Reader Opinion: Death squads

Want to understand current events? Look back at Central America 40 years ago.


At night, they wrestled people from their homes and left them in unmarked graves. El Salvador. Forty years ago. As with Roman Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero, any who dared speak in opposition to El Salvador’s dictator became death squad targets. Minnesotans took turns accompanying each of the 20 pastors serving in the tiny Lutheran Church of El Salvador. They were life insurance because dictators didn’t want to risk killing U.S. citizens. These dictators slaughtered their own people, accusing them of being communists, thus gleaning financial support from U.S. administrations. The pastors were trying to help their people. Dictators raked in money and power, while our government stood in their defense. This scenario repeated across Central America.

U.S. involvement enabled American corporations to flood in, cheaply buy up farmland and start huge sugar, coffee and banana plantations. Our stock market benefited through workers’ low wages. Soon enough, corporations found cheaper land/labor elsewhere and moved to other countries leaving the locals without income, farmland, vocation or hope. Decades of U.S. involvement helped create the political, economic and social troubles that still riddle those nations.

I learned these things from Lutheran magazines, newspapers, television and folks who managed to escape to Minnesota. Dictators then. Gangs now. Want to understand current events? Look back.

Janet Kurtz, retired Spanish teacher at BHS and CLC, worked and lived with the people there. She translated and advocated for them in U.S. courts, hospitals, jobs and along the “Overground Railroad” to Canada. Janet wrote “Northern Shores/Southern Borders – Revelations of a Bilingual Life” to help us better understand why our fellow human beings continue to flee northward. Her excellent book is available online at CLC Bookstore, proceeds funding the Spanish/Latin American Scholarship; or at Cattales and The Crossing Arts Alliance.

Darrell J. Pedersen



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