Today was a long and exhausting day both mentally and physically. We were going to visit the massacre site of El Mozote and a guerilla war museum in Perquin. Alfredo came to pick us up at 7:00am and then we were off on a 2½ hour ride to the department of Morazán. The following is a description of the events at El Mozote. It comes from several sources, including information at the site and testimony by survivor Rufina Amaya. I want to forewarn you that the story is graphic and disturbing.
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. Some of the younger children were thrown up into the air and the soldiers speared them on their bayonets. After killing the entire population, the soldiers set fire to the buildings and many of the bodies. 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 (country people) 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 “Scorched Earth” or “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 (over 1 million dollars per day).
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. 140 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 guerilla burial ground the Salvadoran government claimed it to be.
The monument at El Mozote
They have not died, they are with us,
with you, and with all humanity.
Our guide telling us the story of the massacre
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.
A photo of Rufina
Rufina's family members that were killed
We weren’t able to go see the Children’s Garden today, but I wanted to include some information and pictures because I believe they are important. During the massacre, the children were all put into a room attached to the church. Here they were killed and the building set on fire. A small garden now grows where they found the remains of the children.
On the side of the church inside the garden are the names of all the children that were killed in the massacre and their ages. Most were under 12 years old. The youngest child killed was 2 days old, though there was a pregnant woman in her third trimester who was found with the murdered women. While many names are on the wall several children’s names will be forever unknown. Entire families were killed in the massacre and the names of their children are not known. They are listed on the wall as “Son of…” or “Daughter of…” while others are listed “Grandson of…” or “Niece of….” However, there are also several children who are listed only as “Name unknown.” It’s sad to think that these beautiful children suffered such a horrible death and we will never know who many of them are.
The Children's Garden
Names of children
Many children remain unknown
The remains of 140 children were found here
El Mozote Foundation
There is a group of women that run the El Mozote Foundation which helps keep the area maintained and ensures the story is still being told. Then we walked to the little artisan store that’s run by the women of the Foundation. I got a couple rosaries, some jewelry, and soap. I also took pictures of a couple cute little boys I saw. As we left we saw two bus loads of young people going to hear the story of El Mozote. Then we were off to out next destination.
Cute little boys!
Lots of young people
Project of Peace and Reconciliation
The next place we went was a monument dedicated to peace and reconciliation. This is a relatively new monument and I had never been there before. It was just constructed this year and is not finished yet. They are still going to build a Spiritual Center and a Chapel in the area. The project is funded in part by a seminary student who was associated with El Salvador and Germany. He felt the need to raise funds and build the monument. In addition to a statue of Jesus Christ in the middle of the monument, there are also statues of Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Pope John Paul II. They are also starting to build a small park for children with a statue of St. Francis of Assisi in the middle. After looking around we stood together beneath the monument and listened to a prayer from Balmore
Then Michelle, Katherine, Blanca, Balmore, Idalia, and I make the trek up to the top of a large hill to see the statue of Romero and the view from above. It was a rough hike but definitely worth it. The view was spectacular! The statue was incredible and you could see for miles. We just stood and took it all in.
The Monument of Peace and Reconcilication
Sign about the project
Martin Luther King
Pope John Paul II
St. Francis of Assisi
Romero up on top of a hill
Walking up to see the Romero statue
View from above
Perquin: Museum of the Revolution
Our next stop was the town of Perquin. Perquin was under FMLN 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. It was blown up by the guerillas in 1984. We also saw a recreation of Radio Venceremos, which was a mobile guerilla radio station during the war. Inside the recreated radio station is part of the device that was used to destroy Monterrosa’s helicopter.
Naked Innocence, Faceless Repression
Poverty: A major cause of the war
The FMLN was named after this man
Signs during the Civil War
Drawings by children about the war
Women were also guerillas
Strategic plan of attack
Remnants of planes and helicopters
Cars given to the guerillas
Returning home after the war
Radio Venceremos during the war
A 500 pound bomb given to the government to
"help fight the communist guerillas."
Compliments of the USA
Next we went to Campamento Guerrillero, which was a recreation of a guerilla camp. I’ve been there several times before and loved it. 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. The first time I saw it the former mission co-worker had asked me, “Could you imagine being operated on here?” I responded, “I think I’d rather die.” Then 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 upon two bridges. These were replicas of bridges that the guerillas would have built while in the area. Both bridges 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. Everyone did very well and no one fell off. The second bridge swayed and dipped down quite a bit when we walked on it, but we made it.
The last thing I did was go across a large ravine on a zipline swing. Michelle called it a “crazy grill swing” on which you could either barbque on swing across the jungle. It was only $2 and totally worth it. As I flew across the ravine I shouted in Spanish, “Faster, faster!” I wish I could have taken my camera with me but I forget in all the excitement.
Parts of the radio
A door from El Mozote
Shelter that the guerillas used
Explaining how radios worked
A hiding place
And coming out
Going down again
Across the bridges they go
Maggy leads the way!!
The second bridge
The zipline swing/grill
And I'm off!
Safely off the swing
Lunch at Perkin Lenca
We ate lunch at our usual spot: Perkin Lenca. It felt good to sit down and have a rest. I ordered horchata (a rice drink) and chicken tacos. Everything was delicious, especially after all that walking. Everyone was quiet as we eat; a sure sign of good food. We started our drive back to the house by 2:30pm.
When we got back to the house, Maggie, Michelle, and I went for a short walk around town before settling into the house for the night. I ran into a couple people I knew which was nice. Dinner tonight was pupusas which were delicious. I ate mine much later because I’d stopped to get ice cream in town.
Around 6:30pm we sat down with the Pastoral Team to reflect on our day. We all talked about what we felt were the low and the high points of the day. For me, the low of the day was thinking about all the girls and women that were brutally raped by the army. I can’t even begin to imagine the mental and physical suffering they must have felt. And then watching and hearing their friends and family being raped as well? How awful!! What sickness must exist inside someone to commit such atrocities. What’s worse is that this occurred all over El Salvador during the war. It has occurred all over the world in every country during times of war and conflict. Rape has been used for hundreds of years as a way to dominate and control women. And it continues to this very day. We’ve come so far as a society and so far in the world, yet the violence against women continues. It truly sickens me.
The high point of the day was seeing two buses full of young people at El Mozote. How wonderful that the youth in the country are learning about and hearing the story of the massacre. This gives me hope for the future that these atrocities will not occur again.
Hay que recordar para no repetir. One must remember in order not to repeat.