Dispatch From El Salvador

Obama's drug war feels eerily familiar

By Roberto Lovato for Colorlines Magazine
Published on LatinoLA: April 4, 2011

Dispatch From El Salvador

It all feels intensely familiar, like the days of open conflict between El Salvador's people and its government. Angry students marching, covering their coffee-colored faces with bandanas or masks as they file through the streets. Giant effigies of U.S. presidents and Uncle Sam next to huge, colorful banners demanding "Alto al Militarismo!" Nervous "security" demanding to know, "What press do you work for?" before forcing me to pull out my credentials.

Listening to wiry, tee-shirted student leader "Ana Maria" (a pseudonym) on the smoke-filled, sun-baked streets of San Salvador, I'm whisked back to similar scenes in the Cold War years of the 80's and 90's. "We've had to organize clandestine meetings because of the intervention of the police on our campus," she tells me while glancing occasionally to the left and right of the long march. "These last days, police intervention on campus has increased," she said.?á

"There've been three or four raids on student organizations in the last week," added ?áone of the young leaders who've organized in response to the police's sudden interest in student political activity. "This is a lot more than the normal intimidations--searching us, detaining us and other things that promote paranoia among students. This is the first time the police have intervened in the university in more than three decades."

Watching this army of cell phone-wielding protesters through the smoke of rickety buses, it feels eerily like 1980, the year El Salvador's civil war started, after U.S.-trained death squads murdered Monsenor Oscar Arnulfo Romero--the country's ultimate symbol of peace, and of the consequences of militarization. Then, the militarization of society was driven by political ideologies; today, it is driven by the purported war on drugs. In both cases, the driving force has been Washington, D.C.'s agenda--and its guns.

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