Posted by: beattieblog | April 20, 2008

The Massacre at El Mozote

One of my assigned readings for Christian Ethics this quarter is The Massacre at El Mozote by Mark Danner (it’s in book form, but you can read the initial full article here). It is the horrific account of one of the largest massacres in Latin American history. It’s set against the backdrop of the battle between leftist guerrillas and the U.S. backed El Salvadoran army. On December 11 (day after my birthday), 1981, a unit of ‘elite’ government soldiers tortured, raped and massacred hundreds of campesinos (peasants) from infants to the elderly. It’s a story of truth-telling, cover-ups and some redemption (hope for more). Today, there is a medical clinic in El Mozote named after the only survivor of the massacre, Rufina Amaya. This article is the single hardest thing I’ve ever had to read. It’s horrible and you should know about it but be warned about reading the article – it’s graphic in its description. I think from now on, when I celebrate my birthday on December 10th, I’ll always remember that in 1981, a group of innocent men, women and children were about to experience living hell. The irony is, I’ll be thankful my family lives in a place free of such military violence but angry that my government supplied the M-16s, money and training that helped fuel this atrocity. May God have mercy on all of us.


Here is a passage towards the end of Danner’s article which includes quotes from the United Nation’s Truth Commission’s report, From Madness To Hope: The 12-Year War in El Salvador:

“Finally, in October, the experts began to dig. And there, on the third day, in the silence of the ruined hamlet of El Mozote, all the words and claims and counterclaims that had been loudly made for nearly eleven years abruptly gave way before the mute force of material fact. The bones were there, the cartridges were there; the sleeping reality of El Mozote had finally been awoken.

They dug and sifted and charted for thirty-five days, and soon the cartridges and the clothing and the bones and bone fragments, all labelled and packed away in bright manila envelopes and fresh new cartons, would depart El Mozote and travel by car to a laboratory in San Salvador, where the experts worked away into December. The following March, when the United Nations made public the Truth Commission’s report, entitled “From Madness to Hope: The 12-Year War in El Salvador,” the analysis of the evidence was there, laid out for the reader in clear, precise language, each successive sentence demolishing one or another of the myths put forward during the previous twelve years. Of the hundred and forty-three skulls found, all “were deposited during the same temporal event,” which is “unlikely to have occurred later than 1981.” El Mozote could not have been a guerrilla graveyard, as some had claimed, especially since all but twelve of the one hundred and forty-three remains identified turned out to be those of children under twelve years of age, including at least one fetus, found between the pelvic bones of one of the adults.

The cartridges recovered in the sacristy showed that “at least twenty-four people participated in the shooting,” and the distribution of the shells indicated that they fired “from within the house, from the doorway, and probably through a window to the right of the door.” Finally, of the two hundred and forty-five cartridge cases that were studied — all but one from American M16 rifles — “184 had discernible headstamps, identifying the ammunition as having been manufactured for the United States Government at Lake City, Missouri.”

From this evidence and from a wealth of testimony, the Truth Commission would conclude that “more than 500 identified victims perished at El Mozote and in the other villages. Many other victims have not been identified.” To identify them would likely require more exhumations — at other sites in El Mozote, as well as in La Joya and in the other hamlets where the killing took place. But the Truth Commission has finished its report, and, five days after the report was published, the Salvadoran legislature pushed through a blanket amnesty that would bar from prosecution those responsible for El Mozote and other atrocities of the civil war. In view of this, Judge Portillo, after allowing two American anthropologists to work in the hamlet for several weeks with inconclusive results, in effect closed down his investigation. The other victims of El Mozote will continue to lie undisturbed in the soil of Morazán.”



  1. […] or ‘insurrectionist’ thoughts. But what if I lived in modern-day China or Venezuela today, or El Salvador in the early 1980s? What if the melanin in my skin quadrupled all of a sudden? How would living as an oppressed […]

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