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Obama's Drug War in El Salvador

For author Lovato el Salvador feels like 1980, the year its civil war started, after U.S.-trained death squads murdered Monsenor Oscar Arnulfo Romero.

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Not even the imagery of Salvadoran gangs in U.S. and Salvadoran minds is grounded in reality. Romero and the Homies have spent time analyzing media images deployed by politicians and security agencies throughout the region. Romero’s colleague, Jose Luis Rodriguez pointed out how, for example, images of tattooed Mara Salvatrucha members are transmitted worldwide as one of the primary depictions of El Salvador on news reports and in Google searches. They “are old and they don’t represent the new pandilleros who don’t even sport tattoos, baggy clothes like the OG’s did,” he says. “Real life is different from television.” 

The Homies would prefer that Presidents Funes and Obama invest more in peace and less on guns in a country in which homicides among a population of 6.5 million will, at current rates, soon catch up to current and rapidly growing number of homicides in Mexico, which has more than 111 million residents. 

Standing beneath a yellow and black poster that resembles an emergency sign and says “ Cuidado: Machisimo Mata !” (Careful: Machismo Kills), Roxana Marroquin’s shy smile and gentle eyes mask the fact that she’s from “the place that has historically known as the cradle of the human rights struggle”—my mom’s home state of San Vicente. Like Romero, 35-year-old Marroquin, a member of the Concertacion Feminista Prudencia Ayala (the Prudencia Ayala Feminist Consensus) believes that El Salvador will not move forward against the violence that plagues it until it takes a sincere and clear look backwards. 

“Obama’s visit to the tomb of Monsenor Romero is super complicated because of what the U.S. has traditionally signified for us: a state that financed the Salvadoran military to block a revolutionary process,” says Marroquin, who lost more than a dozen family members, including her father, during the war.

“The visit to Mosnenor’s tomb is not an act of reparation. It’s an act of protocol and leaves me even more indignant, especially when he comes here with more money for guns for the military. How are we to trust that this anti-narcoticos plan will do anything but increase violence?” she asks.

Marroquin sees a direct line running from the impunity that started the war, expanded exponentially during the war (only a few of those responsible for the deaths of the 75,00 to 80,000 deaths have been brought to justice) and continues unabated after the war. She points, for instance, to the murders of at least one woman per day, crimes that have given El Salvador one of the highest rates of femicide in the hemisphere.  

“Impunity in this country is rooted and well encrusted in the state,” she says. “The impunity of the war mixes in with historical fact that women have not been legal subjects or citizens in this country and we can’t access justice, which makes it easier to beat or kill us without consequence. You can hit me, you can ask for forgiveness, but if that forgiveness is not lived and not felt, is not accompanied by concrete actions to really repair it, you will hit me again.” 

And like the young Ana Maria, Marroquin also believes the solution to the violence impunity breeds lies in political, even revolutionary action—just the sort that the growing militarism appears ready to quash. “Citizenship is constructed daily by our work,” she says. “It is constructed by making our demands and by the possibility to obligate an institution or an individual to respect our rights whether that person is a violent husband or the head of the the military—or the head of a country, like Barack Obama.”

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