Keeping up (dis)appearances in El Salvador

by | Aug 30, 2022 | World

In her brief book Salvador, penned during the bloody Salvadoran civil war of 1979-92, Joan Didion reflects on the Spanish word “desaparecer,” meaning “to disappear”. She notes that its “flexibility” in Spanish as both a transitive and intransitive verb had “been adopted by those speaking English in El Salvador, as in John Sullivan was disappeared from the Sheraton; the government disappeared the students”.Indeed, there was plenty of disappearing going on in the country — whether transitively or intransitively. The International Commission on Missing Persons, based in The Hague, estimates that about 9,000 people disappeared in El Salvador during the war. This is on top of the more than 75,000 people killed, with the majority of atrocities committed by the United States-backed right-wing military and associated death squads.
By coincidence, in 1992 — the year of the conflict’s ostensible end — the United Nations adopted a Declaration on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance. In 2010, the UN declared August 30 as the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.
But declarations and international days do not make missing people reappear.
Now, a full 30 years after “peace” was reached in El Salvador, the disappeared of the civil war have yet to be accounted for. It was not until 2017 that the Salvadoran government formed a commission to search for the missing, an effort that has yielded predictably anticlimactic results. Remains are exhumed here and there, but it’s not the sort of rig …

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