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El Salvador in the Aftermath of Peace

El Salvador in the Aftermath of Peace: Crime, Uncertainty, and the Transition to Democracy

Ellen Moodie
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    El Salvador in the Aftermath of Peace
    Book Description:

    El Salvador's civil war, which left at least 75,000 people dead and displaced more than a million, ended in 1992. The accord between the government and the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) has been lauded as a model post-Cold War peace agreement. But after the conflict stopped, crime rates shot up. The number of murder victims surpassed wartime death tolls. Those who once feared the police and the state became frustrated by their lack of action. Peace was not what Salvadorans had hoped it would be. Citizens began saying to each other, "It's worse than the war." El Salvador in the Aftermath of Peace: Crime, Uncertainty, and the Transition to Democracy challenges the pronouncements of policy analysts and politicians by examining Salvadoran daily life as told by ordinary people who have limited influence or affluence. Anthropologist Ellen Moodie spent much of the decade after the war gathering crime stories from various neighborhoods in the capital city of San Salvador. True accounts of theft, assaults, and murders were shared across kitchen tables, on street corners, and in the news media. This postconflict storytelling reframed violent acts, rendering them as driven by common criminality rather than political ideology. Moodie shows how public dangers narrated in terms of private experience shaped a new interpretation of individual risk. These narratives of postwar violence-occurring at the intersection of self and other, citizen and state, the powerful and the powerless-offered ways of coping with uncertainty during a stunted transition to democracy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0597-8
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-17)

    Peace officially arrived in El Salvador on 16 January 1992. That day representatives of the government and the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional, FMLN) signed accords in Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City. The agreement, brokered by the United Nations, ended nearly twelve years of a civil war often characterized as one of the last battles of the Cold War. The United States had sent the country $6 billion in economic, military, and covert aid.¹ At least 75,000 Salvadorans died in the conflict, and more than a million were displaced. Nearly 20 percent had...

  4. Chapter 1 Big Stories and the Stories Behind the Stories
    (pp. 18-50)

    As soon as we got to Cacaopera, they told me. They didn’t say who had called. Or why. All afternoon that day back in June 1994, I had been riding around in the bed of a rattling pickup truck with four or five San Salvador friends who had invited me to their home village. I still have the pictures I took. Laughing children running alongside us on dirt roads shouting their greetings, “¡Salud! ¡Salud!” Grandmothers hanging wet socks off the sides of sad adobe houses shadowed by sagging palms. Foregrounds of brilliant flowering trees whose names I didn’t know, backgrounds...

  5. Chapter 2 Critical Code-Switching and the State of Unexception
    (pp. 51-82)

    “We don’t think it is a critical situation. . . . We cannot let it become a critical situation.” San Salvador’s midday news had been filled with lurid images of the morning’s featured corpse. This one the body of a former guerrilla leader, limbs splayed on the street, blood and brain bits sprayed over the sidewalk. Reports say he was walking his toddler daughter to a daycare center on a busy avenue near the University of El Salvador when two strangers, men in their twenties, walked up to him. One jammed a pistol into his head. The exploding bullet destroyed...

  6. Chapter 3 “Today They Rob You and They Kill You”
    (pp. 83-112)

    Salvadoran postwar crime stories incited, and also were incited through, an acute sense of insecurity. In an atmosphere of unknowing, of wondering what would come next, people described postwar danger in terms of increasingly personal, or private, experience. This way of thinking contrasted with how many Salvadorans had conceived of war-era violence, as fueled by socially motivated passion, patriotism, and nationalism, whether from the left or right. It also contrasted with an imagined community of affect and meaning, of social care, produced through the violence, such as the murder of Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero.¹ After the war, the social imaginary...

  7. Chapter 4 Adventure Time in San Salvador
    (pp. 113-138)

    HONK-groan-clank. Airrr. Relief.

    Yellow—Red light ahead. Slow, stop.

    It was one in the afternoon on Boulevard de los Heroes, in front of Metrocentro’s vast glass-and-steel-and-brick shopping paradise.¹ All around, cars, trucks, buses, vans, SUVs, motorcycles, grumbling, gunning. Waiting. Sun beating down. And in the car no A/C—still out. Leatherette seats biting sweaty thighs.

    But that window. That window, left open. Open to the world. Open to possibilities. Later, reconfiguring it all, shaping a series of actions and reactions into a crime story, Marielena would come to know she didn’t simply forget to roll up the glass at the...

  8. Chapter 5 Democratic Disenchantment
    (pp. 139-168)

    What happened next? World annals say democracy. “El Salvador is a constitutional, multiparty democracy,” the U.S. Department of State pronounces authoritatively in its Country Report.¹ Democracy was cropping up everywhere in the last decades of the twentieth century. By the time of El Salvador’s peace accords, a “third wave” of global democratization, starting with Portugal in 1974, was cresting; 107 of 187 countries in the world at the time, 60 percent, organized official power through regular, competitive elections with universal suffrage.² By 2004, indeed, El Salvador had long established itself as a postconflict model of democracy, a big story held...

  9. Chapter Six Unknowing the Other
    (pp. 169-204)

    No meaning is ever fully present. We may imagine revelation will come. Someday. Soon. We seek. We wait. The waiting can fill with dread: the barbarians, always just at the gate—or the National Guard, ever about to knock down the door. The waiting can also feel hopeful. The last chapter explored the not-yet meaning of the 1992 peace accords, full of democratic expectations, despite deepening disenchantment. And the waiting can be agonizing. El Salvador—living through “postwar transition,” undergoing a “democratization process,” or carrying out “structural adjustment”—may not kill (the same ways as before), but nonetheless lets die.¹...

  10. Epilogue
    (pp. 205-214)

    What happened next? I first posed this insistent query to provoke those who lost interest in El Salvador after 1992. So many of us wanted the story to end with the peace agreements that the Farabundo Martí National Liberation front (FMLN) guerrillas and the government signed that year. The surge of violence that followed was not in the script for peace. It was not the narrative for postwar reconstruction plotted by the United Nations. It was not the model for postconflict democracy promoted by the United States.

    What happens next? This was also the question Salvadorans were asking in 1992....

  11. Notes
    (pp. 215-258)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 259-280)
  13. Index
    (pp. 281-290)
  14. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 291-294)