Our first stop backpacking El Salvador was the small town of Perquin, in the northeastern corner of the country. Famous as the stronghold of the rebel FMLN army during the 12-year civil war, it is now a very relaxed and beautiful mountain village with friendly people and fresh, cool air. The main reason that we went to Perquin was to check out one of the areas most devastated by war and to talk to some of the people involved. The Perquin war museum is the main attraction in town, Museo de la Revolución Salvadoreña, where there is a nice collection of historical weapons, propaganda, and photographs, as well as preserved bomb craters, and tunnels where the rebels hid out.
The civil war in El Salvador, which lasted from 1980 to around 1992 and took the lives of about 75,000 people, was caused primarily by extreme poverty, uneven distribution of wealth (2% of the population controlled 98% of the wealth), and a repressive, dictatorial government. It is something we learn very little about in the United States, probably because of the fact that we supported the bad guys. Our government tends to go against any faction labeling itself “socialist” even if the capitalist side which we are arming is committing genocides. This is what happened in El Salvador. When the FMLN rose up against the government, the government responded by creating “death squads” which killed thousands of innocent civilians. The Reagan administration supported the government and the death squads by providing millions of dollars, helicopters, weapons, and bombs.
Even though a lot of Salvadorans still resent the U.S government for its involvement in the conflict, most have traveled or have had family members travel to the United States to work and they understand that U.S. citizens aren’t to blame.
There were TONS of weapons in the Perquin War Museum. They ranged from Soviet-designed firearms to those made by the U.S.A and Germany.
One of my favorite parts of the museum was their recreation of Radio Venceremos, a secret radio station that blasted FMLN propaganda across the nation.
Out behind the museum, visitors are invited to walk through a preserved rebel encampment where there are tunnels and other fortifications along with a bomb crater.
In short, after 12 years of brutal fighting, a peace agreement was signed and the FMLN is now the ruling party in El Salvador. There are still a lot of problems in the country, many lasting affects of the war, but the economy and standard of living are improving. It was interesting and sobering to learn about a war we knew very little of. Sure, the whole museum is from the FMLN’s point of view and I’m sure their side of the story is a bit tilted as well, but it really makes you think. A link to the Wikipedia article about the war is HERE, if you want a little more information.
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