Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Planting Trees Remedy for War in El Salvador

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Planting Trees Remedy for War in El Salvador

Article excerpt

SUCHITOTO, El Salvador -- When El Salvador's 12-year civil war ended in 1992, Augustin Flores realized peace needed to extend beyond politics, military policy and economics. It needed to reach the environment as well.

Flores lives in the shadow of the Guazapa volcano, north of the capital of San Salvador, a perfect vantage point from which to view what more than a decade of armed conflict had done to the lumbering 4,700-foot peak. a constant backdrop to his life. The Salvadoran military dropped 4,000 tons of bombs including napalm and white phosphorous, on the mountain and its people during the war. The bombing and subsequent fires destroyed much of the mountain's forest cover and wildlife.

Flores a former rear guard supporter of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, now works as the president of an agricultural cooperative on the mountain's north side. He has given up the rigors of combat and spends his time planting trees on the scarred mountainside.

"We've changed. During the war we were destroyers of life. Today, we're preservers of life," he said.

Flores' efforts to nurse Guazapa back to ecological health are part of an ambitious plan to convert swaths of the mountain into a "National Reconciliation Forest." The project involves planting 75,000 trees -- one for each person killed in the civil war -- high on the volcano's slopes. On lower slopes, agricultural communities are planting a "buffer zone" designed to provide them with wood for fuel and construction. Both sections of the forest will provide food and habitat for animals. protect fertile soils, and help dried-up streambeds recover their ability to flow year-round.

The cooperative has already reforested more than 90 acres of ridge bared by the bombings. The first 14 trees were planted, with blessings from Chalatenango Bishop Eduardo Alas, in memory of members of the cooperative killed during the war. "Trees are a fabulous symbol of both life and reconciliation," Alas said.

The reconciliation project also protects approximately 10,000 acres of woodland unscathed by the war, terrain housing several species of endangered birds, monkeys, iguanas and other animals.

In addition to controlling illegal logging operations, forest guards spend part of their time educating peasants and their children about environmentally safe practices. …

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