El Salvador faces an epidemic of violent deaths. The country has the highest murder rate in Latin America, and August 2006 was the bloodiest month yet with 370 murders in the small Central America nation.
In reaction, well-known Salvadoran artist Mayra Barraza has created a blog 100 días en la República de la Muerte (100 Days in the Republic of Death). Her project began on September 1, and each day gives an accounting of the deaths that day by violence in the country, taken from the pages of El Salvador's two leading papers, La Prensa Grafica and El Diario de Hoy.
She describes the project in her first post:
Comienzo este ejercicio con la sensación de estar haciendo algo contra el sentido común. Las personas normales no buscan la muerte. La rehuyen. Quizas buscan la vida. Yo también. Pero no puedo seguir así.
Leo el periódico todos los días. De atrás para adelante. "Porqué" me pregunta mi hijito de 9 años. Prefiero comenzar por las noticias más bonitas - le digo - las de cultura. Al acercarme a las noticias de nacionales, día tras día, me choca lo que veo: los crímenes cometidos, la sordidez de los hechos, y la ligereza con que pasan a sumarse una y otra vez al olvido.
Conversando con un amigo sobre lo que quería hacer con este blog, me hacía una interesante observación: "los muertos no los vemos, no están en la calle, están en las noticias". Me hizo dudar, como si dispusiera a meterme a un mundo de sombras, donde no se reconoce la realidad de la ilusión. Pero allá voy, estoy dispuesta a ello. Quiero saber...
I begin this exercise with the sensation of doing something against common sense. Normal persons do not look for death. They flee it. Perhaps they search for life. Me too. But I cannot continue like this.
I read the newspaper every day. From the back to the front. "Why?", my small son of nine years asks me. I prefer to begin with the prettiest news -- I tell him -- the culture news. As the national news comes to me day after day, what I see shocks me: the crimes commited, the sordidness of the events, and the shallowness with which they are summarized time and again into oblivion.
Conversing with a friend about what I would like to do with this blog, he made an interesting observation: "We do not see the dead. They are not in the streets. They are in the news." It made me doubt, as if I would be setting out to put myself in the world of shadows, where one does not recognize the reality from illusion. But there I go. I am ready for it. I want to know...
Each day she has a short snippet about each of the muders reported in the daily paper:
1. A 40 year old man was murdered yesterday....The victim had been cut up with a knife.
2. Jose H.F., 26 years old, was found dead...the body showed the impact of two bullets....
After accounting for the deaths of that day, Barraza has used the space in her blog to engage in a dialog with those who comment send her e-mail about the meaning of violence and death in the modern reality of El Salvador.
The rest of the Salvadoran blogosphere has taken notice of the project. Blogger Hunnapuh notes that this is not exactly the best way(es) to present El Salvador before the rest the rest of the world (especially since Hunnapuh would like to see a growth of tourism in his country) but acknowledges that it reflects the sad reality in which they live. Hunnapuh's only crtique of the project is Barraza's use of the conservative newspapers as her sources, which may leave out certain deaths which are politically uncomfortable for their owners.
Soy Salvadoreño disagrees(es) with Barraza's project. He finds it neither good nor original. Why, he wonders, does someone want to count deaths already reported in the newspapers? He would much prefer to see blogs devoted to responses and solutions, and notes with dismay the messages of support Barraza has received from many prominent names in El Salvador's artistic community.
In contrast, Jacintario finds the idea behind the 100 Days of the Republic of Death to be an intersting one. Defending the blog(es) against those who believe that it glorifies violence and believe that blogs should talk only about the pretty things of El Salvador, she notes that even if it is only a grain of sand, the 100 Days project is an important effort to make Salvadorans reflect on how violent death has become part of daily life in the country.
Ligia at Que Joder takes her own opportunity to reflect on the violence with an essay based on the writings of social psychologist and Jesuit priest Ignaciao Martín-Barró:
La sociedad salvadoreña ha emergido de un largo conflicto armado, y ha iniciado, en teoría, un tránsito a la consolidación democrática. Pero la manera de ejercer el control social en la sociedad salvadoreña sigue siendo, por antonomasia, el uso de la violencia, practicada en todos los ámbitos: en la política, para mantener el control sobre el Estado nacional y los gobiernos locales, así como para imponer un tipo determinado de sociedad; en los lugares de trabajo, para imponer las condiciones del mismo; incluso en la familia, para el sometimiento de las mujeres y los niños y niñas. La violencia es un medio para transmitir valores y normas sociales que orientan la vida cotidiana en la sociedad salvadoreña.(Martín-Barró was himself a victim of a violent El Salvador, when he was assasinated with 5 other Jesuits by forces linked to the Salvadoran government in 1989).
Salvadoran society has emerged from a long armed conflict and has begun, in theory, a transition to democratic consolidation. But the manner of exercising social control in Salvadoran society continues to be, par excellence, the use of violence, practiced in every sphere: in the political, in order to maintain control by the nation state and the local governments, to impose a specific type of society; in the workplace, in order to impose the conditions of work; including the famility, for the submission of the women and children. Violence is a means for transmiting the values and social norms that orient the everyday life of Salvadoran society.
Also posted on Global Voices.