El Mozote massacre. A dark point in Salvadoran history.

By Eddie Galdamez  |  Monday, January 13th, 2020
El Mozote massacre

El Mozote massacre was executed by the Salvadoran Army in the El Mozote village in the department of Morazan in December 1981. More than 800 civilians that included women and children, were murdered on this day.

The massacre was carried out by the Atlacatl infantry, along with forces of the Third Infantry Brigade of San Miguel, the San Francisco Gotera army personal, and the Salvadoran air forces.

The Atlacatl Batallion was a rapid response infantry unit trained for counter-insurgency warfare by military advisors from the United States.

The operation carried out during the massacre was called “Operation Rescue.” Its mission was to eradicate the rebel occupation in the region of northern Morazan. Between one thousand and two thousand troops were deployed, searching for an alleged training camp belonging to the FMLN guerillas.

The El Mozote village consisted of about 20 houses, a church, and a schoolhouse nearby. There was also a small building refer as “the convent,” used by the priest when he came to the village to celebrate Mass.

December 10th, 1981.

According to historical accounts, on December 10th. The soldiers arrived at El Mozote and found the village residents and peasant farmers or “Campesinos.” The peasant had sought refuge from the surrounding area due to recent fighting. The soldiers made people lie face down and searched them, and questioned them about the guerrillas.

After the initial questioning and search, they ordered the villagers to lock themselves in their houses until the next day. They warned that anyone coming out would be shot. The Atlacatl soldiers remained in the village during the night.

El Mozote Church
Site of the old, burned down church in El Mozote. Photo byEfrojas

December 11th, 1981.

Per the same historical accounts, the next morning, soldiers reassembled the entire villagers and Campesinos in the square. They divided the men from the women and children. They keep them in separate groups, some in the church, others in the convent, and various houses.

During the morning, the soldiers interrogated, tortured, and executed the men in several locations. Around noon, women and older girls were taken in groups; they were murder with machine guns after raping them.

Finally, they killed the children by slitting their throats, and later by hanging them from trees. After the killings, soldiers set fire to all the buildings.

El Mozote old church
El Mozote old Church. Photo by MUPI

The initial reports on the El Mozote massacre.

In January 1982, news of the massacre appeared in the New York Times and the Washington Post. Raymond Bonner wrote in the N.Y. Times of seeing charred skulls and bones of dozens of bodies. The villagers gave Raymond Bonner a list of names, all of whom, they claimed, had been murdered by government soldiers.

Alma Guillermoprieto, a reporter of the Washington Post, visited the El Mozote village and wrote of seeing “dozens of decomposing bodies still seen beneath the rubble and lying in nearby fields.”

Both reporters mentioned Rufina Amaya, a survivor and a witness. She escaped the massacre by hiding in a tree during the attack. She recounted to both reporters that the army had killed her husband and her four children.

The Salvadoran army and government leaders denied the reports. Also, the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador disputed the news; they said that their own investigation revealed that only 300 people lived in El Mozote.

The El Mozote massacre investigation.

In 1992, as part of the newly signed peace accords in Mexico, a truth commission was created with the sole purpose of investigating human rights abuses committed during the war.

Exhumations of El Mozote’s remain began on November 17. The excavation proved that Guillermoprieto and Bonner’s reports were, in fact, correct, and hundreds of locals had been killed on El Mozote.

The Salvadoran Minister of Defense and the Armed Forces’ Chief told the Truth Commission that they had no information regarding the units and officers who participated in Operación Rescate.

In 1993, El Salvador Legislative Assembly passed an amnesty law for all individuals implicated in crimes during the civil war; this effectively exempted the army from prosecution. Later on, El Salvador Constitutional Chamber declares the 1993 amnesty illegal.

In 2012, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered the Salvadoran government to open an investigation of the El Mozote massacre and bring those responsible to justice.

In June 2019, President Nayib Bukele ordered that Colonel Domingo Monterrosa’s name be removed from the Third Infantry Brigade barracks in San Miguel. Monterrosa has been named as the principal figure that ordered the massacre.

El Mozote Monument
El Mozote Monument

The El Mozote massacre as of 2020.

As of 2020, investigations into the El Mozote Massacre continue. A judge from Morazan wants to inspect the files of the armed forces concerning the massacre. The Salvadoran Army has denied the judge access to its files.

President Nayib Bukkele, in a nationally televised event, unclassified the only documents found related to the massacre. He reiterated that the Armed Forces would not allow inspections as the remaining files contain information pertinent to ongoing activities. Bukele conformed that the old files related to the El Mozote had been destroyed over the last 40 years.

El Salvador History