Salvadoran refugee women in Costa Rica

This discussion topic submitted by Shondricka Burrell ( at 3:23 pm on 8/11/99. Additions were last made on Wednesday, May 7, 2014.

Topic: Salvadoran refugee women in Costa Rica-- the war and the experience of it by the women, as told by the women.

I. Origins of the War
II. The Roots
III. Peasant Consciousness
IV. The War
V. Voices of the Women

I. Origins of El Salvador's Civil War
- There are economic, political, and social roots
Economic: there was an elitist economic structure controlled by a few members of the landowning class
° the expansion of an export-crop economy worsened the living conditions of the lower class- the peasantry, which comprised the majority of the nation's population
Politically: the majority was excluded from political participation, do democracy
° the ruling elite did not institute legislation or reform that would address the needs of the lower class. there was political
and economic isolation
Socially: the lower class organized collectively out of a new activist
consciousness about their situation, the government, and their
ability to transform it. these people were influenced by activist
Catholic clergy and lay people and hten organized by revolutionary
groups that provied structure for collective organization and action. (other peasants joined right-wing organizations)

II. The Roots
Economic roots: agriculture is the base of the economy with coffee being the main cash crop
° prior to the war in 1978 agriculture comprised 25.7% of the GDP while manufacturing was 18.7%
° in 1969 coffee was 9.1% of GDP, 35.8% of all agricultural produciton and 44.2% of exports. land area designated for coffee increased from 8.8% to 10.1% between 1961-1971 and export volume increased by 3.6%
° by 1978 coffee accounted for 53.2% of the value of exprts
The increased dependence of the economy on coffee is indicative of a lack of economic diversity.

B. Impact on rural ecnomy and social relations:
° communal property was privatized through laws that abolished collective property. these laws dated back to 1879, 1881 and 1882 and affected 25% of the cultivable land in El Salvador or 1.5million acres. the lower class were forced off their lands and into cash-crop agriculture
° coffee jarvesting is seasonal work-- from November to March. Coffee workers earn 1/3 of their salaries during this time then return to subsistence farming on the poorest agricultural plots in the country. With a population of 3.5million people growing at a rate of 157,000 per year in the 1960s, subsistence farming became insufficient.
° there is also a change in traditional agrarian relationships--an end to share cropping and the colonato. With colonato people are given a small plot of land in exchange for work on the landowner's estate. this was replaced by money rent only for land.
° land for cash crops grew while land for colonato decreased. land ownership for export crops became more concentrated and land for subsitence farming decreased.
--in 1961 19.8% of families were landless
in 1971 41.1% were landless
by 1966 3,000 families controlled 43% of te land and 463 properties covered 29% of the cultivated ladn

° there is inequality in the distribution of wealth. by 1980 the poorest 20% of the country earned 20% of the national income while the riches 20% earned 66%
° there was little industrial expansion but it did not create an empowered lower class that could be an agent of change nor did it absorb the increasing landless population
° the economy was dominated by the elite in that of the leading 26families in export-crop production, 23/26 were involved in processing and finance as well

C. Political roots:
° from 1932 (following the coupe and fraudulent elections) until the civil war the government can be characterized as military rule backed by the landed class and working to the benefit of the landed class
Characteristics: 1) a weak state consisting of an alliance between the military and the landed class. the military served to maintain the conditions necessary for the enrichment of the landowners. the political regime relied on a narrow base of support
2) division of positions of power. the armed forces control the major government positions and the landowning class control the economy
3) a limited opening of the political process to the participation by the middle class and urban workers after 1960--people could participate in popular political parties under strictly controlled conditions. ORDEN--Organizacion Democratica Nacionalista--and the Partido Democrata Cristiano were formed but issues of land redistribution, higher wages, etc. were resolved by military force and not political negotiation. the landowning class accepted political organization that didn't directly challenge their power.
° the Partido Democrata Cristiano gained seats in the legislature
° universities became the center of anti-government activism
° in 1972 a coalition of the Partido Democrata Cristiano, the Movimiento Nacional Revolucionario, and the Union Democratica Nacionalista won the electoral vote which challenged the government and so was overturned.
° revolution became more and more clearly the only viable option

III. Social Roots: the Peasant Consciousness
° peasant consciousness was influenced by the Catholic clergy which was in turn influenced by changes in Vatican II which allowed for patrons to address issues of social justice. --revolutionary theology
° the peasant class was already religious and also passive
° Catholic clergy trained individuals to become pastors which gave them a sense of control and a leadership role in their communities. this transformed the activist energy in the peasant communities providing a means and insight into the means of their situation and how to change it
° New organizations formed and old ones were revived:
Federacion Cristiana de Campesinos Salvadorenos
Union de Trabajadores del Campo
Fuerzas Populares de Liberacion
Ejercito Revolucionario del Pueblo

IV. The War
° the coalition that won the elections in 1972 won again in 1977 but the elections were overthrown again by the government
° there was fraud and intimidation
° opposition was repressed by the military. a protest of civilians in the main plaza in San Salvador led to 200 people being killed by the military over a period of 3days
° clergy and activists within the Catholic church were killed, tortured and exiled. slogans and pamphelts circulated stating "Be a patriot, kill a priest."

V. The experience of the women.
° Women saw their husbands and sons abducted, tortured, disappeared or killed. Fear was a tool to guard silence and repress opposition. Women may even fear claiming the bodies of loved ones thrown in mass graves to protect the rest of the family from further persecution.
° Women were raped in front of their families--children, husbands, parents--in their homes and in the churches they regarded as sacred, by one or several soldiers whether they were pregnant or not. This was a violation of their bodies, their unborn, and all they held to be valuable and sacred. This was mental, physical, and spiritual torture and the worst forms of degradation and demoralization.
° Some of these women sought refuge across the border in Costa Rica.

*** Read personal oral accounts of two women from the book: My Turn to Weep--Salvadoran Refugee Women in Costa Rica by Robin Ormes Quizar.

Byrne, Hugh (1996). El Salvador's Civil War--A Study in Revolution. Lynne Reiner: Boulder, Colorado pp.241

Quizar, Robin Ormes (1998). My Turn to Weep--Salvadoran Refugee Women in Costa Rica. Bergin & Garvey: Westport, Connecticut. pp.196

Other sources.
The Costa Rican Women's Movement--A reader (1997). Ilse Abshagen Leitinger (ed.) pp. 366

Bunster-Burotto, Ximena (1986). "Surviving Beyond Fear." In Women and Change in Latin America. (eds.) June Nash and Helen Safa. Bergin & Garvey: Hadley, Mass. p. 297-325

Golden, Renny (1991). The Hour of the Poor, The Hour of Women: Salvadoran Women Speak. Crossroad: New York

A Dream Compels Us: Voices of Salvadoran Women (1989). (ed.) New Americas Press. South End: Boston

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