El Mozote massacre triggers passions in Washington decades later

Rep. Ilhan Omar
In a recent Congressional hearing first year member of the US House of Representatives Ilhan Omar challenged Elliott Abrams over his role in the Reagan administration's denial of the truth of the El Mozote massacre.  Their clash resulted in several worthwhile articles to remind audiences in the US about the massacre which killed more than 900 civilians including more than 400 children under the age of twelve.

Raymond Bonner of the New York Times was one of the first reporters, along with Alma Guillermoprieto of the Washington Post, to report on the massacre in the US press in 1982.   The Reagan administration where Abrams was a senior official denied these reports.   Bonner now answers in The Atlantic What Did Elliott Abrams Have to Do With the El Mozote Massacre?:
My reporting and Susan’s pictures appeared in the Times, and Alma’s reporting in the Post, in January 1982. Immediately, the administration attacked us and sought to deny the stories, calling them guerrilla propaganda. The reports were not credible, Abrams said. As Abrams put it, El Mozote “appears to be an incident that is at least being significantly misused, at the very best, by the guerrillas.” So the murder of hundreds of children became a mere “incident.”
Elliott Abrams
Ishan Thoroor wrote a piece titled The massacre Trump’s envoy to Venezuela wants us to forget in the Washington Post, the other paper which carried early news of the massacre:
Abrams defended his record and angrily rejected Omar’s interrogation. “It’s a remarkable record of support for Latin democracy, of which Rep. Omar is obviously unaware and in which she is uninterested,” he said. “That was clear from her conduct, which constituted attacking rather than questioning a witness.” 
But [author Mark] Danner pointed to the power of amnesia in Washington. “If you stay in D.C. long enough, no matter how dirty your bedsheets, they are going to be bleached clean simply by the corrosive force of forgetfulness,” he said. That is, unless a congresswoman decides to remind everyone. 
“Omar performed a public service,” Danner said.
In their reporting, Danner, Bonner and Guillermoprieto all met and spoke with a survivor and witness to the massacre, Rufina Amaya.   Amaya's testimony has been key to understanding what happened in El Mozote in December 1981.  Amaya died in 2007, and now her daughter Marta has had to flee El Salvador and seek asylum in the US.   Her story is documented by Nelson Rauda, a journalist at El Faro and published in The Daily Beast: Her Family Survived the El Mozote Massacre. Now She’s Fleeing El Salvador’s Gangs.

Rufina Amaya
Nelson Rauda also published in El Faro this week an overview of where the trial of this case stands today: Todavía se buscan fantasmas en El Mozote (Still searching for ghosts in El Mozote).    Rauda describes the recent excavation by forensic experts where it was thought more victims might be located, although it turned out to be a false lead with only animal bones.  The search highlights the ongoing tragedy for some families who decades later still have not located the remains of relatives killed in the massacre.  Meanwhile, the trial could turn to a new stage in which soldiers who were part of the Atlacatl battalion at the time of the massacre present testimony.   Up to this date, there has been almost complete silence from the military who carried out the atrocity.

Also noting the confluence of Abrams' testimony with the forensic excavations at El Mozote was Heather Gies in The Guardian in her article  El Salvador massacre: forensics teams dig for remains as US envoy faces grilling.

This week progress was also made for the families of El Mozote's victims when the National Assembly passed a law making it easier to establish their family relationships without many documents which disappeared during the course of the war years.

Just a final comment -- there seems to be a suggestion from some on the right that to challenge Elliott Abrams as a fitting US representative for anything involving Latin American policy is the same as supporting Maduro in Venezuela.   That's a completely specious argument.    You can be opposed (as I am) to Maduro's ruinous rule in Venezuela and his violations of human rights without needing to support Abrams who actively covered up the human rights abuses of an oppressive regime in El Salvador and elsewhere.   You have more credibility and integrity if you denounce human rights abuses wherever they exist, not just when the human rights abuses are committed by a government on the opposite side of the political spectrum.


Unknown said…
Thank you Tim for keeping us informed with your blog and sharing your insight. People need to know about the complicity and support of our government in the atrocities that were carried out in El Salvador.
Greg said…
Ms. Omar should also speak out regarding the atrocities committed by the FMLN during the war and accounted for in the UN Truth Commission report.

One reason the now FMLN politicians and new "ricos" want the Amnesty law back in force. They don't want to be put on trial for their violations of human rights.