Mercedita

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I lived on the other side of the river in Valle Nuevo when the war began.  We had always lived in those parts, but when the armed conflict started we had to guindar, flee to the mountains leaving everything behind.  There are people today who don’t believe me when I tell them that there were times when we would go 15 days without eating anything more than the few leaves we could find.  The father of my children died in the guinda; he got a terrible fever and because we were hiding without shelter in the mountain, he never got better.  We buried him in sandy earth, and now that the land has been redistributed I don’t even know where his remains are.

In those times before the war there was poverty just like there is now, but the main difference was that in those days our currency was the colon.  If you had 5 or 10 colones you had some money – 5 colones is equivalent to about 2 quarters today, and you can’t buy anything with that.  Anyhow, in those days people would walk to San Marcos to buy the things they needed; sometimes we would sell a chicken for 12 reales and we were able to buy everything we needed with that.  But we never really had money, just in that brief moment when it passed through our hands when we would sell some animal, but then we would buy salt, lime, oil, and things like that with the little bit of money we earned.

But still, the poverty then was horrible, and it was because of that very poverty that the war had to happen.  The owner of the hacienda where we lived was named Julio Grimalde, and he gave us a little piece of land to live on and to grow our crops, but we had to pay for that land with corn.  Nobody used fertilizer or anything back then, and if you didn’t grow corn you had to find some way to buy the corn to pay the patron; or if something happened to the crop the same, we had to scrape by to buy corn for the patron.  Only rich people ate corn; we poor people ate millet, food suit for the animals.

Some men from San Salvador started to come out to organize the people; they told us that all of this that was happening to us – the poverty, the mistreatment – didn’t have to be that way.  The guerrilla groups had already started to form throughout the country, so they were organizing people in the communities so that some would join the guerrilla – as my sons did – or to stay informed about news of what was happening.  But when the guinda came, we had to run with only the clothes on our backs and our children held tight by the hand.  The armed forces would arrive at any given moment, and for that reason we lived all those years in constant fear day and night.

Thankfully there were some good people that lived in the towns that weren’t so affected by the conflict, and sometimes the guerrillas would steal away to the town to bring back corn for us to eat when we were on the run or in hiding, and with those small bits we sustained ourselves.  There were also some places where they would send children to seek refuge, and people with small children could go with them.  I didn’t send my children there because my older children were fighting in the guerrilla and I had to be close so I would know if they lived or died.  They killed my son Manuel in 1984, and my other son, who was named Juan Antonio, was in the national police and they killed him too in 1991.

And so that’s what it was like when we were living in San Carlos Lempa when the people form CRIPDES came and told us we could come to stay in Guajoyo, that we wouldn’t have to keep fleeing.  Since we were fed up with all the mosquitoes there, we told them yes, and that’s how we decided to come here.  They looked for people who lived in the area before the conflict to come repopulate, and supposedly there wasn’t going to be any fighting with the people who came.  I think that all of us who came were full of fear, because this hill was full of the armed forces.  It was a miracle of God that they never attacked us.

We were 22 families that came on November 5, 1991, and we had to make the road as we went along, because this road that had existed since before couldn’t even be seen any more.  We arrived in trucks and they dropped us of right here where I have my house today.  Each family started to make their little hut, and those people who helped us would bring food because we didn’t have anything and there were no crops in the fields.  The first day we brought nothing, but a few days later they brought us some sheet metal to put roofs on our huts.  We were always afraid, because the armed forces passed close by, and sometimes search lights would pass overhead looking for people in the guerrilla, but the presence of organizations like CRIPDES and our sister cities gave me faith that we would be ok.

When they announced the Peace Accords in 1992, it was a huge celebration, because we didn’t have to live in fear anymore.  I was mostly happy because I knew we wouldn’t have to move anymore.  I remember feeling so much freedom because we didn’t have to live with that fear.  There were 7 of us who had arrived here for the resettlement: my husband and me, two daughters, two grandsons, and my son who was in the police, but he was killed shortly after we arrived.

This struggle that we suffered through had to happen, and for me I believe we were able to achieve what we wanted.  Now we have land, and it’s not that we didn’t pay for it, because we paid for it in the blood of our children and brothers and sisters.  The dream we had was simple: just to be able to work, have a house and a few animals, and live our lives in peace in one place.  And look at us now – I feel like a rich person, because we have a house, some animals, and we eat good food.  We don’t eat millet anymore, we grow and eat corn.  I feel like my generation that lives here and that has suffered to be here has achieved what we wanted, and we can spend our last days in peace.

But I feel sad for the youth who fight so much among themselves and for no reason.  We had a reason to fight, but they fight just because one belongs to a certain group and another belongs to a different group.  I hang onto the hope that someday they’ll stop fighting, and that this young generation can someday live well in their little piece of land with their house, caring for their animals and their crops, and living their lives with their families.

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