A small Central American country that saw some of the worst atrocities in the violent period from the late 1970s to early 1990s, when El Salvador found itself in a bloody Civil War between a popular new socialist movement and a right-wing militia of the old guard. As in Nicaragua
, the USA
backed those "anti-communist" militias. Some of the death squad leaders even received direct training both at home and in the USA.
Amongst the most publicized atrocities committed by them was the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero in March 1980, followed by the massacre of dozens of mourners at his funeral. American lay nuns also got caught up in the violence (held hostage and raped), briefly calling the US support for the death squads into question, but not for long … under the Reagan administration it was even upped significantly.
The single worst atrocity in El Salvador (or indeed the whole of Latin America) was the massacre of El Mozote, where around a thousand civilians were slaughtered in 1981, which is therefore given a separate entry here.
The Civil War in El Salvador, which effectively was another proxy war
in the Cold War
context (with support from the US for the right complemented by support for the left by Cuba
and the USSR
) dragged on and on. More assassinations, and esp. the massacre of six priests at the Centro Monsenor Romero in San Salvador in 1989 put further pressure on the international community to end this violence. Slow negotiations finally resulted in a Peace Accord in 1992.
Some 75,000 people are said to have lost their lives in the Civil War. Since then, a slow rebuilding process has begun, but the country still has some way to go.
Travel to El Salvador is still exotic and extreme, but it is possible. For the dark tourist, the sprawling capital San Salvador (the second largest city in Central America) offers a few memorial sites, esp. that of the Centro Monsenor Romero, located within the campus of the University of Central America. Here, personal effects of the murdered archbishop are on display as well as photos of the aftermath of the event (also gruesome ones of the 1989 massacre of the six priests). Opening times: Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 12 noon and 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., admission free.
The Museo de Arte de El Salvador (Tuesdays to Sundays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., 1.50 USD) has some works depicting themes of the Civil War.
Particularly noteworthy is also the Monumento a la Memoria y la Ver-dad, or Monument to Memo-ry and Truth near the Sala Na-cional de Exposiciones to the north of Parque Cuscatlan. This memorial (dating from 2003) is basically a wall of remembrance, with some 25,000 names of victims (dead or "disappeared") on it.
In the north-eastern town of Periquin, ex-guerrillas set up a Museo de la Revolucion Salvadoreña (Museum of the Salvadoran revolution).
The recommended mode of transport within San Salvador is taxi (affordable – and not so chaotic as buses). To get further afield, guided tours are the best option, unless you want to brave the roads yourself, which are often bad in remote areas such as Mozote
, So you'd need to hire a 4x4 car.