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 Global Perspective

June 28, 2004
Vol. 2, No. 10

Claudia Rodríguez
Claudia Rodríguez is a Salvadoran economist who works with Latino immigrants in Maryland.



Natividad was already a hero for his family long before going to war. He was a hero because he sacrificed his childhood and teenage years to support his family; because he struggled for a better future in a country with few opportunities.

The absurdity of fighting in Iraq

By Claudia Rodríguez

I feared that sooner or later it was going to happen. On April 5, I read in the news that eight U.S. soldiers and one Salvadoran had died in Iraq during attacks the day before. Immediately I looked on the Internet for Salvadoran news about my fellow citizen who was killed.

In fact, reading the local newspaper I learned that the Salvadoran soldier mentioned in The Washington Post was a 19 year-old peasant named Natividad Mindez Ramos. At that moment the participation of Salvadoran troops in Iraq became ever more absurd for me.

Natividad should have been in school and not fighting a war thousands of miles from home. What business do Salvadorans have in the US war in Iraq? As if my country s 12 year-civil war was not enough to keep the country bleeding.

Learning about Natividad's short life moved me. He was not just a soldier but a symbol of his country's people, a symbol of an impoverished society. Natividad's father died when he was five years old, forcing him and his five brothers to start working the land at a young age. Like many children in El Salvador, he could not study beyond 6th grade because he needed to labor in the fields to support his family. But because agriculture is no longer profitable in El Salvador, Natividad like many peasant farmers had to search for another way to earn a living. At 15 years old, Natividad joined the army looking for a better future for his family.

As a soldier, Natividad became the primary breadwinner for his family. His sense of responsibility was so deep that he built a decent home for his mother to replace the shack where she lived. Last December, before he went to Iraq, Natividad worked to bring electricity to light his mother's house. Even his name is symbolic: Natividad means Nativity in Spanish.

Natividad died in Najaf, becoming the first casualty of the Salvadoran Cuscatlan Battalion. The Battalion is part of the Plus Ultra brigade, which was initially made up of Honduran, Nicaraguan and Dominican Republic troops, under the direction of the Polish and Spanish armies. Nativity died tortured just before Easter Week like a modem Jesus Christ.

Editor's Note
         Salvadoran President Elias Antonio Saca said June 26 that his country's troops deployed in the Iraqi city of Najaf will be moved "to a safer place" till their mission ends in July. Saca said the decision to move the Cuscatlan Battalion was made so that their humanitarian tasks are conducted "with a better protection."
         He also said that a third contingent of Salvadoran soldiers could be sent to Iraq to replace the current one. "If the decision to send the third contingent contributes to the peace in Iraq and helps the new Iraqi government, we wouldn't doubt to authorize," he said.
         In February, El Salvador sent about 380 soldiers to Iraq to replace another group of 360 soldiers that had been deployed there for six months to carry out reconstruction tasks.
         El Salvador is the only country of the five that comprised the Plus Ultra Brigade, led by Spain in Najaf, that decided to maintain their troops in Iraq after the Spanish, Nicaraguan, Honduran and Dominican contingents withdrew.
Natividad was buried in Guaymango, the impoverished village where he was born. The army gave him a funeral with military honors and top military officials attended. The U.S. ambassador to El Salvador gave his condolences to Natividad's mother and thanked her for his great sacrifice. The Salvadoran government expressed its sorrow for Natividad's death and declared him a National Hero.

One must give credit to the Salvadoran government for giving Natividad the honors he deserved after his death. But, can all these honors bring Natividad back to life? Can these honors make up for depriving Natividad of the right of enjoying a childhood in a peaceful and harmonious environment? Can these honors make up for depriving Natividad of education and other basic needs?

Natividad was already a hero for his family long before going to war. He was a hero because he sacrificed his childhood and teenage years to support his family; because he struggled for a better future in a country with few opportunities.

Salvadoran President-Elect Antonio Saca reaffirmed (see box) his commitment to support the U.S.-led coalition efforts despite the withdrawal of Spanish, Honduran and Dominican troops. The Cuscatlan Battalion is the only part of the Plus Ultra brigade that will remain in Iraq.

Why does the Salvadoran government keep its 380 soldiers in Iraq where they will likely become cannon fodder? How many young Salvadoran men like Natividad must die in support of the Bush administration?

In the United States, Secretary of State Collin Powell praised El Salvador for meeting its commitment and hoped Salvadoran troops will stay long after the United States hands sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government, which came unexpectedly today.

Meanwhile, in El Salvador, the tears and the pain of Natividad's mother are still flowing.

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