Perquin is a tiny mountain town in the most remote part of El Salvador. During the 1980s it was at the center of the largest liberated zone in the country and was known as the “guerrilla capital.” The Summer Festival began in 1992 to celebrate the end of the war, when the area around Perquin was still full of revolutionary fighters waiting to go through the official demobilizing process supervised by UN officials. The festival has run every year since.
To give a thorough account of the crazy kaleidoscope that is this festival would require a book. Many former revolutionaries still live in Perquin in little houses they were given after the war. Nearby is a community of several thousand people who fled in refugee camps across the border in Honduras and only returned at the end of the war. These people are still dirt poor, and still deeply affected by the war. This festival was, and is, their festival. But times change, and the festival today also features a professional sound system, heavy metal bands with names like Hazardous Mutation, chartered buses of city kids coming up the newly paved road for a day of smoking weed and listening to their favorite bands play in the countryside, and banners from the far right ARENA party. Despite the fact that the FMLN (the former guerrilla organization) has won the last 3 presidential elections, their last time out they lost the mayor’s office of Perquin for the first time – to the far right ARENA party. People in Perquin are not happy with the FMLN today, both locally and what the national party has become.
As former revolutionary and new friend put it, “Welcome to democracy.” There is also a severe drought affecting the entire nation which has turned the subsistence corn fields of the campesinos a sickly brown. Welcome to climate change. It looks like the country will lose 80% of its crops this year. There were campesinos at the festival from a nearby village which no longer has water – people must walk, bus, or drive to get water.
My performance was sandwiched between political street theater from local campesino teenagers about the drought and the privatization of water in the county, and a set by Sangre de Guerra, a rock band formed entirely of children of former guerrilla fighters.
OK. That is the nuts and bolts of the matter. To say anything insightful or even slightly intelligent about all of this, or my own feelings about returning here for the first time since the war, will require reflection. A whole lot of reflection.