The one thing that everyone in El Salvador told me – the professor, the ex-mara, the former guerilla – everyone but the very rich and the hardcore ideologues on the left, is that everyone wants to leave. That El Salvador is unfixable, and unworthy of being fixed. That everything of value has been looted from the country – the land, the money, the panthers and monkeys, the hope, the future. Now, all that’s left is to leave. El Salvador is not worth even a memory. What they wish to do is to go to the United States, to become Americans, to forget forever that there was ever such a place as El Salvador. The only salvation is flight and forgetting, the only future an admission that there is nothing left here to hope for.
And they’re right, beyond doubt.
El Salvador is a nation of cruel children whose affection for lies sharpens their appetite for hate. The oligarchs are without remorse. They are ape-kings, still ruling by force, who have death squad assassins on their domestic staffs. The leftist ideologues have let nothing – not history, not pragmatism, not love of their people or the evidence of their own eyes – interfere with their faith in theory and, so, have become preposterous and impotent. Meanwhile, the gangs in the streets shoot each other, the cops beat suspected gang members to death in empty lots, nine year old junkies kill their own parents, bandits rob and kill rural travelers and traffic altercations turn into occasions for the expression of El Salvador’s only consistently enforced law, the law of the jungle.
The Right and Left have effected no conciliation, despite the superficial changes in the government. They remain two armies of the worst kind – True Believers. One group has money, guns and the connivance of the rich, the other has self-righteousness, a devotion to the intoxication of rhetoric and recalcitrancy. A poll conducted by the University of Central America asked people to place the two main political parties on a scale of 1 (Marxist-Leninist) to 10 (National Fascist). FMLN scored 2, ARENA 8. And 50% of the people located themselves at 5, where there is no viable party. Those 50% are packing, most of the rest are biding their time.
Although the FMLN took a majority in last year’s legislative and mayoral elections, they could not push through to take the presidential election, El Salvador’s third since the Chapultapec Accords put an end to the country’s decade-long civil war. In the end, both of the primary candidates, the FMLN’s Schafik Handal and ARENA’s Tony Saca were unappetizing to the mass of the country’s voters. The 38-year-old Saca was the poster child for the young, shiny, re-invented ARENA: Docker-clad and free of visible blood stains. The 73-year-old Handal was the archetype of the humorless Marxist dinosaur.
Salvadorans have lost heart. What they would like to see is not their candidate triumphant, for the simple fact that, for most Salvadorans, none of the candidates can ever be theirs. What they wish to see in front of them is their own three-bedroom, split-level, single-family home in Fremont and behind them, a country being subsumed into the jungle, where insane industrialists in decaying mansions and mad leftists in crumbling gymnasia devolve back into some sort of life more fit for the animal world, like an H.P. Lovecraft story, feeding on each other until there is nothing left but the growl of catamounts, the screech of parrots, the crystal burble of hidden waters and the stars, where, after they devour each other, sometime in the distant future, men can return and, with only a couple of shots, dispatch the eerily human-looking panthers and monkeys, and plant the again-fertile sod with bananas, coffee, pineapple and sugar cane, without a human in sight to trouble them.
What they wish for is a world where the name “El Salvador” cannot even be found on a map.