El Salvador's military blocks access to archives, again

Today El Salvador's military refused to comply with a judge's order that it permit experts in records archives to inspect the historic files of the armed forces. The judicial order came in the war crimes trial for the massacre by Salvadoran armed forces of close to a thousand children, women, the elderly and others at El Mozote and surrounding communities in 1981. That trial is proceeding in a courtroom in San Francisco Gotera in Morazan Department under the direction of Judge Jorge Guzmán.

Judge Guzmán had previously appointed several experts at the request of counsel for the victims to review the military archives from the war years. The appointment of experts follows years of stonewalling by the Salvadoran military, which has claimed that it cannot locate records, that the records don't exist, or the records were destroyed long ago.

Before the experts could start their work, the armed forces command tried again at the end of August to block the inspection of its archives as reported by Nelson Rauda
The Nayib Bukele administration has conveyed to Judge Jorge Guzmán, who reopened and has presided over the investigation into the 1981 El Mozote massacre, that “there are secret military planning documents that cannot be furnished by the Defense Ministry” because the armed forces safeguard “greater collective goods, like national security, the defense of the state, and the sovereignty of El Salvador.” This position was presented by attorney José Ángel Pérez in a hearing before the Examining Court of San Francisco Gotera on August 28, which was meant to coordinate the logistics of the military archive inspections that had been ordered previously.

Judge Guzmán rejected the contention that revealing military planning materials from 40 years ago would have any bearing on national security interests and clarified to the administration’s representative that the hearing was not convened to discuss whether the archives would be opened, but how the searches would be conducted. “The court’s decision, Mr. Chacón, has been made. What follows is its execution. Your objections are noted, however this does not prevent the judicial order from being upheld. If what you are espousing is the administration’s position, I would ask that you seek a reconsideration,” said the judge. “Judicial decisions aren’t negotiated or bargained. They are imposed,” he added.

Today was scheduled to be the first day for the archive inspections to begin.  However, when the experts along with Judge Guzman arrived at the military headquarters this morning, a Salvadoran military patrol directed by a colonel blocked their entrance and refused to allow them to pass.  RevistaFactum reported that the Minister of Defense, Francis Merino Monroy, has petitioned the country's Supreme Judicial Court to block the lower court order of inspection. Although the high court had not yet acted to block the required inspection, the military refused to let Judge Guzman and his experts enter.

The military's actions today fly in the face of previous statements by its commander-in-chief, president  Nayib Bukele:

"We are for the truth to be known in its entire spectrum: from A to Z. What's more, if the judge asks us from A to F, we will go to Z". With this phrase, the President of the Republic Nayib Bukele promised on November 1 to give access to the military files of the civil war related to the El Mozote massacre... 

The president made his position known a week after the judge of El Mozote, Jorge Guzmán, required from him, given his status as general commander of the armed forces, access to the military files related to the massacre, and those related to military operations threatening human rights carried out between 1980 and 1982. 

In a conference held at the Presidential House, Bukele responded to El Faro that he had not yet read Judge Guzmán's order, but he asserted that his government, even without an order, is committed to accessing the truth as a measure to heal the wounds of the past and vindicate the rights of the victims of war.

In this video, Bukele met with family members of the victims of the El Mozote massacre in the early days of his presidency and expressed his commitment to the pursuit of justice in this case.

Bukele, however, has spent all of his presidency since that date praising his military, deploying them on tasks from public security to quarantine enforcement, from hunting grasshopper plagues to delivering care packages of food.  Bukele appears to be pursuing a goal of garnering strong loyalty of the armed forces to their commander-in-chief.   Bukele is backtracking on his promises now that the military clearly opposes allowing outsiders access to any records of how it conducted campaigns resulting in massacres of civilians, even when it means defying a judicial order.  By failing to order the military under his command to comply with the inspection demand, Bukele threatens the possibility of justice for the victims of El Mozote.