More than two decades on from the cessation of open conflict, the Salvadoran Civil War continues to be remembered as one of the most traumatic and violent episodes in Central American history. Over twelve years, nearly 75,000 people were murdered or disappeared as paramilitary forces aligned with the country’s right-wing government and supported by the CIA waged a brutal campaign against leftist insurgents aligned with the Soviet Union. But those caught in the crossfire often had little to do with political ideologies, and since the peace accords were signed on January 16, 1992, a plethora of NGOs dedicated to uncovering the often brutal truth behind these crimes has cropped up across El Salvador and beyond.
Yet the extrajudicial nature of many of these disappearances often leads to dead ends for investigators seeking justice for the war’s victims, and one international journalist working for Buzzfeed has provided us with a harrowing chronicle of the complexities involved in recovering the historical record from that time. Intrigued by legends of a dozen or so trans sex workers disappeared by government forces in the fall of 1980, J. Lester Feder recruited the help of Nicola Chávez Courtright to find the truth within the legend. While Feder was able to identify a single eye witness and a handful of testimonies corroborating the incident, a non-existent official record combined with a lack of hard evidence made it nearly impossible for the investigators to provide a definitive narrative.
Nevertheless, Feder’s research provides a portrait of the events that speaks to the inhumanity of El Salvador’s brutal paramilitary forces and the plight of innocent citizens unwittingly caught up in a campaign of death and terror. More importantly, it highlights the continued difficulties of uncovering the truth more than twenty years on from a conflict that continues to reverberate in Salvadoran society to this day. Taking some highlights from Feder’s investigation, Buzzfeed put together The Disappeared Trans Sex Workers Of El Salvador, a short video featuring evocative black-and-white photography and atmospheric music for those of us without the free time for an in-depth long read. Check it out, and bookmark the article for later.