Amnesty Law (El Salvador) – a 1993 law passed to protect the perpetrators of serious crimes committed during the civil war. The law was found to be unconstitutional and in violation of international law by the Supreme Court of El Salvador in 2016 and struck down.
ARENA (Nationalist Republican Alliance) – right wing political party founded in 1981 by Roberto d’Aubuisson, believed to be the mastermind behind the killing of Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero. ARENA Presidents were in office from 1989 to 2009.
civil patrols – a system of militias established by the Guatemalan army in rural areas. Poorly armed civilians were required to serve regular duty patrolling surrounding areas and defending against guerrillas. Although nominally voluntary, participation was often coerced.
civil war – a war within a country rather than between countries; it may be between two or more ethnic groups, political parties, regions or socio-economic interests. Recent civil wars in Central America have been uprisings of poor, rural people who are the majority against a small ruling class made up of the wealthy elite and the military.
counter-insurgency campaign – civilian and military programs undertaken by the army designed to defeat armed insurgents and/or guerrilla warfare.
coup – also coup d’état; sudden, violent and illegal seizure of political power from a government.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) – an executive order issued by President Obama in 2012, which allows young unauthorized immigrants who meet certain requirements a two-year renewable postponement of deportation proceedings (“deferred action”) and a work permit.
Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) – an executive order that expanded the original DACA and extended a similar “deferred action” from deportation to parents of US born or legal resident children meeting certain requirements.
death squad – a group of people who kidnaps and/or kills for the purpose of political terrorism. They were often soldiers or police but usually carried out their actions in civilian clothes and frequently targeted people working for social change.
disappear – a practice used by repressive regimes to kidnap political opponents and make them disappear without a trace. Sometimes the victims are held in clandestine prisons; more often they are killed. It is a potent weapon of intimidation, made worse since the families often don’t know for years whether loved ones are dead or alive.
DNA – deoxyribonucleic acid, the hereditary material in humans and most other organisms.
Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act a piece of legislation to allow undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children a path toward legal status if they attend college or serve in the military. Despite numerous attempts, the DREAM Act was never passed by Congress.
exhumation – the digging up of something, especially a dead body, out of the earth.
extortion – obtaining money by use of force or threats of violence.
Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation (FMLN) – the umbrella organization comprised of five guerrilla groups in El Salvador, formed in 1980. After the war ended, they became a political party.
femicide – the intentional murder of women (or girls) because of their gender.
free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) – the principle that communities, particularly indigenous ones, have the right to give or withhold consent to proposed projects on their lands, established in human rights laws and international conventions.
genocide – the deliberate and systematic intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.
Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) – the umbrella organization of four guerrilla groups that formed in 1982. After the war ended, they became a political party.
guerrilla – rebel or insurgent; people who are fighting with non-traditional tactics against a standing army. Guerrillero means a guerrilla combatant in Spanish, while in English the word guerrilla is used more broadly to include combatants and noncombatant participants in an organization or movement.
guinda – a word used in El Salvador to describe the act of fleeing from soldiers. Often whole communities hid for days or weeks in the  mountains and countryside while soldiers occupied their villages.
huipil – traditional blouse worn by a Maya girl or woman, often handwoven but can be machine made.
hydroelectric – generating electricity by using the gravitational force of flowing water.
impunity – exemption or freedom from punishment or harm.
indigenous – people who have long-standing historical roots in the area where they currently live, i.e. the Maya people are indigenous to Guatemala.
intellectual authorconsidered to be the mastermind behind political crimes, i.e. the person or persons who inspired or ordered the crime.
Ladino – used in Guatemala to indicate a person whose ethnic heritage or adopted culture is that of the westernized population, including Maya who have abandoned their dress, language and customs, as well as the non-Maya population.
massacre – typically used to describe the killing of many people, who are often defenseless and/or civilians. The Guatemalan Truth Commission defined it as: “arbitrary executions of more than five people, realized at the same place and as part of the same operative, when the victims were in a state of absolute or relative defenselessness.”
Maya – a civilization that has flourished in Guatemala, Belize, southern Mexico and northern Honduras dating back to 1800 BCE; a person of Maya heritage.
megaproject – very large scale investment project, often applied to dams, bridges, highways and railways, mines, etc.
military dictatorship or regime – a form of government where the political authority has been taken over by military forces, often through the sudden and illegal seizure of power known as a coup d’état or coup.
model village – army constructed and controlled settlements for people displaced by the war, often built on or near the ruins of communities that had been massacred by the army.
National Guard (El Salvador)in the 1980s the National Guard committed crimes against humanity, including massacres, torture and extrajudicial executions, according to the United Nations sponsored Truth Commission report. It was under the command of the Army at that time and was abolished by the 1992 Peace Accords.
oppression – to keep someone down using unjust force or authority; usually applies to the mistreatment of a person or group by a more powerful one.
orthography – the way a language is spelled and written.
paramilitary – of or relating to a group that is an unofficial organized armed force, i.e. civil patrol or death squad.
pro bonowork done for the public good without payment or compensation.
post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – mental health condition triggered by a terrifying event that can be experienced or witnessed; symptoms can include flashbacks, severe anxiety, nightmares and uncontrollable thoughts about the event.
reconciliation – the act of causing two people or groups to become friendly again after a disagreement; attempts to resolve conflict left over from the past.
refugee – a person who flees his or her country to escape violence, war or persecution. People who flee their communities but stay within their country are called “displaced people” or “internal refugees.”
repression – the use of violence or threat of violence by government or paramilitary forces to prevent the exercise of democratic rights by citizens.
scorched earth policy  – a military strategy to destroy anything and everything that could be useful to the enemy, including people, houses, crops, livestock, buildings, transportation or communications infrastructure, etc. In the context of the Guatemalan civil war, it refers to the army’s intent to destroy certain areas of the predominantly Maya highland regions where the guerrillas operated.
state sponsored violence  – refers to acts of violence or terror (such as intimidation, repression, disappearances, rape, torture) unleashed on the people of a country by state (government) forces or others acting on their behalf (i.e. death squads).
subversive – someone who advocates the overthrow of an established system of government. In Latin American countries with civil wars, rebel or guerrilla groups were negatively referred to as subversives by the government and news media.
tatú – a word used in El Salvador meaning a ditch or tunnel used by civilians as a hiding place from the army soldiers.
unauthorized or undocumented immigrant – person who entered the US without government permission (i.e. a visa) or who remained in the country beyond the time granted on a visa.
unaccompanied minor – child under age 18 who came to the United States with no responsible adult.
URNG –  see Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity.