Morazán, or how to delve into a place as a strategy for regeneration after the Peace Accords (1992)

August 7, 2018

To delve into what happened during the civil war in El Salvador (1980-1990) is to open a door to a painful place that has yet to heal. A wounded place. Nevertheless, those lethal consequences also produce historic experiences that we should review and incorporate into our solutions, still in progress, for an unresolved conflict.

There we find the extraordinary, unprecedented experience of “communitarianism,” carried out by the Salvadoran refugees in Colomancagua, Honduras (1980-1989), and the knowledge that resulted from the “collective wisdom” that was the embryo of a later community which began with a utopic socialism that could remind us of Fourier’s Phalanstères. A community built by the repatriated in the Morazán department in the eastern part of El Salvador, and named “Ciudad Segundo Montes.”

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This image was taken at the moment of repatriation of the refugees. Courtesy of “Comunidad Segundo Montes. Un proyecto de su memoria histórica.

Morazán, a land of hills and steep ravines, has become a new axis of coordinates for different Salvadoran artists in relation to reflections about how to heal the wounds that still plead for care. Proposed strategies of regeneration include deepening the process of demystifying the revolution, overcoming the hetero-guerillero power roles, the insertion of historic experiences not included in official accounts, the articulation of conditions to foment and protect the right to free speech, and the practice of vulnerability[1] together with the recognition of a collective “me.”

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Left: Colomoncagua Refugee Camp (Honduras). Courtesy of Gaia Mika. Right: Cover of a monograph about said community, entitled “El Salvador. Tierra prometida: historia de la Ciudad Segundo Montes” by Steve Cagan and Beth Cagan, edited by Ediciones Arcoiris in El Salvador (1993).

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A poster commemorating the 25th anniversary of Comunidad Segundo Montes. Courtesy of “Comunidad Segundo Montes. Un proyecto de su memoria histórica.”

Nearly 8,000 refugees arrived at Colomancagua and made the refuge their home over 9 years, with the assistance of international support. They were rural people who had walked for days and weeks during the night in order to arrive without being tracked by the military. During these nine years, they developed an extraordinary labor force that is still an international example of community organization that astonished even Segundo Montes, the Jesuit who, upon visiting this refugee camp, said, “I thought there was no future for El Salvador, but having seen you, I’ve changed my mind.”

This capacity for collective self-organization and shared responsibility was transferred to the new Community founded in Morazán in 1990, Ciudad Segundo Montes. It bears the name of that Jesuit as thanks for his labor on behalf of the Salvadoran refugees so that they might return to their country with dignity and respect.

In this way, Comunidad Segundo Montes was born, a place where close to 10,000 repatriated Salvadorans arrived, with a different setting from that of Colomoncagua. Here, they had the complicated challenge of transforming themselves into a self-sustaining unit without international assistance. To complicate the situation, internal divisions emerged regarding whether or not it was necessary to dialog with capitalist logic, in addition to the lack of support from the Salvadoran state, which looked at them with suspicion as a bastion of the left and the precarious conditions they came from—beyond their hands, hearts, knowledge, and abilities; their capacity for community organizing, and their dream of returning to their land to create a new life.

Despite the forces working against them, Comunidad Segundo Montes came together like a city that dreamed of establishing its own manner of coexisting, leaning on the historical experience of communitarianism lived at Colomoncagua (1980-1989), and it resisted being infiltrated by the utilitarian logic and positivist individualism so poorly performed by “advanced” western societies.

In fact, the online project to record the historical memory of Comunidad Segundo Montes calls attention to the fact that, as the collected testimonials all state, despite the atrocious consequences of the war in their lives, the experience of collective work and responsibility during their stays at the refugee camp was a unique experience. As María Cesarea Portillo, one of the refugees (1980-1988, Colomoncagua), says: “I learned many things I didn’t know, and I shared what I knew.”

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Still from the video-performance “El juego” (2016-present) by TFT.

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Image of the installation of “El juego” (2016-present) at the X Central American Biennial.150 x 100 cm photo, HD video, color, 10’. Colección Fundación Rozas-Botrán. Photo: Flavia Sánchez

After a Skype session with the Salvadoran collective The Fire Theory (TFT)—composed of Melissa Guevara, Crack Rodríguez, Mauricio Kabistán and Ernesto Bautista as part of Y.ES ONLINE STUDIO VISIT PROGRAM, directed by Claire Breuke and sponsored by The Robert S. Wennett and Mario Cader-Frech Foundation—I could identify a clear impulse towards healing, with its sights on Morazán. After looking at what happened in Comunidad Segundo Montes, TFT seeks to emphasize other possible social models that have not been blown up by social polarization. I also found this impulse in the project called “El Juego” (2016-present) that TFT had been collectively carrying out.

This project was born when Tamara Díaz Bringas, curator of the X Central American Biennial, invited the collective to start a dialog with a very relevant Salvadoran museum: the Museo de la Palabra y de la Imagen (MUPI). The vocation of the MUPI is to prevent the disappearance of hundreds of episodes related to the Salvadoran civil war (1980-1992) and to other sociopolitical processes of emancipation—such as those led by the great Salvadoran proto-feminist visionary Prudencie Ayala (1885-1936), who fought for female suffrage—in the last 20 years of El Salvador’s history, together with the labors of research and raising awareness.

“El juego” (2016-present) is a performative audiovisual documentary work consisting of a game of soccer between ex-combatants from the Guerrilla Salvadoreña (called “Compas”) and veterans of the country’s Fuerzas Armadas (armed forces). The majority of the Compas live in Comunidad Segundo Montes, while the ex-soldiers live in nearby towns. All the players of “El Juego” are inhabitants of Morazán, and the place chosen for the game, Los Quebrachos, was an old battlefield during the civil war.

With “El juego,” they put measures of reconciliation into motion, together with interviews with ex-guerillas, such as the testimonial of Lucio “Chiyo” Vásquez, a native of Morazán and author of books such as Siete Gorriones (2014). In that book, Vásquez examines the complexity of the process of detachment from the war together with the process of reversing revolutionary idealization and the deficient implementation of mechanisms of social healing after the signing of the Peace Accords (1992). This episode has been quite influential in the work of artists Mauricio Kabistán and Víctor Crack Rodríguez, in individually expressed ways.

“There are few examples of communitarianism in this country. Polarization has killed it. And the objective of the program is to show that. That things are resolved more quickly if we work together,” comments TFT.

Currently, the collective is preparing a new edition of the documentary “El Juego” (2016-2018) for the show titled "Al Dictado, Arte y Conflicto en Centroamérica,” curated by Juan José Santos and Isabela Villanueva, which will be presented at the Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellín.

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Left: Extract of an interview with Rufina Amaya, the only survivor of the civilian massacre at El Mozote on December 11, 1981. Right: Capture of the article about the civilian massacre in El Mozote, published in The New York Times in January 1982.

Another member of the collective, Melissa Guevara, recently received a grant from the Y.ES Contemporary 2017 program for a project in which she denounces the invisibility and absence of true measures to compensate for the damages caused by one of the most terrible episodes of recent history of the Americas: the massacre at El Mozote on December 11, 1981 (the date Guevara uses comes from the testimonials of people involved in the episode, who affirm that it did not take place December 10 as the official record insists, but rather December 11). This cruel episode, recently recognized as such by the Salvadoran government, has been silenced and ignored by history for over 20 years, despite being the largest massacre of civilians to take place in the 20th century. The Salvadoran government has reiterated during these decades that the military archives related to the event disappeared.

Facing this institutional denial, the only survivor of the massacre, Rufina Amaya, related what happened to several international journalists immediately afterwards, and she has dedicated herself to denouncing and publicly demanding responsibility to be taken. “My god, I have freed myself from here and if I lay down and die there will be no one to tell the story. There is no one left but me, I tell myself.” (1981, Rufina Amaya)

All that happened was corroborated in detail by the Equipo Argentino de Antropología Forense (EAAF) and by investigations by the Comisión de la Verdad (truth commission), a body created by the UN to clarify the damage caused by the civil war in El Salvador. Next December 11, the date on which the brutal event will be commemorated, Guevara will take a truckload of dirt from El Mozote and dump it in the public plaza in front of the Palacio Nacional.

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Shots from the act carried out by Oscar Díaz in “Mal de amores (Mercedes)” (2015) during the program called Performeando at the Queens Museum.

The dirt from Morazán, together with the popular rites of San Miguel, is the vehicle for connection in the performance “Mal de amores (Mercedes)” (2015) by artist Óscar Díaz (Soyapango, 1993, now living in New York) presented during the program Performeando at the Queens Museum.

Díaz lived the first four years of his life in Morazán and San Salvador, until his family decided to go to the United States as refugees after the devastating consequences of the Salvadoran civil war. Morazán, the Department from which Díaz came, was seen by the bodies of power and the Salvadoran oligarchs as a subversive, leftist place, strangling the possibilities for development and complicating the opening of markets for the products and artisan crafts made in Morazán.

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“Tree of life” (1976) and “Siluetas” (1973-1980) by Ana Mendieta.

This action turns the focus on all the rituals related to the practice of local agriculture in this eastern zone of El Salvador, so present in Díaz’s performance-oriented practice as a way of correcting the rupture of family legacies implied by the Salvadoran diaspora. It shows a cathartic process of cleaning, healing and regeneration, reminding us of Ana Mendieta in “Tree of life” (1976) and “Siluetas (serie)” (1973-1980), where she connects with the information of the earth to activate the Taíno legacy, dissolve herself, and in this way to detach from the pain of the refugee. “I remember that when I put the dirt on the floor of the museum, I had a physical memory of helping my parents to farm when I was younger, which is very Morazán for me,” Díaz comments in his correspondence.

In “Mal de Amores (Mercedes)” (2016), Díaz speaks for 20 minutes with his sister, who has spent 18 years without having a real relationship with her brother. “The calling card itself is something full of the landscape of New York. They’re found on the ground, on the streets. I think of an agriculture of new possibilities,” says Díaz.

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Details from the Museo de la Revolución in the municipality of Perquín, Departamento Morazán. Photos courtesy of Camila Sol de Pool.

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Details from the Museo de la Revolución in the municipality of Perquín, Departamento Morazán. Photos courtesy of Camila Sol de Pool.

Morazán also appears as an object of reflection in the nomadic residency program “Works on paper, on freedom of expression, repression and resistance, a bottle of notes and some voyages”[2] (2015), run by the Salvadoran artist and promoter Camila Sol. This project had the invited artists crossing the entire eastern zone of El Salvador, and in particular, Morazán, to delve into narratives that were not included in official accounts.

El Museo de la Revolución Salvadoreña—Homenaje a sus héroes y Mártires—in Perquín, Morazán, was one of this program’s points of reflection, but not in the spirit of making it a political instrument, but rather to underline that what is truly indispensable for social regeneration in El Salvador is the development of real conditions for freedom of expression.

In conclusion, we see that it has been necessary for artists and collectives from El Salvador to delve deeply into distinct episodes that occurred in Morazán as a strategy for rescuing historical experiences that have not been included. Experiences that must be reinserted. Experiences that show a state that has not failed. A state in which the exchange of knowledge takes place, where there is mutual support and a collective “me.” With this the possibility emerges for the social regeneration so urgently needed, to come from processes that overcome self-censorship and that include the body as an epistemic tool.


[1] For more about vulnerability as a strategy in the curatorial practice, read “Feminización o prácticas preñadas de emancipación”  https://revistagimnasia.wordpress.com/2016/12/16/feminizacion-o-practicas-prenadas-de-emancipacion/

[2] For more about this residency program, read "San Salvador: Silent Spring" http://www.coleccioncisneros.org/editorial/cite-site-sights/san-salvador-silent-spring