ReportageForty years after the deaths of at least 988 people, including 558 children, in a mountainous region, relatives of the victims are fighting to ensure that the main suspects of the killings – high-ranking military personnel, trained by the Americans in the fight against rebellion – be condemned.
“I freed myself from the bodies covering me and saw my mother. Dead. And the little one. Agonizing. “ Fidel Perez’s voice chokes. He stays there, sitting against the wet rock, two long minutes in silence, then apologizes: “It’s always hard to talk about it. “ He has told it so often, this horror scene… Him, 7 years old, hidden in a cave on Cerro Ortiz with his parents, his little brother and his sister born a few days earlier, as well as fifteen other people; the soldier who surprises them, unpacks his grenade and throws it at them. After that, the black hole, for hours. “When we woke up my father, brother and I were covered in blood. There was nothing more for my little sister to do. My father took us by the hand, and we fled. “
Fidel Perez is now 47 years old. He is one of the survivors of the El Mozote massacre, the deadliest in recent Latin American history, forty years ago, between December 11 and 13, 1981: 988 people murdered, including 558 children, in this village lost in the Salvadoran jungle, 200 km in the northeast of the capital. A balance sheet called to evolve according to exhumations and the difficult identification of corpses.
Four decades have passed, and the massacre has gone unpunished, like all those suffered by El Salvador during the armed conflict which left 75,000 dead between 1979 and 1992. Five years ago, however, a judge, Jorge Guzman, reopened the ‘investigation. Bravely, he dared to attack the powerful, sued high-ranking officials, conducted hearings, gave the survivors hope for a trial, which should have started before the end of 2021. That was without counting the power of the army, in this country of 6 million inhabitants ruled for more than half a century (1931-1982) by the military. No one, to date, has been sentenced for the events of El Mozote. And no one should be for years …
To fully appreciate the weight of this past, we have to look back at the context of 1981. At the time, the civil war opposed the Salvadoran armed forces to the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), a guerrilla group born a year earlier. the merger of five left-wing rebel groups that have been fighting against the dictatorship since the early 1970s. In January 1981, the FMLN launched an offensive against the ruling civil-military junta. The fighting intensifies in the department of Morazan (north), on the border with Honduras. In December of the same year, the army decided to free the guerrillas entrenched in the jungle of this mountainous region. The United States supports the annihilation of the rebel movement. Republican Ronald Reagan has just arrived at the White House, and fears that El Salvador will become a new Nicaragua, where the left Sandinista forces took power in 1979. Washington trains, arms, finances the Salvadoran army, in particular the Atlacatl Rapid Reaction Infantry Battalion, an elite unit trained in counterinsurgency by the Americans. Brand new M16 assault rifles, equipment, helmets… nothing is missing.
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In El Salvador, the ghosts of El Mozote