Andrés (Drew) McKinley is a U.S. citizen raised in the picturesque and comfortable New England town of Hingham, Massachusetts. After four years of teaching school in the jungles of northern Liberia, he spent over forty years in Central America working…
For the love of the struggle: Memoirs from El Salvador
The Spanish edition of this book was presented as an offering during the ceremonial mass commemorating the 32nd anniversary of the slaying of 6 Jesuit priests by the army during El Salvador’s civil war.
From his home in El Salvador where he has lived over four decades, the author shares an intimate personal and political memoir that follows his remarkable journey from the comfort and security of a picturesque New England town to a stirring and heroic engagement in common cause with the struggle for peace and justice in El Salvador.
After four years as a Peace Corp worker in northern Liberia beginning in the late 1960’s, followed by a stretch back in the United States as a street worker in the ghettos of North Philadelphia, McKinley finds himself in Central America as an aid worker in 1978. He quickly becomes engulfed by the political violence of the region and engaged with the people and their struggles against five decades of military dictatorship, centuries of poverty and exploitation. The story is marked by terror, adventure and courage, by trials and tragedy redeemed by the beauty and transcendence of people in struggle.
Originally based in Guatemala heading up a Catholic relief agency, his commitment to the struggles for change in the country attracts the attention of the military, and his own government, forcing him to leave the country in late 1980. He moves to El Salvador where he begins a gradual incursion into the revolutionary struggle of this country, in a commitment that will last the rest of his life.
Interwoven with this personal journey, is the story of Teresa Rivas, her husband Antonio, and their five children, a peasant family whose commitment as catequists with the Jesuit, Rutilio Grande, led to their eventual incorporation into the guerrilla forces of the FMLN after Grande’s assassination in 1977. The book describes the circumstances under which the author meets Antonio Rivas and family in the war zones of El Salvador, falls in love with them and their cause, and commits to accompanying their struggle through its darkest hours during the most violent years of the war. It also describes their life after the war, with resettlement in the lowlands of Guazapa where many ex-combatants were building a new life.
Interwoven with these stories, is the epic of a decades-long people’s struggle for economic justice, human rights and authentic democracy in El Salvador. The book lays out the social, economic and political origins of the armed struggle that caught fire in the 1970s, and the experiences of a people in desperate pursuit of non-violent options for democratizing their country and assuring a dignified life for the impoverished and marginalized majority of its population. It explains in detail the gradual emergence of the objective and subjective conditions for revolution in El Salvador, including the difficult choice for the use of violence as the only available option for transformative change in the country.
The book also details the challenges of reconstruction after the Peace Accords that end the war in 1992, and the tragedy of opportunities lost during the immediate post-war period in the face of the ongoing resistance of traditional opponents to reform. The author—himself deeply involved during these years in support of non-violent political organizing and advocacy—describes the efforts to sustain peace and to resolve the issues that continue to threaten the country with political violence. One of these is the water crisis that threatens the viability of the nation and life itself, and the book reveals the processes of organizing behind the ultimately-successful 17 year struggle to ban metallic mining—an historic victory in 2019 approved by a vote in the National Assembly, and without precedent in the world.
As the memoir closes, the author reflects on his choice to be in El Salvador over the past 43 years, and the country as he finds it in these changing times; on the family with whom he has shared love and life there; on his continuing relationship with Antonio Rivas and his surviving family; and his gradual reconciliation, from a distance, with the country of his birth.
With a Foreword by Charlie Clements, author Witness to War (Bantam, 1984) and Former Executive Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.
Andrés McKinley has penned a beautiful, moving love story – a stunning tribute to his family and country of birth and to his family and country of re-birth. Read it also as a tribute to a generation whose best and brightest members seized the opportunity to be a part of the social justice movements that were unfolding around the world. Theirs was not a journey for fame or for fortune. Baby-boomers, read this book to remember; others, read this to understand not only the sacrifices made but, more importantly, the fulfillment gained. May others follow Andres’s path to love, wherever it may take take them. — Robin Broad (Guggenheim Fellow) and John Cavanagh (director, Institute for Policy Studies), coauthors
of The Water Defenders: How Ordinary People Saved a Country from Corporate Greed (Beacon Press, 2021).
The voice is simple, authentic, articulate, and consistent and coherent throughout. Given the unique and dramatic personal story that Andrés tells, it is actually understated and quiet—restrained intensity is how I might describe it. What really sets it apart, though, is the intimacy, care and respect with which he describes and tells the stories of the Salvadorans with whom he shared life and struggle throughout these years (and for that matter the villagers in Liberia in his early Peace Corps years). … It is a work of great humility, even as it tells a heroic tale without flinching, and in great detail. Nor is he romantic about the course that the struggle has taken; he is unflinching in that as well, and so leaves history open-ended but blessed with the grace of those who struggle. — Brian K. Murphy, writer and organizer, former policy analyst at Inter Pares, who writes at MurphysLog.ca
This is a very impressive book which tells a truly remarkable personal story, without the story becoming purely personal. In fact, there is a great deal of political history in the book, which I can confirm as I also studied as well as lived through some of the Salvadorean civil war. The truly incredible Salvadorean peasants who stayed in the war zones despite army incursions and US backed aerial bombing, are just as he describes them. They led me also to a lasting respect and love for them, even with- out the long term depth of experience of the author. The way the author brings us so many personal stories is very powerful. We get to know the friends he makes and then to feel as he did, when they lost their loved ones in this horrendous violence un- leashed on the Salvadorean poor and their allies by the Salvadorean wealthy elites, their military and US backers. — Jenny Pearce, Research Professor, Latin America and Caribbean Centre, London School of Economics
Andrés McKinley’s book For the Love of the Struggle is a moving and personal account of his involvement in the fight for justice in El Salvador during the civil war of the 1980s. But more than the events he describes, with great detail and political insight, it is his love for the people of El Salvador that sets this book apart. From working with church related organizations, to joining the guerrillas in the liberated zones, to his work along the communities opposing metallic mining, it is his relation- ship with the people, particularly the humbler ones, which stands out.
Most books that deal with the civil war in El Salvador end with the signing of the Peace Accords, which put an end to the armed conflict and laid the foundation for a more democratic and just El Salvador. As important as the Peace Agreements were, they did not solve all the problems and conflicts of the country. When several rural communities were threatened in the early 2000s by the efforts of trans- national gold mining interests, they rose in defense of their rights through social organization and peaceful opposition. In spite of the repression they suffered, after 17 years of struggle they finally prevailed, showing how people united, can bring about change.
This belief is particularly important now, at a moment in which our democratic insti- tutions are being threatened precisely by those who should be the first to protect them. It is the role of organized civil society to defend what we have conquered and McKinley’s book is an excellent and timely reminder that this is something possible and necessary to achieve.— Francisco Altschul is a former Salvadoran Ambassador to the United States