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¡Presente!

Monday
Dec 11th
Adam Kufeld PDF Print E-mail

Adam's photos from the FMLN victory in El Salvador will be published in the Summer 09 issue of Presente.

Adam Kufeld is a photojournalist who shot and wrote several books on Latin American politics and social change, including El Salvador (1990) and Cuba (1994) both published by W.W. Norton Co. He also wrote and photographed "El Salvador Revisited : After the war, a struggling nation picks up the pieces," San Francisco Examiner Magazine, Sunday, November 16, 1997.

Click here to view a slideshow of Adam's photos from the FMLN victory in El Salvador.

Caravana de la Esperanza
Caravana de la Esperanza, March 2009, photo by Adam Kufeld

"The El Salvador Elections 2009 Project is the latest of my social movement photojournalism projects. Its origins go back to San Francisco’s predominantly Latino Mission district in 1978.

Every weekend tables would be set up in the plaza at 24th and Mission Streets where every imaginable political cause would be promoted. I chanced to stop at one of the tables on a Saturday. The ensuing conversation would alter the next 15 years of my life.

I was shown a set of photographs, photographs that were frankly unimaginable. Heads lying amid boulders, heads without bodies. Not one, but many, and other images of torture so inhuman to be almost indescribable. Scores of dead. Images that to this day live in my mind.  The reverse side of these photographs bore the stamp of the Archdiocese of San Salvador’s Human Rights Commission.  I was told the photographs were of victim’s of the country’s U.S. backed military and right wing death squads.  It was really at that moment that this project was born.

At the time few knew of El Salvador or it’s movement of peasant farmers, students, factory workers, and women. As it turned out, almost every sector of society was either organized or becoming organized.  Poverty there, as in the rest of Latin America, was extreme. In El Salvador a handful families, the oligarchs, or the “fourteen families” as they were known, controlled almost all the wealth, leaving those who worked for them in the coffee plantations, the cotton fields and the factories living in the most abject poverty. When those same poor tried to organize back in 1932 over 30,000 were killed in a brutal counterinsurgency campaign know as “La Matanza” or “The Massacre”.

In San Francisco, Salvadorans were trying to get the word out about the horrible repression taking place in their country. But more than that, or in addition to that, of the mass and popular movement that was fighting back.  These Salvadorans had a small storefront from where they tried to spread the word. Casa El Salvador “Farabundo Marti” named after the slain rebel leader of  the peasant uprising of 1932.

I soon learned to operate a printing press, the mimeograph machine was just not up to the task of producing the tens of thousands of flyers that would be needed to organize the many demonstrations against my governments intervention that would take place in the following years. All this organizing was actually part of an international movement that was developing in solidarity with the struggle taking place in El Salvador. Those of us in the Bay Area, North Americans, soon officially became “The U.S. Friends of the Salvadoran Revolution.” Followed by, within a year, the formation of the U.S. Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, or CISPES. One of the longest standing solidarity organizations the U.S. has ever seen.

In 1985 my Salvadoran friends asked me if it wasn’t true that I was once a professional photographer. Yes I was, back in New York City, in the fashion industry actually, but I had given it up to travel, heading first to Latin America for a year.  Did I think I could pick it up again? Berkeley had developed a sister city relationship with a town in the war torn province of Chalatenango, San Antonio Los Ranchos, and the Mayor of Berkeley, Gus Newport was scheduled to go. They needed someone to document his trip.  The trip was an eye opener. We lived among poor peasants, many whose homes had been destroyed by the Salvadoran military, armed and trained by the US military.  The same Huey helicopters that had flown over Vietnam were now flying over El Salvador. With the same goals, in official counterinsurgency lingo, “drying up the sea to catch the fish” that is to say, capturing, killing, or turning thousand into internally displaced refuges. This, in order to destroy the civilian base of support for the insurgency. Occasionally guerillas of the FMLN would come by on their way to or from one of the training camps in the area.  These were, after all, the sons, daughters and often children of those displaced or killed by the military or the death squads.

One night we dodged, or rather took cover from unseen, but quite clearly heard mortars, our tax dollars at work. We ate beans and tortillas and little else.  The military regularly destroyed any stores of food as part of the same counterinsurgency strategy. We took showers in waterfalls and walked, and walked some more. There were no vehicles, nor electricity or running water.

Once back in the Bay Area, apparently the photographs were good enough and interesting enough to be published not only by the solidarity movement but also by the San Francisco Chronicle and others.   Somewhere along the line, someone, possible myself, came up with the idea of a book of photographs.   A book that might try and show the complexity of what was happening there. It seemed like a long shot but I had nothing to lose, I showed the photographs to the New York publishing house, W.W. Norton and to my amazement, they said yes, they were very interested and I should just go do it. I got a small advance and I was off.

I returned to the same mountainous area of Chalatenango Province, after all I had been invited back by the leaders of the “Poder Popular Local” or   “Local Popular” government and by the residents of our sister city.  This trip would be the second of what would be seven more trips. It was the hardest, these “zones of popular control” as they were called, were really only partially controlled by the guerrillas of the FMLN, the army had the advantage of helicopters, C-130 aircraft, troop carriers and more. Again we ate beans and tortillas, and more beans and tortillas, or the occasional iguana. On one occasion we spent 10 days fleeing the army, sleeping in bombed out homes, in much too small hammocks, getting soaked by tropical down pours.

It was a crash diet, I lost 25 pounds in those two months, but I gained so much more. It was a profound learning experience. Examples of personal sacrifice were everywhere, of generosity on the part of those with little to share, but willing to share it all. Of strength of spirit in spite of the loss of so many loved ones. And even a sense of humor in the face of what appeared to be insurmountable odds.

When I heard recently that the FMLN was ahead in the polls, and they would most likely win the Presidency and many municipalities, I had to go back.

The test will be, if the FMLN does win, will the U.S. follow through on it’s long standing promotion of elections as the only way to democracy and recognize the FMLN? Or will they find one more excuse to undermine a truly popular movement, one that favors the working poor? And once again side with the minority? A minority whose interests are becoming more and more tied to the interests of multi-national corporations? This will be a true test of our democracy, and the new Obama administration."

 

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Comments (1)Add Comment
really interesting
written by garantie assurance auto, June 15, 2011
Adam Kufled is a really interesting pesron thanks! I also was in El savador during that time so I completely understand it!
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