27 April, 2008

El Salvador

Innocent Voices
Based on the true story of screenwriter Oscar Torres's embattled childhood, Luis Mandoki's Innocent Voices is the poignant tale of Chava (Carlos Padilla), an eleven-year-old boy who suddenly becomes the "man of the house" after his father abandons the family in the middle of a civil war.

In El Salvador in the 1980s, the government's armed forces are already recruiting twelve year olds, rousting them out of their classes at the local middle school. If he is lucky, Chava has just one year of innocence left, one year before he, too, will be conscripted to fight the government's battle against the peasant rebels of the FMLN. Chava's life becomes a game of survival, not only from the bullets of the escalating war, but also from the dispiriting effects of daily violence. As he hustles to find work to help his single mother pay the bills, and experiences the pangs of first love for a beautiful classmate, Chava's tiny home village becomes both playground and battlefield.

Armed only with the love of his mother (Leonor Varela) and a small radio that broadcasts a forbidden anthem of love and peace, and faced with the impossible choice of joining either the army or the rebels, Chava finds the courage to keep his heart open, and his spirit alive, in his race against time.

And in the end...

The civil war lasted 12 years with more than 75,000 deaths and around one million exiles.

The US government sent troops to train the Salvadorian army and over one billion dollars in military support

Today there more than 300,000 children are recruited in armies around the world in more than 30 countries

We did this. We did. And we continue to do so by allowing military funds to be used to train governments to bring down those who "pose a threat" to our national security. What threat did rebels in El Salvador in the 80's pose?

The sins of the Cold War are astounding.

It wasn't just El Salvador. It wasn't just Latin America. It wasn't just the Cold War.

It continues.

If you want to read a heartbreaking story from El Salvador I recommend "The Massacre at El Mozote" by Mark Danner. (http://www.amazon.com/Massacre-at-El-Mozote/dp/067975525X)

A quote from the text:
They [researchers] dug and sifted and charted for thirty-five days, and soon the cartridges and the clothing and the bones and bone fragments, all labelled and packed away in bright manila envelopes and fresh new cartons, would depart El Mozote and travel by car to a laboratory in San Salvador, where the experts worked away into December. The following March, when the United Nations made public the Truth Commission’s report, entitled “From Madness to Hope: The 12-Year War in El Salvador,” the analysis of the evidence was there, laid out for the reader in clear, precise language, each successive sentence demolishing one or another of the myths put forward during the previous twelve years. Of the hundred and forty-three skulls found, all “were deposited during the same temporal event,” which is “unlikely to have occurred later than 1981.” El Mozote could not have been a guerrilla graveyard, as some had claimed, especially since all but twelve of the one hundred and forty-three remains identified turned out to be those of children under twelve years of age, including at least one fetus, found between the pelvic bones of one of the adults.

It's heartbreaking and vile and real. To stop the spread of an ideology that has proven to implode on itself, the US government spent billions to ensure certain governments stayed in power. The men they sent their funds to pocked the money, and increased their brutality. The US trained militaries to kill their own people. The US – the center and “model” of democracy - forged democracy around the world to stop "them".

What evil was done because of us? How many died because of our red scare? How many innocent people were lost so governments could play their war games, using cities and people like pawns? A government is supposed to protect its people – not massacre them to keep the favor of the US.

I know the rebels were not innocent – and I know other governments have done the same (colonialism, imperialism, the Cold War). But this is the government in the country I live in. And part of me wonders…

…did we learn our lesson?

(to read an essay on Innocent Voices, go here)