Reached by telephone in Spain, Claribel Alegria explains to a Times reporter why her 1966 novella is only now appearing in English: “Bud (her husband, Darwin J. Flakoll) translated it, but Carmen (Balcells, of Barcelona, her agent) said no one wanted to do it. In 1967, you have to remember, no one in the United States was worrying about El Salvador.”
In 1989, her novella may seem timelier, but--Alegria is asked--have its clues about the protracted conflict in El Salvador not dated during a full generation of lag time? She responds that there are both continuities and discontinuities. Having witnessed the 1932 Izalco massacre as a girl of 7, she insists that since then if not earlier El Salvador has never not been in a condition of civil war. There are discontinuities as well, however, not least, she says, the access of the ‘80s rebels to arms other than the machetes they fought with in the ‘30s.
Alegria sees the importance of a recent Soviet offer to ban all arms transfers to Central America (that is, from intermediaries like Nicaragua and Cuba as well as from the superpowers) as symbolic rather than strategic. “The FMLN gets more of its arms from the Salvadoran army,” she explains; “There is a split in the army. Some officers think an FMLN victory is inevitable” and are hedging their bets by selling to the rebels. “The Contras sell to the FMLN too,” she adds. In short, in El Salvador, both sides are often fighting with American weapons, which diminishes the direct military significance of the Soviet offer.
Alegria herself does not in any event foresee an FMLN military victory but hopes instead for “ serious negotiations” and a “bloodless transformation” like those that have swept Eastern Europe. She sees the U. S. challenged to stand by for major changes in Central America as the Soviet Union has stood by for the same in Eastern Europe. “Gorbachev in Eastern Europe makes it harder for the U. S. to intervene in Central America,” she says.
Alegria’s father was a well-to-do physician like Dr. Rojas in “Ashes of Izalco.” Though his politics were conservative, he had been a college classmate of Farabundo Marti and (a scene re-created in her novel “Luisa in Realityland”) once hid Marti from the army and smuggled him, disguised as a beggar, to the Guatemala border.
Alegria and Flakoll now reside in Nicaragua but would return to in San Salvador if they could, she says. Meanwhile, as she makes clear in one anecdote after another, family histories like hers illumine, even as they complicate, Central America’s unfinished political struggle.