Krukenberg tweezers and miraculous honey in El Salvador

Text and images: José Orlando Castro

El Paisnal, El Salvador.– Juan Pastor is a disabled war veteran and an exemplary entrepreneur in the field of beekeeping. For 23 years, Maximiliano Navarro Miranda, the legal name of Pastor, has been a persevering honey producer in this municipality in the department of San Salvador.

Empathy with bees motivated him to receive training courses that opened the doors of bee breeding and allowed him to learn about the benefits of honey for human health.

Juan Pastor was a combatant of the Popular Liberation Forces (FPL), a movement that for more than a decade faced the authoritarian regime prevailing in El Salvador at that time. In the 1980s, he lost both hands and his right eye due to a mine explosion. Thanks to a prisoner exchange between the government and the guerrillas, Navarro Miranda and another group of wounded combatants went abroad to be cured.

Pastor was subjected in Germany to a reconstruction process for biamputee patients known as “Krukenberg forceps.” The rehabilitation process took place in Cuba.

“When I returned [to El Salvador] I tried to do survival work, and it was not easy to reintegrate into a productive life. However, my desire to work was tireless, and I knocked on many doors. Few were opened and, about 23 years ago, we started working with bees of different genetic varieties with my wife Hortensia”, explained the ex-combatant.

La Mielagrosa is the advertising brand of the beekeeping project of Navarro Miranda and his wife Hortensia. Among the derivatives they obtain are propolis, a waxy substance used by bees to bathe the hives, and which is used in the case of asthmatic or respiratory allergies, as well as gastrointestinal problems.

From there derives the propoljén, which is honey mixed with ginger. Another product of La Mielagrosa is caromiel, a mixture of honey with carao and propolis that serves as a remedy for anemia, said Juan Pastor.

The Navarro breeding has 350 hives. For each beehive box they obtain twenty bottles, which gives a total annual production of 6,270 kilograms (13,823 pounds) per year. Production varies from four to five months. “The average is not rigid. It all depends on how climate change behaves and the harvests can be good, mediocre or very bad,” Navarro said.

Pastor and Hortensia have a son, Moisés, an electrical engineering student who also contributes to the family business. Hortensia has received training courses that prepared her to make soap, shampoo, creams and lipstick made from honey, pollen and propolis.

Every fortnight, the guerrillas turned beekeepers visit the apiary. During the rainy season they feed the bees with a sugar-based syrup. This prevents insects from migrating.
Historically, beekeepers do not receive state aid in El Salvador. If they want to obtain credit, they fall into the clutches of usurers.

“We have made proposals and everything falls on deaf ears. It is unfortunate that beekeeping in El Salvador is considered, according to standards, as a ‘minor species’. Like who says, take care of a little pigs or chickens. The Government only coordinates and works with large companies. Even more, the cost of living has tripled in this country”, explained Pastor.

Maximiliano Navarro Miranda was born and grew up in a semi-feudal world. His patrons and masters were the El Matazano hacienda and the La Cabaña sugar mill, owned by the H. De Sola family, not far from where his apiary works today. His parents and ten siblings survived on those lands as settlers, reunited in a bahareque house, with a grass roof and a dirt floor. They did not enjoy education or services such as drinking water and electricity.

At the age of 16, he joined the revolutionary movement, the land takeovers, the marches to demand better food and other demands for farm workers.

Juan Pastor one day crossed the oceans and managed to overcome the loss of his hands. He regained his ability to work thanks to a pair of forceps developed 106 years ago by German doctor Hermann Krukenberg to help patients crippled during World War I.

Pastor is a fighter and motivated man. Today his life is driven by a nectar that sweetens the table of the people and helps to cure diseases.



  • Jose Orlando Castro

    José Orlando Castro is from El Salvador. He studied journalism at the University of El Salvador. Before entering the academy he was a freelance war correspondent. With the signing of the Peace Accords, he studied various workshops on scriptwriting and cinematographic and artistic direction, and obtained diplomas at the Mónica Herrera School of Communication. His photographic exhibitions have been shown at the MUNA Museum of Anthropology with the theme Rehabilitation of women and men in prisons (2016). In the audiovisual field, short films and documentaries have been screened, among them, We see them with sticks, Solidarity without borders, El Trifinio, Let's reject violence, among others.

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