El Salvador in the End-Time

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.


  1. craguilar says:

    Curt, as a Salvadoran whose not “very rich”, I’m a bit offended by your article. I understand that the tone is intentionally hyperbolic, but I wish you had unleashed your literary flair on different subject matter. You depict a country that is nothing like the country I have lived in for many years. Indeed, this reads like one of H. P. Lovecraft’s stories: rich, dark and almost entirely fantastical.

    True, my country has serious problems, but there is nowhere near the degree of hopelesness you imagine, nor are the causes of the problems as simple as you seem to think.

    For one thing, there are millions of people in El Salvador who enjoy life and go about it optimistically. Maybe that’s not the case for the few embittered people you’ve interviewed and whose attitudes you’ve mistakenly taken to be representative of the whole Salvadorean society, but it’s the truth for most of us. We are a patriotic, happy and hopeful people. Even most expatriates love and long for their native land, having moved to another country solely for economic reasons. Many are returning to settle with their families in San Miguel, La Union and other departments. El Salvador has modest but positive economic growth, and all quality of life indicators – from illiteracy to infant morality to median income- have improved dramatically in the last 15 years.

    As far as the politics of the country, you are quite right in diagnosing the FMLN as marxist-leninist, but you betray some ignorance in labeling ARENA as close to “national-fascist.” ARENA is actually a populist-libertarian outfit, promoting decentralization, democracy and free markets, none of which strike me as distinctly fascist. As far as death squads, I’m afraid you’ve been misinformed – they haven’t been around for at least 20 years. And there are several political parties like the CDU, the Christian Democrats and lately even the PCN which seek the centrist vote, albeit with little success. There is more political diversity in El Salvador than there is in the U.S., which might explain why we have -proportionally- a higher turnout.

    Naturally, democracy and political diversity by themselves do not solve a country’s problems. The subtext of your article is that they should, that there is a panacea to be found in government solutions. In this sense, the article tells me more about your own political beliefs than it does about El Salvador.

  2. Curt says:

    If you disagree with the results of the University study, you’ll have to talk to either the professor who did it or the thousands of people who took it or maybe their board of regents. (Rojos todos, perhaps.) Regardless of your interpretations these thousands of people — not ‘the few bitter people (I) interviewed’ — called ARENA national-fascist. You would be more accurate ( in one sense ) to indict your countrymen for their ignorance than me for mine.

    As to the article being hyperbolic, yep. And as a writer, I write about what I wish and in that, I’M the tyrant.

    Oh, and as to the millions of happy Salvadorans running around, I’d love to hear* your explanation of the enormous, and increasing (at least at the time) percentage of emigrations and amount of currency transfers.

    But regardless, thanks for your input.

    *Not really. See previous paragraph, re. “tyrant.”

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