short takes

A Kind of Victory

Remembering El Salvador’s struggle and those who covered it
July 17, 2009

“El Salvador is now the most dangerous country in the world for foreign journalists,” NBC’s John Chancellor told viewers on January 15, 1981. He had just reported that, while covering the conflict between U.S.-backed government forces and the leftist FMLN guerrillas, Olivier Rebbot, a French photographer freelancing for Newsweek, had been shot in the chest (seen here moments before; he later died in Miami). The civil war killed 75,000, including more journalists than the war in Vietnam. And the right stayed in power.

This year the FMLN, a political party since the war’s end in 1992, finally found victory: its candidate, Mauricio Funes, became president on June 1. A former TV journalist, Funes got his start covering the war, and lost a brother to the fighting. For many, the triumph closes a brutal chapter in Salvadoran history—though not entirely. Recently, former Time photographer Harry Mattison returned to San Francisco Gotera, where Rebbot was shot. Standing near the corner where he had shielded his wounded friend’s body, Mattison offered words Funes may understand. “Maybe you don’t cut yourself quite so sharply on the memories . . . but it never goes away.” (For images from the war by Rebbot and others, click here.)

Jacques Menasche is a writer and filmmaker who has worked extensively in Afghanistan and the Middle East. He is currently working on a documentary about French photographer Olivier Rebbot.