9 January 2020

The Collection J – War Correspondents in Central America from 1962-2009 – was donated by journalists Blanche Petrich, later on a prominent journalist at the Mexican daily La Jornada, and María Cortina, war correspondent in El Salvador for ten years and author of the book El Salvador: Memoria intacta. Cortina and Petrich worked in Central America during the 1980s, and are well-known specialists in the areas of armed and social movements, Human Rights. The collection is a treasure for anyone interested in the region during this time period, and for those interested in journalism and war correspondence in particular. It reflects the conscentious investigative reporting and the meticulous, wide-ranging collection of information by the two donors. The selection of materials is a testament to these correspondents’ commitment to report against the grain of U.S. influenced, anti-Communist propaganda as one aspect of maintaining their integrity as journalists.

The Collection J’s most substantial part is on El Salvador, though it also covers Guatemala, Honduras and, to a smaller extent, Mexico as the country from which many humanitarian and exiled organisations conducted their activities.

The section on armed movements contains a collection of interviews with commanders of the FMLN-FDR at the time, among them the notorious Joaquin Villalobos who was accused of being involved in the execution of poet Roque Dalton. After the FMLN had laid down arms, he was sponsored by the British Foreign Office to complete a doctorate at Oxford, and then joined the ranks of so-called peace negotiators and security experts, advising among others Alvaro Uribe in Colombia, Carlos Salinas de Gortari and Felipe Calderon in Mexico and playing a part in the negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC. Some of the interviews available in the Fondo J were published at the time in newspapers such as Punto Final, others are transcriptions of radio interviews with Radio Venceremos, and others again are typewritten transcriptions of interviews held in various places by different reporters.

The collection also holds a moving and harrowing account given by U.S. American physician Charlie Clements on everyday life in the FMLN controlled of Guazapa, available as a typewritten document from the El Salvador Education Project based in Washington. Clements was later to become executive director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, the subject of the documentary The Rebel Doctor (1983) and author of the book Witness to War(1984) on his experience in El Salvador. In the 1970s and early 1980s he worked as a medical volunteer in the FMLN controlled zone and served as a link between the FMLN and the Red Cross. His account pays close attention to direct and indirect, physical, structural and psychological violence, and the intersections of them. He also testifies to the efforts to make possible a life of dignity under the most adverse of circumstances. Under the same label and following on his testimony are other documents of the El Salvador Education Project, based in Washington, including a publication of the death squad’s assassination list with the names of foreign correspondents and a press kit for journalists going to El Salvador.

The collection also contains a typewritten collection of songs and poems from the war in El Salvador (Expediente G SV20 ). None of them give the author’s names or the origin of the poem. They were donated by Maria Luz Casal who cooperated with the FMLN. Her partner, the Argentinian Carlos Leoncio Balerini, was an FMLN combatant, messenger and informer. He was forcibly disappeared as part of Operation Condor in Honduras; his case is documented in Collection H (expedientes W CA1 and W CA2).

Documents on peace negotiations, disarmament, Human Rights and transitional justice in Guatemala and El Salvador, on the situation of Salvadorean refugees in Nicaragua and Honduras and of Guatemalan refugees in Mexico, on U.S. interventionism and counterinsurgency also form part of the collection. The section on Nicaragua contains several manuscripts and publications on the Sandinista government’s defense against U.S. sponsored Contra militias.

On one level, the collection thus documents the interconnectedness of the Central American countries in their suffering but also, in their solidarity with each other. The documents on Human Rights organisations and social movements show the perseverance and courage of Central Americans, the solidarity they exercised with each other and with like-minded people from across the world, and their tenacious dedication to finding appropriate and effective forms of organizing and practicing solidarity.

On another level the collection documents and evidences investigative journalism in long-term situations of insurgencies and warfare. These conflicts are passed off as ‘civil wars’ in the hegemonic discourse; however, the material collected here show how internal situations are created, manipulated and fuelled by foreign interests during the Cold War period. Hopefully the collection which documents this painstaking illuminating search for the truth and the right words will find its followers and scholars among the practitioners and historians of journalism.

The author would like to thank staff at the CAMeNA for their assistance and collaboration.

Re-posted from https://poeticsofresistance.wordpress.com/