Rob Reidy on Being in El Salvador During the Civil War

The following clips can be aligned to the following Ohio Department of Education Social Studies Standards:

  • American History #24: The United States followed a policy of containment during the Cold War in response to the spread of communism.
  • Contemporary World Issues #7: Individuals can participate through non-governmental organizations to help address humanitarian needs.

 

 

Abstract:

In the above clips, Father Rob Reidy describes life in rural El Salvador during the civil war. His account highlights the perils of being a Cleveland Latin American Mission team member. As a member of the Cleveland diocese mission team, he assisted those displaced by the civil war, worked with Caritas Internationalis, aided the preservation of human rights in his area, as well as providing for the spiritual needs of his people. During the 1980s, he was at a parish in La Libertad, which is a coastal and rural area south of San Salvador. The rural parts of El Salvador experienced the Farabundo Marti Liberation Front’s (FMLN) extensive use of guerrilla warfare (1). Sometimes, civilians were targeted as suspected FMLN spies or supporters, which is what happened to Fr. Rob Reidy.

Background on the civil war:

The civil war lasted from 1980 to 1992 and over 70,000 El Salvadorans were killed. The battles largely took place in rural El Salvador where (much like the Viet Cong in Vietnam), the FMLN, a union of multiple communist and socialist groups, fought against the military. Also, in a similar situation to Vietnam, the war was a continuous conflict between these two forces, but segmenting the fighting only between these two parties disregards the complexity of the situation.

In El Salvador, popular unrest against Los Catorces, “The Fourteen” families who represented an oligarchy, combined with widespread government corruption and violent military repression caused a dangerous chain of events which culminated in the FMLN launching their “first offensive” after President Ronald Reagan’s election (2). The FMLN wanted to preempt the actions of the incoming Reagan administration, who they viewed as more likely to send increased military and monetary aid to anti-communist forces than President Carter (3). The FMLN and the state military expected a short and quick conflict, but it lasted over a decade. Even before the war started and well after it began, paramilitary forces aiding the government’s anti-communist actions committed extrajudicial tortures and killings that affected both common citizens and the FMLN (4). FMLN extrajudicial killings were less common, but they still happened (5). What ensued in twelve years was a horribly brutal civil war that has long-lasting consequences that even now still affect El Salvador.

Potential Classroom Uses:

  1. Teachers may use these clips as primary sources for explaining life during the El Salvador Civil War.
  2. Teachers may also use these clips as examples of work that individuals can do to aid humanitarian efforts.

Click here for the full interview of Fr. Rob Reidy.

Footnotes:

(1) Erik Ching, Stories of Civil War In El Salvador: A Battle Over Memory, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016), 39, 41.

(2) Ching, Stories of Civil War, 27-9, 32-5, 41.

(3) Ching, Stories of Civil War, 41.

(4) Commission on the Truth for El Salvador, From Madness to Hope: The Twelve Year War in El Salvador: Report on the Commission on the Truth for El Salvador, 1993 as found in: El Salvador and Guatemala, book editor Alexander Cruden & consulting editor Frank Chalk, (Farmington Hill: Greenhaven Press, 2013), 54.

(5) Commission on the Truth for El Salvador, From Madness to Hope: The Twelve Year War in El Salvador: Report on the Commission on the Truth for El Salvador, 1993 as found in: El Salvador and Guatemala, book editor Alexander Cruden & consulting editor Frank Chalk, (Farmington Hill: Greenhaven Press, 2013), 54.

Additional Resources:

Caritas Internationalis. “Oscar Romero and Caritas.” caritas.com. May 21, 2015. Accessed August 7, 2018. This page provides a background on Oscar Romero’s inspiration for Caritas Internationalis, while also listing information on the aid Caritas Internationalis did for El Salvador and El Salvador’s current situation.

[Photo credit: Daphne Held, Christ the Liberator Chapel, University of Central America, El Salvador, 2015.]

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