Sunday, September 03, 2006

Karina Oliva Art Exhibit

Communique from El Salvador

From Aryeh:

dear ones,
this posting would have been accompanied by lovely photos but my camera
mysteriously stopped working so hopefully my words will paint the
i have to warn you that sometimes, it ain´t pretty...
with all my love, aryeh

las montañas de morazán
2 de augusto de 2006

the first week of August is an official government vacation and thus i
decided to take advantage of the time to venture to Perquín, a small
village in the northern pine-encrusted mountains of El Salvador. I had
promised to myself that in this next phase of my work here, I would
more time off, leave the village and see more of the country to gain a
deeper understanding of its history, its popular movements and its
complexities, in addition to taking a little time for myself.
which is why i felt a bit betrayed by my body when the night before
leaving, i broke into a feverish sweat. i was determined to take these
rarely-encountered-consecutive-days-in-a-row off and so i rebelled and
boarded the bus anyway for Morazán.

on the ride north i began to take note, feverishly, dreamily, perhaps
deliriously, of the changes in the landscape. i´ve been living in
Usulután where the land is stretched flat, flat and more flat. i´m a
mountain creature at heart, which perhaps describes my instinctive move
from the flatlands of Michigan to the sierras and rolling hills of
California. my spirit quickened as the bus began to chug sluggishly
upward and the mountains began to rise and rise, stretching their
seductively upward toward the sky.

in my dreamy state i listened to the evalengical preacher who boarded
bus, working himself into a frenzy, spit flying, hailing the word of
to a captive though mostly dozing audience. When he was finished,
man began his passionate pitch to sell cheap medical remedies for
ailments which he described in full anatomical detail acompanied by
illustrative visual aids.

i finally got off the bus and sat by the side of the road, waiting for
pick-up for the last leg of the journey, while vendors came by to offer
everything from socks, tighty-whiteys and boxer shorts, to rat poison,
belts with tweetybird stamped on its buckle. i settled for a gatoraid,
hoping to replenish my dehydrated body with a few extra electrolytes.

the pick-up finally arrived and we were herded inside like cattle, both
sides lined with people sitting on benches, and those of us who had to
stand were strategically squashed into the space in order to fill the
camper to its optimal capacity. i found myself pressed back to back
an old man and for nearly half an hour, we supported each others weight
through the twists and turns of our ascent. we never exchanged names
life stories, but i felt a sweet human connection with him through our
simple act of sharing weight. when i was finally given a chance to
sit, i
turned my attention to the view available through the back of the tarp
covered pickup. my heart leapt as the tropical trees gave way to their
higher altitude brothers and sisters of pine, oak and buckeye.
i delighted in the sight of sunlit dewdrops quivering at the end of
needles. i looked forward to walking for hours through those trees,
surrendering my soul to long vistas and silence. the air was brisker,
forcing me to reach into my backpack and pull out my hoodie which i
never worn, not even once, in the heat of the Bajo Lempa. when we
I was quite weary from the journey and still feverish so I took refuge
the blue painted room of my lodge and began to reread ¨The Massacre of
Mozote¨ which took place here in December of 1981.

the Salvadoran government had initiated its new American-learned
Earth policy, or Tierra Arrasada. another description for this was
¨quitarle el agua al pez¨ or ¨take the water away from the fish¨.
means that entire villages were systematically wiped out for being
¨geurilla sympathïzers¨. this policy intentionally included the killing
chilren in order to eliminate the potential risk of their becoming

the U.S. and Israeli governments seem to be harking back to scorched
earth policies in the Middle East. Take for example, the wholescale
destruction of the city and recent genocide of thousands of innocent
Iraqis to ¨liberate¨ Fallujah of insurgents, or now the systematic
of southern Lebanon and the genocide of Qana by U.S.-armed Israel, in
which all the men, women and children who remain are considered to be
Hezbollah or Hezbollah supporters, thus justifying the carnage.

Much of the genocide of today is committed by arial strike, whereas
massacre was committed machete to throat. when the Atlacatl Battalion
arrived, they assembled the entire population into the square. in the
morning, they proceeeded to interrogate, torture and execute the men.
around noon, they began taking the young girls out and raping them on
hillsides. in the late afternoon light, the women were separated from
their children, taken out in groups and machine-gunned to their deaths.
Finally, by the end of the day, they killed the children.

Rufina Amaya, who is the sole survivor of El Mozote, had escaped from
line and hid under the cover of a crab-apple tree. She has told her
many times, of having seen her husband decapitated by soldiers, of
the screams of the young girls being raped, of hearing her small boy
yelling ¨Mamá, they killed my sister! Mamá, Help me! They´re killing
of having to dig a hole in the earth so that no one would hear her
when they finished the exterminations, they set fire to the homes,
all the animals and left the bodies unburied, to serve as a message of
what would lie in store for other would-be guerilla sympathizers.

There have been 767 documented victims, failing further exhumations. my
guide to El Mozote, a wizened old ex-guerilla told me that this number
low, that there were so many more, well over 1,000. After the peace
accords, an Argentinan forensics team came in to exhume the bones, the
scraps of bloodied garments, the little plastic horses and marbles held
the pockets of children, unearthing the truth of what may have been the
largest single massacre in Latin American history.

When word first came out of the piles of burnt flesh and decapitated
bodies of mostly women and children and old people, it was announced
internationally by the returning geurillas through Radio Venceremos.
U.S. and Salvadoran governments dismissed these reports as a ¨guerilla
trick¨ and ¨Communist propaganda¨. You see, the U.S. goverments
over 4 billion dollars in this war, supplying the Huey helicopters, the
mortars and M-16s, the M-60 machine guns and 90mm recoilless rifles,
with training in counterinsurgency techniques, search-and-destroy
operations, torture and anti-Communist ideology for the Atlacatl
and Colonel Domingo Monterrosa who were responsible for the so-called
¨necessary genocide¨.

Photographs and detailed reports hit the front pages of the New York
and Washington Post. There were debates in Congress about the
human rights violations in El Salvador, however they did not want to be
responsable for another Sandanista-type leftist victory, or ¨losing¨
country to Communists, thus no complete investigations were made, no
was cut off but in fact multiplied, and it was officially determined
the Salvadoran government was making a ¨concerted and significant
to comply with internationally recognized human rights¨. The NY Times
reporter was subsequently pulled off the beat, demoted and harrased
he finally left the Times.

Though the U.S. would rather that we forget the past so that we will
support their current atrocities to search-and-destroy ¨Terrorists¨or:
oppressed peasants/exploited workers/autonomous resistance
movements/teachers/ song-writers/poets/union organizers/community
leaders/activists/critical thinkers of all stripes/or just plain
who happen to get in their way. indoctrinating us with Orwellian
propaganda of bombing innocent civilians in order to liberate them!
so that they can impose Neoliberalism, i mean, Democracy!, under the
gun of military occupation... we must resist the temptation to look
even if we have to dig holes in the earth to hold our screams.

the memory of the massacre is actively kept alive here. it is not
something that can be healed, but the memory perhaps can allow one to
recuperate dignity, to restore humanity, to scream out to the world,
¨Never again!¨ i walked for miles to El Mozote today through
scenery, wanting to touch the scorced earth with my own hands. nature
reclaimed her right to be achingly alive, bursting forth from every
crevice. i was accompanied by my guide, Matilde, who founded the
revolutionary war museum in town. it contains old photographs charting
its causes and progress, with solidarity posters and beat up Radio
Venceremos transmitters and grenad launchers set against the backdrop
of a
childrens mural, painted with brightly colored flowers and butterflies.
made me both laugh and cry with his endless stories and continued
optimism. i asked him why he had joined the geurrilla movement, he
the army had come and burned down his house along with his crops, so he
had no other choice but to fight for the survival of his pueblo.

when we arrived to the small center of el mozote, there were people
at work, preparing a garden that will commemorate the children who were
killed. before the stone memorial where the bones of the children are
held stands a heart scultpure composed of mirror fragments. the artist
was there so i asked her its significance. she said it was for those
come to look, so that they will see themselves in the broken mirrors
perhaps wonder, what if it were them? i looked. yes, it could someday
me or my loved ones as the insanity of war and scorched earth policies
rage on.

a mural was being constructed next to the garden, made of mirrored
lightning bugs and mosaic rainbows to evoke the spirits of the
of innocence, and of hope. another mural with vivid colors adorns the
other side of the church, depicting El Mozote as it once was, with
explaining its history to the youth. In the center of the town, a
iron silohuette of a family stands before a wall filled with the names
the martyrs, and it holds a plaque with a quote that will stay with me,
"They did not die, they are with us, with you, and with all humanity."

yes, they are with me. and with you. as are all the children in the
Middle East who are being massacred today in the name of God, Progress,
The War on Terror, Freedom Fries! or more accurately in the name of
Capitalism, Empire, Oil Profits, Corporate Globalization,
Control-of-the-World´s-Resources-by-Any-Means-Necessary, or more

may destruction always be confronted with acts of creation. may we
keep alive the memory of children and of dignity. or better yet, may
we keep the children alive. may we stop this madness, as it IS
again. in this very breath.