Businessweek Archives

The Dogs Of War Make Way For The Pigs Of Peace


Letter From El Salvador

THE DOGS OF WAR MAKE WAY FOR THE PIGS OF PEACE

A few weeks ago, 60-year-old Leonias Acosta and some fellow farmers were mulling their problem over liquor and coffee at the wake of their friend Jorge. "Chickens. We can use chickens," said one farmer. "Chickens are too small," answered Acosta. Then, it came to him in a flash: pigs.

El Salvador's 12-year civil war ended in February with a U. N.-mediated settlement, and people all across this tiny country are glorying in the sweet joys of peace. They walk the streets late at night, buy gas from fancy automated gas stations that are no longer sabotage targets, and paint their houses without fear that the fresh coat will be defaced by political graffiti. Despite the joys, however, adjustments need to be made. Big and small.

Take Acosta and his friends. For them, the end of the war means a return to the small farms they were forced to abandon. Before they can go back to raising watermelons and corn, however, they have a nasty problem. As a defense against the Salvadoran army, guerrillas of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) planted land mines in the areas they controlled, including their stronghold at the foot of Guazapa volcano, which skirts the farmers' plots.This is where the pigs come in. Over the next few weeks, the farmers will buy hundreds of pigs to roam the fields and set off the mines. Says Acosta: "They are very curious animals."

PORK BOOM. Arnulfo Climaco, who led a large rebel unit on the volcano, insists that his men did not bury mines indiscriminately. The mines were made with nails, masking tape, and, for an explosive, nitrate phosphate from fertilizer. Conventional metal-detecting equipment is of little use, and Climaco's men have only crude rebel maps to help them find the devices. "We know the exact location of all mines," says Climaco, who resembles a bearded university professor. "Well," he hesitates, "most of them."

Climaco asks the farmers to be patient, but Acosta can't wait. If the pig method works, he says, he hopes to harvest this spring. "We'll eat pork rinds for quite some time," he adds.

Back in the capital of San Salvador, the signs of peace are more subtle. With the end to hostilities, one would expect a booming business in scrap from the tons of fancy wrought-iron gates, concertina wire, and other security barriers that rich Salvadorans erected around their compounds. But the barricades remain in place. Even before the war, impoverished, hard-drinking El Salvador had a horrendous homicide rate. Now that it's easy to trade up from machetes to automatic weapons, crime is rampant, and the grounds of the mansions are about as accessible as an embassy in Beirut.

NO SHADE. Which brings up the subject of the U.S. embassy--or embassies, to be precise. Completed just six months before peace was signed, the new embassy was designed to be guerrilla-proof. Set on 26 acres on the outskirts of San Salvador, the chancery and the ambassador's residence are little more than cement boxes with tiny, bulletproof windows, set on grounds devoid of anything that could provide cover. Only the residence is used. All work is done downtown at the original embassy.

The end to the civil war was surprisingly sudden. December saw firefights near the capital. A few weeks later, guerrilla commanders who once would have been shot on sight were being shuttled across the city under police protection. In February, the FMLN celebrated the end of the war at a rally complete with bands and T-shirt vendors in the city's public plaza. The crowd of 10,000 was made up primarily of FMLN supporters. But other Salvadorans showed up out of curiosity to see a real-life guerrilla commander.

Local businesses are beginning to stir. Before the war, El Salvador's economy was the best in Central America. But 12 years of war reduced its gross national product to the level of Haiti's. A young executive for a large company in San Salvador says that the day after peace was signed, his company invested $2 million in new industrial machinery.

Still, most Salvadorans are only slowly shaking wartime habits. One recent morning at dawn, two young men riding in the back of a pickup truck wore the red bandannas of the FMLN. It was a gesture none would have dared a few months ago, when such insignia marked one as a guerrilla. The truck stopped at a red light. Suddenly, the youths took off their scarves and hid them--as a truck full of soldiers approached.ANA ARANA Arana covered the war in El Salvador from 1987-1990.


We Almost Lost the Nasdaq
LIMITED-TIME OFFER SUBSCRIBE NOW

(enter your email)
(enter up to 5 email addresses, separated by commas)

Max 250 characters

 
blog comments powered by Disqus