by Chris Hedges
I covered the war in El Salvador for five years. It was a peasant uprising by the dispossessed against the 14 ruling families and the handful of American corporations that ran El Salvador as if it was a plantation. Half of the population was landless. Laborers worked as serfs in the coffee plantations, the sugar cane fields and the cotton fields in appalling poverty. Attempts to organize and protest peacefully to combat the huge social inequality were met with violence, including fire from machine guns mounted on the tops of buildings in downtown San Salvador that rained down bullets indiscriminately on crowds of demonstrators. Peasant, labor, church and university leaders were kidnapped by death squads, brutally tortured and murdered, their mutilated bodies often left on roadsides for public view. When I arrived, the death squads were killing between 700 and 1,000 people a month.
An insurgent army arose, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (known by the Spanish-language abbreviation FMLN), named for the leader of a peasant uprising in 1932 that was crushed through the slaughter of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, many of them killed in summary executions. The FMLN seized huge parts of the country from the corrupt and demoralized military. In the fall of 1983, the rebels, supplied with weapons from the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, were on the verge of capturing the country’s second largest city. I did not, at first, travel with the army. It was too dangerous. It was far safer to go into combat with the FMLN. Without outside intervention, the rebels would have seized control of El Salvador within months and ousted the oligarchs.
But, far to the north, was a shithole country ruled by a former B-list movie actor who had starred in “Bedtime for Bonzo” and who was in the early stages of dementia. This shithole country, which saw the world in black and white, communist and capitalist, was determined to thwart the aspirations of the poor and the landless. It would not permit the profits of its companies, such as United Fruit, or the power of the pliant oligarch class that did its bidding in El Salvador, to be impeded. It had disdain for the aspirations of the poor, especially the poor of Latin American or Africa, the wretched of the earth, as writer Frantz Fanon called them, people who in the eyes of those who ruled the shithole country should toil in misery all their lives for the oligarchs and the big American companies allied with them. Let the poor, brown and black people go hungry, watch their children die of sickness or be murdered. Power and wealth, those who ruled this shithole country believed, was theirs by divine right. They, as the lords of shithole-dom, were endowed with special attributes. God blessed shithole countries.