When mass murder becomes commonplace, after a while the evidence is taken for granted. Joan Didion (b.
1934) describes a body dump in El Salvador.
'I drove up to Puerta del Diablo one morning in June of 1982, past the Casa Presidencial and the camouflaged watch towers
and heavy concentrations of troops and arms south of town, on up a narrow road narrowed further by landslides and deep crevices
in the roadbed, a drive so insistently premonitory that after a while I began to hope that I would pass Puerta del Diablo
without knowing it, just miss it, write it off, turn around and go back. There was horever no way of missing it.
Puerta del Diablo is a 'view site' in an older and distinctly literary tradition, nature as lesson, an immense cleft rock
through which half of El Salvador seems framed, a site so romantic and 'mystical', so theatrically sacrificial in aspect,
that it might be a cosmic parody of nineteenth-century landscape painting. The place presents itself as pathetic fallacy:
the sky 'broods', the stones 'weep', a constant seepage of water weighting the ferns and moss. The foliage is thick
and slick with moisture. The only sound is a steady buzz, I believe of cicadas.
Body dumps are seen in El Salvador as a kind of visitors' must-do, difficult but worth the detour. 'Of course you
have seen El Playon,' an aide to President Alvaro Maga`na said to me one day, and proceeded to discuss the site geologically,
as evidence of the country's geothermal resources. He made no mention of the bodies. I was unsure if he was sounding
me out or simply found the grothermal aspect of overriding interest. . . .
'Nothing fresh today, I hear,' an embassy officer said when I mentioned that I had visited Puerta del Diablo. 'Were
there any on top?' someone else asked. 'There were supposed to have been three on top yesterday.' The point
about whether or not there had been any on top was that usually it was necessary to go down to see bodies. The way down
is hard. Slabs of stone, slippery with moss, are set into the vertiginious cliff, and it is down this cliff that one
begins the descent to the bodies, or what is left of the bodies, pecked and maggoty masses of flesh, bone, hair. On
some days there have been helicopters circling, tracking those making the descent. Other days there have been militia
at the top, in the clearing where the road seems to run out, but on the morning I was there the only people on top were a
man and a woman and three small children, who played in the wet grass while the woman started and stopped a Toyota pickup.
She appeared to be learning how to drive. She drove forward and then back toward the edge, apparently following the
man's signals, over and over again.
We did not speak, and it was only later, down the mountain and back in the lands of the provisionally living, that it
ocurred to me that there was a definite question about why a man and a woman might choose a well-known body dump for a driving
lesson. This was one of a number of occassions, during the two weeks my husband and I spent in El Salvador, on which
I came to understand, in a way I had not understood before, the exact mechanism of terror.'
Joan Didion, Salvador,
PUB. CHATTO & WINDUS, LONDON, 1983