The El Mozote case returns to the courtroom

The case of the 1981 massacre of children, the elderly and others at El Mozote and surrounding communities returned to the courtroom in San Francisco Gotera, El Salvador last week.  There a judge is hearing a criminal case against generals and other military commanders for their responsibility for the massacre which killed almost 1000 civilians, more than half of whom were children.  The increasingly elderly victims and the increasingly elderly defendants were in court to hear the new charges facing the retired officers. 

The judge overseeing the case in in San Francisco Gotera, Jorge Alberto Guzmán, indicated that after his review of the evidence produced so far in the case, he was adding to the criminal charges to include forced disappearances, forced displacement and torture.

The judge also added another defendant to the case: ex-colonel Gabriel Contreras, who was chief of operations for the air force at the time of the massacre.  With the addition of Contreras, there are a total of 18 former military officers facing justice in that small rural courtroom in San Francisco Gotera.

Three of the 18 defendants await hearing 

Anna-Cat Brigida reports in Al Jaazeera on the position of the defendants:
The military maintains that the December 1981 massacre was an armed confrontation between the armed forces and rebel fighters in the early days of the country's civil war. Victims' testimony and forensic evidence, however, contradicts this version of events. 
"There is more than just proof of assassinations. There is also proof of sexual violence, acts of torture and on top of that, a large number of people who were also displaced," said Gisela de Leon, legal director of The Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), a Costa Rica-based organization that supports cases of transitional justice in the region. 
"More than 30 years have passed and many people survived who are still waiting for the people responsible for the acts to be properly punished," de Leon said.
The generals also appear to be planing a defense that they were just following orders, indicating that the military high command and then-president Jose Napoleon Duarte were aware of all operations.

None of the defendants is being jailed during the course of the trial.   All have been required to surrender their passports and must report to the court once a month.

Family members of the victims waited outside the courthouse with signs for the arrival of the defendants:   

“Los asesinos quieren que olvidemos para garantizar su impunidad”
The assassins want us to forget to guarantee their impunity

“¡Contra la injusticia y la impunidad! Ni perdón, ni olvido”
No injustice and impunity!  Neither forgiveness nor forgetting

They don't have the courage to ask us forgiveness," said María López, survivor of the massacre of El Mozote,...

ContraPunto describes one of the exchanges during last week's hearing:
General Guillermo García, former defense minister at the dawn of the war, is among the defendants. "The Armed Forces of El Salvador fulfilled its Constitutional function," said Garcia, an argument he has made several times. "Having lost a family member, relative, friend, acquaintance ... All Salvadorans have lost," he said, noting that more than 11,000 soldiers died throughout the conflict. He then suggested that "instead of engaging in polemics, we should be reconciling for the good of the country."  
Dorila Márquez, survivor, representative of the victims and member of the Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos El Mozote, had the opportunity to express herself and responded in defense that in those villages where the massacre took place the residents were not involved with the guerrillas. "He (Bustillo) would not have wanted to have his family massacred," she said. She is one of the most well-known faces in the struggle to achieve justice. "Do not accuse us in that way again, because we did not have any part," said Márquez.

"Many of those who accuse us know of the atrocities done by the guerrillas," said general Rafael Bustillo y pointed to the victims of El Mostoe present in the courtroom.

Loida Avelar wrote in RevistaFactum last week, the present-day Salvadoran military continues to offer its support to the defendants and continue to deny access to the military archives.

The AP described reactions from representatives of the victims after the presentations in court by the defendants:
David Morales, the one-time head of El Salvador’s human rights commission who now represents the victims, said he hasn’t heard the accused express any remorse, accountability or solidarity with the victims. 
“I didn’t hear anyone ask for forgiveness, or say sorry,” Morales said.
Read more about the struggle for justice in the El Mozote case from Cristosal: Prosecuting El Mozote, one of the worst war crimes in modern Latin American history