I remember that day, the 5th of November 1995, when we arrived with 21 families – some from the coast and others from a community called Tres de Enero near Comalapa. I came from the coast, where we began preparing the trucks the day before with the wood half-ruined sheet metal that people had, and the few other belongings we had. That day, the day that we celebrate still, the people from the coast waited for the group coming from Tres de Enero in San Nicolas so we could all venture up the hill together, making the road as we went because everything had grown over during the war
We dumped out our things we had brought right there where Nina Mercedita lives today, and everyone started to make their little hut. We spent that first night under a huge conacaste tree that used to be here where my house is today, and that night under the conacaste tree I felt security that I hadn’t felt for a long time.
On the morning of November 6th, we had a meeting with all the people that had come, with Marina – who was the CRIPDES coordinator at that time – and with the other people who had come to accompany us. People came from other communities, from cooperatives, and from the church to be with us, and we felt very good that they were there. There was still lots of activity of the armed forces in these hills, but we decided to have a dance the second night we were in Guajoyo; everyone was so happy. We played the music and everybody was dancing. We were so content in that dance that we didn’t even care when a helicopter passed overhead to drop a bomb. It passed by looking for the guerrillas and dropped a bomb on the hill called La Campana, just up the road from where we were. The next day all the people from nearby came to see if we were alive, because they heard the helicopter and thought they had killed us.
We were no longer afraid, and that’s why we kept dancing. We had lost our fear of the imperialism of the armed forces.
The first work
Well, after that was when the real work started in this community, since when we got here on the 5th there weren’t trees or houses or streets or anything. Shortly after our arrival, organizations started to send building materials – wood and sheet metal – to make huts. We formed work groups of 8 to 10 people, and they would make one hut and then another. We started here where I live and worked our way up the road making huts for each of the families, and after we had made huts for all the 21 families, we went back and helped build homes for the families that came after.
We formed a cooperative, because in those days they still hadn’t given out land to the people. The cooperative here in Guajoyo was called La Venadera, and it lasted 4 years. In the coop we would work the land, everybody together, so that everybody in the community had food to eat. I remember the first year we worked the fields the corn was huge, and practically without fertilizer. And all these trees that are here now – coconuts, mangos, oranges, avocado, jocote, eucalyptus, papaya – we planted all of them, and some of them came through projects to benefit the community.
Another important job we had in the first months was making the street, because the street that was there before the conflict, and which was in the same place where the main road passes now, had been lost. It was really hard work, especially making the road that goes into Guajoyito now, but all of us worked together and we felt very content in our new community and proud of our work.
But the most important thing in those first months was the formation of the first directiva, or community council. In 1992 we had a directiva with a president and everything. I was the president when the Peace Accords were signed in 1992, and I remember going out on foot to La Florida and Las Pampas for meetings, since there wasn’t any transportation still. We were organized by CRIPDES, and they did a lot of work with the people in the communities here. People would always seek me out as a leader here, but of course there were also always envious men. They never let me become legalized as president of the directiva when it was legalized. But at the same time, lots of projects came our way and they always sought me out to work with them. There were grand projects that came to Guajoyo in those first years.
I had worked with CRIPDES and in community organizing quite a bit; I came to this place with a long history.
Before the repopulation
I was born in San Juan Buena Vista, a small village, in 1927, but I grew up in Honduras. After my grandmother died we went to Honduras – I was 7 and my 3 sisters went with us. We went by foot all that distance because there were no cars.
After the war in Honduras, I came here in 1971. I was 44 years old. In Honduras I had a wife and kids, but I had to flee because there were people who wanted to kill me for being a campesino and because I was poor. Some members of my family stayed to be with our family, but they killed them.
In 1972 I met the woman who I am still with today, and we spent the whole war together together and today we’re here still together. Only with the FPL – one of the organizations of guerrillas – sent me to the north of San Vicente to work with the boys there did I leave her side, but I came back quickly to be with my family. We were always moving from here to there because of the violence, and sometimes in the guinda we would have to flee very far and hide in the wilderness.
It was around that time, when everybody was running all over the place, that they tricked us and brought us to the coast. There were 60 families that they told there was a place of refuge there on the coast, but on the way there we got lost in the wilderness for 3 days, and when we finally got there there was no refuge. They sent the people to various different places. But for better or for worse, we stayed there, and they put me in charge of forming a PPL – that’s what we called the community councils back then – but hardly anyone showed up at first.
The thing is that there was lots of division between the different groups that made up the FMLN. We were part of the FPL, the organization that had the most people, but there were others, like the ERP – which had lots of fighters but very few people from the regular population – the PC, the PRTC, and the RN. But there was a great level of organization in the coastal zone, and that’s where I learned how to organize and lead.
The FMLN wanted to send me away to work with them, but I didn’t want to go, so they left me there working as the coordinator of the church. The church coordinated with CRIPDES, and that’s how I started working with them and was named as member of the departamental team of CRIPDES. I was in charge of finances, and there were lots of development projects like the cultivation of shrimp and tilapia. From there on the coast I eventually moved to San Carlos Lempa, where I got involved in the cooperative there, called El Coyol. But I quit that work to come here to Guajoyo.
Our sister cities and projects
In 1992 and 1993 was when the sister relationships started. We were invited to a meeting in the national university in San Salvador. They asked me a ton of questions about how things were in Guajoyo. There were three sister cities: Buffalo, McAllen, and then later Austin. The group in Buffalo was rich – they had lots of money – although it didn’t last that long. All three helped so much, and I admired these people who would arrive by foot to the community to support us and to get to know our community.
One day I went to one of the meetings in La Florida, and an organization called Fe Alegria was there and was offering a project to build schools. I had to really put myself out there in that moment, because we really had a great need and lots of children who needed a school. They were receiving classes from the popular educators in the community under a tree, but they got wet when it rained. The schools had already all been given away when I got to that meeting, but one was given to a community called El Porvenir, and they ended up not wanting it, so it was given to Guajoyo. In order to build that school we all worked hard. From Sunday to Sunday we would hold assemblies to encourage the people who were working until it was completed.
Then came the water system project, in which the sister cities were extremely supportive. We searched and searched for a good water source, because the springs near where people lived produce very little water. Finally we found the vein up in the hills, so we went to search for the owner of the land to tell him we wanted to buy it from him. In those days we were always tromping around all over the place like crazy, all over these hills and then in town to do all the paperwork, looking for good water for our community.
When we contacted the man who owned the land, he told us that he wasn’t willing to sell just the part of land that had the spring on it, that we would have to buy all of it – and it was huge. He asked for 370,000 colones, and we ended up paying 300,000 colones. A big portion came from the sister cities, which had given $60,000 to buy some oxen and carts for the cooperative. But we wrote them a letter and together decided to use that money to help buy the land. By a miracle and with lots of support we managed to buy all the land. Then we sold parts of it, and 14 acres stayed in the hands of the community. That land is still there, and we haven’t used it for anything else but where the water tank is.
All these cement block houses you see here are also from various projects. My house was from a Swiss organization after the earthquake in 2001. The house of my sister, Marta, is from a project that was called San Vicente Productivo. And sometimes the projects weren’t that good, and the houses were easily destroyed. There in my plot of land you can see a cement foundation, which was the foundation of a house that was given to me, but a year later the walls fell.
Everything here has been achieved through the organization of the people, and with lots of support from people from the other communities and organizations here and in other countries. I feel content now in my little home with my land and my wife. Community organization today isn’t the same as it used to be, because now people expect just a handful of people to do everything, but that’s not what it’s about. But I maintain hope that this community will continue to move forward, and that these youth can overcome all the difficulties that they are living today.