Cover image for When the dogs ate candles : a time in El Salvador
When the dogs ate candles : a time in El Salvador
Hutchinson, Bill, 1947-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Niwot, Colo : University Press of Colorado, [1998]

Physical Description:
xxi, 229 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HV6322.3.S2 H87 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



When the Dogs Ate Candles follows one U.S. citizen as he journeys into the terrible reality of El Salvador in the 1980s, a reality that made the term "death squad" common in the English-speaking world. Galvanized by what he learned in a chance encounter in 1986, the author, Bill Hutchinson, undertook a novel strategy to protect human rights workers in El Salvador. Called "the Accompaniment Project", the plan brought U.S. volunteers to El Salvador to remain by the side of Salvadorans involved in human rights work. Hutchinson's gamble was that murderers, fearing an outcry in the U.S., would hesitate to kill anyone accompanied by a U.S. citizen.

This is also the story of Salvadorans who stood up to a barbaric regime: the savage torture of Mirtala Lopez, a teenaged leader of a refugee organization who survived to continue her work among the displaced; the brilliant human rights work of Herbert Anaya, leader of the Non-Governmental Human Rights Commission of El Salvador, who was assassinated in 1987; and the astonishing testimony of an embittered army defector, Cesar Vielman Joya Martinez, who escaped to the U.S. to tell that his unit operated as a clandestine death squad unit using funds provided by U.S. supervisors. U.S. citizens are also here: Brian Willson, the Vietnam veteran who lost his legs when he sat in front of a munitions train; Rep. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) who carried photographic evidence of the war's savagery to the floor of the House.

When the Dogs Ate Candles affords an intimate insight into a handful of people -- ordinary people made extraordinary by the circumstances they faced -- and unfolds a compelling narrative of a terrible episode in human history. A must-read forall those interested in the Central American solidarity movement and human rights issues in the late 20th century.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

This deeply moving, very personal account of "A Time in El Salvador" ultimately amounts to a condemnation of US policy toward that country. The book describes in often grisly detail the tortures, rapes, and murders inflicted on the civilian population by Salvadoran military and death squads during the 1970s and 1980s, the years of the failed antigovernment revolution in El Salvador. The book also describes the actions of many brave men and women in El Salvador and in the US who protested these actions by the Salvadoran establishment and, by implication, by the US government. A reviewer is brought up short by a book of this nature precisely because it is so personal. Luckily, a long foreword by Ramsey Clark places much of Hutchinson's work in perspective. The entire book both enrages and inspires, but the most chilling words are not those of the author but of George F. Kennan, who writes: "We have about 50 percent of the world's wealth and only 6.3 percent of its population.... Our real task is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without detriment to our national security." This was what El Salvador was all about. Everyone should (but probably will not) read this book. All levels. E. A. Duff emeritus, Randolph-Macon Woman's College