El Mozote -- the long slow slog towards justice
This month saw the third anniversary of the reopening of a criminal case to prosecute those responsible for the atrocity. A judge restarted that case after a 1993 law which granted amnesty to perpetrators of war crimes was nullified by the Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador's Supreme Judicial Court.
In the years since, the proceeding has advanced in small steps. Family members and witnesses have testified to those horrific days, and experts have testified to what the bones and remains of children and women and the elderly revealed.
Earlier this year, the judge overseeing the case added additional criminal charges against the accused military officers, joining kidnapping, torture and forced displacement to the list of crimes. He brought the officers into court where they came face to face with some of the victims' families.
The defense approach is one of delay, denial, and deflection up the chain of command. Following the imposition of new charges, defense attorneys attempted a pretrial appeal to El Salvador's Supreme Judicial Court to have the judge removed for corruption. The high court rejected that attempt this week.
New exhumations of more victims are expected to proceed in November.
Slowly El Salvador slogs towards justice in this case. But lawyers for the victims have been lamenting the lack of cooperation they are receiving from state institutions.
A few days after taking office as president, Nayib Bukele ordered the removal of Colonel Domingo Monterrosa's name from military barracks in San Miguel. Monterrosa was the commanding officer of the battalion which carried out the massacre, and he was later killed when a guerrilla bomb brought down his helicopter 35 years ago today.
The current government is also touting public works projects in El Mozote and a scholarship program as its form of doing justice for the community. The same was true of the prior government of Salvador Sanchez Ceren. Yet when it comes to advancing the cause of justice in the courtroom, the government has done little. Specifically, Bukele has not ordered the military to open its archives to inspection by the court or prosecutors.
Meanwhile, victims' families also fear the potential of a new law of "national reconciliation" being passed which might grant amnesty to the authors of the El Mozote massacre. They have rejected a months long process of supposed consultation with victims by a commission of the Legislative Assembly, and suspect that a new draft law is amnesty in disguise. An earlier attempt to pass a bill which would have created a type of amnesty failed in May of this year.
A few recent articles have been added to the body of work in English surrounding El Mozote:
In El Salvador’s Forgotten Genocide: 40 Years Later, Victor Aguilar Pereira offers an historical perspective on the massacre of children, the elderly and others at El Mozote as a form of genocide.
Amelia Rayno, a freelance journalist, wrote "El Mozote: behind the scenes of my reporting." Rayno's essay shares the emotions and thoughts of one's first encounter with the village of El Mozote and what happened there.
If you speak Spanish, I also recommend the surprisingly good documentary El Mozote Nunca Más produced by the Salvadoran government in 2017 to comply with the sentence of the InterAmerican Court of Human Rights.
You can see the more than 50 posts about El Mozote I have written by using the "El Mozote" tag at El Salvador Perspectives.