The Common Good

Testimonies of Terror

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While volunteering in a legal clinic in my sophomore year of college, interviewing people applying for political asylum in the U.S., I heard a lot of people describe how they had had to leave everything behind and flee into the jungle, carrying children on their backs.


I interviewed lots of people and read the personal statements of cases already filed, and all the stories were sickeningly similar. The basic skeleton of their stories was this: one day, a group of "communist/insurgent/fill in the blank" guerillas passed by my village begging for food. A few weeks later, a military group from the national army stormed the community, accusing us of being part of a rebellion. After enduring the military's accusations/threats/rapes/beatings/murder attempts, we survivors melted into the surrounding mountains and jungles. We walked for weeks, living like fugitives in foreign countries until we finally collapsed within the border of California.


It was always the same story, the same timeline of events. The only deviations from the testimony were in those grisly details: "all the men in my village were shot in the head," or "all teens were forced to join the army," or "all the ladies and girls were violated." Once I interviewed a client who remembers soldiers kicking his pregnant mother in the abdomen. She gave birth in the jungle, three days later, to a stillborn baby. Another time a child returned from farming to find his entire community shot dead in the center of the village. Once, a man came into our clinic seeking help on his asylum case, and when he told about how he had helped the army gather up all the leaders of the village into a church and set it on fire, we turned him away.


It wasn't even until a few weeks into the volunteer work that someone told me about the United States' involvement in the massacres. The military dictators and officers that created the structures and protocols for combating "communism" in the 1980s and 1990s attended military training programs in the United States. Their armies are funded generously by our government. Some were politically supported in the world arena when they staged their coup d'etats against democratically elected administrations. I know that if the people of the United States heard even a few of the stories from people that had miraculously survived village massacres, they would be in Fort Benning every year en masse, protesting the School of Americas with us.

Anna Almendrala is the marketing and circulation assistant for Sojourners.

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