The Salvadoran Civil War caused psychological traumas, economic instability and numerous social issues within the country. This paper will discuss the war’s impact and how civilians are still suffering in its aftermath. I will show how the war affected Salvadoran families by including an interview with Porfirio Castillo, a former Salvadoran soldier. His testimony adds a vivid human perspective of the war and its consequences .
the salvadoran war is over. now what?
By: Francisco J. Paniagua
Between the 1970’s and 1990’s , El Salvador experienced an unstable political period that resulted in a terrorizing civil war. During the war period, U.S. involvement was largely responsible for prolonging conflicts. Throughout the 12-year-long Salvadoran civil war, which started in 1979 and ended in 1992, the government attempted to enforce laws that did not benefit its population, therefore facing a lot of opposition.
The article “The Wars in Central America and the Refugee Crisis” by Maria Garcia explains how the Salvadoran government tried to stop the “guerillas” in their attempt to fight for their rights, protest against governmental propositions and governmental practices.
During Ronald Regan’s presidency, the United States feared that a communist political power could rise from a region close to their soil. For that reason, they decided to support the Salvadoran government providing large amounts of weapons and military training.
At the time, a priest named Oscar Romero was assassinated for advocating on behalf of for civilians rights. He had also accused the Salvadoran government of being unjust and corrupt. One of the many massacres during the war took place in the village of El Mosote in the Morazan department in El Salvador. This and Romero’s murder were some of the most tragic events of the war. Chaos increased and the war worsened. Many Salvadorans had to escape, and either emigrate or run the risk of dying in the war.
The war finally ended when the peace treaties were signed in January 16, 1992. This marked the start of new challenges in El Salvador.
The war destroyed and created chaos throughout the whole country. There were many questions left unanswered. Like in any other war the most affected and the ones that suffered the worse consequences were the civilians. Salvadorans uncertainty increased as the future was unknown.
This article will discuss the psychological traumas people had to overcome due to the war. Also, it will highlight the economically challenges people faced. Lastly, this article will focus on the type of social problems people confronted as they rebuilt their lives.
In order to find answers to these questions several articles have been reviewed which can help explain the difficulty of life through the war. Mr. Castillo’s contribution will explain how Salvadoran families were affected by the war. Also, it will explore how even after 25 years of after the signing of the peace treaties, the post war effects can still be felt throughout El Salvador.
Background, Methods, and Positionally
In order to understand how difficult living through the Salvadoran civil war was, it is necessary and important to interview and obtain direct experiences of Salvadorans closely affected by the war. Their testimonies can provide a bigger picture of what was like to live during the period of the war.
Mr. Castillo’s personal experiences while growing up gives us a clue on how life was before the war. While a teenager he was conflicted with the decision of joining the army or joining the guerrilla.
He was born in a rural town in San Vicente located on the occidental part of the country. During his childhood his large family lived of what his dad planted. He recalls living in a humble house made out of adobe. I decided to interview Mr. Castillo because he not only lived through the war, but participated.
“I remember my life was simple, we were a big family. I was one of the youngest. All I did was work on the crops my dad grew. It was a calm life. Since I dint have the chance to attend school I was just expected to work with my dad, grow up, get married, form a family and continue to support them. There were no higher expectations. It was a good life, even though we didn't have money we were happy.”
Mr. Castillo joined the army at a young age. He thought that with his army salary it would help support his house. The lack of education made many young men join the army as well.
“I was 16 years old at that time. I never went to school and I felt I had nothing else to do. My three older brothers had already joined the army. I thought that my future was not going to be any different. I was just reaching the age where boys had to be recruited. Some were forced and others joined by choice. I remember the day when three of my other brothers and I were recruited. It was a scary situation. At first, the guerrilla wanted to take us but my dad argued with them. They said they were going to return and kill us because they knew that my other three brothers were already in the army. That night we left our house and there was no other choice than to join the army. This was a national issue where many Salvadoran families had to decide on which side to join. If you didn't choose, you were believed to support the opposite one. It was hard experience we had to go through.”
Mr. Castillo then went on to discuss, amongst tears, the difficulties he experienced during the war.
“The training and the way we were treated was not difficult for me. What was difficult was to apart from my family. There was a lot of separation of families at that time. Also the money I earned when I joined the army was around 87 “Colones” ( $10 dollars) per month. That was not enough to support my family; economically it was hard. But, the worst experience was when my oldest brother was killed. That was hard man! He was like another father to me. Until this day it still hurts. I remember how painful it was for my mother. It was sad to see my mother suffer and our family was in pain. There was a lot of fear, anguish and sadness. My other two older brother were also killed and my other three younger brothers were injured in combat. One of them lost a foot, another one lost his whole leg, the last one injured his arm and I lost vision in my right eye. Now, I think about the thousands of families that went through the same experience as mine, all because of the war. A lot of people died fighting for what they believed was right.”
Since Mr. Castillo was a member of the Salvadoran Army he definitely displays psychological traumas that he has to deal with.
First, all the violent scenes he had to witnesses affected him. Secondly, the assassination of his brothers affected him more at a personal level.
“I won’t be able to forget the death of my 3 brothers. The suffering of my mother comes up to my mind even to this day. I will never be able to regain the vision of my right eye. Sometimes I have nightmares, and scenes of the war flicker in my mind. It’s hard for me to trust people since we were trained to not trust even our own shadow.”
The war marked Mr. Castillo’s life after he served in the army. He shared how he handled life after it was over.
“After I got injured, my mother advised me to leave the country. I still felt that I had to fight to defend my country. I saw that it was not going to be easy for me to find a job and that if stayed I ran the risk of getting killed. At the end I decided to migrate to the United States and now I realize that it was the best decision.”
Until this day it is important to acknowledge that El Salvador is a country that is struggling with a legacy of issues. For example, the increase of gangs and violence, the scarcity of jobs, and other issues are making the country fall apart. However, even with all of the bad, it is important to recognize that many Salvadorans are hardworking people. They always hope that one day things are going to change. In the meantime and with adversity surrounding them, families try to bond together and join forces to provide their families a better future, believing unity makes a stronger force.
By acknowledging the great impact the war had in El Salvador and the effects that still persist, we can understand that Salvadorans have never had an opportunity to improve their lives in the country. That is the reason why millions of Salvadorans, including myself, have migrated to the United States seeking only to improve our lives of our family members back in our home country.
Sadly, the negative aftermaths of the war are still visible and it looks like nobody can stop it. Many consider that the increase of violence in El Salvador is a result of the war and some believe that the lack of opportunities available to the future generations is leading to a society living under great fear. All in all, however, there is still a lot of work to be done.
Amnesty International: El Salvador -- 10th anniversary of peace accords, still no justice for victims of human rights violations. (2002). M2 Presswire, pp. N/A.
DeLugan, R. M. (2012). Reimagining National Belonging : Post-Civil War El Salvador in a Global Context. Tucson, US: University of Arizona Press.
García, M. C. (2006). The Wars in Central America and the Refugee Crisis. In Seeking Refuge: Central American Migration to Mexico, the United States, and Canada (pp. 13–44). Berkeley: University of California Press.
Heller, J. (1997). Supporting sustainable development in post-war el salvador. Technology and Society Magazine, IEEE, 16(2), 14-18.
Scott, D. (1992). Building the peace in el salvador.. The Christian Science Monitor, 84(211), 10.
Tardanico, R. (2008). Post-civil war san salvador: Social inequalities of household and basic infrastructure in a central american city. The Journal of Development Studies, 44(1), 127-152.