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Chapter 3 – The Years of "Guindas"

During the 1980s, thousands of people were displaced from their homes by violence in rural El Salvador. Through harsh experience, rural populations learned that the Salvadoran military employed "scorched earth" tactics, destroying all signs of life in operations intended to eliminate potential supporters of the guerrillas. With the first signs of an impending military operation, entire communities fled into the countryside with only the supplies they could carry, a process referred to in El Salvador as "guindas." Though sometimes escorted by guerrillas, the majority of participants in the "guindas" were non-combatants, including pregnant women, infants and children, and elderly people. During the "guindas," civilians were targeted by the military in close-quarters massacres and by indiscriminate aerial bombing. Others drowned while attempting to cross rivers; in the infamous "Las Aradas Massacre" in 1980, some 600 people died attempting to cross the Sumpul River while under fire from Salvadoran and Honduran troops. These ordeals often lasted many days; during the "May Guinda" in 1982, thousands of people from the area of Arcatao, Chalatenango, spent more than three weeks on the run from a military "cleansing operation", suffering from sickness and starvation. Anyone found by the Salvadoran military was killed or captured, including lost children, who survivors believe were taken by the military and passed into illegal adoption networks. This chapter includes accounts of these experiences by those who endured them, often times repeatedly, during the early years of the war.

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