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.