lessons they had learned. They organized meetings and invited community members to speak out about their problems and to propose solutions. They began forming cooperatives to improve people’s lives by sharing both the risks and rewards of agricultural production. As Binford points out, it would be wholly inaccurate to describe the centers as fomenters of rebellion or militant insurrection. The centers’ educators wanted to teach self-help, autonomous thinking, and community development. But in the midst of El Salvador’s traditional social structures, such seemingly innocuous ideas possessed radical potential. If peasants and other poor people demonstrated independent thinking, then by definition they were becoming less pliable, and less willing to accept the standard explanations that politicians, soldiers, elites, and conservative priests had been giving them for generations. If they sought their own solutions to daily problems, then by definition they were breaking away from the cycle of dependence and passivity that allowed traditional authorities to rule. And when the defenders of traditional power structures felt their control slipping, they responded with unmitigated violence. A decisive event that contributed to the evolution of consciousness among the peasants of northern Morazán was the appointment of a new priest to the region in 1973. That priest was a young seminarian named Miguel Ventura, who

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had studied in the San José de la Montaña seminary in San Salvador and was an adherent of the new liberationist theology. On completing his training, Ventura was assigned to the San Miguel bishopric, much to the chagrin of Bishop Álvarez, who knew the young Ventura and his views. Álvarez delayed posting Ventura for as long as he could, but eventually he assigned him to the safest alternative, a new but remote diocese consisting of three municipalities in northern Morazán. At least there he would be under the watchful eye of the conservative Father Argueta. The ERP and Rural Militancy in Morazán It did not take long for Ventura and the Catholic lay workers who had received training at El Castaño to emerge as a potent force for social change. In response to the emergence of this new consciousness, Álvarez transferred the young Father Ventura the following year to the diocese of Osicala, still in Morazán, but farther south and closer to San Miguel. However, before he was transferred, Father Ventura helped consolidate northern Morazán as a seedbed for militant peasants by arranging a meeting between some of the catechist leaders and Rafael Arce Zablah, a young leader of the recently formed ERP guerrilla faction. Ventura recalls meeting Arce Zablah in Torola in late 1973 or early 1974, at which time Arce Zablah shared with Ventura his plans for overthrowing the Salvadoran government.10 The first meeting between Arce Zablah and the peasants occurred in a convent in Planes de Renderos on the outskirts of San Salvador in April 1974. Apparently, two other meetings occurred in Morazán before Arce Zablah was killed in a failed assault on a national guard post in El Carmen, La Unión, in 1975. In those meetings, Arce Zablah informed the peasant leaders of his belief that Morazán was the appropriate staging ground for the looming war against the Salvadoran state. Arce Zablah originated from Usulután, and he apparently believed eastern El Salvador to be ripe with revolutionary potential. He proposed that the peasants form clandestine military committees as the cornerstones for organization and preparation. The peasants responded by organizing military committees in or around the towns of Jocoatique, Meanguera, and Torola.11 Those meetings and the military committees that grew out of them planted a seed of connectivity between the radicalizing Christian peasants of northern Morazán and the nascent urban guerrillas from San Salvador. In time that link would grow into a broad rural insurrection.12 Romantic revolutionaries consider the link between peasant farmers and urban workers to be natural. One example is the hammer and sickle insignia of the Russian Communist Party, which signifies the supposed bond between urban workers (the hammer) and peasants (the sickle). The idea behind the xxviii broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

insignia and those who subscribe to its meaning is that peasants and urban workers are members of the same economic underclass and are exploited equally by the existing economic system; therefore, they share a natural desire to work together to change it. In reality, the gulf between peasants and urban workers can be wide. They can be like two nationalities living in the same country, with differing culture, family lines, linguistic dialects, and historical experiences. They also have differing stakes in the economic system. As food producers, peasants want food to sell at high prices, but as consumers, urban workers want food to be cheap. Historically, common fronts between peasants and urban workers have been the exception rather than the rule. If the link between peasants and workers is difficult to establish, then a bond between peasants and affluent urban intellectuals is even more difficult. For the most part, the founding members of the ERP were urban intellectuals who emerged from the factionalism within the Left in the early 1970s. The ERP was founded in 1972 by a group of young, militant radicals who disagreed with the traditional line of El Salvador’s Communist Party (founded in 1930) in regard to the timing of revolution. The Communist Party argued that El Salvador was not ready for revolution and therefore the proper strategy was to build electoral coalitions and organize labor unions. The young militants disagreed and argued that the revolution was pending. The first faction to break from the party was led, ironically, by an elder Communist leader, Cayetano Carpio. In 1970 he founded the FPL. The second faction to form was the ERP. Almost all of the ERP’s founders were young, universityeducated urbanites, including Joaquín Villalobos, Eduardo Sancho, Lil Milagro Ramírez, Ana Guadalupe, Rafael Arce Zablah, and Alejandro Rivas Mira. They were later joined by famed poet Roque Dalton, among others. Most of them came from working- or middle-class families and thus were hardly elites, but compared to the peasants of northern Morazán, they were affluent and well educated. They had arrived at their militant consciousness from a variety of avenues, including their classes at the university, their embrace of liberation theology, affiliation with the radical side of the Christian Democratic Party, and union organizing. Why those young founders of the ERP did not join forces with the FPL is part of El Salvador’s complex history of leftist politics. Suffice it to say that the Left in El Salvador exhibited an impressive ability to split ideological hairs and divide itself over minor issues. So, whereas for nearly forty years, El Salvador had had only one underground radical movement, the Communist Party, it now had three, two of which were dedicated to guerrilla warfare. By 1976 two more militant factions would emerge. It would then take another four years, until October 1980, for the five factions to unite in a common revolutionary front—the FMLN.

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Joining an underground militant organization in the early 1970s in El Salvador was a serious commitment. A militant had to surrender his or her past life, give up ties to friends and family, and dedicate herself or himself to the unending and challenging task of mobilizing an insurrection in secret. Fear of capture by state security agents was constant. Every militant knew that arrest meant horrific torture and probably death. All it took to be captured was a minor slip in security, betrayal by a comrade, or simply the bad luck of being stopped at a roadblock. Another great fear was that the security forces would learn the identities of a militant’s friends or family and exact retribution from them.13 The ERP remained a small, secret organization throughout its initial years. Its members carried out a few kidnappings and bank robberies to raise funds. They also launched a few small military raids, like the one on the national guard post in 1975 that cost Arce Zablah his life. Throughout its early years, the ERP struggled with internal debates over ideology and strategy—the same types of disputes that had led to its formation in the first place. The lowest moment of these internal disputes occurred in May 1975, when some ERP leaders executed Roque Dalton on erroneous claims of treason and conspiring with the CIA. The debate about Dalton caused a group of members led by Eduardo Sancho to break away from the ERP and found the RN. A few months later, another faction broke away from the ERP under the leadership of Francisco Jovel and formed the PRTC. Beyond military assaults and fund-raising raids, the main goal of these nascent militant organizations was to recruit members and establish linkages throughout the country in preparation for war, hence the meeting between Arce Zablah and the peasants from Morazán in 1974.14 By the latter half of the 1970s, as conditions worsened in the country, recruitment for the five underground organizations grew. Each of them formed ties with a popular front that kept public pressure on the government through nonviolent marches, demonstrations, and protests, frequently held in San Salvador. The ERP’s mass front was the February 28 Popular League (Liga Popular 28 de Febrero—LP-28), which was formed in early 1978. Often it was the nonmilitant members of these mass organizations who suffered the worst acts of state repression by exposing themselves publicly to beatings, shootings, or arrest. Conditions in northern Morazán deteriorated in the late 1970s as well. State security forces and paramilitary units monitored, harassed, and attacked suspected peasant leaders and the organizations they had built. A decisive moment in the evolution of tensions occurred in November 1977, when security agents killed Juan Ramón Sánchez. He was a peasant catechist who had been trained in El Castaño and who had affiliated with the ERP. During a surprise roadblock near Osicala, Sánchez engaged in a shootout with army commandos that left him and three soldiers dead. In response, security agents launched a roundup of anyone they suspected of involvement in progressive Catholicism or community xxx broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

organizing. As part of that sweep they arrested and tortured Father Ventura until public pressure forced them to release him two weeks later. Ventura went into exile and did not return to Morazán for five years. Many other catechists, peasant leaders, and their family members were arrested, tortured, and/or killed.15 In response to increasing repression from state security forces, more peasants throughout northern Morazán embraced an armed strategy and began to affiliate with the militant committees of the ERP. According to Father Ventura, a local Christian agricultural youth organization, the Juventud Cristiana Agrícola, had ties to the ERP and served as a source of recruitment and organization.16 On account of the increasing intensity of conflict and the growing levels of state repression after 1977, it is not uncommon to hear former activists speak of the war as starting in 1977 rather than the official start date of January 1981.17 The army launched its first scorched-earth offensive throughout northern Morazán on October 10, 1980. The peasant militants organized as part of their nascent ERP military committees slowed the army’s advance, but could do little more. On October 13 the army committed its first of many massacres in the region, killing nearly one dozen unarmed civilians at La Guacamaya, in the municipality of Villa El Rosario. During that offensive nearly one thousand noncombatants fled across the Honduran border to Colomancagua, which would become an official United Nations–supplied refugee camp the following year.18 Between 1977 and 1981 each of the various guerrilla organizations continued to nurture its base of support in both urban and rural areas. The rural strongholds for the two largest guerrilla factions, the FPL and the ERP, were Chalatenango and Morazán, respectively. The other, smaller, guerrilla factions established footholds elsewhere, including San Vicente and Usulután departments, and around the Guazapa volcano north of San Salvador. But until the failure of the first offensive in January 1981, the urban areas remained at the forefront of the guerrillas’ strategic plans. It was not their intention to entrench themselves in rural areas and fight a decade-long civil war with a peasant army. Especially after the success of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua in July 1979, the Salvadoran guerrillas believed that they could dislodge the Salvadoran government after a quick, concerted push in which urban areas would play a decisive role. The product of this belief was the first Final Offensive, launched by the various guerrilla factions after they banded together into the FMLN in October 1980. Indeed, the launching of the Final Offensive in January 1981 marks the official beginning of the civil war in El Salvador. The failure of that offensive made it impossible for the guerrillas to maintain an operational presence in the cities. They retreated to safer havens in rural areas and prepared for a longer conflict.19 It was at this moment that the civil war in El Salvador assumed the character of a protracted rural insurrection.



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The War in Morazán As part of its new strategy after the offensive in 1981, the ERP directed its military energies toward northern Morazán. Following the strategy discussed earlier, the ERP first cleared the countryside of paramilitary agents and government security forces and then systematically attacked one military outpost after another. The ERP’s goal was to clear the military out of the region and create a liberated zone that would serve as its rear guard. From that stronghold, it would expand its control outward, join up with the other guerrilla fronts, and eventually march into San Salvador victorious. At least this was the ERP’s strategy, which tended to emphasize a militarized approach of engaging the army in combat and seizing control of territory. The FPL adopted a slightly different approach by emphasizing social and community organization and relying on militias rather than a standing army as the ERP did. But in the end, both organizations employed a similar strategy of maintaining combat-ready guerrillas to engage the army and working with noncombatant communities to provide social services.20 It took the ERP nearly two years to clear the army out of northern Morazán. In the meantime, the army implemented a scorched-earth policy in which regular troops and its new Rapid Action battalions, like the Atlacatl Battalion, turned northern Morazán into a free-fire zone, or so-called Red Zone, in which anyone found there was assumed to be a guerrilla or guerrilla sympathizer. The army’s goal in these sweeps was to find and kill guerrilla combatants, but when the army failed to do that, which was typical, it tried to destroy the region’s ability to sustain the insurgents. The strategy devolved into widespread crop and livestock destruction and massive human rights violations. The most well known army massacre, but just one of many examples, occurred in El Mozote in December 1981.21 The vast majority of the one thousand victims at El Mozote were evangelical Christians and disinclined toward the guerrillas. The army’s departure from Perquín on the twenty-third of February 1983 marked the moment at which the ERP established control over northern Morazán once and for all. This two-year period between 1981 and 1983 is sometimes identified as the extended First Offensive. Even though the FMLN failed to take control of San Salvador in January 1981, it did manage over the next two years to push the army out of nearly 25 percent of El Salvador’s territory. During this period of guerrilla ascendance, the ERP established a large and proficient combat force. Under the guidance of Captain Mena Sandoval and other former army officers, the ERP assembled six standing combat battalions consisting of as many as five hundred soldiers each. They were named after the fallen ERP leader, Arce Zablah, and were referred to by the acronym BRAZ—Brigada Rafael Arce Zablah (the Rafael Arce Zablah Brigade). The goal of these units was xxxii broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

to engage the Salvadoran army in direct military battles, and during the first two or three years of the war, BRAZ units carried out some legendary missions. One of them was the assault on the army’s communications center atop a mountain in the Cacahuatique range. The center’s defense plan had been designed by U.S. military planners who considered the site impenetrable. But BRAZ units exploited a weakness and seized control of the center in a daring raid in May 1983. On repeated occasions, ERP commandoes attacked the main military barracks of the Third Brigade in San Miguel, well outside their zone of control in northern Morazán. Such striking ability kept the army on the defensive and relieved pressure on the guerrillas’ home base in the north. For example, after the second major assault on the barracks in May 1984, the military pulled back many of its troops from the Morazán region. Another memorable mission was the joint FPL/ ERP raid on the Salvadoran Air Force at the Ilopango airfield in January 1982. Commando units penetrated the airbase’s perimeter and destroyed much of the Salvadoran Air Force while planes and helicopters sat on the tarmac. These and other victories stirred optimism among the guerrillas and their supporters, notwithstanding the hardships and losses that the brutal war exacted. ERP combatants in particular considered themselves the premier combat units among the guerrillas, and they took pride in having created a fighting force that could confront the enemy and win. As Joaquín Villalobos, the ERP commander, put it in late 1982, “We have achieved a strategic accumulation of victories which will be expressed in a final culminating moment.”22 Despite their victories, FMLN leaders realized that maintaining a large standing combat force was a costly strategy doomed to fail without a fast victory. Its large combat units were less mobile and more easily detected by the enemy, especially from the skies. Also, standing combat units required large amounts of supplies, which were difficult to acquire. Fearing a guerrilla victory, the Reagan administration redoubled its aid efforts to the Salvadoran government in late 1983 and early 1984, which included restocking the air force with helicopters and fighter-bombers. Without victory readily in sight, and confronted by a freshly resupplied enemy, the FMLN leadership changed its strategy. Instead of retaining large standing combat units like the ERP’s BRAZ in Morazán, it downsized. The new strategy relied on smaller, more mobile units that would now fight a war of attrition rather than a war of engagement. The smaller units employed hit-and-run tactics that would drain the army of its ability and will to fight rather than defeating it outright in combat. New targets included infrastructure or anything that would cost the Salvadoran government money to replace. The idea was that over time the Salvadoran state would simply collapse under the economic drain.23 The dismantling of the BRAZ in early 1984 was a difficult and demoralizing period in the ERP’s history in Morazán. The decision to downsize was not

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universally supported, and some combatants left the ranks. Another component of the new strategy that met with opposition in the region was mandatory training for all civilians. The idea behind the strategy was to diffuse the striking power of the guerrillas throughout the population and to have a reserve of trained recruits available if needed. However, some families interpreted the mandatory training as a form of conscription, and many fled the region to avoid it. One of the guerrilla leaders who oversaw the training sessions, Marisol Galindo, recalled popular opposition to the new strategy during a 2008 interview.24 After reaching the nadir caused by its new strategy, the ERP recovered quickly. The smaller combat units were still potent, especially whenever the army entered northern Morazán. And as always, the army remained constantly concerned about guerrillas attacking locations outside their stronghold. A stalemate emerged between the army and the guerrillas that resulted in extended periods of relative calm in northern Morazán. During those lulls the guerrillas focused on community development and provided services to people throughout the region. Over the next few years a vigorous civil society emerged in northern Morazán in which a sort of parallel government formed and provided everything from education and health care to a judicial system.25 The guerrillas’ new strategy and its stalemate with the army remained more or less in place until the FMLN launched its second Final Offensive in November 1989. Santiago and Radio Venceremos A major limitation for opposition organizations in El Salvador in the 1970s was their lack of access to the mass media. All the major media sources were controlled by interests loyal to the government and elites. Needless to say, those sources vilified guerrillas as terrorists and criminals while portraying the army and the government as righteous defenders of the population. The guerrillas had few ways to rebut these claims. They spray-painted slogans on walls and handed out flyers surreptitiously at marches and rallies. They also launched their first radio station in the late 1970s from the grounds of the National University. But it had limited range and was shut down as the civil conflict in the urban areas intensified.26 Such methods hardly countered the relentless barrage from progovernment media sources. As preparations for the first Final Offensive were under way, some guerrilla commanders became acutely aware of the problems caused by the lack of access to mass media. Particularly worrisome to those commanders was the fact that the offensive was designed around the emergence of a mass insurrectional wave that the guerrillas would ride to victory. Such a plan would fail if the population did not know about the offensive. According to Santiago, it was the ERP commanders, and particularly Joaquín Villalobos, who understood this problem and xxxiv broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

looked for solutions, such as the first radio attempts in San Salvador in 1979 and 1980. As the Final Offensive approached, a Venezuelan known as “Maravilla,” who was working in Nicaragua, offered his services to the ERP commanders to help resurrect their clandestine radio. Maravilla told them that he had an ideal candidate for the job, another Venezuelan who was working in radio in Nicaragua at that time—Carlos Henríquez Consalvi. The ERP commanders accepted his offer, and the next thing Santiago knew, he was on his way to El Salvador. What he didn’t know is that he would spend the next eleven years of his life there in a war zone.27 It took a remarkable series of circumstances for Santiago to be available to join the fight in El Salvador in late 1980. He was born in 1945 in Mérida in the mountainous interior of Venezuela. His father, Rigoberto Henríquez Vera, was politically active and opposed Marcos Pérez Jiménez (1914–2001), who ruled Venezuela between 1952 and 1958. Rigoberto was jailed and exiled repeatedly for his political activities, and so Santiago spent a portion of his youth in exile, particularly in Mexico. He says he grew up in an activist environment, hearing stories about politics from his father and his father’s friends. He says it was almost unavoidable that he was going to be politically conscious as he grew older, given the environment in which he was reared and the broader context of Latin American politics in those days, when it seemed as if the whole continent was on the verge of massive social change. Santiago’s family returned to Venezuela after the fall of Pérez Jiménez, and he went on to enroll in journalism at the Universidad Central de Venezuela. He says he chose journalism as a field of study because it allowed him to investigate pressing issues and to be part of the unfolding political drama. It was while he was studying in Venezuela that a major earthquake struck Nicaragua in 1972. He and a group of politically conscious students decided to go there in December of that year to help out. While there, he became enamored of a young Nicaraguan woman who was politically active and linked to the clandestine Sandinista front. Santiago wanted to stay in Nicaragua amidst that devastating yet exciting time in the country’s history, but he had to return to Venezuela to continue his studies. However, that brief visit to Nicaragua in 1972 put in motion a series of events that would cause Santiago to spend most of the rest of his life in Central America. Santiago remained in contact with his new Nicaraguan girlfriend, and when the Venezuelan Army occupied his university in 1974, the two of them fled to Argentina, where he enrolled in journalism classes and she accepted an invitation to study music with none other than the famed Mercedes Sosa. Meanwhile, back in Venezuela, Santiago’s father remained politically active, working as a journalist, a diplomat, and occasionally as a radio announcer. Santiago ran into trouble with the military dictatorship in Argentina, so he and his girlfriend went to Paris to continue their studies. He enrolled in a history

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program and wanted to write his thesis on nineteenth-century Nicaragua, but his thesis advisor did not approve of his topic, so Santiago withdrew. He and his girlfriend went to Nicaragua briefly, and then he returned to Venezuela. Finally, when the Somoza dictatorship fell in July 1979, he went to Nicaragua with the intention of staying indefinitely to aid the fledgling Sandinista Revolution. He began work as a photographer and journalist and had not been at it long before a Sandinista commander asked him to set up a bilingual Spanish/ Miskito radio station on the Coco River in northeastern Nicaragua. Santiago accepted the opportunity and began his new career as a radio announcer. It was while he was in northeastern Nicaragua that events in nearby El Salvador, like the assassination of Archbishop Romero in March 1980, drew his attention. It was also while in northeastern Nicaragua that Maravilla approached the ERP with the idea of setting up a clandestine radio station inside El Salvador with Santiago at the helm. There was little precedent for what the ERP and its two Venezuelan counterparts were proposing to do—set up a mobile, clandestine radio station inside enemy territory and broadcast daily programs throughout the nation as an alternative to the progovernment media monopoly. The only other obvious example was Radio Rebelde (Rebel Radio) in Cuba. It had been set up in February 1958 by Che Guevara, who apparently came up with the idea after witnessing firsthand in Guatemala the devastating effectiveness of the CIA’s use of radio propaganda in its overthrow of Pres. Jacobo Arbenz in 1954. From their secure zone in the Sierra Maestra, the Cuban revolutionaries established their radio station and broadcast daily on two shortwave frequencies.28 They broadcast their own news and variety shows as well as speeches against the Batista regime by Castro. The leaders even occasionally delivered coded orders to their troops, who carried radio receivers with them. Although Radio Rebelde was neither mobile nor set up in the midst of enemy-controlled territory, its format resembles what Santiago and the Radio Venceremos team would create in El Salvador. However, Santiago claims that he did not use Radio Rebelde as a model, because he knew very little about it when he went to El Salvador. He only knew of its origins in the Cuban Revolution but had never heard the broadcasts from twenty years earlier, nor had he received advice or training from Cubans who had worked on Radio Rebelde. The only other example that Santiago mentioned when asked about possible models for what he was about to do in El Salvador was Radio Insurgente (Insurgent Radio), the Sandinista station set up shortly before Somoza’s fall. But it was run out of an air-conditioned office in Costa Rica.29 So when he set out to create Radio Venceremos, Santiago only had vague models to guide him, and none of those were equivalent to the ERP’s need for mobility inside enemy territory. In hindsight, we now know that what Santiago xxxvi broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

and Radio Venceremos accomplished was unprecedented. They eventually created a mobile FM radio unit that could broadcast throughout El Salvador and avoid the various detection and jamming devices aboard North American warships off El Salvador’s coast. They did this for eleven years and went off the air for a combined total of only roughly one month, despite repeated army attacks, aerial bombardments, and the need to flee on various occasions. Regardless of anyone’s political position in regard to El Salvador’s civil war, the accomplishment of Santiago and Radio Venceremos is remarkable. The ERP command considered it essential that the new radio station be up and running by the beginning of the first Final Offensive on January 10, 1981. The offensive, after all, was the incentive behind the creation of the station in the first place—to communicate with the general population about the guerrillas and their goals. Of course, the guerrillas hoped and believed that the First Offensive would topple the government, and so no one at the time knew that they were in for eleven long years of war. Santiago did not arrive in El Salvador until late 1980, and neither he nor anyone else on his fledging radio team had any experience setting up a station from scratch under those clandestine conditions, especially with the mandate that the station be mobile. They had a lot to accomplish in a very short period of time. Santiago’s memoir will reveal whether or not they managed to meet the deadline of the First Offensive, but one thing is certain: the conditions under which they set up the radio station were not going to get any easier as the war progressed. Until 1983 Morazán was still enemy territory, and so for almost two years Venceremos had to broadcast under the army’s nose. And even after the army left the zone, the station faced the constant threat of army invasions and aerial bombardments. Once Radio Venceremos was up and running, it quickly became a priority target for the army’s High Command. Venceremos’s ability to broadcast daily, even in the midst of military invasions into Morazán, became a source of constant embarrassment for the army. Listeners could sometimes hear battles raging in the background while Santiago and his team provided live reports. Furthermore, Radio Venceremos possessed the ability to be a weapon in the guerrillas’ arsenal. While Venceremos dedicated most of its airtime to reporting news or providing entertainment, at times it became an agent in the guerrillas’ campaign. On various occasions it called on the nation’s populace to support particular resistance activities, such as transportation strikes, and the response was impressive.30 Venceremos had a wide audience, and Santiago’s voice was easily the most recognized in the country. The army desperately wanted to get Radio Venceremos off the air, and so too did its North American supporters. To achieve that goal, it put its best man on the job, the notoriously brutal commander of the Atlacatl Battalion, Col. Domingo Monterrosa.

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Monterrosa pursued Venceremos with dogged determination. When I asked Santiago what it was like to live for eleven years as the army’s priority target, he responded by saying that he did not remember the experience in those terms: During the war I didn’t really realize that we were such a target. I never really thought of it in those terms. I knew the army was directing the bulk of its energies against Chalatenango and Morazán. Indeed, the radio suffered many attacks, and we suffered deaths. I’ll give you a recent example. I recently went to the doctor for a checkup and I had an X-ray done, and the doctor called me back and he was very concerned with what he saw, believing that I had cancer or something. But I had to assure him that in fact it was simply a piece of shrapnel that was still lodged in me that also gives me trouble when I pass through the airport metal detectors.31 With that response, Santiago might be engaging in a bit of humble selective memory, because what is apparent from his memoir is the army’s relentless pursuit of the radio team and its equipment. One highlight of the memoir is the way in which the ERP commanders and the Venceremos team used the army’s obsession to their advantage. Another interesting moment in the memoir is when the United States began using new surveillance technology that allowed it to pick up Venceremos’s signal instantaneously and call in pinpointed air strikes. How Venceremos responded to this tactic will be revealed by the memoir. Just as the army understood the importance of Radio Venceremos, so too did the guerrilla commanders. In the early stages of the war, the ERP included Venceremos in the command team, so Radio team members traveled everywhere with the ERP leadership and its security team. Altogether they numbered over one hundred. Following the shift in strategy to smaller units in late 1983 and early 1984, Venceremos traveled independently and was reduced in size to a core group of twenty-five. But ERP leaders continued to place high priority on defending the radio station and making it possible for Santiago and his team to go on the air at the designated hour. The rest of the FMLN outside Morazán agreed on the value of Venceremos and were avid listeners. Eduardo Sancho, the commander of the RN on the Guazapa volcano recalls his troops diligently listening to Venceremos on small transistor radios.32 In 1982 the FMLN made Venceremos its official voice. This decision did not prevent the other main guerrilla faction, the FPL, from launching its own radio station, Radio Farabundo Martí, from its stronghold in Chalatenango in 1982. When asked about Radio Farabundo Martí, Santiago said that “it was our sister station; we worked closely with one another.”33 The importance and value of Radio Venceremos were never more evident than in the case of the El Mozote massacre in December 1981. Santiago and the xxxviii broa d c astin g t h e c i v i l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

radio team were the first to arrive on the scene, two weeks after the military’s departure. They were, subsequently, the first and, for a while, the only media source to report on the events that transpired there. Their reporting included the testimony of the sole surviving eyewitness, Rufina Amaya. The reporting of Venceremos inspired the New York Times and the Washington Post to send reporters to the scene, both of whom wrote front-page articles about what they saw. The collective reports by Venceremos and the U.S. newspapers caused great problems for the U.S. and Salvadoran governments, which tried to dismiss the story as guerrilla propaganda.34 Venceremos had a large audience, and even its enemies tuned in. Its news reports were more reliable than the progovernment sources. Its variety shows and soap operas were witty and engaging, as well as highly politicized. And for those listeners inclined toward the guerrillas, Santiago and the other voices on the radio were akin to celebrities. In the specific case of Santiago, the lead voice, no one knew what he looked like or who he was, which gave him a mystique, but his voice and charisma became legendary. In an interview, Leonor Márquez, a former guerrilla who worked on the Venceremos team between 1987 and 1989, recalled listening to Venceremos in the early 1980s as a young girl in the Colomoncagua refugee camp in Honduras. She and all of her friends listened to Venceremos intently: “There was a mystique around the voices on the radio and the commanders who were being interviewed by them.” She described it as “a great reward and surprise for me to be assigned to the radio” after she affiliated with the guerrillas in 1987. She described how the voices became real people, and Santiago in particular, the most famous of them all, proved to be an “honorable man who treated me like a daughter and always looked out for me.”35 When asked in 2008 about his time with Venceremos, Santiago said that he was very proud of what he did and what Venceremos accomplished. He said that it was hard work, that the days were long and taxing, but the reward came from the people he worked with, the cause they were fighting for, and the quality of work they produced: After so much time, ten years [in the war zone], I would sometimes ask how long is this going to go on, I’m so tired of this, and for those of us from the city we would ask ourselves when I am ever going to get something as simple as a banana split? But in fact the work of the radio was really interesting and very satisfying, we wrote editorials, radionovelas [soap operas], we were very involved and dedicated to the struggle, and we saw that our work was of great importance to the struggle, and that’s how we survived. And for those of us who came from the cities, this opportunity to live with the peasants of Morazán became a permanent education; we learned constantly from them, about such things as solidarity, sharing, and going hungry for

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days and still sharing what little you had, and perseverance and surviving such struggle. All this was very meaningful. He also spoke about the grueling tragedy of war, about suffering so much loss and witnessing so such suffering. He pulled out a picture of the Venceremos team in 1981, some twenty-five people strong, and said that only three survived. But one of the things that gives him a sense of satisfaction even today is when people come up to him and say, “I know you, I know your voice, you’re Santiago.”36 Although he was not born in El Salvador, he has become one of its adopted sons. He resides there currently and owns and directs a history museum.37 When people who knew Santiago during the war are asked about him during those times, they immediately comment on how well he integrated himself into the Salvadoran population and how much he embraced Salvadoran culture. As Miguel Ventura put it, “He was more Salvadoran than us Salvadorans.”38 Santiago’s appearance is anything but typical Salvadoran. He is tall, lightskinned, and cosmopolitan, terms that describe few peasants from northern Morazán. But he held the people of Morazán in high regard, and he firmly believed in the cause they were fighting for. In particular, he respected their tenacity, their willingness to survive, and their ability to devise survival strategies amidst the most challenging of circumstances. It is for this reason that he titled the Spanish version of his memoir La terquedad del izote. The izote is El Salvador’s national flower, and one of its distinguishing characteristics is its hardiness. Seemingly, no matter what happens to the plant, it springs back to life, producing a beautiful white flower. The Memoir The memoir that you are about to read covers a span of four years, beginning with Santiago’s departure from Nicaragua in late 1980 and ending in late 1984, when the military was launching yet another full-scale invasion of northern Morazán. The memoir is structured in the form of a journal, with dates preceding entries. But progressing through it, the events contained in those four years have a natural novel-like quality to them, with a crisis and resolution. The original journal that Santiago kept and that would have become this memoir was destroyed by the army in early 1984. During one of the many instances in which the radio team had to flee, Santiago left his journal behind. He buried it in a shallow hole as he was leaving, but soldiers found it and burned it. A guerrilla who later arrived on the scene brought the charred remains to Santiago. The loss of his journal caused Santiago to go into a depression, but as was usually the case among the guerrillas in Morazán, the community responded to alleviate individual pain. The radio team told Santiago that they would work with him to

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reconstruct his journal, and so they collectively sat down for extended sessions of recollection. As good journalists they also gathered stories from people who had appeared in the original. Thus, the text you have before you is as true to the original as Santiago felt he was able to achieve, but it is also a necessarily collective effort grown out of the reality of loss. The following memoir/journal cannot be identified as a “testimonial.” Testimonials are by definition a specific genre of Latin American literary production. They are the first-person narrative of an otherwise disenfranchised or illiterate person who tells her or his story to a literate outsider who then uses international contacts to get it published and distributed.39 One of the most well known testimonials is I, Rigoberta Menchú, the story of a young indigenous woman from the highlands of Guatemala who told her story to a French anthropologist in the early 1980s. In telling her story, Menchú narrated the broader experiences of Guatemala’s indigenous peoples who were suffering from the government’s scorchedearth practices.40 As a literate, educated Venezuelan trained in journalism, Santiago does not fit the standard description of a testimonial source. Nevertheless, there have been so few firsthand accounts from the war zones in El Salvador that the following work assumes something of a testimonial quality, particularly given that it was produced collectively by fellow guerrillas, some of whom were poor, illiterate peasants from Morazán. The work might also fall under the category of memoir, war journal, or even a collaborative life narrative.41 As mentioned earlier, the memoir is at once a very personal, individual reflection, but also it tells a broader story of an entire group of people, and even an entire war. There are some aspects of the memoir that might seem mundane at first glance, but they will assume significance on reflection. One such example is the detailed description of weapons and supplies being captured from the enemy. In providing these details, Santiago reveals much about the nature of the guerrillas in Morazán. The guerrillas’ enemies, including the U.S. government, portrayed them as underlings of international communists, who supposedly provided the guerrillas with ample supplies and sophisticated weaponry. Santiago’s description refutes this argument. He shows how much a single rifle or a few supplies meant to them, so much that, even amidst all the drama, a few rifles and some ammunition merited detailed reference.42 Another aspect that might surprise readers at first glance is the number of people who appear in the text. Santiago’s story literally involves a cast of hundreds, including fellow guerrillas, enemy soldiers, international personages, and historical figures. I lost count at three hundred when I tried to keep track of the individuals who are mentioned. Here again is an opportunity to gain insight into the guerrilla movement. The guerrillas were team members who lived together, formed lifelong friendships, and relied on one another for survival. Each of them had made a personal choice to join the guerrillas, which meant leaving

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their families, making great sacrifices, and facing death, perhaps even by torture if captured alive. Fellow guerrillas became one’s community. Sometimes a group of guerrillas served together for many years. Other times, they entered and left one another’s life with surprising rapidity. Many of the people mentioned by Santiago died or were captured and disappeared in army prisons. By naming them he honors their sacrifice. The pace of these social interactions and the entrance and departure of individuals throughout the text is sometimes frenetic, especially during pitched battles. Santiago usually identifies fellow guerrillas by their singular nom de guerre, although he sometimes provides people’s real names. But it is apparent throughout the memoir that, for all the numbers of people he mentions, Santiago is not careless with his references. He carefully fits them into a narrative structure, at times allowing their life stories to edify certain issues or answer broader questions, like why the guerrillas were fighting, or what it was like to have been born a peasant in Morazán. What is also apparent from the memoir is the infrequency of combat and the amount of time spent engaging in noncombat activities. Even though the fighting in Morazán was intense, four years is a long time, and many more days passed without combat than with it. In the interim, there was much work to do, but it was also a time for people to live their lives with one another. Santiago’s memoir provides us with a look into the daily life of a population in a war zone in between battles. Ultimately, Santiago’s memoir is a very human story. It describes a group of people banded together to fight against overwhelming odds for a cause they believed in. Most of those people did not survive. Those who did were left to mourn their losses but also to reap the rewards of the sacrifices. What follows is Santiago’s story, and theirs. Notes

1. Ronald Reagan, Address to the Nation on the United States Policy in Central America, May 9, 1984, http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/archives/speeches/1984/50984h .htm. 2. United Nations, Commission on Truth, From Madness to Hope: The Twelve Year War in El Salvador, Report on the Commission of the Truth for El Salvador (New York: United Nations Security Council, 1993). 3. For descriptions of Morazán, see Leigh Binford, “Grassroots Development in Conflict Zones of Northeastern El Salvador,” Latin American Perspectives 24:2 (March 1997): 56–79; idem, “Hegemony in the Interior of the Revolution: The ERP in Northern Morazán, El Salvador,” Journal of Latin American Anthropology 4:1 (1999): 2–45; idem, “Peasants, Catechists and Revolutionaries: Organic Intellectuals in the Salvadoran Revolution, 1980–1992,” in Aldo Lauria and Leigh Binford, eds., Landscapes of Struggle: Politics,



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Society and Community in El Salvador (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004), pp. 105–125. 4. Binford, “Hegemony in the Interior,” p. 11. 5. Francisco Mena Sandoval, Del ejército nacional al ejéricto guerrillero (San Salvador: Ediciones Arcoiris, 1990). See also Marcelo Cruz Cruz, “La conspiración revolucionaria dentro de la Fuerza Armada,” in Stefan Ueltzen, Conversatorio con los hijos del siglo (San Salvador: Editorial III Milenio, 1994). 6. The literature on theories of peasant revolutions is vast, but one work that puts the question succinctly is by Craig Jenkins, “Why Do Peasants Rebel? Structural and Historical Theories of Modern Peasant Rebellions,” American Journal of Sociology 88:3 (November 1982): 487–514. Works that engage the subject with particular regard to El Salvador include Timothy Wickham-Crowley, Guerrillas and Revolution in Latin America: A Comparative Study of Insurgents and Regimes since 1956 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992); Jeffery Paige, Coffee and Power: Revolution and the Rise of Democracy in El Salvador (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997); Yvon Grenier, The Emergence of Insurgency in El Salvador (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1999); and Thomas David Mason, Caught in the Crossfire: Revolutions, Repression and the Rational Peasant (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2004). In a fascinating study, Elizabeth Jean Wood emphasizes the importance of emotion and the sense of personal reward that comes with collective action as a variable in explaining individual or community participation in an insurgency; see Insurgent Collective Action and Civil War in El Salvador (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003). 7. Binford, “Peasants, Catechists and Revolutionaries,” pp. 112–113. 8. José Inocencio Alas, Iglesia, tierra y lucha campesina: Suchitoto, El Salvador, 1968– 1977 (San Salvador: Asociación de Frailes Franciscanos, 2003). See also Binford, “Peasants, Catechists and Revolutionaries.” 9. Interview with Miguel Ventura, April 16, 2008, Ciudad Segundo Montes. 10. Ibid. 11. The word choice in this sentence requires explanation. To say, “the peasants responded” to Arce Zablah’s call to form military committees implies that Arce Zablah and/or other ERP guerrilla leaders possessed agency and the peasants followed passively. Any reader familiar with debates over the origins of revolutionary movements will recognize the contentious nature of that claim. I chose to leave the language as is in the absence of significant contrary evidence in the case of Morazán; see the previously cited works by Leigh Binford. But as one example of an alternative, Héctor Lindo and I conducted an interview with a former peasant organizer around Suchitoto who joined the guerrillas in the late 1970s. He says that he and his fellow peasants formed a military committee independently and then sought out a formalized guerrilla organization to support their initiative. They eventually joined the RN (interview with Fidel Recinos, aka Raúl Hercules, June 19, 2009, in the Ministerio de Seguridad Pública, San Salvador). We elaborate on that interview in Modernizing Minds (working title), forthcoming from the University of New Mexico Press. 12. Binford, “Peasants, Catechists and Revolutionaries,” pp. 121–122. Binford bases his



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conclusions on, among other sources, interviews with Miguel Ventura. I also interviewed Miguel Ventura in Segundo Montes on April 16, 2008, and then again on November 6, 2008. See also Tommie Sue Montgomery, Revolution in El Salvador: From Civil Strife to Civil Peace (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1995), pp. 120–121, in which she argues the same based on interviews with Comandante Balta of the ERP. 13. For a good example of the hardships facing underground militants, see Claribel Alegría’s biography of FPL member Eugenia, They Won’t Take Me Alive: Salvadoran Women in the Struggle for Liberation (London: Women’s Press, 1987). See also the letters from ERP cofounder Lil Milagro Ramírez to her family, including “Carta de Lil Milagro Ramírez, en la que explica las razones que la obligaron a clandestinizarse,” El Diario de Hoy, July 14, 2003; all of the letters were printed in Diario CoLatino in 2003. For just one example of actions by state agents, see Nidia Díaz’s memoir, I Was Never Alone: A Prison Diary from El Salvador (Melbourne: Ocean Press, 1992). For a comprehensive catalog of abuses committed during the war, see United Nations, From Madness to Hope. 14. See the memoir of RN founder, Eduardo Sancho, Crónicas entre los espejos (San Salvador: Editorial Universidad Francisco Gavidia, 2002). 15. Binford, “Peasants, Catechists and Revolutionaries.” 16. Interview with Miguel Ventura, April 16, 2008, Ciudad Segundo Montes. 17. Interview with Julio Flores, July 17–18, 2007, San Salvador. 18. Binford, “Grassroots Development,” pp. 58–59, citing Mena Sandoval, Del ejército nacional, pp. 201–207. 19. Each of the five guerrilla organizations of the FMLN retreated to rural areas where they had previous contacts. So the ERP went to Morazán, the FPL to Chalatenengo, the RN and the PCS to the Guazapa Volcano, and the PRTC to San Vicente. As the war evolved into a protracted rural insurrection, these five groups and their respective fronts functioned at once in a coordinated effort and also as a series of five distinct movements with their own dynamics and logistics. While some research has been done on the subject of the internal functioning of the FMLN, much remains to be told. 20. Binford, “Grassroots Development,” pp. 61–62. See also Jenny Pearce, Promised Land: Peasant Rebellion in Chalatenango, El Salvador (London: Latin American Bureau, 1986). 21. On El Mozote, see Mark Danner, The Massacre at El Mozote (New York: Vintage, 1994); and Leigh Binford, The El Mozote Massacre: Anthropology and Human Rights (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1996). 22. The Villalobos quotation is from Max G. Manwaring and Court Prisk, El Salvador at War: An Oral History of Conflict from the 1979 Insurrection to the Present (Washington, DC: National Defense University Press, 1988), p. 147. See also David Spencer, From Vietnam to El Salvador: The Saga of the FMLN Sapper and Other Guerrilla Special Forces in Latin America (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1996), p. 106. For the military’s pulling back after the 1984 attack on San Miguel barracks, see José Ángel Moroni and David Spencer, Strategy and Tactics of Salvadoran FMLN Guerrillas: Last Battle of the Cold War, Blueprint for Future Conflicts (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1995). 23. Spencer, From Vietnam to El Salvador, p. 95. See also Moroni and Spencer, Strategy and Tactics. 24. Author interview with Marisol Galindo, April 17, 2008, Perquín. xliv broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

25. For one example, see Jack Hammond, Fighting to Learn: Popular Education and Guerrilla War in El Salvador (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1998). 26. This first radio endeavor is described in José Ignacio López Vigil, Rebel Radio: The Story of Radio Venceremos (Willimantic, Conn.: Curbstone Press, 1994), pp. 4–11, first published in Spanish as Las mil y una historias de Radio Venceremos (San Salvador: UCA Editores, 1993), pp. 13–34. 27. The information for this biographical section on Santiago is derived from a series of interviews with him, April 4, April 8, and October 24, 2008, all in San Salvador. 28. Http://www.pateplumaradio.com/central/cuba/rebel1.html. 29. For those readers interested in the importance of radio and media outlets in mass protest/insurrectionary movements, the 2006 uprising in Oaxaca, Mexico, provides a vivid example. See the documentary Un poquito de tanto verdad (A little bit of so much truth), Corrugated Films, 2007. 30. One of the ways the FMLN gained compliance with their demands for transportation strikes was to burn busses that were found operating during the hours of the strike. Such acts were controversial, given that the patrons of the busses (generally poor civilians) were deprived of transportation, but the owners of the bus companies were mostly military officers or men closely allied to the military regime. 31. Interview with Santiago, April 8, 2008, San Salvador. 32. Interview with Eduardo Sancho, April 8, 2008, San Salvador. 33. Interview with Santiago, April 8, 2008, San Salvador. 34. Danner, The Massacre at El Mozote; and Binford, The El Mozote Massacre. 35. Interview with Leonor Márquez, April 19, November 5, 2008, Perquín. 36. Interview with Santiago, April 8, 2008, San Salvador. 37. El Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen: http://www.museo.com.sv/index.php?op tion=com_frontpage&Itemid=1. 38. Interview with Miguel Ventura, April 16, 2008, Ciudad Segundo Montes. 39. See, for example, Francesca Denegri, “Testimonio and Its Discontents,” in Stephen Hart and Richard Young, eds., Contemporary Latin American Cultural Studies (London: Arnold, 2003). 40. Rigoberta Menchú, I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala (London: Verso, 1984). For the debate over the Menchú testimony, see Arturo Arias and David Stoll, The Rigoberta Menchú Controversy (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001). 41. See Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001). Because of the collaborative nature of Santiago’s text, variations of some of its stories have appeared in other collections from the Radio Venceremos team. See, for example, José Ignacio López Vigil, Rebel Radio, and its Spanish version, Las mil y una historias de Radio Venceremos. 42. The origins of the FMLN’s weaponry was a hotly contested issue. The FMLN’s adversaries, including the U.S. government, insisted that Russia, Cuba, and Nicaragua were the suppliers. The guerrillas countered these accusations by emphasizing the local origins of their weaponry and its purchase on the international black market, in large part with funds raised from civilian donations in the United States and Western Europe.

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There is no doubt that weapons came from Vietnam, Cuba, and Nicaragua. For example, research shows that Vietnam sent U.S. weapons that had been captured from the South Vietnamese forces after 1975. As always, the question remains about the proportions of weapons from foreign sources compared to local sources and black-market purchases. Santiago emphasizes the local sources, although, to his credit, some researchers insist that foreign sources increased only after 1984, where the present book ends. For one study on the debate, see Dirk Kruijt, Guerrillas: War and Peace in Central America (London: Zed Books, 2008), pp. 84–85.

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In the “Passion Cave.” Marcela (far left) looks like a princess piloting a spaceship.

Genaro monitoring the transmitter.



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January 1981—Father Rogelio Ponseele at the microphone during one of Radio Venceremos’s first transmissions.

Emely’s look brought a reassuring softness to insurgent radio.

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Transmitting by candlelight. From left to right: Marvin, Lety, Santiago, and Ana Lidia.

A young guerrilla fighter from Morazán.

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Gen. Adolfo Blandón and Pres. José Napoleón Duarte.

Guerrillas with a captured tank in the Guazapa zone.



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Santiago interviewing peasants.

A guerrilla concentration, June 1981.



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Claudia, whose story floods our memories.

The Radio Venceremos team at the beginning of 1982. Many of those pictured here did not survive the war.



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Mariposa, Santiago, and Maravilla during the occupation of Villa del Rosario in 1981.

Cecilia, a member of the team that monitored foreign news broadcasts.



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Santiago interviewing a guerrilla combatant.

Mothers of disappeared political prisoners marching to demand information about their loved ones.



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Gen. Francisco Castillo, vice minister of defense, shown here shortly after his capture following the downing of his helicopter during the Battle of Moscarrón, 1982.

Monsignor Rivera y Damas being interviewed by Santiago during the archbishop’s visit to Perquín. He witnessed captured government soldiers being turned over to the Red Cross.

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Mabel, one of the pioneers of Radio Venceremos. Her death in Joateca weighs heavily on our souls.

Inside the “Passion Cave.”



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Lety’s smile. She was a radio announcer and also responsible for political affairs in the camp.

Santiago entering the capital city of San Salvador on January 16, 1992, the day the Peace Accords were signed.



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Guerrilla combatants preparing for the Battle of Moscarrón, 1982.

Guerrilla combatants intermingling with the civilian population in the town of Corinto.



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Los Torogoces de Morazán, the guerrillas’ band of minstrel musicians and popular historians. Their music was balm for the soul at every dance. “Jaguaryu,” an actor in the guerrillas’ popular theater troupe. He was a close personal friend and one of the last people to die in the war.



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January 16, 1992, atop the cathedral in San Salvador, Santiago makes the victory sign to a helicopter flying overhead. The helicopter is similar to the one that wounded him during a battle in Arambala. A moment of tenderness in the midst of conflict.



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A scene from the massacre at El Mozote, December 1981, captured here by the photojournalist Susan Meiselas.

Janeth Samour, who was captured and killed in San Miguel.



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Dawn in Morazán.

Monsignor Romero, whose photograph was a precious relic that we guarded in our backpacks.



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Col. Domingo Monterrosa and Gen. Adolfo Blandón.

A member of the Radio Venceremos team standing in a field of izotes, the Salvadoran national flower.



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1980



1980 1

Tearing Your Heart Out

Leaving your homeland is like tearing your heart out. December 24, 1980â•… I get up without making a sound; you’re still halfasleep and naked. The hint of a smile graces your lips as if you were dreaming about the child that I dreamed would one day run around here, playing among the mango trees and mayflowers. There’s barely an hour left before I leave, and in all things—the typewriter, the small pre-Columbian statuary, the crickets, the smell of nature—there is an air of parting and good-bye. I gather up the rest of my papers: historical works, articles, editorials against Somoza,1 Waspán’s poems, photos;2 everything goes into the blue briefcase that I will entrust to you for safekeeping. When I open the window, the smell of aging fruit wafts in, carrying with it a sense of sadness. In the distance the lights of Managua flicker in the mist. The lake looks like a translucent stain in the moonlight. I pick a flower and let the petals fall softly upon your smooth skin; their perfume and yours blend together. I try to memorize one last time the curves of your thighs, your neck, your freckles, your mouth. A rooster crows, and you open your eyes, bathing me in their tenderness. Like a blind man I search for your lips. You run your hands through my hair. We caress each other, exploring one another as we discover that the only thing we want to do, the only thing we can do, is cry. We are intimately familiar with the circumstances. This will be the last daybreak we spend together. The war is about to begin. A car pulls up in front of the house. It’s the compañeros who will take me to the airport.3 With those last few kisses my heart is torn apart and I am forced to leave it among lakes and volcanoes. “The briefcase is on the table. If I don’t return, give it to Carlos Fernando. That way at least the photographs will somehow be of use to him,” I tell you as I rush off without daring to gaze one last time into your eyes. I don’t want to remember you with tears. “Take care of yourself.” The subtle quiver in your voice resonates like an echo. The car makes its way down the dusty road, gets on the highway, and heads for the city. We begin to pass the streets of Managua. Memories of the last few months since Somoza was overthrown merge to form a dreamlike reality. The memory of Rosa Pasos’s childlike smile comes to mind, amidst the flags and victory cries, reminding me that she had not died in combat, as was suspected before July 19. I close my eyes and see the faces of thousands of simple farmers who, with their books open, learned how to read months ago during the literacy campaign.



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I recall the look of surprise on the children’s faces in that ramshackle house on the San Juan River when we went to inaugurate the electric plant, and the light shone brightly for the first time in ages. Passing by the rubble of what used to be the city, I contemplate the stubborn resilience of the cathedral’s tower. I remember that December afternoon in 1972, days after the earthquake, when, next to the cathedral’s walls, I found an old man. In a confusion brought on in part by hunger and in part by loneliness, he kept saying over and over again, “By the street corner, over there .€.€. Sandino just passed by that corner!”4 He was the only survivor in a Managua that was reduced to a pile of rubble. The Somozan guard had blocked off the streets, claiming that the area was under siege. They just wanted to loot it without interference. The greatest irony was that hundreds of North American marines had landed to watch over a nownonexistent city. Now on the plane, I buckle my seatbelt. As the motors rumble, a piercing heat grips my chest. I feel a mixture of anxiety, depression, and joy—an overwhelming feeling that subsides only when I think about the work we are about to undertake. We’re going to launch an insurgent radio station in El Salvador. Flying above the Fonseca Gulf, I think about my parents and my brothers and sisters, who are waiting for me in the Venezuelan mountains today just so we can have Christmas together. I haven’t seen them for a long time. I feel guilty for not having had the courage to call and tell them that it will be impossible for us to be together. El Salvador appears in the small airplane window. It’s such a small country that in one glance you can make out the entire landscape, from its western border punctuated by volcanoes to its mountains and eastern plains. Half an hour later we land. As I get off the plane, I try to hide the nervousness that comes from being watched so closely by the national guards clad in their helmets and shiny leather leggings. They are the same people who, just a few days ago, captured, raped, and killed four North American nuns.5 After answering a few questions about the purpose of the trip, I pass through customs without any problems with documentation. Later, two compañeros drive me toward the capital. We don’t cover much ground before we see a group of cars in the distance. Up ahead on the side of the road some women are crying in front of a young man’s body. His arms have been ripped almost off, clearly indicating that he was tortured. There is an inscription on his chest: “Escuadrón de la muerte.” 6 Watching an old woman dressed in a blue skirt, I sense a mix of fear and rage. Next to her a boy is lost in thought as he considers the body. Tears stream down his face, and his hands ball up tightly into fists. A feeling of insecurity washes over me.

1980 3

At noon we arrive at a safe house in San Salvador. In a room stand Lilian Mercedes Letona (Clelia) and Ana Sonia Medina (Mariana). They’re two of the leaders discussing the strike that the Frente Farabundo Martí plans to launch in the coming days.7 Clelia and Mariana leave the meeting. Minutes later we talk as if we have known one another for years. Clelia brushes the hair from her face and takes a sip of coffee. She discusses the project with us, gesturing vehemently to get a point across. For a moment I am distracted by the details of her face, the brilliance of her eyes, and her brown hair, which falls in waves on her shoulders. I’d say she’s around twenty-two. Clelia half closes her eyes as she brings the cup of steaming coffee to her lips and then takes a drag on her cigarette. Her delicate figure contrasts sharply with the certainty and authority with which she speaks: We’re excited about the radio. It’s important to get it up and running as soon as possible. You know that they’ve bombed other newspapers and stations, and that a number of journalists have also been assassinated. Monsignor Romero was the last opposing voice.8 The army murdered him and got off scot-free. The offensive is close, and it’s urgent that the radio be operational to broadcast any and all information and unrest related to the undertaking. One problem that needs to be solved is how we’ll defend the radio station itself. You well know that we don’t have any particularly safe mountain camps where we can hide it. There’s an army outpost in just about every town and a network of roads that makes it easy for the enemy to move around. So, popular support is our only guarantee of success. The town will protect the radio just as the mountain protects the guerrillero.9 Mariana is moving back and forth in the rocking chair when she hears the sound of a car coming up the road. She remains alert. I ask her about the radio equipment. She sits up in her chair, lights another cigarette, and speaks: “We mailed the transmitter and the rest of the materials to Morazán a week ago. They should be waiting there for you now. That’s where you’re going early tomorrow.” “Wow,” she says, interrupting herself suddenly. “With all this activity it seems that we’ve forgotten that today is Christmas Eve. We’re going to give you something really delicious. We’ve got some tamales and pupusas de chicharrón.10 You’re going to like them.” While we’re on our way into the kitchen, I tell Clelia how much she looks like the other movement leader, Luisa, with whom I had confirmed some of the details of the project. “Of course. We’re twins!”

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Of the four members of the political commission that I’ve met up to this point, three are young compañeras. After our brief Christmas dinner we say good-bye to one another. I stay close to the doorway. Mariana and Clelia look out of the car window as they drive off. Their smiles remind me that the offensive strike is fast approaching, and I feel a rebellious spirit stir within me. December 25â•… We go into downtown early. I should buy what I am going to need for when we get to the mountains. Passing in front of the cathedral I feel like I should visit Monsignor Romero’s grave. In front of the mausoleum a group of people stand quietly, pensively. I pick a flower from a vase and place it on the grave marker. This is for you, Monsignor! Slightly disoriented since I’m unfamiliar with the city, I make my way to a few stores and buy a light hammock, a razor, and a flashlight. As I am about to pay, the saleswoman, a girl with bright blue eyes, asks me in a near-whisper, “You’re going to the mountains too?” Taken by surprise, I was nervous for a moment, but her knowing smile relaxed me, at least a little bit, and helped me realize the scale of the operation that is under way.

Off to War with a Priest I return home, Gustavo and Alí are waiting to transport us to San Miguel, on the eastern side of El Salvador. We are going to pick up my traveling partner beforehand. It surprises me to learn that he is a priest. He is Rogelio Ponceele, a native of Belgium, who has lived in El Salvador for many years. Until today he has served Zacamil parish and other small neighborhoods scattered throughout the capital.11 But he cannot stay there; the death squads are after him. Several bombs have already been placed in the parish house, and, up to this point, eleven priests and tens of catechists have been killed. Nevertheless, Rogelio refuses to leave El Salvador. But today he turns over a new leaf; a new period of his life is about to begin. He has decided to continue his work as a priest in guerrilla territory in Morazán department.12 On a lonely street corner Rogelio impatiently awaits us. He’s dressed in black pants and a white shirt. I see that he’s tall and solidly built, with blond hair and blue eyes. He appears to be about forty. We signal him, and he makes his way over with a small briefcase. He’s carrying a Bible under his arm. “Hello, I’m Rogelio,” he says to me, seeming to blush with shyness. As we pass through the outskirts of San Salvador, we see groups of guards breaking into house after house. Several workers, badly beaten by soldiers

1980 5

wielding their gun butts as clubs, are forced into the military trucks. All of the workers have their hands behind their backs, bound at the thumbs. “Tomorrow they’ll show up on some highway, dead. Just today some bodies, all of them decapitated, were found in trash dumps,” observes Rogelio. We continue our journey. The countryside is a mix of volcanoes and vast plains in a country where the majority of farmable land belongs to a handful of wealthy families. After three hours we arrive at San Miguel. Waiting for us there is Manlio Armijo, a young man hardened from his experience in urban fighting and one of those responsible for supplying the guerrillas in the eastern zone. He is excited about the project and declares, “December 17 we’re going to move the radio transmitter to Morazán!” The neighboring houses twinkle with multicolored lights that illuminate Nativity scenes as a group of elderly widows holding candles passes by with a funeral procession and two coffins. The procession honors two boys killed by the death squads. Dressed in civilian clothing, officers and soldiers of the squads go out every night from the Third Brigade’s barracks in search of victims. We set out at nightfall while Manlio tells us about the route we’ll be taking: “Using this road we can reach the camps within a few hours, but we would have to pass through military checkpoints. Instead, I will take you toward the suburbs of Santa Rosa de Lima. Some compañeros will be waiting for you there. Then you’ll have to walk two days until you reach La Guacamaya.”13 He says all of this without taking his eyes off the road. Slowing down, Manlio pulls over to the side of the road and parks. The headlights fall upon a small boy sitting on a rock. He doesn’t move, staying as still as the rock he’s sitting on. He pretends that he hasn’t seen us and continues looking at the stars. “Hey, kid, get in!” Manlio yells. “I can’t, I’m waiting for my grandma.” “Hey, dummy, don’t you recognize me?” “Gee, since I didn’t recognize the car, I thought that you guys were cuilios.”14 Just like that the boy grabs a sack of bananas and hops into the backseat. “The security squad is waiting,” he says. “Let’s go!” A shadow holding a rifle and gesturing to us appears in the middle of the road. “That’s Patango,” says Gustavo. Eight other people, forming part of the group that will drive us to the camps, appear behind the young soldier. The leader of the group hands me a Browning pistol along with some ammunition. Then he turns to the priest and offers him a weapon. “No thanks, compa. I don’t need it,” responds Rogelio.

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Dogs bark furiously around the neighboring houses. Everyone gets his backpack and puts it on. Manlio gives me a farewell hug as he tells me, “Well, Santiago, you already know we’re waiting on the radio. We’ll meet again after it’s set up!” Getting into the car, he takes off at full speed. Soon, only the car’s red taillights penetrate a night filled with so many stars it seems like there isn’t a single one missing from the sky. The moon is still not out. We walk through complete darkness, guessing where the path is. We start to stumble and scratch ourselves on the thorn bushes. Since we are so close to the army, it’s impossible for us to use the flashlights. After four hours of trudging along I feel like I can’t take another step with the weight of my backpack. The night is pitch-black. I slow down and get lost in all of the undergrowth. Nevertheless, I get my bearings and find my partners by following the sound of their footsteps. I quickly discover that my sense of smell will be extremely useful to me. I get lost again, this time in the dark, dense undergrowth, but I don’t hear any footsteps. I backtrack some, then try another path. I’m beginning to lose hope. I dare not yell. Suddenly, I smell a strong odor that tells me that the rest of the group is near. I continue walking, orienting myself by the stench, most likely caused by the beans that the compañero ahead of me ate. When I reach them, I hear a voice: “Damn, what a fart!” “Next time you eat an airplane, take out the pilot,” Patango says as he spits. It’s a tradition in these parts to spit when there is a foul smell so you don’t end up swallowing it. I spit too. We go up and down hills, encountering casas campesinas frequently.15 Just at midnight we make out the lights of the San Sebastián gold mine in the distance. The path widens, and the twelve of us form two parallel lines. After hours of walking, we finally stop at a casa campesina. The whole family gets up. They offer us bread and coffee while an elderly man gives us information concerning the army’s movement. As soon as we set out again, Rogelio twists his ankle. It swells up, causing him a lot of pain. Nevertheless, he walks several hours until we arrive at the first guerrilla camp, a place that they call Hechoandrajos. It’s a halfway point along one of the equipment and supply routes. Near yet another casa campesina, some thirty compañeros move their equipment around, clean their weapons, or just rest. My body aches and I’m dead tired, so I look for some shade. Just as I’m about to lie down, Carmelo (Tirro), one of the primary organizers in the area, approaches me and hands me a black plastic–covered nylon sheet. “Take this. It’s the bed of the guerrillero.” I was curious to know why they called this place Hechoandrajos.16 “There was a compa,” Carmelo explains to me, “and every time he got here after a long journey they’d ask him how he was. He’d always respond: ‘Hechoandrajos!’” We rest all morning. At dusk, a combatant comes up to me. He looks in every

1980 7

direction to be sure that nobody can hear him: “My name is Ismael. I’m responsible for taking you to La Guacamaya. The work we’re going to do is in stages, and you already know that no one needs to know that a radio station is being set up.” He pauses, looks around, and continues: “The worst part of the trip is ahead of us, and with the backpack that you’ve got there, you won’t be able to handle it. You better take out half of the stuff. We’ll help you.” Rogelio will rest until the swelling in his ankle has gone down. “I’ll catch up with you in three days. This is the least that could have happened to me since I weigh 220 pounds.” As we say good-bye to one another, he hangs his head and wears an expression like that of a child who is ashamed for not having done what was expected of him.

On the Way to El Escondido We start our ascent of Ocotepeque.17 It’s about 3,700 feet high. All night long we walk without stopping. After a while, it appears that sheer fatigue won’t let me take another step, but a dip in the river coming out of Corinto renews my energy. At four in the morning we reach the banks of the Torola River. To protect ourselves from the cold, we take shelter in a casa campesina without waking up those inside and, laying our nylon sheets next to the embers of the fire, we fall into a deep sleep. December 27â•… When we wake up, it’s already daylight. A young woman is making coffee and, unperturbed, passes among the strangers who have been sleeping in the middle of the small house. She offers coffee and a tortilla with salt to those of us who get up first. “I can only offer you tortillas because we have run out of beans.” The sun’s fully risen now, revealing the countryside. The Torola River gleams next to a curious little hill surrounded by jutting rocks. It seems like the whole hill is just one big rock mass. We look at it attentively as the woman comes toward us, rocking her daughter in her arms. “That’s Pelón Hill. They say it’s bewitched. The only one who ever went up there was Alexander Peluna, the most famous sorcerer of Cacaopera. He used to go up to the very summit just to talk to the spirits during nights when there was a full moon. They say that every Good Friday a black bull appears up there, snorting and pawing. You’ve never seen such a thing!” We continue our journey toward La Guacamaya, and the mystical region of Alexander Peluna remains behind. We cross the Torola. In summer the water barely reaches your waist. From here on we’re in real guerrillero territory.



8 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

As we advance, we find a desolate panorama before us: schools, houses, and small sugar mills—all abandoned by their occupants during the operation launched by the military two months ago. Some who left found protection in the guerrillero camps; others fled the country to look for refuge in Honduras. At noon we pass through El Zapotal. The sun is blazing, scorching the countryside. The desire to lighten my heavy backpack grows stronger with each passing moment. Contrary to what one might think, there are neither jungles nor highlands here. The country is like any other rural area, except that the land and houses are deserted. Another hour of walking and we reach the Sapo River. A quick plunge in its cool waters refreshes us, and, with renewed spirits, we climb up a rocky precipice on our way to La Guacamaya, or El Escondido, its guerrillero nickname. Along the way, we run into a compa, a Mexican doctor named Alberto. It’s been two months since he joined the Front. He and I decide to talk later. One more hour and we’re at the camps. In the expansive casa campesina that serves as a command post, there’s a lot of activity. Fighters with messages come and go, while some women in the kitchen pat out tortillas and stir the pot of beans cooking on the stove. “Welcome, friend, take off your backpack. You arrived just in time for coffee.” The woman who welcomes us is Commander Sonia Aguiñada (Galia). “Put more tortillas on the comal!” someone yells.18 A compañero who appears to be a university student comes out of the house. He’s tall with curly black hair and a jutting jaw. He’s wearing a khaki-colored shirt and jeans. He smiles from ear to ear as he shakes hands with the new arrivals. It’s Joaquín Villalobos (Atilio), one of the five members of the general command of the Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional.

Rafael: Morazán, a Strategic Project December 28â•… We awaken to the sound of birds. In the kitchen we find shelter from the encroaching cold. Rubidia is patting out a tortilla and looking at Rudy out of the corner of her eye as he tells her something about her pretty eyes and curly hair. We speak to Atilio about the radio. He asked me if I could make the transmitter work. I told him no, that in reality my work was journalistic, not technical, but that I could try. I asked him if the radio staff had been chosen. He said no. “And the announcers?” I followed up. “It will have to be you,” he said. He introduced me to Walter, who would be responsible for the security of the



1980 9

future radio station. Later, we went to get the equipment that was crammed into an underground storage bunker. We’re going to be working with an old Valiant Viking transmitter. We’ll also be able to rely on an amplifier that, theoretically, has a 700-watt potential. The antenna is the dipole type. We’ll broadcast on a frequency of 700 megahertz, in the 40-meter band. Thanks to the range of shortwave radio, that will be enough for people to listen to us in El Salvador, Central America, and the Caribbean. In terms of the sound equipment, we only have a pocket tape recorder, a microphone, and a cassette. We have the motor for the generator, but we don’t know if it works yet, since we don’t have any gas. December 29â•… The guerrilla forces in the area will be in charge of the Radio’s protection, while two groups of fourteen carefully selected compañeros will be responsible for the security of the staff and equipment. We’ll install the transmitter in a small house situated near the crossroads, two hours from Joateca, the closest army outpost. Anyone who passes through will inevitably hear the noise of the motor and the sound of the broadcasters. So the Radio won’t be much of a secret after all. December 30â•… Good news! They brought us five gallons of gas. We hung the antenna cables between two trees. Without any real understanding of how to do it, we tried to calibrate the transmitter, but that was a complete failure. Meanwhile, in the nearby highlands, a line of guerrilleros advances, zigzagging, simulating an assault on an enemy camp. A lot of those compañeros have never even fired a rifle, and the leaders don’t have experience commanding combat units larger than thirty men. Some have learned how to fight through urban combat; others have fought off the army in a few random clashes and some ambushes, using shotguns and handmade explosives. In the engagement that’s coming, we’ll definitely be outgunned. Right around this time, the armed forces are speeding up a series of murder plots against union leaders, teachers, students, and nuns. They’re in a bloody race against time to contain the insurrection that is winning popular support. December 31â•… We tried to make the transmitter work again this morning, but again we failed. We have come to the conclusion that, without the help of a technician, it will be impossible to broadcast the day of the general offensive. In each of the six surrounding camps, a casa campesina serves as an operations outpost. Our daily diet, each of our three meals, comprises two flour tortillas, salt, a handful of beans or rice, and coffee. Sometimes we have bananas, mangos, papaya, zapote,19 sugarcane, or oranges. Every afternoon after combat

10 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

training, people gather under the shade of a leafy tree to discuss history, politics, economics, and recent reports about the national situation. I’ve noticed something really strange here. Two months ago terrible events occurred in this area. The army murdered entire families, burned houses and crops, killed farm animals. In spite of it all, the people’s fighting spirit was impossible to extinguish. When they refer to the “October invasion”—which happened just two months ago—they do it as if it were a remote incident. The majority of the compañeros are going to go to sleep. Some put up hammocks or search for straw beds; still others lay down a mat inside the house or under a tree. Here in the kitchen there is a silence broken only by the crackling of dry wood in the fire. Atilio comes in, sits down close to the fire, sets aside the tortillas left over from dinner, puts a folder on the table, and begins to write a message. As a member of the General Command of the FMLN, he will make it known to the nation that the offensive has begun. The sound of Payín’s laugh can be heard outside as he jokes with another compañero: “You’re shitting me, Chinchilla. You’re a liar. How am I supposed to believe that you got tangled up with six guards and, just like that, they didn’t even so much as scratch you? No way! Anyway, you better get to sleep. You’ve got guard duty at three o’clock.” I never could have imagined that while we were preparing for war there would be a sense of serenity like this, where the common denominator is brotherhood and solidarity. The overall mood here is one of happiness and confidence in what we’re doing. The coffee is ready. I offer some to Atilio. “No, thanks, I don’t drink coffee.” When he finishes writing, he moves his seat closer to the fire. Yesterday I mentioned to him that I keep a journal and that I would like him to tell me about the beginnings of the struggle in Morazán. Atilo says, About what you asked me yesterday, I’m going to tell you what happened. Around 1974, Rafael Arce Zablah,20 one of the founders of the organization, came to this area after having traveled around other parts of the country. Here in Morazán, he began to have contact with the campesinos, to get to know their way of life and social hierarchy. He also took note of the area’s geographic characteristics. When Rafael returned to San Salvador, he submitted a report to the organization. He was moved by what he had seen. First of all, the general misery of the majority of the campesinos in this area, with its bad soil and small, mostly unproductive, farms made an impression on him. He told us that the community members’ sense of solidarity and commitment to their families also had a strong impact on him. I remember Rafael showing us maps explaining the topographical features

1980 11

of the area: its broken terrain, more or less mountainous with water—lots of water that would prove to be important for military resistance. Then he claimed that various areas, inhabited by poor campesinos with traditional campesino values, could be converted into rear guard territories of the revolutionary movement. That’s how the concept of Control Zones first came about. Rafael insisted that, using this idea as a starting point, a strategic plan could be developed. By 1975 there was already an effort to coordinate and augment the campesino groups that he had organized the previous year. Back then we were a small group trying to coordinate large zones of the country. Rafael had contacted a priest named Miguel Ventura,21 who served the Christian communities. That’s how he met several natural leaders who quickly saw the necessity of getting organized and fighting. In a few years, the organization spread to the cantones,22 and even reached small towns. By 1980, the Control Zone thesis, based on the idea of public support and organization, had defeated the counterinsurgent approach that the regime enacted in Morazán in hopes of reforming and, ultimately, repressing the movement. At that time, our political control covered entire cantones. Even teachers, mayors, priests, soldiers, county officials, health officials, and highlevel regional staff members joined the organization. We eventually gained political dominance in the whole region. Exactly two months ago, in October, the army focused all of its efforts on Morazán in an operation that was intended to rip our political control apart through terrorism. But in this case their actions only accelerated our mobilization process, so we were able to lay the foundation for a militia, a people’s army. You already see how the camps are filled with hundreds of men and women, young and old, cast out of their homes by intense repression and, now, resolved to pour their energy into any task. “Good evening. .€.€. Can I come in? Here is a gift from the people.” The woman who speaks is a pretty guerrillera with fair skin, dark hair, almond-shaped eyes, and a smile that reveals a gold tooth. Coming forward, she sets a bag stuffed with tamales on the table and sits down next to the fire to watch, pensively, as the flames dance in the air. “What’s your name,” I ask her. “I’m Libertad.” When she says it, the clock chimes midnight, indicating that 1981 has officially begun. After handing out the tamales, Atilio talks about his meeting with Monsignor Romero and the contradictions within the army itself. Then he discusses in depth the role of the radio station. We narrow the name down to a few choices before reaching a decision: we’ll call it Radio Venceremos!23 12 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

Notes

1. Anastasio Somoza Debayle (1925–1980), the last of the three Somoza dictators in Nicaragua. He was overthrown by the Sandinista Revolution on July 19, 1979, and then assassinated while living in exile in Paraguay. 2. Waspán is a predominantly indigenous region located in Nicaragua’s far northeast, along the Honduran border. 3. Compañero/compañera, or its shortened form, compa, literally translates to comrade, partner, companion, or fellow. However, it is a highly partisan term, used solely by those complicit in the struggle in reference to one another. It evokes a sense of fellowship among the rebel fighters and, most assuredly, denotes trust. For example, army soldiers never used the term, considering it leftist, like the word “comrade” in the United States during the cold war. In fact, one of the captured army officers makes this same analogy toward the end of the memoir. From this point on, the term itself will be used in lieu of a translation. 4. Augusto César Sandino (1895–1934). The guerrilla leader who led a six-year war of resistance to U.S. occupation of Nicaragua from his stronghold in the Segovia Mountains between 1927 and 1933. He is a hero for many Nicaraguans and a role model for many anti-imperialists throughout Latin America. He was tricked and murdered by Gen. Anastasio Somoza, then director of Nicaragua’s National Guard and close ally of the United States. Somoza went on to seize power two years later and establish the Somoza dictatorship, which survived until being overthrown in July 1979 by the guerrilla front that had taken Sandino as its namesake—the Sandinistas. 5. Santiago is referring to the kidnapping, rape, and murder of three American nuns and a Catholic lay worker in December 1980 by members of the Salvadoran National Guard. The women were traveling on the highway between the airport and San Salvador. The nuns were Ita Ford, Maura Clarke, and Dorothy Kazel, and the lay missionary was Jean Donovan. The United Nations Truth Commission claims that the national guard officers who orchestrated the murders did so with full intention and knowledge of their targets. 6. Death squads were prevalent in the years prior to and during the civil war. They were right-wing extremist groups that carried out assaults, assassinations, and torture against prominent political figures or anyone considered to be opposed to the regime. The formation of these clandestine paramilitary units has been attributed to the intelligence sector within the Salvadoran Armed Forces as well as to conservative wealthy civilians operating either independently or in conjunction with the military. Military units often had under their control one of these squads, which went to work each night, carrying out assassination or torture plots ordered by military intelligence. The aim was to instill fear in the population and to deflate the guerrilla movement, and in that regard death squads can be labeled “terrorist” organizations. The structure of the military was such that it was impossible to link it to the death squads. The civilian directors were and remain to this day unknown. Throughout the twenty years of their existence, death squads tortured or killed tens of thousands of people, one of the most notable being Archbishop Óscar Romero. 7. The Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional was the leftist army that formed in El Salvador in October 1980 to oppose the Salvadoran Armed Forces during the civil war. It comprised five distinct guerrilla organizations that had split from one another

1980 13

during the 1970s over personal and ideological issues. Those five factions then reunited in October 1980 on the eve of launching their first Final Offensive in January 1981, which began the civil war. Although the factionalism that had led to splits remained present throughout the war, disputes between the groups were impressively, even surprisingly, muted. In regard to the key issues of fund-raising, international diplomacy, and combat strategies, the five factions coordinated with one another. Still, each of them predominated in a distinct geographical region within El Salvador, and their members retained their particular group identities. The five factions were the ERP, the FPL, the RN, the FAL, and the PRTC, with the first two accounting for the majority of the guerrilla combatants in their two respective strongholds of Morazán and Chalatenango departments. Radio Venceremos was part of the FMLN network and the main clandestine radio station that facilitated communication between its constituent groups. It was, nevertheless, centered in the ERP stronghold of Morazán and was basically under the protection and tutelage of the ERP. After the war the FMLN became a political party. Some of the factionalism of the 1970s resurfaced, with components of the ERP and the RN breaking with the FMLN in the run up to the 1994 presidential election. Despite losing all three presidential elections that have been held since the end of the war, the FLMN remains the leading opposition party and won the 2009 election. 8. Óscar Romero (1917–1980), archbishop of San Salvador between 1977 and 1980. He was known for his adamant stance on human rights and his embrace of a liberationist theology that advocated a preferential option for the poor. As an outspoken opponent of the Salvadoran political hierarchy, he denounced the crimes committed by the Salvadoran Armed Forces. He was assassinated by a death squad sniper on March 24, 1980, while offering Mass. As the text indicates, he was a champion of the poor. 9. Guerrillero or guerrillo (masculine; or its feminine, guerrillera or guerrilla), means guerrilla fighter or partisan in a guerrilla war and is derived from the word “guerra” (war) and thus literally means “little war.” The term originated during the Napoleonic invasion of the Iberian Peninsula in the early 1800s to describe the Spanish and Portuguese who resisted the French Army. A guerrilla war is a nonconventional war in which a small number of combatants employ mobile hit-and-run tactics to confront a more numerous, better armed, and/or more technologically advanced adversary. 10. Pupusas are the Salvadoran national dish and consist of a thick corn tortilla commonly filled with beans, cheese, and/or a form of pork known as “chicharrón.” 11. As the text will further clarify, Father Rogelio Ponceele (1939– ) is a Belgian priest who came to El Salvador in the 1960s and embraced a liberationist theology. Zacamil was then, and largely remains, a working-class neighborhood on the outskirts of San Salvador that witnessed a rapid spread of a liberation theology among many of its residents, particularly those in Ponceele’s parish. Both those parishioners and Ponceele became targets of the military and death squads, with Ponceele’s home eventually being bombed in 1980. When faced with the decision to stay in El Salvador and continue serving the poor or returning to Belgium, he chose to stay in El Salvador, although in the mountains of Morazán. For further descriptions see his autobiography, Death and Life in Morazán (London: Catholic Institute for International Relations, 1989), which is a translation of the Spanish original, Vida y muerte en Morazán (San Salvador: UCA Editores, 1987). Father Ponceele still resides in the town of Perquín, Morazán. 14 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

12. El Salvador is divided into fourteen departments, departamentos, each with its own capital (see Map 1). However, because it is a small country, El Salvador’s governing and administrative structures have become highly centralized during the modern era, so the degree of autonomy at the departmental level is limited. Nevertheless, departments commonly serve as geographical reference points in casual conversation whenever location within the country is discussed. 13. La Guacamaya is a hamlet in northern Morazán located at the center of what would become guerrilla-held territory. To the extent that Radio Venceremos ever had a home base, it was La Guacamaya. 14. “Cuilio” is derogatory term for government soldiers or police. 15. “Casa campesina” literally translates as “peasant house.” However, the casa campesina is a complex image, oftentimes associated with poverty and oppression. As such, it will not be translated from this point forward. 16. Hechoandrajos literally means “torn to shreds.” It can also be used figuratively to mean “worn out” or “beat,” as is the case in the anecdote about the exhausted soldier that follows. 17. El Escondido, literally, “the hidden place,” refers to the Radio Venceremos base camp tucked away in the mountains. 18. A comal is a flat disc usually made of clay or metal on which one cooks tortillas. 19. A zapote is a fruit that resembles an apple, the inside of which is black when ripe. 20. Rafael Arce Zablah (?–1975) was one of the initial leaders and foundational theoreticians of the ERP. As indicated in the Introduction, he appears to have been a key figure in building ties between the radicalizing Christian peasants in rural northern Morazán with the then predominantly urban students who formed the nucleus of the ERP. He died as a result of wounds sustained during an attack on a national guard barracks in La Unión department in September 1975. 21. As clarified in the Introduction and further here in the text, Ventura is a former Catholic priest who served in Morazán in the early 1970s, during the initial rise of radicalizing Christianity among peasant parishioners. He was captured and tortured by the army in 1977 and spent the next five years in exile before returning to Morazán in 1982. At the time of this writing, he still lived in Morazán and served its people through a development project near the municipality of Segundo Montes. 22. A cantón is an administrative subunit of a municipality. Municipalities in El Salvador typically consist of between one and two dozen cantones that can consist of many square miles of geographic space. In rural areas like that of Morazán a cantón is simply the people (mostly peasants) who live scattered through that particular geographic zone. The term “cantón” is somewhat synonymous with rural areas when used in everyday speech, as in “out in the cantones.” 23. Venceremos is the first-person plural of the future tense of the verb vencer, which can be translated as “to win” or “to best someone.” When used in conjunction with radio, i.e., Radio Venceremos, it translates literally into Radio We Will Win and refers to the insurgent radio station at the center of this story that was established by the Salvadoran guerrilleros at the outset of their resistance campaign.



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1981



1981 17

January 1 Atilio and the staff of the northeastern front are huddled around a map of San Francisco Gotera. Quincho, Memo, Carmelo, Licho, Galia, and Melo are all there. Jonás is the only one who’s missing, and he’s on his way. They’re planning exactly what needs to happen in Morazán as part of the general offensive. We continue the broadcasting tests. After calibrating the Valiant Viking we get the recorder up and running. “It’s working! It’s working!” Walter shouts. Our hearts seem to beat to the rhythm of the rise and fall of the needles that indicate the radio signal’s strength. With another radio, Ismael tries to tune in to the station and, yes, there it is, strong and clear: the Soledad Bravo song that we are broadcasting at that very moment. “Venceremos! Venceremos!” all the compañeros yell, bursting with joy and pride. Finally we’ve gotten everything to work. The uproar attracts the attention of everyone in the command center. There’s an air of expectancy.

January 2 With each test we get a little more power from the transmitter, but since the motor makes so much noise, we decide to put it in an air raid shelter. After two hours .€.€. pu-chuc-chu-puc-chuuuff. The motor has broken down. Disaster. An expression of disappointment shows on the faces of everyone looking at the overheated block of metal that has decided to break down right when we need it the most, at the very moment that the offensive is about to begin. It is a long night; we are all worried and disheartened.

Licho January 3â•… We went to take a bath in the creek early, an amazing scene for those of us who have become accustomed to urban settings. The women wear only panties at bath time since the bath is, by necessity, public. Bare breasts are natural scenes around the rivers and creeks in these parts. Rubidia gently soaps her small, firm breasts. She goes about it slowly, as if it were a ritual. Meanwhile, Ceci rubs her tanned thighs with soap, and Tita scrubs her jeans against a rock to get the mud out of them. After lunch we join a group of people discussing the guerrillas, in the center of which is a young guerrillero leader from Morazán. He’s Silvio de Jesús

18 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

Argueta (Licho). He’s dark skinned, with native features and a strong build. We arrive just as he’s describing how he got involved: I was fourteen years old when I realized that my brothers were going to some pretty suspicious meetings. I was a curious kid, always trying to listen to what they were talking about, but since I was so young, they didn’t take me seriously. I was so insistent that they finally made me lookout during the meetings. That wasn’t enough. I wanted to do more. Since I kept insisting, they let me into a small, clandestine group that was getting all kinds of instructions and information. They told us what to do to organize other people and how to help the organization grow. In my region they set up a cooperative. Working as a community, the people began to think about everyone’s welfare. Seeing the extreme poverty and injustice all around us, we had already begun to gain a certain political consciousness. “They tell me that you did military service .€.€.” I did. Let me tell you about what happened. In 1977 the compas suggested that I join the army with other young guys as an undercover operative. At first, I didn’t like the idea, right? but I told myself that I had to carry out this assignment. So I caught the bus in Jocoatique and went to San Miguel, where, I was told, they were recruiting. The soldiers looked me over, but they didn’t take me. Maybe they thought I was too small. Then I went to San Vicente. As I was getting off the bus, a woman said to me, “Be careful, kid, they’re recruiting soldiers on the corner.” Well, I went to the corner and they took me. First I was in the Sonsonate outpost. Later, I was in San Miguel. It was there that my companions and I got information about the movements of the soldiers and the structure of the outpost. We sent it all to the organization. “How did the army operations go two months ago? Tell us.” Look, on October 1, 1980, they began concentrating troops and artillery in all of the towns. That’s when we realized that they were going to sweep from north to south, to trap the people against the retention lines. What they wanted to do was massacre the people, so we began to organize an evacuation plan to save them. Since we had no idea of what was good military strategy, we thought that if we attacked first and hit them hard, we’d stop them, demoralize them. We thought that the same thing would happen with the guards, that with a few contact bombs we’d scatter them—force them to disband. So we got together all the weapons we had in Morazán.

1981 19

“How many were there?” I ask him. Rifles .€.€. automatics .€.€. we had fifteen, taking into account some FALS, a Galil, an M16, two G3s, and a few Mausers. Counting shotguns and .22 rifles, all in all, we had about sixty weapons. In the camps, of course, we had hundreds of people. We decided to set up lines of engagement, with a few compañeros manning each, lying in wait for the enemy so that we could shoot them at long distances. In the whole zone, we didn’t let them advance for an entire week. With an oiled rag, Licho rubs the barrel of his rifle. Pensive, he watches a line of ants: Behind each battle line, there were hundreds of locals to protect. Within a few days, the only line left was El Cacalote. We had used up all of our supplies, the food was gone, and the ammunition stores were just about depleted. We decided to take the women, children, and elderly to Villa El Rosario, where they took shelter in the church. The people who didn’t go to Villa El Rosario but were afraid to stay in the town joined the resistance that would have to break the siege. It was already night when we began the march toward La Guacamaya. There were more than two thousand people with us that time. We gathered up the best fighters and initiated our attempt to repel the siege. With dawn upon us, we succeeded in breaking up a line of soldiers. We made our way through the gunfire, but there were still a lot of the enemy left. Some families were still in their houses. Since they weren’t organized insurgents, they thought the army wouldn’t harm them, but they were massacred. We were eventually separated into small groups with only a few weapons. When that happened, and when we learned the sheer number of families that had been killed, many lost faith that we could regroup. Some abandoned the initiative. “What happened after the battle?” Well, when our position didn’t seem very clear, the organization ordered us to regroup and go to the coast in search of weapons. That’s how last month, around mid-November, groups of compas carrying FAL rifles and ammunition began to arrive. That raised morale, and we immediately started to harass the outposts that the army had left in the towns. You can see now that we’re preparing ourselves. Before, there wasn’t much spirit, but now that we have weapons, we’re organizing the squads, giving them at least a little more military training. We’ve accomplished a lot in just a month. We’re learning. 20 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

Right now there are a lot of unarmed compañeros. We’ve told them that they’ll have to go into combat to replace someone who has been injured or to use the rifles that we’ll take from the enemy. That’s how it was. The October invasion was a rough undertaking .€.€. but we learned something .€.€. Licho finishes his story. In the surrounding highlands we hear commands being given to this people’s army that is still in its infancy—an army that has more needs than resources, and more willpower than anything else. January 5â•… We take apart the motor, but nothing can be done. It’s burned up; there’s no chance for us to go on the air with our message. As we’re all getting ready to go to bed, Galia and Memo joke around, fighting over a piece of candy. We hear a loud noise. With their combined weight, they’ve broken the bed. January 6â•… At five in the morning we start physical training: jogging, doing squats, push-ups, and sit-ups. Later it’s firing positions, and then we get cleaned up. In the kitchen, Maritza turns tortillas on the comal and stokes the fire with cedar sticks. Before leaving for the capital, Atilio makes a change to the general outline of how to use the radio. He tells us that, first and foremost, we’ll have to concern ourselves with sticking to the truth in order to get and keep credibility. Our mission will be to inform, stir up, and orient.

Galia’s rich voice wakes everyone up. “Cheer up, compas .€.€. we’re going to have a technician and a new motor!” Mauricio arrives from San Salvador at noon, carrying tools and two motors. We don’t even let him rest; we ask him a thousand questions about the technical matters that have caused us so much trouble. He comes with his partner, Evelin. Immediately, Mauricio demonstrates an incredible sense of creativity and a great capacity for work. January 9â•…

The Sky Is Taken by Assault January 10â•… We’re going toward the Sapo River to test a walkie-talkie. On the way, we see Jorge Meléndez (Jonás), who is coming to Morazán to assume political-military responsibility for the northeastern front. He has a strong build, dark hair, and a thick moustache that covers his smile. He informs us that the offensive will not take place on the twelfth as had been planned.



1981 21

“Combat will begin this afternoon all over the country. The Radio has to make its first broadcast today.” The news unleashes everyone’s energy, starting up an accelerated movement of ammunition, grenades, cables, rice and beans, and boots and medicine. There’s no time to prepare the first program; we’ll have to wing it. Our first priority is to make the communication antennas that will guarantee coordination between the squads that will leave tonight to attack the San Francisco Gotera base. At dusk, we hear a jumble of commands being shouted. Couples embrace as if it could the last time they’ll ever see each other while their comrades patch their shoes or finish getting their things together. Those who have weapons put their ammunition in little bags woven by the local elderly women. An order goes out to wear neutral-colored clothing to avoid being an easy target in combat. A militia member receives final instructions regarding how to put the ammo clip in the rifle that he holds in his hands for the first time. Felipe, guitar in hand, tells the recent past of Morazán: houses burned to the ground, families massacred, the decision to resist. More farewell hugs and kisses as one cigarette after another is lit. Paco tells his squad to fall in. We focus the camera: flash! .€.€. their expressions captured, surprised by the burst of light that records them for posterity. A voice barks a command, and tens of guerrilleros stand at attention because Jonás is going to speak. “We are witnessing history unfold before us,” he says. “In the last fifty years, an army of oppressors has pursued and beaten down our people. From today forward, we will be the ones who go forth in search of the enemy. We will go to their very outposts to beat them down and conquer them!” “Revolution or Death!” Paco yells. “We will win!” is the response that reverberates on the mountain. The squads march forward, their rifles slung across their chests, with the conviction of going to war to win. They will learn how to fight by fighting. We remember that now’s the time to make the first broadcast. We hurry toward camp. It’s nine at night when we start the motor. Mauricio is already calibrating the transmitter. I place the cassette in the pocket recorder. It begins to play. I move the microphone closer to it. Whoever is tuning in will be able to hear: “A united people will never be defeated .€.€.” My legs are trembling from all the excitement. I breathe deeply until I feel my lungs filled with air. I grasp the microphone and close my eyes. I see the faces of laborers, farmers, and students who today, the tenth of January, will start to pick up this guerrilla signal that is taking the air by storm to proclaim that a new era has begun: “This is Radio Venceremos transmitting from Morazán, El Salvador .€.€. territory in arms against oppression .€.€.” To start, we broadcast the message of the General Command of the FMLN 22 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

that Atilio recorded. Afterward, I come up with some calls for joining the fight. We finish up with Rogelio, who sends out a message to the Christian sectors: “The time has come. The people, fed up with so much suffering, have decided to rise up to claim freedom for themselves!” At this very second, thousands of Salvadorans are fighting all across the country. In the streets of the capital, in Chalatenango, San Vicente, Usulután, Cuscatlán, La Paz, San Miguel, Cabañas. In every corner of El Salvador, there are barricades, ambushes, regional assaults, and roadblocks. In Santa Ana, two patriot officers join the rebellion. They are Capts. Francisco Mena Sandoval (Manolo) and Marcelo Cruz Cruz (Juan), who lead the uprising in the Second Brigade infantry base.1 They take to the streets in command of a company of soldiers who join forces with the people entrenched in the barricaded zones of the neighborhoods that have stood up to the oppressors. We still don’t have contact with the other fronts. For the time being, we can’t swiftly and objectively give updates concerning the development of the offensive. Nevertheless, we’re already on the path; now we must follow it. The Radio is now a reality after its loud, defiant birth in the mountains. January 11â•… At various points across the county the attacks grow in number. Here in Morazán, the lines of guerrilla fighters draw near Gotera. The army is ready and waiting; they’re dug in. From San Salvador, there is word that they captured Clelia in a raid on a house. January 12â•… Led by Carmelo, Memo, Licho, Hernán, El Ché, Goyo, Fernando, and Javier, our forces penetrate Gotera from all different directions, causing the soldiers to back off. The compañeros advance through the streets or over the rooftops, laying siege to the barracks and other fortified locations. The better part of the city is occupied all day. The leader of the barracks calls for reinforcements and aerial support. A few of the leaders with their troops abandon their positions and seek refuge in the nearby hills. Meanwhile, a battle rages on the landing strip, and the enemy has taken the control tower. Planes start to bomb the outskirts of the city in an attempt to stop our advance.

At five thirty in the morning, the red and white FMLN flag flies atop the control tower on the landing strip. Rifles, grenades, two PRC77 military radios, and other supplies have been captured. In the middle of the runway, Pirra runs at full speed as if he were a plane trying to take off, wildly shouting, “Cooompas .€.€. we’re free .€.€. we’re free!” The army has no hope of receiving aerial reinforcements since they’ve lost this outpost. It seemed as if the troops from the command barracks were going to surrender, January 13â•…



1981 23

when a tank showed up on the highway leading a line of military vehicles. Caught in crossfire and lacking coordination because of the aerial assault, our squads are forced to double back and take to the outlying areas. A unit was set to capture an officer who was hiding nearby, but the order to withdraw is given. The battle has ended for today. The blockade failed to hold up under fire. That, plus the fact that the enemy received reinforcements and that we didn’t have enough weaponry, prevented us from taking the barracks. Each squad moves back to its zone. The injured compas, who are being carried on stretchers, scream and curse when their transporters jostle them around. Here in La Guacamaya, we’re all happier simply because Hernán, our Venezuelan compañero, is here. Security issues have forced him to come from San Salvador. He has all of his cameras and equipment with him. His highly Venezuelan way of speaking and his knack for storytelling entertain the camp. Like any good native of Caracas, he prefaces each and every remark with “Holy shit! Unbelievable!” Consequently, Jonás has given him a nickname: Maravilla.2 We stay awake talking about Venezuela and, half serious and half in jest, we bring up the traditional rivalry between those born in Caracas, like him, and those born in the Venezuelan Andes, like me. “The thing is that you country guys, going all the way back to the time of General Gómez, have formed the habit of coming into Caracas, tying up your horses in Bolívar Square, and taking over .€.€.” “You all are a bunch of idiots for letting yourselves be governed by us Andeans!” I reply. Our thunderous laughter wakes Jonás, who groans from his hammock. “What the hell? Aren’t you going to sleep? At five o’clock I’m going to get you up and run you around. Then we’ll see if you’re laughing!” January 14â•… For the time being, the Radio has two broadcasts, each lasting an hour: one at six in the morning, the other at six in the evening. Today, on the fourth day of the offensive, we confirm that the popular rebellion that we were expecting has not taken place. The armed forces’ genocide has terrified the population and suppressed any combativeness or mobility that was evident a few months ago. Thousands of workers and their leaders have been murdered in past weeks. As far as the general strike is concerned, there was little chance that it would ever materialize in the face of the widespread terror and because there was no way to officially publicize it. The projected uprising among the ranks of the enemy has taken place only in the Second Brigade. Nevertheless, the demonstrations of force are formidable. Thousands of Salvadorans are rising up in cities and villages and forming insurgent groups that then set up mainly in the rural areas.

24 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

January 15â•… One of the officials from the army, Lt. Col. Bruno Navarrete, founder of the paratroopers, has been with us for a few days now. He’s considered one of the most intelligent military officers of the armed forces. He’s a neurosurgeon. In his youth he was a talented soccer player and member of the national team. He lost a leg in a motorcycle accident and now uses a prosthetic leg. He joined the guerrillas at age forty-five, handicapped but not deterred by his condition. Cecilia, his young partner, is with him. At night, while we play chess, he tells us stories about his life, which has always been marked by his rebellious spirit.

Today we have suffered a heavy blow. In Cutuma and Camones, to the west, ninety-seven compañeros have fallen in combat. It was the column that withdrew from the Santa Ana district of the city after January 10. They walked for a week without food. They were completely exhausted. The army surrounded them while they were sleeping, surprising and killing them in one day of intense combat using artillery and aerial support. Among the fallen are farmers, students, and soldiers. We remember Silvia, a nun; Fernando Girón and Mauricio Letona, engineers; as well as Dr. Edmundo Kesels. The majority of them didn’t even have combat experience. Among those who managed to survive are Manolo and Juan, the captains who directed the military uprising of the Second Brigade. They’re on their way now to Morazán. What is going to happen now? Will we be able to endure the attack that the army will sooner or later mount against us? January 17â•…

January 24â•… Gradually, by making mistakes and learning from them, we’re making progress with the Radio. Three of us currently make up the staff. Tita listens to international radio stations (the government has banned national news), and Maravilla and I write the editorials, reports, military information, and general news. Galia has left Morazán to head up some clandestine work in San Salvador.

The Resurrection of Altagracia To deal with the summer heat, we went for a swim in the Sapo River. Maravilla tells me a story about a well-known character from Margarita Island during the Independence period. “I swear to you that if I come out of this alive, one day I’m going to make a film about that guy.” “And you could work as an actor as well, playing the role of the cruel, heartless pirate,” I tell him. Maravilla is as hairy as a monkey. As a child he had a strange sort of problem January 26â•…



1981 25

that made all the bones of his face grow, resulting in a bulky forehead. The traces of a surgical procedure along with a thick beard accentuate his seventeenthcentury piratical appearance. We are joking around when we hear the sound of tumbling rocks. Our first thought is that it could be an enemy patrol, but it turns out to be a young girl who shows signs of having walked for days on end. A small boy is guiding her. She’s looking for our camp. “Altagracia is alive!” rings out everywhere across the camp. Walter sits in stunned silence, paralyzed, with tears in his eyes. He had thought that his sister was dead. Arms wide open, he runs to hug Altagracia, who disappeared four months ago after getting lost during a fight along the border. In the hallway of the house, a candle illuminates Altagracia’s face as she tells us about the birth of the first camps: On moonlit nights, groups of up to thirty of us would get together and go to the soccer field for physical training. Toward the beginning of the eighties, when the repression began to intensify, we had to establish permanent camps. They had to be put in the middle of the villages. There was no other place for them. We set them up in Meanguera, Cañaverales, La Guacamaya, El Progreso, La Laguna, Trojas, and Joateca. At first, there was the family problem. The compañeros who made the decision to join the movement had dedicated themselves completely to the fight. Their wives and children had to tend to the fields, planting corn and beans in order to eat. There was no other way. This was the sacrifice that the people made to begin the resistance. The only alternative was to do nothing and wait to be killed. “Altagracia went to fight in Nicaragua. Tell them!” says Walter, showing great pride in his sister. “The decision was made to go and help overthrow Somoza and get combat experience at the same time. The organization selected a number of us: Memo, Quico, Osmin, Benito, me, and a few others. .€.€. It fell to me to fight against the Chiguín troops at the southern front. With an RPG2 rocket launcher in hand I headed up a squad.” January 27â•… The Radio broadcasts the opening of the sugar mill. Before moving the oxen into place, the compañeros of the Eastern Front Command push the heavy yoke until it turns and squeezes juice from the sugarcane that, when boiled, will be made into candy twists. Songs fill the air, celebrating the development of a new collective form of production. At last we have been able to repair the radio transmitter, and the command post has improved communication. The transmitter also helps us get information

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for Radio Venceremos. We have baptized the news program Plomo Informativo.3 It is the only national news broadcast, because all of the other media fall victim to strict censorship. We try to do a daily interview. Recently, Marta told us about harvesting coffee and how the wealthy landowners skim off the top by cheating during the weigh-ins. She also explained how the police often kill workers who demand their overdue salaries. February 1â•… There’s life and activity in the camp. Leoncio Pichinte (Ulises) has arrived, accompanied by the army officers who have joined our ranks. Leoncio is one of the historical leaders of the popular movement. As a member of the executive committee of the Revolutionary Democratic Front,4 he was the only survivor of a massacre carried out by the army. During the upcoming months, Leoncio will be in charge of political commentary on the Radio. At dusk, Lt. Col. Bruno Navarrete and Capts. Francisco Emilio Mena Sandoval (Manolo) and Marcelo Cruz Cruz (Juan) address the soldiers, who receive them with applause and slogans. The three compañeros will join the ranks of the instructors. A plan is laid out regarding a series of speeches comprising messages directed at the officials and troops of the armed forces. Word comes from the capital that the university has been taken over by the armed forces and that for months it has been used as a torture center.

Apolonio, an engineer who’s been a part of the radio’s technical team and mission from the very beginning, arrives from San Salvador. He was the one who made the necessary modifications so that the Valiant Viking could transmit via shortwave. Apolonio will be fundamental both in combating the resistance that the Radio is sure to produce and in dealing with the thousands of difficulties, human and technical, that we’ll have to overcome. February 3â•…

February 23â•… Today our broadcast’s central focus was an interview with Lt. Col. Bruno Navarrete discussing the notebook captured from a group of armed forces officials, with details of their meeting with Roberto D’Aubuisson.5 It proves that they were the party responsible for the assassination of Monsignor Romero. The document specifies the rifle with telescopic sight, the vehicle, the strike team—everything they used in the assassination plot. The judge who was investigating the case had to flee the country after receiving numerous death threats.

The Pain of Calixtro February 26â•… After the evening broadcast we enjoy a walk through the nearby camps. The clinic that has become a makeshift center for late-night social



1981 27

gatherings is the last thing we pass. Eduardo, a young Mexican doctor, has just arrived. Genial and well versed, he speaks with authority on any issue: history, philosophy, or the pangs of body and mind. Tonight Eduardo will perform the first surgical operation in the camp. The patient is Calixtro, a fighter from Cacahuatique whose arm had to be amputated. The bone, however, protrudes a good five centimeters from the wound. It causes him a lot of pain, and there’s a constant risk of infection. They prepare for the operation. Eduardo washes his hands; so do Nohemí and Reino. Capt. Marcelo Cruz (Juan) is also present to observe the operation. He’ll probably remember the time he spent as a medical student. “We really don’t have even basic operating conditions here. There’s only an old bottle of local anesthetic, and we don’t even have a saw to cut the bone. We don’t even have gloves or thread,” says Eduardo. “I carry a saw with me,” Reino tells him. He pulls out a small, rusted saw of the type that is used to cut metal. “What other option do we have? Wash it with soap and water and put some antiseptic on it.” Calixtro is sitting in a chair. What remains of his arm is up on the operating table, which is nothing more than a rudimentary table with shoddy, unmatched legs. Nohemí gives him a shot of anesthesia. Two lanterns will provide light for the operation. But a serious problem arises: the anesthetic has no effect; it doesn’t numb Calixtro’s arm. “We aren’t going to be able to operate in these conditions.” “And if we give him two glasses of straight liquor, what will we use for disinfecting? One time I saw a movie where they did that so they could operate on a gringo soldier,” says Reino. “Look, Calixtro, you can see that we don’t have much to work with; we can barely maintain this clinic. You decide. You either put up with a lot of pain or you wait a few more days until the surgical supplies and anesthetics arrive,” Eduardo tells him. “Look, friends, I’ve come a long way so that you can fix this stump of an arm. I’ll tough it out. Do it!” Eduardo takes the scalpel and begins the operation. Blood erupts from the wound, and Calixtro bites down on a piece of cloth. The pain is evident as his facial muscles tense. He closes his eyes and lets out a few groans that he is eventually able to contain. It’s as if he has locked them in his chest. “I’ve never operated without gloves. You can’t understand what a terrible sensation feeling blood on my bare hands gives me,” Eduardo comments. “I can imagine,” Juan responds. “I had always thought that gloves served only to ensure that everything

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remained sterile, but now I realize that they prevent the horrific feeling of warm blood in between your fingers.” The scalpel continues cutting muscle. “Nohemí, do you have sewing thread?” Eduardo asks. “Yes, I have some .€.€. is blue okay?” Eduardo smiles. “The color doesn’t matter. I’ve got to close up the blood vessels.” The protruding bone gets removed, and the remaining limb is covered with the surrounding skin. Then the doctor closes the wound with the blue thread. The operation is over. Eduardo leaves in silence with watery eyes. He sits on the fence, head down. Juan brings him a cup of coffee and gives him a pat on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, conditions are going to improve soon. By the next operation things will be different .€.€.” Inside the house, Calixtro tries to hide a grimace of pain, knowing that the worst is over. A powerful drowsiness comes over him, the effect of all the tension and the two glasses of liquor. February 28â•… For three years now, ever since the army captured Father Miguel Ventura and made him leave the country, the Catholic Church’s presence in these cantones has disappeared. As a result, our broadcast of the very first Mass that Rogelio held in the El Mozote church was a real achievement. During the ceremony a little boy came hesitantly up to Rogelio and hugged his leg while he was consecrating the Eucharist. The village was filled with activity as dozens of children ran through the streets. In the store, while we were having a Coke, we listened to the words of an elderly woman: “Thanks be to God. Finally there is a priest for us.€.€. I had already resigned myself to the fact that I was going to die without ever hearing Mass again!” We have been able to raise the Radio’s power to 375 watts, which is still not very much. Nevertheless, it’s been confirmed that we are heard in Central America, Mexico, and Venezuela. Our next goal will be to raise it to 700 watts.

There’s news in the camp. It happens that the compas from the other side of the Torola captured an enemy soldier and are holding him prisoner.6 For a number of days, we’ve kept him under close watch in an air raid shelter. As we came to trust him more, we gave him more freedom to move about, and he began to learn how to read and write. He has asked to join our ranks. We call him Pedro, El Soldado.7 March 2â•…



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March 8â•… The international press is focusing more and more on the plans and reports of Radio Venceremos, and this has become a political problem for the regime. The Radio’s existence, a mobilizing factor for soldiers and citizens alike, refutes the false propaganda from the government that paints the picture of a defeated and disbanded FMLN. It also reflects the army’s incapacity to stop us. An uncharacteristically large number of soldiers has been dispatched to the nearby villages in the past few days, and this points to some sort of big operation. Several battalions are positioned on a hill above La Guacamaya. We realize that we don’t have much gas. Headquarters decides that Radio Venceremos will not stop broadcasting for even one day. A group is sent across enemy lines in search of the fuel we need to keep transmitting our message. March 10â•… Fighting breaks out toward Agua Blanca. The enemy is closing in on us. We can still leave the area with relative ease, but we decide to resist, to hold our ground, for political reasons. In order to defend the Radio, we’ll have to modify our tactic of movement-based warfare and switch to a sort of positional defense mode. March 12â•… The air force and the artillery are attacking constantly to weaken our front lines, which their infantry hasn’t been able to break.

The Massacre at Junquillo March 13â•… The enemy closes in. There are battles on all sides. After the evening broadcast, groups of families began to arrive from Junquillo,8 where the army has killed seventy campesinos, forty of them children. One of the survivors, a child named Agustina Chicas, describes how the army massacred each family, house by house. Hidden in an orchard, she watched as the soldiers, using their bayonets, killed her grandmother and the child the old woman had in her arms. When the soldiers were leaving, she heard one of them say, “Tell Captain Medina Garay that the sector is clean.” Captain Medina Garay is notorious in Morazán for the crimes he committed this past October. A proponent of a mysticism that borders on delirium, he always prays before demanding that his orders be executed. He believes that he bears the sword of God and that by killing children in the insurgent zones he’s liberating them from the temptation of becoming Communists. The Radio has dubbed him El Carnicero de El Junquillo.9 March 14â•… At 2:00 pm the army launches a barrage against the camp. Artillery shells land just 300 meters away. First, there’s a loud, apparently inoffensive,

30 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

“boom” from the barrels of the 105-mm guns. Then, seconds later, there’s the shrill whistle of the “metallic bird” that rips through the air with its lead beak. The fragments and shrapnel also produce a whistling sound. They saw through trees and open holes in the earth, producing a black smoke that smells of sulfur and shredded vegetation. The cannon volleys draw nearer. In our subterranean refuge, protected by a roof of thick tree trunks, we feel the shock of each explosion with a mix of curiosity, nerves, and derision directed toward the enemy. During the day we count 132 cannon shots. When things settle down a bit and the shells no longer fall so close by, we begin writing the editorial, the news items, and the combat reports. Everything has to be ready by 6:00 pm. That’s when the motor will be running and the transmitter calibrated to send forth our next message of defiance. The High Command has resolved to close in with its forces once and for all. With this objective in mind, they’ve placed their airborne squadrons along the prominent ridges that line the other side of the Sapo River. This complicates things for us, since from that vantage point they can observe our camp and more accurately direct a constant barrage of artillery fire against us. There are enemy troops in every direction. We’ve installed the radio in an air raid bunker so that we can transmit even under intense enemy fire. The compañeros who are part of the security force are sent to establish a line of fire just three hundred meters from camp. Their mission: to stop the enemy paratroopers from crossing the Sapo River. If the enemy should make it across, they’ll be in the middle of the camp within minutes. Today we’ve eaten only two salted tortillas. March 16â•…

March 17â•… The infantry fails in its attempt to break through the lines at several points. During the morning, their Fouga Magister and machine gun– equipped C-47 cargo planes keep us pinned down.10 A helicopter circles the camps too, firing on us intermittently. We didn’t have any casualties; each soldier was protected in his trench. March 18â•… Captains Juan and Manolo listen to enemy communications on the captured PRC-77 army radio.11 They succeed in identifying the voices of the army officials who, until a few months ago, had been their comrades-in-arms. This allows us to know in advance the zone that they are going to bomb, the route the troops will take, their level of morale, and the casualties that we have inflicted on them. The government officers are gathered to evaluate their stalled military campaign. There wasn’t a single shot fired today. Rogelio takes advantage of the situation and sets up the chalkboard to continue with the literacy class. “The sol—dier does—n’t clean the bag,” Angelita spells out syllable by syllable.



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Damn! La Guacamaya Never Gives Up! March 19â•… Headquarters sends me a message indicating that I should move to Potreritos. It’s important that Radio Venceremos report on the combat that is about to break out in the area. With microphone and recorder in hand, we set off toward El Reloj camp. The battle line is on the edge of an all-but-impregnable outcrop of rock. A line of enemy soldiers appears at the crest of a rise in front of us at noon. The soldiers cross a field of maguey, hide, change direction, and then stop a farmer leading a mule carrying agave fiber. He doesn’t tell them that we’re here, so they continue advancing toward the ambush that we have set for them. They are wary as they descend toward the gorge. A few meters away, a hidden compañero detonates the mines. The explosion lifts a soldier into the air. The rest of our troops throw grenades and fire rounds from a nearby hill. The enemy company retreats like scared rabbits, carrying the dead and wounded, which includes one lieutenant. Sweeping over the area, we find three barely used M16 rifles, fifteen hundred cartridges, and other supplies. The only response they gave was a burst of artillery fire, but we were safe in our trenches. With fresh news we set out just in time to do the afternoon broadcast. Memo leads the way, euphoric, giving an optimistic analysis of the war effort. The colonels are furious. That much is evident from the bombardment that goes on all night long, forcing us to sleep in the underground refuge that measures a mere one meter wide by three long. Crammed together like sardines in a can are Mabel, Ceci, Tita, Angelita, and I. All four of the compañeras have just bathed with olive oil soap. Their fragrant smell fills the night and makes me feel like a castaway who, in the solitude of the ocean, begins to see seagulls and detect all the familiar scents of a nearby port. The sighs of the compañeras cause me more anxiety than the cannon fire that is exploding above us all night. March 20â•… The fighting has spread out everywhere. They’ve put 1,600 more men very near to us. Taking into account all the armed compañeros with Ángel, Nivo, Bracamonte, and Walter, our numbers scarcely reach 130. Good news. They’ve brought a cow. Now there will be some meat to go along with the tortillas. We find Pedro, El Soldado, in the kitchen, savoring a delicious-looking soup. Suddenly we hear a Howitzer firing in the distance. A few seconds pass .€.€. then a whistle .€.€. then boom! The shell hits a few meters away, and Pedro is thrown back by the shock wave. We run for shelter. We make it just in time. A few seconds later the cannon fire hits again, tearing down trees, shaking the entrance to the shelter, and ripping apart the roofs of houses in the impact zone. Carlos, a compañero from the National Resistance, clutches his pistol but quickly realizes how futile such an act is when confronted by ever more intense artillery fire.

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Brushing off the layer of dust that has covered his hair, he yells, “I feel like I’m at the dentist’s having a tooth drilled!” March 22â•… There’s no letup in the artillery all night long. They’re trying to keep us from sleeping. At dawn, the metallic thump-thump of a helicopter greets us with a round of machine gun fire. Endless hours of silence have passed, the type of silence that foretells the infantry’s advance. At four in the afternoon, Chepito comes running along the path. Overcome with excitement he shouts, “The cuilios .€.€. they’re right on top of us!” He is right. In the foothills leading down to the river, a line of soldiers is clearly visible. Like a line of sinister ants they grow closer and closer, swiftly moving along their respective routes. They’ve gotten past our defenses and are in the area of the camps. Extremely nervous, I run to tell Ismael, who, after being holed up for days with no rest, had just lain down in a hammock to nap. At first, he refuses to believe me. “No way, how is it possible that they have gotten in? It’s probably just the compas returning from their patrol.” “Then you’re not going to believe me?” I shout angrily. Snatching his rifle, I run from the shelter. Seeing this act of insubordination on my part, Ismael is convinced of what’s happening, and, putting on his boots, he quickly makes his way out to reclaim his weapon and join the counterattack. There is a general call for mobilization, and the effort to expel the intruders begins. Two machine guns and a mortar are put in place and open fire against the enemy. The situation becomes more complicated for us since this could be the signal for all enemy units to attack the camp. In the meantime, along with Maravilla, I try to put all the radio equipment out of harm’s way. We begin dragging the enormous suitcase toward the clinic, two hundred meters away. “If you could only see how ridiculous you look! You look like a thieving crab,” Maravilla says. After an hour of fighting, the enemy is forced back to the other side of the river. With our stomachs in knots, we begin the work of compiling materials for the six o’clock radio program. We can’t show signs that the enemy is destabilizing our operation.

Monsignor Romero in La Guacamaya March 24â•… A year ago, at this exact hour, soldiers paid by the government were shooting Monsignor Óscar Arnulfo Romero in the heart while he was saying Mass in San Salvador.



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We decided to commemorate this anniversary right in the middle of enemy forces in Morazán. Rogelio went to El Mozote to hold Mass while the guerrilleros kept the enemy at bay not far from there. The church was full. Children sang backup for Los Torogoces:12 “You are the God of the poor, the human and simple God .€.€.”13 Pichinte spoke at the tribute. The entire event was transmitted by Radio Venceremos. We began the usual six o’clock program with bell ringing that was improvised by using instruments and containers from the clinic. We had called on everyone to do the same thing throughout the country. Because of the Radio’s call for support, similar tributes occurred in different cities all over Latin America, and we proclaimed this day the Jornada de Solidaridad Continental Monseñor Romero.14 The armed forces commemorated the date in its own way. It sent planes to bomb civilian-inhabited cantones. As he was returning to camp, Rogelio saw previously green areas that had been incinerated by white phosphorous bombs, a devastating weapon used for the first time in this zone.

Jonás March 25â•… The air force was strafing and bombing early in the morning. The afternoon was quiet, rocked by only a few shells that fell near Poza Honda. I dropped by headquarters. Jonás was lying in a hammock reading some messages. When he saw me, he sat up and said, “I went by the Radio and saw that they still haven’t dug out a trench for the motor. Tell Walter to do it today. It’s got to be protected. We can’t stop transmitting even for one day. We’ve got to be aware of the political importance that Radio Venceremos has at this crucial moment.” When I finish reading the messages, I challenge him to a game of chess. “That’s fine as long as it doesn’t last too long.” After a few turns I move a bishop, putting it in position to be taken. I am hoping that he will take the bait so I can attack his king and prevent him from castling. He remains lost in thought. “Jonás, tell me, where did you grow up?” He glanced at the other side of the river, the territory occupied by the enemy paratroopers, and, pulling on the tip of his mustache, answered with his peculiar way of pronouncing r’s. “That’s a pretty long story. I was born in San Salvador, but since my mother didn’t have any way of supporting me, she sent me to a relative in the Chalteque cantón. I grew up there. When I was seven years old, they took me back to the capital. That’s when I met my father. We were living in Candelaria. It was a poor

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neighborhood with miserable living conditions. The houses on the banks of the streams were the worst. My mom would go out to sell little scraps of leftover starch for ten cents apiece.” “Who was it who first told you about the revolution?” It was my brother Abel. I was in fifth grade and he was in high school. He told me that through the revolution we would build a different country, one without cardboard houses and dirt floors. He told me that there wouldn’t be as much poverty or prostitution. And that’s exactly what we saw each time we left the house. The teachers had a strike in ’68, and we supported them by handing out flyers at protests and demonstrations. A little later, Mario Vigil (Mateo) asked me if I was willing to hand out propaganda. He took me to a labor union, and there they explained to me more about the laborers’ struggle, the struggle of the exploited. This changed my entire conception of life. I was hearing someone tell me that we could transform this place into a just society. “Jonás, Memo sent me to tell you that the enemy is advancing from Arambala,” Evelin interrupts. Grabbing his rifle, Jonás is up and out, followed by Adonai, his inseparable security guard. “We’ll talk later. And tell Walter to make that damn pit for the motor. Oh, and don’t think that I didn’t notice that ambush you’ve got going there with that bishop, you sneaky bastard!” They’ve tried to break through our lines for ten days to no avail. In an attempt to motivate the soldiers, General García claims that he’s got the situation in La Guacamaya under control. He lies to the press, saying that they’ve killed two hundred of us. March 26â•…

March 27â•… The army tries to wedge its way in from the north toward El Mozote but suffers a number of casualties and has to retreat. We’re running out of ammunition, and there is still no sign of the planned counterattack against the enemy’s rear guard. The situation seems to be shaky. Manolo and Juan are of the opinion that we should break the siege immediately. They say that it’s ridiculous that we’re acting like a regular army, defending our position, while the enemy is using guerrilla tactics to try and infiltrate our camps. Our Central Command contends that political reasons demand that we defend the growing power of the locals in the Control Zone. We will let it be known that, after January 10, our strategy has changed in El Salvador.



1981 35

March 28â•… They have evidently discovered the exact location of our transmitter. At noon, an Arava flew over the camp and shot out a violet-colored smoke signal a few meters from the entrance to the air raid shelter.15 Just minutes later, two Fouga Magisters bombed the spot. After unloading all their bombs on the target, the two planes came straight at us in a nosedive, motors roaring as if they were going to explode. Gunfire raked the ground, destroying branches and opening up a rift in the soil that passed right over the top of the shelter housing the transmitter. Their efforts did not succeed in penetrating the roof of earth and tree trunks. When the planes left, Mauricio and Apolonio turned on the motor, but when the time came to go on air, the transmitter didn’t work. On closer inspection, we realized that the barrage had managed to cut the coaxial cable of the antenna. They repaired it in almost no time. The High Command must have listened bitterly to the latest Radio Venceremos broadcast. They thought they had knocked us off the air. March 29â•… The army brings more troops. Every afternoon at six, the officers who are in the field ask headquarters if the artillery has silenced the Radio. Then at night, they shower us with cannon fire that keeps us from sleeping.

Calle Negra, Almost Certain Death The situation is becoming more and more dire.16 But on the positive side, we estimate that in the twenty-two days of resistance, we’ve realized our political-military objectives. A more offensive mentality has taken over the soldiers, and they’re motivated by the enemy’s humiliation. Tonight we will move forward and break their grip on the territory they control. The idea is to walk all night in order to cross the asphalt highway, la calle negra, before daybreak. One squad will take charge of engaging the enemy at its front line and will open up a passage for the rest of our column. At 1:00 pm they brought in Pedrito, Bracamonte’s brother, with an open fracture of the leg. Against a background of deafening mortar explosions, Eduardo proceeded to operate on Pedrito’s leg, setting the bone and applying a splint. While he was finishing up, the cannon fire began to fall a little too close for comfort. The enemy has taken El Mozote’s cemetery, putting us between a rock and a hard place. They now control the high points of the battlefield. The enemy battalions keep moving in closer. We get the order to retreat to La Casona, our last remaining high ground. I am pretty tense and irritable. I had a dispute with Pichinte and said some things, insulting things. I get excited and then I can’t stay calm during a discussion. It was all because of my stubborn insistence on taking the signal amplifier that, despite a missing piece, will later permit March 30â•…

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Radio Venceremos to be heard better and farther away. He argued that it was dangerous to go back toward the camp to get it and, on top of that, it would just be more to carry. In the end, the decision is made to take it. Apolonio, Walter, and I go to get it back down at the camp. On the way we run into a squad that has abandoned the firing line. They tell us not to go any farther, that there could be enemy soldiers nearby. Despite their warnings, the three of us stubbornly press on and hurriedly dig the amplifier out of its underground hiding place. We hear fighting close by and then I realize just how it feels to be afraid of dying. I throw the amplifier on my shoulder and, spurred on by cowardice, beat a hasty retreat, abandoning Apolonio and Walter to finish covering up the underground stash. On the climb back up toward La Casona, I find the path stained with the fresh blood of the wounded. A helicopter flies overhead with its machine guns blazing. It is so close to the ground I can see the pilots. At nightfall the medical team amputates the foot of a compañero, anesthetizing him with the last four centiliters of Ketalar.17 At one in the morning the trek begins. Under cover of darkness, the long human column begins to descend, guessing the path and testing the ground with each step. One misstep means tumbling down into the ravine. As we advance toward Pando Hill, we hear the soldiers’ picks striking the ground, digging trenches. We succeed in passing the first line without being detected. Now all that’s left is getting past the lines that they have all along the asphalt highway, five kilometers from here. The journey becomes slower and more arduous, and we stop frequently to take turns carrying the four wounded guerrilleros in their hammocks. Jonás orders those of us with the radio to move forward. Jaime carries the transmitter on his shoulder. Julio has the suitcase with the cassette archives, and a number of compañeros take turns carrying the motor. The rest of us carry recorders, microphones, and the rest of the equipment in our backpacks, which, after a few hours, become a tremendously heavy load. We pass by dozens of families that are fleeing from the army. Their faces are full of fear and uncertainty. A mother nurses her youngest son to keep his cries from being heard. Three barefoot children follow her. Their feet bloodied from the rough terrain, they cling to her dress. An elderly woman, moving slowly and steadying herself with a walking stick, carries a sack with the few utensils that she was able to bring. Daybreak is coming and we have just crossed Las Marías River. We still have a long way to go before reaching that damned highway. La calle negra, as everyone calls it, has more than once proved to be the line between life and death. Memo and Jonás move from one side to the other, insisting that we pick up the pace. Their worry is obvious. The roosters crow, announcing what we had hoped to avoid: daybreak. In daylight our position will be compromised, and we’ll be vulnerable in the valley.

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I pause for a moment with Evelin to pick some mangos to help us deal with our hunger. At that precise moment I am moved by what I see. Lt. Col. Bruno Navarrete is limping, leaning on Cecilia, his face twisted in pain. His artificial leg has inflamed the site of his amputation. Day is upon us, but we have only three hundred meters to go before reaching the highway. The point unit is advancing, ready to take positions. “The enemy!” someone yells. Up above, a few silhouettes that quickly disappear are seen among the grayish foliage. “If fighting breaks out, no one stays here .€.€. we have to cross even if we have to walk through bullets!” Fernando screams. We arrive at the highway within minutes. Running along it some thirty meters, we take a path to the left. Rogelio is moving as if he had wings on his feet. Angelita trips and falls but pops back up as if propelled by a spring. Memo hurries people along. I stay with him for a while, talking right in the middle of the road. A truck appears, apparently from the nearby town of Jocoatique. It stops, and we catch a glimpse of one of the most notorious spies of the region. He’s been the cause of a number of murders. A few dozen compañeros had already passed by when a burst of fire cuts off the uppermost branches of the trees that surround us. We spread out, a squad gets into position, and an intense shoot-out begins. “Get going! Find the rest of the compas,” Memo orders me. I run full bore into the woods. With grenades exploding all around me, I take refuge behind a fallen tree. I remain motionless, unable to find the path the compas took. The fighting intensifies. My stomach in knots, I point my pistol toward the area where I think the enemy soldiers must be. I hear a noise and my blood runs cold. I turn around. It’s one of the compas recently come from the capital. He’s pale, cradling his rifle in his arms in a noncombative stance. “Hey, where did the rest go?” “I don’t know,” I respond. More M79 shells explode nearby.18 When I turn toward the soldier, I see that the compa has left without telling me. In an opening in the forest I make out Mario (El Chocho), who is moving along at full speed. “Chooochooo!” I scream. Mario turns toward me. “Come on, the path’s this way.” We zigzag our way along until we meet up with Jonás, who is organizing a group of soldiers to lay down a barrage of rifle fire so that the rest can cross the highway. Among the group are the three officers. They tell us that Juan had put Bruno 38 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

on his back in an effort to cross, but the two were blocked off by the gunfire. The same thing happened to the locals. They had to take shelter in the hills until nightfall. Fernando tried to look for the stragglers but got tangled up in combat and was mortally wounded by a burst of gunfire. Felícito Chicas also died in the attempt, and Alonso (Cola de Vaca) ended up with a minor wound to his arm. We move toward the camps of El Centro to set up the radio. After a two-hour walk we’re back in one of our zones again. On the banks of the Araute River, near Cadejo Lake, we get ready to broadcast. Since we didn’t have one drop of gasoline left, Quincho sent a squad to get it from the first car that passed by. Soon they brought back a gallon. Because we hadn’t broadcast for two days, General García had informed the press that Radio Venceremos had been destroyed. After having broken the military blockade, we destroyed General García’s attempt at misinformation by means of a twenty-minute broadcast. We let the country know that, after twenty-two days of resistance in La Guacamaya, our forces were intact and ready to continue the advance. Then came the calm after the storm. At one point during the program, when I was reading the report about the battle, I glanced toward the river, where dozens of compas and some local families were washing clothes while children plunged into a huge natural pool. At the same time, a group was starting a fire to roast the meat of a recently butchered cow. Felipe came up to us with his violin and told us that he had composed a melody to accompany some lyrics that Quique had dedicated to the radio. He sang it in the style of a Mexican folk song: From high in the mountains Radio Venceremos proclaims its potent message of a people in arms. In the early hours, Radio Venceremos rings out, the voice of our revolution. A force to be reckoned with, our voice will be heard .€.€. It’s the voice of the insurgency, of Farabundo Martí. All of our followers are ready and waiting .€.€. because Radio Venceremos speaks the truth, their truth. The song mingled with the sounds of the gushing Araute, where several young women bathed bare-breasted while a group of youngsters swam and joyfully hurled themselves off of a rock jutting over the river. The elderly women stoked the fire to cook bananas. Tonight means good-bye for some since it has been decided that a group of women, children, and the elderly will move toward the U.N. refuge in Colomoncagua, Honduras. At last the Radio will have a female voice. Joining us as a broadcaster is a

1981 39

young female student. I observe her intently at dinner. She is restless and, guzzling her coffee, she intones a song: “Farabundo Martí,19 it comes opening roads to freedom.” Moments later, she stirs the chicken stew. She’s truly brimming with energy. She asks what her pseudonym will be, and I am suddenly reminded of Arlen Siu, so I propose Arlen to her. It later occurred to me that, given her personality, the most appropriate name would have been Mariposa.20 She liked it, so that is what we decided to call her. She joins our rehearsals. Her voice has the power to stir up the people. Her personality is multifaceted: bright, romantic, and, at times, tender. She’s sometimes rash with temperamental outbursts. Her defects, her sacrificial spirit, her uncontrollable need for affection at the heart of her life, her passion for the cause—everything will come together to mean an important contribution to the radio. Rafael, Apolonio’s brother, also joins the broadcast crew today. He’s had a good deal of experience in publishing papers and clandestine propaganda in San Salvador. He’ll be the writer and broadcaster of the Workers in Arms section. He and his brother stayed up until dawn to talk about old times. We receive the spare part for the wave amplifier, which will improve the audio quality and the broadcasting range of Radio Venceremos. In the meantime, just a few kilometers from here, the government forces have been waging a war on ghosts in La Guacamaya, bombing and shelling an abandoned position. They later return to their quarters. During the twenty-four days that the army was in our territory, we suffered four combat deaths. Four people were seriously wounded, and a number suffered relatively minor injuries. The enemy suffered around sixty casualties. Guerrilleros led by Comandante Claudio Armijo (Chicón) arrive from the southeastern front. We reminisced about the meeting when he first suggested that I join the FMLN. It was during the middle of last year, and I had set up a meeting with one of the commanders of the Salvadoran guerrilla war. I was waiting impatiently in a room, imagining the commander to be older, withdrawn, accompanied by bodyguards, and perhaps wearing an olive-colored suit. Then Chicón appeared, twenty-five years old, sporting a pair of jeans and white tennis shoes, looking just like a student-athlete who played basketball. He explained the concept of the radio to me. At the time, I was familiar with the problems among the five organizations of the FMLN and with the difficulty they were having trying to project a united front with a single strategy. I had already seen what happened to the Sandinista front when it split into three factions. This led me to ask Chicón if the Radio would be part of the ERP, or if it would be the united effort of the FMLN. The question took him by surprise, but he assured me that the Radio would be a unifying instrument for the FMLN. Just then, Commander Ana Guadalupe Martínez walked by. With the hint of April 11â•…

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a smile on her face, she joined another meeting in the adjoining room. My heart skipped a beat when I recognized the legendary author of Las cárceles clandestinas en El Salvador, the book that in some way had contributed to the decision that I made back then. It had shown me the moral and ideological values of those who were fighting for the democratization of El Salvador.21

Villa del Rosario We hear combat from early in the morning. In a few hours our forces take Villa del Rosario. Maravilla goes with the mobile unit and broadcasts the rally when Jonás speaks to the locals. This will infuriate the regime, and it will be forced to send troops to Morazán. The idea is to get them here so we can defeat them. April 16â•…

April 20â•… The last few days have wreaked havoc on my stomach. I’ve been running constantly to and from the latrine. It took a good amount of coaxing to get Pichinte to send me to the occupied town. Since I can barely walk because of my weakened condition, we get a mule for me to ride. With Minchito we set out for Villa del Rosario and arrive after a two-hour ride. The first surprise came when I ran into a long procession, headed by Rogelio, making its way down the cobblestone street. They were celebrating Holy Week. The mayor and the judge have decided to leave town. As of today, the town is without government representatives. A local council is formed. Among its members are Toni, Ricardo, and Marcela. Five days have passed without any reaction from the army. At dusk, we meet with Carlos and Will, who have recently arrived from the capital. We put together a rough plan to accomplish this week:

1. Complete a census to establish defense priorities, food needs, and medical attention for the local population. 2. Organize the locals on each block to build air raid shelters in anticipation of air raids. 3. Establish a free medical clinic. 4. Install a common dining area for the elderly who have lost their families and for the soldiers who constantly arrive carrying communications and supplies. 5. Publish a newspaper to inform the population and the soldiers of the situation in their country. The brilliance of the clouds at sunset casts reddish shadows on the faces of the

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compas, who, without a cent to their names but with the desire to end injustice, continue making plans. “We could also gather up all the abandoned livestock. We could milk the cows so that each kid can have at least one glass of milk a day,” Carlos proposes enthusiastically. Meanwhile, the enemy pools its forces on the other side of the nearby Torola River. April 22â•… Combat breaks out when they try to cross the river. A mere two kilometers from the fighting, we peacefully go about collecting the census data. April 23â•… After the first dreary rains that announce the oncoming winter, we hear fighting fairly close to town. We’re just beginning our daily broadcast from a trench when a compañero, Chele Will,22 appears. Pale and sweaty he recounts the following:

What happened was that, when it started to rain, a bunch of soldiers ran back to take shelter under a nearby roof. They told me to stay at my post, keeping watch. The enemy was just on the other side of the river. When it stopped raining and the sun came out, I took advantage of the opportunity to take my boots off and let the sun dry out my feet. They’re wet all the time, and they itch like crazy. I was nestled down in the trench with my feet sticking out when I heard a little noise. I got up and there was a cuilio coming straight toward me. I got out my FAL and let loose a burst that turned him around. I put on my boots and came flying back to camp with an enemy troop at my heels. We’re screwed. They’ve already holed up in Chaco Hill. “Tell Chele César to bring the .50-caliber machine gun and to send reinforcements to those who are down at the cemetery,” Memo orders. We go on high alert. The enemy’s presence on high ground complicates matters. We have to push them back. Earlier we broadcast a local rally, with the crowd proclaiming, “They won’t come through the village!” Because of this proclamation, Rogelio makes a joke at lunch: “Well, friends .€.€. didn’t we say that they wouldn’t come through the village? Well, they didn’t. They just came straight across the river!” April 26â•… At one in the morning, the counterattack begins to repel the intruders who have set up base too close to town. The .50-caliber machine gun opens up from near the post office. When the fight is just about to get serious, the enemy soldiers disband and beat a speedy retreat back across the Torola River. They leave behind a 60-mm mortar, ammunition, a military radio, and

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other supplies. Chele Will, standing next to the captured arms, proudly tells me, “Don’t you see? If it weren’t for my itchy feet, the enemy wouldn’t have come to give us these weapons .€.€.” In good spirits after the day’s events, we decide to dedicate the rest of our time to writing and publishing La Villa Libre, the first guerrilla newspaper of Morazán. Carlos and El Peche went to look for the mimeograph; Chele Will went for the ink and paper. We used an old typewriter to write the editorial and the reports about the outcome of the latest battle. The command post becomes a newsroom. We work feverishly throughout the day, and the first newspaper rolls off the press at dusk. Copies are immediately distributed among the soldiers on the front lines. People crowd together on street corners to read aloud the first edition of La Villa Libre. Dozens of blue and white flags that we found in the school adorn the town. Flying above the bell tower and tiled roofs of the city, the flags seem like an appropriately Salvadoran challenge to the North American helicopters that have been firing on us all morning long. A few people place smaller white flags on their houses but it is precisely these houses that the pilots viciously target, trying to clear out La Villa. The helicopters interrupt the medical consultations that Yoel and Dina are giving. The children have to seek shelter from the gunfire. When the sun sets and the air raids end, an evangelical minister leaves town. Twenty people, carrying his household belongings and hens, follow him. April 27â•… Fifteen hundred government soldiers attempt to advance from the south, while other units have failed in their attempt to cross the Torola. In the afternoon, we bring the whole town together in the church to form groups that will be in charge of planting vegetables, beans, and corn on the abandoned lands. From the town square, the mobile unit broadcasts interviews and updates about local activities. Today is the army’s twelfth day of defeat, which stands out in the eyes of the international press. April 28â•… One of the enemy’s cannon rounds fell on the house where Rogelio usually slept. The fact that he had agreed to spend the night with a group of frightened locals was the only thing that saved him. When he saw the house ravaged by projectiles, he told me that something similar had happened to him last November in San Salvador. Another priest had convinced him to leave Zacamil parish just before death squads blew it up with dynamite. Two weeks ago, the same individuals blew up the residence of the Jesuit fathers at the Catholic University. Now the same army that in the ’69 war penetrated kilometers into the interior of Honduras in a matter of hours has for two weeks been incapable of advancing the two kilometers separating it from us here in Morazán.



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We were doing a report when Memo appeared, his head covered in blood. At first, we were all worried, but a medical exam revealed that the bullet had, miraculously, only grazed his scalp. Amidst the roar of combat, we receive a message: “The General Command has decided that Radio Venceremos will be from this moment forward the Official Voice of the FMLN.” Along with Toni, we go through the abandoned grain warehouses. There should be enough to distribute among the population. Toni is a natural leader, and everyone respects him for his sound sensibility. Today he invited me to dinner. When I entered his home, a girl was setting the table, which was illuminated by a candle. “I’d like to introduce you to my sister Marcela,” Toni said. She’s a student on vacation from the capital. When we took the town, she had to make a decision either to return to the capital or stay here with her brother. She decided to stay. Marcela walks with an exciting seductiveness that is only accentuated by her slender body, firm breasts, and long hair, which falls down to her hips. The half-light reveals her furtive glances. While her perfect hands place a tortilla on my plate, I gaze at her like a crazed forest animal. In the midst of war, Marcela has been an apparition. April 29â•… Since the streets are teeming with abandoned livestock, the town council has decided to gather them up and relocate them to the enclosed grassy area at the town hall. The job is given to the children. A ruckus of running, screaming, coming and going breaks out. A little kid crosses the plaza with a goose that is madly flapping its wings. Seen from behind, it seems as if the wings belong to the boy and that he’s about to take flight. Farther back some kids drag an enormous pig with hooves that have been ravaged by parasites. A rooster goes by, transported on the back of a little girl, while other children are trying their best to herd a flock of ducks. “Go on, you stupid turkey!” screams a little girl with braided hair and a toothless smile. More children appear on the street corner, herding a bunch of chickens and hens that appear to be the beginning of a funny sort of zoological parade. The town hall is converted into a peculiar Noah’s Ark of sorts, waiting for the flood. The rain came later in the form of cannon fire on the houses. A shell fell right on the town hall, killing a number of unfortunate animals. Thanks to the shelters, there weren’t any civilian casualties. Carlos is mortally wounded while fighting against the enemy troops’ advance. When I saw his eyes, green, open, staring into space, I remembered him as he was at the meeting, suggesting a daily glass of milk for each child and free medical consultations. When I threw the last bit of earth on his body, I felt that we

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were burying a part of ourselves in this land. We made a promise to realize the dreams of Carlos and our other comrades. We get ready to broadcast a special program on this first day of May, Workers’ Day. We gather everyone up, civilians and militia. Calín, Marcela, and Walter speak at the rally. After two weeks of repelling enemy advances, we abandon Villa del Rosario. We’ll let their counteroffensive attack an empty town. According to the new plan, we’ll set up in Zapotal cantón, fifteen kilometers east of here. It’s estimated that sheer physical and mental exhaustion will prevent the enemy from easily recovering. In the meantime, we’ll consolidate our zone of control where the people’s army will be able to grow and train.

El Zapotal May 2â•… In the early morning, we begin making our way toward the new camps. We have more supplies, including a new motor transported on poles by four soldiers. The trek is long and exhausting as we march through the dark. The soldier carrying the body of the .50-caliber machine gun complains and curses under its weight. But the wounded teach us a lesson in spirit. Chino walks the whole way, enduring the intense pain that radiates from a bullet wound in his foot. Senobio deals with the agony of a head injury, and Camilo keeps pace in spite of a fractured heel. When the time comes to cross la calle negra, we worry about running into an enemy patrol. While they give us the signal to cross the highway, I try to remember part of a poem written by Maravilla:

Calle negra, mortal danger. Silence! From this point on, no light .€.€. At full moon, the black pavement glows silver; At dawn it’s blue. Calle negra, Mortal danger! At night we again take up the march that seems more and more an endless torture. We stop constantly for one reason or another. We sit down wherever we can and, fatigued, fall into a deep sleep at each resting point. May 3â•… We are already close to the old La Guacamaya camp. For the time being we won’t be able to return to it because the army has left a base there. We



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cautiously slip by it and continue toward El Zapotal. We will once again have to live near enemy troops that are only three kilometers away. May 4â•… Like worker ants we patch up the roofs of the houses, move tables and chairs, install the antenna on a suitable spot, and set up the studio. Meanwhile, the women pat out the tortillas for dinner. At 6:00 pm we restart the Radio Venceremos broadcasts. Our camp is on a wooded plain. We’ve converted the estate house on an old hacienda into the kitchen and the dormitory for the security force. In another house Apolonio has installed the transmitter and a technical shop. The press and propaganda rooms, where female soldiers begin to print flyers, are nearby. We’ve set up a recording studio, an area for writing and editing, a news-monitoring room, and the cassette archives in a white farmhouse that is next to the road and surrounded by mango, avocado, pear, and cherimoya trees. Everyone who passes by stops in to say hello, have a cup of coffee, and get an update about the latest Radio Venceremos news, a radio system that, as one can clearly see, is not clandestine at all. When the last detachments left Villa del Rosario, a group of civilians decided to join our ranks. They’ve been assigned to our camp. Among them are Toni, Ricardo, Marcela, and Mama Lola, the elderly woman who has taken care of them since they were children. The first drops of winter bring fresh, crisp air.23 The rains will refresh the undergrowth, giving us more cover against aerial assaults, even though the helicopters mainly transport troops and relief supplies now. The command post, hospital and clinic, workshops for producing explosives, armory, shoe shop, and tailor shop have been set up in El Zapotal.

A North American in the War May 19â•… Joseph David Sanderson, a North American writer and photographer, has been in Morazán for a month. Lucas, as we call him, arrived last year in San Salvador, where he witnessed the peak of mass mobilization and organizational commotion. Moved by the common cause of the fight, he gradually became a part of the organization. Radio Venceremos broadcasts a letter that Lucas has written to the U.S. Congress: “The Salvadoran people ask themselves: Why would the United States trade the friendship and good will of an entire nation for that of a handful of rich Salvadorans that live in Miami? I write to my Congress not only as a witness to the suffering and agony of this people, but also as a North American citizen and combatant here in El Salvador who is working hand in hand with the people, fighting against the dictatorship and its North American advisers.”

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Lucas plans to write a book about his experience in Morazán and publish it in the United States. We set aside a place for him in our camp so that he can begin his work.

Juan Ramón, from Bus to History May 29â•… Going through the trunk where we keep the taped Radio Venceremos programs, we realize that we need to organize them chronologically and by category. This is the seed of what could be a historical archive preserving the voices of the leaders, soldiers, and civilians along with war stories and useful information regarding the entire process. We suggest that Marcela begin to put the tapes in order. We visit El Junquillo cantón, where there is an ambush waiting for the helicopter that customarily passes through the area. We find Santos Lino Ramírez— Chele César—next to an antiaircraft machine gun, patiently awaiting the helicopter’s next arrival. Chele César is a legend in the eyes of the enemy. Standing 5’10” tall, he is thin with a bushy, reddish beard and sleepy eyes. “Hey there, brother, I see you finally came. Tell me, has Mom written us anything? I’m sure that she’s sent us a little something to buy some candy. You’ve already spent it, right?” Chele always welcomes me with this joke. Since some say that we look alike, he claims that we’re brothers. He’s from Tres Calles. Stories about his confrontations with national guard patrols have become legends in his cantón. Thanks to his agility and excellent marksmanship, he was always able to outwit his pursuers. The locals started to say that he could work some sort of magic to get out of the scrapes he found himself in. They say that, one time, when the guards were about to capture him, he turned into a bunch of bananas. That’s what the town thought of this guerrilla soldier’s guile. While we were cutting some pieces of sugarcane, we asked him to tell us how he came to Morazán. “I’ll tell you. One of the very first times that I came here was when Rafael Arce Zablah brought me to introduce me to some people he had already contacted and who seemed to be willing to get organized and work together. In La Laguna, he introduced me to Tarcicio Velázquez (Pedro), an older gentleman .€.€. and to a few others. Along with them we began to form the Ligas Campesinas,24 as a sort of front, you know?” “And how did the first clashes with the enemy happen?”

Well, there were quite a few times, mostly with hand grenades, but I’ll tell you about the one I remember best. It happened November 3, 1977. One of

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the first to get organized in the area was a catechist .€.€. Juan Ramón Sánchez, a peasant, the poorest you can imagine. I remember him well: he was Indian, dark-skinned, well built and muscular. We called him Moreno. He was part of a militant group. One day he was coming back from San Miguel after completing a mission when the bus he was taking ran into a military roadblock at the top of the Osicala detour. They took everyone off the bus and began to search them. Juan Ramón had stayed in his seat at the back of the bus but finally ended up getting off. When one of the soldiers was about to search him, Moreno whipped his weapon out and shot him. He jumped the roadside ditch and just as he was close to escaping, a soldier let loose a barrage of bullets that killed him on the spot. That’s how Juan Ramón Sánchez died, showing us what our people are capable of doing—how the quiet, humble people of El Salvador stand up to the enemy when the time comes to fight for our cause. His death affected all of us because we had grown to love him, and he had left a part of himself in each of the people he worked with. “How did the people react to his death?” Listen, we thought that they were going to back off, especially in light of the increased captures and repression that the army unleashed on us. But the government forces were humiliated that a simple farmer could have dealt them such a heavy blow, so they stepped up their repression of any subversive elements. They went to Osicala church and captured Father Miguel Ventura, blaming him for the people getting organized. They tied him to a tree, and an officer came to question him. When word spread that he had been taken prisoner, there was a huge protest in Morazán, the first of its kind, on February 28. It was backed by the Ligas Populares.25 Thousands of people showed up carrying signs and shouting slogans. Popular pressure succeeded in securing Father Miguel’s freedom, but he later had to flee the country. At sunset we said good-bye to Chele and his squad. The ambush was unsuccessful; the helicopter never showed up. Nevertheless, we returned with a new story: the day when Juan Ramón Sánchez got off of a bus and made history. June 1â•… I was resting under a tree when I heard a strange noise. I opened my eyes and there it was, large and potbellied, noisily chewing on sugarcane with its huge molars. When I got closer, it showed no fear but looked at me meekly, shook its mane, and snorted. It was a pretty good-sized mare left to her own devices. I put a rope on her and returned proudly to camp. I dusted off an old saddle. From today forward she will be the mobile unit’s means of transport. Since she’s lame, we name her Patoja.26

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“If you are going to be in charge of Patoja, remember that she has to eat too. You’ll have to bring her hay.” That was Mama Lola’s comment on the new acquisition. Mama Lola is quite a character; she has won all of our hearts. The fact that at sixty-something years old she has decided to join the struggle says quite a bit about the Salvadoran people. On our marches you can see her climbing the hills, supported by her white walking cane, without so much as a complaint about her arthritis. She knows when and why I’m sad and serves me coffee along with a popular proverb that always seems to lift my spirits.

Eighty Devils Set Loose June 3â•… The day comes to saddle up Patoja since we’ve decided to do a series of reports on the progress of consolidating power at the grassroots level. After a slow two-hour walk, we arrive at the recently founded escuela de menores,27 which will educate dozens of children who are scattered across the region. Many of them have witnessed the massacres. Some have even seen their parents killed. The school is in a large, solitary house in the middle of the plain. In a nearby grassy area, eighty children chase a cloth ball during a fierce soccer game. One of the teachers is Carmelo (Tirro), from the Hechoandrajos camp. The children get up at five to do exercise. At seven they have breakfast, consisting of two tortillas, beans, meat, or cheese. At eight, classes begin. The children are divided into two groups depending on what they know. The more advanced class takes the history of El Salvador, math, grammar, geography, and composition of short stories and poetry. I watch them while they play. There’s Luisito, dark skinned, handsome, always whistling a little tune. Then there are the Chacalines brothers, always ready for a clean fistfight. Miguel hits Hernán for having eaten twenty pieces of fresh sugarcane. Off in a corner, one boy tells a group of wide-eyed kids, “Last night, one of the cooks showed up at my tent. She began to touch my thing.€.€.€. It got as hard as a rock. Then she took off her pants and put me between her legs and said€.€.€. oh, Filadelfito, I’m going to die!” Sitting on a rock writing a poem dedicated to Farabundo Martí is Ángel. Patango, restless and rebellious, wants to drop out of school. Giovani, El Gato, with his green eyes, contemplates the female soldier who is bathing in the stream. Pancho sticks a crab down Rivera’s shirt. He’s one of the biggest jokesters of Pando Hill, always coming up with some sort of song that makes fun of someone in a roundabout way. Fredy and Aman argue about whether the FAL or the Galil is a better gun. Regalado and Francisco steal apples from Payín, the tough physical education instructor.



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Sergio, skinny and reserved, makes designs on his desk with a knife. Morris tries to fly a short-tailed kite that gets blown around by the wind. Santiaguito throws a wooden top that he picks up with the string and returns to his hand, where he watches it spin. Eighty devils on the loose! The future that grows amidst brotherhood, humanism, and criticism takes root on a vast open plain where the imagination runs free, and the new school lies at the center of it all. We’re all gathered together with the kids under a mango tree heavy with fruit when someone suggests that we go ahead and do the Radio Venceremos program. With recorder rolling and microphone ready, the children act as broadcasters, interviewers, and interviewees. They read poems, sing songs that they themselves have composed, and even put together a roundtable discussion to analyze the current political situation of the country. They send their message out to the peoples of the world. Above all, theirs is a new type of journalism, fresh, dynamic, and profoundly human. When it’s time to broadcast, two kids sit down beside me. There, in the semidarkness, sitting in front of the microphones, before the oscillating gauges of the mixer, they look like the crew of a spaceship heading off into the future. June 7â•… For the time being, we have altered the work schedule of the Radio. Instead of recording in the afternoon, we’ll record at night to broadcast at six in the morning. We plan to do it live in the future, as soon as we resolve some technical issues. After dinner, most of the compas rest. It’s at this time that the Radio crew initiates a multipronged work effort. Marcela finishes putting the historical archives in order and goes to bed early. Rafael arrives with the truck battery perched on one shoulder. He’s up to his ankles in a sea of mud while the lightning reveals more of him than our dim flashlights can. Later, we start a fire in our little house. Mariposa goes over the news and starts some coffee brewing while Maravilla organizes the program materials. We set up our basic recording studio. We put the sound console, which is nothing more than an old portable recorder, on the table. We use a small metal box with four buttons as the sound mixer. When we’re ready to start, someone realizes that the lanterns don’t have any gas to burn, and we have to look for candles. At times, in the wee hours of the morning, we wake Apolonio so that he can help us solve whatever technical problem we’re having—like what happened when the recorder went crazy and started sounding like Donald Duck. Every night poses its own universe of technical surprises and simple mishaps, even devastating ones like yesterday, when all of the matches got wet, and we had to scour the entire camp to find someone who had even one dry one. When we do special programs, the work moves along more slowly. We set the text to music, using some sound effects or maybe a song that complements the narration; and the recording session often takes all

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night, lasting right up until daybreak. In that case, at six on the dot, we run to give the cassette to Toni, who is no longer a member of the security guard but an understudy in the technical workshop for the Radio. On these long night shifts, in order to stay awake and recoup energy lost during the day, we either make some papaya candy or crayfish soup. Sometimes, Irra comes after having stood guard. He has the appearance of a typical campesino. Of average height, he’s got the muscles of a bull and small, malicious eyes that reflect an air of triumph. He always takes a sip of coffee, wetting his bushy moustache, then, extending the hand he has hidden behind his back, he reveals a rabbit or some other small game animal that he has just hunted with his slingshot. We then abandon the microphone for a while to start a fire and set up a pot filled with bananas, yucca root, chiles, oregano, and other spices. The meat, now diced into small, seasoned pieces, is soon stewing in the pot, swimming around in the mixture before the hungry eyes of the group. In the morning, Jonás, Quincho, or Memo visits us. They’ve just come from a meeting or inspecting some engineering work. They always bring reports full of political speculation or reveal the latest strategic plan, always bolder than its predecessor.

The Torogoces Are Born A group of compañeros, all of them campesinos, has visited us. They tell us of their plans to form a singing group. Felipe and Sebastián combine poetic talent with all the peculiarities of their Morazán speech patterns. The end result is quite moving. We record two of their songs, “Heroic Morazán” and “Radio Venceremos.” It was evident only later that we needed to name the duo. Calín and Chele César, who together are dynamite, suggest some ridiculous names, most of them obscene. No one was able to agree on anything. Next to the house there’s an earthen wall full of holes from which emerges a pair of multicolored birds with long, beautifully iridescent tails. These torogoces have made their nest there.28 Their fluttering gave us an idea. “What if we called them The Torogoces of Morazán?” I suggest. “It’s a great name! The birds dig trenches in the walls for their nests, and they’re every bit as ingenious and hardworking as the Salvadoran guerrilla!” Felipe exclaims. The just-formed group starts to participate in a new cultural movement that we call The Creative Powers of the People, in memory of Aquiles Nazoa, a great Venezuelan who, believing in those powers, had a knack for uncovering grandeur in the simplest of things. June 12â•…

June 13â•…



We went on our next outing once Patoja had recovered from her 1981 51

limp. Toni gave me a remedy to cure the mare’s lameness. We went to do a report on the recently established Rafael Arce Zablah Revolutionary Military School. You’d think that a guerrilla study and training center would naturally have to be set up in deep, impenetrable forest or on a high, inaccessible mountainside. This is not the case. The school sits in Agua Blanca, two hours from the army’s position and on a flat expanse of land where dozens of troop-laden helicopters could comfortably land. When we arrive, we see twenty-four troops, heads recently shaved, standing in proper formation, singing the national anthem to mark the beginning of a political-cultural event. Yimy is the first one to speak, describing his experience as a construction worker in San Salvador. “There’s nothing worse in the world,” he says, “than going home emptyhanded to a house full of hungry, barefoot, naked children. That’s the plight of the workingman and that’s what we have to change. That’s why we’ve taken up these guns!” At the insistence of the soldiers, I put on the boxing gloves with Mario, El Chocho. A hook in the gut leaves me seeing stars. In the second round, we agree that on my signal he will duck when I throw a punch and that’s what he does. I give him a wink, he ducks, and Payín, who is among the spectators, takes the punch right in the face. The crowd celebrates the stunt with cheering and laughter. “I won’t forget that,” Payín says to me, pretending to be hurt. June 15â•… At daybreak we saddle up Patoja to do a report about the new areas of production, specifically, the dairies and creameries. A half-hour walk and we arrive at El Limón, where Adrián and his men are milking a few dozen cows. The militiamen sing out the cows’ names in melancholy tones: “Lucerito!” “Carasucia!” Each cow waits for her name to be called and then moves toward the worker who will milk her and toward her calf. Adrián explains to us that part of the milk goes to the clinic and hospital and the rest is distributed among the camps in the form of cheese or cottage cheese. The sugar mill that produces the candy we eat in the camps is nearby. Mule trains come and go while militiamen, rifles slung across their backs, unload the sugarcane amid the aroma of the sweet juice boiling and thickening in the pans. Children from the nearby houses run by, coming to skim off the sweet foam. Claros wipes the sweat from his brow and throws more wood onto the fire. Aquilino tells us that the means of production are growing rapidly. Dozens of workers have planted maize and beans, and groups are weeding the fields. On the way back to camp we come across another dairy, where they’re milking forty-six cows. We reach camp with a report that clearly reflects the birth of local power and productivity in El Salvador.

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Benito June 19â•… We ride Patoja for an hour and a half to Benito’s camp, where we ask him to tell us about the beginnings of the fight in Morazán. Benito takes his rifle and seems lost in thought, as if he were looking for something that was hidden in the recesses of his memory. Standing in the doorway, his profile takes up the better part of the opening. He’s a big man, brimming with vigor. Next to the canteen and ammunition he has strapped on the belt around his rather ample waist hangs his machete, with its handle of motherof-pearl, gold-colored metal. It makes him look like one of the leaders of the Independence movement. “I’ll tell you what I remember,” he begins. “When Rafael Arce Zablah came to Morazán, he called together a group of thirty leaders from various communities, inviting us to a short series of talks in San Salvador. Rafael’s speeches woke us up. We began to see what was causing our poverty. It was there that another young man, about the same age as Rafael, also spoke to us. A little while later, I realized that it was Joaquín Villalobos, Atilio. “What happened when Rafael laid down his armed-resistance plan for them?”

Yes, of course, I’m going to tell you. On July 12, 1975, there was a meeting of two hundred campesinos in El Tule. That’s where they started talking about fighting with more effective means. I remember them telling us, “If the army fires flowers at us then we’ll fire them back, but if they fight us with bullets, then we’ll fight them with bullets.” This scared a lot of us; we thought that the only thing to do was turn the other cheek when a guard hit us with a rifle butt. Up until that moment, we hadn’t understood that you had to defend the lives of your very own family by confronting the violence that comes from dictatorship and extreme poverty. I remember that after Commander Juan Ramón Medrano (Balta) arrived, the front began to form. Farther along in the process, more attention was paid to military preparation. On moonlit nights, Morazán was united in conspiracy. The elderly brought propaganda from San Miguel, the women prepared tortillas for those who were participating in military training on the soccer fields, and the children kept watch. Everything was happening near the barracks and command posts of the army, right under their nose. The struggle was born out of the masses, surrounded by the enemy. We were able to develop firm political control here. Lightning rips across the sky to the north. The time has come to go back. The mare begins the journey with her slow, off-kilter trot. Benito remains behind, near the hill, piling up rocks to fortify a trench.

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June 21â•… More weapons and North American advisors arrive at Ilopango to form special battalions.29 Meanwhile, the FMLN prepares itself to resist, to grow, and to advance. Today the Radio broadcasts news about the first hernia operation that has taken place at the front. As the doctors go about using the scalpel, a microphone suspended above the patient records the scientific description of the operation that Eduardo dictates. Both hygienic conditions and the surgical equipment have made a jump in quality since Calixtro’s operation. After six months in the mountains, at times a sense of profound solitude grips us. We live in an environment filled with solidarity and brotherhood, but I don’t have a woman to share it with. I need love. At night, warm memories of María Soledad flood my thoughts, making her the most beautiful woman who ever crossed the streets of Mérida on a bike. I remember the crazy guy from the movie Novecento who was compelled by love to call out from the top of a tree, “Voglio una donna!”30

Alejandro Peluna’s Flying Mule June 24â•… There won’t be a broadcast today because we ran out of fuel. The Radio crew spent the free day going to the plains of Agua Blanca, where they celebrate the festival of Saint John the Baptist. We found hundreds of people at the chapel. During the Mass, Rogelio married a soldier and a woman from the area. Upon leaving the chapel, the bride, dressed in a modest white lace dress, smiled timidly, walking with her husband under an arch of rifles. All the children rushed toward the stands to buy tamales, quesadillas, rice with milk, and tropical fruit drinks. Afterward, we gathered round an improvised platform from which Benito gave a brief analysis of the political situation and called for increased organization from all of the locals in the surrounding area. It appears that pre-Columbian indigenous migrations from the Ulúa culture settled all around the Cacaopera area, particularly in Guchupilín, Yancolo, Estancia, and Agua Blanca. One of this group’s characteristics is that they do not pronounce the “ñ.” For example, they say “banllar” instead of “bañar.”31 We were close to the chapel when an elderly woman with indigenous features approached us. A short while later we had already struck up a lively conversation with her:

Look, boys, do you see that uneven little hill over there? That’s where the Lion’s cave is, but the oldest and most picturesque in this area is the Maroon cave, where there’s a pile of rocks, all painted red. There’s a sketch on the rock face something like a god with a sun for a head. There’s also a man and 54 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

a woman holding hands, there are lots of hands on the walls. Our ancestors made many beautiful things; it’s a shame that some of the drawings are rubbing off. You know, the guards used to practice marksmanship there! If you ever go, you’ll see the chunks those bastards blasted out. You see that in the distance? That’s the town of Cuspe, or Cacaopera, as they say. When I was a little girl my grandmother used to take me there to see the Calihuate dance, a dance that comes from the time of our ancestors. But you know, the dancers have left because the government is persecuting and slaughtering people. Some of the survivors are with you. The only one who knew how to play the music of the Calihuate was an old man who went to the Colomoncagua refuge to escape from the government. The music, well, he made it with a deerskin tambourine and a reed whistle. If only you could see how beautiful the Calihuate was! The men danced all night long, one line in front of another, with the tambourine and whistle going. Then they started to jump and move around more—all night long this was! People were eating tamales and drinking corn liquor. It’s a shame that the old ways are being forgotten. You know, I can just barely remember a few words from the old way of speaking. I didn’t tell you that one time a priest came and told us to forget the language of our ancestors, claiming it was the devil’s speech. Lots of people paid attention to him until Alejandro Peluna, who knew how to cure our illnesses with herbs, told us not to believe what that priest said, that if our ancestors’ way of talking was the devil’s language, then we should speak like devils. Against a background of the setting sun, the elderly woman remains silent for a while. “We’ve been abandoned here like wild animals,” she finally adds. “And what did they do before to treat illnesses?” Oh, son, neither before nor after has a doctor set foot here. Where would we get the money to pay a doctor if some of us didn’t even have enough to get a ride to the city? The one who helped us was Alejandro Peluna. He used salves of ginger, bark, and other things he got from the mountain to treat us. They tell so many tales about Alejandro Peluna! One time, a fellow named Feliciano Amaya went looking for him to cure his dying wife. They say that Peluna told him, “Climb onto this white mule behind me and close your eyes.” The mule took off with both men on its back and flew to the house of the sick woman. There wasn’t a sickness he couldn’t cure. They say that Peluna had a cave that passed under the Torola River and that in a day’s walk he could go all the way to Villa del Rosario. They say the cave opened up to a place where foul-smelling water ran. Well, at least now the camps are nearby. In case of an emergency we know

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we can count on the doctors who are with you. They saved the life of one of my granddaughters. She had a child who was already motionless in the womb. If not for all of you, she’d already be dead. Well, my grandchildren are calling me. I’ve got to go before it rains and the river rises. .€.€. God bless you. The elderly woman moves away from us with her peculiar, uneven gait, as if one leg were longer than the other. “Good-bye, boys, take care of yourselves. Maybe we’ll see one another next year, at the next Festival of Saint John the Baptist.”

Chiyo and Pajarillo The birds wake us up by making a ruckus. A hawk is trying to make off with a few chicks. The mother bird, near the nest, lets out piercingly aggressive and shrill cries, calling to her aid about one hundred birds of all sizes and colors. They flutter around the hawk, and each time it moves in to grab a chick, the birds put up a deafening noise that leaves the attacker disconcerted. The skirmish lasts about a half hour, until the hawk, demoralized, takes off in retreat, stuck in the middle of a cloud of tiny birds that follow it with victory calls. It was a lesson of how unity among “the little ones” can accomplish so much. Carolina, with a child in tow, appears walking along the road from El Limón. The youngster comes whistling, unbalanced by his bulky backpack. An enormous cap covers most of his face. “This is my little brother,” Carolina says. “What’s your name?” “Lucio Vásquez .€.€. but they call me Chiyo,” he says. We agree that after a short rest he can come back to see the radio. At dusk, the compas are splitting pineapples when a youthful voice drifts along the path singing a song about the February 28 massacre. It’s Chiyo. He has his hands in his pockets, his unbuttoned shirt revealing a belly swollen by parasites. A tuft of hair sticks out from under his red cap, giving him a rebellious look. After talking for awhile, we realize that his parents were the first to get organized in the foothills of El Cacahuatique. When we ask him about the rest of his family, his breathing falters. “My family is all torn apart. First, two of my brothers were killed in a massacre that took place during a march in San Salvador. We didn’t even see them since they buried them right there at Rosario church. We found out by way of the KL news.32 I remember that we all started to cry, but Mom told us, ‘Look kids! Let’s go ahead and cry, but let’s not think about giving up. This is how the struggle is .€.€.’” June 25â•…

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“And your mom, where is she?” Chiyo takes out his slingshot, puts a plum pit in it that he has just taken from his mouth, and launches the seed skyward: Soldiers killed my mom last year. I was with my brother, the one they call Pajarillo. We were playing, chasing a calf, when we heard the shots fired. It must have been around prayer time because it was beginning to get dark. We both went running for the house. When we arrived, the cuilios had already left. We found my mother and my sister dead. My mom was leaning on a bench, leaning over to one side with her head covered in blood. My sister was in the hammock, lying on her back. Her head was hanging down, her hair was in a pool of blood. We were alone because my father and the others had been on the run for days since the soldiers were killing all the men. Pajarillo and I began to wash the blood from my mother and sister, and we laid them in their beds. The ones who killed them came later with a sergeant from Gotera. Chiyo’s voice falters at times, but he speaks with a maturity far greater than you’d expect for his nine years: When the October invasion came, everybody ran from their cantones because the army was killing entire families. Everyone said that people needed to head for Colomoncagua because, if they didn’t, then the army was going to kill off everybody. That’s how it was. We were a stream of people— the old ones, children, women who had just had babies. They were all carrying what little they managed to take with them. As we were reaching the midway point, I knew that I didn’t want to leave El Salvador, that I wanted to stay with the compas. I took advantage of some confusion to break away and return on my own. I found a camp and that’s where I stayed. When they realized that I had gone back, they were already too far away to do anything about it. That’s what happened. Tomorrow they’re going to take me to school to see if I can learn something. This story that Radio Venceremos broadcasts is the story of thousands of children, survivors of a brutal campaign that kills Salvadorans in the name of “democracy.” But Chiyo is lucky. Here he has a thousand brothers in this giant family that we’re all part of. In the years following our conversation, Chiyo became a member of the Radio Venceremos team and continued to grow and progress in every good way.



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June 28â•… Word reaches us regarding the first Solidarity Campaign that takes place in Mexico. We are not alone. After five days of not broadcasting because of lack of gasoline, we go on the air again. You can’t imagine the sacrifices that our soldiers make, trekking long distances in order to bring us gasoline, batteries, notebooks, and recording tapes for the radio, oftentimes right under the enemy’s nose. It’s been three months since the enemy’s campaign in March. The peace we enjoy in the camps reflects the military’s inability to go back on the offensive. Since she is a few months’ pregnant, Libertad will temporarily leave her work in the clinic. Mario, El Chocho, is proud of being the father. “Libertad is going to have a baby!” The news spreads through the camps. July 4â•… This Saturday is graduation of the first class of troops from the military school. On the training grounds, each of the new soldiers makes it through the obstacle course: walking the beam, crawling under barbed wire, vaulting over barriers, climbing ropes, and jumping the hurdles. Quincho’s slim figure stands out in the open air as he prepares to give a speech in front of the soldiers: “Friends, today is a day of great importance as we strive for progress. The graduation of the first class of this school shows us that the seed left by all of our fallen brethren has multiplied and grown in each of you, consolidating the local resistance. The future will demand of us more sacrifice and increased efforts .€.€.” A dance, music provided by The Torogoces, concluded the celebration. Some got out the boxing gloves for a sparring match, and, to be sure, there was never a shortage of atole. Gustavo and Guillermo are filming La Decisión de Vencer,33 a film that will show the fruits of our labors to the world.

Loving Marcela in the Midst of War Is Another War July 5â•… I must be dying. I have fallen into your trap, Marcela. I’ve fallen for your eyes, your mouth, and everything beautiful about you. For days now I have been making up any excuse to be with you. I eat at the same time as you so I can see how the fire casts its faint glow upon your hair, which now reaches below your waist. I shudder when I sit next to you, when I feel your thigh against mine. I confessed my love for you yesterday, and you told me that you didn’t believe me. It’s clear to me that you’re the most stubborn girl in the world. Thirty times I’ve invited you to swim with me in the pool in the river, and thirty times you have told me, “No, maybe tomorrow.” If you only knew how much I yearn to love you. I reread a poem that Marvin wrote just after he got to Morazán. I identify with it completely.

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Marcela and War Loving Marcela in wartime is like putting a handful of stars in your pockets Loving Marcela in wartime is going for broke letting yourself be ambushed by the unknown. Loving Marcela in wartime is like pushing everything to the limit loving Marcela in wartime is stoking fires that burn hot and exploring the most extreme madness it’s signing reports of passionate battles and retreating without writing a single poem it’s pulverizing your heart with explosive kisses. Loving Marcela in wartime is hating clocks the same way you hate the enemy. The smell of Marcela’s neck wakes me like drinking strong coffee at four in the morning. Marcela’s eyes are like when the Dragonflies go away after dropping sixteen bombs all around you without hurting a soul. Marcela’s lips excite you like the shriek of a 105-mm shell that falls far away but makes you tremble. Caressing Marcela is like drinking cool water in the midst of retreat knowing that you’ve got to keep moving. Marcela is a sign high in the sky a silent black cat. Marcela is a race downhill to the Torola at full speed. Loving Marcela in wartime

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is—at times— another war.

Tancho July 10â•… This week, amebiasis from fruit and water has made a lot of compañeros sick.34 A number of us go for an exam at the clinic, and, after receiving the correct medication, we talk for awhile with the others. Franco is squatting, putting a bandage on one of the wounded. Medium build, indigenous appearance—protruding cheekbones, almond-shaped eyes, a jawbone that ends in a small goatee, smooth black hair, a sparse moustache, and a smile with a missing tooth—this is Franco. “Hey, Franco, we’ve brought you some coffee so that you’ll have the energy to tell us the story of Tancho”:

With pleasure! First I need to tell you that the cantón was pretty populated. Half of the people survived on the little piece of land that they had inherited from their grandparents. Some had a cow and a cornfield; others had nothing. They were tenant farmers who sometimes worked as day laborers. A few rented a scrap of land. That’s how we were living, always fearful of the illnesses that were killing our children before they had a chance to grow up. Half of them died for seemingly no reason at all. Those who knew how to read and write were few and far between. Those who did learn how to read and write did it in the camps when the literacy project began. “How did you start banding together in Tancho?” The first step was a Christian community that came together and formed as a group. Father Miguel Ventura was the one who helped us. We were pretty devoted to the teachings of the Bible, you know? The ones that speak about loving your neighbor and helping one another. Then we said to ourselves that, if we believed in the Christian teachings, then we would have to live like Christians in deed, not just in word. So we decided to form a cooperative to grow food and help with everyone’s needs, all of us working for the good of the whole and sharing what we had according to each family’s needs. But you know what happened? As soon as this began, the authorities began spying on us and spreading rumors that what we were doing was communism. They also said that the catechists were subversive because they 60 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

were supporting communal work, and they began to persecute them. They started threatening the people too. That’s how things were when, in ’79, the police captured two catechists, Napoleón Hernández and Faustino Chicas. They dragged them through the streets of Torola, shot them to death, and threw their bodies down the Chongue falls, where there’s a bewitched pool. A serpent that used to be an Indian princess lives there. Their deaths didn’t demoralize us; they made us want to fight all the more. “And exactly how did it happen that you organized yourselves?” That was toward the end of ’74 when a man by the name of Rafael Arce Zablah came to Tancho. He gave us a talk about why we were living in such an unjust society, how we were being exploited, why a select few controlled all the land, and, well, that before we could do anything about it, we had to get organized. The authorities had already threatened to burn down our houses if we continued the cooperative. So when Rafael spoke to us about the necessity of fighting for our rights, we felt strong. We all believed in what he had to say. After he finished attending to the wounded man, Franco lit a cigarette and smiled slyly. “No .€.€. what happened in Tancho was serious business!” “What happened to the land that the people had?” “The land was passed down from father to son until the rich landowners began to threaten us so that we would sell to them. That’s how they went about taking it from us. Some of us were left with nothing but the dirt under our fingernails.” There’s rage in Franco’s tone as he utters the last sentence. He puffs on his cigarette, and when the smoke dissipates I can see a smile on his face—a face that symbolizes the race that yesterday stood up to the barbarism of the conquest, and today to the seizure of its land and the exploitation of its workers. July 19â•… Today we decided to celebrate the second anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution. We stayed up last night making red and white flags, posters, and banners. Groups of people, soldiers, and militia arrived early to the plains of Agua Blanca. The crowd grew to form the largest group that we have seen in Morazán. Hundreds of compañeros paraded by. They carried FMLN and FSLN banners and chanted, “Farabundo and Sandino, sharing common blood and a common destiny!” Pichinte was the designated speaker, but I also had the chance to say a few



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words. Profoundly moved, I transported myself back to my beloved Nicaragua. In each of the faces of the citizens and soldiers who were listening to me I saw Sandino, Julio Buitrago, and Carlos Fonseca.35 All of them, in one way or another, were in El Salvador to remind us that the fight for the democratization of bread, health, education, and land was one fight, one universal fight. August 1â•… Meanwhile, the Reagan administration continues sending arms, specialists, and financial backing for the formation of special battalions. The first one to be set up is the Atlacatl Battalion, comprising twelve hundred men and commanded by Lt. Col. Domingo Monterrosa, North America’s puppet. August 2â•… Joaquín Villalobos (Atilio) has just arrived in Morazán. He’s brought us new gear—recorders, a sound-mixing board, microphones, and a twoway radio that we will use exclusively for Radio Venceremos. It will allow us to communicate directly with the different fronts. This represents, without a doubt, a technological leap in terms of our work, which, until now, has been accomplished with basic, makeshift equipment. Atilio gives us an update on the national and international situation and fills us in on recently acquired military intelligence. The FMLN has drawn up new plans focused on, among other things, strategic mobile units capable of rapid deployment to any location and with the ability to attack and capture arms and supplies from stationary or mobile enemy troops. At lunch Atilio reminisced about General Torrijos. “On one occasion we were meeting in Panama. He was speaking to us about the inevitable fall of all empires. ‘Don’t you see what’s happening to the Shah of Iran?’ he said to us. ‘He came to Panama after his gringo friends kicked him out. The only thing he brought was thirty-two suitcases—thirty-two suitcases, all that remained of an empire.’” Later, we invite Atilio to see our workstation. He is intrigued by the Radio Venceremos recordings archive we have put together. “It’s unreal that in the middle of a war you’ve been able to keep this in such good order .€.€.” But it was not all praise. At dusk, he met with us again. After having taken the time to consider the role Radio Venceremos plays in the resistance movement, he switched topics to discuss the ideological viewpoint that each of us represented as members of the team. With a firm tone he alluded to the tendency of some of us to feel too important. I felt like he was talking to me. “Remember that in a revolution no one can consider himself indispensable. Social change is not accomplished individually but by an entire people.” August 6â•… Quincho took a tumble into a ravine while he was on a night trip to supervise the logistics of supplying the front. He should rest for a few days.

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Bruno Caballero (Quincho) is one of the founding pillars of the collective work in Morazán. He is currently responsible for supplying the front. He is an incarnation of a certain mysticism surrounding the unrelenting soldier. He’s always active, moving from one point to another at all hours of the day and night with Rudy and Payín. He’s always on top of ensuring that the combatants have boots, clothing, food, and reliable equipment. We receive reports of the assassination of Ignacio Rodríguez, a Mexican journalist who worked for a daily newspaper called Unomásuno. Rogelio invites us to the house where Father Octavio Ortiz was born. He is one of eleven priests who have been killed by death squads. Father Octavio was killed with other young priests at El Despertar,36 a Catholic center in the capital. The army forced its way in and massacred the group in cold blood.37 Rogelio begins the Mass, held in their honor, in a small house filled with locals from the area. Anuar, Octavio’s brother, tells me that in ’78 the farmers in the area had put together a course to improve harvesting techniques: The Cacaopera authority immediately declared us Communists. We didn’t even know anything about politics! All we wanted was to improve the quality of life in this area, one of the poorest in El Salvador. After my brother Octavio was ordained a priest, he came here and told us that the people had a right to organize themselves in order to attain a better standard of living. He said that it was just to fight for our rights and that it was not right to accept the disparity between the rich and the poor as a commandment from on high but as something that sprouts from the injustices sown on earth. We didn’t have schools here, or land to work, or medicine, none of that. We had only hopelessness. So when he spoke to us about organizing we didn’t think twice about it.

Perquín, Road of Embers August 10â•… The army has remained on the defensive during the past four months. Today we begin a new campaign. Our objective is to set up a garrison in Perquín, a small town with cobblestone streets and situated on a strategic high ground. Whoever controls it will also control the northern region of Morazán. It takes an hour to reach Perquín from Gotera traveling along a well-paved highway that winds its way between the Gigante and Pericón mountains. Our forces attacked the national guard garrison early this morning. After a few minutes of combat, the guards abandoned the trenches, taking refuge in the small barracks on the other side of the plaza.



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When we reached headquarters, Atilio was talking about the coverage Radio Venceremos was beginning to have: “The radio has already broken out of secrecy and has become the primary force of political power in Morazán. It’s the soul of Morazán.” The leader of the besieged garrison in Perquín calls for air support to cover his retreat. Three Fuga planes bombard the perimeter but do not succeed in diminishing the guerrilla pressure. High Command makes the decision to bomb the town. One bomb falls to the side of the barracks, killing a child and injuring many others. The siege continues, and the entrenched guards dig in their heels. The enemy has flown troops in by helicopter. So far their advance has been stopped. August 11â•…

The guards give up, and the injured are taken care of in our camps. However, the capture of Perquín is only part of the plan. The thought is to draw in enemy troops in order to hit them as they move in on us. Exactly as was foreseen, the government soldiers who were stationed in Guacamaya come to join those at Perquín. The guerrilleros attack the squad and break it up. August 12â•…

August 14 â•… At noon a column of two hundred troops, flanked by tanks, crosses the bridge over the Torola River, attempting to break our line of defense. That’s where Ángel’s ambush is waiting along with Omar’s and Ventura’s squads. Rafael’s mobile unit makes its first report, attracting the attention of the Radio Venceremos listeners, who hear his colorful narration of the action.

For five consecutive days the FMLN flag flies above Perquín and Arambala. A few kilometers away lies the Jocoatique garrison, virtually surrounded by our forces. While coordinating the units in the zone, Walter, who had been in charge of the security forces for Venceremos, falls in combat. He was the Radio’s champion in the battle that took place at the Sapo River. During Walter’s burial in the Perquín plaza, one of the soldiers said a few words in his memory: “As we gather up our pain during this loss, let us also gather up our joy because we are making progress!” In our camp, Mabel silently mourns the loss of her partner. August 15â•…

While reading, I discover that in the Lenca language,38 perquín means “road of embers.” During the summer, wildfires devour the pine forests, leaving the trails covered with ash and embers. The Radio’s mobile unit broadcasts from Perquín all the political activities that are taking place in the region. The siege of misinformation begins to crumble as the headlines of newspapers around the globe indicate how long the army has failed to retake the position it lost. August 17â•…

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The conversation between Atilio and the thirty-two prisoners is also aired, with Atilio guaranteeing them respect and decent treatment. The soldiers are surprised by the treatment they receive, having been convinced by their leaders that the guerrilla fighters would carve them up alive should they ever surrender in combat. August 20â•… The FMLN announces that its forces will withdraw from Perquín now that it has held the town for ten days and has completed its political and military objectives. When the last of our mobile cooking teams were ready to leave Perquín, the Atlacatl Battalion showed up on the other side of town with all three hundred rifles blazing. You can imagine how the cooks and militiamen who still hadn’t left went racing out of town! In this particular campaign, we place the army’s casualties at eighty-three dead and thirty-two taken prisoner. Our forces also captured fifty-five rifles and two machine guns with ammunition. The attention of the whole world is on El Salvador once more.

Rafael calls me aside because he has something to tell me: “I know that you like Marcela so I wanted to tell you that I’ve fallen in love with her too, but I don’t want us to lose our friendship because of it.” “Of course not,” I told him. “How could you think such a thing? Let her decide, and what will be, will be.” “And if she chooses me, you’re not going to be angry?” “Of course not. Don’t worry about it,” I told him with a lump in my throat. The battle for “Marcela of Troy” begins, and I seek out her company each evening. My heart beats wildly every time she wears that floral skirt with the black blouse that doesn’t entirely cover up her heavenly breasts. With each conversation we grow closer, but Marcela does not show any sign of wanting romance. We’ve come across a buried sword that could be from the eighteenth century. It’s made of steel, apparently from Toledo, and has a handguard. I use it to challenge Rafael to a duel to the death. He wields a wooden sword, and we go at it right in front of Marcela, who is sitting on a stone wall. Without any indication that she is at the center of our rivalry, we begin the fierce and unevenly matched duel. I came out victorious in our display of swordsmanship, but I lost in the battle for Marcela’s love. At dusk Rafael approached me and said, “I know I’m not the best man for Marcela, but I’ve just spoken with her, and she agreed to be mine. Remember: you promised me that we weren’t going to grow apart because of this.” I congratulated him and returned to my hammock, alone and disheartened. In that night’s broadcast I sounded down and out. August 21â•…



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The Fifth Front August 23â•… The government’s political prisoners have gone on a hunger strike to condemn torture. The Radio has also begun an international campaign of solidarity with them. Roger Blandino Nerio (Jeremías) arrives in camp. A survivor of the massacre of the local Democratic Party, he was held prisoner for many years. For a few months he’ll be a part of Radio Venceremos. Roger will make important political as well as ideological contributions to the group. Paolo, a tenacious compa of German origin, also reaches our camp. He has stubbornly poured his heart into El Salvador. The report from the capital indicates that the repression is out and in full force. Taking advantage of the curfew that applies to the civilians, death squads go out on their hunt for human quarry every night. Lately they have murdered forty people suspected of opposing the regime. August 28â•… Today something important has happened: France and Mexico, in a joint declaration, have recognized the legitimacy of the FMLN and the FDR. At the same time, they’ve called for political solutions to the conflict while rejecting the interventionism that undermines the self-determination of the people. The government and the oligarchy reject any type of dialogue. Here in Morazán, ten compas are undergoing medical examinations to see if they’re fit enough to form the first commando unit: Special Forces. In addition to self- defense lessons, they will get technical training in infiltration and assault. This sector’s guerrilla contingency comprises three units. As a result, the Special Forces have been baptized the Fourth Unit. September 8â•… Headquarters reveals the enemy’s plan to destroy Radio Venceremos by using a mercenary unit. We have to take strict security measures. We move the transmitter from its current location and transfer it to a new location where it will be protected by the work of military engineering. The new site’s code name is El Pantano.39 Of course, it’s not deep jungle, not by a long shot. It’s just a hill near a cluster of houses. Today we broadcast a program that was recorded by the political prisoners being held in the Mariona prison. Rafael Antonio Carías recounts his experience with torture, the excruciating pain of hydrochloric acid, electrical shocks, and water torture. The prison becomes another front in the struggle. The Committee of Salvadoran Political Prisoners, COPPES, carries out hunger strikes, confronts police brutality that occurs behind bars, and maintains a permanent campaign condemning torture. This new approach gives the soldiers the right to

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form what we christen the Pedro Pablo Castillo Fifth War Front. Because of her bravery and determination, Comandante Clelia becomes the champion of the struggle for prison reform. October 4â•… Extreme repression has caused 300,000 people to flee their homes. Twenty-six thousand have been murdered, and there are over 200 political prisoners. The military power, behind a civilian façade, guarantees its officers impunity.

Today marks the anniversary of the day Ernesto “Che” Guevara fell in combat. Today we gave a speech built around one of his beliefs: “The Radio is a factor of extraordinary importance: it explains, teaches, enlivens, and identifies future friends and enemies. However, it should at all times be guided by the fundamental principle of this struggle, which is Truth.” October 8â•…

October 10â•… The minister of defense makes it known that his patience has run out, that now a heavy hand will fall on the FMLN. One journalist asked how it was possible for Radio Venceremos to continue broadcasting if it was surrounded by the army. He follows up by asking the minister if the army itself had not declared four months back that it had the situation under control and would soon put an end to the Radio. The minister demanded patience. The cuilios suffer another defeat in Chalatenango. October 15â•… Gen. Abdul Gutiérrez, vice president of the military junta, said days back that they were close to defeating the FMLN once and for all, but today the government’s rhetoric has collapsed. Insurgent forces have blown up the Gold Bridge, which crosses the Lempa River. The bridge was a strategic part of infrastructure for both the war economy and troop movements. The destruction of the bridge has lifted the spirits of the people who have been bombarded with propaganda that tried to make them think that the FMLN was dead. This month, the international press reports that the International Federation of Journalists, which brings together professionals from 109 countries, has awarded Radio Venceremos the Julius Fucik Prize.

Victorino, the Light Within This morning, all of the troops are called together to participate in welcoming the military school’s new graduates. Standing at attention, hundreds of soldiers listen to Jonás: “First of all, we would like to recognize the November 14â•…



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compañeros who have excelled in the completion of their missions during this month. Please step forward: Álvaro, Carmelo, Gustavo, Roque, Alberto, Mario El Chocho, Ismael, Maravilla, Santiago, and Apolonio.” Later, Jonás informed us that a carbine was missing from the workshop. The investigation determined that Victorino had sold it to solve a personal problem: “This is a serious offense, selling one of the rifles for which you all have sacrificed so much, one of the rifles for which many have given their lives. If rifles could be wrung out, ours would sweat blood. And this man has sold one of the weapons with which we are defending our people. This requires that disciplinary action be taken, and I want all of us to decide what must be done. Let me hear what you think.” There was a long, unbearable silence. Victorino hung his head, ashamed of himself. “Well, then, since no one is ready to speak, we’re going to take a fifteen-minute break so that we can reflect on what punishment best suits the offense.” We broke ranks. Maravilla approached me and, with a lump in his throat, said, “They’re going to sentence him to death, aren’t they?” “I don’t know .€.€.” I answered. Victorino is one of the most likable compañeros in Nivo’s workshop. He’s someone who’s good to talk with, a jokester and a great friend. The recess over, we are called into formation again. “I hope that you have taken the time to consider the punishment. What sentence are we going to give this man?” The hundreds of combatants remained silent, still at attention, their gaze lost in the horizon. “Well, if no one is going to say anything, then I am going to tell you what Central Command thinks about all this, an act which is severely punished in a time of war. We believe that a man can receive no worse punishment than what he has undergone before his peers today, a moral lesson, and that if a man has character as a revolutionary, even if he has committed such a serious lapse in judgment, he can straighten himself out. I ask you, should we give him our trust once more?” “Yes!” we all yell. Without taking his eyes off the ground, Victorino gave a sigh of relief and then inhaled deeply, as if he were breathing in new life. I later ran into Victorino. He was blind and missing an arm and a hand because of an accident that occurred while making explosives. But he hadn’t lost the magic that comes from the joy of living to fight for our cause. I was moved by the sight of him when we were face to face. Even though I knew he couldn’t see me, it seemed as if he actually could. He asked about his partners from the workshop, about Maravilla and everyone else. Not once did he 68 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

complain about his situation. He only talked about the advances we had made in the struggle. When we said good-bye, I was moved again, when Victorino said, “Even like this, blind and maimed, I won’t back down. I’m young and I know that I’ll keep contributing to the struggle. Look, I can already read Braille. Do you remember that I used to write poetry? Well, I wrote a poem for Radio Venceremos. Take it; it’s yours.” Then, deep inside me, I heard once more the cry that had gone out from all of us when we placed our confidence in Victorino that day. November 22â•… Today we inaugurate the health school in an effort to raise the technical skill level and number of field medics and noncommissioned officers. Mariposa is disciplined for a small offense at work. Marcela will take her place as broadcaster for a few days. Since the urban command units are in need of handguns, all radio personnel are asked to turn in their Browning pistols. We do so begrudgingly. Rafael is going to be transferred to the southern front. When it’s time to say good-bye, he approaches me sadly, feigns a smile, and says, “Okay, you sorry rascal, look after Marcela for me, you hear?” November 27â•… Morena, a young woman from Morazán, has joined the broadcasting team. She becomes a paragon of work ethic for the team, relentless in her completion of each successive task. She sometimes interrupts us, saying, “Hey, guys, stop the recorder for a few minutes. I’m going to get the fire going for some coffee.” From now on, Marcela will be in charge of the audio controls. A good number of the radio personnel are from Morazán. Toni is an exception. An expert in curing diseased cattle, Toni is also familiar with herbal remedies for every hurt and pang imaginable. He harvests oranges and collects honey in addition to being the captain of La Villa’s soccer team. Now, with his particularly Salvadoran creativity and passion for work, he has become one of the Radio’s chief technicians. Apolonio has taught him how to do minor repairs and has put him in charge of the controls for the morning broadcast. He starts the motor, calibrates the equipment, and monitors the sound quality. Toni has won over the entire camp. Humble and generous, he passes out breakfast fruit and cookies to anyone who happens to be up that early in the morning. We have enjoyed nine months of peace in this area despite the proximity of enemy garrisons.



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Operation Hammer and Anvil December 1â•… Jonás stopped by tonight to inform us that the government’s High Command will launch a large-scale operation of great importance. It will be called Operation Hammer and Anvil. We make the intelligence report known via the Radio at the same time our forces are putting themselves on alert. December 6â•… Coming from the southern command post in Panama, more planes carrying vast supplies of weaponry arrive at Ilopango. Buses transporting troops that have been mobilized and pooled from various points throughout the country are traveling along the Pan-American Highway. The High Command meets in San Salvador. The North American “advisors” are there along with General García, Colonel Castillo, and Domingo Monterrosa, who, in addition to being commander of the Atlacatl Battalion, is the gringos’ “go-to guy.” As we listen to the intelligence reports coming from within the army itself we imagine what could be going on in that meeting. General García speaks during the general staff meeting: “With this operation we will take away the FMLN’s offensive capabilities. We’ll try to kill off their forces and diminish their supply of ammunition and, finally, we will apply enough pressure to cut their supply lines.” “Another one of our objectives is to neutralize the local threat. There are thousands of locals near the camps. If we don’t take measures and act now, then we run the risk that they will become a support base for the guerrillas,” says Domingo Monterrosa. “Advancing on the enemy should be done through penetrative surprise assaults. We must push forward without stopping for any reason, regardless of the circumstances. We must reach their command post and Radio Venceremos. Domingo, you and your Atlacatl Battalion will really have to show your stuff,” Colonel Castillo chimes in. Monterrosa is probably dreaming about the future that awaits him should he succeed in completing his mission. He strokes the small statue of Mars, the Roman god of war, as he mutters a phrase that he’s said in public on several occasions: “Until we’ve done away with Radio Venceremos, we’ll have a thorn in our side!” December 7â•… Groups of helicopters transporting troops to nearby towns begin to fly over our camp. Our defense plan considers the idea of moving the Radio to La Guacamaya. We ready the equipment, loading transmitters and motors onto mules. We cross the Sapo River and, two hours later, we are at our old camp. The enemy

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is advancing from different sides with the intent of closing in on us quickly. We are at a real disadvantage, because transporting the radio equipment makes our movements difficult and slow. December 8â•… Intelligence reports arrive indicating the position of the enemy battalions. Four thousand soldiers are coming at us from eight directions. Their front lines will be formed by units with heavy firepower that will employ a variety of tactical maneuvers to advance and lay siege to our position. Those approaching from the north are “the Hammer”; the battalions to the south are “the Anvil.” Combat erupts on all sides. December 9â•… We remain on alert and suspend all Radio Venceremos broadcasts. Night and day we grind corn to make the tortillas that go out on the backs of the mules headed for the front lines. We feel the increased pressure of the enemy’s north-south advance. The men from the Fourth Unit take one of the Atlacatl Battalion’s positions in an assault, capturing two rifles. We maintain our lines and organize our movement to break the enemy’s siege and outwit Monterrosa’s “Hammer” blitz.

Toni, Montalbo, and Javier December 10â•… At one in the morning we begin the march, quickly passing near enemy lines. It’s dark and we walk slowly, guided by the sound of our footsteps alone. The goal is to cross the Sapo River and take a position near the enemy’s rear guard. But it’s already sunup and we haven’t reached our destination. We still have to make our way through enemy territory in Poza Honda. Suddenly, what we didn’t want to happen, happens: the sun begins to rise over the mountains, revealing our entire column. Toni and Javier head up the pack, carrying one of the motors; Pedro (El Soldado) carries the transmitter. The rest of us have taken the remaining backpacks, recorders, microphones, and cables. The signal to speed up travels quietly down the line. A helicopter flies above but doesn’t spot us, despite the fact that we are on a road with very little ground cover. We jog along, moving down through the brush. “There are the cuilios!” someone whispers. A group of enemy soldiers are silhouetted on high ground, some 150 meters away. One of them is shaking out his poncho. They haven’t seen us. We backtrack because they could pick us off like sitting ducks from their current location. “Forward!” orders Jonás. We hesitate a few seconds without taking our eyes off the soldiers. No one dares move forward.



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“I said forward!” the order is repeated. At full speed, a group of thirty of us moves down through the thicket, dodging in and out of tree cover, while the rest of the group fixes its attention on the soldiers, who appear not to have seen us. We’ll have to cross flat ground, sparsely populated by a few guava trees. We’ll be in a really vulnerable position, because the enemy holds the high ground. We stop and wait for the rest of the group. All at once I become acutely aware of the fact that I’m unarmed and curse the person who decided to ask us to turn in our weapons days back so that they could be sent to the city. Pichinte takes the safety off of his M2 carbine. We try to talk about anything that will make us feel more at ease. “Pichinte, imagine how it’s going to be after the war when we’re on some beach, relaxing, remembering these tense moments.” “Eating fried fish and drinking cold beer,” he adds. An explosion shakes the nearby trees. They’ve spotted us. “Boom, boom!” A burst of fire erupts along with the double blast of G3 rifles. Machine guns and a 90-mm cannon thunder in our ears. At first, chaos breaks out among us as we look for protection among the rocks in the river. Jeremías slips on some moss and takes a bad fall. “Take the high ground!” Sánchez hops over the palisade followed by the Fourth Unit to complete the command. The machine gun fire cuts through the trees as bullets whir by, ricocheting off the rocks. “The enemy’s coming up the river!” They’re maneuvering around the terrain to surround us. We’re caught in a trap. A round of fire cuts down a tree branch, and a bullet cuts through Quintanilla’s palm. I crawl up the riverbed, where I find a backpack. I am surprised when I open it and discover that it’s full of money. It’s the funds to cover war expenditures. Carmelo rejoices when we return it to him. We get the order to advance toward the high ground by taking cover in a small ravine. Lety braces, grabs a vine, and pulls herself forward. The fighting gets tough. After climbing 150 meters we have to run across the exposed hill, right under the enemy’s nose. The first soldiers to cross are easily spotted, and gunfire sweeps the ground around them. A bullet hits Luisito in the head. He staggers and falls into the brush. Blood streams across his face. He appears to be sleeping. We climb hurriedly until we find Mincho behind a rock, taking aim with his M1 rifle while Irra rains down bullets on the enemy with his FAL. Under a tree, we reevaluate the situation. The enemy has blocked our way to Agua Blanca, so we have to take another route. We’ll cross la calle negra toward Meanguera, and 72 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

then we’ll climb El Cacahuatique.40 The sole of one of my boots has come off. Each pebble that grinds into the bottom of my foot makes me swear. We keep moving ahead all morning long with the intention of crossing through enemy lines on la calle negra. We cautiously hack our way through a particularly thorny patch of underbrush. The midday sun makes the heat unbearable. At the prescribed time, the group hangs back while our reconnaissance patrol explores the route. The mosquitoes buzz noisily, stopping their drone only to suck our blood. Ceci closes her eyes and cries from the intense pain of an old food injury. Javier, one of the soldiers who guards Radio Venceremos, shares some candy with her. Toni gets us moving again, walking with difficulty in a crouching position so that the brush won’t knock the motor he’s carrying off his shoulders. We finally reach la calle negra. We tread cautiously, each movement anxious and tense, as the highway once again becomes the line between life and death. We walk a while until we reach the woods that are close to Meanguera. Along the way Quincho jokes about how Radio Venceremos will make light of Operation Hammer and Anvil. After resting for a while, we get ready to move on. Toni puts the motor on his shoulders. Pedro bends over to pick up the transmitter. Out of nowhere, gunfire. The guards open fire against an advancing enemy troop. A unit forms a line to cover our retreat. Servando moves to the front as the group advances up the riverbed. We hear the counterattack break out just as we begin to move. Bursts of gunfire sweep the road. Javier clutches his chest and falls dead. The fighting intensifies. There are explosions, large and small, everywhere. Bullets searching hungrily for skin and bone rip through trees, severing branches. Groans ring out in front of us. Pedro falls to the ground; the transmitter rolls down a slope, tumbling out of sight. We make our way out of the action toward the shelter of a ravine. The column has already fallen back to the same location. When the last of us have passed by a cornfield, we hear Apolonio’s voice: “Help me! Someone is hurt here.” Chilayo and I go back into the underbrush until we find Apolonio trying to drag along a wounded soldier. It’s Toni; he’s seriously wounded. “Leave me .€.€. get out of here,” he tells us. All three of us begin to drag him. His body seems to grow heavier with each step. We lay him down in a little clearing. He’s already deathly pale. Opening his eyes, he does not see us. He opens his mouth and tries to say a few words that he can’t get out. I tell Apolonio that I’m going upriver to look for Eduardo, who can examine the wound. After walking a ways, I don’t find anyone. Fighting breaks out again and intensifies on the high ground. I return to find Apolonio down on his knees, cradling Toni in his arms. Apolonio slaps him lightly on the face, hoping to make him regain consciousness. Then, taking off Toni’s shirt, we realize how bad the wound is. The bullet has penetrated his chest and ripped through his lungs.

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“What do we do?” Apolonio yells. We’re alone. The rest of the group is probably far away by now. Suddenly, Toni summons up all the strength that he has left and rolls over, letting out a painful groan like a person trying to open a door into infinity. We hear leaves crunching underfoot. It’s Montalbo, one of the security-force soldiers for Radio Venceremos. He makes his way to us on his knees, his hands clutching his bloody stomach. “I’m thirsty,” Montalbo says, collapsing into the fallen leaves. The gunfight starts up again with all the clamor and chaos of the end of days. Time stretches out into an eternity next to the two dying soldiers. Montalbo looks around at the birds and trees of Morazán, strangely calm but nevertheless conscious of the fact that this will be the last thing he sees in life. Defenseless and cut off from the rest of the group, we begin a hopeless sprint down the stream. Before sliding down a small slope, the two of us look back in the direction of Javier, Montalbo, and Toni, who will remain in our memories forever as three beloved brothers who gave their lives so that Radio Venceremos could grow and prosper in time of war.

Monterrosa Captures Radio Venceremos We continue at full speed, tripping over rocks and slipping on the muddy trail. “Where the hell are the rest of them?” we ask ourselves. We run into another stream, this one bigger than the one before. We’re lost. We don’t know which path they took. The shoot-out continues on the high ground. We quickly see damp footprints on the rocks and follow the trail. We calm down a bit farther along when we find Jeremías resting against a tree trunk, waiting for the stragglers. We continue upstream, up to our knees in water. We meet Maritza coming from the opposite direction, apparently coming back to look for Jonás, who might not have a radio to coordinate the retreat. I have to be harsh with her to convince her that it is too dangerous for her to go back alone. Soon we establish communication with the other group. Once we have regrouped, we assess the outcome of the encounter: three dead soldiers and the lost transmitter. We’re left without the one piece of equipment that gives life to Radio Venceremos. We walk during the better part of the night, feeling hopeless and griefstricken, tripping over rocks in the darkness. The moon appeared. Breathtaking! With its pale luminance, the moon, the guerrilla warrior’s sun, paints Cacahuatique, our destination, in ashen tones. They’re probably celebrating the capture of the Radio Venceremos transmitter at Domingo Monterrosa’s command post tonight. The colonel must feel quite 74 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

satisfied with himself as he considers the fact that we won’t have the capability of reporting on the countless crimes he will commit against the civilian population. Above all, this blow that he has dealt us will open the door to his muchcoveted dream: to be commander of the Third Brigade. We march all night long, passing close to army units. We cross over the Torola River at dawn and begin to climb Cacahuatique, 1,663 meters high. Our backpacks grow heavy on the steep sections of the climb. We trudge along practically barefoot, our boots worn out and falling apart. Each little rock feels like a hot coal on the soles of our feet. Dina faints, and we have to carry her until we move away from the highway that goes toward Osicala. We’re twenty minutes from the command post of Col. Domingo Monterrosa who, we imagine, is probably stroking our Valiant Viking transmitter and saying, “I’ve finally put an end to Radio Venceremos. We finally got rid of that pain in the ass!” At noon we reach the first camp. It’s situated in a pine forest from which we can see all of Morazán. Columns of smoke rising from the El Mozote zone catch our eye; it seems that the army is burning down houses. Hundreds of families that had refused to leave the area lived there. We finally arrive at the camp where we’ll stay until the battalions abandon the area. A few days back I got into an argument with Apolonio that drove us apart. Now I could see that he was saddened by the death of Toni, whom we both loved like a brother, so I tried to make amends. I didn’t know how to break the ice, what to say to him. Apolonio’s shirt was covered in mud and dark stains, so it occurred to me to say anything to strike up a conversation. “You’re filthy; what you need is a bath.” He looked at me with disgust and answered: “It’s Toni’s blood!” Ashamed of myself, I turned around, convinced that it was not the best time to try and renew our friendship. After two days’ walking, with tensions running high and no food, I laid my sheet out on the ground with the intention of sleeping an eternity. Maybe because of sheer starvation, I began to dream about my grandmother Vicencina and the old Tovar house. I thought about the way it was before the desire to reconstruct the whole thing hit my grandfather Simón. I see my grandmother frying little meat pies in the kitchen while, in the dining room, Sabina covers a banana leaf with corn dough and passes it to Teresa Junco, who tops it with a piece of bacon. Berta adds stewed chicken, Katyna puts on a slice of onion, and Luisana tops it off with some raisins. Mom finishes rolling up the Christmas tamale and binds it with the same kind of thread that, as kids, we used to send kites skyward in the hills near our home. Dad tries a sip of punch while standing in front of a box filled with candy. My food-driven dream is all of a sudden interrupted by December 11â•…



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Ismael’s frantic shouting: “Everyone up, get your things together, the enemy’s coming!” “Goddamn it! What the hell’s going on?” Maravilla exclaims.

Radio Venceremos Goes to the Sea December 12â•… We walk during the early hours of the morning of a day filled with tension over the possibility of running into enemy outposts that protect the San Francisco Gotera barracks. We sleep for part of the day, hidden by sparse, stunted undergrowth. At night we continue the exhausting journey. December 13â•…â•… We walk eight hours down toward the Seco River. We reach a lively little village just as the first few rays of sunlight pour over the countryside. Blacksmiths are busily hammering red-hot iron. Elderly women come to the windows to greet us. The younger girls walk by swinging their hips back and forth in perfect rhythm, a jug of fresh water perched on their heads. They don’t think twice about offering a drink to the thirsty line of soldiers. After a year holed up in the mountains, we are overcome with joy upon entering an area that is this heavily populated. There’s even a bus that goes to the nearby city of San Miguel. We taste the frozen syrup-dipped candy twists and, like Aureliano Buendía,41 we rediscover ice, something we had forgotten existed. We quickly set up a camp, and the locals begin to support us by supplying us with tortillas and beans. Morena seeks out some vegetables, which she uses to prepare her “bring-back-the-dead” soup. Surprisingly, we are reunited with Rafael, my fellow contender in the duel. National Radio reports that the U.S. ambassador flew over the war zone in Morazán, a move that betrays high expectations for Operation Hammer and Anvil. We rest and eat. In the meantime, headquarters determines that the Radio team should move toward the southeastern front in the Usulután department as a security measure until things calm down in Morazán. We are forced to confront what seems to be the death of Radio Venceremos. We’ll have to cross the entire country from north to south, starting in the northeastern mountains and making our way to the coastal region of Jucuarán. December 14â•… Map in hand we calculate that there are some one hundred kilometers of winding pathways bordering on military outposts from our starting point in La Guacamaya all the way to the sea. My tired, aching feet can take no more. Stopping in San Jacinto to eat, I am surprised by the magnitude of local support for our forces. It takes just about ten minutes before the whole town knows that we have arrived. Lamps light up the houses, women get up to make tortillas, and two children bring us a box of batteries while another

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appears with pastries and coffee. We are soon surrounded by a feast of rice and beans. I finally get a pair of boots in my size and can stretch out my stiff, numb feet, which have been tortured by the footwear three sizes too small that I had somehow managed to put on. At sunrise, Ismael gives the order to proceed at a jog. After forty-five minutes, I feel like I’m carrying lead in my knapsack. As I am about to pass out, Ismael moves alongside me and grabs me by the belt, pulling me along like a soul captured by the devil. We pass through several villages before reaching the outskirts of Quelepa. The moon shines on the thatched roofs of the houses. One of the guides tells me that, during the conquest, the indigenous peoples had barricaded themselves in the nearby high ground, Grande Hill, to combat the Spanish. “My dad used to say that Quelepa meant La Piedra del Tigre in the old language,42 and it’s probably true, since over there in those ridges you can see huge rocks with tigers painted on them.” “What’s your name?” I ask. “They called me El Zorro in the camps.43 It’s a pain in the ass to have an animal for a nickname, but I’ve gotten used to it.” December 15â•… During our trek, orders are given and passed along in a whisper from one soldier to the next, but after a number of hours, fatigue and drowsiness dull our senses, and the orders get distorted. The head of the column orders, “Ask if El Cheje brought the bag with the orange radio,” but by the time it reaches the end of the line it’s more like, “Tell them that if they want to, to throw a few oranges in their packs.” Tonight we had to wade through a river contaminated with acidic waste from an agave fiber–processing warehouse. We had to take off our boots so they wouldn’t get wet. Well, the order that began to circulate was, “Take off your boots,” but someone got distracted and changed it so that by the time the message got to the middle of the line it had become “Don’t take off your boots!” Ismael was waiting on the other side of the river, furious about the confusion. Despite the fact that our feet began to ache and burn, the nighttime hike across cotton fields was almost pleasant. The only tense moments came when we were crossing the Pan-American Highway. The road is constantly patrolled by tanks from the Third Brigade, headquartered a mere three kilometers away. To one side was the Chaparrastique volcano. The moon seemed to be emerging from the volcano’s crater like a huge lava coin. We were thirsty for a long time before we were able to drink, because the wells here dry up in the summer. We slept at El Niño village during the day. The locals prepared tortillas and fried pork for us. December 16â•… Early in the morning we make the crossing over El Malpaís, petrified lava that cuts our boots to shreds. Dina faints again; we have to make a



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stretcher of sorts out of bamboo in order to carry her until we reach the coastal highway. While we were resting for a little while, Evelyn slid down and fell over backward into a pigsty. As we were crossing the Grande River by boat, the voice of an enraged Ismael rang out: “Who in the hell is taking a bath!” “I am because I can’t stand smelling like crap .€.€.” Evelyn said almost in a whisper. We reach the foothills of the Jucuarán-Intipucá mountain range at five in the morning. The villagers receive us with fresh milk. They’re farmers displaced from their homes by the landowning oligarchy. We make our way through a rocky passage between the dried-up riverbed of a sandstone stream and reddish boulders that remind us of the distinct countryside near Camirí, Bolivia. As we climb up the ridges in the foothills we come across a number of trenches. After hours and hours of sweating under the hot summer sun, we arrive at El Jícaro, a picturesque village full of dusty roads lined with coconut palms that suntanned children gleefully climb. A little later we arrive at the southeastern front command post, where Commanders Juan Ramón Medrano (Balta) and Francisco Martínez (Gonzalo) are stationed. Federico, Clarita, and Cirilo are also there. We situate ourselves on an elevated spit of land. The intensely blue sea unfolds below us, rocking rhythmically, bathed in gold reflections and white foam. Servando, never having seen it before, stands in awe before the rumble of the Pacific Ocean. “Holy shit! It’s like a dammed-up river!” A group of guerrillas came to celebrate our arrival with guitars and drums. After listening to a ranchera and dancing a cumbia with Evelyn as my partner, we went to bed. Despite the noise and excitement of the celebration that grew as word spread that Radio Venceremos had come to the sea, we were able to get some sleep. The sea breeze filtered in through the cracks in the house, telling us it was time to get up. From the top of a hill facing the foggy ocean, we talk to Gonzalo, a young leader from humble beginnings who has a natural and flowing intellect. He tells me that he is from the Chaparrastique volcano region and that he joined the organization when he was fourteen years old. He has helped set up an infrastructure for the entire eastern region. The clarity with which he speaks about international politics impresses me. We walk around the village where the various workstations have been set up. With the pride of a farmer displaying a thriving cornfield to a visitor, Gonzalo takes us down the different paths, stopping every so often to tell us about each station. In the kitchen, Guandique fries the freshly delivered fish, while at the tailor’s shop they make impeccable olive green pants. Farther along, another December 17â•…

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group is printing propaganda. Local children, notebooks in hand, make their way to school while, on the soccer field, new soldiers receive training. In a nearby workshop, craftsmen are making basic weapons. In another house, a squad of recently inducted women listens intently to a lecture. The roads teem with conscripts and their mules laden with corn. Farther back on the road, a boy spurs along a donkey loaded with new boots for the soldiers. The first camps were barely established a year ago, but the southeastern front has already been secured. Similar consolidation occurs in Chalatenango, Usulután, San Vicente, and Cabañas. Everywhere the new power grows stronger. The radio communications base receives a message from Morazán: “The Atlacatl Battalion has massacred one thousand civilians in an area comprising a number of cantones and villages.” At first, we thought it was a mistake, that a massacre of that magnitude wasn’t possible. But the initial reports were confirmed: a thousand murdered. The necessity to condemn this act obligates us to bring the Radio back to life. We dig up the new transmitter that we stashed here in reserve. The fantasy of lying in a hammock between palm trees, microphone in hand, gazing out on the ocean that has been reignited by the warm sun and the smell of the sea: “This is Radio Venceremos, broadcasting from the liberated coasts of El Salvador!” Bloody feet and aching bodies beg for rest, at least two days of uninterrupted sleep. But dreams are only dreams. A new message calls us back to reality: “The Radio Venceremos team and equipment should return immediately to be in Morazán by the twenty-fourth of December!” When they give us the news, we don’t know whether to cry about the long return journey that awaits us in our state of exhaustion or laugh because Radio Venceremos is back from the dead.

Return to Morazán December 19â•… The new transmitter is a little bigger and heavier than the one that we lost, but it has a greater output, so we’ll be able to reach Central America and the Caribbean with greater coverage. To transport it we find a tall mule with strong legs. Members of our team with badly injured feet will remain here in Jucuarán for a few weeks; the rest of us prepare our packs. Before we leave, Gonzalo appears with a few M2 carbines and gives them to the Venceremos team. “Take these, you deserve them!” he says with the characteristic tip of his broad-brimmed hat. At last, we have our first rifle! From the very beginning Ismael alerted us that we would be moving out at



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double time and that there would be no break. We left Usulután department and in one night’s walk entered San Miguel, dragging our feet. Ordinarily, it would have taken us two days to cover the distance we covered the night of December 19. Once again we skirt the volcano, cross the Pan-American Highway, and rest in the cotton fields. I fall into a deep sleep. After half an hour’s rest, we continue the trek. I chat with Rafael, who will rejoin the Radio team. I reach up to balance the weight of my pack on my shoulders. I stop dead in my tracks when I realize that I don’t have my rifle. I have to return to where we rested to look for it in the midst of the jokes and laughter from the rest of the group. December 20â•…

At dawn we pass through San Jacinto. The local population comes to their doorways to greet us. The bus blows its horn announcing to its passengers its departure toward San Miguel, the nearby administrative city for this department. We want to take a long, refreshing bath in the stream, but Ismael keeps repeating over and over again, “Guys, we have to hurry it up, we’ve got to get there by Christmas.” We continue toward the Seco River, resting during the day in a lively village. I don’t think I can keep going. My feet are killing me, and my will is broken. December 21â•…

December 22â•… I don’t want to remember climbing Cacahuatique. It was a hellish ascent filled with cold sweats and fiery leg cramps. Ismael ordered us to take the transmitter off of the mule for a while since it was looking tired. He gave me the reins to lead it, but the bastard was more like a Sherman tank maneuvering up the slope, hauling me along as if I were a feather. Seeing myself pulled along in such a fashion, I waited until the others had gone ahead and then mounted the mule and rode until dawn. December 23â•… We finally reached the high ground on Cacahuatique. Later on, we had the pleasure of meeting up with some compañeros in Limón. Along the road we said hello to the girls who passed by, carrying baskets filled with recently harvested coffee beans. December 24â•… Throughout the early morning hours we made our way down a ravine that was witness to a number of spectacular falls. In the darkness, each step was a brilliant balancing act on the rocks. We tumbled more than we walked. Every few moments you heard the clink of a rifle against rock. Sheer exhaustion and my ragged feet plunged me into a state of extreme dejection. I tried to take my mind off the difficulties of the journey. I discovered

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that under these circumstances it was possible not to think of how heavy my pack was or how many kilometers were still left before we would reach our destination. I found that the best thing to do was to think about pleasant things, like remembering you, Verónica, naked, that night when we made love time and time again, with me sitting on the cherry-colored bench, with you astride me, whispering in my ear, “I love you so much.” We passed through the Osicala cemetery, a few blocks from an army outpost. When we reached la calle negra, we found Sánchez at a security checkpoint. He gave us a “welcome back to our territory” greeting. At noon we were already back in our El Zapotal camp. An hour’s walk away, the army has set up a new military base in La Guacamaya. After two weeks of silence, Radio Venceremos rises again this twenty-fourth day of December to announce that within two days we’ll be back to normal, broadcasting daily. Tonight has been sad. It’s at these times that I would like to speak with Marcela. How am I going to tell her that Toni has died? When will she arrive? This is the loneliest Christmas in the history of loneliness itself! To top it all off, a black hen that we cooked ended up being tasteless and tough. On the other side of the river, one thousand bodies are all that is left of a strategy that the Pentagon has called a low-intensity war. It’s estimated that twenty-six thousand have been murdered by the armed forces in 1981 alone.

The El Mozote Massacre December 26â•… Radio Venceremos is back into its daily broadcast routine. We give an assessment of military operations and information concerning the massacre. We still can’t provide conclusive reports since the army is watching over the area. Preparations are made to launch an attack and expel the intruders. The forced marches, hunger, and wounds have taken their toll. They’re the “anvil” onto which the “hammer” has fallen, crushing the soldiers’ psychological well-being. December 29â•… A decisive attack on the enemy base situated deep within La Guacamaya is successful in rooting out the army. The enemy suffers numerous casualties. We capture seven prisoners and seventeen rifles. The leader of the unit, Lt. José Delgado Escobar, refuses to lay down his weapon and surrender, committing suicide instead. This incident confirms the necessity of sending out more messages to the armed forces reiterating our policy of respect for prisoners of war. The definitive capture of this territory has cost us the lives of three soldiers: Elmer, Serapio, and Edwin.



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December 30â•… After the army is driven out of the area, we get the mobile team’s equipment ready to collect testimonies and accounts of the massacre. As we get closer to El Mozote, an eerie sensation comes over us: deathly silence where there was once the soft hum of children playing and women making rope. The stench of death assaults the senses. Servando, the soldier who’s with me, covers his nose. “The vultures are eating the dead,” he says to me. The plaza is deserted, in complete disorder. There are broken plates, shredded straw hats, religious vestments, papers, and pieces of bloody clothing everywhere. Taking my camera out of my bag I photograph a solitary tricycle in the middle of the street, something that symbolizes for me the intense tragedy that has unfolded here. We enter the church. Microphone in hand, I go about describing the scene: desolation, benches ripped apart, statues of the Virgin full of bullet holes, a headless saint, walls riddled by machine gun fire. Scattered about the floor are shoes, I.D. cards, dolls, a daguerreotype, combs, baby bottles, bras, and tattered clothes. A chalk skull is drawn in the confessional along with an inscription: “Atlacatl Battalion. Hell’s angels.” We leave the church and make our way to the side. The convent has been destroyed; under its ruins lie buried bodies. I tremble when I see an arm sticking through the rubble, hand extended skyward as if, in the agony of death, it had begged for help without receiving it. In a house with a fallen-in roof, a civilian searches through the debris that has buried a number of children. “I’m looking for my four children; I’ve been looking for them for two days. My God, look at what they’ve done! What did we do to deserve this?” The man’s cry tries to bring his dead back to life. We go house by house, finding in each one cruel, gruesome acts. The cord that was used to hang him remains wrapped around the neck of a child who was barely a few months old. On a street corner we find Doroteo, a farmer from La Joya who was able to save himself by hiding in the underbrush. He watched how the army gathered all the people up only to gun them down in cold blood:

At around seven in the morning on Friday, the eleventh, the soldiers came to La Joya .€.€. to kill people. First were Lorenzo Gil and his six-month-old baby; then they grabbed a bunch of women who tried to escape and pushed them together at Sotero Guevara’s place. They ripped off their clothes and did horrible things to them. At Santiago Chavarria’s house, they found 27 dead, mostly women and newborn children. They blew my mother’s head off, raped my sister, and then killed her and her three children. She was also pregnant with another. I watched as the soldiers went into Patricio Díaz’s house and pulled out four children. They tied them up, killed them, and 82 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

burned them. They all ended up as black as coal. I couldn’t believe what was happening. Children were crying for their mothers. I saw a soldier go mad with rage. He was chasing a child around. The kid was kicking wildly. The soldier stabbed the boy, but the child didn’t die. Then he covered the boy’s mouth to suffocate him, but he still didn’t die. Finally, the soldier shot him. We have counted 193 dead in La Joya alone; 133 were children. Anastacio Chicas is a survivor who records his testimony for all of Radio Venceremos to hear: “I was able to escape because I was weeding when I heard shots fired. I hid in a cave. The soldiers killed my wife, María Martínez, and all of my children. One was ten, one was five, and the youngest was just two years old.” Sebastián, sixty-one years old, is another survivor who relates his version of what happened: Look! This is the store that belonged to Marcos Díaz. They killed him, his wife, Rosa, and their four children. Even the fact that he had done military service as a patrolman in our cantón couldn’t save him. That’s the house of Moisés Claros. They killed twenty children there. Over there is Israel Márquez’s body. He was more than eighty years old and dearly loved. A hard worker, he did more than anyone during the construction of the church and community house. He was a longtime member of the Partido de Conciliación Nacional.44 Even families with sons in the army weren’t spared. Servando and I continue examining the ruined city. The majority of the houses have been burned. We find hundreds of 5.56-caliber shell casings from North American M16 rifles all over the ground. Passing by the last piles of rubble, we find a box of machine gun ammunition among the charred bones. The inscription reads “NATO.” We ask ourselves, “What is North American Treaty Organization ammunition doing here?” The same horrific scene repeats itself in the villages of Rancherías, Los Toriles, La Joya, Poza Honda, El Rincón, El Potrero, Yancolo, Flor de Muerto, and Pando Hill. More piled-up bodies of massacred civilians line the patios of the homes. Children still cling to their mothers, even in death. Their skin looks like parchment. The vultures indulge in a giant feeding frenzy while the heat of the sun intensifies the unbearable stench of death. There is a charcoal-etched inscription on a table: The Atlacatl was here. The daddy of subversives. Second Company. This is where these sons of bitches met their fate,

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and if you still haven’t got the balls just ask us for them. We’re hell’s angels, and we’ll be back. We want to finish off the rest of you. Later we manage to get a disturbing account of what happened from a survivor: “Your name and age?” “Rufina Amaya Márquez, thirty-eight years old .€.€.” “Can you tell Radio Venceremos how it all happened here in El Mozote?” On the twelfth they arrived and began pulling people out of their houses at five in the morning. They lined us up across from the chapel. They held us there. The children had to endure the cold. From there they took us to the houses, locking the men inside the church and the women inside the home of Alfredo Márquez. We were there without food or water. At two in the afternoon they led all the girls out into the hills and sexually abused them until six in the morning. Then they killed them and burned the bodies. At noon they killed the men. I saw it all from a window where they had us locked up. They beat them and then murdered them. The Atlacatl soldiers tortured the men so they would give up their pistols, but since none of them had any weapons, they were tortured for no reason. They didn’t deserve to die. First they took out the old women to kill them, Margarita Márquez, Vicenta Delfín, Aurelia, Bartola .€.€. elderly women at least eighty years old who could no longer get around.€.€. .” “How did you manage to save yourself?” When they came and got us to tie us up where they were going to kill us, I got behind an apple tree and finally hid behind some pineapple plants. I stayed there, holding some of the foliage in front of me. The killers passed by and didn’t see me. Then they killed all the women. I was able to see when they finished murdering them and burning the corpses. I heard someone say that Lieutenant Ortega ordered that the children and everyone else be killed. There were a few soldiers who said they didn’t want to kill children. Ortega told them what would happen to them if they didn’t. They took the women and children, killed and burned them. They said that they weren’t going to leave until everyone was burned up. They were afraid spirits might come out of that place. Not one person got out of there alive; they killed my four children and my husband, Domingo Claros, who was almost blind. Cristino was my little boy; the girls were Lolita, Lilian, and my newborn, Isabel, just eight months old. 84 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

After collecting a number of testimonies we confirmed that Col. Domingo Monterrosa along with his North American advisors had been to the site of the massacre. Monterrosa tricked the people, telling them that they had to gather in the church because the Red Cross was going to help them out of the area. One of the officers who showed the most sadistic tendencies was Maj. Jesús Natividad Cáceres Cabrera. Totaling up the list of victims taken from each village, the death toll was confirmed to be a thousand civilians, including hundreds of children. At nightfall we abandon the ghost town without so much as one house left standing or the faintest whisper of human activity in its streets, as if an earthquake or some horrible hurricane had swept away everything. Depressed by the horrific visions burned into my mind, I walk along, tripping over rocks, my movements shaken by a strong wind. In between our bouts of overwhelming grief and our complete powerlessness to change the outcome of such a crime, the only thing that lifts our spirit is the knowledge that our lives have meaning as long as we commit ourselves to the fight that seeks to end this sort of injustice at its source. When we reach camp, Servando passes out and we have to put him in bed. Eduardo prescribes a week of bed rest. “It’s the spirit of death!” At least that was the conclusion of Mama Lola. According to popular belief, the spirits of the dead, for whatever reason, possess the living. I didn’t experience any peculiar symptoms other than choosing not to eat roasted meat at dinner. I don’t think I’ll eat it again for some time. The smell of it calls to mind disturbing memories. December 31â•… Radio Venceremos initiates a war of words to condemn the genocide. The Voice of America keeps quiet about the whole thing. The president appears on the television to say that the reports regarding the massacre and the hundreds of names that Venceremos lists are all part of a plot to decry government politics that respect human rights precisely at a time when the North American Congress is debating whether or not it should send military aid to El Salvador. Inertia and misinformation serve, for the time being, to hide from the world what has happened during Operation Hammer and Anvil. Tonight Radio Venceremos broadcasts the Mass that Rogelio offers in memory of the thousand killed in the massacre. His homily is filled with optimism and hope for the future. While we are sharing a piece of sweet bread and some coffee among ourselves, Rogelio remarks, “Who would have thought that, on this day, the thirty-first of December, the only radio station to broadcast a Mass in El Salvador would be that of the FMLN?”



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At midnight, 1981 draws to a close. Standing next to a stone wall, I stay with Marcela as she mourns her brother Toni. Notes

1. Francisco Mena Sandoval was an officer in the Salvadoran Army who changed sides and joined the FMLN during the first Final Offensive in January 1981. He went on to play a key role in training the ERP guerrillas, particularly the large-scale combat units— the Rafael Arce Zablah Brigades—as well as elite Special Forces units. He tells his life story and explains his decision to change sides in his autobiography, Del ejército nacional. 2. In the original text, “Holy shit” is “Coño chico, ¡qué maravilla!” Consequently, Hernán’s nickname, Maravilla, which comes from this expression, has not been translated. In the literal sense, it translates to “miracle.” However, because this is an interjection, it is more similar to an English interjection such as “holy shit” or “damn,” which expresses surprise in reference to the preceding statement. 3. “Plomo” means lead or “bullet.” Radio Venceremos will be firing informative “rounds” throughout the listening area. 4. Frente Democrático Revolucionario (FDR—Revolutionary Democratic Front)—a Center-Left-leaning civilian opposition political organization founded in April 1980 that sympathized and was closely associated with the FMLN but was not directed by it, as the Salvadoran government and army High Command claimed. Its principal leaders were kidnapped and killed by a death squad in November 1980. For more information on the FDR and its first president, see the biography of Enrique Álvarez by John Lamperti, Enrique Álvarez Córdova: Life of a Salvadoran Revolutionary and Gentleman (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2006). 5. Roberto D’Aubuisson (1944–1992) was a former army officer who founded the right-wing ARENA Party in 1981. He was elected as a deputy to the National Assembly in 1982 and, as a result of ARENA’s success in that election, he became head of the National Assembly. He ran for president in 1984, but was defeated by the centrist candidate, José Napoleón Duarte of the Partido Demócrata Cristiano (Christian Democratic Party, PDC), which was backed by the U.S. government. ARENA won four successive presidential elections between 1989 and 2004. D’Aubuisson is widely believed to have been the mastermind behind one or more death squads, and the U.N. Truth Commission named him as the party responsible for ordering the assassination of Archbishop Romero. He died in 1992 of cancer. He remains the iconic founder of the ARENA Party, whose contemporary members balance carefully their celebration of him while trying to separate themselves from his ties to terrorism and death squads. 6. The Torola is a small river located in the Morazán department. 7. El Soldado translates to “the soldier.” 8. Junquillo is a city located in the northeastern corner of San Miguel department, close to the Honduran border. 9. The Butcher of Junquillo. 10. The Fouga Magister is a 1950s French two-seat jet trainer. The Salvadoran Air Force acquired nine Fouga Magister aircraft, version CM-170, from Israel. Santiago is most likely referring to the Douglas C-47 Skytrain, a military transport developed from 86 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

the Douglas DC-3 airliner. In this case, the planes were equipped with machine guns that were fired by the crew. 11. The PRC-77 was a portable VHF-FM combat-net radio transceiver used to provide short-range two-way radiotelephone voice communication. 12. Los Torogoces was a folk music group in Morazán made up of ERP guerrillas. 13. Lyrics to a song by Los Torogoces. The Spanish reads, “Vos sos el Dios de los pobres, el Dios humano y sencillo.€.€.” The use of “vos” suggests a degree of intimacy since it is a familiar form and, in this case, “sencillo” implies “simple” in the sense of divine serenity/simplicity. 14. Literally, Day of Solidarity to Commemorate the Death of Óscar Romero, who was assassinated on March 24, 1980. 15. The Arava was a light STOL, Short Take-Off and Landing, utility transport aircraft built in Israel by Israeli Aircraft Industries in the late 1960s. 16. The original Spanish title is “Calle negra, bala en boca.” “Calle negra” refers to the tarred road climbing up to northern Morazán from the departmental capital, San Francisco Gotera. “Bala en boca” (bullet in mouth or shot in the mouth) suggests that crossing the road or maneuvering along it was particularly dangerous for the guerrillas because it was exposed. 17. Ketalar is derived from Ketamine, an anesthetic. 18. An M79 is a type of grenade launcher. 19. Like Augusto Sandino in Nicaragua, Farabundo Martí (1895–1932) is the namesake of the guerrilla movement in El Salvador. He was a leftist activist in the 1920s and early 1930s who was arrested in 1932 amidst preparations for a peasant uprising in western El Salvador. Considering him an instigator of the revolt, the Salvadoran Army executed him. 20. Mariposa means “butterfly.” 21. Ana Guadalupe Martínez was an ERP commander during the war and an active mass organizer prior to the war. In 1976, while walking on the highway near San Miguel city, she was kidnapped by plainclothes security officers and incarcerated for seven months, during which time she was subjected to torture. After being released, she bravely described her experiences in a nearly 500-page book, Las cárceles clandestinas en El Salvador: Libertad por el secuestro de la oligarca, which was first released in 1978 in pamphlet form and then published in book form in Mexico by the Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa in 1980. It has been reprinted many times in Mexico and El Salvador. 22. In El Salvador, chelito (chele for short) is a slang term that refers to someone who is fair-haired or light-skinned, either a Salvadoran or a foreigner. 23. In El Salvador, the rainy season, “winter,” is roughly May through October. 24. Ligas Campesinas roughly translates to “Peasant Leagues” and refers to an organization of peasants who joined the opposition against the armed forces. 25. Ligas Populares were similar to Ligas Campesinas but more general, to include the Popular Front, which likely included organizations based in urban areas. 26. “Patoja” means “lame” in Spanish. As with the majority of nicknames in Spanish, what could be taken as derogatory by U.S. standards is seen more as a term of endearment in the Hispanic culture. 27. An escuela de menores is a school for small children, like kindergarten.

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28. The national bird of El Salvador, the torogoz, has blue-green coloration and a long, prominent tail. 29. Ilopango is the air force base located on the eastern side of San Salvador. 30. In Italian, “I want a woman.” 31. In Spanish, “to bathe” is “bañar,” spelled with the “ñ” as prescriptive Spanish orthographic norms dictate. The “ll” sound (/j/) roughly mimics the “ñ” sound in Spanish, as both are palatal. In English, the “y” sound of “you” most closely approximates the Spanish /j/. Consequently, it is understandable that “ñ” might be replaced by the combination “nll” in spelling since this alternative spelling would closely mimic the actual pronunciation. 32. YSKL, a Salvadoran radio station, is commonly shortened to KL. 33. Literally, The Decision to Win, but more figuratively, The Will to Overcome. 34. Amebiasis is an infection with, or diseases caused by, amoebas, most likely from contaminated water. 35. Carlos Fonseca (1936–1976) was a Nicaraguan teacher and political activist who founded the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (Sandinista National Liberation Front, FSLN) in 1961. He was killed in the mountains of Nicaragua fighting troops of the Somoza dictatorship. Julio Buitrago was another Sandinista founder who was also killed before the Sandinistas overthrew Somoza in 1979. 36. El Despertar means The Awakening. 37. This refers to an act of military repression on January 20, 1979, at El Despertar, a Catholic home for retirees. Father Octavio Ortiz, then thirty-four years old, and four young seminarians were murdered by soldiers at that location, and their bodies were then run over by a tank. Archbishop Óscar Romero went to the military morgue to identify the bodies, but the damage to them was so extensive he found it difficult to do so. It is said that this event affected Romero deeply. 38. The Lenca are an indigenous people situated in the western highland regions of Honduras and in eastern El Salvador. 39. The bog. 40. El Cacahuatique is a volcano located roughly in the center of Morazán department. It would eventually mark the southern end of guerrilla-controlled territory. 41. Aureliano Buendía is a character from Cien años de soledad (A hundred years of solitude), by Gabriel García Márquez. 42. Rock of the Tiger. 43. The Fox. 44. Partido de Conciliación Nacional, or Party of National Conciliation, was founded in 1961. This was the political party of the military regimes that ruled El Salvador between 1961 and 1979. It remains an active, albeit minor, political party today.

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1982



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The Cave of Passions January 1â•… After an exhaustive investigation of each affected town, the Radio produces a list of victims. The international community is reticent to believe our reports on the magnitude of the genocide. Some attribute it to propaganda aimed at deterring the North American Congress from approving military aid. January 7â•… Drawn to El Salvador by our outcries to the press, Raymond Bonner, a journalist for the New York Times, and Alma Guillermoprieto, a correspondent for the Washington Post, come to the area to gather testimonies and photographs concerning the El Mozote Massacre. The North American embassy retaliates against the publication of their respective reports, applying enough pressure so that Bonner is immediately removed as a correspondent in El Salvador. At dusk we pay homage to Luis Hernández Ramos, a young compañero who was killed when the army ambushed us at Poza Honda. His schoolmates carry his body on their shoulders, and from this day forward the school is named in his honor. I was surprised to see Susan Maicelas, a North American photographer who put together an excellent graphic display on the anti-Somoza movement in Nicaragua, among the journalists at the ceremony. Maravilla begins to tell Marcela wild stories and bring her sweets to cheer her up. When he appears to have won her over, Marcela shies away. I’d never seen him so distraught. I was happy in a cruel sort of way, first, because I wasn’t the only heartbroken one, and, second, because I was stubbornly clinging to the hope that she would love me. January 13â•… After seven hours of combat our forces take Jocoatique. We capture twenty-eight rifles from the enemy. The Washington Post and New York Times correspondents were astonished that the FMLN was able to take such a heavily fortified position, which seemed impregnable. January 22â•… Our sister station, Radio Farabundo Martí, goes on the air in Chalatenango.1 We awaited the arrival of this new addition to the FMLN with much expectation. We have dealt the enemy’s misinformation campaign a telling blow. We propose setting up contacts, working with our sister Radio to facilitate the exchange of information and political news. January 27â•… We return to La Guacamaya after having driven out the enemy. Each time we change camps means starting the process over and setting up again. We enthusiastically arrange the house where the kitchen and

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the security team dorms will be. In an adjacent house we set up the press and propaganda workshop, and it’s not long before we hear the familiar hum of the typewriters and the relentless noise of the mimeograph. Thirty meters behind the house is a cave ideal for withstanding air raids. We position the radio transmitter and sound booth inside it. The lush vegetation reaching up to the rocky peak near the cave gives the whole scene a magical quality. We have baptized this place the “Cave of Passions” based on the strange, intense sensations that a number of us have experienced there. To get there, you have to pass along a path carved into the rock and bordering a small cliff. There’s a swift stream below. To cross the stream, you have to walk on a big board. It’s like you’re crossing over the moat of a medieval castle. Then you go up a limestone stairway that leads to the entrance, and, bending over a bit, you step down again. The cave is three meters wide and five long. Anyone who showed up at around six this evening would have observed the typical setup. At the head of a long table, like a queen at the helm of a spaceship, Marcela sits in front of the mixer, controlling the volume of the microphones and popping in a cassette of background music. Her soft fragrance, the scent of olive oil soap, always stirs me up a bit. Mariposa corrects the Plomo Informativo news report, Maravilla writes an article, Pichinte goes over the editorial, and Rafael puts the finishing touches on the Workers in Arms section. Morena pieces together the war information while Apolonio, to the side of her and in front of the transmitters, is checking their output and making sure everything is in order. I’m ready and waiting in front of the microphone to begin the program by announcing that this morning the FMLN has destroyed 70 percent of the enemy’s air units in an assault on the Ilopango air base. At one in the morning, those living in the capital were awakened by a deafening noise. FMLN commandos had infiltrated the air force base. They got past the base’s defense system, comprising minefields, barbed-wire fences, and mobile patrols. The soldiers made it all the way to the aircraft. They managed to destroy six Fouga Magisters, eight Ouragan, eight Iroquois helicopters, six C-47 aircraft, and one antiaircraft gun, all in one lightning-fast raid. The operation was designated Martyrs of a Heroic Morazán, vindicating the contribution of the thousand massacred at the command of Domingo Monterrosa. The whole thing was a real morale booster for a beaten and downtrodden people, and it confirmed that the FMLN is intact, growing, and progressing in its fight. The blow unravels North American plans that place added strategic importance on aerial assaults aimed at containing the insurgency. Alexander Haig promises to restore the destroyed aircraft with others that are more modern. When we finish the broadcast, we’ve lost our voices because of all the excitement over this victory. I stayed with Marcela, helping her gather up the cables and cassettes. Lately, I’ve seen her beneath the trees, sad and tearful.

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At night the cave is filled with the gentle rumble of the stream, and the candlelight wraps everything in its soft glow. We finished picking everything up. My leg brushed up against yours, Marcela. I felt your warmth. I guided my hand to your long, dark hair and teased it playfully. I made a move as if to grab a notebook and turned your face toward mine to steal a kiss. You remained motionless, not saying a word or giving any indication of how you felt. Maybe you’re going to slap me? Maybe we were going to devour one another with kisses? No. Nothing. You were completely silent. “What do you want me to do, Marcela? I’m dying to be with you,” I told you. You remain wrapped up in that particular silence that’s not a yes but it’s not a no either. You draw a little design in your notebook while I smoke a cigarette, taking long, deep drags as if I were breathing a part of you into me. Mama Lola calls for you outside. She’s brought dinner. You get up and go out. Your delightful smell, like a distant sea, remains in the Cave of Passions. Your whimsical mannerisms, sometimes sweet, sometimes stubbornly violent, stay there too. As you go up the rock staircase, your green dress momentarily reveals your thighs, bathed in the flickering candlelight. As I lie there alone in my hammock staring at the moon, I can’t stop thinking about your soft thighs. Overcome by desire, I do the only thing a desperate man can do in such a situation: I masturbate. January 31â•… A group of guerrillas crosses the Torola River and takes Corinto in a flash of fierce combat. On my nightly visit to the hospital I meet a recently arrived young German doctor who is sweet but shy and yearns for affection. Her name is Sara. She plays the guitar and is constantly sipping one cup of coffee after another during the group’s nightly conversations. I noticed that she takes particular care when treating the wounded. We begin to call her Carriño,2 because when she tries to pronounce the word she doubles the “r” sound. February 5â•… An explosion rings out from Nivo’s shop while they are making antitank bombs. Two workers die, and Amarales loses a hand in the accident. The doctors stop the bleeding and proceed to carry out a complicated medical operation with an equally complex name to restore the circulation in his arm.

Having completed numerous missions outside of El Salvador, Carlos Argueta (Chico) arrives in Morazán. He’s an important director, experienced in coordinating political work all over the country. Chico, the youngest leader in the organization, will be Venceremos’ resident politician. February 9â•…

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Pichinte sets off toward Guazapa to lay the groundwork for the coming urban initiatives.

The Fortress of Happiness February 10â•… Along with Marcela I am going to interview a child who survived the El Mozote massacre. When we get to the new location of the elementary school, we are surprised to find an incredible fortress built by the children in the middle of a wooded coffee plantation. Wood houses with galvanized tin roofs are spread throughout the area, each housing two or three kids. Sitting beneath a large kapok tree, a group of first graders is listening attentively to their teacher’s lesson, while others read in a small library adjacent to the kitchen house. At noon classes end, and a noisy crowd of children line up to get their portion of meat and vegetable soup. During break some go to cut sugarcane, others to scale trees, some try to snatch honey from beehives, and still others race on a soapbox-car racetrack that they’ve set up on the slope of a steep hill. They’ve ingeniously fashioned racers that they launch at full speed from the top of the embankment. When the car hits a muddy patch, if the driver is not an expert, it flips over in spectacular fashion, leaving the two crew members covered in mud, much to the delight of the young spectators. Marcela smiles. Right now there are 160 children in school. Just by watching them it’s easy to see that they have a strong bond and an interest in learning. They show no signs of arrogance. Of course, pranks and misbehavior are not entirely absent. I invite you, Marcela, to have some sugarcane. I cut the best for you, and you sip the juice like a little girl with a sweet tooth and talk to me about when you were a child and how there was a festival in your town. I hear you but I’m not listening to you because I can’t stop thinking about how much I love you. My blood is surging through me like one of those swelling rivers. I want to kiss you again, and I do at the exact moment when a group of rambunctious kids shows up. We return to school, and all of the students are already listening to the broadcast. The ones in the back throw pebbles at the ones in front, and every once in a while a paper airplane flies overhead. February 22â•… Something strange happened at Sensembra. Very early in the morning a patrol of “national guards” that had been captured by our forces appeared in our camp. At the head of the unit was an impeccably dressed lieutenant. He and his men were immediately received by the local commander, who offered them coffee. The sixteen “guards” were none other than the compañeros from the Fourth Unit and their brilliant leader, Lieutenant Favio.



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Key to the planning of the operation was Commander Eleno Castro (Carmelo), who told the prisoners, “You are all free because we aren’t like the army that tortures and kills those whom it captures. But consider how you are going to take advantage of this gift. Stop fighting against the people.” Capturing the patrol meant sixteen more rifles for us. February 26â•… The sixth class graduates from the military school. There will be celebration all around El Mozote. In the camps hundreds of young men and women have already taken great care in bathing themselves and washing their scuffed-up shoes in the stream. They have mended the leather and agave straps on their equipment. The young compañeros who are in love have put on the better of their two shirts, hoping that “she” will go to the dance. The Torogoces’ voices, violins, and guitars can already be heard:

Come on everybody, it’s time to have some fun along with this group, that’s grown so popular We’re going to let loose and have a dance or two with The Torogoces of Morazán. The lamps light up a sea of faces moving up and down in rhythm. The compañeros jump up in what appears to be almost a hiccup followed by a to-and-fro rocking movement of their elbows, left then right. Their feet glide easily through a series of uncomplicated steps. At the end of February, there in Guazapa, thirty kilometers from the capital, the ninth enemy operation has been defeated. In the sixteenth century, this area was a stronghold in the indigenous people’s fight against colonialism. Because of its present-day heroism, we, rightly so, dub the place “Guazapa, an arrow to the enemy’s heart.” We watch the election campaign on our tiny television. The Voice of America characterizes the whole thing as a lesson in civic responsibility and virtue, even though the contending politicians exhibit the exact opposite. Adolfo Rey Prendes accuses Roberto D’Aubuisson of being a murderer,3 and the latter produces a check proving that the former is a thief. March 1â•…

March 2â•… We move the camp a kilometer to the west. We have to be closer to the command post. Upon digging the air raid shelter for the transmitter, we find human bones and a burial vessel with drawings that resemble a bird with catlike paws. As we inspect the high rock wall that stands adjacent to our broadcasting station we discover pre-Columbian markings, ochre hands half-hidden by moss. In front of the microphones during the nightly broadcast, with this

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expression of mystical Lenca magic right in front of us, we sense a link between the indigenous people’s struggle and our own. When the moon shines on the drawings I have the distinct feeling that those reddish hands tattooed on the rock are pushing on the world itself. The FMLN raids three cities: San Miguel, San Vicente, and Santa Ana. The military contingent that was guarding the bridge over the Torola River in Morazán was run off. Nivo and his team used one of the bombs dropped by the air force to scatter the enemy. March 8â•…

March 14â•… After a five-year absence, Father Miguel Ventura returns to Morazán, and the news spreads like wildfire throughout the countryside, where everyone remembers him fondly. Miguel joins Rogelio and a group of young Christians doing pastoral work. March 15â•… Guazapa forces invade the capital and fight with the army in Cuscatancingo. By reporting on the action live, Venceremos makes a technical advancement that has important political repercussions. The FM signal was broadcast in the direction of Guazapa from the streets of San Salvador, and from there it was retransmitted toward our camp. Under Chico’s guidance the Radio experiences a sort of renewal. His downto-earth sensitivity complements a sharp political vision. Everyone appreciates his compassionate attitude toward dealing with all of our problems. More than just a team leader, he has been a friend. Every time he talks about his son Carlitos, his voice takes on a tone of nostalgia. March 26â•… From one of its ships in the Bay of Fonseca, the North American government has started emitting a noisy, crackling signal on our frequency to interfere with Radio Venceremos broadcasts. To counter their interference, we go on the air with another signal using an output amplifier and the radio that we use to communicate with the other fronts. It’s quite contradictory that a nation that proclaims itself the champion of liberty resists an open discussion of opposing ideas, choosing to try to drown us out rather than refute our arguments. A number of journalists visit the Radio, among them correspondents from France Presse and Der Spiegel. March 28â•… We hear fights erupt at various points south of the Torola River before daybreak. Combat ranges across three-fourths of El Salvador, including the capital. What goes on in Usulután is unprecedented: the FMLN remains in the city, confronting elite army troops for seven days. Commander Gonzalo and Martincito fell in combat. Both were bold and heroic.



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Our expectations remain unfulfilled; there is no local rebellion. The people are unable to overcome the trauma caused by the genocide they have witnessed. Electoral fraud is evident. Military agents who support ARENA work the ballot boxes in voting districts to control the outcome. The High Command’s inability to carry out voting in a high percentage of municipalities points to the fact that a twofold power exists in El Salvador. April 3â•… Ventura’s squad tried to take control of a difficult position in Jocoatique without any ground cover that would facilitate their advance. A wellplaced machine gun prevented them from completing their objective. We suffered sixteen casualties, and a number of soldiers were injured. Two new compañeros who will join the Radio are with us: Marianita and Marvin. Marianita is Mexican. In time she will fulfill multiple roles: broadcaster for the news segment, audio controller, literacy coordinator, and, later, political analyst for the zone. Marvin immediately shows that he is very agreeable and easy to talk with. He has the typical Salvadoran sense of humor. He constantly refers to his little girl, Michele. We talk about the poetry of Suárez Quemain; he worked with him during his stay at La Crónica, a newspaper, before it was blown up by a death squad. Marvin, the skinny, daydreaming poet, becomes part of the broadcasting and scripting team for Venceremos. For years we share with him all the work, the despair and victories, the doubts and discoveries, the disputes and friendship.

Hell in Poza Honda Under the name of Torola I, the enemy launches an attack against our bases. A line of soldiers attempting to advance toward our camps is attacked and contained in Poza Honda. We get our equipment ready to set off toward the combat zone. All of the security force soldiers want to go, but Jaime decides that Irra will accompany me. Lucas goes too, prepared to compile a graphic report. We arrive at dawn, and, microphone in hand, I waste no time in starting my report. “This is the mobile unit of Radio Venceremos, broadcasting from Poza Honda, where the FMLN has thwarted an attempted armed forces advance. Right now we count seventeen dead soldiers .€.€.” Irra steps away from me and yells: “Careful .€.€. an enemy soldier!” With that he leaps over the fence and, falling next to the soldier, disarms him with one foot and immobilizes him with the other. April 26â•…

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Holding out the microphone to continue reporting, I approach the enemy soldier: “What’s your name?” I ask. “Santiago Santillana,” he replies, frightened. “Are more troops coming?” “Yes, the Atlacatl Battalion is coming from that direction.” He tells me that when he was wounded in the leg, his officer left him. A member of our medical team gives him first aid. While we are moving him to the clinic, we run into Manolo. The prisoner greets him: “Captain Mena Sandoval!” It happens that the soldier was under his command in the Second Infantry Brigade. After talking with the young man for a while, we have the impression that sooner or later he will join our ranks. (And that’s what happened; he would later become the literacy instructor, would take up with Ada, and they would have a child.) On the walk back to camp, Irra is beaming with pride since we have a solid report that we will broadcast tonight on Venceremos and a prisoner of war captured by the mobile unit. Passing by the clinic, we observe the operation that is being performed on Alejandro, who was seriously wounded in the abdomen. In spite of the doctors’ heroic efforts, Alejandro dies. That night we visit Lucas in the room he has set up to write his book. He tells me that it will be a testimonial about what he has experienced with the FMLN. He mentions the civilian uprisings in the capital and the organization’s movement through Guazapa and Jucuarán to solidify the people’s power in Morazán. Lucas adds that his plan is to publish it in the United States to expose the grave mistakes that the U.S. government continues to make in Central America. April 27â•… We set off again, Chendo and Lucas at our side this time. Lucas asked to go along to photograph and document the combat. It takes us an hour to reach the battle lines. We situate ourselves next to the 50-caliber machine gun. We see the enemy unit, some six hundred meters away, advancing with the intention of taking this high ground. Geber aims and fires the machine gun. The deafening rattle leaves us dumbfounded and the smell of gunpowder fills the air. There, below, the enemy scatters, with soldiers running to protect themselves behind whatever they can find. Their artillery tries to shut us down, raining down cannon fire that falls nearby. Lucas and I run toward a trench and jump in head first. I have the bad luck of hitting myself in the mouth with the barrel of my rifle. I confirm that I have a broken tooth and, to top it all off, I fell on a fresh pile of feces. Today has literally been a shitty day. An hour of silence passes, something that is not at all comforting. It’s an indication that the infantry is closing in on us. Lucas takes copious notes,



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meticulously documenting every detail in his notebook. At noon, the enemy hurls itself against our lines. The compas drop back in stages. Pale and weary, a whole squad retreats. “Be on your guard; the enemy is advancing,” Vitel tells us. Toward the Las Marías River, where El Ché’s squad is fighting, the gunfire is constant. “Wait for me. I’m going to take some pictures,” says Lucas. “Stay here,” I tell him. Impulsively, he steps out of the trench. “I’ll be right back; I won’t be long.” “Get back here, Lucas!” I yell. But he’s already heading down toward the action. Crouched and running, he disappears into the trees. A few minutes later I hear an explosion followed by bursts of gunfire. A group of compañeros carrying a portable 90-mm cannon appears. Farther back, more soldiers carry two wounded. They’re Vitel, his arm torn to shreds by shrapnel, and Lucas, with a bullet wound to the stomach. Pale faced, Lucas looks at me as if he had been up to some kind of mischief. “We took a 90-mm cannon from them, but the ones who were coming from behind got me!” he says with his gringo accent. We move him to the nearby camp, where Julio attends to the wounded. When we examine Lucas, we realize that the bullet has pierced his intestines. “Water .€.€. give me water please .€.€. I can’t take the thirst,” he says squeezing my hand. Julio makes a “no” sign. With this type of injury, it’s not a good idea to give him any liquids. I wet his lips with a cotton cloth. Lucas takes an I.D. card and ten colones out of his pocket.4 “Take it. The soldier had it .€.€. buy some cigarettes with the money.” His forehead is covered in sweat, his blue eyes dilated. We send him to the hospital to be operated on immediately. Helicopters blast us with machine gun fire, trying to weaken our lines. On the way back we find the path spotted with drops of Lucas’s and Vitel’s blood. Today, a bullet sent by Reagan has seriously injured a North American who is fighting side by side with Salvadorans because he believes in the ideals of George Washington. We find a pleasant surprise on one of our trips: Commander Ana Guadalupe Martínez (María) has come to Morazán. “What’s up, guys? What’s with all this intense combat?” Her presence, along with the troops being pulled from all over the country, marks the start of a strategic concentration process that will produce some fierce battles. Ana Guadalupe will help run Radio Venceremos for a few days. 98 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

We were with Lucas late at night while they were suturing the holes in his intestines. I was amazed by the amount of blood and his open abdomen. We trust that his strength will help him to survive. April 28â•… We move toward El Zapotal, aware of the possibility that the army might attempt to advance on our camps. While we’re crossing the river, we see that Lucas is dying. His heart can’t hold up, and it stops beating forever. A wave of sadness comes over the camp tonight. The chess pieces, illuminated by the wind-blown flame and firelight, seem to make one last move that will have no counter. Lucas’s journals, written in English, are open there, waiting to be bound into the book that had cost him his life. April 29â•… A column of fighters arrives from the southeastern front, joining the aggregate of troops. Vitel’s arm had to be amputated. We went to the hospital to cheer him up, but he was the one who cheered us up. With his remaining hand, he squeezes my own and says, “One arm can do the work of two. I’ll still be useful in the fight.” May 1â•… To commemorate International Workers’ Day, there is an attack against the paratrooper battalion that has encroached on our territory in Las Mesas. Ché’s squad crept up under machine gun and rocket cover, reducing the enemy to a line of men crouched behind a rock embankment. We would have been able to take out the whole squad if there hadn’t been a coordination error. We need more experience. When we got to the combat zone, the compañeros were collecting captured rifles. We came across Miguel, the squad’s politician, on his way to be treated for an injury. He yelled at us, “I’m going to be bored stiff in the clinic. Bring the chessboard when you come.” May 5â•… Workers from the Ministry of Public Labor are on strike. Other unions have taken to protesting once more, even amid the repressive political climate in San Salvador. May 24â•… We move the transmitter back to La Guacamaya, where food and supplies are being stored again. More personnel with experience in television broadcasting arrive to cover the upcoming military campaign. Among the newcomers are Carlos Latino, a Colombian journalism student, and Augusto, a Mexican filmmaker and photographer. The Radio Venceremos System project is expanded in scope. In addition to the radio broadcasts, it will establish an information framework to facilitate the production of movies, magazines,



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newspapers, and posters. The system will also work to form a network of news stations on different continents to broadcast daily news and reports by radio. May 28â•… The order is given to pool forces in order to carry out an important political act. Hundreds of compañeros move along the streets in the middle of a festive atmosphere. Mules loaded with pineapple, sweets, bread, and other treats converge in the middle of an open field near El Mozote. Throngs of people come together to share hugs, laughter, and conversation. Units stand at attention to sing the national anthem. Just a few short years ago it would have been hard to imagine that hundreds of guerrilla fighters would be able to come together anywhere in this small country, a few kilometers from military garrisons. At the head of the guerrilla formation are María (Ana Guadalupe), Jonás, Luisa, José, and Balta, followed by Carmelo, Chico, Quincho, Memo, Manolo, Juan, and Melo at their sides. We take our seats to listen to Balta’s political report. Then we listen as Jonás stresses the importance of being more disciplined. Before concluding, he adds that we are preparing for a strategic victory over the enemy. We will lure enemy forces to Morazán in order to kill them and to capture the weapons that we need. The fast-approaching day of this operation is dubbed the Commander Gonzalo Campaign.5 Ana Guadalupe steps forward to hand Licho the flag that the strategic unit will carry into combat. She is so excited that, without meaning to, she reveals the real purpose and secret of the plan: “We hope to see this flag flying over Perquín soon.” Licho takes the flag among deafening victory cheers. Later that night, fires illuminate the darkness where soldiers celebrate with meat braised over an open flame. It’s been a joyful day, full of good omens and friendly get-togethers. June 3â•… In short, the plan consists of surrounding the enemy garrison in Perquín and staging hit-and-run attacks. However, the column that was supposed to initiate the operation today didn’t do so. Because of a communication mishap, Licho didn’t receive the message ordering him to commence the attack. That mishap will delay the operation.

The Battle of El Moscarrón Today marks the start of the Commander Gonzalo Campaign. It begins with the first shots fired against the army’s outposts. The plan is not designed to immediately seize control of the town, but, rather, to lay siege to the area, forcing them to call for reinforcements. Ché advances with his unit from June 5â•…

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the western and northern flanks. The squad responsible for attacking the barricades runs into trouble. Wounded in the fighting, Guillermo is captured by the enemy. They castrate him before killing him. At eight in the morning, the senior officers begin to panic, telling their superiors that if reinforcements don’t arrive soon they will abandon their position. It’s not long before seventy soldiers scuttle out of the garrison, fleeing down a dried-up riverbed. The plan falls apart when enemy troops abandon Perquín, and High Command doesn’t hurry to send backup. Around noon we see a number of helicopters drop off troops in San Fernando, concentrating 250 soldiers there. The enemy moves forward with the intention of running the FMLN out of Perquín. But instead of taking the Casablanca route, where an ambush has been laid for them, they unexpectedly take the highway, run into Cirilo’s unit, and retreat to San Fernando. They dig in and prepare for a fight. The enemy doesn’t make a move for two days. Our plans have gone awry. Headquarters decides to surround the 250 soldiers who are in San Fernando to lure in reinforcements. Live reports are broadcast from Perquín, where groups of civilians and guerrilla fighters gather in the streets. As the afternoon wears on, Ana Guadalupe gives a speech about the political and military importance of these particular fights and calls for people to join the struggle. One bit of news makes everyone happy: High Command has sent 450 troops broken into three companies to Morazán. They’re coming along the Torola–San Fernando route, trying to cover the ten kilometers separating them from the besieged San Fernando garrison. From the top of El Moscarrón an observation unit reports that it has had the first run-in with the enemy and has suffered a number of casualties. As night falls, the enemy command decides to wait until morning to continue the trek. In the meantime, all of headquarters is huddled around a map to make a quick adjustment to the plan. A group of one hundred combatants is put together to march toward El Moscarrón under the command of Claudio Armijo (Chicón). June 10â•… We begin the march through moonlit pine forests at midnight, happily trudging through a light drizzle that slowly soaks our clothes while the cold night sinks into our bones. After four hours of walking, we arrive at dawn, just as a helicopter tries to land to assist the enemy. The compas mount such an attack that the helicopter takes considerable damage and is forced to pull back. We are able to listen in on the radio communications of the pilot: “My copter! They’ve blown off some cowling! I’m returning to base!” We situate our command post on a small hill some three hundred meters from the line of fire. At eight in the morning we hear more enemy communications.



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Lieutenant Dubón tells Officer Carranza, “These are some damn fools in front of me. I’m going to give them everything I’ve got. I assure you that I’ll be in San Fernando with you by noon. In the meantime, keep your men’s morale up!” Microphone in hand, we start describing the action. Along with Irra, we close in on the battle line. The compañero who died in combat yesterday appears to be sleeping against a fence off to the side of the path. The soldiers pop up from the trenches, firing in bursts. Leo aims and fires; Quique directs a burst of machine gun fire at a group that’s trying to push forward. Elmer and Ché harass the rest. Mortar rounds explode around us. The earth trembles as if a huge herd of gigantic cattle were stampeding by. The last of the projectiles lands close to Alcides, who is thrown out of his trench by the shock wave. He writhes in pain, doubles over, and vomits blood. Two compañeros carry him back toward the rear guard, where Sonia begins attending to his injuries. We calculate that in some areas there is an eight-to-one ratio of enemy soldiers to guerrilla fighters. Servando, hidden behind a thick pine, fires at any soldier who pops his head out. “How’s it going?” I ask him. “It’s fucked up. If I hadn’t ducked so fast, a bullet would have split my head in two.” A group of soldiers advances on us through the bamboo. Spotting them, Elo throws a grenade. They respond in turn with sweeping machine gun fire that clips the top of the trenches. “Damn it!” Anito yells. “Someone’s hurt here; get a medic!” Ché orders. Maritza crawls over with the medicine pack. With just a flicker of life left, Anito scrunches up his face in pain as the medic applies pressure to a wound that’s gushing blood. Two planes dive toward our troops, but their first bombs fall behind the hills. Lying facedown, we press ourselves down as hard as we can, trying to flatten out our bodies in the hopes of avoiding the bomb fragments. The air raid is unsuccessful because we are too close to the enemy. Bombing us now could kill their own men. Manolito has sniped off a number of enemy soldiers, sending himself into a state of frenzy. He yells, “What’s the matter? What happened? Why aren’t you messing with us like yesterday?” The enemy answers his taunts with a well-placed grenade that wounds him in the shoulder. “Son of a bitch! Those fucking fags are getting smarter.” Listening in on a conversation between two enemy officers, we realize that 102 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

they are in dire straits. Dubón reports, “Look, a unit already checked out the riverbed, and when it gets dark we’re really screwed. The ‘birds’ aren’t going to drop us food or ammunition because the pilots are afraid to fly around here.” Chon passes by us on his way to a medical post and, despite his bloody face, he seems happy. “You already know what you’ve got to say tonight on Venceremos: We’re winning the war!” With that he continues down the path as if he were a boxer stepping out of the ring. Even though his face is beaten up, he’s won the fight. Four mobile medical posts have been set up to treat the injured. After receiving preliminary treatment and assistance in the combat zone, the combatant is quickly transported to be examined by a doctor. In contrast, the injured enemy soldiers are dying for lack of medical attention because their pilots have been refusing to touch down in the area for the last twenty-four hours. Three helicopters appear, firing their machine guns through the mist that has begun to cloak this winter afternoon. Venceremos captures the sound of the machine gun fire. We try to imagine the thoughts and feelings of each student or worker listening in on the action. An enemy calls out from behind the rock wall, “Come on, you pussies! If you’re man enough, come get me. Here I am, Sergeant Barahona!” Ilbio provides cover fire for Cañizales, who hurls a grenade. After the explosion, Sergeant Barahona is not heard from again. We go with Licho and Chicón, moving along the line of fire to talk with the combatants. Two commanding officers deserted in the middle of the fray. By nightfall we’ve taken the first prisoners and captured weaponry. By the end of the second day of the Battle of El Moscarrón we have almost entirely cut off the enemy. The command post is moved to a nearby house for the night. It’s raining constantly, and the cold sinks into our bones. In a small room Chicón sits in front of a map of the zone, his tall, slender shadow cast on the wall by candlelight. The floor is covered with sleeping compas. They look like dogs huddled next to one another to stave off the cold. June 11â•… The fight is on again. Hernán and his men are hidden among the enemy’s rear guard, awaiting the order to attack. Cibrián clips the machine gun ammunition into place, and Cárcamo orders his squad to take cover when he hears the sound of planes approaching. Hernán tips his black felt hat and lights a cigarette. “Arnulfo and Melo!” “Yes, sir!” they respond in unison. “Get your squads ready and make sure that they understand the political significance of what we are about to do.” Licho appears, sweating, and asks, “Hernán, how do things look on this end?” “All good over here. And in your area?”



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“Good. Listen up. Soon we’re going to go flat out. Let’s synch our watches. At eleven we’ll initiate the assault. We’ve got to finish this once and for all, so you’ll have to take control of the high ground in the enemy’s rear guard. I’ve already got that stream well covered since that’s how they’ll try to escape.” While we wait for the signal, we have a cigarette with Will, who tells me about what a soldier experiences in the moments before launching an attack on the enemy: “Look, no matter how much experience you have, you’ll always have a little pang of fear. It’s like a rush of blood or something because you know that, when the time comes, you could die from a mistake in the initial push or from an enemy bullet that has your name on it.” Colacho explains what went on last night. “We were keeping guard, you know; just in case they tried to escape down the riverbed. Suddenly, we saw a big band of soldiers right on top of us. If it hadn’t been for the few grenades that we hit them with, they would have run right over us. There were a ton of them. You tell him, Jaime. Tell him what happened to you.” “Well, a big storm hit us hard, and it was really dark. I spent the night in the riverbed so the damn fools couldn’t attempt an escape through there. Well, I was there with my sleeping mat on top of me, trying to stay dry, when I heard something like a rock tumbling down and something hit me. I felt a pull on my rifle, and it kept pulling. It turns out that it was an enemy soldier who had bumped into me and his rifle had gotten tangled up with mine. We fought, but I could see only his face in the lightning. I pushed him hard and opened fire. At daybreak we combed the riverbed and found a pile of rifles and an M60 machine gun. That was pretty good,” Jaime concludes, laughing. Three artillery helicopters appear from the west and fire indiscriminately. Encouraged by their presence, the infantry makes one final attempt to break our lines. Will’s section is the one that faces the onslaught, and, for a brief moment, it seems as if they’re going to break through. Dozens of soldiers hop over the rock wall, barreling toward the trenches, but the compas open fire on them and force them to retreat. At 11:10, the thunderous sound of war breaks out all around us. The tactical assault has begun. Hernán and his section drive out the troops that were guarding the last hill. Ché does his part, moving his men forward. Francis manages his sector, and Will maintains the lead positions. Tino runs through the lemon trees, blasting away at anything that gets in front of him and hoarsely yelling, “Here comes the FMLN!” There’s a gap in the rock wall. When enemy soldiers pass through the exposed section of the barrier in an attempt to escape, our snipers pick them off. The siege intensifies, with each unit moving rapidly to complete its objectives. Groups of soldiers throw down their weapons and put their hands up to indicate their surrender. Others refuse to give in. 104 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

“You’re going to kill us,” one soldier says. “Nothing is going to happen to you. We aren’t murderers,” a compañero responds. By noon combat has grown sporadic. But gunfire and yells ring out off to the side of the road. When we get closer, we see that there is a military officer among the prisoners. We prepare our microphone and recorder: “Your name and military rank?” “Lt. Rafael Romero Romero, commander of the support company,” he replies. “Tell me, Lieutenant, what’s your take on the combat that’s just taken place?” “Look, from what I’ve been able to observe, here in Morazán the guerrilla fighter is taking the war very seriously.” A medic bandages Romero’s wounded leg. Another soldier stands there, staring off into the distance. He’s a young lieutenant, recently trained in the United States with the Belloso Battalion. Our soldiers scour the zone for weaponry. On the hill where the command post is located there is a growing pile of rifles, mortar rounds, machine guns, grenade launchers, military radios, and thousands of rounds of ammo. Irra and I go over the desolate battle field, counting seventy-six dead soldiers in this area alone. A never-ending line of combatants hauls the captured weaponry and brings in the forty-two prisoners of war. A helicopter shows up at five in the afternoon, firing wildly despite the fact that everything is already over. Sitting in the grass next to a fig tree is Lieutenant Romero, wrapped in a cloak, his gaze lost in the tiny stream of water flowing between his boots. With everything finished we set out on the return trip. The recent rains have turned the roads into rivers. It’s difficult to make any headway in the dark, but the soldiers are ecstatic as they recount tales of combat bravery to one another. Slogans mix with claps of thunder as we begin to realize that this battle marks a fundamental turning point in the course of our struggle. The mist gives an air of serenity after the battle. We visit the field hospital to do a report on the prisoners of war. The first thing that catches our eye are the delicate movements of the medics as they suture or bandage the soldiers who hours before were aiming to kill us. The first person we interview is the lieutenant trained in the United States. “What’s your name?” I ask him. “William Reinaldo Sánchez Medina.” “And where did you receive training?” I continue. “In Fort Bragg, North Carolina.” “Who were your instructors?” “The North Americans.” “Do you know why they named your battalion after Ramón Belloso?” June 12â•…



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“I don’t.” “You don’t know that Belloso was the Salvadoran general who led the Central American armies in battle against William Walker?” In an adjacent room, the doctors amputate Leo’s leg, which has been destroyed by gangrene. June 13â•… The army’s High Command tries to cover up the battle results, denying the Venceremos report concerning the capture of army officers and soldiers. Nor does it recognize that the FMLN has been in control of Perquín for nine days. The chief of staff, Flores Lima, announces that he has sent four thousand troops to Morazán to retake Perquín and aid the units in San Fernando. We patrol the kilometers of highway under our control. When we reach Perquín, we see that trucks loaded with weapons and injured troops from Elmer’s squad are coming and going. Mules carrying sacks of corn and beans are lined up in front of the stores, Rogelio is offering Mass in the church, and the locals are making bread, tamales, and quesadillas. The new Dragonfly A-37 planes that the Reagan administration has just turned over to the regime dot the skyline. At first, we are terrified by their impressive rate of fire, their swift bombing descents, and the thunder of their rockets. June 16â•… The new planes bombard the lines that are laying siege to San Fernando, but we’re able to hold our ground. The enemy battalions that advance toward Perquín are ambushed en route, and we wear away at them over time. We set up the mobile unit near the battle lines at the center of Cururo. We speak with Carmelo, the commanding officer in this sector, while the enemy hurls mortars at us to weaken our stronghold. June 17â•… The four thousand soldiers attempting to advance to the north fail time and time again in their efforts to break our lines, despite the previous air raid and the mounting artillery fire we’ve had to endure. All around the hills of San Fernando our forces hold their positions and continue to blast the enemy. Suddenly, a helicopter begins to descend toward the village while the compañeros look on in amazement. Readying their rifles, they open fire when it’s within range. The craft gives a quick jerk, loses altitude, and crashes noisily into the trees. “We got ’em! We got ’em!” Alejandro yells as the compas watch two crew members escape into the woods. Searching the remains of the aircraft, Alejandro finds two dying soldiers. They live only a few minutes after being pulled out of the twisted wreck. Jonás, José, Balta, Luisa, Mariana, and Ana Guadalupe are gathered around the radio at the command post, listening in on a conversation between two

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enemy officers. Colonel Méndez (Hierro) communicates the latest bad news to Colonel Domingo Monterrosa (Carlos). “Carlos, it appears that the bird that went to San Fernando has crashed. Over.” “The one carrying the deputy minister?” “Affirmative. Near where they were staying. Over.” “Close to our command center?” “Right. Look, I was thinking that, since there’s a paratrooper squadron in Torola, maybe they could move in toward San Fernando and rescue Colonel Castillo.” “If three companies couldn’t break through, I don’t see how one can. It looks easy enough on paper, but it’s not so simple. It’s another thing entirely from the ground.” Shouts of joy burst forth from our command post. The enemy’s predicament grows more complicated by the minute. The three battalions attempting to break through are eight kilometers from the downed helicopter. However, 250 soldiers are no more than a few hundred yards away, but their morale is too low to attempt a rescue mission. The men who searched the pockets of the dead army officers found a document that identified one of the dead as Col. Francisco Adolfo Castillo, deputy minister of defense. The question that remains to be answered is, Who were the two officers who were able to escape when the helicopter crashed, and where are they? During the evening broadcast, we read the report indicating the death of a military officer whose personal belongings identified him as Colonel Castillo. June 18â•… The siege intensifies as guerrilla squads invade San Fernando from all sides. After confirming that the air units will not provide supplies to his outpost, Colonel Carranza de León makes the decision to flee to Honduras, leaving the base in the hands of the FMLN. Since the war of 1969, no Salvadoran troops have entered Honduran territory. The three enemy battalions in the north of Jocoatique fail in their attempt to push toward Perquín. Holed up in the trenches, our combatants evade the barrage of bombs and shells aimed at them in quantities unlike anything they’ve seen before.

The Incredible Return of Colonel Castillo June 19â•… Several compañeros dressed in recently captured military garb are making the trip between Azacualpa and San Fernando. Suddenly, they hear a sound in the bushes. “Halt, who goes there?” one of them yells. A short, bald, fat man appears from out of the underbrush and joins the



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group. “Thank God I found you. For a second, I thought that you were guerrillas,” the man explains. Ernesto (El Púas) astutely responds in an authoritative tone, “We’re with the armed forces, and you, identify yourself.” “I’m Col. Francisco Adolfo Castillo. I’ve been lost for two days since they shot down our helicopter. Take me to the commanding officer.” The compañeros are surprised to have come across the man they believed to be dead. “Listen, I don’t believe that you’re Colonel Castillo. You’re a subversive,” Ernesto says, continuing with the ruse. “Take me to your superior. He’ll recognize me.” “Right, forgive me but you’re going to need to hand over your rifle.” “Fine, take it,” the colonel says in a resigned tone. “I’m going to tie you up and you’ll have to take off your boots. It’s just a security measure until we identify you.” The squad moves Colonel Castillo to San Fernando and from there to Perquín. When he wakes up and walks out of the house where he was sleeping, Chicón is waiting for him. “Colonel Castillo, you are a prisoner of war of the FMLN. As such, you will be treated with the respect and dignity that are due you,” Chicón announces unceremoniously. The colonel does not snap out of his state of shock upon seeing himself surrounded by guerrillas, civilians from Perquín, and our movie team’s cameras. “How is your injury?” Chicón inquires. “It’s just a scratch on my forehead,” Castillo responds. “Give him some food and see that he is examined by the doctor,” Chicón orders. A scene quite uncommon to Perquín unfolds along its streets: the deputy minister of defense sits astride a mule, escorted by a group of soldiers. “Mom,” a child yells, “they say that he’s the second-in-command of all the army!” When he heads down the route to Arambala, the deputy minister is only two kilometers from the spot where Domingo Monterrosa and his four thousand men have failed for seven days in their attempt to advance. After speaking with the deputy minister, a number of our questions are answered. It turns out that one of the men killed in the crash was actually Colonel Beltrán Luna, chief military officer in Morazán. The confusion came about when, moments before escaping from the crash site, Colonel Castillo put his personal documents with the other military chief. The pilot fled toward Honduras. By the end of phase one of the Commander Gonzalo Campaign in Morazán, the government’s army has suffered around two hundred casualties, including 108 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

forty-four prisoners of war. We have also captured 127 rifles; 15 support weapons, counting mortars, machine guns, and 90-mm cannons; 8 military communication radios; and 35,000 rounds of ammunition. The minister of defense tries to deny the numerous setbacks and defeats, but Venceremos’s battlefield broadcasts coupled with Colonel Castillo’s interview are able to overcome the military’s misleading reports. Major newspapers and journals all over the world are talking about the strategic upset that has occurred in El Salvador from a newly organized collaboration of forces. The FMLN declares a shutdown of all types of transportation, and our forces seize control of a number of villages in Chalatenango. We’re on high alert since we don’t know if the thousands of soldiers concentrated to the north of Morazán will be rerouted toward our camps in an effort to rescue the deputy minister. Enemy troop movements have been spotted. June 24â•…

June 30â•… One battalion advances from Joateca and another from El Mozote, attempting to trap us between them. We postpone today’s broadcast in order to move from El Zapotal to La Guacamaya. Just as we start the move, we hear an intense gunfight between the Belloso Battalion and the compañeros whose job it is to hold them back while we cross the Sapo River and set up in La Guacamaya. We go on the air at six in the evening, ecstatic over our recent victories. July 1â•… The night trek is slow and tedious. Unable to cross la calle negra before daybreak, we decide to rest and wait for nightfall. We had fallen into a deep sleep when a string of explosions startled us awake, sending us into a panic for a moment. We quickly evacuate the area, believing that the enemy is working to surround us. During the march they hurl mortars at us. One falls close to Luisa and María but doesn’t explode. We receive word that it has to do with an unexpected run-in with the airborne battalion that is trying to escape. Their plan was to head out through the north of Morazán as quickly as possible since their commander is seriously injured. What was expected to be a long march over several days turns into a walk that ends tonight, thanks to the High Command’s sheer incompetence. We go back to our camp at La Guacamaya and sleep peacefully. This incident marks the end of the counteroffensive that was thought to be the army’s response to the Battle of Moscarrón. The battalions pull out of Morazán.

Ana Guadalupe July 2â•… Around midmorning, two Dragonfly planes drop five hundred– pound bombs on the abandoned Radio Venceremos camp in El Zapotal, across



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the Sapo River. One left a substantial crater just a short distance from where the transmitter had been. Preparations are made to expand toward the northeastern region, which includes La Unión, San Miguel, and Morazán departments. We bump into Ana Guadalupe near the river. She talks to us about her childhood spent on the coffee plantations of Santa Ana, and, as always, we end up chatting about her favorite historical figure, Simón Bolívar. Ana Guadalupe is able to see the key to understanding and unlocking the complexity of each human being. She is brave in the face of adversity, as she demonstrated when confronted with the reality of imprisonment and torture. But at the same time, if approached by a goose that might bite at her, she becomes a helpless, frightened little girl. Because of the luck that seems to surround and aid her in every mission that she embarks upon, I tell her that there must be a magical escort accompanying and protecting her in all of her endeavors. She has been an invaluable friend and partner to all of us. A number of years later, we left Morazán on a diplomatic mission to Venezuela. Presidents from a host of countries all over the world would be meeting in Caracas to discuss Carlos Andrés Pérez taking office.6 Our mission was to make political contacts that would boost international awareness relating to the FMLN and its cause. In Caracas we had invitations to a few official activities, but since we weren’t with any governmental delegation we couldn’t get into the hotel where the presidents were staying. Consequently, we had to finagle our way into those areas that were under strict security. Ana Guadalupe dressed up elegantly, and I put on a suit and tie. Just as we were going to move through the tight security detail, Ana Guadalupe told me, “You have to be calm. Act like a president!” Apparently, I didn’t convince the officer guarding the entrance since he asked us, “Pardon me but what government do you two represent?” With utmost confidence, Ana Guadalupe reached into her handbag, pretending to look for a nonexistent credential, at which point the officer, believing himself to be standing in front of an official delegation, said to us, “That will do. Please excuse the inconvenience. You may enter.” After eight years of tromping through the mountains, I was accustomed to lifting my feet way up to avoid tripping over the rocks. Needless to say, I couldn’t manage to glide with all the elegance of the cultured diplomats who were passing by us. While I was having my difficulties looking like someone supposed to be there, Felipe González, Fidel Castro, Daniel Ortega, and other leaders’ entourages arrived.7 At lunch we were surprised to see former president Jimmy Carter sitting at the adjacent table. Seeing Ana Guadalupe conversing with chancellors or being interviewed by the international press reminded me of the combatants whose sacrifice 110 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

and heroic actions had earned international respect and recognition for our cause. Ana Guadalupe carried out our diplomatic mission with style and grace, and I was able to visit my beloved Venezuela for a week. We went to the Andes. In Mérida, I reconnected with my family after a ten-year absence. My mother took such good care of us that we left a few pounds heavier, thanks to a whole host of Tovar’s cakes, glazed candies, and every Andean dish imaginable. My parents, far from asking me to abandon what was most important to me, always seemed to comprehend and support what I was doing.

Manlio, Your Guitar’s Beating In Tegucigalpa troops try to raid the house where Manlio Armijo was staying. He confronts dozens of soldiers to cover the retreat of the family that was living there and, after killing a number of them, he abandons the house himself with a wounded leg. When he’s surrounded by soldiers, he decides to take his own life. Lt. Willy Joya was furious to find out that a single man had humiliated and kept at bay his special forces. I remember the incredible conviction that Manlio had for our cause the night we parted ways, moving to Morazán. Later, Manlio’s brother Claudio would lend us his brother’s guitar. Karla, a girl on the verge of womanhood, would strum its cords and sing love songs to me with her angelic voice. July 9â•…

July 21â•… General García appeared before the Legislative Assembly, where he admitted that in the last six months the army has suffered 1,048 casualties and that thousands more have been injured in combat. He indicated how difficult it would be to win this type of war. A young North American arrives from Guazapa and joins the information and intelligence task force. His name is Carroll Ishee, pseudonym, Carlos. August 1â•… August has started off with a bang. Sugarcane is grinding in the mills, sacks of corn are piled sky-high in the storehouses, the dairy is making cheese by the barrel, cattle are taken to pasture, the armory is repairing rifles, and the blacksmith’s forge is red hot, molding metal. You can see Colonel Castillo, the deputy minister of defense, sitting up in a tree, contemplating the countryside while a group of compas discreetly keeps an eye on him. “Hello, Margarito,” he greets a soldier. “Hello, Colonel. How’s everything going?” the soldier answers as he passes by. “I’m up here getting some fresh air.”



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The deputy minister keeps himself busy by thinking up military slogans or giving geography lessons to the guards monitoring him. Up to this point, the Ministry of Defense refuses to do a prisoner exchange with the FMLN. August 7â•… Operation Commander Manlio Armijo marks the beginning of the second phase in the political-military campaign that will include new operatives in adjacent San Miguel department. The column of soldiers commanded by Javier attacks the national guard outposts in Barrios, a city of some twenty-two thousand inhabitants. At three in the afternoon the last of the guards give up and turn over their weapons. The compas break into groups to explain why we are fighting. They leave a slogan on the city walls: “Being uninformed means being unarmed. Listen to Radio Venceremos!” Miguel Ventura holds a Mass in memory of Monsignor Romero in the plaza of the bishop’s hometown. As part of the plan, Licho and his men are a few kilometers from there, waiting for the reinforcements that were thought to be coming from San Miguel. The whole sequence of events would be relived when the footage used to make the movie Carta de Morazán is shown in camp.8 All of the paths that the Third Brigade took led them right into our ambush. Explosive charges put the cars out of commission, and, after three hours of combat, the last soldiers gave up. Today’s activities have left us with a total of seventy weapons.

The military campaign continues. We attack the Beneficio San Carlos garrison in El Cacahuatique, capturing eighteen rifles and a 57-mm cannon. August 22â•…

The First Prisoner Exchange August 31â•… Amid the ruined El Mozote township and in the presence of the International Committee of the Red Cross, fifty-two armed forces soldiers are granted their freedom. Venceremos broadcasts the ceremony during which Ana Guadalupe addresses the political significance of such a gesture. When the prisoners are released, twelve soldiers demonstrate their desire to join our ranks. The rest of the forty prisoners, including Lieutenant Romero, wave good-bye as they move out on Red Cross buses. October 1â•… Our Heroes and Martyrs of October campaign begins with attacks launched against Las Vueltas, El Jícaro, and San José de las Flores garrisons in Chalatenango. October 7â•…

We begin broadcasting on FM radio,9 a technical advance that

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allows us both to overcome enemy radio interference and to clearly transmit our message to a number of cities across the country.

Freedom for Perquín October 12â•… The first few minutes of today: everything is ready for the start of the campaign in Morazán that will consist of simultaneous attacks on the Torola, San Fernando, and Perquín garrisons. The mobile unit has a new minitransmitter that will allow us to do live broadcasts from the combat zone. We march alongside Licho and his men. Their mission is to take the Perquín garrison. After several hours of walking, we reach the Pueblo Viejo cemetery, where the command post will be set up. The enemy is just a short distance away. The fighting begins simultaneously in Perquín, Torola, and San Fernando. From the safety of the command post, we inaugurate our small radio transmitter with a live report. Once the high ground has been taken, we begin our advance toward Perquín. Halfway through the day two Dragonfly A-37 planes bomb the high ground, trying to prevent us from laying siege to Perquín. As the day wears on, the RN forces have captured a number of trenches on the northern flank, and we have reached the southern entrance to the city. Word reaches us that the enemy company is no longer resisting; instead, they’re attempting to flee toward Llano El Muerto just as we had predicted. Yimmi’s squad is waiting for them there, ready to ambush. Licho orders other units to reinforce the tactical siege. The first bursts of rifle fire break the silence. It’s a sign that the enemy has run into the ambush. The compas deploy a line of fire while we, microphone in hand, narrate the action. A fine mist begins to fall and fog descends onto the treetops. Bursts of gunfire can be heard from the riverbed. A yell full of rage turns my blood cold: “Stop, give up, throw your weapons on the ground, and come out of there!” We lie down on the ground and for a brief moment I lose the thread of what’s happening. I don’t know if it’s the voice of a soldier or what the hell is going on. Turning around, I see that it’s Irra yelling, waving the barrel of his rifle toward a small hollow where a number of enemy soldiers are throwing down their weapons. Incredibly nervous, they look like a bunch of lizards treading on oil. They slip trying to climb up the bank, flustered by the hoots and hollers of the compañeros who surround them. Gunfire becomes more sporadic. Farther down I find Yimmi and his men next to a mountain of captured rifles. Microphone ready, we approach the group of prisoners. The commanding officer of the garrison is in the middle of them. A medic is attending to an injury on his leg.



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“Can you tell us your name and military rank?” I ask him. “Capt. José Manuel Flores,” he replies. A flash of lightning illuminates the growing darkness. In the midst of an intense storm, we transfer the prisoners to Perquín, which is now definitely under our control. The day’s work in each of the three captured towns left us with a total of sixty-four weapons and around fifty captured soldiers. October 15â•… The planes showed up to attack today. A bomb fell close to Yimmi and Marvincito. The two were consumed in a ball of fire and a blast of shrapnel. Passing through the blast zone, we were surprised by the new bomb’s effect. Rather than leaving the usual huge hole in the ground, their devastating effect resides in creating a cloud of lethal shrapnel.

We are able to conduct a radio interview with Commander Jesús, who reports to us from Chalatenango on the seizing of Las Vueltas and El Jícaro. Later, I would find out that it was really Toño Cardenal, the young beretwearing, long-haired kid whom I had met a while back on Solentiname Island when I did a report on Ernesto Cardenal, the famous Nicaraguan priest-poet, and his community. At that time we were with José Coronel Urtecho, another one of the most extraordinary Latin American poets. When we were bidding each other farewell on the San Carlos pier, I told him I had heard a rumor that Somoza had taken advantage of the earthquake to cover up the assassination of a number of political prisoners. I remember he remained pensive, next to a jaguar skin, and that it wasn’t until I was already aboard the small boat that he yelled, “In Somoza’s Nicaragua, death is merely a path leading to freedom!” October 18â•…

October 20â•… Forty-four prisoners of war were released to the International Committee of the Red Cross in the plaza of Arambala. Radio Venceremos broadcast the ceremony during which Jonás sent a message to the officers of the armed forces, calling on them to arrive at a political solution to the conflict. Our forces also released the same number of prisoners in Chalatenango.

We occupy Carolina in the north of San Miguel and the town of Joateca in Morazán, the last of the remaining army strongholds north of the Torola River. Sergio, one of our most beloved brothers, died in the effort. October 26â•…

Something important takes place: the Battle of San Felipe. The RN compañeros send word that they have contained a military company on the Gotera-Corinto route. Licho and his men leave at once, improvising a plan to lay siege and destroy the enemy unit. Each section, each squad devises ground November 7â•…

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tactics to surround, defeat, and take control of enemy outposts. The most violent combat takes place when our units assault the high ground defended by heavy artillery and machine guns. Major López, chief of the Gotera barracks, flees in an armored vehicle, leaving the injured behind. The air force massacres entire families in San Felipe township. After a long day of combat, victory amounts to sixty-two prisoners, including Lieutenant Ávalos. The captured weaponry proves important: two huge 120-mm mortars, two .50-caliber machine guns, and ninety-six rifles. A soldier counts the last of the captured ammunition at the weapon storage facility: “36,203 rounds!” Today, for the first time, we use M16 rifles and military packs and belts, all gringo manufactured. With a certain sense of nostalgia we exchange our M2 carbines for the new weapons.

Lesbia and the Idols of Pensacola Today is the anniversary of Carlos Fonseca’s death. Thinking of Lesbia, I return to Granada, Nicaragua, in my mind. I return to that night when my life took a new direction because of my insistence on seeing the preColumbian Idols of Pensacola. The question that the compañeros always ask me is, “How did you come to be here, in Central America?” I had begun to admire Nicaragua and its people when a book about the Sandino movement fell into my hands when I was twelve years old. On December 23, 1972, the city of Managua was razed by a violent earthquake. When I found out about the tragedy that had unfolded, I felt the need to be there, with the Nicaraguan people, helping them in any way I could. I immediately looked for a way to get to Nicaragua, but I was unsuccessful. Nobody paid attention to a student who wouldn’t be able to help much when doctors and specialists were needed. But that Christmas night something incredible happened. Disappointed and heartbroken, I was on my way home when our neighbor, Dr. Jesús Reyna Morales, president of the Association of Radio Enthusiasts, called out to me and said, “I’m coordinating a flight to Nicaragua for the first wave of relief workers on a cargo plane. Would you like to go?” A few hours later I was aboard a Venezuelan Armed Forces C-130 that was transporting a field clinic, doctors, and a number of students who belonged to a rescue and relief group. Late that night we flew over a destroyed Managua, engulfed in flames. The airport was complete chaos. El Chiguín, Somoza’s son, and other guard officers had already taken control of the area and were looting any international aid. After a run-in with the soldiers when we refused to hand November 8â•…



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over the food supplies that we had brought with us, we were sent to Granada, near Lake Cocibolca. In an abandoned school, we set up the field hospital, where we provided shelter for hundreds of victims arriving from the outskirts of Managua. We worked feverishly, transporting the injured, distributing medicine and food, and unloading the planes that were arriving daily from Venezuela. There, among the day laborers and craftsmen, in the stories they told me while we were all gathered around the fire at night, I reencountered the legacy of Sandino. It was there that I was given a thousand lessons on the human condition. I felt like my life had meaning; I was learning from a people for whom I was never an outsider. After nearly two weeks of not sleeping and eating too little, we were exhausted. One by one we returned to Venezuela. It was soon time for me to leave. The doctors advised me to go back at the first opportunity. I begrudgingly had to accept the decision, but the night before I left I decided that I had to see the Idols of Pensacola, huge pre-Columbian images etched into the rock. I had recently read that that idols were in the National Institute of Granada, just a few blocks from where I was. I made my way to the place at midnight only to discover that it was part of an old colonial church. My persistent knocking finally succeeded in getting them to let me in. The door swung open with a bone-chilling screech. An oil lamp pierced the dark night, revealing the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She was wearing blue jeans and a white cotton shirt. “Good evening. Did you need something?” she said to me with a distinct Nicaraguan accent. “I want to see the Idols of Pensacola,” I answered her. “At this hour? You’re crazy! It’s midnight and besides, there are a bunch of disaster victims sleeping where the idols are.” I insisted and I must have been fairly intense, because she decided to show them to me. Moving inside the colonial structure, we passed over dozens of people huddled together on the floor—infants nursing, restless old women, dogs trembling in fear. There were plenty of protests: “What are you doing at this hour? Leave us alone! Blow out that lamp.” We hopped over people until we found what I was looking for. “Here they are. Take a look at them. These were unearthed last century at Pensacola, a small island in the middle of lake .€.€. well, I think you’ll like them,” the girl said to me while she went about shining the light on each of the enormous rock statues. They were half man–half animal, standing erect like silent guards among people who had lost everything. While passing in between the rows of indigenous gods, I steal a glance at your eyes, your lips, your body, Lesbia. That’s what you told me your name was. Finishing up the walk-through, I thank you and light a cigarette, offering you one in order to prolong our good-bye. Surrounded by rooftops and colonial walls, we quickly gained one another’s confidence. You told me about the Sandinista Front, 116 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

about the reverence the soldiers have for their cause, about Julio Buitrago and a Carlos Fonseca with torn and tattered shoes because he wouldn’t pay for transportation since he wanted to save what little funds the Front had. The night seemed endless as we walked back to the pier next to Lake Cocibolca. There you told me how they had tortured you in covert prisons. When I said that the fight against Somoza would be difficult because of limited resources, you said to me, “All that we need to liberate Nicaragua is the clothes on our backs!” The next day I didn’t return to Venezuela as was planned. I spent two weeks with Lesbia during which we were both caught up in a love story that was out of our control. We ran along the salt flats of Paz Centro, spent the nights out on the beach, felt the sand of Lake Cocibolca smooth against our nude bodies, made a pact to fight in the León Viejo ruins, and finally said good-bye on the wharf in Granada because we both had work to complete. Admiration for Sandino’s heroic actions and what I learned from the shaken workers who had lived through a horrific earthquake, coupled with my encounter with Lesbia, sent my life down a new path. Thanks to my determination to see the ancient Idols of Pensacola, I stumbled across the roots of a common struggle that has involved an entire continent. November 26â•… The FMLN’s expansion into neighboring La Unión department begins. We attack the army, driving them out of Lislique, Nueva Esparta, and Anamorós. We confiscate around a hundred weapons and take forty-four prisoners. November 30â•… Red Cross officials gather in the Corinto plaza, where a prisoner release takes place. The FM transmitter has been at work for two months from the hill in Guazapa, broadcasting the Venceremos signal to the capital. Chele Walter and El Abuelo are in charge of operating the outpost, and at times they’ve had to broadcast even while under heavy artillery fire. The broadcasts ensure that the victories we attain far from the city and away from the attention of the press form part of our political agenda. The FM signal has increased the number of listeners, and it has encouraged many young people to join our ranks.

Every Last One of Us Danced, Colonel December 4â•… Colonel Flores, leader of the Third Brigade who suffers from elephantiasis, came into Anamorós and declared to the press that the FMLN was guilty of rape and pillage there. The colonel also complained that every time the FMLN occupied a village, it brought equipment to show videos in the plaza, allowed people to draw murals and slogans all over the city walls,



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had The Torogoces play at political ceremonies, put on puppet shows for the children, and, as if all that weren’t enough, the FMLN had two priests with them who held Mass in every captured town. Something took place that reminded us of the play Fuenteovejuna.10 They say that Flores, surrounded by the villagers of Anamorós, was furiously demanding to know who had gone to the dance that the rebel forces had put together. An elderly woman, stepping forward, said in a firm voice, “Every last one of us danced, Colonel!” As our control spreads throughout the northeastern region, the political foundations necessary for the implementation of a new model of social organization begin to appear. The people will select those responsible for overseeing the administration of natural resources, wood, coffee, fruit, and other goods, which they will allocate based on the community’s needs. Local power in the controlled zones will also provide for the creation of health care programs in addition to spurring on much-needed repairs to schools and roads. All this will be community-based labor, with the goal being complete self-sufficiency. The creation of a police force is not considered necessary since alcoholism, theft, and prostitution have been rooted out of villages under FMLN control. Mutual respect is now the standard that people live by. December 5â•…

From the central front, Mariana contradicts the minister of defense’s announcement that the army succeeded in destroying our FM transmitter in Guazapa. December 17â•…

The schoolchildren did the entire broadcast today, making up dialogue, songs, and jabs directed toward the High Command and its military goons. There were dancing and festivities tonight at the school in La Guacamaya. Violin and guitar music rang out until two in the morning. We ran into Ana Sonia Medina (Mariana) in the hall. She had recently arrived from Guazapa. Atilio was there too. He had just returned to set up in Morazán. His presence leaves its mark on the new plans that the General Command of the FMLN is crafting. Off to the side of the school, a rowdy group of us is discussing who is better at soccer, Marte or Alianza, but we end up reminiscing about a time when there was no need for weapons to defend yourself from repression and no plans to change the social structure in El Salvador. Atilio is ecstatic as he talks to us about international solidarity with our cause and the new phase of plans. Looking at the hundreds of dancing soldiers, he says to us with absolute certainty, “The hard times are over.” December 24â•…

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Rogelio’s Sense of Humor December 25â•… Today we took the day off. Most of us went to Corinto. The streets were packed since it was a market day. We had to weave our way in between the stands selling fruit, clothes, soap, shoes, rope, and other supplies as well as every type of sweet imaginable. We were able to have the most extraordinary lunch: liver and onions, fried eggs, salad, enchiladas, tortillas, and fresh fruit juice. It was worth the four-hour walk from camp at La Guacamaya.

At dusk we set off for the end-of-the-year festival. We can just make out the El Zapotal soccer field from a distance. Four televisions set up at midfield are showing the movies filmed in Morazán. Out there in the dark it looked as if some sort of spaceship had landed and hundreds of curious people had flocked around it to see what was going on. Some eight hundred compas see the films in which they are the heroes. I see Rogelio sitting in the grass, his figure cast in the firelight. He has a Bible on his lap as he intently watches one of the television screens. As the movie is wrapping up, I decide to play a prank on him. Taking advantage of the silence, I yell, making sure that everyone can hear, “Rogelio and I want to see a movie with some naked women!” Hundreds of people fixed their gaze on Rogelio. I was hoping that he would turn red with embarrassment, since he is usually quite shy, but without missing a beat, he stood up and said with his characteristic sense of humor, “Just a minute now. I’ll have none of this. We aren’t asking to see it, we demand to see it!” It was a good way to send 1982 out with a bang. The night concluded with the biggest dance you could ever imagine. Beneath a moonlit sky, The Torogoces serenaded us with their guitars and violins until the wee hours of the morning. While we were devouring tortillas, pork cracklings, beans, and rice, Rogelio summed up what this year meant for him: “I’m pleased with the work we’ve done. I think we have seen a church built by the people while we’ve been in Morazán. There was no pastoral work at all in this area before, and now there are Christian communities popping up everywhere.” December 31â•…

Notes

1. As stated earlier, Radio Farabundo Martí was the sister station to Radio Venceremos. It was launched by the FPL, one of the five guerrilla factions that formed the FMLN. The Radio was based out of Chalatenango, the FPL’s stronghold during the war. Miguel Huezo Mixco was the Radio’s main organizer. While sister to Radio Venceremos, Radio Farabundo Martí was not its equal, with the former serving as the main voice of the FMLN and commanding wider recognition and more listeners. 2. Literally, “affection” but “cariño” can also refer to a loved one much in the same was as we use “dear.” In Spanish, it has only one “r” rather than the multiple trilled “rr.”

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3. Julio Adolfo Rey Prendes was a founder of the Christian Democratic Party who served as a deputy in the National Assembly during the war and also directed the Christian Democrats’ successful presidential campaign in 1984. He has published his memoirs, De la dictadura militar a la democracia: Memorias de un político salvadoreño, 1931–1994 (San Salvador: Inverprint, 2008). 4. The colón (plural colones) was the Salvadoran monetary unit until 2001, when the currency was changed to the U.S. dollar. 5. Campaña Comandante Gonzalo. 6. Carlos Andrés Pérez was the president of Venezuela from 1974 to 1979 and again from 1989 to 1993. 7. Daniel Ortega (1945– ) was a leader of the FSLN front against the Somoza dictatorship in the 1970s. He served as president of Nicaragua after the overthrow of Somoza in 1979 until he was defeated in an election in 1990 by Violeta Chamorro. He was once again elected president of Nicaragua in 2006. Fidel Castro (1926– ) was the leader of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 and served as head of state in Cuba for almost fifty years until he stepped down for health reasons in 2008. Felipe González (1942– ) is a Spanish socialist political leader who served as secretary-general of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party between 1974 and 1997, and also served as prime minister of Spain between 1982 and 1996. 8. Letter from Morazán. 9. Wideband FM (W-FM) requires a wider bandwidth than amplitude modulation (AM) by an equivalent modulating signal, but this also makes the signal more robust against noise and interference. 10. A three-act play written in 1612 by the famous Spanish playwright Lope de Vega. Set during the reign of the Catholic Monarchs in Spain, the plot revolves around a town that stands up to a power-hungry feudal lord.

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Shutting Down Transportation January 8â•… The FMLN commences its Revolutionary Heroes of January campaign, seizing control of Tejutla in Chalatenango and capturing sixty-two rifles and fifty-two soldiers during the battle. Contradictions and disputes break out within the government’s armed forces when plans to quickly defeat the FMLN fail once and for all. Lieutenant Colonel Ochoa Pérez declares a revolt from his Cabañas barracks, accusing General García of being incapable of leading and demanding that he step down. January 12â•… Our assault on the Cacaopera garrison began this morning. Our forces gradually push forward down the cobbled streets, laying siege to army fortifications that are soon bombarded by RPG-2 rockets. The first enemy soldiers come out with their hands up, while compañero Ticas goes into a barracks and reemerges clutching a few of the forty-three captured rifles. Today the myth that this garrison was invincible, protected by the magic of the witches of Cacaopera, was proven false. The armed forces’ internal disputes provoke the intervention of the North American embassy. Colonel Ochoa Pérez is sent to Washington, and General García will soon be relieved of duty.

A line of guerrilla soldiers advances to attack various army positions that 350 soldiers are guarding in Jocoatique and the surrounding highlands. When our troops reach their target, they discover that the enemy forces have fled.

January 14â•…

January 16â•… An attack is mounted against army troops that have pulled back toward Meanguera. The mobile unit narrates the action, watching the first shots being fired from the enormous 120-mm mortars that were seized from the army. Gabino has already made the proper adjustments for distance and trajectory. He places a projectile in the barrel of the mortar, letting it slide down. Then he lies on the ground, braces himself, pulls the trigger lanyard, and feels the ground tremble under the mortar’s firepower. We all look toward the army’s outposts near the Torola River bridge. A column of smoke rises from where the projectile has fallen. “A hundred meters off to the right,” a guerrilla soldier indicates. The gunners realign the aim to adjust for the mortar’s being off and fire off a second shot. “Right on target! Keep firing!” shout the spotters. The sheer speed with which the army soldiers abandon Meanguera and cross the Torola River like a frenzied herd of livestock is an indication of our success. The armed forces suffered thirty-five casualties, including Lt. Manuel Viera

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Corea. We mourn the loss of Arsenio Gómez, Isra. The Torola now most assuredly marks the indisputable limit of territory under our control. This brings the total number of villages under FMLN control in northeastern Morazán to eighteen, including: Torola, San Fernando, Perquín, Arambala, Meanguera, Jocoatique, Villa del Rosario, Joateca, Cacaopera, Corinto, Guatajiagua, Sensembra, and Yamabal. In the northern region of San Miguel department we have taken Carolina and in La Unión we have captured Anamorós, Polorós, Lislique, and Nueva Esparta. In the past four months we have extended our forces to an area equivalent to approximately twelve hundred square kilometers. The number of young men and women joining our ranks continues to grow, and there are more and more food and supply storehouses on a daily basis. January 17â•… At two in the morning, the guys from the explosives workshop blow up the Torola bridge again, leaving Morazán divided into two sections. Come winter, the enemy won’t be able to move in artillery and armored vehicles.

General Command declares, as a strategic weapon for the FMLN, that all transportation stop. The country is put on hold, with highways and roads vacant for the three days during which the order remains in force. There is a curious story relating to this. Initially, the northern and eastern zones were the only ones to comply with the order. We couldn’t disable the transportation system in the west. One day I was supposed to announce a stop. In the middle of my broadcast, something slipped out that would later have consequences: “We ask that drivers in the western zone in particular immediately suspend all transportation. This order is to be complied with and will be rigorously enforced. This action represents the FMLN’s response to escalated repressive measures enacted by the Armed Forces High Command.” The army later issued a statement urging drivers not to conform to the FMLN’s order and assuring that the government would protect the highways with tank and helicopter cover. Much to our surprise, we woke up to find that transportation all across the country had been suspended, even in the west! Months later, the cities would comply with the transportation shutdowns. January 18â•…

January 21â•… Under the direction of Col. Herson Calito, the Atonal Battalion crosses the river with plans to advance north from Meanguera and retake Jocoatique. They run into our lines in the highlands near San Luis. Tucked into trenches and foxholes, our soldiers withstand heavy enemy artillery fire. Two more attempts to advance fail; the price is high. For our part, we mourn the deaths of Vidal and Aquilino. In the clinic they attend to Leo Dan, who was



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wounded by machine gun fire from an enemy helicopter. That very night, the Fourth Unit invades and attacks the enemy command post at Meanguera. January 22â•… The FMLN commemorates the fifty-first anniversary of the Insurrection of 1932 with a large-scale tactical operation aimed at surrounding the Atonal Battalion. Unfortunately, a unit lags behind in cutting off the enemy’s only escape route. Their air force covers the retreat of Calito and his battalion, which crosses the Torola up to their necks in water. Luckily for them, the current is not too strong. In retaliation, they bomb the civilian population.

Oswaldo Escobar Velado Rogelio lent me a book of poetry by Oswaldo Escobar Velado that I didn’t put down until I had finished it. I was about to fall asleep when Zaqueo showed up, telling me it was time to do the mail. Sitting there in the trench, I thought about writing a story. I would take my inspiration from the poems I had recently read or from the subtle vibrations of the nights in Morazán. Below is what I wrote. I later added an ending to it when we found out that Chele Will had died in combat. January 23â•…

The Ghostâ•… Julito drives the mule loaded with corn. Angelita washes the boiled corn in a basin and smiles at one of Chendo’s jokes. In front of the blazing fire, Teresa kneads and shapes the tortillas as if she were patting the baby growing inside her. Sitting in one of the stalls, Osmín oils his rifle and hopes that his child will be a boy. The comal is hot. Breakfast is on its way in the camp. In the hallway of the house, Irra and Tuno clean their weapons. Some young soldiers play cards, throwing the cards down violently on the table and laughing all the while. Others are in a literacy class in the shade of the bamboo thicket. Rogelio, who has already held Sunday Mass, stands in front of them, writing on the board. Leaning over his notebook, Chepito Perica spells out the sentence, “I am learning to write in La Guacamaya.” Rosita comes from the kitchen bringing a pot of hot coffee with her. She goes down along the narrow path, passes by the struggling motor, and enters the tight rock passage and skirts the edge of the river. She then proceeds to make her way cautiously across the wooden plank over the gully, pulls up her skirt, and climbs up the steps carved into the rock. Finally, she reaches the cave entrance and looks down into the opening. The Radio Venceremos transmitter is sitting on a table. Apolonio is working his way around it connecting the antenna cables. In the center is the broadcasting 124 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

table, two microphones hang from the rocky ceiling, and the recorders and portable console lights indicate that everything is up and running. We’re ready to begin the six o’clock evening broadcast. Rosita appears in the entryway and shouts, “Here’s your coffee so you’ll be awake when you broadcast!” Cannon shells fall on the nearby slopes. The ground trembles from their impact, and the explosions echo down the valleys. Mama Lola comes up out of the stream balancing a jug of water on her head. Hearing another cannon shell explode, she mutters, “Here they come again.” As the day wears on, Ismael returns with instructions from the command post and makes his way to the center of the patio. “Detail, halt!” “It’s about time!” we all yell. Standing at attention we listen to Ismael’s report. We’re on high alert. It’s quite probable that the air force will come tomorrow to bombard the area. “Present arms! Report now to your designated tasks or to rest. Dismissed!” “Venceremos!” we all reply. We break formation. The guards move into their watch positions while the rest of us go back to rest. Some of us hang our hammocks, others make their way to their straw beds, and the couples move into their tents. In the neighboring press and propaganda workshop, Chele Will gathers up all the printed material and puts up the mimeograph on which he has just printed the propaganda that will be distributed to nearby villages tomorrow. “Hey, Will, how did it go?” “Okay, I guess. This stupid piece of junk was giving me a lot of trouble. At first no ink was coming out and the flyers were blurry, and then the damn ink roller got jammed.” Will sits down in the hammock and kicks off his boots. His huge, thick feet give off a foul odor. The weak lamplight shines on his white skin and curly, chestnut-colored hair, which is always disheveled and plastered to his forehead. He has a hawk nose that’s red with acne, and small black eyes. He’s not even twenty years old and he’s already had a lot of different jobs—construction worker, baker, and mechanic, to name just a few. He’s also been an urban commander and a soldier. Now he’s here, using his peculiar way of spelling to print the FMLN’s message on thousands of flyers that will be passed out tomorrow in the surrounding towns. Will gets up and lights another lamp. He pulls a book from the library and begins to sound something out: “Oswaldo Escobar Velado, one of our most esteemed poets, captured the intensity of a people’s hopes, dreams, and suffering in his work. Oswaldo Escobar Velado died in 1961 of tongue cancer.” Taking a particular interest in the book, Will reads a number of poems aloud after the rest of the compañeros have already gone to sleep. A gust of wind blows the lamp out. The dark envelops everything, and the

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only sound is the wind whistling through the trees and a bird crying in the night. We hear the sound of a radio as something creeps toward us. A branch breaks. Maybe it’s just an animal, but it seems to be something big. Whatever it is, it stops, crushing another branch underfoot. It’s too dark to see anything outside. A soft light appears in the middle of the door. It’s Chendo, and he’s lighting a cigarette. He adjusts the rifle that he’s carrying slung over his shoulder and aims the lamp toward the hammock. “Hey, Will, get up. It’s your turn to keep watch. Come on, get up!” “What? What’s going on?” “It’s five till twelve; you’re on watch.” “It’s already time? Damn, so much for sleeping!” “Here’s the clock and the guard times. Remember to give the password at five o’clock: “Tuno, go to Genovelio and get salt.” Will ties his boots and steps outside, breathing in the cold air, which wakes him up. His flashlight barely produces a tiny globe of light along the path. He searches out a place to sit in the rocky trenches. Gazing up at the stars, he rubs his hands together to keep warm. Suddenly he hears the sound of a rolling rock. Clutching his rifle, Will slides his thumb down to the safety and clicks it into automatic. The same sound of tumbling rocks comes from the stream. The moon stands out against the hilly terrain, bathing the landscape in its ashen light. The breeze makes the leaves flutter. Will has his face pressed to the stock of the rifle. His breaths are shallow and rapid. A sharp screech and the sound of fluttering wings startle him. Standing up, he slowly moves toward the stream, trying not to make a sound. On the bank, next to the narrow current, he senses a strange presence. A shudder runs through him. He turns to one side and sees the outline of a man bending over. He has his back to Will and is trying to pry something from beneath a rock in the stream with a stick. Will slips and one of his feet goes into the water. The man turns around. He has a slender face. A patch of hair falls across his forehead, and his eyes shine behind a pair of thick glasses that reflect the moonlight. He’s wearing a white shirt and black paints. He has a blue-and-red checked towel thrown over his shoulder. The stranger takes a step toward Will, looks him in the eye, and says, “Damn that crab, I just can’t seem to get it.” He stoops over again and continues poking around the rocks with his stick. A moment later he looks up through his big turtle-shaped glasses and remarks to Will, “You know, I have to catch a lot of crabs. Víctor Marín and Chepe Duarte are waiting for me down there on the bank of the Sapo River. We’re going to make fish and crab stew. We have to take advantage tonight, since we dead men have permission to be here.” Will feels a chill run up his spine again. The man adjusts his glasses and remains silent, gazing at the moon. A tear runs down his cheek, stopping at the 126 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

corner of his mouth. Upon seeing the man tear up, Will senses the fear that has kept him paralyzed up until now subsiding. Working up the nerve to say something, he manages to articulate a few words: “What’s the matter, compa?” Wiping the tears from his eyes, the man responds, “These are tears of joy, my friend. I’m happy because this is my homeland and I’ve seen it once more. The day when this land is exactly how we dream of it being is not far off. The children will be able to sing their songs without the fear of distant, dark prison cells. There won’t be any men forced to face seven rifles and leave behind seven blood red roses for their orphaned children. And we’ll be able to love. On the corner of every street in Sonsonete there will be a Francisco Sánchez and a Feliciano Ama drinking to victory. Farabundo Martí will be dressed in white, like that star there, and a red tie will be blowing in the wind.” Will trembles as he recognizes in the man’s words fragments of the poems he has just read. The man squats down again and, with one swift, decisive motion, manages to catch a crab, taking care to ensure that it doesn’t pinch him. He smiles triumphantly and says, “Good-bye, friend. There’s no time to lose. We are the ones who have to wage this war even if the price we pay is our soul.” Will feels the need to speak, to know the identity of the man who’s already walking away. “Hey, compa, what’s your name?” “My name is Oswaldo Escobar Velado,” the man replies, and continues walking next to the maguey until he disappears down a grassy path lined with cashew trees. Will remains standing in the same spot, clutching his rifle in his enormous hands with the same love and dedication with which he would grip it months later, just before dying in combat, on the banks of the Seco River. Always with the same desire to write the future, only this time it would be written with his own blood. A bird cries out in the darkness as if it were morning, but it’s still night. January 26â•… General García had said that he wouldn’t send any battalions to retake the FMLN-occupied zones because they lacked strategic importance. However, Radio Venceremos claims that the army is incapable of coming to northern Morazán and confronting the guerrillas and has caused a political uproar that made him change his tune. He has gathered the highest concentration of special force battalions to date in an operation against our outposts. Headquarters gives the go-ahead for transferring our strategic teams and equipment to the other side of the Torola, and we march toward the Las Nubes highlands. The Venceremos team sets up in a small house that it shares with a family. We write the editorials and war pieces amid chickens and grinding wheels, right in the middle of all the kitchen activity. There were a number of months when we didn’t get to eat any fried eggs. Today we have them with a side of French bread that we bought in the nearby village of Corinto. In contrast, Colonel Monterrosa’s



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men are on the other side of the river, suffocating in the intense summer heat and looking for any sign of us in our camps at La Guacamaya. January 28â•… We’ve set up our command post in the farmyard of a nearby house. Atilio is there on the radio. The southeastern front reports that the town of San Agustín has been taken. Twenty-seven rifles and six thousand rounds were captured in the process. The operation has opened up an offensive in uncharted territory, a zone that is economically vital.

At six in the morning a line of soldiers lays siege to the Berlín garrison in Usulután department. There’s fighting up and down the streets all day long, and the air force rains bombs and rockets down on the city, causing deaths among the civilian population. Toward the end of the afternoon, the troops are forced to group together in the center of the city while all along the outskirts our forces push back the army reinforcements. January 30â•…

February 1â•… Cirilo reports that today is the third day we have control of Berlín. There are rallies and speeches, and a prisoner release of forty-six soldiers takes place in the presence of the Red Cross. The guerrilla unit abandons the city, taking 150 captured weapons with it. A North American consultant named Thomas Stanley was injured during the battle, a sign of how involved the Reagan administration really is.

El Quinto Piso de la Alegría February 9â•… The majority of the six thousand enemy soldiers concentrated in Morazán left today. Only the Belloso Battalion remains in Perquín, and it’s practically surrounded by our forces. We move to set up our strategic units on the Agua Blanca plateau. We will soon initiate a new military campaign. Units are arriving from other departments. The closest garrison to Venceremos is located in Cacaopera. Everything is normal here in any case. The film, press, and propaganda workshops, as well as the cultural movement, are all situated in the nearby El Limón valley. The audiovisual equipment, television screens, videos, and recording gear—an entire studio—have been set up in a large house that was part of an old mill. They’re editing a documentary there about the recent war-related events, including the swearing in of the Rafael Arce Zablah Brigade.1 The mimeographs are in a large living room space. Marcela, transferred to this unit, is putting the recently printed pamphlets together; Marina and Will are painting a banner; and in the library a few people are reading the books most recently added to the collection.

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Another nearby house serves as the cultural movement’s command center. There they’re rehearsing a play that synthesizes our progress, starting with the anticolonial struggle of the indigenous people and moving up to our current struggle. The Torogoces will provide music for the play. In the kitchen Felipe plays the violin, humming the tune to the last song. Maravilla, ecstatic over all the creative activity taking place, exclaims, “Wow, this is the Quinto Piso de la Alegría!” We celebrate along with him, baptizing the center with the name he gave it: “The Fifth Floor of Happiness.” In the last few weeks our soldiers’ nutrition has drastically improved. As the territory under our control expands, so too does the possibility of a more varied diet. Caravans of mules arrive from nearby towns bringing onions, tomatoes, condiments, eggs, olive oil, bread, and other types of food that are a welcome change to the beans and rice that we have eaten daily for the last two years. The film crew shows the fruits of its labor, presenting the documentary that was filmed and edited at the front. The compañeros get excited when they see themselves on-screen in the middle of combat, firing, crawling forward in the trenches, or completing any one of a number of other tasks. At the end of one month of our national campaign, we have succeeded in capturing 589 rifles, 16 support weapons, and thousands of rounds in addition to taking 264 prisoners of war.

February 11â•…

February 12â•… Quite a spectacle is taking place down by the stream. Twentyfive female radio compas are splashing and playing in the water while they laugh and sing. Among all the feminine garments that are drying in the sun lies a pair of socks belonging to Chiyo, a boy who has just turned eleven years old. “Blessed are you among all those women!” Lety shouts to him. After my bath, I make a brief stop in the workshop only to find the table covered in a mountain of disconnected wires, cables, and antennas. Mauricio and Apolonio have just invented a small repeating program that automatically connects the central command post with any other unit. Mauricio tells me about his unit’s development:

The technical leap that we’ve made in radio communication is really quite impressive. At first, we thought it would be too difficult for the newly arrived local compas to participate in work requiring technical knowledge, not only to manage all the Radio but also for rapid code communication during combat. It’s most difficult for the Radio workers who are always with the unit, sometimes working under heavy fire and going days on end without a wink of sleep. But they do like their work. Now, there’s a group of female workers here, all fairly young. We’re taking

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some away from their work in the kitchen to be trained at the radio school, you know. The young women learn faster than the men, and they’re better suited for the tasks that their job will require of them. We always have a few problems toward the beginning. The workers tend to view their job as something specialized, and that leads to their being pretty arrogant toward the others. If you had only seen what we’ve had to deal with. February 16â•… Political prisoners have declared a hunger strike to condemn the government’s refusal to provide them with a fair trial. They’re also protesting the torture and countless other crimes they’ve suffered at the hands of their captors. The Ministry of Internal Affairs issues a veiled threat to all foreign journalists for considering Radio Venceremos a permanent and reliable source of information. February 18â•… We receive an intelligence report regarding the inner workings of the Belloso Battalion. Its commander, Colonel Méndez, has requested authorization to abandon Perquín, claiming that he has spotted troop movements indicating a strong guerrilla attack in the near future. He claims that the FMLN wants to do the same thing to the Belloso Battalion that the Vietnamese did to Dien Bien Phu during the French occupation of Vietnam.2 February 23â•… Our Special Forces units invade and assault the Belloso command post in Perquín. Colonel Méndez refuses to stay in northern Morazán any longer and beats a hasty retreat, leaving the entire northern zone in the hands of the FMLN and admitting the army’s inability to defend and hold the position. Some of the compas observed that the colonel would prefer to have it said of him that he fled than that he was thrown out. Either way, he lost.

In Tejutla, Chalatenango, we defeat the enemy garrison. We capture ten prisoners of war along with twenty-five weapons. Cirilo is back in Morazán. As always, we get together for a game of chess. While we’re playing, he gives me all the details of a transfer-of-arms operation that has just taken place. Eight cars loaded with weapons crossed the better part of the eastern zone right under the army’s nose. Hernán and his men protected the convoy, equipping each truck with a machine gun in case of an unexpected run-in with the army on the Pan-American Highway. Danilo went ahead of the group, reconnoitering the road. They were bringing sixteen tons of weaponry, including a 75-mm cannon, mortar grenades, rifles, ammunition, new transmitters for Venceremos, film equipment, and boxes of journals, flyers, and books. On its way to Morazán, the convoy passed within two kilometers of the Third Brigade. Thirty February 24â•…

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mules and dozens of militiamen ready to transport the cargo to our camps were waiting for them in Cacahuatique. Our supply lines are made unstoppable by local support, FMLN control of vast expanses of territory, and our sheer courage. Just as was the case with army forces in the north of Morazán, High Command appoints the Jaguar Battalion as the first line of defense between FMLN forces and the head of Morazán department. We launch the Heroic March 2 operation against their forces, an operation that will consist of numerous assaults against the Osicala and Delicias de Concepción garrisons in addition to other army positions south of the Torola River. Our forces succeed in surrounding six hundred enemy soldiers on a large battlefield. The troops that were defending the garrisons scatter in all directions as we ambush arriving reinforcements and begin overall tactics aimed at laying siege and destroying enemy fortifications. The magnitude and complexity of this operation require precise troop deployment in order to surround enemy units, locate command posts, organize the capture of fleeing soldiers, and move food and supplies to secured locations. In addition to all of that, we have to manage the towns we have taken. High Command sends reinforcements to Morazán, this time selecting the Atonal, Paracaidistas, and Cazadores battalions.

March 2â•…

March 7â•… Today we have started broadcasting with a new FM signal that will cover the majority of the country. After five days of intense military activity to the south of the Torola, we’ve inflicted some serious losses on the army, capturing weapons and prisoners. Now we’re proceeding with a resistance plan directed at wearing down the special battalions that are trying to defend what little territory they have left in Morazán. Atilio appears wearing camouflage with a backpack slung over one shoulder: “Let’s go. Get the equipment ready so that you can do a report in Osicala.” We cross over the flatlands under a scorching summer sun, content that we’ll see Osicala. We have recently scattered the army forces positioned there. Halfway there we see a strange sort of plane appear from the direction of Honduras. It makes a half turn and then goes into a dive to bomb our front lines. Based on the shape of its wings, we determine that it’s a Super-Mister. The only country in the surrounding area that has that type of plane is Honduras, a fact that reflects just how much the United States has pressured the Honduran Army into getting involved. We enter Osicala as the sun is setting. The plaza is a constant coming and going of guerrilla squads, trucks loaded with food bound for the front lines, and mules waiting to be loaded at food stands. Late at night, we get a group of compañeros together to do an interview. Balta discusses how the offensive has fallen apart and how the High Command is



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forced to put its special task forces on defensive duty. Jonás stresses how much the militia has grown and its importance in the recent combat. Chicón points out that we’ve learned how to fight using guerrilla infantry and artillery units and that we’ve achieved greater tactical proficiency on the battlefield. Atilio adds that for the time being the FMLN’s objective is not to defend the territory under its control; it is, rather, to exhaust the armed forces in every aspect, be it political, economic, or military. They’re the ones who must defend their territory if they want to survive this fight. After midnight the trucks begin the return journey, loaded with all the weapons captured in the last few days, which amount to 153 rifles, machine guns, mortars, and ammunition. The army’s losses, counting dead and wounded, total three hundred. We also have fifty prisoners, including some officers, but the victory has cost us the lives of six combatants, with twenty-four others injured. The convoy makes its way down from Osicala to la calle negra, where a compa yells, “No, we don’t want to go north! We want to go toward Gotera and then on to San Salvador!” This provokes a bit of late-night laughter and levity among the soldiers. If we went in the opposite direction, we would reach the capital in just four short hours.

Paty’s Memories March 9â•… I went looking for the river, desperate to do anything to cool down. I was beginning to take my first big gulps of water when two unknown and unarmed girls came to the well. They’re two young women from the Christian communities who are here to join in the pastoral work with Rogelio and Miguel. One of them is named Paty. Since she told me that she was born in Villa del Rosario, I asked her if she had witnessed the massacres during October of 1980:

Yes, I was there and it was horrible. I remember that it was Sunday. We heard a lot of yelling; they were saying that the army was coming and killing any families they found along the way. Entire families with all their belongings were showing up in the rain, their children soaking wet. The first ones came from the Progreso cantón. I knew them because I had taken religion classes there. The people from the Ojo de Agua cantón came at midnight. A woman who had recently given birth was with them. She wouldn’t stop crying, and she said that when they were passing by the Araute River she slipped and lost her newborn child in the surging currents. Five thousand people gathered in the town. They began to grow sick, 132 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

and children were dying; but the army was getting closer and closer, killing people along the way. They killed a group of evangelical Christians. They told them that they weren’t going to hurt them, yet they were the first ones they killed. Alongside Toni, who was the town’s natural leader, we began collecting food to distribute. Two weeks later the army arrived. They began to raid houses, gathering everyone in the plaza. They ordered the men to line up. The ones who were on the army’s list were pulled aside and taken to town hall. Cries of people being tortured rang out all night long, and on the outskirts of town you could hear executions being carried out. We later realized that one of the most vicious officers during the operative was Captain Napoleón Medina Garay. They ordered us to return to our homes. That was the day Captains Mena Sandoval and Marcelo Cruz arrived. That’s where I met them. Both of them made sure that the people ate and received medical attention. Mena Sandoval took care that five helicopters be sent with food, and Captain Cruz went to work attending to the sick and passing out medicine. Later, a number of women came to see me and told me that their husbands had been captured and were being tortured. I went to the town hall to see for myself, and when I went to look in the room where they were being held, I saw thirty men piled up on the floor. From their bloody hands and faces, it was evident that they had been severely beaten. I couldn’t stand it. I left and ran back to my house. Then I started crying. That’s what I was doing when Captain Mena Sandoval stepped inside and said to me, “May I ask you something? What’s the matter?” And I have a question for you, I said. I don’t understand why you’ve even bothered to bring food to pass out when you and your men are giving out beans with one hand while you torture and kill people with the other. I remember exactly what he said to me. “Look, I too feel these people’s pain. They accuse me of being a leftist in the barracks, but I don’t care. I’m doing what I can to keep you all from suffering, but there are other officers who don’t think the same way. I’m going to speak with Colonel Majano to see what I can do.” That’s what happened in October of 1980, and now I’m back in Morazán to join in the pastoral work. The Christian communities still have much work to do here. As has happened to all of us who come from the city, Marvin experienced a bout of depression. It’s hard to adapt to the hard conditions, the loneliness and isolation, the desire to be with family, and, above all, the uncontrollable angst brought on by the bombings. All that, combined with the fact March 13â•…



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that there are some of us who just don’t understand, is a lot for anyone to handle. Today he spoke to me specifically about the situation, and he told me that he’s decided to stay in Morazán. Marvin regains his creativity and typically Salvadoran sense of humor. He’s working on our first radio soap opera, entitled The Amorous Adventures of a Diplomat.3 It’s based on the fact that the North American ambassador is going to marry an upper-class Salvadoran woman. We’ve developed the theory that the oligarchy is trying to win in bed what it hasn’t been able to win through any other means. We decide to follow it with a segment that we baptize The Subversive Guacamayan.4 The addition of these comedy programs, loaded with double-entendres, has caused some concern among a number of compañeros from other fronts, and we receive a fair amount of criticism. They pointed out that the soaps made the Radio seem less serious. We insisted that it was legitimate and that there was a need to incorporate new material to make the programming more enticing. The day after we aired the soap opera in which the ambassador was the protagonist, something interesting happened. The U.S. embassy protested the fact that Radio Venceremos was interfering in the personal life of the “most excellent ambassador” in its informative bulletin. If we had truly gotten the empire to fight with us over one of our satirical shorts, just as they were fighting our editorials, it had to mean that we were doing something right. March 14â•… Commander Milton Méndez reports that in San Vicente department, forty-eight rifles were captured and forty-one soldiers were taken prisoner, including Cadet Lieutenant López Gálvez. March 15â•… Reports reach us that in the Guazapa zone, the Atlacatl Battalion has assassinated Marianela García Villa, the president of the Commission on Human Rights, who was gathering testimonies regarding the massacres that the battalion had committed. The news deeply affects the people who relied on Marianela’s support and self-sacrificing spirit each time there was a new complaint filed about a disappeared husband or child in the government’s secret prisons.

The Swearing In of the BRAZ March 23â•… Today the soldiers making up the Rafael Arce Zablah Brigade are going to be sworn in. The BRAZ, as it is commonly called, is an FMLN strategic unit. At noon, a swarm of combatants, militia units, production squads, rambunctious schoolchildren, and women from the kitchen wearing bright-colored

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dresses passes by. Behind them is a support-weapons unit alongside mules carrying mortars. A donkey trots along, the heft of a machine gun on its back swinging back and forth. Two compas tow a small cannon along next to it. The press and propaganda units, carrying enormous flags and banners, approach from a different direction. It takes the two lines of soldiers a while to make their way by. Mules loaded with huge containers of pork cracklings follow them. We also join the march. The whole event seems like an army parade celebrating a recent victory. Down on the field, the columns have already formed and are standing at attention. To one side, the support arms battalion has set out all of its gear, including mortars, machine guns, and light cannons. The scene is a sort of showcase of all the weapons captured in battle provided by the U.S. military. In the background, a picture of Rafael Arce Zablah printed on red fabric appears on top of a hill, flanked by numerous flags. Members of the political commission of the Revolutionary Army of the People make their entrance from the left side. Atilio, Mariana, Jonás, Chicón, and Balta are all there, though Ana Guadalupe and Rodrigo aren’t present since they are involved in tasks outside of the country. The ceremony begins with the national anthem. The multitude of soldiers lifts its voice and, standing at attention, presents arms. The wind begins to stir up clouds of dust on the plateau, now bone dry due to the drought. The emblem of Rafael looks like a sail inflating in the wind, and the hill is like a huge green boat about to set sail. A formation of five compañeros dressed in camouflage and carrying the national flag makes its entrance to the beat of a military march while another group, carrying the FMLN flag, enters in a similar manner. “And now, compañeros, representing the FMLN General Command, Joaquín Villalobos will speak.” Situating himself in front of the microphone, Atilio launches into an analysis of how the struggle is developing at the national level, enumerates our successful advances, and asserts that, if the Reagan administration has plans to defeat us, we too have our plans not only to resist but also to push forward into battle and toward a more definite political future. The ceremony ends when all military forces and units that are present take an oath of allegiance. Carmelo gives the order to form one procession. Hundreds of combatants bunched together in wide blocs march forward at a vigorous pace, shouting cheers at the top of their lungs, their boots striking the ground in unison. All the dust blurs the landscape, obscuring it from view. Flags wave in the breeze, and the wind produces a high-pitched whistling sound as it passes over our rifles as the throng of people makes its way over the plain. “For the poor and hungry!” “We pledge to conquer!” we all reply.

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This same scene repeats itself on every war front for each strategic unit that is formed. That includes the Felipe Peña, Luis Adalberto Díaz, Rafael Aguiñada Carranza, and Carlos Arias units. March 25â•… Col. Domingo Monterrosa, leading the Atlacatl Battalion, murders 124 women and children in Mirandilla, El Zapote, San Antonio, and Quezalapa River. During the Venceremos evening broadcast, we warned that sooner or later all the crimes and genocide that the army has committed would appear before us, the people, and be judged. March 29â•… In the eastern zone we have made significant progress in our plan to expand our control toward the northern zone of neighboring La Unión department. We’ve already sent a guerrilla unit in that direction. We’ll take control of three locales in Morazán to mislead the Armed Forces High Command with respect to the direction of our expansion.

The Defeat of the Belloso Battalion March 30â•… The group that will serve as the distraction will be under the command of Raúl. Regional defense soldiers and militiamen have joined the group so as not to have to use brigade troops, which should be focusing on our plans for expansion. The assault of the San Isidro garrison, located in the foothills of Cacahuatique, commences at dawn. The thunderous roars of warfare ring out all day long. In the clinic, we run into Chuy, an old militiaman who fired his rifle for the first time in battle today. They’re patching up his hand where a bullet severed one of his fingers. We try to reconstruct the day’s events based on information and stories given to us by the combatants and officers who participated in the battle. The enemy is dislodged from its fortifications in San Isidro in a mere fortyfive minutes. A rally is held when word arrives that the Belloso Battalion is on its way to retake the city. We hadn’t anticipated this move. At first, we didn’t indicate to the militia that the approaching unit was a special task force with more firepower. “Let’s hit them hard. The ones who are coming are the paramilitary troops from San Simón,” Jaime yells. The enemy is trying to break our lines. “Here come the guys from Belloso Battalion!” our soldiers yell. “Don’t be fools. You’re just a bunch of soldiers who haven’t even learned how to fire a gun,” a militiaman responds.

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As the government soldiers fall back, Romeíto, along with his unit, and Guillermo, a member of the Radio team, go in pursuit. When they reach the first bodies, they realize that they weren’t paramilitaries at all, but Special Forces troops. The enemy soldiers stop retreating, quickly mounting a line of fire. Romeíto and Guillermo are out in the open and are mortally wounded by enemy fire. During the second attempt on the battalion, we isolate one group while another company falls back. A group of aircraft shows up, bombing and firing on the area with little effect. As the afternoon wears on, the surviving enemy troops, some eighty men, double back and form a defensive line. That’s when the compas receive word that the troops they have been fighting for seven hours now are part of the battalion that was trained at Fort Bragg. This information gives our troops a second wind, and they aggressively assault and take control of the last of the enemy’s positions. Just as the battle is determined to be over, a military officer is found hidden among the rocks. “I give up. Don’t shoot. I’m Lieutenant Larios Burgos.” The officer stands up, throws down his rifle, and raises a pair of clenched fists. The compas approach him. As they draw near, he opens his hand, releasing the grenade he was hiding. The blast that brings down the officer is the last of the afternoon, bringing the Battle of San Isidro to an end, and that’s how Fort Bragg came face to face with La Guacamaya. Seventy rifles were captured along with six PRC-77 radios, ammunition, flashlights, infrared night-vision goggles, and other little technological gringo gadgets. The FMLN lost three soldiers and ten more were hospitalized with combat injuries. They were transferred back to our camps in buses along with a Belloso Battalion soldier, our one prisoner of war. Chuy is about to go to sleep in the clinic, rocking back and forth in his hammock and cradling his bandaged hand. “Well, I lost a finger,” he said, “but I did have the pleasure of witnessing the day when we gave Belloso a whipping.” The bodies of more than fifty soldiers are covered and buried. The dead officer turned out to be the son of General Larios Guerra, the former minister of defense. March 31â•…

General García has issued an unspoken warning to the media. Radio Venceremos answers him tonight: “General García, the journalists were not the ones who raided the Ilopango air base and destroyed your planes. Nor are the journalists the ones who are defeating your special forces. It’s the FMLN that’s waging the war and winning!” There are certain expressions particular to the Morazán way of speaking. For example, when I went to the kitchen I saw that Mina was a little angry so I asked her, “Mina, ¿por qué estás tan brava?”5 April 1â•…



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“Allá la vaca,” she answered, letting me know that only animals are “bravos.” The usage of this particular way of speaking is quite often ingenious. It stops unwanted conversation by applying a strong dose of irony.

The Amatillo Bridge April 21â•… In tonight’s broadcast, we announce that in the last three months of action, the FMLN has succeeded in capturing 1,132 rifles, 64 support weapons, and an abundant supply of ammunition from the army. The government’s army has also suffered an estimated 1,700 casualties during this time period, and we have taken 622 prisoners of war, including officers and soldiers. Many of the prisoners have already been released to the International Committee of the Red Cross. April 26â•… We set out along with the mobile unit to report on an important operation that includes blowing up the international Amatillo Bridge. We walk all night long, covering some twenty-five kilometers in the direction of El Copetillo in La Unión department where the general command post has already been set up. Luisa, Atilio, Mariana, and Chicón are coordinating the operation from there. At four in the afternoon, our forces gather in the Leslique plaza, which looks more and more like a passenger terminal since every bus and truck in the zone has been brought there. At six, a call issues forth, followed by another. “Cirilo and his unit are leaving!” “Those bound for Santa Rosa are leaving!” Each unit climbs aboard its transport vehicle and departs amid a crowd of boisterous children. The women wave good-bye, wishing the soldiers good luck, and a few elderly women either sell or give away the last of the quesadillas and slices of watermelon. On Cirilo’s bus, the driver has put on a Rod Stewart song at full volume. If the locals weren’t on our side, a simple report would have already brought the helicopters in to target us. An hour before arriving at the bridge the men get off the buses and continue the journey on foot. At three in the morning, the units reach customs. Rocket launchers initiate the assault, creating a huge fireball. Everything must be taken care of before daybreak. A few dozen meters away, on the other side, are the Honduran tanks and troops that could cross over, coming to the aid of the soldiers under fire. There’s a holdup, and we fall behind in laying siege to the barracks. At sunrise we’re still fighting, and the situation becomes slightly more complicated. A car comes speeding toward us. It’s Tom with the explosives and the engineers. He moves down toward the river, situating the team under the bridge, and sets up a ladder. They begin to set the charges and connect the detonator cables

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in the bridge’s metal framework. Then they back up approximately a hundred meters. Alex pulls out the small transmitter that will send the electrical impulse, to detonate the explosives, but he realizes that the small antenna has fallen out. Without it, the operation will fail. He looks everywhere for it but can’t find it. Just as he begins to lose hope, he spots a member of the Radio team in the distance and yells, “Compa, lend me that antenna so that we can blow up the bridge!” Gustavo is filming the entire operation. Alex begins the countdown: “Three, two, one, zero!” He presses the trigger. A huge explosion rocks the area, sending scraps of concrete and metal flying hundreds of feet into the air. When the cloud of smoke and dust dissipates, we are able to see the collapsed bridge, both sections now sunk into the river. There’s complete silence. Not a sound comes from the usually noisy cicadas, barking dogs, and other animals. When the compañeros are about to initiate their assault on the last enemy positions, a thunderous report rings out. A Sherman tank from the Honduran side has opened fire, and a shell hits the customshouse. Shrapnel hits Rivera and severs a number of his fingers. The soldiers, believing that we are the ones firing the cannon shells, come out with their hands up. Hernán orders the troops to open fire on the tank with the 90 cannon. They do as ordered, and the tank falls back. The Honduran forces fire arbitrarily with machine guns and mortars. Amílcar is mortally wounded. At noon, after a heated battle that has lasted the better part of the morning, our troops pull back toward the hills, where we bury our two fallen combatants. The army doesn’t show up all day long, so at nightfall the compañeros climb back onto the buses and go to sleep peacefully in El Sauce. While all of this is taking place, fifteen kilometers away another important tactical operation is taking place. Five more bridges are being blown up, and the Santa Rosa de Lima barracks are under attack. In the process, one of our officers, Commander Amílcar Hernández (Adán), died. He had been instrumental in getting the organization up and running in the eastern zone. May 6â•… Taking advantage of his guards’ carelessness, Colonel Castillo escapes. He tries to make his way out of our territory disguised as a farmer, but old Morazán, sly as a fox, catches him on the road: “Where are you going, Colonel Castillo?” The prisoner returns to our camp with a double security detail to make sure the incident doesn’t repeat itself. In Guazapa, a company of paratroopers is broken up. From there we begin our FM broadcasts directed to the capital once more. May 18â•… The Atlacatl Battalion crosses the Torola, advancing into our territory. We assault the unit in Jocoatique with 81-mm mortars. Colonel Monterrosa



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calls for air support, and Dragonfly A-37s come to his aid. We hit one of them with machine gun fire just as it goes into a dive. The damaged plane attempts to return to base but crashes soon after being hit. May 21â•… The North Americans push forward in their plan to transform Domingo Monterrosa into the military leader that they need. The Atlacatl Battalion comes to Perquín, bringing the international press along with it so that they can film the colonel distributing beans and other food to the locals. There’s even an orchestra. As usual, he’s far from the line of fire but practically attached to the television cameras and film crews in a show that costs lives, millions of dollars, and the loss of a plane. May 22â•… The FMLN takes Oratorio de Concepción along with more weapons and prisoners of war. Wallace Nutting, leader of the southern command, asks that Reagan be given free rein to use full military force in Nicaragua and El Salvador, warning, “The FMLN will continue to win the psychological war for as long as the North American administration refuses to take the necessary action in El Salvador.” May 24â•… The Pentagon admits to having spy planes over El Salvador to monitor the rebel positions. The information they gather is quickly passed along to the Salvadoran Army. They also announce that 525 officers will be trained in the United States. May 25â•… General Command reveals its plans for a new military campaign named El Salvador Will Defeat Reagan’s Aggression.6 The plan begins with an attack on the Quebrada Seca garrison in which we seize weaponry and inflict forty-eight casualties on the enemy.

La Antena Is Taken May 30â•… We have done away with all enemy positions on the northeastern strip. The only thing that remains is the La Antena military base, located on the highest point of Cacahuatique. It’s a communications center protected by a complex defense system. According to the version that El Pescado, a member of the Radio team, sent me, the attack began early in the morning in cold, dense fog. On the first attempt, the machine guns keep our forces from advancing, but we succeed in taking a hill and setting up the .50-caliber machine gun there. The air force drops dozens of bombs, trying to recover lost ground, and our forces double back toward the nearby coffee plantations. Yubibi and Gerber Chele try

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to infiltrate the base but are unsuccessful; land mines are scattered everywhere and the barbed wire proves too difficult to penetrate. At two in the morning we try again. This time, Elmer’s unit draws enemy fire while Ché and his men move along the path, taking one trench at a time with the help of well-placed grenades. The government troops flee by the only available route. They run right into our ambush, and we take a number of them prisoner. May 31â•… The sun shines on the FMLN flag, now flying atop the La Antena military base, as we bury our dead. Antonio Amaya Vásquez, José Antonio Guevara (Óscar), Gurmencio Pérez (Pastora), Elías Claros (David), and Miguel Benavides (Bravo), the soldier whom we captured in Moscarrón who so willingly joined our ranks, all died in combat. The military communication equipment is taken apart, loaded up, and transported along with fifty rifles, mortars, machine guns, thirty thousand rounds of ammunition, and other supplies. The fifty prisoners of war march along single file. Domingo Monterrosa could have brought the Atlacatl Battalion to aid the besieged base, but he chose to sacrifice the base and preserve his battalion, not daring to show his face now that he is under the watchful eye of General Blandón and other rivals within the armed forces. June 1â•… The compas comb the Cacahuatique highlands looking for soldiers who are still scattered throughout the area. While completing this task, something odd takes place: an unarmed militiaman en route to the Front, carrying a sack of tortillas on his back, suddenly finds himself face to face with an enemy soldier whose first reaction is to shoot. The militiaman swiftly bends over, grabs a rock and yells, “Soldier, surrender or I’ll blow you to bits!” Perhaps the soldier was aware that it was no bomb, but the militiaman was so aggressive in his warning that the soldier threw down his rifle and gestured to signal his surrender. June 3â•… In Tenancingo, Cabañas, the FMLN seizes control of the garrison despite General Blandón’s bombing of the area, which causes mass destruction and a number of civilian casualties. We captured seventy-five rifles and took forty-five soldiers prisoner. We later received a recorded conversation in which General Blandón ordered that the civilian population be bombed. At first there was some doubt as to whether or not it would be wise to release the recording, which could lead the Armed Forces High Command to restrict communications, but Atilio determined that we are obligated to let the people know that the government didn’t hesitate to target civilians. June 7â•…



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after having been a political prisoner for two and a half years she replies, “I’m going to rejoin the fight!” Domingo Monterrosa orders the assassination of inhabitants of Piedra Luna, Guarumal, and Los Chicas here in Morazán. Domingo Monterrosa, along with twelve hundred men from his battalion, set out on their “secret” trek toward Agua Blanca with the objective of assaulting and seizing control of headquarters and Radio Venceremos. Our scouts are watching their every move. June 9â•…

Monterrosa and His War Trophies We awaken to a state of high alert. Combat has broken out just two miles from our camp. Monterrosa was probably surprised to run into a line of fire blocking his passage. The mules are already loaded with the radio equipment, and we’ve stuffed the heaviest materials into our sacks. We march toward Joateca without any sort of rush. The compas drop back as the Atlacatl Battalion reaches Fuego Hill. At nightfall, one of our units carries out a nocturnal attack, taking the trenches and capturing seven rifles and three soldiers. June 10â•…

June 12â•… Monterrosa fails in his attempt to hit us. As a result, he puts on a show for the international press, deciding to swear in a new company in the area that we have just left. The minister of defense himself will be present. When we become aware of this detail, we prepare our own welcome for the minister, aiming an 81-mm mortar at the plain, where we are already observing the battalion standing in formation. The band plays military anthems while General Vides Casanova’s aircraft sets down. Not far off in our own field command center, Atilio and Jonás take turns with the binoculars to keep an eye on the scene that’s unfolding down below. “I can’t even begin to imagine how frenzied our little Vides is going to be once our plan goes through,” Chico comments. The order is given to open fire, and a few seconds after hearing the rounds go off, we see plumes of black smoke rising from where the mortars have hit. The soldiers look like a bunch of crazed ants running in all directions at once. With that, the minister’s brief visit is over; he’s already speeding away in his helicopter. The Atlacatl Battalion doesn’t remain in our territory for long. Faced with the humiliation of not having secured a single real victory, Monterrosa goes about inspecting our camps from top to bottom, searching for something he can show to the press. And he does indeed find something. He uncovers our

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replica of Cacahuatique, the model that we used to plan our assault on the La Antena base. We saw Monterrosa in a television interview, sitting in his office with the model off to the side on his desk. This small detail tells us something important about Monterrosa: he has a particular attraction for war trophies. The discovery is the first step toward developing a plot against the colonel. Every time he comes to Morazán with the intention of defeating us, we end up learning something new about him. Each bit of information is like a piece to a puzzle that we are slowly putting together, forming a psychological portrait of the man whose greatest obsession is the destruction of Radio Venceremos. Another trophy that he was able to take with him was the tape of the Rafael Arce Zablah Brigade being sworn in. His need to come up with some type of victory leads him to an error in judgment: airing the tape on television. Scenes that inspire the people play over and over again. Viewers see hundreds of combatants on the screen, capable, reverent, and in good spirits.

Atilio and the Smell of Ink June 13â•… We reach Cacalote, our new position, after having covered thirty kilometers. We’ll be here a few days until the operation is over. Word spreads from El Salvador that military elements have kidnapped the owner of Vanguardia Printing, the father of Commander Joaquín Villalobos. Alarmed by the news, I make my way toward the commanders, almost all of whom are taking a rest. Atilio is in the hallway listening to the news, his gaze on the distant pasture where the mules graze. “How are you, Atilio? Do you have any news about your father?” I ask him. “No, nothing new.” “I didn’t know he was a printer.” Atilio turns off the radio and takes off his hat, visibly shaken as he sits atop a pile of equipment:

My father’s whole life has been printing; it’s been his trade ever since he was young. He’s from Jucuapa, but they had to move when he was young because my grandmother worked in the house of a family from Santa Tecla. She stayed there for a long time, locked up in that house, serving the family for her entire life. Later, my dad and one of his brothers had to move to San Salvador, to La Candelaria neighborhood, where they rented a room in one of those boardinghouses full of impoverished families. He started working as a printer’s apprentice. Of course, they didn’t pay him, but they did give him food. Overall, the working conditions were pretty tough, but

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as time went by he learned the trade. He’s the curious type, always trying to learn something new although he didn’t have much schooling. He just went through second grade. As the years passed he was able to buy an old press. He fixed it up, and then in 1947 he set up shop right in his room and started a card printing business that he called Vanguard Printing—a modest name to complement his modest beginnings, as I’m sure you can tell. Later on he moved to another area in the Candelaria neighborhood.” “And that’s where you were born?” Yep, we grew up surrounded by the smell of ink and the rattling of the printer. As time wore on, my father was able to get more old equipment that he always repaired himself, and that’s how the business grew. More and more workers became part of the family. I remember that they always used to tell us stories about their lives. At dinner there was always a lot of talk, usually protests against the government, mixed in with complaints about the economic situation. You know what I mean: the general perspective of the impoverished sector of society. There were frequent comparisons between the life of the rich, sitting in their mansions, and the miserable life that the workers endured. “Atilio,” Margarita calls out from the communications room, “María wants to speak with you. She’s on the radio.” June 20â•… The armed forces have kidnapped numerous family members of known revolutionary leaders. In an attempt to save their lives, the FMLN offers to exchange Colonel Castillo for the prisoners, but the army doesn’t agree. In the last month we have captured 221 rifles and 139 prisoners.

We’re going to be in the deserted town of Arambala for a few days, but we are glad to hear that Ana Guadalupe is back with us in El Salvador. We are setting the radio up in the school building when a push-pull plane appears out of nowhere, circling the town. We hide behind a rock wall just when the plane goes into a dive to fire on us. The first wave of rockets explodes when they hit the trees, sending splinters flying through the air. A piece of shrapnel hits Ismael in the leg, and another hits Fredy in the head. By six we’ve already recovered from the scare. We begin our evening broadcast with a report on the events that have taken place in Rosario Perico, where we have captured seventy rifles and thirty soldiers. June 26â•…

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July 6â•… Early in the morning the army fired a number of shells from the other side of the Torola, hitting the civilian district of Jocoatique. We loaded into one of our trucks to go into town and assess the damage. The shells hit in the plaza, some falling on houses, resulting in the death of one civilian and multiple others injured. As we were making our way back, we saw a bird that looked like a large Spanish dove, and we couldn’t help but imagine it roasted. We took aim and fired. It fell lifeless to the ground. It wasn’t a dove but a roadrunner. Upon arriving at the camp kitchen, everyone ran up to see what we had brought. “You’re kidding, you’ve shot a love bird,” Zaqueo exclaims as he grabs it by its long tail. “It’s good roasted. Should I pluck it?” Rosita asks.

No, you can’t eat it. Listen, my grandfather told me that you can use this bird to make an amulet that’ll make girls go crazy for you. It goes like this: you take the bird and bury it at a crossroads where the girls have to spread their legs when they pass by. After it’s been buried there for two weeks, you go to the place at midnight and dig it up. You grab hold of the bones and hold them tight because the devil might appear and try to steal them from you. You’ve got to hold on really tight, and if you can leave the place with the bones then you’ve done it. You just put them in a pouch that you hang around your neck and it’s done. You’ll have so many girls so anxious to sleep with you that you’ll be like a poor farmer’s cow, poorly fed but well milked. Zaqueo and the rest of the compas insisted that we not eat the bird, so we buried it right there on the spot. During the night, I went out toward the house where they’ve set up the clinic. A storm rolled in when I was halfway there. The downpour made the path impossible to find in the darkness. I tried to find it using the dim flashlight that I brought with me, but I kept ending up in the same spot. Then I heard a crying woman. Using the crying sound as a sort of compass, I found two girls who were with a group coming from the Colomoncagua refugee camps. They had gotten lost in the dark and stormy weather. We continued searching for the clinic, and once we arrived, Eduardo offered them shelter and gave them some hot coffee. I went back to camp and told Zaqueo what happened. “You see? You just buried it today, and you’ve already run into two girls!” he exclaimed, utterly convinced. The Atlacatl Battalion lays siege to Copapayo and La Escopeta, massacring dozens of civilians. Humanitarian organizations estimate that the armed forces and death squads have murdered some forty-two thousand people. July 19â•…



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July 23â•… The FMLN Command is planning an operation of great importance here in San Miguel. To throw off the armed forces, the Sesori garrison is attacked. After running the guards off, we took control of the small city and expanded our dominance in the northeastern zone.

Today we commemorate the two hundredth anniversary of Simón Bolívar’s birth. It fell to me to say a few words about the great liberator. The compas were attentive as I told them how Simón Bolívar and his shoeless army crossed the Andes to liberate five of the continent’s nations. After the ceremony, Chila came forward. “I liked what you had to say about Bolívar,” she commented, “because it seems a lot like our struggle.” As dusk fell I experienced the sort of nostalgia that creeps into your soul. I thought about Marcela, who is single once more, and I directed myself to the press and propaganda house. At a rapid pace, feeling more and more the conqueror, I entered the place. The smell of fresh ink and paint hit me immediately. There was Marcela, wearing a black blouse and tight jeans, her hair flowing down her back. “Well, it’s a miracle. How have you been?” she says affectionately. When I glanced toward the corner of the room, I was surprised to see Atilio sitting on the table. He turned red when he saw me, leading me to believe that he had come to win over Marcela, just as I had. “I’ve come to get a good book to read,” I lied. I picked the first book I could find and left with the same determination with which I had entered. Rubén was outside on the path, distributing mail: “Where are you going all serious?” “To look for a tree so I can hang myself,” I replied. July 24â•…

August 1â•… We receive the heartbreaking news that Lilian Mercedes Letona (Commander Clelia) has died, just when she was just about to realize her dream of joining the war, and after having been locked away in prison for so long. August 15â•… Irra told us that when he was crossing the Sapo River he had an unexpected run-in. “You should have seen how scared I was! I saw this woman with long hair; she was skin and bones. When she saw me, she disappeared in a cloud of white mist. It was the Siguanaba of the Sapo River.7 For two years similar stories of the mysterious woman appearing near the river have been cropping up. Everybody tries to determine if it’s the devil, La Llorona,8 or El Cipitío that leaves tiny, feminine footprints in the sand of the riverbank.9

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Diana the Huntress, an Assassin Sent by the CIA August 23â•… Headquarters calls a meeting of all units near La Polleta. A circle of a hundred compañeros forms at four in the afternoon. There is growing speculation as whispers run through the group. Mariana advances toward the center of the group and announces, “Listen up, everyone. We have gathered you here today to show you a CIA agent sent to carry out a mission against the FMLN. We want you to be aware of just what we are up against. We’ll have to redouble our security efforts to ensure that the new plots fail.” Chele César moves in from the side along with William and a third person, the prisoner. She’s average height with straight, chestnut-colored hair, and a well-toned body. She looks to be about twenty-two years old. Her face is covered with a red handkerchief so she can’t identify anyone present. “Can you tell us your name?” César asks her. “Ninoska Alvarado, my codename is Diana,” she replies nervously. “What is your mission?” “To kill the commanders of the FMLN and destroy Radio Venceremos.” “That will be all. You can take her away,” Mariana orders. This entire course of events started months back, when an attractive student showed up at the Hechoandrajos camp asking to join the war. She claimed that the government army had assassinated her husband and that she wanted to fight with the FMLN. At that point she was assigned to writing and printing propaganda. But the person in charge of the camp began to notice that she was acting strange and put her under surveillance. It wasn’t long before she started to ask too many questions about the commanders—where they were, what they were like, where Venceremos was located, and a multitude of others. On one occasion, the girl succeeded in getting one of her targets, Commander Claudio Armijo, alone, but was unable to act since the team that would accompany her on her mission was still not complete. A few days later another individual arrived wanting to join the FMLN for the very same reason. Despite the fact that he tried to be cooperative and agreeable in every endeavor, the man gradually began to exhibit qualities and attitudes that were not in line with anyone who claimed to be a revolutionary. Little things, like refusing to share toothpaste with other compañeros who asked him for some, were what gave him away. The two infiltrators, Diana and Carlos Federico, were captured along with other members of their support team. Diana collaborated with us, revealing information about the plan. The two work for the secret police in Honduras. Carlos Federico, or Ramón Maldonado, is a lieutenant in the FUSEP.10 He is a paratrooper highly skilled in the use of explosives and is also in charge of special ops. He fought alongside the Somoza National Guard in 1978. After the



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revolution in Nicaragua, the CIA placed him with the Contras.11 He participated in several plots with them, such as blowing up the Guasaule Bridge. As one of Álvarez Martínez’s and Lt. Billy Joya’s most trusted associates, he specialized in torturing union workers, students, and opposing leaders in Honduras. There he’s known as El Hombre de Hierro.12 Diana holds the rank of sergeant. She coldly describes the dreadful details of dozens of murders and assassinations. One particularly gruesome method involves placing a board with protruding nails on the victim and then having the torturer jump on it. Diana tells us that her previous mission was to travel to Mexico to assassinate Gen. Leónidas Torres Arias. It was canceled before it could be carried out. The CIA had lost its faith in the Salvadoran Army’s ever striking down the FMLN once and for all, in view of the armed forces’ failure on all counts. Consequently, the North American intelligence agency put this undercover plan into action with the support of General Álvarez Martínez, who personally participated in each of the meticulous planning sessions for the operation. According to Diana, the unit comprised two groups. One was to assassinate members of the ERP command by using explosive devices, while the other was to simultaneously finish off the radio personnel and destroy any equipment. The plot relied on a support system that would make sure that weapons, gas masks, and explosives reached the unit in Morazán. When the investigation is over, Venceremos will go public with the information taken straight from the mouths of the captured agents.

The Bells Toll for Carlos August 30â•… Our camp at La Polleta is located in the middle of a coffee plantation covered by a forest full of different kinds of trees. A canvas tarp covers the air raid shelter housing the transmitters. Up above there are two large tables sitting on the leveled-off mound of earth, one with typewriters, the other with sound and recording equipment sitting on top. That’s where I was, reading the last two pages of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bells Toll, where Jordan, a North American who has joined the anti-Fascist movement in the Spanish Civil War, finds himself facing death as he lies there bleeding, aiming his rifle at the enemy soldiers as they approach through the trees. Right after I had finished the book, Marianita appeared: “Did you hear? Carlos is dead. Machine gun fire from a helicopter.” I was struck by the coincidence of the events. I had just read Hemingway’s description of a North American who abandoned everything he loved to fight for what he considered a just cause. Carroll Ishee (Carlos) had done the same thing here in Morazán.

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We reported the results of the most recent campaign during the evening broadcast: 501 rifles, 32 support weapons, 212 prisoners, 18 towns, and one Dragonfly A-37 plane.

Attack on the Third Brigade September 1â•… For the last two months our forces here in Morazán have concentrated on a single strategic operation: assaulting the Third Infantry Brigade in the city of San Miguel. Preparing for the operation has meant days of coming up with plans, crunching numbers, moving supplies and ammunition, expeditions into the zone around the barracks, and hauling heavy 120- and 81-mm mortars up onto the Cacahuatique highlands. When he becomes aware of such concentrated movement, the armed forces’ High Command prepares to block us by arranging the paratrooper and other local battalions in a line of containment all along the Cacahuatique. Our forces total one thousand units under the command of Jonás. Our numbers make it difficult to keep the operation quiet, and it’s only possible to do so with constant relocation and the help of the locals. To reach the Third Brigade barracks from our camps, you have to march very close to army outposts for a number of days on a route that measures some seventy kilometers. And there’s a problem. One battalion of the Third Brigade has started to move toward a concentration of our forces, and if it detects us the plan will be exposed and fail. Raúl, who has been named one of the executive officers, moves a unit into the Cacahuatique highlands to confront the battalion, which it will hold off for four days, while the rest of the forces assault the barracks. The enemy’s presence in the area has disrupted our flow of supplies. The combatants are poorly fed, and we’ve been unable to get footwear for eighty compañeros who are currently wearing shredded boots. One question remains to be answered: Will the plan come together under such unfavorable conditions? Tonight the march gets under way in a torrential downpour, with each soldier carrying projectiles and other kinds of weaponry to Yamabal. Buses are waiting there to transport the mortars toward the Seco River. The unit that will attack from the south has already left the coastal region of Juacarán and is on its way to San Miguel. It’s a group of 140 men under the command of Licho, Mincho, and Cirilo. All of this takes place with the people’s help. They prepare food, provide information, and keep the plan a secret. The success of operations like this surely depends on their support. September 3â•… The command post and the Venceremos team both move toward the Ocote Seco highlands near Joateca. We set up the operations base



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in the middle of a pine forest. During the evening broadcast, we ask listeners not to change the dial since we’ll be reporting information related to a “possible coup d’état.” We also advertise the comic short, The Subversive Guacamayan, our objective being to hold the audience’s attention until the assault on the barracks takes place at eleven. Tension and exhaustion join forces to make us all extremely sleepy. Mariposa cures our drowsiness by tuning in to a rock station, and we take a much-needed break that we interrupt only when we hear noise coming from the command post. It wasn’t long before a beaming Atilio showed up and said, “Get ready to read the report. The barracks is under heavy fire, and Colonel Flores is screaming like a little an old woman in an earthquake!” The war segment of our broadcast established the political importance of the act. The mortar rounds bombarding the barracks destroyed the High Command’s self-indulgent illusion, demolishing once and for all the idea that we had been defeated. Days later, when the compañeros who participated in the operation returned to Morazán, I was able to reconstruct events. Just before eleven, our forces are ready to carry out an artillery attack on the Third Brigade while a Special Ops unit infiltrates the base. The 120-mm mortars and the three 81-mm cannons are already positioned fifteen hundred meters from the barracks; the 75-mm cannon is four blocks away, and the .50-caliber machine gun and M60s are just four hundred meters from the target. The support battalion is running back and forth, piling up projectiles next to the weapons aimed at the barracks. Mario looks through the scope, aligning the weapons, Miguel clicks the ammunition clips into the machine guns, and Amílcar takes the safety off the cannon. The observation post and firing deck have been set up eight hundred meters from the barracks. Manolo is there, directing the artillery attack. He excitedly observes the lights of the barracks where he served as an officer a number of years back. Moments before the attack begins, Fredy, one of the guerrilla leaders, goes up to him and says, “Listen, Manolo, I’ve been wanting to tell you something for days. You know, when you first arrived at the camp in Morazán and they told us that you were an army captain and had been an officer during the October operation, it made my blood run cold. I really didn’t like you.” Fredy turns to the side and spits, takes a puff on his cigarette, and continues talking to Manolo, who doesn’t take his eyes off the building: “Things change, though, and now I’d be willing to give my life for you!” Manolo says that his eyes filled with tears because he felt that Fredy’s confession was proof that he was no longer just an advisor or collaborator, but another compañero fighting the fight. Looking down at his watch, Manolo realized that it was now eleven, and he gave the order: “Fire!” Fredy took the radio telephone and repeated the order: “Fire!” 150 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

The weapons all fired at once. Gabino, who was up on a post adjusting the aim of the cannons, felt the ground shake as if the earth had hiccups. Grenades flew by, whistling in the night and falling near the guards. Balbino was a little late firing the first blast from the cannon since he was lost in thought, remembering the day when he met Conchita near the river in Guazapa. He remembered her freckles and her face, so pretty you could see it once and die happy. The second wave fell on the barracks and administrative offices, and that was when the commander of the Third Brigade, the rather obese Col. Jaime Flores, did believe what he had refused to believe after the first explosions: it was a fullfledged attack, not an accidental misfire. They say that he tripped on the stairs, his 320-pound body flying forward, looking more and more like an elephant in uniform, all the while screaming contradictory orders left and right: “Everyone in the trenches. No, it’s better that one unit be stationed at the entrance to the barracks. Send a company out to find where they’re shooting from. Call the minister. Tell General Vides Casanova to send the air force. Where is the damned watch officer?” In the meantime, our mortars had already begun to level the base, and our aim was becoming more precise by the minute. The machine guns were rattling; explosions rang out in the vicinity of Sánchez and his unit, where they had blown up a bridge. The fires blazing in the night called the inhabitants of San Miguel out of their homes and up to their roofs to watch the flames and smoke billowing out of the barracks. The enemy batteries were firing wildly, but our own firepower put an end to it. On Radio Chaparrastique Sorto said, “The three hours that the attack lasted were total chaos.” All across the city, guerrilla units completed other missions. Licho gave orders to the teams manning the 60-mm mortars and machine guns. Javier coordinated the movement of the forward troops. Guadalupe, whose mission was to blow up the enemy’s arms warehouse, advanced. He was already near the barracks, but before he completed his task he ran into a bullet with his name on it, a bullet that preserves him in our memories as a dear friend, our Guadalupe, the Guadalupe of Morazán. The barracks seemed to be floating in a cloud of smoke. The minister of defense rushed to do damage control, claiming on television that the nocturnal assault was cowardly and treacherous. His condemnation of our method made it seem as if the element of surprise was not a universally understood principle of war, as if the colonels and their troops had forgotten even the most basic combat lessons. The order was given to fall back, and the combatants hopped into buses that sped peacefully along a stretch of the Pan-American Highway. The enemy still hadn’t retaliated. The compas sang and yelled, “Rafael Arce Zablah Brigade, mission complete!”

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The only ones who weren’t singing were the injured. Guadalupe would have sung, but he was lying in the truck bed, surrounded by compañeros, his eyes forever closed as if he were resting in the fine mist that was falling.

El Pedrero September 7â•… From territory already under its control, the FMLN extends its influence into more populated and economically vital zones. To facilitate this new phase of operations we move our camp closer to the action, transporting the radio and all of its parts by bus. As the morning rolls in, we give the new El Pedrero location the once-over. It’s in the highlands and has gigantic boulders that come together to form an ideal trench for a bomb shelter. It seems as if nature’s design was destined for the installation of Venceremos. We set up the equipment and the booth between the thick rock walls and under the pine forest that unfolds above us. A camouflaged canvas truck bed cover will serve as a roof. We begin to put together our rooms. We use small nylon tents just big enough to hold our beds, which are made of boards and padded with pine branches. Our technical studio and the latrine are down in the gully. The kitchen has been installed in two abandoned houses next to the river and wells where the girls wash up and bathe. Not far from there the commanders’ tents are being set up along with the meeting and communications room. Farther along are the communications workshop and the military intelligence unit, where a number of guys are already listening in on the army. Ismael and Germán, who are responsible for security, insist that we have to camouflage the buses and tents as well as we can by not leaving colorful clothing out in the open, in view of air patrols. From our vantage point at an altitude of some eleven hundred meters, the landscape is spectacular. To the southwest towers the majestic Cacahuatique, while in the background stands the Corobán, situated thirty kilometers from the city of San Francisco Gotera. On all four sides we are surrounded by pine forests. At night we’re surprised to see little webs of light from distant cities and towns across the country. When there is no moon, we can see the gleaming capital, which sits one hundred kilometers straight in front of us. We’re located just to the side of a highway that leads straight into San Fernando and Perquín. We’re half an hour from Torola. September 10â•… Just like every other Sunday, Maravilla, Marvin, and I go to the metropolis. We set off early in the morning along a road that winds its way through the highlands and later down a steep slope. Half an hour later we reach

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Torola, its rock-hewn streets swarming with people since today is market day. Stands selling onions, tomatoes, aspirin, clothes, fabric, candies from Honduras, quesadillas, sweets, and bark and herbs for everyday aches and pains line the sidewalks. We stop to have something to drink amid the clamor of people moving up and down the streets. There’s a small, open area in front of the church that serves as the locale for afternoon relaxation and conversation. As the bell rings, women wearing scarves and carrying rosaries make their way into the church and take their seats in the pews where Rogelio and Miguel are ready to offer Mass. We’re sitting on the stairs in front of the church when an elderly, stooped man comes up to us. A mane of white hair gives him the air of a patriarch. His breath tells us that he’s had his fair share of brandy this morning. “You’re not going to pray to Saint James?” he asked us in a mellow voice. “That depends on the miracles he’s performed,” I said with the intention of striking up a conversation. For one thing, he’s the patron saint of Torola. They say that many years ago a statue of Saint James the Apostle appeared here. He’s the saint that has helped the poor more than any other. He appeared on a white horse, with every detail fashioned in rich wood. The people made him a sort of arbor up there where the soccer field is. Then one day he disappeared, and they found him ten blocks from where he started. They found him right on this very spot, the spot where he wanted them to build a church. Excited about what the old man had to say, we enter the church. There are images of the saint’s miracles on the walls. An inscription accompanies each image. We notice one that says, “Thank you for curing my daughter’s incurable illness.” Then we see another that has a more cryptic message: “Forever grateful for saving Rudecindo’s life, who was captured by the guards.”

September 18

Word reaches us up on Jaguar Hill that Sánchez and Maritza have fallen in combat. As she lay there dying, Maritza pulled herself along to hide the radio and its codes so that they wouldn’t fall into enemy hands. When the compañeros found her body, she was clutching her rifle and had begun to spell out a message in her own blood. Tonight I found Ismael, silent, staring into the fire, clearly distraught over the death of his sister.



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We Capture the Butcher September 23â•… We’ve relocated to a town that we’ve recently taken, Nuevo Edén, in San Juan. There we receive one of the best pieces of news that we’ve heard thus far: Capt. Napoleón Medina Garay (the Butcher of Junquillo) was captured while the Cobra Battalion was attempting to retake lost ground. September 26â•… Chico reports that they’re transporting Medina Garay toward Carolina. I should go and interview him. Chele César, my “brother,” accompanied me for at least part of the walk. While we were passing by the first few houses in Torola, lightning ripped across the sky announcing that a storm was not far off. Taking off his hat and wiping the sweat from his brow, César said, “You know, eight years ago on a day much like this we had already taken El Carmen in La Unión when Rafael Arce Zablah died. Almost all the presentday leaders of the FMLN participated in the operation. Atilio, Ana Guadalupe, Mariana, Balta, Rodrigo—they were all there and still young.” He didn’t get to finish what he was saying because right then the skies opened up, and we barely had time to get out our nylon shelters to cover up. We bid one another farewell, and I left bound for the northern zone of San Miguel department. For the rest of the day and well into the night the storm didn’t show any signs of letting up. The roads turned into rivers of mud. Our flashlights barely penetrated the downpour. The hours we spent slogging through mud and rain would have been a bad memory if it weren’t for the compañeros who were happily joking and making fun of those of us who couldn’t seem to keep our balance. We were ready to get into the boat that was tied up at the dock and cross the Torola when we got word that the prisoner was at a house in the town. When we reached the place, Eduardo had already tended to Medina Garay’s injuries. The captain was stretched out on a table; the faint candlelight barely illuminated his dark-skinned, corpulent figure. While we were changing out of our soaked clothes, I heard Elsa’s unmistakable laughter coming from the kitchen. We all share a special affection for her. Soon she appeared, radiant as always, a few curls drifting down onto her forehead and obscuring her face. She greeted us with her characteristic warmth. “Some hot coffee to warm you up!” “How are you, Elsa? How’s the Butcher behaving?” “He’s a perfect coward. The only thing he’s done is whine like a little girl.” I was so tired that I immediately laid my mat out in the corner, when I heard a whining voice say, “Nurse, nurse, fix my pillow for me.” It was Medina Garay, calling the watch medic, who was sleeping in her hammock. She stood up and lit an oil lamp. When the light had illuminated the entire room I saw an angelic face. A slim, graceful figure glided over to the prisoner, who repeated in the same voice, “Nurse, nurse.”

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The young woman yawned and moved forward, placing a pillow under his head and situating his hurt arm. Then with an indescribable mixture of tenderness and loathing she said to him, “Look, Buddy, my name is Marina. I’m not a nurse, I’m a medic.” Before breakfast I was ready to interview the captain when I suddenly remembered that little girl from El Junquillo who had told us how this man had so viciously murdered her family. Approaching the table where he was lying I said, “Could you state your name and military rank?” “I’m Capt. Napoleón Medina Garay, commander of the Cobra Battalion from the Second Military Detachment.” “Captain, do you take responsibility for the massacres committed by your unit against the people of Morazán in March of 1981?” His breathing faltered as the blood drained from his face. He looked from side to side, scrutinizing the faces of the compañeros who were watching him in the room. Finally he managed to stammer, September 27â•…

Listen, you must know that you have to follow orders. The General Staff gives orders and you carry them out. I didn’t do the things I did because I wanted to but because I had to, as God is my witness. A month ago in one of your camps over there in Cabañas, we captured a child who was maybe seven years old. I didn’t lay a finger on that boy. He’s in the barracks with me because I take care of him. I give him food. At first he looked at me with fear in his eyes but now he cleans my boots and I give him candy in return. All I’ve done is fulfill my duty as a military officer. God is my witness. Damn, the anesthesia’s wearing off! The injury to my testicles really hurts. His voice trails off and his pupils dilate. His bulging eyes fearfully scan the room, searching for our reaction to what he’s said. “It would be better to let him sleep. You can do the interview later,” Eduardo told me. I walked into the kitchen in hopes of finding breakfast. The woman of the house asked Garzona, “That man’s Medina Garay?” “Yes, who would have thought that one day I’d have to allow the Butcher of El Junquillo to rest under my own roof,” Garzona replied as she looked at the prisoner through the door and spit. “They’re going to execute him, aren’t they?” “No, he’s a prisoner of war.” “But that man has killed so many innocent people.” The news of his capture is spreading through the country like a lightning bolt, and the people are asking themselves that very question.



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October 7â•… The compañeros in the capital are making a valiant effort to solidify their struggle amid intense repression. The workers from the Institute of Urban Housing have been on strike for days. In the meantime, information regarding the critical economic situation is published: unemployment is currently at 38 percent, and underemployment has risen to a staggering 79 percent of the population. The death squads continue to terrorize the local population. The bodies of Santiago Hernández, the secretary-general of the Federal Trade Union, and Dora Muñoz, a university professor, have been discovered at a time when the number of prisoner torture cases is multiplying.

El Cheje, the Godfather October 19â•… Luisa has brought a compañero who will be joining our workshop. His name is Fidel, but everyone calls him El Cheje. He’s small in stature and short-legged with a little beer belly and a tuft of straight hair that covers his wide forehead and bulging eyes, and, last but not least, long sideburns that make him look like a leader of the independence movement when you see him from the side. He’s a typical Salvadoran laborer who turns into quite the trickster, joke teller, rock enthusiast, political analyst, storyteller, and conversationalist after he overcomes his shyness. He soon becomes one of our best friends. “What’s up,” El Cheje says as the words get caught in his throat as if he were a hoarse child. I had my first run-in with El Cheje two days after he got here. Despite being an avid reader, he shows little concern for the books that we have painstakingly acquired. At the time of his arrival in camp, I was rereading País portátil, which I made the mistake of leaving on one of the disorderly tables in the workshop. One day when I went into the latrine, I found a few pages of the book lying in the pit. Someone had used them as toilet paper—I returned to the workshop, brimming with rage: “Who the hell used the pages from País portátil to wipe their ass?” Mauricio, Teto, Genaro, Abel, and Ricardo stood there looking at me as if I were some kind of alien about to stab them. El Cheje just laughed nervously. “Were you the one who used País portátil as toilet paper?” I yelled. “Why are you making such a big deal over a copy of that book? As long as I’m not wiping my ass with the country we’re living in, then what’s a little bit of crap on a few pages of a book?” he replied with a smile that deflated my rage while the rest of the lot made fun of me. Months later—I’ll tell all in due time—I would become a father and have to change diapers and get up in the middle of the night to get the bottle ready for

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the morning. That’s when El Cheje would become the godfather of my child as a testament to our friendship. October 29â•… The FMLN attacks the national guard garrison in Barrios. The “honorable and distinguished” soldiers dress up as women and try to make a run for it at the first sound of gunfire. “Bye, darling,” a combatant said to a rushed young woman before catching a glimpse of her hairy legs and realizing that it was an enemy soldier. Three years ago these were the most feared guardians of the oligarchy and its expansive properties. Another myth crumbles.

The Military School in San Fernando October 31â•… We set off toward San Fernando, an hour’s walk, to do a report on the military school. The town is bustling with activity. Stores are crowded with the people from nearby cantones. Paty holds a meeting of Christian community leaders in the church, our doctors examine a group of children in the clinic, and two enormous pigs are butchered in the market for roasting. Marvin flirts with a teacher on a street corner, and the sweet bread turns a light, golden brown in the ovens. In the plaza, six squads are standing at attention. Juan and Manolo, along with the other instructors, José Luis, Uriel, Ulises, Pedro, Leonardo, Antonio, and Altagracia, are standing in front of the military school alumni discussing a disciplinary issue with them: “Compañeros, we are here to inform you that the Second Squad entered a local’s orange grove without his permission and proceeded to eat oranges yesterday. This is what we consider a serious lapse in judgment on their part since we must be respectful of the people and their possessions. As a result, we have decided to take disciplinary action against the squad. The compañeros will stand at attention for a full hour at noon for three days. Furthermore, they will immediately go and apologize to the owner. Dismissed!” The orange-eating squad sets off at a slight trot, singing a tune along the way:

To be a good guerrilla you only need to be clear on why you’re fighting and be ready to run in the morning. Lucita and Esmeralda welcomed us with a cup of freshly brewed hot coffee and eggs in the kitchen. I was sliding a piece of sweet bread into my mouth when someone put their hands over my eyes. It was Evelyn with her bag full of sweets

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and candies. She seemed excited about her job: teaching the new combatants how to read and write. I later went to observe Juan evaluating each of the recently recruited compañeros. We had decided to recruit in order to solidify our control of the northeastern strip and in hopes of increasing the overall number of troops we have at our disposal. We meet with the young men and women of each cantón, explaining to them our reasons for fighting. They’ll be in the military school for a month, at which point all those who want to stay will stay while anyone who wishes to return home may do so. We would later come to find out that this method of recruitment didn’t turn out as we had expected and that joining the FMLN had to be something completely voluntary on the individual’s part. There’s one unique case among the new recruits. Roque is a thin eighteenyear-old student from San Salvador and an avid listener of Venceremos. When he decided to join the fight he had to leave everything behind. He got on a bus, came to Chapeltique, and told the first combatant he ran into in the plaza that he wanted to sign up. When Roque found out that we worked on the Radio, he came up to us and said, “You know, I tuned in to Venceremos every single night, and each time you did a live battle report my feet itched to come join you. One of the things that we liked the most in my neighborhood was The Subversive Guacamayan. Damn, that show always made us laugh. In San Salvador, we even started using the nicknames you had given to the colonels: the Crazy Pig; Méndez, the Puppet; Monterrosa, the Pig’s Snout.” We stayed up past midnight talking to Marisol Galindo in the military school command quarters. She told me about her experience as a leader of the movement in San Salvador and later about the strikes and taking over the ministries. November 1â•… Maravilla invited us to Torola so that we could meet Yasser, a compañero who was recently recruited while we were taking Lolotique. We found him in front of the church, sitting at a table covered with disorganized stacks of paper. Yasser has the look of a poet. He reminded me of César Vallejo sitting there, thin and with a rebellious patch of hair falling across his face. The important things that are about to take place, the glowing landscape and the constant flow of beautiful women into the camps working with the Radio, as teachers, combatants, and medics coming from all part of the county, seem to make this the month of poetry. Marvin comes out of his tent, ecstatic over his latest poem, which he wants to show us:

My Homeland My dear homeland you are but a small piece of a world at war 158 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

devoid of world boxing champions and skyscrapers and oil and good beer and the tallest volcano in the world still I adore you. My dear homeland fragment of a rebellious planet beautiful mother you are deep within me you are my infancy a strawberry moment wrapped up in the sweetest tamarind honey my first back flip into a translucent pool my slice of sweet bread my can of milk the counterpart to my soul you are don Cipriano Romero’s ox cart Mama Tona’s mangrove swamp My dear homeland shard of a warring world love of all loves you have bathed me in your tenderness with landscapes and green hills the Atiquizaya lottery the ribbon roads of Chapeltique and the regal ballrooms of town hall the Izalco volcano the Jocoro brawls melted cheese and crackling pupusas and the coastal highway the Flores Brothers’ International Orchestra and the “long live El Águila you sons of bitches.” My dear homeland you are still but a fragment of a world at war a little cheese tortilla and I know that you’re ill ill like a malnourished child who has stuffed himself with rotten apples and caulote seeds you are drowning in anguish stained by oligarchy full of filth and police and guardias

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you ache from their presence but don’t shrivel up and die your children are watching over you like Farabundo Anastacio Amílcar Felipe Ana María Clelia who have not died in vain our hearts still beat we are ready to destroy them we will tear asunder those who rape you. My dear homeland small piece of this shattered world you are a piece of sugar candy how beautiful you will be once set free glowing and rosy cheeked wearing a brand-new pleated dress eating well and often and you’ll go to school good health love and a thousand other wonderful things and you will stand tall oh how radiant you will be my dearest homeland.

The military school in San Fernando has become a complex guerrilla training and political reeducation camp. To avoid pooling so much of our efforts and personnel in one location, the decision was made to set up another branch of the school in Torola, where we begin an unprecedented program. The extension that is up and running in Torola is made up of 204 prisoners of war. The objective is to demonstrate our values while explaining to them the motives behind our struggle through audiovisual presentations, cultural activities, speeches, and other means. Our film and cultural teams are collaborating on the project along with the theater and music groups. We take advantage of the pleasant morning to escape from work and go to Torola for three hours. When we got there the prisoners were standing in ranks December 1â•…

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in front of the church, executing the turns and movements that Juan and Manolo were giving them. We sat down in the hallway of town hall for a while, where we found Fidel, the experienced politics instructor. I was struck by the fact that the soldiers were divided into three groups. “After having evaluated each of the two hundred soldiers with respect to his disposition and political development, we have divided them into three groups: advanced, remedial, and disturbed. The members of the last group have been severely damaged by their rigorous military training. We’re going to suggest that the first two groups join us. The ones who want to stay will be able to do so, and the rest will be sent home.” Fidel explained all of this to us without taking his eyes off Tita, his companion, who’s coming toward us, beautiful and radiant after her bath in the river.

General Command in Morazán Changes have been taking place in the camp for weeks. Security has been increased, a battery of antiaircraft machine guns has been set up, and an area of tents and shelters has been built as a dormitory and meeting space. “We’re going to have some visitors,” Luisa said, indicating that someone important was going to be arriving shortly. For the first time during the war, the General Command will meet in Morazán. We’ll soon be in the presence of Roberto Roca, commander of the PRTC. An average-sized man with a beaklike nose, beard, and long hair who wears camouflage and a brown hat with a star emblazoned on its crest. An untiring conversationalist, he speaks with authority on any number of topics, including literature, archeology, modern music, the Maya, and even the history of corn, but always with an agreeable air. When something strikes him as interesting, he exclaims, “That’s quite surprising!” Leonel González, commander of the FPL, will also be present. We met him in San Fernando at a large celebration. Jonás called me over to introduce me to him. We spoke to one another briefly, but all the noise from the San Simón Orchestra and the yells of the compas drowned out what we were saying, making it impossible to hear a word. We would later run into one another many times on many different paths. He was always smiling and seemed to radiate all the serenity and patience of a schoolteacher. We went to see Commander Shafik Handal to do an interview with him.13 He reminded me of El Cid Campeador.14 Standing 5 feet 10 inches tall, he’s a burly man with a white beard and a rich voice. His speech is dotted with Salvadoran December 8â•…



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expressions—popular sayings that complement and enhance his descriptions of Farabundo, the insurrection of 1932, or the incredible life of Miguel Mármol.15 He also spoke with us about when he was a student. While we were talking he was crouched down in front of a small fire, preparing coffee according to an Arabic recipe that his grandparents taught him. The High Command must have sensed that something was up, so it sent the Belloso Battalion on a twelve-day operation that did little to undermine our efforts. The General Command temporarily relocated to Joateca, and once the enemy fell back we returned to El Pedrero to continue working. The General Command meeting on the war front marks a decisive step toward the consolidation of the five organizations and the adoption of a single military and political strategy.

Sesori December 12â•… Today I make my way toward Sesori in the north of San Miguel department. It’s now one of many towns that are under our control. After four long hours we reach the Torola River, crossing it in a small boat attached to a cable that spans the river. Another half-hour climb and we reach Carolina. Iván, the town’s political leader, welcomes us at town hall. Ever since we started routing the enemy from their garrisons, hundreds of square kilometers of territory have come under our control, including dozens of towns and villages. There are no longer military headquarters, mayors, or judges. The local power structure has been broken up. After a delicious meal we board a bus carrying ammunition bound for Sesori. As day drifts into night, we cross the highest points of the unpaved highway. We can make out the shimmering cities on the eastern front. Three hours later we arrive at our destination. December 13â•… A familiar voice rouses me at dawn: “Get up, guys, I’ve brought you some coffee and sweet bread.” I’m greeted by eyes brimming with joy and a mass of disheveled hair. There she was, La Morena, our former broadcasting partner, who is now a political activist and, at least for the time being, the mayor of Sesori. Proud to show off her latest assignment, La Morena invites me to join her on a walk through the small town. The plaza is full of trees and guerrilleros, the church opens its doors to welcome a group of elderly women, and a unit of soldiers stands at attention in front of town hall singing the national anthem. All the shops are swarming with people. It’s even a little difficult to walk through the market, with its hodgepodge of tables for selling vegetables, shoes, fabric, mirrors, lotions, and candy

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twists. The inviting smell of pork-stuffed pupusas wafts from the tables as compas and civilians intermingle, striking up conversations on all sides of us. We continue our walk, stopping in the bakery and ice cream shop, where I helped myself to some chocolate ice cream. Julio and José Luis attend to the patients in the clinic. On the way back to town hall, we pass through the regional command post of the BRAZ, which is located in a large house guarded by various compas from the Special Forces unit. Mariana, microphone in hand, is in the communications room giving directions to the military units while Quincho is on the patio meeting with a group of shopkeepers who will be leaving to buy boots in the nearby city of San Miguel. “We need a hundred pairs by six o’clock,” he tells them. In another room Jonás, Raúl, Chicón, Balta, Óscar, and Federico are huddled around a map of Cacahuatique, where a new assault plan is outlined for La Antena communications base. December 14â•… The cold awakened me early in the morning, and the sun still hadn’t risen when I went in search of coffee. Crossing the plaza, I saw that Javier was sitting on a bench reading the newspaper while a boy shined his boots. He invited me to the small restaurant in front of the bus stop. During breakfast I asked him about the beginnings of the organization in his own cantón. With his back to the fireplace he seemed smaller; the half-light of the glowing fire made his skin look even darker. “As you know, I was born close to Meanguera. Those of us living in that area had a Christian upbringing, so we all had an overflowing conscience, a quite healthy one if you consider it in terms of loving—and I don’t mean yourself but love for the community as a whole. There was no talk of war or rebellion at the time, but the people had already begun to prepare themselves since Rafael Arce Zablah was working in Morazán.” “Then how did you get involved in the struggle?” The first person who talked with me about getting involved was Quico, one of my brothers who later went to fight against Somoza in Nicaragua. He died in Estelí or Ocotal. All of my family was involved—all six of my brothers and my three sisters. Carmelo later came to tell me that it had been decided that I would be one of the undercover agents in the army, so I reenlisted in Chalatenango. Lieutenant Colonel Luna Acevedo and Second Lieutenant José Antonio Carranza de León were there. Carranza held me in high regard, and he was the one that our forces had surrounded in San Fernando during the Battle of Moscarrón. Now I hear that he’s been injured in one of the Antena communications base battles. He was a battalion leader.



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“Javier, they’re waiting for you at the command post,” El Ché says, interrupting our conversation as he enters the room. He’s wearing an untucked plaid shirt and pants and is holding his rifle across the back of his neck. When we left, El Ché had already called the section to formation. They’ll soon board two buses that will take them to patrol the Chapeltique area. El Ché doesn’t carry an M16 like most of the rest of our soldiers. At first, when we started to capture hundreds of North American rifles from the army, the compas didn’t trust them so they stuck with the FAL. El Ché decided to carry a carbine today to prove that the type of weapon wasn’t as important as the determination and willpower of the one wielding it. On a nearby street corner, they introduced us to Herber Anaya Sanabria, who had come from San Salvador to investigate human rights violations in the more rural zones of the country. Not far from there, a group of drivers that come and go at all hours has been put up in our camp. I listened attentively to their stories about the war on the roads. Once we had the northeastern zone of El Salvador under control, we moved to extend our territories toward the rich coffee- and cotton-producing Usulután department, which is crisscrossed by the main thoroughfares of El Salvador: the Pan-American Highway and the Coastal Highway. Now that the war’s on wheels, all types of transportation take units like the BRAZ toward their objectives. Everything travels by vehicle now, including food, ammunition, and all kinds of supplies. A while ago Federico traded in his scalpel to become involved in political affairs for the guerrilla units. Now he’s had to become a sort of coordinator of transportation for all current combatants while overseeing the incorporation of new combatants into the fight. At just under six feet, he sports a bushy black beard and carries his FAL rifle slung across his chest. He can oftentimes be seen at the wheel of a Jeep followed by trucks loaded with sacks of corn, bullets, and boots. Quincho is another indispensable compañero in the mobile war. He’s always worried about making sure that the combatants have everything they need, from footwear to meals to ammunition. He also handles the thousand and one complications that come up on a daily basis, including repairing the transport trucks. We capture multiple cities while we are in control of a stretch of the PanAmerican. Twelve of our drivers sitting around a feast of tamales recount how two gigantic tanker trucks carrying gasoline were captured on the Pan-American and later moved to the most secure location within our sphere of influence. Much of the gasoline was distributed to the population in northern San Miguel, and the rest was earmarked for the motors that power Radio Venceremos. In order to get the trucks into our zone we had to repair the roads. Groups of two hundred people went ahead, patching up potholes and widening turns.

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Morazán Has a Name: Commander Quincho December 23â•… Col. Domingo Monterrosa, now commander of the Third Infantry Brigade, has begun to move his battalions in our direction. Throughout the entire morning, he rained bombs and mortar rounds on the San Luis de la Reina zone. We evade the attack, and our medical teams and services will relocate to Morazán. With dusk upon us we climb into the trucks that drive us farther north. Later we continue on foot well into the night. While we are en route we get word that Quincho has been seriously injured and that José Luis is getting ready to operate on him. December 24â•… The news arrives at dawn: “Quincho has died.” We gather to pay our respects to our friend in one of the houses in our compound. They’ve brought a coffin from Sesori. We gently place Quincho in it as if he were asleep and we feared waking him. In groups of six, we take turns standing guard over our fallen comrade. There’s quiet talk. Payín sobs, for Quincho was like a father to him. Mariana’s face is grief stricken. Jonás looks straight at the wall. Melo cries, while Samuelito stands at attention near the casket. There’s coffee being prepared over a fire in the kitchen to help us make it through the hours that lie ahead. Everything confirmed that we had lost part of ourselves in losing Quincho. Jonás and Mariana went out to say a few words in front of the squads standing in rigid formation. Later we carried Quincho toward the foot of the tree where he would be buried. The closer we got to his burial place, the more we felt a change in ourselves. As our despair became a celebration of his life, we began to shout and cheer as if we were about to assault and capture another enemy position right alongside our friend. In the middle of the dust that we kicked up, the coffin appeared to be moving, suspended above the heads of hundreds of combatants. I felt the need to shout at the top of my lungs: “Morazán has a name: Commander Quincho!” Everyone repeated the cheer time and time again until the last clenched fist released its grip on the soil that now covers Quincho’s body. We begin the trek back to Morazán, not far from the noise of combat. We walk for fourteen hours, a gigantic train of soldiers winding its way through the mountain. This is the third Christmas that I’ve spent beneath the stars. December 26â•… We watched as the air force bombed Torola time and time again throughout the entire morning, zeroing in on school buildings, homes, and anything that stirred in the streets. There were many civilian deaths and injuries. Earlier in the afternoon, many people began to abandon the town. Evidently, High Command has decided to use air raids to scare off anyone living in towns north of the river.



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December 30â•… One of the most important operations to date takes place in Chalatenango. The FMLN seizes control of the Fourth Infantry Brigade barracks, capturing two hundred prisoners and more than three hundred weapons. We’ve been in touch with Radio Farabundo Martí this morning. The poet Miguel Hueso Mixco (Haroldo) told us exactly what happened during our victory, which is sure to have lasting political repercussions. This year we have captured 3,023 weapons courtesy of the North American government, our primary arms distributor.

Another strategic operation gets under way when our forces assault and drive out the battalion that was guarding the Cuscatlán Bridge. Later we destroy the bridge, sinking much of its metallic framework in the Lempa River. While we were doing the last broadcast of 1983, compañero Dagoberto Gutiérrez came up and told us to buy some time on the program since he was still putting the finishing touches on the General Command’s end-of-the-year message. A few minutes later Commander Shafik Handal arrived to give a brief speech, which came to an emotional conclusion: “The FMLN is winning the war because the people are our driving force. The FMLN and the people have one body, one heart, and one desire!” December 31â•…

notes

1. The BRAZ were the ERP’s combat units, which were trained largely by Francisco Mena Sandoval, the army officer who revolted against the government and joined the FMLN. As described in the Introduction, these combat brigades were winning head-tohead battles with the Salvadoran Armed Forces through late 1983 and early 1984, until the United States redoubled its aid efforts to the Salvadoran military. The guerrillas countered by demobilizing their large brigades and reverting to a more traditional hit-andrun guerrilla warfare designed to drain the army of its ability to sustain the war effort rather than to expand control over territory. 2. Dien Bien Phu was the decisive battle of the war between France and the Viet Minh insurgents during the so-called First Indochina War. The battle took place between March and May 1954 and was characterized by the French forces being located in an area surrounded by highlands that required the Viet Minh forces to haul in heavy weaponry over great distances. French commanders did not expect their guerrilla opponents to be able to accomplish the feat. Surrounded and bombed into submission, the French sued for peace and subsequently withdrew from Vietnam, effectively ending their colonial presence there. 3. Aventuras Amorosas de un Diplomático. 4. La Guacamaya Subversiva. 5. Why are you so aggravated/angry—her response here indicates that, according to

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usage in Morazán, the word “bravo(a),” which means “angry” or “annoyed,” is used only when referring to animals. 6. Ante la Agresión de Reagan, El Salvador Vencerá. 7. In popular folklore, the Siguanaba is a ghost that takes the form of a woman, appearing at night to frighten men. 8. In folklore, La Llorona is also sometimes referred to as the Woman in White or the Weeping Woman. She is the ghost of a woman mourning her dead children. Her appearance is said to foreshadow death. 9. El Cipitío is the son of the Siguanaba, a little boy with a bulging stomach and melodious voice. He emerges from the hills to seduce women. 10. Fuerza de Seguridad Pública, the Honduran public security force. 11. The Contras were the armed opponents of Nicaragua’s FSLN, the Sandinistas, following the 1979 overthrow of Anastasio Somoza Debayle. They were strongly supported by the Reagan administration as an attempt to destabilize the Sandinista government. 12. The man of steel. 13. Shafik Handal (1930–2006) was the longtime leader of the Salvadoran Communist Party (Partido Comunista Salvadoreño, PCS). He served as commander of the PCS and its armed faction (the FAL) during the civil war. He unsuccessfully ran for president of El Salvador as the FMLN’s candidate in 2004. The PCS (or the FAL) was one of the five factions that formed the FMLN in 1980. 14. El Cid, the protagonist of the Spanish epic El cantar del mío Cid, is known for his bravery, honor, and prowess on the battlefield. 15. Miguel Mármol (1905–1993) was a young working-class political activist in the 1920s who cofounded the Salvadoran Communist Party in 1930. The army attempted to execute him in 1932 as part of the crackdown against the peasant uprising in January of that year. Despite being shot multiple times by a firing squad, Mármol survived and went on to serve as a ranking member of the Communist Party for the remainder of his life. His story was immortalized as a testimonial as taken down by the famed Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton and published first in Costa Rica as Miguel Mármol: Los sucesos de 1932 (San José: EDUCA, 1972). This was published in 1987 as Miguel Mármol, by Curbstone Press (Willimantic, Conn.).



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The Legend of El Chongue January 1â•… Domingo Monterrosa is commissioned as the commanding officer of the entire eastern zone. Still hung over from last night’s festivities, the colonel stands on the banks of the Lempa, contemplating the ruined bridge that lies before him, one of a number of military objectives that he couldn’t defend. The North American consultants are determined to see their publicity campaign around Monterrosa succeed, but they’re taking a risk because their plans are only as strong as the weakest link. And that link is Monterrosa himself. Pride, the downfall of many a colonel, creates illusions and false hopes. January 8 â•… They had told me about its existence on a number of different occasions: El Chongue, a towering waterfall that cascades from the top of the Torola plateau. Countless stories, both magical and real, have grown up around it. I couldn’t stave off my curiosity for more than twenty minutes. I went straight through the center of town in my quest to locate the mysterious El Chongue. I crossed streams and fields and struggled through the underbrush without finding a thing. Disappointed, I had turned to go back when I ran into a short, thin boy on the road. He had a look of wonder on his face. We talked about summer, about how the worms are the bane of every farmer’s existence because they latch onto prize livestock and ripe fruits. He told me that he had been in school up until the fourth grade and that his name was Arnoldo. It didn’t take me long to ask him about the waterfall I was searching for. The boy stammered and said excitedly, “You’re looking for El Chongue? It’s really close. Come on, I’ll show you.” We went along a riverbed, navigating the huge boulders that had been worn away and polished over time, and then walked out to the edge of the plateau, where the landscape disappears over an abrupt cliff. It’s there that the water collects in a shimmering pool before tumbling over the cliff and down dozens of meters. The wind stirs the water, blowing up a fine mist that produces rainbow after rainbow. “Before you came and drove out the police, this is where they came to kill the prisoners. They threw them off the cliff. You can see the bones down below, among the rocks.” Arnoldo climbs out on the rocks, seemingly unaffected by the height as he stares down from the overhang:

My teacher told us that they call it El Chongue because it means “water’s mist” in the native language. My grandmother used to tell me about how, long ago during the time of our ancestors, they worshiped the sun and 170 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

came to this place once a year. They picked a young virgin, and the sorcerer washed her in this very pool. Right there, you see? Then they led her up to this rock and threw her down the cliff. They say that one time they selected an Indian princess, and that once she had been washed and they were ready to cast her off of the cliff, she refused. She told the sorcerer that she didn’t want to be with the sun because she was in love with a boy from Torola. The sorcerer was furious and cursed the girl, saying, “I curse you from this day forward, stubborn child. You will be a serpent and live in the streams and rivers of this place until the men who will come to enslave us are defeated.” And that’s how it was. She became a snake with golden scales, and she appears in the rivers and streams of this area to this very day, coming out to ensnare the men and leave them half-crazy. On the way back to Torola Arnoldo jumps from rock to rock yelling, “Chongue, Chongue!” The thought crosses my mind that the nude, bewitched princess who drives men out of their minds has appeared to Arnoldo. January 10â•… Today we celebrate the fourth anniversary of Radio Venceremos. A few days ago Monterrosa swore to a group of journalists that he would destroy us in the coming months. We can’t help but make fun of him: “We have to celebrate the fourth anniversary of the Radio with a great party because it will be our last!” Looking back on the past four years, we separate Radio Venceremos into a few distinct stages. In 1981 we witnessed the formation and consolidation of the rear guard, reporting on how power was starting to develop in the fields, mills, and dairies around the country. All that was like a beacon saying here we are growing stronger, working toward liberating the country. It was both a guarantee for the people of El Salvador and something that the combatants could believe in, something that gave them confidence. The year 1981 was predominantly the foundational and informative phase of the Radio. But during the most difficult times, when acts of genocide were so prevalent, Radio Venceremos was also the only voice that condemned the civilian massacres on the world stage. Between 1982 and 1983 the Radio was a reflection of the FMLN’s military and political achievements. It emphasized the need for greater literacy and education, which elevated the combatants’ political awareness. This year the Radio’s task is clear: we are to be an organizing force, a rallying point for the people in any way possible, be it through syndicates and unions or farming cooperatives. It’s the only way we’ll be able to overcome the increased interventionism that’s now sending more consultants, specialists, and aircraft— not to mention millions of dollars.



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The next few weeks will be devoted to an educational campaign. The idea is to turn the Radio into a sort of school to raise awareness among our ranks with respect to the history, political and otherwise, of El Salvador. Our focus will be on all sectors, but with special attention to our potential social base. We’ve also initiated a campaign to rescue and retain Salvadoran cultural identity, which will be a reaffirmation of our national roots. Our other goal is to become a stronger force in the national political debate. The technical aspect of our work is done. We’ve increased our FM signals so that they cover practically all of El Salvador while maintaining our shortwave signals, which allows listeners to tune in from Central America, the Caribbean, and, with a little luck and good weather, parts of the United States and South America. In the eastern zone it’s public knowledge that the BRAZ Command is currently located in San Gerardo. Mixed in with civilians and combatants are the commanders, who can frequently be seen crossing the plaza or hurrying down the street. Based on this information, Monterrosa proposes a strategic strike on the FMLN centered on an aerial assault with rapid troop deployment. His plan consists of turning the town into a rat trap with no escape. At dawn the air force shows up and bombs the highlands. Minutes later helicopters touch down, and enemy soldiers pour out, rapidly mounting a surprise attack. There weren’t any soldiers in San Gerardo since they were spread out along the outskirts of town. Besides the BRAZ Command, the rest of the compas were medical staff, who fought valiantly amid the machine gun and mortar fire to break the siege and free the high ground. Just as one of the transport helicopters was about to touch down, a group of compañeros opened fire, severely damaging it. Unable to maintain altitude, the helicopter bumped into another chopper, sending both hurtling to the ground. Five officers and twenty-one paratroopers died in the crash. It was the first offensive operation that was part of the North American specialists’ new strategy. Everything was in Monterrosa’s favor: it was summer; the ground was clear; he had already bombed the area and taken the highlands. But the one thing he didn’t count on was the sheer willpower of our forces. We suffered eight casualties. The enemy thought that an aerial assault would turn the tide in their favor, but Monterrosa’s plan fell short, and he hunter became the hunted. Cirilo has come to challenge me to a game of chess. He sits in front of the table, his legs crossed as if he were a yoga master. I thought he was thinking about his next move when he was actually reflecting on what had transpired in San Gerardo, from which he had just returned. He summed up the specialists’ failed tactics in a single sentence: “As a tactical weapon, helicopters leave a lot to be desired.” February 19â•…

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February 23â•… “Wipe out illiteracy north of the Torola River” is the slogan of a campaign that we’re currently implementing in all of our camps and organizations in the zone. Pencils and notebooks become our most important weapon for the time being. Cañaverales, where Marianita has put together a quite respectable library, has become one of the most active towns in the project. In the northern zone of San Miguel our strategy begins to change. Instead of attacking with large contingencies of combatants, smaller units are now launching surprise assaults on army outposts. Monterrosa showed up at one of his bases that had suffered numerous casualties. The people told us the following story. An elderly man who was looking at the lifeless bodies of the soldiers said to Monterrosa, “I saw the men coming back after attacking the soldiers, and you know, Colonel, there weren’t many of them; I counted only fifteen. What I can’t explain is how so few could have done so much damage to your forces.” Monterrosa had only one thing to say: “It’s a tactical problem. They can do whatever they want with their forces.” The colonel was beginning to understand what the FMLN’s tactical reevaluation would mean for his army, and our plan against Monterrosa begins to take shape.

The Colonels’ Logic March 12â•… Five thousand soldiers are moving against our positions. With the coming elections, and what’s sure to be more electoral fraud, their objective is to weaken our rear guard. This month fifty thousand government workers have gone on strike, demanding fair working conditions. The recent victories for farmworkers have affected the popular movement by boosting morale and opening up new political arenas. The Conchagua Battalion reaches Corinto, where a team of foreign journalists is waiting. Col. Adalberto Cruz, recently named military leader for all of Morazán, gives a statement to two independent journalists, who eventually sell their material to North American television. The colonel shows them five rifles that supposedly belonged to five guerrilla fighters who died in combat. The journalists happened to enter a house and saw five bloody, beaten prisoners whom they were able to interview. Upon returning to the command post, Colonel Cruz asked them, “Have you filmed anything inside of that house?” “Yes, the prisoners.” “What prisoners? The men you saw in there weren’t prisoners; they were dead.” “But we’ve just spoken with them.”



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“Look, friends,” the colonel continues, “those prisoners don’t exist. What you saw were five terrorists who died in combat. Do you understand?” The colonel then pulled out an FMLN flyer emblazoned with the slogan, “Until we win or until we die!” “Look at what this says. Those five obviously didn’t win anything, so they must be dead. It’s their logic not mine.” “But, Colonel .€.€.” one of the journalists tried to interrupt. “Listen, I always try to get along well with the press. Whoever wants to report on the war has to come to Morazán, and anyone who wants to get into Morazán has to go through me first. Erase the footage of the prisoners. I can help you find something else to film, and tomorrow, if you want, you’ll be able to film the bodies of the five terrorists who died in combat. Do you understand? I want us all to be good friends.” That night you could hear the shots from the executions. A statement that the Armed Forces Press Committee later released announced the death of twelve FMLN combatants in Corinto and the capture of five rifles. In the Camino Real Hotel, the international press found out about what happened in Corinto, and they disseminated two versions of the incident. The North American television networks rejected the first report because it gave details of the execution of the five prisoners. The other report indicated that the two journalists who had the videotape did not seek to publish it owing to direct pressure from Col. Domingo Monterrosa, military leader of the eastern zone. March 13â•… With a number of battalions moving toward our location, we pack up the equipment and set off at night. We’ll climb up to the Cacahuatique highlands and continue broadcasting from there. We later set out on an exhausting journey toward San Gerardo in northern San Miguel department. The army decides to silence Radio Venceremos in any way it can, since the rigged elections are just a few days off. Our job is to keep the Radio up and running at all costs. Every afternoon we religiously set up the mixer, recorders, and microphones and get the music and briefs ready. Then, a few minutes before six, we turn on all the portable FM equipment, rerouting the signal to the primary transmitter and the frequency boosters in Guazapa and all across the eastern zone. We sometimes have to pack up and move on at night, but that’s how it has to be for the few days that the army manages to keep its agents in our territory. When they leave, everything goes back to normal. In relation to the farcical elections being held to put a civil face on military power, we read an editorial about how fighting for democracy does not limit itself to simply casting a vote when the very mechanism of death and injustice that gave rise to this conflict is left intact. Our response to the electoral fraud is to face military power with civilian determination.

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March 29â•… I find myself in possession of Claudio’s journal. He was a compañero from Ecuador who died during the bombing. These are the last words that he wrote: “Four days have passed since the elections and they still haven’t published the results. It’s all just a big charade. Today I turn twenty, but it seems like I have lived for a fraction of a second and at the same time for a hundred years. Life with dignity, that’s what’s important.” April 18â•… At daybreak I grab my backpack and leave camp. I’m going to visit the military school during Holy Week. Someone opens up a path through the bushes. A helicopter coming from the direction of Honduras flies in low overhead. I pick up the pace and suddenly find myself standing in front of an unknown compañera. Expecting a burst of gunfire any second, we take shelter behind a rocky outcrop and watch the aircraft pass by. Several compas open fire on it. Her name is Ana Lidia, and she’s just arrived from Usulután. She’s pregnant and will soon be a patient in our hospital. We spend the afternoon talking about her experience in the Tecapa Chinameca mountain range, where she did some political work alongside the local population. When the topic changes to books we both agree that Carpentier’s A Century of Light is the best that we’ve recently read.1 I promised that I would come and visit her once her baby was born. Before continuing, we hear that the helicopter that just passed over us was carrying two senators and the wife of the North American ambassador to Honduras. Apparently, they got lost and flew into Salvadoran territory, where the aircraft was damaged.

After four years fraught with persecution, the popular movement finally gets to celebrate Labor Day.2 The fact that more than two thousand people have dared to march down the soldier-lined streets of San Salvador is proof of their courage and willpower. Perquín has become the soul of the liberated territories in Morazán as well as our political center. Delegations from the United States have come to familiarize themselves with the FMLN’s perspective in terms of what we regard as a political solution to the conflict. The international press is participating in a number of press conferences with headquarters, and the national and foreign television networks are now repeatedly filming live programming broadcast by Radio Venceremos in one of the houses in Perquín. Broadcasts of Rogelio’s, Pedro’s, or Miguel’s Sunday homily are also commonplace in Perquín, and our mobile unit covers the annual infant vaccination campaign and other important events, such as prisoner exchanges in the presence of the church hierarchy. For this reason, General Command and Radio Venceremos relocate to El Gigante, fifteen minutes from Perquín. On the pine-covered crest of the hill, May 1â•…



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each of us has put together his own little wood cabin with a bedroom and space to write. At night we listen to Radio Femenina’s special programs or we watch a video on the gigantic television set that we captured from the army. Another general staff meeting will take place here.

The Exchange of Colonel Castillo May 10â•… We reach an agreement with the government. In exchange for Colonel Castillo, they will free eight political prisoners. The exchange will take place in Carolina, in the northern region of San Miguel department. We all pile into a Jeep with Atilio, who will be present at the exchange. From San Diego we continue on mules. The plaza in Carolina was bustling with activity. The bus was ready to depart for San Miguel, and vendors advertised beef empanadas, quesadillas, and candy twists. Monsignor Stehle, the German bishop, had already arrived to receive the prisoner. When Colonel Castillo was led into the atrium of the church where he would be released, we approached him with the microphone so that he could express how he felt now that he was free: “I’m happy to return to my family, and what a coincidence that it’s Mother’s Day.” “What can you tell us about how you’ve been treated by the FMLN?” “I can’t complain. The truth is, for the two years I’ve been held prisoner, I’ve been well cared for.” Before driving the colonel to the capital, Bishop Stehle met with Atilio and Rogelio. While they were talking I noticed that Rogelio kept his hands clasped in front of his chest as if he were praying. I later told him that I had been impressed by how he had maintained this position all this time. Rogelio, somewhat embarrassed, replied, “If you had only seen the predicament I was in! During breakfast, some of my eggs fell onto my white shirt. All I was doing was covering the stain!” We had a soft drink in one of the local restaurants and listened to some rock music. Then it occurred to me to play a joke on Rogelio. “Is it true that priests are forbidden to dance to rock music?” “Not at all. Faith does not oppose itself to the happy knowledge that today freedom has triumphed.” Then he was up and dancing, spurred on by a round of applause. He swung around a few times and then stopped dead. His face was bright red, like that of child caught stealing a cookie from the cookie jar. Atilio, now dying of laughter, was watching him from the doorway. In theory, the exchange for the deputy minister of defense meant that the government had now come to terms with two things: the fact that the FMLN had

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finally overcome the government’s bullheadedness regarding the situation, and the reality that the FMLN controlled an expansive amount of territory across all of El Salvador. Today the contrast between the FMLN and the government’s methods was made clear. A few kilometers to the south, Monterrosa’s troops captured two compañeros. Their tortured and mutilated bodies were later found. Their ears had been cut off. May 22â•… This morning we receive word from the camp where he was being held prisoner that Captain Medina Garay has escaped. May 23â•… The one flaw in the escape plan was that the two fugitives didn’t work together. When they were out of the prison, they saw a light on the path and got scared. Without considering what would happen, they split up. Medina Garay ended up getting lost and walking around in circles. He was recaptured this morning. We made our way to the “prison” to interview the captain. When we saw him, he looked nothing like the stout man we had met some time ago. He was pale, and it seemed that he had shriveled up since the last time we saw him. Even his voice was now high and raspy. We spoke with him for a while. When we told him about the armed forces’ difficulty in preventing the expansion of the FMLN into more territory, Medina Garay was optimistic: “The FMLN has no chance to win the war. It’s true that we’ve had setbacks. The fact that I’m stuck here as your prisoner means I can’t deny that, but I’m sure that the day on which the FMLN is about to take power the sky will turn black with American planes. The North Americans won’t abandon us. The invasion is coming.” When I asked him about his reasons for joining the army, he proudly said, “It’s in my blood. I’m a descendant of the first and only general of El Salvador.”

The Trickster Is Tricked Before we head back, Chele César, the leader of this camp, tells me that they have set up a hidden microphone in the house where they’re keeping Medina Garay and that they’re recording all of his conversations. We decided to set a trap for the captain after taking into consideration his proud and arrogant persona, and the fact that he grossly underestimates the skill of our troops. He’s taken the bait and now he’s talking his head off. Ernesto, one of the compañeros who watches him, has pretended to be disillusioned with the organization. Medina Garay fell right into our trap and has begun to try and convince Ernesto, May 24â•…



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through flattery and promises, to help him escape. For hours on end the two are lost in long conversations, one trying to convince the other to give up the fight and help him escape. Ernesto makes use of native guile to weave together a whole host of questions that give us valuable information. We learn the names of military assassins, how the officers think, their hopes and fears. Everything is being taped and recorded by the film crew. Dorita prepares a venison stew in the kitchen, and César calls me so that I can listen to some of the captain’s recorded conversations. He pops the cassette into the player, and we begin to listen to the prisoner and his guardian: Medina Garay: Listen, Ernesto, if you could see just how much firepower the planes have that the North Americans are going to give us, you’d be convinced. My God, it’s like a storm! They can fire six hundred rounds a second in an area of fifty square meters. Why do you think the North Americans maintain a fleet in the Gulf of Fonseca? It’s so that nothing can get through, not even a fly, not even a single bullet from Nicaragua. You’ve lost, and you have to accept it. By 1985 the FMLN will be defeated. Do you know who’s running the armed forces now? Eight gringo colonels. Look how everything’s changed since Paul Gorman arrived. I hope Reagan’s reelected. That’ll scare everyone. Ernesto: But things aren’t going so well for them here. The armed forces are getting attacked from all sides. What are you saying? How are they going to keep more people from joining the guerrillas? Answer me that. Medina Garay: Don’t kid yourself. You think we don’t have any plans of our own. Why do you think we’re preventing people from taking food into northern Morazán? It’s to cut off their supplies so they die of hunger. You have to punish anyone who’s helping them and make a big show of anyone who’s captured, even if they’ve only given a pound of corn to the guerrillas. Ernesto: Why do you think they didn’t kill you when they captured you? Medina Garay: I’m worth a lot. The day we capture Ungo, Villalobos, and recapture Ana Guadalupe Martínez, they’ll exchange me for them. I’m the last bullet the FMLN has—but don’t you worry, Ernesto. I’m going to take you with me. You’ll have a place to live, money, and women. I’ll take you to my place. You’ll be safe there and you won’t go without anything. Ernesto: Listen, Medina. I can believe some of what you’re saying, but I can’t forgive you for what you did to the seventy people you slaughtered in El Junquillo. I saw the bodies of the children you killed. That’s the kind of thing that makes me doubt you and all your promises. Tell me what happened in El Junquillo. Medina Garay: Ernesto, I’ve done some things, everyone has, that they’re not proud of. You understand? If I’m responsible for that or something 178 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

worse, it’s all been done in an attempt to end this damn war. I didn’t want to hurt those people; I just wanted it to be over once and for all. I take responsibility for what happened in El Junquillo. Do you know why there isn’t any fighting in Sonsonate? It’s thanks to me and God. There were some—whispers—some rumors in the zone, but I took care of all that while I was there. I didn’t sleep at night. Instead, I went out. Look at this; here’s a bullet wound from when they ambushed me. That was the first time that God called me to get rid of all the troublemakers. Ernesto: And the massacre of the seventy farmers in the Cooperativa de Las Hojas, tell me how that happened. Medina Garay: Listen. Do you know who was in charge of that operation? It was Capt. Alfonso Figueroa Morales, but he was just following the orders he had received from his superior, Col. Elmer González Araujo. What can a captain do? Unfortunately, the innocent paid the price in Las Hojas. Ernesto: That’s messed up! Medina Garay: When you come with me you’ll see how much everyone likes me. You know, in Tejutepeque there’s a street named after me. It’s the most beautiful avenue in town, and it bears my name: Carlos Napoleón Medina Garay. I swear it’s true. You know something, Ernesto? I’m the single most important prisoner. I’m a symbol of democracy. What I’m doing is God’s work. Haven’t you heard what the evangelists say? “God gives the sword to his rightful avenger, the one true, lawful force.” Listen to me. Last night I asked the Holy Spirit to enlighten me, to tell me if something good would come of your helping me escape from here, and my heart tells me yes. You’ll see all the things I’ve promised you when we reach the barracks. You’ll be able to learn things at my side, not like here. Ernesto: You know, I learned how to read and write here, something a farmer like myself would never have been able to do on my own. Medina Garay: But what more can you learn here if everyone is so ignorant? Look at Ronmel, the literacy instructor in this camp. He himself is hardly educated. He’s only gone through the third grade, and he’s the teacher! Everyone here’s ignorant. Come with me and you can study or work and make some money. You can become rich like me. In central Izalco the mill owners are good friends of mine. They’ll put you to work so you can get rich. The rich families there have given me estates out of gratitude for the work I’ve done. You know, Ernesto, it’s like I was saying: you’ll have to quit fighting for communism. Ernesto: But we’re not fighting for communism. We’re fighting to end injustice, suffering, poverty .€.€. Medina Garay: Look, man! They don’t talk to you about communism, but

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that’s what it is. What do you call each other? Compañero or compa. What do the communists call each other? Comrade. It’s all the same. Don’t you see? Ernesto: Look, Medina, you say that within a year you will have won the war and that you’ll finish off all the insurgents. But do you know how many people are involved in this struggle? Medina Garay: I’d say that there are about a hundred thousand Salvadorans who are involved or sympathize with the FMLN, but what’s a hundred thousand when there are five million people in El Salvador? “The stew’s ready,” Dorita says, setting the food on the table. “The trickster was tricked!” César exclaims. Now that our forces have control over the mountainous northern region of the country, Radio Farabundo Martí and Radio Venceremos are able to maintain permanent FM radio contact to coordinate and exchange information. We’ve also been able to put into place what we call the “Revolutionary Radio Network” to enhance dissemination of the Central Command’s political information.3 May 25â•…

Nolbo versus the Gringos May 29â•… Panic spreads when North American troops move toward Central America, stirring up the rumor that they might intervene in El Salvador. The FMLN’s call to its combatants to be on a constant state of alert produced the following misunderstanding. We were doing a special historical program on Radio Venceremos to commemorate the North American invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965. To make it more interesting, we decided to begin the program with a last-minute alert: “North American troops have disembarked with aerial support. The patriots have taken up arms to defend their homeland from the threat.” Nolbo, who must have been somewhat distracted while he was listening to the broadcast, thought that the invasion was taking place in El Salvador and sent an encrypted message to the command post saying, “We’re ready to fight. We know that the gringos have invaded. We’re awaiting information on their whereabouts!” All the confusion reminded us of Orson Welles’s broadcast about a supposed Martian invasion in the United States. His dramatization of the fictional event was so convincing that it sent North Americans into a panic that led to widescale evacuations and even suicides.

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May 31â•… The air force steps up its plan to drive people out of northern Morazán. Today it bombed San Fernando and Azacualpa. When the planes stopped flying over the area, we went to see Nivo’s new workshop on the outskirts of Arambala. The high level of activity and organization surprised us. We visited the leather production facility first, where various compañeros were operating the machinery, turning out boots, saddles, sacks, and belts. Olive green pants and shirts, along with a stack of backpacks, were piled on the tailor’s tables, and just a little farther down the path was the mechanic, where all kinds of repair orders were being completed. The drivers were grilling lunch. Five trucks and a Jeep were at the disposal of headquarters to transport injured parties, combatants, ammunition, or supplies. In the blacksmith shop they were making durable knives. The rhythmic sound of the hammer shaping the red-hot metal on the anvil rang throughout the workshop. Nivo was putting together a tripod so that he could install a .50-caliber machine gun on the Jeep. Another project still to be done was to put steel treads on a tractor that we recently captured in Osicala, converting it into a tank of sorts. Someone named Camilo now works in the shop. He’s Colombian, and he’s being watched because we think he’s a spy. Our suspicions will soon prove to be well founded as we will discover that he is an agent working for the intelligence branch of the Colombian Army. He was held prisoner until being freed as a humanitarian gesture in view of his mother’s desperate pleas before the FMLN. The most difficult work is completed in Nivo’s shop. There’s never any time to rest, and there’s always more work to be done. They put together and take apart all the equipment before and after each operation. These men know what it is to work with a purpose. Their labors reflect what a Salvadoran is truly capable of achieving.

A Piece of Deerskin, and El Calihuate Is Reborn June 16â•… Our forces have carried out a strategic operation: taking control of the Grande Hill hydroelectric dam, one of the best protected military targets. The strike turns the Salvadoran power system on its head, demoralizing the armed forces. In the meantime, the army launches another one of its special ops here in Morazán. In short, what was an attempt to weaken the Front for the High Command was a pleasant stroll through the countryside for us. We left El Gigante camp, stopping on the banks of the Pericón to set up the equipment for the 6:00 pm broadcast. Something interesting happened while we were doing the program. I was reading a brief when a helicopter appeared above the house and started strafing our area. Dina, who was in front of the mixer



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controlling the audio, sprinted for cover, leaving the microphone live. I had to keep broadcasting until Marianita showed up, took over the controls, and put on some music so we could make a run for it toward the nearest trench. The listeners must have heard the thunder of the gunfire. Since we were near one of the enemy battalions, we detoured five kilometers north, crossing a spectacular pine and oak forest for the first time. Each step revealed a new wonder. Crystalline waterfalls and the reddish-brown earth stood in stark contrast to the intensely blue sky. Putting the transmitters on mules during our operations always caused problems that we’ve now resolved by carrying only portable transmission equipment. The portable gear lets us send the signal to the short wave transmitters and FM stations scattered across the country. It’s a complex communication system that we’ve built with simple resources. While the army plodded along to the south, we worked peacefully in the mist-shrouded Rancho Quemado highlands, enjoying fresh peaches and blackberries. The Swiss Alps have nothing on this landscape, which, fortunately for us, is not snow covered. We received word that the battalions had crossed the Torola and were abandoning Morazán, so we began moving to a new camp on top of Pericón Hill. The spot was heavenly. Golden ears of corn already dotted the field, the streams were teeming with snails, there were deer tracks everywhere, and plump sapodilla plums and mangos already hung on the trees. All this and a stunning view of the countryside unfolded before us in what promised to be a fountain of creativity for all of us. We stayed up until midnight talking with Nolbo. He gave us a brilliant description of El Calihuate, the indigenous dance that takes place annually in Cacaopera. Nolbo shared interesting tidbits of information about this cultural phenomenon that’s about to disappear. The dancers had to flee from Cacaopera because of the repression, and many of them joined us. The elderly man who played the flute and drums is now in Honduras. I somehow got it in my head to try to save the indigenous dance. I went to General Command headquarters and found Atilio and Luisa joking around like two children. Atilio was clutching a piece of sweet bread and didn’t want to give it up. Luisa was trying to pry his hand open and take it. “I’m not giving it to you because it’ll make you gain weight,” Atilio said to her while taking a bite. “No, Atilio. Conchita Alonso would love to look like me!4 You’re a pig, that’s what you are. Come on, give me a piece.” When Atilio found out that I had witnessed the entire scene, he blushed. On the other hand, Luisa smiled, happy to be caught in the act. When I told them my idea about preserving El Calihuate, both of them seemed interested. Luisa listened intently to what I was saying, her eyes glowing with the brilliance they acquire when something excites her. “I’ll help you!” she said. She immediately sent a note indicating that the elderly musician should come 182 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

from Honduras while we began looking for the dancers. We were lucky enough to find a few, who demonstrated some of the basic moves to us out on the patio of a café. A few days later a man whose face bore the markings of the Ulúa people showed up. The small, frail musician made two demands. The first was for a cane reed so he could fashion the flute, and the second was for a deerskin to use for making the drum. I told Luisa, and very soon, mixed in among the messages ordering “Move the Goyo column toward the objective,” “Send ammunition to the Seco River zone,” and “The hospital needs more anesthesia,” there was another message that probably confused more than one combatant: “Hunt deer and send the skin to the command center.” The guerrilla units to the north began their strange mission, and once both the flute and the drum were made, we took the old musician to Arambala to join the rest of the cultural group. The dancers were there waiting for him. We thought that they could teach the dance to a group and to the schoolchildren, since some of them are descendants of the indigenous people who inhabited this zone and made El Calihuate one of their most important ceremonies. For a short while the war was put on hold to look for a deerskin that, once attached to the base of the drum, would reproduce the rhythm and spirit of the indigenous culture and bring El Calihuate back to life. It was a small victory for our cultural identity, but a victory nonetheless.

A Stradivarius Violin The abandoned town of Arambala is situated some twenty minutes from camp. The political school has been set up there, where each compañero will spend a few weeks learning how to organize the population. This will be the basis of our plan to incorporate people all over the country into the fight in any way possible. Balta and Marisol are heading up the project. The houses have been converted into classrooms for this large school. The morning theory classes are devoted to the historical development of society and debates about the political situation or culture in general. In the afternoon a theatrical performance captures any one of a number of topics: the neocolonial indigenous struggle; the exploitation of coffee workers; or the oligarchic accumulation of wealth and goods in El Salvador. Each play is accompanied by dialogues set to song that would have astounded even Bertolt Brecht. The actors have put together a colorful wardrobe for each character: Madame Oligarchy, Uncle Sam, the Fat Colonel, the Atonal Tyrant, and the Spanish Conquistador. They’ve also crafted a helicopter and plane out of bamboo and cardboard that enters the scene and drops talcum powder bombs on the audience. One of the

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actors who always gets laughs out of the spectators gathered every afternoon for the “little theater” is How-Are-You, or Jaguaryú,5 as we call him. He gave himself the name when they told him that his previous pseudonym, Dinotrack, was quite strange. With his distinct sense of humor, he lays claim to both: “When Jaguaryú is asleep, Dinotrack remains awake!” After enjoying a tasty vegetable soup, we were speaking with The Torogoces when a proud Felipe appeared with an old violin in his hand. “Look at this. When we took Cacaopera we found this violin tucked away in an old trunk. You should hear how smooth it sounds when we play rancheras.” I took the instrument in my hands, shining a lamp on the inside of it. I was speechless when I read the discolored tag: Stradivarius 1706. The mark of the most famous violin maker ever to have lived, whose instruments are still worth a fortune after three centuries! While El Salvador was still a colony, a number of Spanish families lived in Cacaopera. The violin could be authentic. If it is, it would be a 278-year-old musical diamond. Nevertheless, we still have our doubts. Felipe made us laugh when he tucked the violin between his chin and shoulder to play us a tune. “Whether or not it’s worth a million pesos,” he exclaimed, “The Torogoces will set the compas to dancing on Sunday with this very Strangovarius!” Having a relationship during war is a trial by fire. In the last four years more women have joined the struggle, but the proportion of men is still considerably higher. For those of us in compartmentalized camps, whose location must be kept secret, getting involved with a woman from another group has its difficulties. Conjugal visits are sporadic at best, because of either distance or work. Maravilla had been in a long-term relationship with Libertad, who was working in one of the clinics, but it soon came to an end because it was just too hard to keep it up. The two of them agreed to separate, even though Maravilla wasn’t convinced that it was the best idea. There’s a story that goes along with all this, and he is the one who tells it best. It happened that Marvín showed up with the news that Libertad already had a new love. Maravilla jumped up, brimming with jealousy, and went down to Arambala to try and convince her to come back to him. When he was close to the camp where the compañera was, the guard yelled out, “Who goes there?” “It’s Maravilla, Libertad’s husband.” He continued on his way, entered the house, shined the light on all the sleeping compas, and suddenly saw that his love was sleeping peacefully in the corner .€.€. but next to her new partner. Otelo was small next to a furious, towering Maravilla. As he was on his way out he heard the guard say, “Who goes there?” July 10â•…

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“It’s Maravilla. Why didn’t you tell me she was in there with someone else?” In time they would be together again, heal their wounds, and laugh about the story in front of the campfire. July 23â•… This afternoon we figured out the approximate amount of territory that we have succeeded in bringing under our control. Of the 261 municipalities of El Salvador, 90 are under permanent FMLN control.

It Wasn’t the Siguanaba July 24â•… At last the mystery has been cleared up. For quite a while now there’s been talk of the Siguanaba appearing, but the mysterious woman who kept showing up on the banks of the Sapo River wasn’t a grieving spirit, but, rather, a woman fleeing from the forces of evil. When they were crossing the river, a group of combatants saw a seminude woman who tried to flee. They followed her until they caught up with her and subdued her by force. It was a woman suffering from extreme malnutrition. She was nothing but skin and bones. At first she only grunted, but when she was convinced that her captors weren’t soldiers, she asked them, “You’re compas, right?” She identified herself as Andrea Márquez, a survivor of Monterrosa’s December 1981 massacres. She had lived along the river for two and a half years, fleeing from all human contact, fearful that she might come across the army that killed her newborn. According to what she told us, the Atlacatl Battalion moved in, capturing and killing the civilians in the zone. Dozens of villagers were already fleeing when the army ambushed them. Andrea Márquez got lost in the middle of the gunfight. Carrying her infant in her arms, she didn’t stop walking until she had reached the river. There she discovered that her baby was dead; she had been hit by a bullet. Ravaged by grief, she held the small body in her arms for an entire week. The experience left her traumatized and fearful of being captured by soldiers, so she lived along the river’s edge for twenty-eight months like a wild animal, consumed by loneliness. She slept in a small cave without ever realizing that she was living in territory that was no longer under the army’s control and that soldiers appeared only sporadically in the area and were quickly driven out. She never could have imagined that half an hour’s walk would have put her in any one of a number of camps where some of her relatives had even sought shelter. Andrea Márquez fled every time she made out or heard a human figure, which almost always were our compañeros. She fed herself on fruits and sun-dried fish. She could cook her food for only a brief period of time, when a mortar round set fire to an old tree trunk, which burned for days until the rain put it out. Andrea



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has been brought to our Arambala clinic, where she is recovering from malnutrition. In time, maybe she will be able to overcome the trauma and fear that Diego Monterrosa and his “low-intensity” war instilled in her. August 1â•… I went to the clinic on the outskirts of Perquín to interview a few injured combatants. I was moved by what I saw on the coffee tree–flanked patio: Ana Lidia was rocking back and forth in a hammock, cradling her newborn daughter in her arms. She has a beautiful baby girl with rosy red cheeks and mischievous eyes that shine when she smiles. When I held her in my arms I was reassured that the war hadn’t destroyed all tenderness. I hadn’t seen Ana Lidia since the North American helicopter incident months ago. I knew that she was saddened when her partner fell in combat at about the same time that she was giving birth to her baby. While we were taking in the sunset, I played with the little girl. I gave her her bottle, changed her diaper, and made her laugh by making funny noises and faces. She watched me with her brown eyes, puffed up her cheeks, and smiled, showing me her sweet soul. The decision had been made to send the baby to the ACNUR refugee camp in Honduras for a few weeks, where she would be safer.6 A few days later, the outskirts of Perquín were bombarded. A bomb fell close to the clinic where she was. We ended up talking until nightfall. Ana Lidia told me almost her whole life story, all twenty-one years of it. She recounted her memories as a student in San Salvador and everything she’d been through in our hospital in the midst of enemy territory. She seemed curious about what I was interested in at the time, exploring caves in search of pre-Columbian artifacts and drawings. Ana Lidia is an extremely warm and tender person with a sharp wit and sense of humor that is almost always followed by gales of laughter. When you look deep into her eyes, you sense how affectionate and caring she truly is. I promised to visit her the following Sunday, and when we said good-bye we began to realize that we were falling in love in the middle of the war. I made the return trip to camp with the distinct sensation of having birds fluttering in my heart.

Lety September 7â•… They’re desperately trying to save Tavo’s life in the clinic, but their efforts fail, and one of the most beloved compañeros, Tita’s brother, dies. We held a ceremony in camp to honor all the compañeros who have fallen in combat. We were yelling and cheering when a particularly strong and passionate voice caught my attention, but, in spite of my best efforts, I couldn’t find out who

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it was. After a few more cheers I listened closely and found myself staring into Lety’s beautiful face. It was her voice. I told Chico in the morning meeting that Lety would make a good Radio Venceremos announcer. I was imagining what the reaction would be to my proposal since Lety is currently in charge of the operative communications team. “Forget about it. Command is not going to let go of her just like that.” “See what Atilio thinks; it won’t hurt.” “To hell with it. I’m more stubborn than you are!” Chico replied, being difficult. Standing my ground, I suggested to Lety that we make a test recording. After that, only a few days would pass before she would become part of the Venceremos team. Not only did we gain a warm and convincing voice but also a skilled manager. The example that she set helped us grow. Lety patiently dealt with both successes and failures and the constant run-ins between differing viewpoints and interests among the Venceremos crew. Maravilla began helping her practice speaking, showing off his skills as a teacher. During the process, he started to fall hopelessly in love with her. Months of chasing her eventually paid off. They decided to set up a tent for two and live together. September 15â•… Colomoncagua sits on Honduran territory just a few kilometers from the border. Thousands of Salvadorans whom the army has forced out of their homes are now living in the ACNUR refugee camps in the city. Leaving everything behind, they arrived with the clothes on their backs to settle in pine forests not fit for growing anything. Nevertheless, as time passed they got production up and running, establishing all sorts of different trade workshops, including tailor shops, bakeries, schools, clinics, tinsmiths, ceramics workshops, and clothing shops. In the midst of the Honduran Army, the people were able to bring forth something out of nothing and inspire international solidarity in the process. If the physical work that the refugees accomplished is admirable, then the values that they developed as a society are even more impressive: brotherhood, love for their homeland, and a collective spirit to tackle and overcome their problems. Through their actions, they demonstrated the Salvadorans’ capacity to overcome obstacles and build a tightly knit, poverty-free society.

Ana Lidia September 30â•… After a number of letters and after having visited her on a number of other occasions, today I decided to visit Ana Lidia. I took the



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shortcuts down through the cool heights of El Pericón to the paved highway and was on the outskirts of Perquín twenty minutes later. Ana Lidia’s little girl grows more beautiful with each passing day, and she was getting a bath when I arrived. We went into the tiny room, in reality an enormous wooden box previously used to store corn. Candlelight illuminated the cozy room filled with diapers, bottles, and books. Sitting there with a cup of coffee, we talked well into the night. Ana Lidia was surprised when I told her that I had heard that she would soon become part of the Radio Venceremos team. “I would prefer to keep doing what I was doing before, working with the people, but if that’s what they’ve decided, it’s fine. The good thing is that I’ll be able to be close to you.” You said that “close to you” with such feeling that I was completely undone. I felt an unstoppable urge to kiss you, and just as I was about to, you moved toward me. We locked ourselves together in a kiss that swept away any notion of time or the world. Slow kisses that were searching, tender, violent, and gentle. Kisses to your neck, on your lips, ears, eyes, blood coursing, pulsing in every corner of my body as if we had impatiently waited for one another all this time. We took off everything until the only thing left was our two intertwined bodies suspended in the sound of the mountain wind, recognizing one another in a burst of sheer joy and tenderness. We stayed awake until dawn, dreaming about the days that we would spend together. When I got back to camp I started to fix up my small rock-and-wood-beam cabin. I made a pine box for her clothes, and I enlarged and padded the bed. I finally cut a handful of daisies and waited impatiently. She would arrive the next Saturday, wearing blue jeans and an olive green flannel shirt with her bag slung over her shoulder. Still damp from her bath, she would be beaming, her smiling face framed by her flowing hair. She would still be a little sad over having to leave her little girl for the time being. It was the start of a beautiful relationship. We lovingly made our own child, and I hoped that it would be a boy. But our child was never born. The fact that we were involved in a war and the condition of El Salvador were not amenable to bringing another child into the world. Together we shared baths in crystal-clear waters and endured hunger, thirst, and grief during enemy attacks. Together we shared one last caress in a forest in Nahuaterique, sure that we were going to die. The Atlacatl Battalion was advancing through the hills, headed straight for us. Ana Lidia got used to the long, dark nights spent marching through the forest. She developed a catlike proficiency at detecting rocks and holes along the path. For me it’s more difficult to get my bearings at night, so I guide myself along by clinging to the strap of her backpack, sure that she won’t make a false step down an embankment. When the helicopters are flying around, vomiting gunfire 188 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

down on us, Ana Lidia tucks her head into my chest and trembles. On one occasion when we were in Arambala, the High Command tried to land troops on the General Command and Venceremos. When the air force arrived the zone turned into a giant inferno. Rockets were exploding against our trenches, and one blast killed three compañeros and injured eight others. A piece of shrapnel hit me in the neck. The shock wave threw me into a small nearby stream. Overcoming her paralyzing fear of the encroaching helicopters, Ana Lidia helped me up and led me out of the stream where the aircraft were then focusing most of their fire. When we become aware of the fact that we could die, our feelings are suddenly amplified by that horrific realization, and a simple “I love you” means more to us than a piece of bread after not having eaten for three days. Ana Lidia’s nine-month-old daughter was in our camp for a short time, and I was able to experience the joys of fatherhood. While Ana Lidia was writing articles for the Workers Up in Arms section,7 I prepared milk for the baby, changed diapers, and sang her to sleep. If anyone ever thought they heard cries on Radio Venceremos, they were coming from the little girl I held in my arms in front of the microphone. One morning Luisa came looking for her because Atilio wanted to hold the baby. When I went to get her from headquarters, I found her sleeping on the meeting table. She had peed on the diagram of the Third Brigade barracks. Living, eating, bathing, writing articles, and going to meetings together, always being together is, as I’ve already said, a trial by fire. There is no lying. We are who we are, the mixture of good and bad that makes us human. If Ana Lidia and I were able to grow, we did it together, and no matter what happens, even if we are separated, she and I have become part of one another. This book has been written thanks to her help and all of the love that we shared.

The Carpenter Who Destroyed an Empire October 1â•… The North American specialists have set up some sophisticated sensors in our department that are capable of picking up our radio signals and detecting the precise location of our camps. How will we maintain our vital communications link? What can be done so that Radio Venceremos can continue to serve its purpose? Command sets the technical shop to coming up with a solution. Everyone begins to mull over the situation. “Those gringo bastards, they’re making everything more difficult.” “Let’s do something and organize our thoughts. Let’s start with something basic. What would we do so that we could communicate with the kitchen without the enemy detecting the signal?”



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“The easiest thing would be to use a telephone. We could ask the government to set up a network for us. I can see you calling up all the brothels in San Salvador.” “You know what? A telephone line isn’t a bad idea. It could work, but we would have to make the telephones ourselves.” “You can’t be serious. Make our own telephones? How are we supposed to do that without any supplies? “How in the world would that work? We would need miles of cable to connect all of the camps in Morazán. Are we going to make our own cable too?” “Listen, we can use the amplifier from any recorder or radio to make a phone.” That’s how they got the idea to defeat their technology with a little ingenuity and some basic resources. They took two regular working radios and made a few simple modifications to turn them into telephones. They linked them together with a cable and that was it. You can listen or speak through the loudspeaker by pressing a switch. The next problem was how to get the miles of cable to connect the phone. One day while they were looking at the fenced-in pastures, a clever idea occurred to them: “The barbed wire, the barbed wire!” “What’s going on with the barbed wire?” everyone asked. “We can use the barbed wire from the fences as telephone lines. We did it, we beat them!” The discovery turned out to be a step in the right direction to outwit the enemy. There are thousands of kilometers of wire fences stretching throughout the Salvadoran countryside. From any camp we’ll be able to communicate with a point dozens of kilometers away using the “telephone.” Our secret means of communication is dubbed The Carpenter. Radio Venceremos gets the most benefit from the technical team’s ingenuity. We had stopped doing live programs months back. To keep enemy spy planes from picking up the location of our FM link, we had moved it some forty-five minutes from camp. As a result, we had to tape the programs and then send the cassette to the location of our FM link for broadcasting. We used to finish taping at 5:45 pm, and then a compañero raced out with the tape to deliver it in time for the 6:00 pm broadcast. Now, the entire complex process will be revamped. We’ll be able to do live transmissions again since the signal will be routed to the transmitter through the fences, without danger of detection by the enemy. It won’t be long before the new method is implemented in all the camps regardless of how far away they are. The army radio technicians who were listening in on our communications were stumped when all of our stations in Morazán went quiet. What’s going on? Where are the guerrillas? The colonels didn’t have the slightest idea that 190 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

our communications were traveling right under their noses through the barbedwire fences. They’ll soon figure it out, but having the information won’t help them. What are they going to do? Send thousands of soldiers to cut down fences? And what would it matter? As soon as they had broken them apart, the people would repair them. This experience has made us consider what our people could accomplish if they were able to overcome the technological chokehold that they’ve got us in. Can you imagine how useful these simple telephones would be in the rural sectors of Latin America? It would be a revolution in communications between distant farms and villages. How many lives could be saved? With just a little ingenuity, a humble carpenter has defeated the sophisticated technology of an empire. October 5â•… The sun filters through the trees, making strange shapes in the early morning mist. They’ve already taken the rice and beans off the fire in the kitchen, and the last breakfast tortillas are turning a golden brown on the comal. Licha takes the top off the coffee she’s brewed and smiles, revealing deep dimples. Guandique turns an agouti (rabbit-sized rodent) thigh over in the pan while she hums along to Radio Chaparrastique. Adolfo strains his muscles each time he swings the axe to cut firewood. Jaime writes a letter to Azucena and admits that he loves her and wants her to meet him in front of the Arambala church on Sunday. We start gathering information at six on the dot. The entire team is already in place: Chila, Chela, Mariposa, Maritza, Dina, and Misael, each with his own radio. We managed to get away from the camp to explore the surrounding area. From the top of El Pericón the landscape reveals pine- and oak-covered mountains, crystalline waterfalls, piles of rocks that resemble old indigenous faces, a blue sky, and an invigoratingly fresh climate. The streams are teeming with aquatic snails that we collect whenever we get the chance because they make for a delicious corn and vegetable soup. The intense emerald meadows where I always find fresh deer tracks reenergize my spirit. It’s been three months since the army last crossed the Torola, and in that amount of time we have traversed the entire area under our control, finding innumerable little paths and shortcuts and stopping to swim in the most spectacular pools. We have become familiar with this place. We know where the papayas, pineapples, mangos, and cashews are growing. The eastern regional meeting has begun under an expansive canvas tent. Some twenty-five compañeros are sitting on benches that line the sides of the structure. Each of them represents a zone or a political-military collective. Standing in front of a map of El Salvador, one of the men begins his presentation:



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The counterinsurgent plan aims to push the FMLN toward the northern border of the country. They want to isolate us, remove us from the population in the urban centers and economically vital zones. Their plan is, however, already outdated since we will already be completing a tactical reevaluation when they put it into action. The people are stirring again in the cities. They will press forward and show what they’re made of when the time comes. We are also considering forming new urban command contingencies with the cities. We will move in and generate new local guerrilla and clandestine militia forces, open up new theaters of operation, focus on consolidating the western front, and maintain and extend our control of the major roadways. Guerrilla units will be located throughout the region, spreading our political message. We will retain the capacity to pool troops at any location in order to carry out strategic operations. For the time being, the key is to get the people involved in any way possible. We’ll turn the city into a sea of warriors. The people will be organized. We’re going to break for an hour and a half and continue after lunch. Atilio is the one who’s presenting information now. Just like all the other members of the General Command of the FMLN, he is discussing new political and military developments that have taken place. A rumble of laughter and jokes breaks out like when the last bell rings in school. Goyo looks for his boxing gloves and begins to spar with Chele César. Filomena gets out a cassette with Serrat’s latest songs. Pinchinte tells stories about the Cacahuatique militiamen, and we get a game of chess going with Chico. Guandique yells, “Lunch is ready!” and we all gather around plates of rice and beans and stacks of warm tortillas.

A Meeting in La Palma A few minutes after the meeting starts again, Chila shows up with last-minute news from YSU.8 “Duarte is talking to the General Assembly of the United Nations.9 He’s agreed to a meeting with the FMLN and proposed that it take place in La Palma.” A host of activity erupts in the camps upon hearing this news. Coded messages fly in and out of camp between the members of the General Command of the FMLN. They determine that our delegation will comprise Fermán Cienfuegos and Joaquín Villalobos.10 Napoleón Duarte and the minister of defense will head up the government’s party. Thus begin our preparations. There are two alternatives for getting Atilio to the location. The first is a long and exhausting hike from Morazán to Chalatenango, the other being transport via a diplomatic 192 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

convoy. Either way, we’ll have to run the risk of a possible assassination attempt by the Lords of War, the regional military commanders who oppose a political solution to the conflict. They are the ones with the real power. We look into a third possibility: an airlift aboard a helicopter provided by one of the member nations of the Contadora Group.11 A tailor takes our measurements for the uniforms that we’ll wear. Atilio will be accompanied by a member of the Radio team and two security guards. I’ll be going with the mobile unit to broadcast directly from La Palma. Unions, universities, cooperatives, and other sectors of the population ready themselves to march toward Chalatenango, where they will make their demands for democracy and respect for human rights. The flight risks, security details, and information regarding the political perspective that we will have to bring to the table have all caused us many sleepless nights. The command post is tense. October 15â•… We are ready to go at daybreak, wearing our tailored uniforms and freshly shined boots. Marvin and Maravilla subject me to all kinds of jokes. After spending four years holed up in the mountains, we now find ourselves in uncharted waters, getting into a helicopter and going to Chalatenango, where we would bear witness to what could be the start of a political solution to the conflict. We eagerly await the opportunity to speak with the leaders of the labor unions and to hug all the mothers of the political prisoners. We are more anxious about being face to face with the same enemy military leaders who swore that they would never meet with the FMLN. “You already know that, when General Vides goes to shake your hand, blow him off,” Marvin jokes. But at dawn we receive word that it hasn’t been possible to coordinate the helicopter flight due to time constraints. Consequently, the trip is canceled. Other compañeros will participate in the meeting. In the meantime, thousands of Salvadorans pour into La Palma to greet the FMLN-FDR delegation. The mothers of political prisoners and the syndicate and labor union leaders are all there challenging repression by forcing open the political arena that the military tried to block off. The covert war tactics fronted by the meeting in La Palma would soon be uncovered. While the government delegation returns from La Palma, the High Command and North American specialists prepare to launch a large-scale operation against the FMLN—Torola IV—under the supervision of Colonel James Steele and Major Quinn. Their intention is to deal the “final blow” to the rebel forces in Morazán. Two days before the operation is set to get under way, our military intelligence team has already informed us of the situation, and we go on high alert.



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Command calls for a national transportation strike on all major roadways, hoping to contain enemy troops at various locations across the country.

Operation Torola IV October 18â•… The camp has been taken down; we’re maintaining maximum mobility. According to the latest reports, Col. Domingo Monterrosa will direct an airto-ground assault team near our position while a number of other battalions close in on us. Monterrosa is obsessed with destroying Radio Venceremos, and we are going to make his dreams come true. We have spent months working on a deadly trap that plays on his weaknesses. As soon as the ground team lands, we will fake a hasty retreat, leaving one of the Venceremos transmitters behind. However, there’s something unique to this one transmitter: inside there will be four explosives and two detonators, one of which will explode when we send the signal. If that fails, an altimeter will detonate the contraption once they reach three hundred meters altitude. Monterrosa loves his war trophies. We believe that his pride will be his downfall when he falls into one of the simplest and oldest strategies, the Trojan Horse. We finish taking apart the tents and cabins and bury the typewriters and other materials. Up to this point I have carried the manuscript for this book, but my pack is already too heavy, so I’ll leave it here, buried for safekeeping. They’ve sliced some pork in the kitchen to feed us during the march. The mules are loaded with the motor and the rest of the equipment. It’s ten in the morning. Two Dragonfly A-37 planes appear from the south and don’t waste any time in bombing the foothills of the camp. They climb, circle, and come back again, this time to launch rockets in order to clear out the area where the Atlacatl Battalion will land. Everyone hurriedly grabs his backpack, and one of the compañeros runs toward the workshop to activate the explosive device inside the transmitter that we’re leaving behind. He uncovers the metal framework, takes out the cables connected to the detonators, but when he starts working with them there is an explosion. At first we thought it was just gunfire. The compañero comes out of the tent now shrouded in white smoke. He’s trembling and clutching his bloody stomach. The detonators blew up. Fortunately, they were located far enough from the explosive charges that those didn’t ignite too. “Someone’s been injured! Get a medic over here!” Jaime ties a hammock to a bamboo pole to serve as a stretcher just as a swarm

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of helicopters appears on the horizon. We have to retreat immediately. The accident makes the plan fail. “What should we do with the thing? Bury it?” Renzo asks. “No, don’t bury it. We’ll take it with us. Put it on one of the mules,” Atilio orders. A line of twelve helicopters passes overhead carrying the Atlacatl Battalion. Chaos breaks out. The pot of pork cracklings spills in the kitchen, and the women scream. “Where is my backpack!” “Leave the pork behind!” “Who has seen my rifle?” “Who took my bag?” In the middle of all the confusion, I hear Ismael’s voice: “Santiago! What are you still doing here? You know the Cumaro ravines. You’ve got to take the intelligence squad there. Go quickly and be careful. Don’t let the helicopters see you. Get going already!” We set off at a sprint. The guys are behind me, each carrying a military PRC77 radio that we use to listen in on enemy communications. Having already covered some ground, I realize that we haven’t agreed on a place to meet. I try to go back when I hear Ismael yell, “We’ll meet up on Joateca Street, on the road that veers off toward Volcancillo. What are you waiting for? Hurry!” Every time a group of helicopters passes by, we stop moving and conceal ourselves in the pine trees. A few women from the kitchen join us. They’re wearing red shirts, perfect for the air force to see. We walk in a steady rain. The technical team has gone ahead to put together the gear since we have to broadcast at six. We set up our microphones and the rest of the equipment in the kitchen of an abandoned house. Content at having foiled the first enemy assault, we begin the program by reporting on the standoff that has taken place in Morazán. We notice that a red light is shining on the Trojan Horse. Without the detonation devices we know that it’s useless, but Chico suggests that we bury it just in case. October 19 â•… Helicopters fire on Joateca and the surrounding area this morning. It’s not long before we receive word from the zone: “A helicopter attacked the civilian population. A child was injured and an elderly man was killed.” A radio station reports on Domingo Monterrosa’s visit to Perquín, accompanied by the North American specialists and international journalists. We imagine that he is rather surprised at not having encountered the usual intense guerrilla resistance in the area. Instead, he has found smaller units able to ambush, harass, and wear down the battalions. This is all part of our recently implemented tactical reassessment.



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The North American specialists are intent on making Monterrosa into a leader capable of raising morale and unifying the different groups within the army. One group within the oligarchy declares that it’s time to reclaim lost territory, and they’re even pushing for Monterrosa to be president once he defeats the FMLN. In the last four years we’ve been able to piece together a puzzle, getting to know the man who has come to destroy us this very October.

To Die Like a Dog Around 1975 a typical scene is unfolding on the army boulevard. A group of a hundred commandos from the Ilopango air base trots along in step. Off to one side of the formation marches a sweaty Domingo Monterrosa, commander of the paratrooper squad. To his left marches Francisco Mena Sandoval, secondin-command. Neither of these two men could have imagined that six years later they would be on opposite sides, with Monterrosa heading up the counterinsurgency plan and Mena Sandoval fighting alongside the rebel forces. “Halt!” orders Monterrosa. He leaves the formation and goes toward a stand where a woman is selling cornflower brandy. He takes the gourd and swirls it around, taking a sip. A filthy, starving dog approaches him and sniffs the area. “Uragan, come, Uragan!” The soldiers are surprised to hear Monterrosa calling the stray dog by the same name as his own dog, which died recently. Dictator Molina had given Monterrosa a German shepherd, which he trained to be particularly aggressive. Then-Captain Monterrosa enjoyed ordering his soldiers to fight one-on-one with Uragan, who left bite marks imprinted on his opponents’ bodies as their only souvenir. One day it occurred to Monterrosa that Uragan could become a paratrooper, and so he set off to train him, first throwing him from the simulator. When the day of the first real jump arrived, the dog defecated in the doorway of the plane, dug into the floor with his paws, and refused to be thrown out of the plane until his master gave him a violent kick that launched him out into the air. A long howl of helplessness followed. The small parachute opened, and the dog glided softly down onto the Ilopango base while Monterrosa floated down from above. This spectacle was repeated a number of times in front of an admiring public. One day, Monterrosa held a demonstration in front of a North American delegation. He put Uragan in the plane and ordered that they push him out after he, Monterrosa, had jumped. And that’s exactly what happened. Monterrosa spread 196 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

his arms and legs, forming a cross during a twelve thousand–foot freefall, letting the seconds drift by before opening his chute. While he was on his way down, he looked up and saw a brown splotch fly by, whimpering all the way. When Monterrosa landed, he ran to where the dog had hit the ground only to find a contorted pile of broken bones and spattered blood. His only remark was, “Son of a bitch! That’s dying like a dog!”

The Gringos’ Man Since his days in military school, Monterrosa stood out for his discipline and ability to win the favor of his superiors. In 1966 he caused two cadets to desert when he beat them with a whip as punishment. He was then transferred to the national guard, where he maintained ties with the leaders of the death squads, Roberto D’Aubuisson and Chato Castillo. He participated in the electoral fraud that allowed Colonel Molina to come to power. Out of gratitude, Molina entrusted him with the protection of his son and sent them both to France to complete a helicopter training course. His particular mix of talent and ambition attracted the attention of the North American embassy. They adored him and showered him with courses in advanced infantry and communications in the United States and sent him to Taiwan to study psychological warfare. As commander of the paratroopers, he ordered a number of political prisoners to be thrown into the ocean from a helicopter. He was also behind the assassination of two air force workers who were thought to be collaborating with urban guerrilla forces. He organized a group of his subalterns in an assassination attempt against Colonel Larios Guerra, who had won over Monterrosa’s first wife. They say that Monterrosa’s only true companion is his own ambition, his home, the barracks. While some had pictures of their family on their desks, Monterrosa had a picture of himself and a golden statue of Mars, the [Roman] god of war. He is without a doubt the most talented military strategist the North Americans can rely on. He’s the only military leader who marches with his soldiers. He’s a public relations wizard, always staging a show for the press. October 20â•… Let’s get back to what’s happening on this third day of operation Torola IV. Our efforts are focused on regrouping and defeating the operation. The guerrilla units have been watching the army’s movements and have determined the exact spot where enemy troops have to pass. Mines are rapidly laid in their



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path, and when the first explosion rings out, the whole company stops, completely demoralized. Dimas’s unit, near the ruins in El Mozote, prepares to attack, making use of our new strategy. “You know, Dimas, I’m not sure this whole thing is going to turn out well for us,” Aurelio says. “Don’t talk like that.” “Listen, the thing is that a few of us are going to attack, and I’m just not sure of how we’ll be able to do it. Look at all the soldiers up there on Cruz Hill.” “Have some confidence. Let’s get out of here and attack.” “You think it’s that easy, but it’s not. That’s okay, though. Let’s go!” One compañero keeps an eye on the rear guard while three scale a small outcropping and the other two, like snipers, approach a group of soldiers. They pick off one of the soldiers, and for a few minutes the other compañeros lay down a barrage before backing off, hoping that the troops will follow them right into the ambush. A few minutes later, a wary patrol of fifty soldiers slowly makes its way down Los Toriles path in search of the attackers. Another guerrilla unit watches them, studying their movements, calculating that once they reach the well they will probably stop to fill their canteens. That’s where the compas have set a charge, hiding the wire in the foliage that leads out to the soldier who will detonate the explosive. The soldiers soon appear. “You there, go ahead and secure the perimeter,” orders the second lieutenant. The radio operator slumps down next to the well, allowing the hidden guerrilla fighter to listen in on his conversations. “Fuego, this is Carlos.” “Fuego here. Go ahead, Carlos.” “What happened down there?” “There was a guerrilla assault. We had a casualty. Send the copter to pick up the body.” “How many were there? Over.” “We only saw two.” “Copy, over and out.” At that moment, the hidden compa triggers the explosives. The explosion throws the second lieutenant and the radio operator into the air. Casualties begin to pile up during the Torola IV operation, losses brought on by a guerrilla force that can’t be seen but is everywhere. Four battalions carry out the siege. Commander Janeth Samour (Filomena) rests on a huge fallen tree, looking at a map on which each enemy position is indicated by an arrow and different-colored symbols. One of our messenger boys sprints up to her and gives her an envelope. Janeth stands up; her October 21â•…

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long hair flows over her shoulders, and her white skin is in marked contrast to her wide-brimmed black felt hat. Her hair falls down over a face that glows with determination. She reminds me of one of those Arabian princesses we saw from time to time in the movies. She opens the message and reads it: “The people say that Col. Domingo Monterrosa has just arrived in Joateca via helicopter. The enemy has reinforced its position in the town.” The report is sent to the command post. Given the fact that we know Monterrosa’s current location, we weigh our options, evaluating a number of different strikes against him. The first that we consider is an attack on Joateca, but we quickly discard that option since it does not guarantee that we’ll get Monterrosa. At six in the evening we enter the field house to begin the program. We report that over the course of four days the army has suffered twenty-seven casualties. Every time the army has invaded our territories, it has run into hundreds of inscriptions on walls that give logical reasons why the officers and soldiers should abandon the unpopular war. This has produced a sort of muralistic debate. The officers have begun to answer us with their own inscriptions. One of ours says, “Revolution or Death .€.€. We Will Win!” A soldier has answered us with, “But it’s going to cost you!” The enemy soldiers no longer find themselves confronting huge firing lines. Downtrodden by the guerrilla tactics, they write on a wall in Perquín: “Stop running and show yourselves, cowards!” On one wall in Arambala, you can read a host of messages sent from one side to the other: “Soldier, don’t defend the rich. You’re poor. Desert now!” “Guerrillas, how much do they pay you to screw things up?” “When the BRAZ roars, the Arce Battalion trembles!”

The Trojan Horse October 22â•… At three in the morning Atilio wakes Chico up: “Let’s try the plan again. If Monterrosa is going to stay in Joateca, let’s put the Radio Venceremos transmitter within his reach!” “It won’t be easy, but we can try,” Chico responds. “If a group of compas goes into town, feigns a battle, and leaves the transmitter behind, do you think that Monterrosa would take the bait?” “He could. The only thing that worries me is that Monterrosa might suspect something.” “Let’s give it a shot. Wake up the other compas and let’s get to work,” Atilio says, sitting up. The compañeros, each charged with a different task, are summoned. One



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team will take the device out of its hiding place while the technicians will get to work on the remote control that will detonate it. The backpack that will contain old broadcast tapes is also selected. Marvín gathers up some notepads, which we use to scribble down notes and commentaries for Radio Venceremos. The squad is gathered and the mission explained. They will look for the Trojan Horse and take it to El Bramadero. There they will fake a confrontation and leave it behind. The group leaves at daybreak. After two hours of trekking up and down hills and through riverbeds, they reach the place where we stored the transmitter. When Julio digs it up, he reads the plate that says Radio Venceremos. “Carefully put it on my back. If this thing blows up, we’re all screwed.” They move to El Bramadero, three kilometers north of Joateca. When they get there, they discover that the enemy unit has already fallen back. The plan fails once again since there aren’t any troops to take the transmitter. The compañeros explain to the command post why the mission can’t be completed. Command reevaluates the situation: “The only alternative is for the compas to press forward and take the device to the outskirts of Joateca.” “That makes things a lot more complicated. If we leave it that close, the first thing Monterrosa’s going to ask is, ‘What the hell is the Venceremos team doing so close to a town guarded by a battalion?’” “You’re right, but it’s the only chance we’ve got. The other thing is, it’s already noon. Monterrosa isn’t going to be in Joateca much longer.” “Then that’s how it’s going to be done. The compas will have to hurry. They’ll have to take it closer to Joateca. Send word to them,” Atilio orders. The guerrilla squad moves forward along the dirt road. A reconnaissance team is in place a hundred meters ahead of them to prevent an ambush. The midday sun blazes down on the team. Julio and Cornelio are carrying the transmitter. An elderly woman standing in the doorway motions for them to come closer: “Be careful. The soldiers are in the cemetery. I saw them there this morning playing cards on the graves.” They walk a little more easily, having heard the woman’s report. “Cornelio, let’s rest for a minute while the reconnaissance team goes forward,” Julio proposes from the shade of a mango tree. “Hey, do they call it the Trojan Horse because it’s so heavy?” “No, they call it that because of something that happened a long time ago.” “So tell me!” Well, according to what they told me, there were once some people called the Greeks, and they were fighting with the other people who lived in the region known as Troy. They were all fighting over a woman, the famous Helen of Troy. Since they were experienced warriors and they couldn’t 200 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

seem to whip the Trojans, the Greeks came up with an idea to trick them. They fashioned a giant horse out of wood and hid a group of soldiers inside it. Then the Greeks made like they were tired of fighting and withdrew all of their boats when what they really did was hide their soldiers nearby. When the Trojans saw what the Greeks had done, they began to shout that they had won the war and they drank themselves silly. They left the city and found the horse and an actor who, pretending to be hurt, told them that the Greeks, tired of war, had left. He continued and told them that Helen would remain in Troy and the horse was a gift. When everyone was really drunk, the Greeks came out of the horse, set fire to the city, and opened the doors so the rest of the army could invade. That’s how they won the war. “Now I understand,” Cornelio says. “You do realize that we’re going to have to make sure this works. You’ll have to do something like the actor did to the Trojans.” “Me? You’re joking. Haven’t you seen how bad I am when they put me on stage in camp?” “Don’t worry. It’ll be pretty easy.” “Fine, let’s get going. Put the horse on my back,” says Cornelio just as the two hear the rumble of a helicopter taking off. “Shit, Monterrosa’s getting away from us!” The aircraft climbs and sets off toward the south. There goes the gringos’ man. The compañeros don’t arrive in time to leave him the bait, and the plan fails for the third time. They analyze the situation at the command post. With the elections just a few days away and Reagan trying to get reelected, the North American specialists will jump at any chance to say that they’ve been successful in El Salvador. They’ve got to demonstrate the efficacy of their strategy. To this information we can add Monterrosa’s psychological profile. He’s been unable to deal the final blow to defeat the FMLN. All of this is to say that we’ve got to try again, even if the possibility of success is smaller than ever. “If we leave the transmitter within reach, maybe Monterrosa will come back to Joateca to claim his prize.” “He’s always meddling in our affairs. I’m sure he’ll come. He wants to be involved in everything.” “Well, then, the plan goes on. If Monterrosa doesn’t show up, we will at least be able to take down a helicopter.” The encrypted order is immediately sent out to the task force, and the squad moves toward the Joateca cemetery. There is a section of the Concagua Battalion

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there, playing cards on gravestones, just as the old woman said. The compañeros creep up on them, kicking a few rocks to get their attention. A fight breaks out, the signal to begin the farce. Julio kneels in front of the machine. “Move back some. Take cover behind that rock. If this thing explodes, you don’t want it to take you with it.” A few meters away, a burst of fire ricochets off the rocks. “Hurry up!” Julio lies flat on the ground, takes the thin metal rod and puts it into the machine. His hands are shaking and he closes his eyes. He hears the metal click, telling him that the remote detonator has been activated. “That’s it. Cornelio, it’s time for a little show. Scream as if they’ve shot you right in the gut.” “Ahhhh, I’m hit! Help me!” “Someone’s wounded. Leave that stuff behind and come help me get him out of here,” Julio yells. Upon hearing this, the soldiers get excited and fire even more furiously at the group. Julio stages the last detail. He takes the backpack and lets it slide down a small gully. Venceremos cassettes and notebooks spill out. The compañeros fall back. When the gunfire dies down, the soldiers reach the top of the hill, but the compas are already well on their way, far out of the reach of enemy rifles. “Don’t run away from us, you sons of bitches! Come back and fight like men!” “Come back, cowards! This is the territory of the Brujos Company from the Concagua Battalion,” yells another soldier. At the opposite end of the street, a group of thirty soldiers appears, cheering and slowly carrying the transmitter on a wooden slab. “We captured Radio Venceremos!” they scream wildly. At the head of the carnivalesque procession is a proud lieutenant who triumphantly scans the faces of the women and children in the doorways of the surrounding homes. Standing at the corner of town hall, Major Argumedo hears the good news. A woman who was operating a tamale stand heard him say, “Mario Arnulfo, the time has finally come for you to rise up through the ranks.” The first to receive word is Col. Domingo Monterrosa, who orders from the San Miguel barracks, “No one is to touch the transmitter. Nor is it to be moved. Redouble security in Joateca and await my orders. I will see to everything personally!” The news spreads fast, first from the general staff to the embassy and from there to the Pentagon, where they’re monitoring the war in El Salvador. Monterrosa fabricates a story about how he captured the radio in a brilliant tactical assault operation. 202 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

To confirm his “victory,” we fake a message between Licho and the unit on its way back from Joateca. “What happened over there?” Licho asks. “We ran into a problem and lost the equipment.” “Send me a full encrypted report,” Licho says, pretending to be angry. We temporarily suspend all Venceremos broadcasts to fool the High Command once and for all. Surely that will convince them. Only one question remains: Won’t the North American specialists insist that the captured transmitter undergo a thorough examination? If they do, then they’ll find the charges and the plan will have failed. Are they in such a state of desperation that they will blindly go along with our plan? Will they turn their backs on logic so they can finally claim victory? Late at night, after much animated discussion as to what will happen in the coming hours, everyone pulls out sleeping mats. The women from the communications team show up after a heroic bath in the freezing water of the stream, and Atilio isn’t far behind them. When he sees that no one has left him room to lay out his mat, he leans up against the tent post, wide awake. “A little while ago I was thinking about Felipe Peña,” Atilio says. “We were both involved in clandestine activity at the time. He was with the FPL and I was with the ERP. At one time we met to talk about the unity of the different revolutionary organizations. When we were saying good-bye to one another, I told him that I never would have imagined that he would become a guerrilla leader, what with the fact that he was somewhat frail during our university years, wearing glasses and all. Then Felipe smiled and said to me, ‘What a coincidence. The same thing happened to me. I never thought that you’d be a guerrilla either.’” There’s an explosion in the distance. The guard says it has come from El Pericón, where the Atlacatl Battalion has set up its command post near the camp that we’ve abandoned. We imagine their commander, Maj. Asmitia Melara, unable to sleep, startled by the invisible guerrilla units that are watching his every move day in and day out, ready to strike. “Well, if the enemy can’t sleep, we can. Tomorrow is going to be a hectic day,” Atilio says, laying down his mat and rolling himself up in his blanket. Chico is the only one awake. He’s lying next to his radio. A Silvio Rodríguez song is playing: I hope that something makes me forget about you, a blinding light, a shot in the dark, I hope that at the least, it takes me away.12 Tonight, some forty kilometers from here, in the Third Brigade barracks, Domingo Monterrosa and the North American specialists are celebrating their “victory” in Morazán.

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The Sword of Mars or the Mirror of Venus? October 23â•… At daybreak the camp is full of activity. The operation will be directed from this point. We can see Joateca, a few kilometers to the south. Its bell tower and whitewashed walls stand out against the piney green landscape. To the left is the ravine that the San Antonio River has carved out of the rocks, and in the background there’s Ocote Seco Hill. The information and intelligence team listens in on enemy communications, taking notes. It’s impressive to watch them work. They’re barely even teenagers, and they can already carry out hypothetical calculations to determine possible enemy behavior. Based on the psychological profile of each battalion leader, they are able to deduce the route that the troops will take and how fast they’ll move. They process all of the information they receive and send it to command. A few minutes later a slightly anxious Atilio arrives. He asks if the antenna is well situated, if the battery is charged, and if the remote control signal will carry all the way to the helicopter in flight. The Voice of America affirms in its six o’clock newscast “the fact that Radio Venceremos has not made its last two broadcasts[, which] confirms the Salvadoran High Command reports that the Radio has indeed been destroyed.”13 “A helicopter’s coming!” the guard yells. A point appears on the horizon, but the excitement quickly subsides since it flies over Perquín and turns toward Cacahuatique rather than Joateca. Disappointment falls over the camp; many return to their tents while others seek out shade. More than one compañero is pessimistic about the outcome of the plan. Standing on a rock outcrop, Atilio listens to the armed forces’ triumphant reports, each more ludicrous than its predecessor in its description of “the heroic assault on the Radio Venceremos camp, which was located in a cave, and three days of intense combat.” Atilio bends over and scoops up a handful of pebbles, tossing them at any empty can with surprisingly poor aim:

You know, this operation that we’re running has its roots in the urban struggle. Do you remember when the bombs went off in three different barracks in 1979? That operation, just like this one, was based on processed military intelligence. In January of that year, the dictatorship reduced El Despertar to rubble and slaughtered a number of Christian youths along with Father Octavio Ortiz. The people were shocked by the brutality of the massacre. That’s when we decided to carry out our own operation that would be both a response and a call to action to fight against the dictatorship. We received a piece of intelligence indicating that the charges that the compas set didn’t go off, and that they were gathered and stored in the central barracks. Two 204 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

detonators were placed in each of the three charges. We knew that the police technicians would find the first detonator, since it was so obvious, but the second was well hidden and set to go off at a specific time. We faked a few fights to leave the bombs within the enemy’s reach. Technicians showed up at the three different points, disconnected the cables, and carried the charges off to their barracks. Later that morning, simultaneous explosions rocked three barracks. You have to realize that everything we do is a direct result of our accumulated experiences. Atilio is interrupted by the sound of a helicopter rumbling in the distance. Everyone is alert. A group of compas watches the aircraft’s flight path as it approaches. “It passed over the river and now it’s between El Limón and El Zapotal.” “It’s going toward Joateca. Positions, everyone!” The helicopter loops around above the rooftops, descending slowly into the center of town. A few agonizingly long minutes pass and people begin to have their doubts. “Has Monterrosa come?” “Who’s with him?” “Will they load the transmitter into the helicopter?” Everyone stares intently at Joateca from the foot of Ocote Seco, a mountain that dominates the horizon like a giant rearing its ugly head. The churning engines penetrate the silence again. “They’re taking off.” The helicopter climbs slowly, flying over the sugarcane plantations as we fix our gaze on the small dot that’s growing larger with each passing second. Hearts pounding in our chests, the order is issued: “Now, detonate it now!” Mauricio lifts his left hand and presses the button. All of us continue scrutinizing the aircraft for signs of an imminent explosion. He presses the button over and over again. “Go on, do it!” a few compas yell. He tries one more time, but nothing happens. The plan inexplicably fails. “What’s wrong, why isn’t it going off?” “I don’t know,” Mauricio replies. Cheje readjusts the antenna, trying to point it straight at the helicopter, which is moving off in the distance, climbing and setting a course toward the southeast. They try the detonator a few more times, but nothing happens. The sound of the motor fades away; silence descends on the disappointed camp. A group forms around a pile of sugarcane, and everyone starts coming up with theories about why the operation failed. “One possibility is that while you were faking combat in the cemetery, Julio wasn’t able to activate the detonation mechanism.”

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“Look, Julio says that he heard it click. He’s sure that he activated it.” “It could be that the signal just didn’t reach the helicopter.” “But the meter indicated that there was enough power. The signal had to have reached the helicopter. What’s strange about this whole operation is that, even if the remote detonator failed, the altimeter should have detonated the charges once the helicopter reached three hundred meters. The connections could have been bad.” Atilio quietly listens to the conversation, drumming his fingers. “Wait a minute. If the helicopter’s mission wasn’t to pick up the transmitter, that means that they still have it in Joateca.” “It’s odd that they haven’t come to get it, especially with all the noise they’re making about how they’ve defeated Venceremos.” “Monterrosa is going to come for it personally. He has too much pride to let anyone else do it for him.” “There’s just one problem,” Mauricio says. “What?” “It might have already exploded in the town if the signal reached it.” Our hopes are shattered when we realize that Mauricio could be right. If he is, then the failure is definitive. “But we didn’t hear an explosion.” “Maybe all the buildings absorbed the noise from the blast. You also have to take into account that we’re three kilometers away.” “Tell me something,” Atilio says. “If we wanted to contact Joateca via radio and the radio operator was in one of the houses in town, would we be able to? Would the signal be able to reach him inside the house?” “Impossible, there are too many things in the way. The signal would be blocked by all of the stuff between here and Joateca. The radio operator would have to climb up to the top of the bell tower to receive our communications.” “That’s it! The charges didn’t explode because the transmitter is sitting on the ground. Once it’s in flight in the helicopter, it’ll work.” “Lunch is ready!” Sonia yells. The chance that the plan could still work lifts our spirits. A laughing stampede of compañeros makes its way over to the steaming pot of oxtail and yucca soup. The same doubts sneak up on us again. However, our full stomachs and the hot afternoon are enough to overcome our concerns, and many of us doze off for a while. Cannon fire explodes off to the side of Jocoatique, and two helicopters strafe El Conacaste. Around two in the afternoon, we hear Domingo Monterrosa making his usual triumphant declarations from San Salvador: I am pleased to report to the country that operation Torola IV has been a complete success for the armed forces. The current strategy is something 206 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

entirely different from its predecessor. We have employed new tactics, working our way through each sector. I can most certainly assure you that the myth of Morazán is gone for good. As for what we have accomplished, first and foremost we have captured Radio Venceremos after much intense combat. I can tell you that I am personally preparing to go to Joateca to retrieve the captured equipment. I would like to invite all journalists to present themselves at four in the afternoon so that I may prove to you in person that we have dealt a decisive blow to the subversives. I repeat: the myth of Morazán is gone for good. When Chela and the other women monitoring the radio stations hear what the colonel has to say, they jump for joy. The fact that Monterrosa has unwittingly given us this valuable piece of information about his next trip to Joateca confirms that his vain ambition will ultimately be his downfall. I thought about the Balzac character from La Piel de Sapa.14 Since Radio Venceremos has not made its last four broadcasts, concerned messages from different sections of the front begin to arrive, wanting to know what’s going on in Morazán. Political prisoners, refugees, combatants, the diplomatic corps—everyone is wondering whether the armed forces’ reports are true. Those who were around the San Miguel barracks said that, even before Monterrosa climbed on board the helicopter, the Armed Forces Press Committee began taking pictures and taping his every move, determined to capture even the smallest detail of the warlord’s historic triumph as he went in search of his spoils. We don’t have to wait long before we hear the rumbling engine and then see the helicopter approaching. “Here he comes!” yells one of the young compas. “Everyone, positions!” The aircraft gently touches down in the main square of Joateca. Those who were present tell us that the military photographers filed out first with their television cameras while the helicopter blades were still rotating, stirring up a cloud of dust out of which Monterrosa appeared. Stepping down into the square, self-assured and beaming about his victory, he waved to everyone. The soldiers observed the scene without fully understanding the colonel’s elaborate staging and antics. Behind Monterrosa were Major Asmitia Melara, commander of the Atlacatl Battalion; Colonel Calito, military leader of Morazán; and Major Rivas. It looks like Monterrosa wasn’t able to resist putting on a show for the most experienced campaign leaders in the armed forces, the officers who are most familiar with war after having lived it all these years. Major Argumedo stands at attention, inviting Monterrosa to officially take

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his trophy. They say that Monterrosa went up to it, smiled, and touched it as if it were a beloved pet. “Bring me a recorder,” he ordered. Taking one of the cassettes out of the captured backpack, he confirmed that it was one of the last Radio Venceremos programs. He moved toward the people gathered around town hall and told them that the armed forces would never again abandon northern Morazán. He explained that the troops would remain there to rebuild the bridge over the Torola and that a battalion would be stationed in Perquín. He finished by ordering them to line up so that they could receive the free food that he had brought. The myth of Morazán was finally finished. They say that there was a soldier on watch duty on the patio of the town hall. According to him, “Colonel Monterrosa walked over and was pissing on some old magazines that were lying on the ground when he realized that he was desecrating a picture of former president Molina. He shook his penis and said, ‘Forgive me, but the person who’s pissing on you is going to be the next president of El Salvador.’” It’s four in the afternoon. The journalists are probably growing impatient waiting for the promised press conference on the Third Brigade helipad. Before they left the square, Major Rivas, taking out a bottle of brandy, proposed a toast. Monterrosa took a swig and then passed the bottle to Colonel Herson Calito, who, in turn, passed it to Major Asmitia. The Lords of War, standing there among the flashing cameras and television crews, are already on the path that will lead them to glory. “Armintury, prepare for takeoff. The journalists are waiting for us in San Miguel. They want their press conference,” Monterrosa ordered his pilot. The film crew taped the last few minutes of Monterrosa hugging a shocked elderly woman, speaking with some street vendors, and walking down the cobblestone streets. Before leaving, he gave a soccer ball to a group of youngsters. The officers then boarded the helicopter. The last time the villagers saw Monterrosa he was sitting there, buckling his seatbelt with one foot on top of the transmitter like a proud hunter posing over a trophy. The blades begin rotating, churning up the dust, leaves, and other waste in the square. The enormous steel and sheet metal contraption lifts off, tilting to one side before climbing with its passenger on board. The soldiers are attentive behind their machine guns. We hear the chopper from our location. Our hearts are pounding. Atilio watches it approach through the binoculars: “There it is, look at it.” It is perfectly visible. It’s moving along the highway and turning toward the west. We look at the profile of the aircraft as the pilot steers it to the south. “Now! Do it now!” The remote signal reaches the helicopter in a matter of milliseconds. It’s four 208 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

fifteen in the afternoon. If Monterrosa is admiring the transmitter that’s sitting beneath his feet right now he will notice the small red light, the sign that his pride and ambition are literally about to go up in a ball of fire, ending his reign of terror. In the clean, crisp air of Morazán the helicopter explodes, breaking into two intense balls of fire. The twisted hunk of metal that was the cabin lands in a cornfield, setting the entire thing ablaze. The other pieces of the aircraft, the turbines and the blades, spin wildly, shearing off the tops of trees and hacking through their trunks. For a few seconds, in what seems to be slow motion, bodies, scraps of metal, broken rifles, television cameras, shredded notebooks, and North American military gear fall down into the fields. The explosion rings out through all of Morazán. People are awakened and soldiers panic, all because of the deafening roar of the blast. It sends the combatants and civilians who are still watching the smoldering heap into a state of euphoria. “Gooooaaaaall” is the only thing that occurs to whoever started yelling, but we all reply, “Goooaaall!” “We live to fight!” “We fight to win!” People hug one another. Some run and jump; others simply stand there, their eyes fixed on the horizon where the column of black smoke continues to rise from the crash site. “Let the other stations across the front know that we have taken down Domingo Monterrosa’s helicopter.” At this precise moment, in the abandoned Radio Venceremos camp in the highlands of El Pericón, a soldier drives a stake into the ground to set up his tent and finds the wooden box containing the manuscript for this book. The soldier calls his officers to find out what to do with the hundreds of sheets of paper. We then hear a captain of the Atlacatl Battalion calling his superiors to ask them what to do with the manuscript, but neither Asmitia nor Monterrosa can respond to him. They’re dead. “We’ve found a box of papers in the Radio Venceremos camp. I want to know if I can send them along on the helicopter that is coming to drop off ammunition.” “Until we receive our orders don’t put shit on that helicopter. Burn the papers,” an officer ordered. A choking sensation grips my chest. I feel like I’m losing my most precious memories. The enemy confirms the names of the six dead officers and two dead pilots to the general staff. It’s now 4:25 pm, and another round of cheers explodes in the camp. In the school in Joateca, three children are still speechless after having witnessed the event: “That huge thing was going up and up, like a fat bird that had

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just eaten a lot, and a hand came out of the door and waved good-bye. It kept on flying slowly and passed over the mill. Then it swung to one side and kept on climbing, and then, boom! The thing blew up into two big fireballs. One piece fell onto the fields and burned.” At 5:15 the red light on the real Radio Venceremos transmitter lit up to broadcast the national anthem of El Salvador. We all barely fit into the broadcasting tent. Dina is in front of the sound console and the rest of us, Mariposa, Marvin and I, are in front of the microphones ready to go. “An hour ago, Domingo Monterrosa announced to the world that he had destroyed Radio Venceremos. Now we are the ones who are here to announce that it is the myth of Domingo Monterrosa that is gone for good.” Minutes later Atilio arrives and gives us the operation report on what is now known as “Heroic Atlacatl, Death to the Invader and Its Puppets.” Having taken down the helicopter, the FMLN deems it untimely to publicly reveal the exact details regarding the operation. Consequently, the report contains a false version, saying the aircraft was shot down by small-arms fire. Until this book is rewritten and published, the secret of how the operation was really carried out will be ours and ours alone. The enemy specialists seem to be under the impression that we used a portable SAM-7 rocket launcher. They sent a team of experts to investigate the crash site. The first report that the COPREFA issues claims that the helicopter crashed due to “metal fatigue.”15 Our response is that the real problem is “mental fatigue” brought on by their efforts to cover up the armed forces’ tired strategy. Radio stations across the country report that the U.S. ambassador has visited the president of the republic with words of consolation: “Mr. President, this is a tragic loss. Monterrosa is a hero. I’ve come to show you that the president of the United States has the utmost confidence in the armed forces’ ability to overcome these difficult times and continue along the path we have forged together.” We watch the funerals on TV. Rows of distraught colonels and generals occupy the foreground, silently mourning the loss of their leader as the last few spades of dirt cover the El Mozote Executioner’s coffin. What we’re witnessing is not a funeral, but, rather, the burial of a hateful plan to maintain the military caste in power in El Salvador at any cost. We listen to Rodrigo read some reports concerning the event. The UPI characterizes it as “a personal duel between Commander Joaquín Villalobos and Colonel Monterrosa, the former having been victorious.” Upon hearing this, Atilio gives a look of disapproval and takes the microphone: “Listen, you have to make sure they know what this is. It’s not a confrontation between two individuals, but between two opposing political forces.” Then we hear Ana Guadalupe say, “The operation has had a substantial impact on the media. It’s even worked its way into the North American electoral debate, 210 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

where it has provoked some to question Reagan’s foreign policy. And there’s more. Some members of Congress now maintain that the FMLN’s display of force is an indication that it’s time to think about negotiating a political solution.” “That’s good,” Atilio replies. “Listen, we have to work with the rest of the FMLN to articulate a strong political position. Do you copy?” “Yes, I heard you,” Rodrigo responds. “We’ll work on that. Another thing that I wanted to tell you about is how the operation has won the admiration of the international press. They’re saying that the counterinsurgency plan will flounder without Monterrosa as its leader.”

The Tenacity of the Izote Word reaches us from the Nahuaterique zone that the Atlacatl Battalion has formed a defensive line across the entire northern region. We could be trapped. The enemy is too close. We have to move out of the area in order to guarantee our security, but we can’t stop broadcasting. We must keep the country informed while simultaneously using our latest victory to demoralize the army. We quickly take down our tents, pack up the equipment, load the mules, and camouflage ourselves with leaves and branches as we set out along a path with little cover. A-37s are overhead, bombing the area a few kilometers north of here. The trek was long and hard, the night dark and cold. Despite the leaders’ insistence that we remain quiet, a falling pot occasionally breaks the silence as does the sound of our boots as we trudge down rocky trails on our way to El Mozote. At times the weight of the soundboard and recorders overwhelms us and fatigue breaks our will to continue. Bad temper is also all too common. I had words with Maravilla over the microphones and cables, a small additional weight that we have to share. We accused each other of letting the other person carry it for too long. Days later, while the battalions were still entrenched in our territory, we went with a squadron to the crash site to do a report. As we moved in on the location, we found pieces of altimeters, parts of the helicopter blades, and the remnants of the fuselage. The combatants gather up nuts and other items from the crash site. In the last few days it has become popular for the women of Morazán to wear something like that to commemorate what happened. When I’m ready to leave the cornfield, I notice something strange. Pushing apart some branches, I see what’s left of a pair of frayed military pants. I read the initials D.M.B., Domingo Monterrosa Barrios, emblazoned on a pocket. In the shady afternoon sunlight, I attempt to lift the pants. A small black critter scurries out from under them. At first I thought it was a scorpion, but bending over I see that it’s only a grasshopper.

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A girl walks by balancing a jug of water on her head. Soon there will be corn in the fields. An intensely red half-moon fills the sky where the sun hangs, halfhidden, behind Cacahuatique. We gather up the pants and some of the helicopter debris with the idea of preserving them as part of what could one day be a war museum dedicated to the fight for democracy. We return to Joateca, where Rogelio has just finished offering Mass. I’m always happy to run into him; our conversations always leave me feeling more capable, refreshed even. The two of us gather around a coffee pot. He tells me about the trip he took with Monsignor Romero from Lovaina. As the embers die down in the fire, Rogelio spreads out his mat and tells me, “Not everyone dies as he’s lived, but Monterrosa got what was coming to him. He died with the very same violence with which he ruthlessly took the lives of thousands.” The Radio becomes more combative in the political debate with the High Command, mocking its attempts to silence or otherwise weaken the FMLN, despite the fact that it manages to do the latter at least in some capacity. Each time the battalions move, we have to move as well. Tonight we have to march six kilometers south toward Agua Blanca. There we’ll set up our equipment, regroup, and continue working. Our military school is up and running in the middle of enemy territory. The elementary school begins its classes south of the river, and the explosives workshops keep up with production demands, all in the midst of the enemy operatives. All of our teams are cut down to smaller numbers, and that enables us to react more quickly and with greater mobility. At noon we were doing a special Venceremos program to report on the military victory when I must have raised my voice too much, and then, boom! A blast from a 90-mm cannon exploded followed by machine gun fire. It looked like a patrol heard the live Venceremos broadcast from the top of a nearby hill. Luckily, César’s unit found them in time and ran them off. Nevertheless, confusion broke out among us as we hurriedly gathered up our things, took down the antenna, rolled up cables, and put the motor on the mule. When two compañeros with military radios passed by, we made out part of the enemy communication. “Watch out for an ambush. You’d be better off to fall back to the other side of the river and wait for our air support,” an officer says. Before the officer has finished we are already on our way, moving out of the area before the air force arrives. Our retreat becomes the most spectacular of walks, beneath a brilliant morning sun and fantastic clouds. The mules are at the front of the group, the enormous stacks of kitchenware clanging as they march along. Ana Lidia and I walk along holding hands like two sweethearts on a Sunday afternoon. We set up camp on one of the overlooks near Jocoatique. We can’t turn on 212 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

any lights at night since the Arce Battalion is just a few kilometers to the north of us. Trying to control the escalating war is not the only thing that keeps Command busy. They are also pursuing a political solution to the situation and, ultimately, peace. There’s another meeting in Ayagualo, near the capital. People challenge the government’s wide-scale repression by showing up by the thousands to receive the FMLN-FDR delegation. The legitimacy of the FMLN as a political force is now unquestionable; without its participation there can be no resolution. Sitting in front of the TV, we are moved by the workers, mothers, and students who cheer and applaud when Commander Facundo Guardado reiterates in his fiery speech, “Peace must begin in the struggle to solve the concrete problems of the workers and farmers of El Salvador. It must begin by fighting to eliminate the obstacles which prevent the refugees from returning to their homeland. To fight for these things is to fight for peace and dignity.”16 After taking control of military outposts in a third of El Salvador, now we have to continue to grow and incorporate more people into the struggle; we have to find new political ground and make more demands. That’s the only way to guarantee that we’ll be able to hold up against a system that seeks to maintain the status quo by assuring that the military sector has all the power. The only thing left of operation Torola IV was a pile of ash and twisted metal. The army suffered around two hundred casualties, including their invaluable strategists. They were not able to fulfill a single objective, nor were they capable of taking an inch of our territory. They also failed to establish any permanent troop concentration north of the Torola River. To top it all off, despite the fact that they passed out tons of food during the forty-eight days that they were here, they didn’t win over the people, not even for one second. Young fighters once again call the towns of Morazán department home, living among the locals who are beginning to come back to rebuild their homes and sow the next harvest, which will grow in free soil, in free territory. A medical center has been set up in Perquín for recovering and malnourished compañeros. They will be provided a balanced diet, plenty of rest, and even Betamax so they can watch movies. Right in line with the typical Salvadoran sense of humor, the name of the nutrition center was changed to Tancredo, referring to Tancredo Neves, the president of Brazil who died a slow, painful death. When the last battalion left Morazán, Command sent a team to deactivate the mines we had left in our old camp and to search the place where I had buried my manuscript. When the compañeros returned and reported to Atilio, he called me in to speak with him. “They burned the book. This is the only thing they found,” he says as he lays sixteen sheets of paper down on the table in front of me, their edges blackened and burned.

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I felt a tension in my chest. “Do you think you’ll be able to rewrite the book?” he asks me. “I think it’s important that you try; it’s a promise we’ve made to those fallen in battle.” I slumped down in the chair, utterly defeated. “I’m going to try,” I replied unconvincingly. Atilio stood up, looking at the countryside, and said, “Start to rewrite it. I’m only going to give you one piece of advice. Include some poetry, write what you want, do whatever, as long as it’s the truth.” When I told Ana Lidia what had happened, she hugged me with all of the tenderness a human being is capable of possessing and said, “Don’t worry. We’re all going to rewrite the book together.” And that’s exactly what happened. Every night we met around a fire, searching our memories. We probed the historical archive of Venceremos. I interviewed dozens of combatants, commanders, and local inhabitants, both old and young. Some parts of the book that I had mailed months back were returned to me. In the end, what started as an individual project became a collective one, and the book was gradually rewritten. When I showed Atilio the first few lines, he told me that I should include more commonplace occurrences. He said that what I had written was very impersonal and that I shouldn’t forget the human element—the things that we all experienced on a daily basis. Every time there was a new enemy campaign we buried the pages, collecting them weeks later. That’s how this book was reborn out of the ashes, forged out of the flames of our collective memory. Christmas is soon upon us. There is much celebration over the defeat of Torola IV. Moments before the biggest dance of the year, a ceremony was held during which hundreds of compañeros stood in perfect formation in the square of San Fernando. Under a silver moon, Atilio concluded his end-of-the-year message: Torola IV was the trial by fire. In spite of the difficult conditions we all had to endure, we were able to reassess our strategy and in doing so confront and overcome all of the military interventionism. Those forty-eight days were the true test. You were used to large-scale operations, so it was most certainly a difficult transition when you broke up into smaller units. Some didn’t understand or weren’t able to cope with the new demands, and their spirits were broken; but the majority of you forged a new understanding, a new consciousness. For this reason, we will never be defeated. I want to make it clear to you that what’s coming is going to be even harder, but we must persevere. Anyone who has grown weary, who no longer wishes to follow this path, should say so. They should not feel guilty because what we need right now is love for the people of this country, love for the country itself, and faith in the victories that we will achieve together. 214 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

A strong wind coming from the north makes me close my eyes. I imagine that, if I tied a blanket to the top of the tallest pine tree, it would become a sail on a boat, the boat would sail through time, undoing death and destruction. It would carry us to the day when the war will be over forever, when we’ll finally be able to see our dream of a liberated nation. notes

1. El siglo de las luces. 2. Día de los Trabajadores. 3. Cadena Revolucionario de Radio. 4. Conchita Alonso is a famous Venezuelan actress and singer born in 1957. 5. “Jaguaryú” is a very close approximation of how the question “How are you” would be pronounced in Spanish. 6. ACNUR, the Alto Comisionado de las Naciones Unidas para los Refugiados, or the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), protects refugees. 7. Trabajadores en Pié de Lucha. 8. YSU are the call letters of a radio station in El Salvador. 9. José Napoleón Duarte (1925–1990) was a Salvadoran political figure and leader of the Center-Right Christian Democratic Party. He was part of the revolutionary government junta that took power in a 1979 coup d’état, and he served as president of El Salvador from 1984 to 1989. 10. Fermán Cienfuegos is the nom de guerre of Eduardo Sancho (1947– ). He was an early member of the ERP who broke with the organization in 1975 over factional disputes and particularly the decision of other ranking ERP members to assassinate Roque Dalton as a spy. When he split with the ERP he founded the RN, which became one of the five guerrilla factions to join to form the FMLN in 1980. As commander of the RN throughout the war, Sancho spent much of his time on or around the Guazapa volcano. At the time of writing, Sancho was working as a researcher and teacher at Francisco Gavidia University in San Salvador. His memoir has been published as Crónicas entre espejos (San Salvador: UFG Editores, 2003). 11. The Contadora Group was a multilateral accord between the nations of Colombia, Mexico, Panama, and Venezuela set up in 1983 to promote peace throughout Central America. It was specifically concerned with the armed conflicts in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. 12. Ojalá pase algo que te borre de pronto, / una luz cegadora, un disparo de nieve, / ojalá por lo menos que me lleve la muerte. 13. Voice of America (VOA) is the U.S.-sponsored radio program that transmits throughout the world. The programming provides news, entertainment, and analysis that is favorable to the United States. VOA was begun in 1942 during WWII and broadcast into Asia, Europe, and North Africa as a propaganda tool. During the cold war its targets changed to Russia, China, and other countries deemed communist or favorable toward U.S. adversaries. It remains an active component of U.S. geopolitical strategy today. 14. La Piel de Sapa was a soap opera broadcast in 1978 by Radio Caracas Television.

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15. Comité de Prensa de la Fuerza Armada de El Salvador (Press Committee of the Salvadoran Armed Forces). 16. Facundo Guardado (1954– ) was a high-ranking member of the FPL during the war. Before the war he served as secretary in the FPL’s mass popular front, the Bloque Popular Revolucionario (Revolutionary Popular Bloc, BPR). After the war he emerged as a party leader of the FMLN and unsuccessfully ran for president as the FMLN’s candidate in 1999 against ARENA’s Francisco Flores. In the aftermath of that loss, he was expelled from the party and today serves as a media commentator in El Salvador.

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Epilogue, 1992

January 9â•… The last seven years of the eleven-year struggle are missing from this account. Others will be responsible for gathering and recording the memories of the events that took place in Chalatenango, Guazapa, San Vicente, Usulután, Cabañas, Santa Ana, and every other liberated corner of the country. When we tried to publish the book in El Salvador, the only person who would agree to do it was Father Ignacio Ellacuría, rector of the University of Central America (Universidad Centroamericana, UCA). This manuscript never reached him. He was assassinated along with five other Jesuits on the morning of November 16, 1989. The massacre took place within the context of the largest military offensive of that time, which proved our invincibility once and for all and paved the way for negotiating a political solution to the conflict. In the last two months, the Belloso and Arce battalions have made three attempts to advance on the area where we’ve set up Radio Venceremos and the hospital. By decoding their communications, we knew that they were looking for us. After a year of serenity in this zone covered in peaceful pine forests, the army has gone back on the offensive, taking advantage of the FMLN’s treaty to make arrangements for negotiations that will take place in New York. Things were tense in camp for weeks, with meetings to decide what to broadcast, worries about how to get food, gasoline, and other materials past enemy lines, and attempts to figure out a way to ensure our security and prevent the equipment from getting damaged. We relocated every time the Belloso Battalion moved toward the nearby hamlets of El Carrizal, Nahuaterique, and Huatalón. Recently, around mid-morning, five militiamen open fire on enemy units that are trying to take the high ground of La Golondrina. The rattling machine guns interrupt the day’s broadcast. Even with the enemy just half an hour away from our camps, we can’t stop broadcasting even for one day. We can’t give away our position since we have set up base right under their noses. Maybe it was the tension, but one morning the guards alerted us about an approaching armed unit. Everyone took cover behind trees, ready to shoot at



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whatever moved. To our surprise and relief, the soldiers turned out to be Jonás and the rest of the command unit returning to camp after a long night’s march. The army got tired of looking for us and retreated to Perquín. January 10â•… Abandoning the hamlet, we begin the descent out of the cold mountains to celebrate our eleventh anniversary with the locals and some journalists. We’re transporting the radio equipment on mules so we can broadcast the celebration. We order eight cakes and eleven little candles. In Joateca I run into Jonás, who gives me some news that stops me in my tracks. “Get ready, we’re going to Mexico,” he tells me. “The Peace Accords will be signed on the sixteenth. A helicopter will take us to a landing strip where a U.N. plane will be waiting for us.” Rogelio arrives during the night. He will travel with us. “Life is full of twists and turns. Together we entered this war on foot and together we are going to leave it in a helicopter,” he says, without hiding his intense emotions. We’re happy that Rogelio will be in Mexico with us. After eleven years of putting his life on the line to preach Christ’s teachings in towns that even God himself seemed to have forgotten, Rogelio will finally be recognized. We soon receive some bad news. The U.N. helicopter is so small there won’t be space for the two of us. We make our way to the square in Joateca. I suggest that we eat breakfast, but Rogelio insists that we wait. “I know what’s going on here,” I say half-jokingly. “You’re waiting for a miracle to turn the small helicopter into a big one so that we can all go together.” There was no miracle. Standing in the wind that the chopper kicked up, we hugged Jonás and Juan before they climbed on board. Then Paolo arrives and tells me, “Get ready. They want you to go to San Salvador.” January 16â•… At five in the morning we start to make our way to the capital. The two compañeras responsible for driving us to the capital are up front. When we cross the Torola River, it’s still dark out. We manage to pass by a number of military roadblocks in the half-light. We’re in luck. The soldiers are passed out asleep at each of the stops along the highway. We pass through Gotera and continue onward toward San Miguel. The hardest part is over. We indulge in a round of congratulatory handshakes, and the tension seems to dissipate. I fall into a deep sleep. A sudden jolt awakens me. A group of soldiers is signaling for us to put our hands up. They’re in black uniforms. It’s a command unit. Two of them come forward, guns pointed at the car.

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They order us to roll down the windows, asking us where we’re going and what we have with us. The woman who’s sitting behind the wheel responds quickly and without hesitating. I feign a smile, trying to appear calm. A masked soldier steps forward and shines the light toward me. He could be a deserter, trying to recognize old compañeros. I gesture to him, and he stops shining the light on me. I’ll never know if he recognized me and kept silent or not. One thing’s for sure: being in front of the soldiers, looking into their faces, I saw the same people who are fighting with us. I’m convinced that the term “enemy” should be wiped from this country forever. “You can go on!” a soldier ordered. We’ll reach the capital in three hours. After passing through San Miguel, we take the Pan-American Highway, where a surprising scene unfolds before us. There are throngs of people packed into buses. They’re waving red and white FMLN flags and carrying signs that say “We Won Peace.” They’re making their way toward the capital alongside us. The day before, we sent a small truck carrying a Radio Venceremos transmitter, audio console, equalizer, recorders, microphones, cables, and antennas through the military barricades. We had to send a guerrilla unit right into Perquín, where the Arce Battalion has set up base, to dig up one of the transmitters. As we move over the Lempa River, I think about how ironic life can be. Eleven years ago we were moving a transmitter from San Salvador to Morazán, and now we’re doing the exact opposite. The Negotiation Accords will be signed in the Castillo de Chapultepec in Mexico City, where the government will promise to carry out the constitutional reforms that should eliminate electoral fraud and to overhaul the ineffective judicial system. Oppressive military groups will cease to exist, and in their place will be a diverse National Civil Police Force of which the FMLN will be a part. The battalion that killed a thousand people in El Mozote and assassinated Jesuit priests will be disbanded. It will fade away along with the other counterinsurgent battalions, and the armed forces will be scaled back and screened for extremist elements. Safeguards will be put in place to ensure that human rights are respected. Political prisoners will be liberated. In a few short days, exiles will return to the country along with the true war heroes, those who were wounded in combat. The people’s right to the land has been established once and for all with the agrarian reforms that have been put in place. The rules governing ownership that were established in our territories will remain in force. The foundations have been laid for a land-driven economic system. Farmers, co-ops, and small and medium industries will have credit in the program, which will directly benefit from international investment. In a certain sense, we’re calling on governments

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and agencies from all over the world to step forward and be generous with this grassroots project. Ten presidents and James Baker, representing President Bush, will be present at the signing today. We’ve been able to make some major changes that no other political party has ever accomplished, and all without official recognition. No one who has taken office has brought together so many presidents. They will be one of the guarantees ensuring the fulfillment of the Accords. Today a new Republic is born. From this point forward we are embarking on a political journey to solidify the democratic revolution we’ve been fighting for—a revolution that will bring us together rather than drive us apart, a project that has the support of the international community, including the United States. All of this guarantees that there will not be another counterrevolutionary war after the electoral process has run its course. It won’t be like what happened in Chile once the democratic Allende government came to power. The creativity of the Salvadoran people has witnessed the birth of a new sort of victory during a time when a dark sort of propaganda is telling the people of the Third World that the era of fighting for social justice and self-determination is over, that it can’t be done. We know that we haven’t defeated extreme poverty and hunger. We know that thousands of children still wander the streets homeless. We know that there is still much to be done and that now is not the time to rest. But we’ve come a long way. As we pass through the outskirts of San Salvador, we come across hundreds of workers, farmers, students, and priests. Thousands of people are gathering in the squares to make their way to the center of the city. We reach the main square at eleven, where the largest crowd waits to witness the act. Thousands of flags representing different political entities, including the FMLN, and banners and signs from different unions and religious groups line the streets. Children jump around excitedly, the elderly dance through the streets, lovers kiss in the middle of the square, and the Guazapa combatants embrace their families while multicolored balloons drift skyward. Everyone dances to the beat of the music. An elderly indigenous man in native garb moves slowly, deliberately. He’s dancing to victory in a fight that began with the insurrection of 1932. We hurriedly climb up to the top of the cathedral. We check our equipment, connect all the cables to the audio console, and orient the antennas. The batteries are drained, so we’ll only be able to do a few short broadcasts. After dealing with all the technical setbacks, we start up the small transmitter: “This is Radio Venceremos broadcasting from the heart of San Salvador, from the very same cathedral where Monsignor Romero announced that he would return one day to be among the people.” When we announce that we are on the air, people begin to turn on their 220 broa d c astin g t h e c i vi l wa r i n e l s a lva d or

radios. Hundreds of people gather around one that they are playing through a megaphone. “Hey, you guys, the microphone volume is up too high. There’s a lot of static.” “We welcome the labor group with the blue blanket,” I say from the top of the bell tower. They wave in acknowledgment. As I was addressing our fellow journalists, a Hughes 500 helicopter began to trace circles around us. This time it didn’t fire on us as it did in Arambala, where six of us were wounded and three killed. I made a victory sign at the pilots, which irritated them, and was reminded of Julito firing at that very same kind of aircraft just before he died. From the dome of the cathedral as I took in the silhouette of the city on the verge of a new future, I had a moment to remember Roque Dalton in his own words: My homeland, you are nothing more than my own tarnished reflection.1 The flags and banners cast their shadow on your country, Roque. It finally exists. A little later, we climbed down from the cathedral, microphone in hand, walking through a sea of smiling faces. Hundreds of people extended their hands to congratulate us. Shouts of joy emanated from the crowd, from people who had gathered in the square on this day to leave behind sixty years of militarism. Thousands upon thousands of people fill the square, and in the midst of them is the political committee of the FMLN, which, for the first time, can come out of hiding to declare itself an official political party. Today marks the end of an era that began when workers first painted antidictator propaganda on the city walls. It’s an era that has come full circle with the arrival of our insurgent radio network in the capital. We have fought hard to win back freedom of expression. It’s seven at night. Half an hour has been earmarked for Radio Farabundo Martí and Radio Venceremos. We get on stage, and, as I grasp the microphone, memories race through my mind, feelings that I’ve harbored for so long. We see in each of the faces staring back at us all of the compañeros who built and defended the Radio, those who never lived to see this day: Walter, Ismael, Toni, Montalbo, Javier, Maritza, Lucas, Julito, Juan, Chepito, Clelia, and Payín. All of them are reborn today with the tenacity of the Izote, our national flower. I think about Victorino, never conquered by his blindness, and the other wounded who will return to their homeland in a few days.

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On the way here, I had prepared something to say, but I’m momentarily lost in the thousands of fluttering red and white flags. My gaze falls on an elderly woman’s flowing white hair. She looks at me sweetly. At that moment, I am overcome by the desire to imagine a white horse, neighing and exhaling Andean mists, in front of the statue of Gerardo Barrios. Simón Bolívar sits astride the steed. Che smiles. Then I look into the almond-shaped eyes of a young female photographer, and my heart soars amid all the joy that is pouring forth in San Salvador. Standing in front of the microphone, I decide to summarize what I had prepared. I understand that I don’t have to say anything, that it’s not necessary. The people have found their voice. It comes from the thousands who are shouting and dancing, from all of those who were forced to be silent for so long. I step down and lose myself in a sea of hugs and handshakes. A little girl sitting on her mother’s shoulders waves at me with just her fingers; they’re formed into the “V” for victory. I feel an irresistible urge. I break through the mass of people surrounding me, kiss the little girl, and whisper in her ear, “We won!” Santiago San Salvador January 16, 1992 note

1. País mío no existes. / Sólo eres una mala silueta mía. Roque Dalton García (1935– 1975) was a Salvadoran poet and journalist. He was celebrated for his emotionally charged writing. After being a politically active student and a member of El Salvador’s Communist Party in the early 1960s, he was forced into exile for many years. He wrote copiously, mostly poetry, but also novels and history, including Miguel Mármol’s testimonial. By the early 1970s he had grown impatient with the Communist Party’s lack of militancy and decided to join the ERP and return to El Salvador clandestinely to serve in its ranks as a guerrilla fighter. A factional dispute among the leaders of the ERP resulted in Dalton’s being executed as a spy. That decision caused two factions to break away from the ERP: the RN under the leadership of Eduardo Sancho (nom de guerre, Fermán Cienfuegos); and the PRTC under Francisco Jovel (nom de guerre, Roberto Roca).

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Epilogue, 2003

It’s been eleven years since the war ended. The country has undergone changes for the better. Peace has been established. Exclusion from the political process has come to an end, and progress has been made in the democratization of El Salvador. The guerrilla front, now a legitimate political party, has won in the major cities, and there is the possibility of a political system in which groups alternate holding office. However, some of the issues that were at the very root of the war still remain. They are stains on the social fabric, reminding us that peace won’t last as long as we are unable to resolve the health, work, education, housing, and land ownership problems that have plagued us for so long. Radio Venceremos, in its role as a radio informant for the county, faded away when peace was achieved. Those who took over the Radio dismissed those of us who were directly involved with it and converted it into “the only English-Spanish radio station.” But other media and young journalists follow in the footsteps of Radio Venceremos, giving a voice to those who have never enjoyed freedom of expression. Even though we no longer practice radio journalism, we continue working in communications through the Museum of Word and Image, preserving what is now historical memory, as well as all of those elements of our own identity that will be indispensable when the time comes to forge a new future. In the years since the war, we have collected and preserved a historical archive that contains not only manuscripts and audiovisual media relating to the struggle, but also Salvadoran history and culture. The archive is something that we put on display all across El Salvador. We’ve succeeded in publishing a number of books, and we’ve just finished a full-length documentary, 1932, which tells the story of the popular rebellion that took place that year. On a more personal note, I can tell you that I am a happy man, committed to my conscience and its principles and intimately aware of what it means to have become part of a country like El Salvador. It’s the most precious thing I can give



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to my son, Camilo, who, even at five years old, is beginning to understand the importance of historical memory and its link to ethics. Santiago San Salvador May 1, 2003

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Epilogue, 2009

Seventeen years have passed since the end of the war. During those years I have participated in the creation of a new utopia: the Museum of Word and Image, the genesis of which can be found in a desire to help the people of El Salvador give lasting form to their memories and recognition to their cultural identity. The establishment of the museum has helped preserve important archives that detail the political and cultural history of the country and, in particular, the social struggles. With these materials, the enthusiastic and creative team that works with me not only produces books, instructional games, and audiovisual materials, but also travels throughout the Salvadoran territory presenting workshops and expositions. Through their efforts, they are preserving the past while validating the importance of cultural identity as an essential building block for the future. This afternoon the television networks are beginning to broadcast election results that, from the beginning, have proclaimed the FMLN victorious. In our neighborhood the sounds of celebratory fireworks fill the air. My little son, Camilo, and I film groups of young people who are carrying red flags and beginning to gather in the Plaza Masferrer, just a short distance from the presidential palace. In a short while the plaza becomes the epicenter of joy and hope, a sea of smiling faces. Perched in trees, a dozen youths wave flags and shout enthusiastically. Someone gives me a hug and praises the role that Radio Venceremos had in bringing all of this about. I am moved and, again, find myself without words to express my feelings. With the support of important sectors of society that have opted for change, the people who yesterday struggled to take power through the use of arms are today winning elections. The big winner is, of course, El Salvador. All the struggles of the past seem to be present again today and to bloom



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with the determination of a long-awaited izote flower—a flower nourished by sacrifice, blood, and tears. Another story is beginning to be written. Santiago San Salvador March 15, 2009

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Index

Alvarado, Ninoska. See Diana Amaya Márquez, Rufina, 84 Ana Lidia, 186–189, 212 Arce Zablah, Rafael, xxviii; as described by: Atilio, 15; Benito; 53; Chele César 47; Franco 60–61 Argueta, Silvio de Jesús. See Licho Atilio [Joaquin Villalobos], 9, 135; and decision to release Blandón’s orders, 141; describing origins of insurgency in Morazán, 11–12; describing Rafael Arce Zablah, 15; and kidnapping of father by army, 143–144; and Operation Trojan Horse, 194–210; promoting guerrilla discipline 63; and relationship with Marcela, 146 Atlacatl Battalion, 62; and El Mozote Massacre 82–86, 185; and Operation Trojan Horse amid Torola IV,194–210. See also Monterrosa, Col. Domingo Balta [Juan Ramón Medrano], 53, 78 Battle of El Moscarrón, 100–109 Belloso Batallion, 136–137 Benito, and origins of guerrilla militancy in Morazán, 53 Blandón, General, and bombing of civilian populations, 141 Brigada Rafael Arce Zablah [BRAZ]. See Rafael Arce Zablah Brigade Cacajuatique, and guerrilla assault on army communications center 140–141 Carlos [Caroll Ishee], 111; death of, 148 Castaño, El [Centro Reino de la Paz], xxvi–xxvii

Castillo, Col. Francsico Adolfo, 107–112, 139; and prisoner exchange, 176–177 Cave of Passions, 91 Cayetano Carpio, Salvador, xxix Centro Reino de la Paz. See Castaño, El Chele César [Santos Lino Ramírez], and interview with Medina Garay, 154, 177–180; and meeting Arce Zablah and beginning guerrilla insurgency in Morazán, 47–48 Chiyo [Lucio Vásquez], 56–57 civil war, and casualty figures, xviii; and human rights violations, xx Clelia, 4, 61, 141–142; death of 146 Consalvi, Carlos Henríquez. See Santiago Cruz, Col. Adalberto, and execution of guerrillas, 173–174 Cruz Cruz, Capt. Marcelo. See Juan D’Aubuisson, Roberto, description of, 86; and ties to death squads, 197 Diana [Ninoska Alvarado, CIA assassin], 147–148 Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo [ERP]. See Peoples’ Revolution Army Ellacuría, Father Ignacio, 217 Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation [Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional–FMLN], and description of five guerrilla fronts, xliv; general command in Morazán in 1983, 161 February 28 Popular League [Liga Popular 28 de Febrero–LP-28], as front for ERP, xxx in dex 227

Filomena [Janeth Samour], 198–199 Final Offensive, First, xxxi, 21–25 Final Offensive, Second, xxxiv Fourth Brigade of Chalatenango, fall of to guerrillas, 166 Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional [FMLN]. See Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation Fuerzas Populares de Liberación [FPL]. See Popular Liberation Forces Galindo, Marisol, 158 general command, of FMLN in Morazán in 1983, 161 González, Leonel, as head of FPL, 161 Gonzalo [Francisco Martínez], 78; death, of 95 Handal, Shafik, as head of PCS, 161 Haroldo [Miguel Huezo Mixco], 166. See also Radio Farabundo Martí Huezo Mixco, Miguel. See Haroldo Ilopongo airfield, 1982 FMLN attack on, 91 Ishee, Caroll. See Carlos Jaguaryú, 184 Javier, and explanation for joining guerrillas, 163 Jonás [Jorge Meléndez], 21, 34–35 Juan [Capt. Marcelo Cruz Cruz], 23, 25 Junquillo, massacre at, 30 kidnapping, by army of FMLN family members, 144 liberation theology, and impact on peasants of Morazán, xxv–xxvii Libertad, 58 Licho [Silvio de Jesús Argueta], and story of involvement in guerrillas, 19–20 Liga Popular 28 de Febrero [LP-28]. See February 28 Popular League Lucas [Joseph David Sanderson], 46, 97–99 Mama Lola, 49 228 in de x

Manolo [Capt. Francisco Mena Sandoval], xxii, xxxii, 97, 150, 196; during First Final Offensive 23–25, listening to army communications, 31 Maravilla, and origins of Radio Venceremos, xxxv–xxxvi; relationship with La Libertad, 184; relationship with Lety, 187 Marcela, 44; as broadcaster, 69; relationship with Atilio, 146; Santiago enamored with, 58–60, 65, 91–92 María [Commander Ana Guadalupe Martínez], 87, 98, 100–101 Mariposa, 40 Márquez, Andrea, 185–186 Martí, Farabundo, 87 Martínez, Ana Guadalupe. See María Martínez, Francisco. See Gonzalo Marvin, 96 Medina Garay, Captain, 30, 133; failed escape attempt, 177–180 Medrano, Juan Ramón. See Balta Meléndez, Jorge. See Jonas Mena Sandoval, Capt. Francisco. See Manolo Monterrosa, Col.Domingo [Carlos], xxxvii, 62, 107, 135, 140–142, 179; as commander of Third Brigade 165, 170; and Operation Trojan Horse 194–210; and war trophies 142–143. See also Atlacatl Battalion Morazán Department, description of, xx– xxii, 8–9; during civil war, xxxii–xxxiv; indigenous culture in, 55, 95, 181–183; origins of peasant militancy in, xxiv– xxxi, 26, 47, 53, 60 Mozote, El, massacre of, 81–86, 90; and role of Radio Venceremos in revealing, xxxviii–xxxix Museum of Word and Image [MUPI], 223, 225 Navarette, Lt. Col. Bruno, 25, 38; and information about assassination of Archbishop Romero, 27 October Offensive, of 1980 in Morazán, xxxi, 20

Operation Hammer and Anvil, in December 1981, 70–71 Operation Trojan Horse, 194–210 Palma, La, negotiations at, 192–193 Patajo the mule, 48–49 peace accords, 218–223 peasant militancy. See Morazán Department Pedro, El Soldado, conversion of from soldier to guerrilla, 29 Perquín, fall of to guerrillas of, xxxii, 130, 175 Peoples’ Revolution Army [Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo–ERP], and discipline of troops, 68; origins of, xxix; strategic approach to warfare of, xxii– xxiv, xxxii, 35, 158, 173, 214 Ponseele, Father Rogelio, 5, 212; and Mass in Morazán, 29; Mass in response to El Mozote Massacre, 85 Popular Liberation Forces [Fuerzas Populares de Liberación–FPL], origins of, xxiv, xxix Radio Farabundo Martí, xxxviii, 90, 119, 166 Radio Venceremos, after the war, 223; crossing the calle negra in 1981 36–40, 70–74; history of xxxiv–xl, 99–100, 81–84, 171–172; importance of transmissions to guerrillas, 34; losing transmitter in December 1981, 74–75; and methods of transmission, 95, 112–113, 129–130, 174, 189–190; and Operation Trojan Horse, 194–210; reporting on Massacre at El Mozote, 81–86, 90; setting up for first time, 10–22;



transmitting under enemy fire, 33–34; typical day in life of, 25 Rafael Arce Zablah Brigade [Brigada Rafael Arce Zablah–BRAZ], and attack on communications outpost on Cacahuatique, xxxii; and attack on Third Brigade in 1984, 172; downsizing of in 1984, xxxiii; names of units within, 136; origins of, xxxii–xxxiii, 66; swearing in of recruits, 134–135, 143 Ramírez, Santos Lino. See Chele César Reagan, President Ronald, xviii Roca, Roberto, as head of PRTC, 161, 222 Samour, Janeth. See Filomena Sánchez, Juan Ramón, xxx, 48 Sanderson, Joseph David. See Lucas Santiago [Carlos Henríquez Consalvi], biography of, xxxiv–xl, 40, 75, 115–117, and burning of manuscript, xl,194, 209, 213–214 testimonial literature, xli Third Brigade in San Miguel, and guerrilla attack on, 149–152 Torogoces, Los, 34, 94, 129; origins of 54; and Stradivarius violin, 184 Torola I, 96 Torola IV, 194–210 Vásquez, Lucio. See Chiyo Ventura, Father Miguel, xxvii, 15, 60; capture and torture of in 1977, xxxi; return to Morazán in 1982, 95; role of in introducing peasants of Morazán to Rafael Arce Zablah, xxviii Villalobos, Joaquín. See Atilio

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