Day 4 – Santa Marta and the drive to Perquin

Today we visited the site of another village which was persecuted during the war.
Around 8:30, the bus arrived in Suchitoto to pick me up from the hotel I was staying at. From the we made a brief stop to pick up more water then we drove for an hour or two picking up the leader of ADES and Guillermo’s father-in-law who is a local community leader with the FMLN. Or first stop was Radio Victoria in the most Spanish-named town you can imagine, Victoria.

A young leader at the radio station told us about the history of the station – they started up just after the war and had a wide variety of programming, but were also known especially for their willingness to cover stories that the corporate-owned stations were happy to ignore or gloss over. The station is entirely community-owned and runs with a mixture of volunteers and a core of paid staff. The largest controversy that they have been facing over the last decade has been over attempts by Canadian mining company, Pacific Rim, attempting to start a gold-mining operation in the area. The local communities are dead-set against a foreign corp entering the area, well aware of their record on telling the truth about the environmental effects of mining and other “benefits” resulting from their presence. Radio Victoria has been instrumental in helping the locals understand the ramifications of the company coming here. Since beginning coverage of the issue, several of the staff have received regular death threats and have had to alter their lifestyles to maintain their safety and security. The (right-wing) “district attorney” has thus far been unwilling to investigate the origin in of the threats. They did manage to arrest the murderers of three local anti-mining activists, though who actually ordered the killings is still a mystery.

The recently elected government is refusing to allow foreign companies to exploit El Salvador’s natural resources, but most people here think that if the ruling party changes from the left wing, that policy may go out the window, sparking a larger struggle. Pacific Rim is also likely trying to wait out the government at this point, though threats continue.

Following a short tour of the radio station’s facilities (which included the most lovely-feeling air conditioned studio), we had the opportunity to purchase some souvenir t-shirts, then we loaded back onto the bus for the ride to Santa Marta. We were told that the drive-time was about twenty minutes. What we didn’t know is that that was the drive-time for a large pickup truck with decent clearance under its frame. Our bus with 25 aboard had to drive the steep, twisting, winding, mountainous dirt road at a much lower speed and navigate around some rather large ruts and rocks that might have done serious damage to the vehicle.

After an hour or so of very bumpy driving, we managed to make it to the dusty village of Santa Marta. We were treated to lunch in the community centre by local women, then were told the history of the area as it related to the war. A local veteran, wearing jeans and the trademark Sandinista-style cowboy hat, explained to us that their village in particular was persecuted because they were well organised even before the war, building a community where everyone looked out for one another and worked together to improve their conditions. A young woman from ADES also told us about how they had been working as a community to have a united voice to speak out against Pacific Rim. Serenade We were also treated to three beautiful songs about the village and its people by a gentleman who is a local teacher and musician.

Next we were taken on a short walk to what had been the local hospital for the wounded during the war. This hospital was in fact a small bunker dug into the side of a hill where they could hide up to Two wounded persons and two medics at any given time. The space took two men two months to dig out and saved dozens of lives.

Finally, we headed back to the bus where plans had changed again (as they do in El Salvador) and we found out that we would be proceeding to Perquin instead of staying in Santa Marta for the night. The supposed two-hour drive from Santa Marta turned into a four hour odyssey of motion sickness and other bodily functions. Pit Stop Two highlights include myself puking out the window while making every effort not to have vomit hit innocent pedestrians, and a few girls peeing at the side of the road in a rather populated area with Desmond and one of the girls holding out towels for “privacy” (Desmond was unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of some splash-back!).

Eventually we arrived in Perquin, most of us totally worn out and in need of rest – all of us grateful for a soft bed. I went straight to bed and missed supper, but slept about ten hours. The hotel here is run by an American Mennonite who is also running a local school which is subsidised by some of the hotel’s profits. Cool stuff.

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