Friday, February 11, 2011

El Mozote & Perquin

Thursday, 2-10-11

Well, it’s been another long, challenging, and beautiful day. I didn’t sleep too well last night. My feet were cold and a couple people in the room were snoring. I resisted the temptation to put a pillow over their heads figuring that probably wasn’t a smart thing to do on a mission trip. As per usual, the roosters were crowing at all hours and the dogs accompanied their crows with barking. But that’s life here. It takes me a while to reacclimatize to the noises but hopefully I’ll get there soon.

Thankfully the ladies had whipped up a delicious breakfast for us: plantains, eggs, beans, and bread. Yum! As soon as we finished breakfast we were out the door on our way to El Mozote and Perquín. The ride takes about 2 ½ hours so we had to create our own entertainment. Yesterday, we were all joking that the stores that have signs on them that read “Ferretería” means a store that sells ferrets (it actually means hardware store). So everyone was listing off different ways of serving ferrets. Ferretería A-Z we called it. We got grilled ferret, caramelized ferret, canned ferret, iguana stuffed ferret, lemon pepper ferret, mango encrusted ferret, ferret-on-a-stick…. oh my. Are we really on a church mission trip? Good times.

We got another joke today from Linda, which I had also heard on the Prairie Home Companion joke show. Here goes: One day a preacher and a taxi driver died the same day. As the taxi driver went to the gates of Heaven he was greeted by Saint Peter. “Welcome”, says Peter. He gives the taxi driver a kingly purple robe made of silk and a staff with the most glorious and beautiful jewels on it. “May the Lord bless you.” “Thank you”, replies the taxi driver. He walks in. The preacher comes to the gates of Heaven and Peter gives him a plain robe and a wooden staff. The preacher was very upset. “I am a preacher, he is a taxi driver. Why have you given me such a plain robe and staff when you have given that taxi driver such finer things?” Peter looks at him and says “Because while you preached, people slept and while he drove, people prayed.”

We arrived at El Mozote (a massacre site) around 10:30am. This is my third time at El Mozote and the story still gives me chills. We had a guide tell us the history of what happened there. The following is a description of the events at El Mozote. It comes from several sources, including information at the site and testimony by Rufina Amaya. I want to forewarn you that the story is graphic and disturbing. I will not gloss over the details.

The Massacre at El Mozote

The El Mozote Massacre took place in the village of El Mozote, in Morazán, El Salvador, on December 11, 1981, when Salvadoran armed forces trained by the United States military killed at least 1000 civilians in an anti-guerrilla campaign. It is reputed to be one of the worst such atrocities in modern Latin America history.

It began on the afternoon of December 10, 1981, when units of the Salvadoran army’s Atlacatl Battalion arrived at the remote village of El Mozote. The Atlacatl was a “Rapid Deployment Infantry Battalion” specially trained for counter-insurgency warfare. It was the first unit of its kind in the Salvadoran armed forces and was trained by United States military advisors. Its mission, Operación Rescate, was to eliminate the rebel presence in a small region of northern Morazán where the FMLN (guerillas) had a camp and a training center. The commander of the Battalion was Lieutenant Colonel Coronel Domingo Monterrosa Barrios, who was from Berlín.

In the afternoon of December 10th the five companies of Atlacatl Battalion arrived in El Mozote. Upon arrival, the soldiers found not only the residents of the village but also campesinos (rural people) who had sought refuge from the surrounding area. The campesinos had gone to El Mozote thinking it would be a safe place. The soldiers ordered everyone out of their houses and into the square. They made them lie face down, searched them, and questioned them about the guerrillas. They then ordered the villagers to lock themselves in their houses until the next day, warning that anyone coming out would be killed. The soldiers remained in the village during the night.

Early the next morning, on December 11th, the soldiers reassembled the entire village in the square. They separated the men from the women and children and locked them all in separate groups in the church, the convent, and various houses. At 8:00am the executions began.

Throughout the morning, they proceeded to interrogate, torture, and execute the men and adolescent boys in several locations. Around noon, they began taking the women and older girls in groups, separating them from their children and machine-gunning them after raping them. Girls as young as 9 were raped and tortured, under the pretext of them being supportive of the guerillas. Finally, they killed the children. A group of children that had been locked in the church and its convent were shot through the windows. After killing the entire population, the soldiers set fire to the buildings. Over 1000 people perished.

The massacre at El Mozote was part of a military strategy of genocide against the Salvadoran people. The government and army exterminated massive numbers of innocent campesinos in the war zones. The thought was to “take away the water from the fish”. As a result, many massacres of hundreds of rural families were carried out in various places in the country. The operations were known as “Land Clearing Operations”.
The guerrillas' clandestine radio station began broadcasting reports of a massacre of civilians in the area. On December 31, the FMLN issued “a call to the International Red Cross, the OAS Human Rights Commission, and the international press to verify the genocide of more than 900 Salvadorans” in and around El Mozote. Reporters started pushing for evidence.

Officials from the US embassy in San Salvador played down the reports and said they were unwilling to visit the site because of safety concerns. As news of the massacre slowly emerged, the Reagan administration in the United States attempted to dismiss it as FMLN (guerilla) propaganda because it had the potential to seriously embarrass the United States government because of its reflection of the human rights abuses of the Salvadoran government, which the US was supporting with large amounts of military aid.

It wasn’t until 1992, the year the Peace Accords were signed, that a team of forensic anthropologists were allowed to examine the convent in El Mozote. 136 children were found in that area. They determined that twenty-four shooters killed the children, using M-16 rifles and bullets manufactured in the US. The forensic experts concluded that it was a mass execution, and not the burial ground the Salvadoran government claimed it to be.

Rufina Amaya’s story

Rufina Amaya was the only survivor of the massacre. When it came time to execute the women, she stood last in line because she wouldn’t let go of her children. After her daughter was taken from her and the men weren’t watching, she hid nearby, praying the whole time for God to protect her. She stayed there a long time until she had the courage to crawl many miles to safety. No words or pictures could possibly describe how she felt that day: Listening to the screams of her husband being tortured and dying, having her children ripped from her arms and ruthlessly slaughtered. On December 11, 1981 she lost her husband and four children, aged 9 years, 5 years, 2 years, and 8 months.

The memorial at El Mozote

They have not died. They are with us, with you,
and with all humanity.

Names of adults that were killed in the massacre

Rufina Amaya's grave

The garden of the innocents
Children's garden

Mural on the side of the church

In this place in 1992 the remains of 146 people were found.
140 were children under 12 years.
All of them are now buried in the monument

Names of children who were killed.
Some of the children remain unknown.

Children as young as 3 days were killed

Flowers in the garden

Beauty in a place with painful memories

Fragrant flowers

Idalia reading from the Bible

This little puppy wanted in our van


After leaving El Mozote we arrived at Perquin around noon. Perquin was under guerilla control during the Civil War and was known as part of the “red zone”. First we visited the Museum of Salvadoran Revolution. It contains documents, articles, pictures, and artifacts that belonged to the guerillas during the Civil War. The museum was founded by ex-combatants and attempts to recount the experiences of the guerillas. After looking through the inside of the museum we walked outside to see the remains of helicopters and airplanes. Probably the most famous is the wreckage of the helicopter of Colonel Domingo Monterrosa, who was the commander of the Battalion that massacred the people in El Mozote. We also saw a recreation of Radio Venceremos, which was a guerilla radio station during the war. Inside the recreated radio station is part of the device that was used to destroy Monterrosa’s helicopter.

Next we went to Campamento Guerrillero, which was a former guerilla camp turned into an outside museum. I had seen it for the first last year and it was pretty cool. First we saw some of the weapons they used during the war including grenades, machine guns, and machetes. We walked on to see two recreated “tents” where the guerillas could stay dry when it rained. Then we went to the “kitchen” area, which they tried to hide so as not to be seen by the military. Over the kitchen was a roof of leaves and a pipe underground carried the smoke far from the kitchen. After that we saw the “hospital” area. The gurney was essentially large leaves wrapped around sticks that were being held up by pieces of wood. Our guide showed us the “ambulance”: a hammock. Last year Kathy had asked me, “Could you imagine being operated on here?” I responded, “I think I’d rather die.” We walked on to a hole in the ground with a ladder coming out of it. It led down to an underground chamber and tunnel. This was a place the guerillas would have hidden if there were helicopters overhead.

Next we came to a series of three bridges. These were replicas of bridges that the guerillas would have built while in the area. Typically, the guerillas would only stay in each area for 4 days. Then they would transport what they could and destroy the rest. The bridges were destroyed and rebuilt every time they moved. All were made of wood and rope over high ravines. After looking at a sign that said, “Only 2-3 people at once on the bridge” and “We’re not responsible if you fall” we crossed over the first bridge. The tour guide decided that some of us were too heavy to go on the next 2 bridges (not fat, just bigger than the average Salvadoran). We then walked by a sign that said, “Look, don’t touch”. Lying on the ground was a grenade that had never exploded. It has been sitting there for many years. The reason we couldn’t touch it was that it was technically still live. Now would it actually have exploded? I’m not sure. But I didn’t want to find out. After that we saw a bomb that had been partially embedded in a tree. And with that we had reached the end of the tour.

Our guide at the first museum

Cars donated by France and Mexico to the FMLN

Bullet holes on the outside of the building

Recreation of Radio Venceremos

Items in the second museum

More belongings of the guerillas

Weapons used by the FMLN

A place to stay when it rained

The kitchen

The "hospital"

Underground hiding area

Inside the underground area
(I took this picture last year)

One of the 3 bridges

After you...

Denise making her way across

Now it's Linda's turn

Don't fall, Betty!

Go, Margaret, go!

Will the bridge hold Larry?

Maurice bounds across the bridge


After leaving Perquin at 1:45pm we headed to the restaurant, Perkin Lenca, for a late lunch. I love that restaurant and the many beautiful flowers in the area. For lunch I had homemade french fries and steak. It sounds American but the steak here has a different texture and has to be cooked well done to be sure you don’t get sick. It was very flavorful and all three times I’ve been to the restaurant I’ve ordered that dish. I also bought some of the tasty cookies that they sell at the restaurant for all of us to have for dessert. We finished up around 3:00pm and headed back to Berlín. I slept part of the way and chatted off and on with everyone else the rest of the way.

A giant aloe vera

Calla lily

More beautiufl flowers


Some sort of lily


We didn’t need a huge dinner tonight since we had eaten lunch so late. The ladies made enchiladas for us, which are nothing like enchiladas we had in the states. It’s basically a tostada with beans, lettuce, avocado, tomato, cheese, and a slide of hard-boiled egg. Yummy! The rest of the night was pretty relaxed, except when Denise and Margaret were trying to upload a blog onto the Presbytery blog website. Computers can be so frustrating sometimes. Tomorrow is another adventure!

P.S. You may or may not know that the name Margaret in Spanish is Margarita, and Margarita means “Daisy.” But did you know that Mauricio means “Dweeb” and Lorenzo means “Nobody will dance with me”?


Matt said...

All the pictures of the flowers are so beautiful. The food sounds great as well. Compared to here, the weather and plants there look pretty inviting.

Kevin Pokorny said...

The story of El Mozote is so tragic, Alisha. I didn't know anything about it.