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By Royce Morales

In the Name of the People is the name of the documentary that shows the hardships and struggles that peasant farmers go through, while being oppressed with United States foreign aid. Almost all of El Salvador’s land was controlled by a few wealthy elite, and worked by thousands of poor peasants. To understand El Salvador’s civil war, one must look back to 1932, when communist peasant farmer Farabundo Martí organized a movement to break up the wealthy landowner’s estates, which resulted in the military government of the newly succeeded right-wing dictator, Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, to call for a “peace meeting” among the government and Martí’s group. This meeting went sour, and led to Martínez massacring tens of thousands of Salvadorans in what would become known as La Matanza (the slaughter). From this point on, El Salvador’s land was held by two percent of the population, and the other ninety-eight percent were peasants, all while being ruled by military dictatorships for fifty years.

Source: Magnum Photos (Susan Meisalas)

Fifty years of oppression and authoritarian rule, the Salvadoran people could only take so much. Those who believed in the struggle and witnessed it left their homes, rich or poor, to join the movement. Students who witnessed political suppression in the urban areas fled to the jungles to join one of the five groups that made up the FMLN (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front), and fight for the struggle. Peasants like Magdaleno in In the name of the People at 4:06, explained that he had no choice, he could not feed his family, provide them with clothing or education. Magdaleno joined because of the injustices he witnessed and experienced, where no intellectual or political debate would save him from the troubles he had, only revolution.

After these people did everything they could legally, they organized themselves, essentially into civil society groups: student organizations, worker and farmer unions, and demanded that the military end their half-century rule over El Salvador. The military ruler at that time, General Humberto Romero, countered the protests with police security forces and death squads, oppressing innocent people. Leftist and moderate elements of the military realized that their country was on the verge of collapse, and staged a coup against the government in 1979, which in turn was replaced by a junta government, or a government that is made up of civilian and military members. The military junta promised to carry out major reforms: redistribution of land, legitimate elections, and an end to human rights violations.

The United States was quick to identify itself with the junta as being a legitimate government, and supplied the regime with significant military and economic aid. Large landowners and right-wing elements of the military were not pleased with the junta’s radical reforms, and it soon became clear that the new government could not control these extremist elements of the military and the death squads. The Archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero, begged the United States publicly to stop sending aid to the junta government and that the Salvadoran soldiers quit killing people, he was murdered in broad daylight not even twenty four hours after his message. During his funeral, thousands of people gathered in the streets of San Salvador, and suddenly bombs go off, killing hundreds of people within minutes.

These two acts of violence are what sparked the Salvadoran civil war, and led to the formation of guerillas against the junta government. Many other crimes against humanity happened during this war, such as the El Mozote Massacre, in which paramilitary death squads trained in the United States by the C.I.A. and armed with weapons paid for with American tax dollars killed over eight hundred people including hundreds of women and children. The Río Lempa massacre, where around six hundred peasants, mostly women and children, were murdered trying to cross the river out of El Salvador into neighboring Honduras. These events among the slaughtering of numerous priests, midwives, doctors, and patients needing medical attention were common during the El Salvador civil war.Source: Daniel Schmidt (latinamericanmusings.wordpress.com)

For me, these events are not something that should just be swept under the rug. Not only are they too close to home, in America’s “backyard”, but also that just brushing these events off as “collateral damage” or “historical inefficiencies” is simply ignorant. These massacres were paid for and supported in full by elements of the United States government, to the point that paramilitary death squads were personally flown to Benning, Georgia to be trained in counterinsurgency tactics at the School of the Americas. When is it enough? When will the average American be historically aware of the violations and atrocities we have supported? This is not ancient history, there are videos, pictures, detailed reports on these things that have happened, and very recently. What are your thoughts on this documentary? I encourage you to watch this film and provide feedback on my post; I would enjoy hearing from other people and also contending viewpoints on the subject. Please, watch this film and enjoy: