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Sun Nov 10, 2019, 02:08 AM

Salvadoran massacre victims still hunting 'truth and justice' 38 years later


Nelson Renteria

CACAOPERA, El Salvador (Reuters) - Fidel Perez has abandoned his farm for the day to look on as investigators work in a remote cemetery in this Central American country, seeking answers to one of many tragedies in the Salvadoran civil war - and the remains of his mother and sister.

For Perez, now 43, the investigation marks a return to a dark day when he was seven years old, huddled in a cave with his family and neighbors. Then soldiers threw in a grenade.

It was December 1981, during a military operation in Morazan, at the dawn of the long and bloody civil war that claimed tens of thousands of lives.

Perez fainted in the explosion. When he regained consciousness, he saw that his mother and sister had been killed in the attack, along with 10 others.

. . .

According to a U.N. report, soldiers tortured and executed more than a thousand residents of El Mozote and surrounding hamlets in the Morazán department, 180 km (110 miles) northeast of San Salvador, as they searched for guerrillas in December 1981.


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The El Mozote Massacre took place in and around the village of El Mozote, in Morazán department, El Salvador, on December 11, 1981 when the Salvadoran Army killed more than 800 civilians[1] during the Salvadoran Civil War. The El Mozote massacre was preceded by the Indigenous Genocide massacre of 1932, the Student massacre of 1975, and the Óscar Romero funeral massacre and Sumpul River massacre in 1980. It was followed by the El Calabozo massacre in 1982, the Tenango - Guadalupe massacre and Tenancingo - Copapayo massacre in 1983, and the Guaslinga - Los Llanitos massacre in 1984.

In December 2011, the Salvadoran government apologized for the massacre,[2] the largest in Latin America in modern times.[3]

. . .

December 11 and 12
Early the next morning, the soldiers reassembled the entire village in the square. They separated the men from the women and children and locked them in separate groups in the church, the convent, and various houses.[9]

During the morning, they proceeded to interrogate, torture, and execute the men in several locations.[10] Around noon, they began taking the women and older girls in groups, separating them from their children and murdering them with machine guns after raping them.[11] Girls as young as 10 were raped, and soldiers were reportedly heard bragging how they especially liked the 12-year-old girls.[12] Finally, they killed the children at first by slitting their throats, and later by hanging them from trees; one child killed in this manner was reportedly two years old.[13] After killing the entire population, the soldiers set fire to the buildings.

The soldiers remained in El Mozote that night but, the next day, went to the village of Los Toriles and carried out a further massacre. Men, women, and children were taken from their homes, lined up, robbed, and shot, and their homes then set ablaze.[14]

Initial reports and controversy
News of the massacre first appeared in the world media on January 27, 1982, in reports published by The New York Times[15] and The Washington Post. Raymond Bonner wrote in the Times of seeing "the charred skulls and bones of dozens of bodies buried under burned-out roofs, beams, and shattered tiles".[15] The villagers gave Bonner a list of 733 names, mostly children, women, and old people, all of whom, they claimed, had been murdered by government soldiers.[15][16]

Alma Guillermoprieto of the Post, who visited the village separately a few days later, wrote of "dozens of decomposing bodies still seen beneath the rubble and lying in nearby fields, despite the month that has passed since the incident... countless bits of bones—skulls, rib cages, femurs, a spinal column—poked out of the rubble".[17]

Both reporters cited Rufina Amaya, a witness who had escaped into a tree during the attack. She told the reporters that the army had killed her husband and her four children, the youngest of whom was eight months old, and they lit the bodies on fire.[15]

Ruins of a burned building.
Salvadoran army and government leaders denied the reports and officials of the Reagan administration called them "gross exaggerations".[17] The Associated Press reported that "the U.S. Embassy disputed the reports, saying its own investigation had found... that no more than 300 people had lived in El Mozote."[16]


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Research and The Massacre at El Mozote: How the U.S. justified its support for the Salvadoran Military
By Rachel BierlyMarch 7, 2019

There is no justification to murder civilians in any circumstance. However, perhaps just as heinous a crime is to support any individual or organization who commits these murders or look the other way when they are committed. This is what the United States did under the Raegan Administration in the 1981 massacre at El Mozote. In Mark Danner’s collection of accounts and analysis of this massacre in his book titled The Massacre at El Mozote, he discusses the way in which the U.S let its fear of communism rationalize its action of strategically overlooking the horror that was invoked upon El Mozote. The U.S. played a tremendous role in allowing these tragic human rights violations to happen through monetary and weapons provisions, the U.S. training of Salvadoran military members, and the ignorance and discrediting of research.

Following the successful left-wing Sandinista movement in Nicaragua, the U.S. fought actively to achieve its goal of preventing communism regimes. When left-wing guerilla groups formed the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) in El Salvador, the U.S. helped to fund the Salvadoran military, provide arms for soldiers, and train Salvadoran troops. Members of the Atlacatl Battalion were trained by U.S. Special Forces (38) and the battalion was assigned at least 10 American advisors (119). The U.S. was practiced at supporting regimes sympathetic to U.S. goals, though arguably without success (e.g. 1954 CIA intervention in Guatemala, 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion). Therefore, the U.S. should have been aware of the potential catastrophes of under-arming, under-training, or under-funding a movement.

The American training was not as “elite” as the press reported. In fact, one of the Special Forces trainers explained that members of the Atlacatl Battalion “‘had no specialized training’” (49). Without debating the ethics of U.S. support for foreign militaries, failing to properly train or support a military division had previously resulted in severe consequences. The under-trained Salvadoran soldiers were responsible for the massacre of 800 civilians at El Mozote. Consequently, the U.S. was also responsible due to its failure to sufficiently train the battalion, and for the funding and arms provided to the Salvadoran soldiers. In the aftermath of El Mozote, Danner, a notable scholar on Latin American politics and foreign affairs and author of The Massacre at El Mozote emphasized the importance of facts, and how overlooking and discounting research led the U.S. to continue allowing the Salvadoran regime to kill more innocent people.

In recent years, the veracity of facts, a phrase that would once have seemed redundant, has become controversial. It was not much different in 1981 El Salvador. The U.S. Administration dismissed research due to a lack of concrete evidence, resulting in the continued ignorance of the reality of the Salvadoran regime. Salvadoran radio station Venceremos which, though based on facts, was dismissed by the U.S. Government as nothing more than propaganda (87). William L. Wipfler, director of the human-rights office of the National Council of Churches in New York was one of the first people to research the massacre. Wipfler reached out to the U.S. Ambassador Deane Hinton, Amnesty International and other human rights organizations (86).


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