Against the Current, No. 23, November/December 1989
Kathryn Savoie interviews Margarita
MARGARITA IS A 21-year-old fighter who originally comes from Morazan province in El Salvador. Kathryn Savoie, a member of Solidarity and an activist from Ann Arbor who visited El Salvador with a delegation earlier this year, transcribed this interview that the delegation conducted with Margarita at a cooperative in the countryside. Margarita spoke through an interpreter.
Margarita: War has been part of my life for as long as I’ve been conscious of things. All my life since I was =years old, we’ve been in war, and the war has affected me in ways I will describe to you.
Recently I was among those captured by the military in the office of CRIPDES (Christian Committee for the Displaced of El Salvador). I was released after three days. I’ll tell what they did to me.
First, they stripped me naked, took off my clothes; no underwear, no bra, no nothing. Then they picked me up and dumped me in a tank of very cold water. The next thing was to tie my feet because although I was already blindfolded and handcuffed, when they tortured me I’d do whatever I could and I was kicking them. So they tied my knees together and put me in an electric chair.
They said if I didn’t admit to being a member of the urban command of the FMLN (Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front) they would apply electric shocks and other things. They squeezed my breasts so that when I left I was completely bruised and swollen.
They also threatened me with a video they said they had of me doing armed actions and burning a bus in the capital. When I told them this wasn’t true, that this video doesn’t exist, they said of course it does, and if you don’t tell us the truth we are going to hick you. Finally, the last thing they did to me was apply electric shocks.
Question: Could you talk more about your experiences in Morazan and how you became involved in the struggle?
Margarita: I joined in the revolutionary process at a very young age I’m twenty-one years old now and I joined the struggle when I was about ten years old. My mother was assassinated, my father was assassinated and the death squads had disappeared one of my uncles. This is what motivated me. It’s a terrible thing to happen right in front of you they come and take your father from his work, in front of the children, who are young, but I think one is always old enough to understand. They captured and subjected him to the most brutal tortures and just left him dead, blindfolded.
They did the same to my mother. She had a newborn daughter just eight days old. I was left without my loved ones, with my infant sister, who’s now seven.
Since then I’ve always been at one of the fronts of the war. Now I’m working, struggling along with the people, because my illness doesn’t permit me to participate as a combatant. I suffer from a serious thyroid problem, something we don’t have the resources to deal with because of the state of war. Through the help of a humanitarian organization, I’m in a fairly complicated form of treatment. If it doesn’t help me after one year they will try to get me out of the country to have an operation.
I can’t be at the front, but I continue to participate out in the streets along with the people. In this struggle we only have our voices, our demands. But it’s important for people like myself to share our experiences with the general population and the repopulated communities.
Question: What is your organizing work here, and what are the most difficult aspects? Do you work specifically with this cooperative or with others in the area?
Margarita: There are three of us, two women and a man who form a team. Our work is to deal with the daily needs of the community. What do we do to defend the community if the enemy [the military–ed.J comes again? How are we going to deal with a situation if we need medicines and don’t have enough? My work is with this particular cooperative and also the surrounding ones.
I have another kind of work that is simple but fundamental: to inform the population. For example, people shouldn’t be close to places where the enemy is because they could also fall victim to an attack against the enemy. People pretty much already know this, but also we explain what they should be demanding—for example, if people need land, that they shouldn’t have to buy it I from the large landowners.
We have to demand more freedom—freedom to work, to work without harassment by the armed forces; to demand an end to forced recruitment This orientation and education is primarily carried out through meetings with the communities.
Question: Do you receive information from the FMLN’s radio stations, Radio Venceremos or Radio Marti?
Margarita: Yes, of course, that’s where we receive a lot of information that we depend on to carry out our work.
Question: If the armed forces came here tomorrow and tried to capture a couple of you, how would you be able to defend yourselves?
Margarita: If they came to take two or three companeros, we could get together so they take us all, not just the ones they want Take us all, but not just two or three, because it’s easier to disappear two or three. They can’t disappear the whole community, or if they did it would be more obvious and public.
Question: It seems it would be easy for the armed forces to intimidate the children so that they would talk. How do you educate the kids so this doesn’t happen?
Margarita: It’s not so easy for the majority of children to be fooled; they understand pretty well. They see the soldiers in the street. The soldiers try to ask, what’s your name, where are you from, don’t you have a brother with the guerrillas? The children won’t easily be fooled because of their fear of the military. The military never arrives calmly, they are always aggressive, and so the children are really afraid of them.
Question: Could you speak about your experiences as a woman combatant? Have you encountered machismo? Is there some form of education about the role of women for the companeros?
Margarita: Yes, I could tell you a few things about that. As a woman combatant it isn’t difficult, because when you’ve suffered such pain yourself you lose all fear, and we know we have that advantage. In my first experience, there were three of us who caused 30 casualties. The next action was to down a helicopter. After that we took over a garrison. Later, we forced the military out of their post in a cooperative. I have also worked as a health worker with the guerrillas, and I’ve always participated in the area of propaganda.
There is machismo, yes, but there is a lot of education around the role of women in the struggle I have always tried to be committed and to conduct myself according to revolutionary principles and values. Therefore I have the complete respect of the companeros. Whenever possible we work together, we eat together, sleep together, share everything together, and I’ve never had any problems. There’s a tremendous respect for the cornpaneras.
Question: Could YOU speak a little more about your work in healthcare and about healthcare promotion?
Margarita: I worked in first aid to wounded combatants. Not having any education, at first I didn’t know how to do anything. But you just go on doing what you’ve got to do. From experience, not theoretically, I have learned all types of practical things: to remove the bullet from the injury, applying a tourniquet, or if there is a broken bone, splinting it, or giving blood or medicine through inflection—things like that.
Question: Are there healthcare promoters in the communities or some kind of popular healthcare work?
Margarita: Yes, there is a healthcare worker here. Her work is based primarily on the book, “Where there is no doctor,” because she’s never had any medical training either. I just help her with the little experience that l have, and again it’s learning through practice. Health promotion is one of our projects.
To conclude, I’d like to say that the fact I’m here with you, sharing my experiences as a political and military participant in the struggle, indicates that we trust you I’m able to share these things with you because of that support and trust. Despite the difficulties of not being able to read or–write, I do the best I can to express myself. And we will always be ready to talk with you all about our experiences. Thank you for supporting us and being in solidarity with us.
© 2020 Against the Current
November-December 1989, ATC 23