Healthcare in El Salvador V: War and Peace

One of the largest healthcare risks in many countries is war. Between 1980 and 1992, El Salvador experienced a violent civil war between the right-wing military government and the FMLN (Frente Farabundo Mari para la Liberacion Nacional) communist guerrilla forces. The conflict began to boil over in 1977 when armed forces arrived at Universidad Centroamericana and assassinated six Jesuit priests who were defending the rights of the poor. After the assassination, the archbishop Oscar Romero cut off ties with the government and vehemently spoke out against the government’s repressive policies. After tolerating his outspoken behavior for three years, the government decided to end Romero’s advocacy; Romero was assassinated in 1980 and a civil war ensued.

The village where I stayed (Ciudad Romero) was a FMLN stronghold. As the war began, the government attacked and the villagers fled to Honduras. The military of Honduras, however, was friendly with the right-wing Salvadoran government and the community lived for six months surrounded by military personnel from both countries. As the health of the villagers began to deteriorate and food became scarce, the UN and Panama decided to offer the villagers refuge in Panama. The community lived in the Panamanian jungle for eleven years until the peace accords were signed in 1992 and they were allowed to return and re-establish their town in the Usulatan province.

Today there is an uneasy peace, but discord between the two groups is strong. The divide between the right wing ARENA party in power and the left wing FMLN party has led to central government to spend money mostly in the areas which support ARENA. For instance, Ciudad Romero had no health clinic, but the nearby village of Isla de Mendez–in which a majority of the population still supports the right wing cause–does have a health clinic paid for by the central government.

El Salvador is a turbulent country, where earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes and war are a constant threat. One can only hope that this fragile peace will remain and that the quality of life for the Salvadorans will improve in the future.

I would like to thank all the Salvadorans who showed me such gracious hospitality while I was visiting their country. In particular: a Leonides, por compartir sus conocimientos; a Christino por su amable sonrisa y por cantarnos sus rancheros; a Lorena por su belleza escondida; a Carlos y Maribel por prepararnos la comida bien rica; a Jenni y Katia por su inocencia, y a Carlitos, el gran pintor, por el dibujo que me diste. Gracias.