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Post Memories of Peace Corps in El Salvador
Created by John Eipper on 07/05/12 11:33 PM

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Memories of Peace Corps in El Salvador (Richard Hancock, USA, 07/05/12 11:33 pm)

Some weeks ago, John Eipper asked that I give him a "run-down" on our 50th-anniversary reunion of the El Salvador Peace Corps. We were the first group in Central America and the second in all of Latin America. The reunion is to be held in Washington, DC on October 23-24, 2012.

In my self-published autobiography (2008), I devoted 22 pages to our experience in El Salvador. We took Jim, our 8-month-old son, with us, and Susan, our second child, was born in El Salvador. Moreover, we brought our Salvadoran maid with us to Norman, Oklahoma, where she served us for three years. El Salvador was a rich experience for us and I will try to summarize it briefly.

We started out with 23 volunteers; two dropped out so that only 21 completed their two-year assignment. With Nancy, me and our Peace Corps doctor and his wife, there were 28 of us all together. We were a close-knit group and have held reunions every three to five years since the program ended early in 1964.

The volunteers ranged in age from 19 to 65. I first met them and Dr. Swan at the Peace Corps Outward Bound Center, Camp Crozier, in Puerto Rico, probably in early January of 1962. Nancy and I were engaged to help train them at New Mexico State U at Las Cruces. Before we finished the program in April, 1962, we decided we would like to go with them to El Salvador.

All of our volunteers were trained in agriculture. Most held BS degrees, but we also had two PhDs. When I visited Washington in August of 1962, I found that we were unique because we were practically the only agriculture group that the Peace Corps was ever able to recruit.

I could go on all day about the different experiences that we enjoyed in El Salvador, but I will here repeat only three of them. When a robbery attempt was made on our house, I went to see our landlord, Mr. Hamer, an American who was the brewmaster at La Constancia brewery. He asked me if I had a pistol. When I answered in the negative, he told me that he would provide us with a watch dog which he did. I asked his advice with regard to the pistol, thinking that I would make a citizen's arrest and call the police. He said no, that I should kill the robber and throw his body in the barranca that ran behind our house. He said no one in El Salvador called the police, and cited the case of a friend who had done just that. Two weeks later, his friend was walking down the street when this burglar came up and stabbed him.

According to a Time magazine article of the time, El Salvador was owned by 14 wealthy families. When El Salvador was visited by Sargent Shriver in January of 1963, Ambassador Murat Williams held a grand banquet for members of the 14, Shriver and Nancy and myself. He said that he hoped that Shriver could influence these people in helping the development of El Salvador. I sat next to a lady named Hill, who looked like a fairly typical upper-middle-class lady. She was asking me about my background, and I told her about my experiences with contract Mexican laborers in New Mexico. I said that I had 10,000 workers, employed by some 400 different farmers, under my supervision at certain times and that I had been with them in almost all kinds of predicaments known to man. She replied, "Yes, I know, we have 5,000 workers on our farm." I repeated this conversation to Shriver and he was amazed.

After I went to work at the University of Oklahoma, I visited El Salvador in 1966. When I had left El Salvador, on a strictly interim basis a young ex-volunteer who had served in Chile was put in charge of the Peace Corps. During his brief term as officer in charge, his parents visited him. In Peace Corps Director Fanning's words, "The young man thought it would be really keen for his parents to meet the president." He somehow managed to get an appointment and introduced "Mom and Dad" to the president. President Rivera was so impressed with the young man and his parents' genuineness and complete lack of pretense that from that moment to the end of his term, he became an ardent supporter of the Peace Corps. Fanning said that President Rivera was so intense about this support that he had to be careful and not by-pass the US Ambassador.

In regard to the reunion, we feel like members of a large family. The youngest volunteer was nineteen in 1962 when we first met him. He is now 69 with children and grandchildren. We have stayed in touch for all these years.

I have recently read a 50-page document of welcome to current Peace Corps volunteers in El Salvador. Things have greatly changed. The document warned PCVs not to wear flip-flops or sandals, to not display body piercings or tattoos. Shorts are forbidden. No pony tails or t-shirts are allowed, etc., etc. Our PCVs, being rational young people, had no need of such warnings.

As I look back at El Salvador, my thoughts turn to those who are no longer with us: Ruthy Burns, Jack and Lou Swan, and Bob O'Leary. Each of these contributed to the Peace Corps and to our lives in their own unique fashion and we miss them. "In the midst of life we are in death."

JE comments: Richard Hancock has captivated us in the past with his tales of life on the Western frontier.  These El Salvador memories are no less enthralling. I wish Richard, Nancy and the rest of the "Class of '62" a joyful reunion in October.

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  • Memories of Peace Corps in Brazil (David Fleischer, Brazil 07/07/12 1:08 AM)
    Memories of Peace Corps in Brazil

    As a comparison to Richard Hancock's memories of Peace Corps in El Salvador (6 July), I would like to describe my experiences as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Brazil at about the same time (1962-1964).

    Our Brazil I group began training at the National 4-H Club Center in Washington in early January 1962. Most of our group had been 4-H Club members or local 4-H county agents in several states before joining the Peace Corps. Some were college graduates, some had only a high school education, and the rest (like me) had dropped out of college to join this project. A few were 18 years old and some were older. I turned 21 shortly after we arrived in Brazil.

    Some had been "IFYEs"--had participated in the International Farm Youth Exchange program and spent six months living on a farm in a foreign country. I had been a 4-H club member in Columbia County in upstate New York and worked on several projects--dairy calf, chickens, sheep, gardening, and reforestation. I was recruited by my county 4-H club agent in mid-1961 and dropped out of Antioch College in December 1961 to join the training group.

    Our training in Washington permitted the participation of many area and technical experts regarding Brazil, Latin America, foreign relations and economic development. My only "foreign travel" before then was a family summer camping vacation trip to Canada in 1956.

    The National 4-H Club Foundation had been contracted to administer our group in Brazil. The Foundation had a very good relationship with the Brazilian national rural extension service (ABCAR) and that was the "foot in the [Brazilian] door" to get Peace Corps into Brazil. This happened in some other countries. For example, in Senegal, the UAW (United Auto Workers) had a very good relationship with labor unions there and so was hired as the contractor for the first Peace Corps project in that country--to train local auto mechanics.

    After six weeks of training in Washington we had four weeks of "Outward Bound" training at the same Camp Cozier in the mountains near Arecibo, PR. Our group had six volunteers from Puerto Rico. We were grouped into several "boy-girl" teams and did one week of "internship" with the Puerto Rican extension service teams to observe their 4-H club activities. Then in late March 1962 we landed at the international airport in Rio de Janeiro. The Portuguese language teachers at the US Embassy were horrified to find that our level in that language had regressed since we left Washington, because of our four weeks interaction in Spanish in Puerto Rico. So it was decided that we would have eight weeks of intensive (eight hours a day) language training at the rural agricultural university outside of Rio, living in the dorms with Brazilian students. Several times, the latter invited some of us to go into Rio with them to participate in student demonstrations and protests--a good learning experience.

    When we arrived in Brazil, Tancredo Neves was still Brazil's Prime Minister during the short-lived parliamentary government period. The US Ambassador who received us was Lincoln Gordon, a Harvard professor who JFK had recruited into the foreign service.

    Then, we came back into the city of Rio for three weeks of training regarding Brazilian rural extension activities by ABCAR specialists and more language training--plus family home stays. I was placed with a family in the city of Niteroi, across the bay from Rio de Janeiro--so I got to ride the ferry boat every day. Our group of 54 volunteers was then distributed to several Brazilian states--from Rio Grande do Sul (in the South) to the Northeastern state of Ceará. I was sent to the central state of Minas Gerais. There, we received an additional two weeks of training in how rural extension was done in that state--where these activities first began in 1949. So by the time we finally got out to our work sites in mid-June 1962--we had had 5.5 months of training--probably the longest training program ever in Peace Corps history.

    Our country Peace Corps Representative George Coleman had previously worked with the OAS and his wife Peggy (and four children) were part of our Brazil I family. Francis Pressly had been recruited as a volunteer but because he had been a county 4-H club agent in North Carolina, he was hired by the National 4-H Club Foundation to be its contractor's representative. He and his wife Sybil and two children also became part of our family.

    Because our group arrived in Brazil with 11 more men than women, the Brazil II project that worked with community development in the San Francisco River basin in central Brazil as of November 1962 also trained 11 women to compliment our project--they were nicknamed the MOBs (mail order brides).

    We were in Brazil during two difficult periods for the US--first, the Cuban missile crisis, and then the assassination of JFK. Most of our group returned to the US in December 1963, but I extended for seven months through July 1964 to finish some of my 4-H (called 4-S in Brazil) projects. Thus, I was in Brazil during the 31 March 1964 military coup that toppled the João Goulart government. My wife, Edyr, and I were married in Lavras, MG in August 1964, just before our return to the US.

    Our Brazil I group has had several reunions, beginning with our 20-year encounter at the same National 4-H Club Center in August 1981. My wife and our then 7-year old daughter also participated. Our last reunion was during the 50th anniversary celebration of Peace Corps in September 2011--also at the National 4-H Club Center.

    My Peace Corps service "changed my life." When I returned to Antioch College in Fall 1964, I switched majors from chemistry to political science and eventually ended up at the University of Brasília in January 1972.

    JE comments: Outstanding reminisces from David Fleischer. I had often wondered what circumstances led David to choose a career in Brazil. David, together with Richard Hancock, were Peace Corps pioneers--truly one of the brightest spots in International Relations during the tension-filled 1960s.

    Perhaps David Fleischer or Richard Hancock could answer this question:  how long and how intense is the training for new volunteers presently?

    Who else in WAISdom served in the Peace (Pax...et Lux) Corps? We'd love to hear your story.

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    • Memories of Peace Corps in Brazil (Anthony D`Amato, USA 07/07/12 11:46 PM)
      David Fleischer's reports (7 July) on the Peace Corps in Brazil are indeed fascinating. But I am puzzled as to why there is no mention of the street children. Were they not on the Peace Corps' radar?

      JE comments: Street children are the sad result of urbanization and the displacement of the rural peasantry. I presume that in the period 1962-64 in Minas Gerais, where David Fleischer was stationed, these demographic upheavals were still in their initial stages.  Plus, David worked on agricultural development in MG, so he must have been in a rural area.

      David:  did I understand this correctly?

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      • Street Children in Brazil in the 1960s (David Fleischer, Brazil 07/09/12 12:29 AM)

        In response to Anthony D'Amato's query of 8 July, when I arrived in Rio de Janeiro in the early 1960s, Brazil was still pretty much a rural country (some 60% rural). By the 1980 census, it had become about 65% urban, especially after the military regime decided to impose social security and labor legislation on rural areas. This produced a massive rural-urban exodus, much faster than the same process in the US.

        Thus, in 1962, Rio de Janeiro did not have very many "street children" and crime was not a threat to movement around the city, even in the early morning hours. However, by the early 1980s, urban crime and the problem of "street children" got much worse--aggravated by drug trafficking in the large cities, especially in Rio de Janeiro. However, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, many volunteers were placed in urban "community development" projects in large cities and had direct contact with the social problems of these communities.

        As JE pointed out, our project worked with rural extension in small towns in the interior of several states. I was stationed in Lavras, in the southern region of Minas Gerais (then population 40,000). I did visit São Paulo and Rio several times for very short periods, but would go into Belo Horizonte (the state capital city) more frequently--where the central office of the MG rural extension service was located. Thus, during my Peace Corps experience, I had little contact with urban areas.

        To answer JE's question about the length of training programs, some were quite short. One of my friends trained for community development in Espírito Santo and said that her training was just 8 weeks at U Wisconsin/Madison and then directly into the field with no in-country training. Later in the 1960s, Peace Corps tried to find training sites in the US that had "characteristics similar" to those the group would encounter in Brazil. While my wife and I were at the U of Florida/Gainesville, in mid-1967, I helped a contractor "advance" a possible training site in Cedar Key, FL, a small Gulf coast fishing community. The Peace Corps group was to go to the coasts of the states of Rio de Janeiro and Espírito Santo to work with fishing cooperatives.

        The contractor (Westinghouse Learning Corp.) got the contract and my wife and I worked on this project between August and November 1967--she teaching Portuguese language and I doing Brazil studies and community development. I got the group involved in a poultry project (raising some broiler chicks). One of the trainees had gone to Hunter College and had never left the NYC area. She called home every night. But later on (in Brazil), she said that if had not been for this Cedar Key "cross-cultural" experience, she would not have been prepared for Brazil.

        If anyone is interested, there is a recent book about the Peace Corps in Brazil (in Portuguese), I recommend Cecilia Azevedo, Em nome da América: Os Corpos da Paz no Brasil. São Paulo: Alameda, 2008.

        This was a history PhD dissertation done at the U of São Paulo that involved interviews with former volunteers, some former Peace Corps staff and considerable research done in the US on the JFK/Johnson period and the "Alliance for Progress" context. I am sure that Amazon.com could supply this book for those interested.

        Many have asked me "Is the Peace Corps still active in Brazil?" The answer in "No." The Peace Corps was not "kicked out of Brazil," but rather died a "natural death" when no new projects were approved by the Brazilian Foreign Office and the last volunteer went home--in 1978. This was the result of "very icy" bilateral relations during the Carter administration. Brazil and West Germany had signed a "nuclear agreement" in 1975 and the US put heavy pressure on both nations to cancel this treaty--that called for the construction of eight nuclear power plants to generate electricity. Also, the government of President Gen. Ernesto Geisel (1974-1979) was very upset at US criticism of Brazil's human rights policy and in 1977 canceled the US-Brazil military agreement (signed in 1952). The Peace Corps was one of the casualties of this period.

        JE comments:  Countries with US Peace Corps volunteers may feel there is a stigma of underdevelopment attached to hosting such programs--is this the case?  Yet surprisingly, according to its website, the PC is still active in China.  Typical Chinese pragmatism?  What about the cultural "imperialism" that a PC presence imposes--the American Way of Life and such?  Perhaps David Fleischer or Richard Hancock could elaborate.

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    • Peace Corps Training (Richard Hancock, USA 07/09/12 9:30 AM)
      In answer to JE's question of 7 July about the Peace Corps training period, I would say that it was normally 13 weeks, 10 hours/day, 6 days/week. For the training of Peace Corps at the University of Oklahoma (1963-87), that was the normal training period except for fish-farming which required more, because it was impossible to recruit trainees who were skilled in that field.

      After 1972, most Peace Corps training was moved overseas and I know of no other US university that continued training after that date. The P.C. continued to use Camp Crozier (originally devoted totally to Outward Bound training) for the full gamut of training, but they soon gave up on that because the trainees learned to speak the Spanish spoken by the uneducated "Puertorriqueño" which, in my experience, is the world's worst Spanish. (When Shriver stepped down from the directorship of the Peace Corps, the Corps abandoned Outward Bound because the new director believed that the four weeks dedicated to Outward Bound could be better used for other subjects.)

      Oklahoma U could have continued to train Peace Corps at its Hacienda El Cóbano in Colima, Mexico, but the US Embassy decided to ban Peace Corps training in Mexico. The story is that the Governor of Oaxaca met some young American P.C. trainees in his state without his having any prior knowledge that any such training existed in his state. He apparently protested this to the Embassy and, unfortunately, the ambassador decided to ban all such training.

      Personally I can't see why P.C. training differed from dozens of other programs abroad sponsored by US universities in Mexico which were welcomed all over Mexico as a different form of tourism. We protested this decision, but the State Dept. bureaucrats are famous for ignoring claims by US citizens. Their is no other resort after having received an official negative from an Embassy. I have talked to businessmen in Latin America who said that it was better to seek aid from the Canadian Embassy rather than the US Embassy.

      In the fall of 1964 as the director of International Training at OU, I traveled to Washington, DC to get ideas about P.C. training. On meeting with a member of the training staff, I discovered that there was a program for Bolivia to train volunteers for service in Bolivia's share of the Amazon basin. When he stated that the training should be more appropriately conducted in Florida with its sub-tropical climate, I told him that we could conduct part of the training program in the humid tropical climate of Veracruz. He asked, "Can you really do this?" I told him that we could and spoke knowingly about Papaloapan River project, which was patterned somewhat after the TVA in the US. Although I had never been to that part of Mexico, I was familiar with a Stanford colleague's dissertation on that project, so I was able to speak intelligently about that region of Mexico. I assured him that we could do this.

      After calling my boss, Vice-President Thurman White, he agreed and I was off to the Papaloapan basin at my earliest opportunity. We eventually partially trained seven groups in Mexico. Our program consisted of 9 weeks at OU and 4 weeks in Mexico. In this manner I began my experience of training perhaps 1500 trainees at OU, 1964-87.

      In the fall of 2002, I wrote a complete account of Peace Corps training at OU in The Chronicles of Oklahoma, Volume LXXX, number three, Fall, 2002, pp. 348-369. Since the entire "Chronicles of Oklahoma" is now completely on line, interested WAISers can read this article by Googling The Chronicles as above with the article, "The Best Our Country Has to Offer," Peace Corps Training at The University of Oklahoma, by Richard H. Hancock.

      JE comments: My thanks to Richard Hancock for this excellent summary. I'll look for the Chronicles of Oklahoma article.

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