Students Examine Contemporary Central America

By John Grennan

Central America’s civil wars ended in the early 1990s, but Saint Mary’s students who traveled to Nicaragua and El Salvador during Jan Term found that psychological wounds linger and poverty still plagues the region.

"There’s something wrong with economic conditions in Central America and there’s something wrong with U.S. involvement in Central America, and we encourage you to learn more," said senior John Stratton, one of 15 students in Margaret Dick and Michael Barram’s "Nicaragua and El Salvador: Religion and Politics in Conflict" travel course.

In a Feb. 19 presentation at the Soda Center, students shared stories about working in Nicaraguan coffee fields and meeting people living at the La Chureca dump outside Managua. In El Salvador, they heard chilling first-hand accounts from individuals directly affected by the violence that engulfed the country from 1980 to 1992, when more than 75,000 people were killed.

Senior Ian McQueary talked about his Salvadoran host, Lolo, a survivor of a 1980s village massacre in which more than 750 people were killed. Lolo and members of his family escaped after hiding in a cave for days.

Sophomore Tim Huey noted that many Salvadoran military leaders who directed the country’s mass killings in the 1980s were trained at the U.S. military’s School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Ga.

Students said Salvadorans want Americans to know what happened in their country and to prevent future violence in the region.

"They asked us to tell their story and to do our part to close the School of the Americas," McQueary said.