Snapshots

Jon Santiago: Revisiting American Involvement in El Salvador: The Massacre at El Mozote

In 1981, El Salvador's military leaders began to employ "scorched earth" tactics in their battle against left-wing guerrillas. In Spanish the saying was "sacar el pes del agua," or "remove the fish from the water." Whatever the name, total warfare and destruction was the objective, and the policy resulted in a brutal massacre in the small town of El Mozote. I visited the town last week, a few days after the historic presidential election victory of the FMLN, political descendants of the guerrillas who endured a 12-year civil war against a repressive military government. A local ex-guerrilla and a curator of the memorial dedicated to the massacre shared the disturbing story with me. It is one that more Americans should hear.

Over the course of three days in January, 1981, approximately 1000 people, almost the entire population of Mozote, were tortured and slaughtered. Men, women, children, and the elderly were separated in groups around the town plaza. Men were tortured and shot. Women were tortured and shot. Young women were taken up a hill, raped, and then shot. 146 children, ranging from the ages of 3 days to 14 years, were brutally murdered. Soldiers smashed the skulls of small babies and decapitated older children. Several pregnant mothers were shot, then had large rocks dropped on their stomachs to kill their unborn children. Finished, the soldiers set fire to the church where the children had been killed. Oscar, my ex-guerrilla guide, was among those that found the town smoldering the next day and recalled seeing animals pick at decapitated heads, strewn about, as smoke rose from charred bodies.

A monument to the victims now stands in the town plaza. The bones that have been recovered are enterred beneath a wall that lists the names of the deceased. A garden with bright flowers and colorful murals has been dedicated to the 146 children, whose names and ages are listed on a wall of the rebuilt church that burnt along with their bodies.

How are we, as Americans, involved? The American government, one of the people, was intimately involved with El Salvador’s right wing government before and after the massacre. We provided them with weapons, money, and political support for a full 11 years after the massacre. The story of the massacre, while initially disputed by both the Salvadoran and American governments, has been corroborated by eyewitness accounts (Rufina Amaya, a local woman, escaped while her family was killed). A New York Times reporter visited the town shortly after the massacre and published this article. Furthermore, examinations of exhumed remains are consistent with accounts of the brutality of the killings. Despite strong evidence of mass torture and senseless murder, America stood by El Salvador´s military leaders.

READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE: Jon Santiago: Revisiting American Involvement in El Salvador: The Massacre at El Mozote.

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