He has told his story many times before. How he is not overcome by tears while he speaks of his tragic experience is beyond me. Strength must pull him through with each word that reveals his experience of surviving two massacres. Rojelio was just a month shy of his tenth birthday when he was part of a group of grandparents, parents, and children who chose to return to their community after being displaced by the military during the civil war in El Salvador. Unfortunately, the group had fallen into a deadly trap, una trampa, set by the El Salvadoran military—a planned massacre. Once the military was certain that the people of Copapayo had returned to their homes, they came down from the nearby hill, guns in hand, and began to shoot and kill the people. Rojelio was one of few that survived that first massacre; he estimates about 80 or 90. He would then become a part of a death march. The military held the survivors hostage, withholding food from them, until they got the word to kill them the following day. The group of people were lined up so that the military firing squad could open fire. Rojelio found the audacity and strength to move from the front of his line to the very back, knowing that he had left an aunt and younger sister at the front. Once the firing began, he dropped to the ground, somehow unscathed, and acted as if he was shot or killed. After the military had covered the bodies with tree branches, Rojelio was able to get up, very hungry and thirsty, and search for anyone in the area who had not been killed. He would end up happening upon an uncle who was part of the guerrilla forces, as well as another uncle, who would connect him with his grandparents. Rojelio is the only survivor of the two massacres that occurred over the course of November 4 and 5 of 1983. The military had thought they had killed a guerrilla force, but instead, they killed innocent grandparents, parents, brothers, sister, aunts, and uncles.
During Rojelio’s sharing of his story, a helicopter happened to hover over Suchitoto and then fly directly overhead of us. During a story as corrupt and tragic as the one Rojelio shared, it created a disturbed feeling within me. I didn’t like it. The story had consisted of 155 people being killed, and told of the torture that ensued to some of those people as well. The sound of a helicopter provided a negative vibe; an inconsiderate essence to its appearance.
This past weekend we spent our time in the town of Suchitoto, just north of San Salvador. This is where our professor, Sister Peggy, lives and has helped to found El Centro para La Paz. El Centro para La Paz is a community center formed with a mission to provide a place for the people of Suchitoto and El Salvador to heal from the history of their country. El Centro includes a newly opened café and conference room, as well as a hostel and museum. Arts classes, psychology classes, music lessons, and many other learning opportunities are available at El Centro for the community to take advantage of.
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We have spent the last three weeks here in El Salvador, and will be leaving this coming Saturday for Nicaragua. This portion of the program was based around a course on liberation theology and how that theological movement and mindset has helped the Salvadoran peoples overcome the oppression that has plagued and continues to plague their country. As said many times before, the history of El Salvador is colorful. It is intense to learn about. The history can be seen in the people of this beautiful nation to this very day. From death and massacre to United States involvement, it is hard to swallow in one bite, or even swallow at all.