I determined I had to witness it for myself – and to bring those lessons back to my community.

For over a decade, I traveled in those countries. When I had the money, I would return to learn more about the pueblos’ experiences, their histories and cultures. I documented what I was taught in poetry and travelogues.

The National Geographic map that has accompanied me on many journeys to the region.

Since the mid-19th century, the United States has intervened over 100 times in Latin America’s affairs, installing governments that would protect its interests – especially economic and those of US corporations in the region. These interventions continue to this millennium, with such actions as those of the ouster of the democratically elected Honduran president in 2009. There are many other factors (such as the US market for drugs) that add to the region’s instability.

This is not meant to be a political piece. It is intended to share the lessons Guatemalans, Salvadorans, Hondurans and Nicaraguans taught me. I have penned dozens upon dozens of works – but today, I shall share only a couple with you.

I now invite you to join me on a journey through the history and lives of the people of Central America. We begin with a visit to Guatemala, and continue on to El Salvador. Then continue along with me at Latin America Wanderer.

Safe Journeys!

My first journeys to Guatemala were when the Civil War was still raging there. Some nights, I would listen to the rocket fire in the hills surrounded the villages. I spent several spells in San Juan Cotzal, Nebaj and  Chajul, the three main villages of the Ixil Triangle, deep in the Cuchumatanes Mountains of Guatemala. This was one of the hardest-hit areas of the country during its 35-year Civil War. The atrocities committed by the US-backed governments and their paramilitary groups were astounding. I spent many evenings in shuttered rooms, away from earshot of others, listening to the testimonies of those who lived through – and survived – those horrors.


San Juan Cotzal

The Saturday market streets are full of the

bargaining for housewares & chickens

in the sh-shs & clicks of Ixil

I wind past the crowded stalls to the church

Stone dust drifts through the nave

from a scaffold in the apse

It glitters in the filtered sunlight

On the left wall, Christ slumps upon a large crucifix

Small even-armed wooden crosses surround him,

names engraved of those victims

of the government abuses here

the disappeared, the kidnapped

the tortured, the assassinated

I sit on a nearby bench

studying their lives

Seventeen years of documentation

from 1974 to 91

many from 80, 81, 82

The clang of hammer upon rock

reverberates through this sanctuary

I mentally count the crosses, row upon row

like a halo around the Savior

Now & again I look furtively over to those workers

One, two, three hundred

four hundred     & seventy     four

crosses     474 lives       474

victims       martyrs

474 deaths

published in :

In Protest: 150 Poems for Human Rights (London, UK: Human Rights Consortium of the School of Advanced Study, University of London, October 2013)

During my first trip to El Salvador shortly after the peace accords were signed, I spent time in Morazán Department. I interviewed people in several villages – including Perquín, Segundo Montes and, yes, El Mozote – about their experiences during the civil war.

I was one of the first to reveal that El Mozote was being repopulated. In fact, I arrived on foot to that village just as the returnees were cleaning the ruins, to begin anew.

This is the poem I was compelled to write at that moment, sitting in the scant shade of the silhouette statue.



A village deserted for so long

after such a horror:

                Battalion Atlacatl, armed & trained in

                torture & so-called low-intensity warfare

                by the US of A, killed 1000 people here &

                in neighboring villages in Operación


One December night in ’81, the soldiers arrived and stayed.

The people of the village were forbidden to leave their homes.

The next morning, the soldiers gathered the people:

the men in one place…

the women in another…

the children in the convent.

First they interrogated / tortured / shot the men…

then they shot the women…

then the children…

The soldiers left their boasts on the walls of the now-empty homes

& laid torch to it all.

The campesinos & guerrilleros near saw the columns of smoke arising.

Some had heard the shots & shouts, the screams.

When they arrived all that was left was the bodies of 1000 people

being eaten by buzzards & dogs.

And now the air is disturbed

only by a slight breeze through the long-needled pines.

A silhouette sculpture of a family

man / woman / children holding hands

stands in the center of the village.

Roofless buildings – some with bullet & shell holes,

all with charred beams.

And from these ashes, from the debris of fallen roof tiles

you, the few survivors of that massacre

only six, with your new families]

arise like a Phoenix

to rebuild your homes & your community

still called El Mozote.

        published in :

Red River Review (August 2001)