Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen

From the tops of mountains in El Salvador’s Morazan Province, a clandestine radio station broadcasted scenes and testimonies from the Central American country’s civil war. The group hid from military on foot and in the air by broadcasting from hills dense with trees and conducting radio shows from within damp caves in the mountains.

Between 1980 and 1991, the Republic of El Salvador was engulfed in a civil war with several left-wing guerrilla groups who accused the United States backed Salvadoran government of human rights abuses. Throughout the war, the left-wing guerilla associated Radio Venceremos broadcasted thousands of hours. Now a partnership with the University of Texas at Austin and a Salvadoran museum is helping bring 3,000 hours of Radio Venceremos recordings online.

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"My hope is that young Salvadorans and descendants of Salvadorans will approach these recordings and learn about the country's contemporary history and learn more about their culture,” explained Carlos Henríquez Consalvi, the co-founder of Radio Venceremos, and founder and director of the Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen (MUPI), the Salvadoran museum that houses the recordings.

Radio Venceremos, which translates to “Radio Overcome,” was an influential and clandestine radio station associated with the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), the left-wing guerrilla group that fought the Salvadoran military. Confrontations with the government increased amid reports of human rights violations by government troops and deaths squads. Radio Venceremos risked their lives to broadcast inside caves in mountains of El Salvador.

During the civil war, the Radio Venceremos team would broadcast from within caves in the mountains of El Salvador to hide from military conducting aerial searches. (1981 photo, courtesy of Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen)

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"For a historian looking at the contemporary history of Central America, regardless of their ideologues, these records are relevant because they offer unique information through cultural and historical programs that go beyond any political position,” Consalvi went on to tell Fusion, speaking in Spanish in a telephone conversation.

The station was the first to broadcast news of the infamous massacre at El Mozote where the Salvadoran army’s Atlacatl Battalion killed hundreds of men, women, and children. A 1993 United Nations Truth Commission report called the event an “appalling massacre.” Radio Venceremos was also the first to broadcast the voice of the lone survivor from El Mozote, Rufina Amaya.

The archives also offer a glimpse into what led to the mass migration of Salvadorans into the U.S. over the past three decades. A 2013 Pew study found Salvadorans may soon replace Cubans as third-largest U.S. Hispanic group in the U.S., ranking behind Mexican and Puerto Ricans. The majority of Latinos in the U.S. reside in California, Texas and New York.

The Salvadoran population in the U.S. is relatively young. The median age is 29 compared to 41 for whites, which means the vast majority of Salvadorans in the U.S. are immigrants or descendants of immigrants who migrated in recent decades. The archivists say they hope the archives will connect with Salvadorans regardless of how long they’ve been in the U.S.

“I hope that online public access to the archive will help break the silence around the painful histories and memories of the civil war period, particularly for Salvadoran youth and the diaspora, and help facilitate a collective healing process through education and a more profound connection to the histories of the pueblo Salvadoreño,” said T-Kay Sangwand, a human rights archivist at UT Austin’s Benson Library.

Radio broadcast were recorded on cassette tapes. (Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen)

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Sangwand collaborated with Consalvi and MUPI on the project to digitize the cassette recordings of Radio Venceremos and create the online digital archive. She says the archive serves as a powerful testimony of resistance and resilience in El Salvador.

“One of the most powerful aspects of this collaboration is that all the work of digitizing and describing the archival material is conducted by Salvadorans in El Salvador, which promotes a strong sense of empowerment and ownership of the histories within the local communities,” Sangwand told Fusion.

Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes apologized for the Mozote massacre in 2012. He referred to the events as "the worst massacre of civilians in contemporary Latin American history".

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The Radio Venceremos archive resides in the Museum of the Word and Image in San Salvador, El Salvador. You can listen to the full recordings online at the UT Austin's Human Rights Documentation Initiative website.