Saturday, November 7, 2009

Sympathizing with Thieves

Disclaimer: We knew that sharing a blog would be hard. Up until this blog, though, we've generally been able to type out a blog with relative ease--only slight grammatical or word changes taking place. For whatever reason, this time was a drastic change. Joe was probably too pig-headed about inserting his thoughts. Whatever the case, we hope you enjoy what we struggled to put together.

Throughout our travels we constantly hear from other individuals, “be careful”. Daily life in Central America seems to have a lot of emphasis on a few things: trying to remain inconspicuous—i.e. wearing nothing that appears to have value; noticing other individuals around you, and thus, inevitably, profiling people; and planning for the worst case scenario. In some cases, most notably Guatemala City, insistent warnings about safety have kept us from exploring places. Luckily, we haven’t seen or encountered any problems (knock on wood, please!).

You might ask: What could possibly be the cause of all of this insecurity? We by no means know the answer, but we think the following might have something to do with it: Civil Wars (known as the Contra Wars). Nicaragua’s ended in 1989; El Salvador’s Civil War lasted from 1980 to 1992; and Guatemala’s Civil War ended with peace accords signed in 1996. Twenty years later, the effects of war seem to be lingering. Perhaps these effects remain particularly strong since none of these recent civil wars produced a decisive “winner” (any experts on the subject out there?). While an entire college course on the subject of Central American Civil Wars and their effects would be best (and we need to take it!), we’ll focus on one country.

While El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America, it is estimated that 75,000 individuals died during the 12-year period comprising their civil war. What for? The usual: political disagreements linked all the way back to the social injustices started by the 15th - and 16th-century conquistadors. Clearly, we could write an entire blog about what occurred, but instead, we’d like to introduce Edgar. In 1978, fourteen year old Edgar joined the Guerrillas, and he maintained his Guerrilla warrior status until 1992. During that time we can’t imagine all he went through, but we know that he lost family and friends and encountered life-threatening situations. At one point, he was shot in the head and suffered a six month coma, after which he spent a mere month re-learning how to talk and walk before re-joining the Guerrilla ranks. The best thing about Edgar is that he is now an educator, teaching people about the war and his experiences in it as a guide at the El Salvador Civil War Museum in Perquin, El Salvador. During Edgar’s guided tour, he will even talk about the role the US government had in the war (donating, under the guidance of Reagan, six billion dollars to the El Salvadoran government, anti-Guerrilla war effort). Sadly the US has trained combatants, instigated coups, and generally supported US-friendly politicians, no matter their domestic policies, in El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and throughout Latin America. Impressively, and thankfully for us, Edgar does not let flawed US government policies affect his opinion of American citizens.

So, while we walk down the streets with no valuables, only the equivalent of a few dollars in our pockets, continuously surveying our surroundings, we can’t help but try to understand and empathize.

Picture descriptions:
1. Edgar, 27 years after the war, showing us the remains of a bomb dropped by the government forces.

2. What's left of a helicopter blown up by guerrilla forces. The infamous General Monterrosa was purportedly inside.

3. A not so innocent sign that adorned our hike through former guerrilla territory. All limbs are still attached.


  1. You know, I see and am affected a lot by the idea of American foreign policy here in the RoK, like I imagine you are there. A few friends and I were talking about it just tonight, discussing about how much more we remember the people who instantly think dislike when they think of us because of the misguided past and present "world power USA thinking" of the past 50 years or so. Understandably, the regular reaction of a citizen here isn't a big reaction --- a wegukan (foreigner) isn't a totally new sight for a hankookan (korean). The majority of the time, we aren't greeted or 'seen' for more than an extra second or two.. And yet, the image that sticks is the people that roll their eyes, that point, and that yell at us [totally doesn't happen often]. It is what we remember. But sometimes this is good for us, right?

    Well, I think so.

    The atrocities of the past -- too many to count, but too horribly rememberable to forget -- are most times colored with personal experience by the locals. They are too willing to love you for what you are, the money you bring, and [let's hope] individual personality.

  2. Award to Jenni for the deepest post yet! Bravo chica.

    The past was likely worse, but, sadly, it seems that politics still heavily affects the US´ foreign policy. E.g. overlooking Chinese human rights abuses, because of their economic and military might. Perhaps its just pragmatism???

  3. I am going to react to this even though it means I'll be busted... you will know that I haven't been staying in touch with the blog(s).

    It's interesting to read these perspectives about our foreign policy. I don't want to appear defensive. I am sure that we've errored in many ways. However, this guy I know always reminds me there are at least 12 sides to every story.

    I'm proud that we decided to get involved when the North Koreans decided to push out democracy in Korea. I would think that Koreans would consider this when evaluating how they feel about Americans. It should also be considered when trying to determine the "error of our ways".

    I really don't know why Reagan decided to send aid to El Salvador. Maybe sometime I'll try to read both sides of this story as well.

    Over time, we've inherited the role of world's policeman for democracy. That's bound to ruffle some feathers. I'm not convinced that these issues are easily divided into "right" and "wrong".

    Our system allows us to vote our opinions and then hope those who receive the most votes use good judgement. The system of checks and balances means that no one can be singled out for credit or blame. If we don't like the path we are on, we demonstrate this with our vote.

    Its good that you have broadened your perspectives by traveling to places that are impacted by our foreign policy. It's always tough to get opinions without bias; whether at home or abroad. Your knowledge should help us continue the debate and search for the best path.

    Just trying to keep the conversation lively.