The next day we headed to El Motoze, a small village where, on December 11th 1981 the Salvadorian Army massacred approximately 800 civilians. It was the first time I’d actually broken down at a memorial site; usually listening, reading, absorbing, paying my respects, but all with my emotional guard up. Standing in the garden, looking at the brightly coloured mural memorializing the children that had been murdered; being told of the terror and their screams; how the guards were on drugs chasing them with machetes, all whilst children were playing near us. It broke me, I could picture it too clearly and it was too harrowing. I put on my sunglasses in an attempt to cover up my tears and quietly cry behind them. They called these massacre tactics as ‘taking the water from the fish’, based on a fear of spreading an ideology. On receiving reports of the massacre in January 1982, the Reagan administration called them a ‘gross exaggeration.’ In December 2011, the Salvadoran government apologized for the massacre.
Our guide was a lady, perhaps in her early 40’s. Her brothers and sisters had been killed in the massacre whilst she had been away in a nearby town out harvesting corn with her father. They had been away for a week and when they tried to return to their village on the 9th December 1981 they were stopped by the military. She remembers being desperate to get home, but says she can only thank god she never did.
On the 10th December the villagers were told to gather in the Central Square and were then taken and locked up in nearby houses. People from nearby villages had also congregated, believing it would be a safe haven, but sadly, I cannot remember exactly why. On the 11th they were divided into groups of girls (teenagers/young adults), children, woman and men. The girls were taken to the top of a hill for three days; they were raped, tortured and then executed. The men were shot behind the houses close to the Central Square. The children were taken to the church and killed with ‘white weapons’ (knives, machetes, etc). We were told that the children starting screaming, as you would expect, and this in turn made the military more frenzied, screaming back, running around and hacking at them. Some babies were thrown in the air then caught, speared by bayonet.
All of this was learnt from the one survivor of the massacre, who, along with the rest of the women was lined up waiting to be executed. She was 31 at the time, stood at the end of the line and was given an 8 month old baby; she thought to look after. It was then taken from her and thrown in the air, landing on a bayonet. Spotting cattle walking past her, when the guards weren’t looking she hid behind them and walked with them. She jumped over a fence and ran to a nearby village where her father lived; though everyone there had been killed as well. She hid herself under leaves for 5 days until she was found by some children and then was taken to a refugee camp in Honduras.
Roughly 800-1000 people died in the massacre and the US deny any knowledge of it. The site was exhumed by Argentina in 1991 and formed part of the ‘Commission of Truth’. Though in 1992 a Peace Agreement was signed, with immunity for all from prosecution there were 4 exceptions, all related to the massacre. One El Salvadorian (the Minister of Defense) had fled to the US before the peace agreement and is currently under house arrest/on trial in Florida.
There was also an Amnesty for the FLNM (guerrilla) members, who were given three choices:
- Money (approximately U$1200/£800) or
- 1 hectare of good flat land or 4 hectares of hilly land or
- A University education.
Another one of our guides, Leanore Marcaz lived near Mozote and at the age of 6, at the start of the war was taken to live in a refugee camp in Honduras. Here she learnt about the war and the FLNM ideology by the guerrillas that would come and talk to the residents and also try to recruit. And at the age of 13 she went off to join the war herself. Leanore said one of the main rules they were taught was to respect the civilian population. Her main function was in radio communications, but she also fought in combat. She used to listen to other radio stations (enemy and international) and collate the information for the other guerrillas.
She had left the war 10 months before the end as she was pregnant/just given birth, so she was not given the choices of the Amnesty. She had no bitterness about this, which personally surprised me. Leanore also took us to her house. From the side of the road there was no way you would have known there was a small community of houses in the jungle behind. We followed a tiny trail for about 2 minutes and suddenly came to a collection of about ten concrete bungalows. Basic and messy, but clean. She lives there with her younger daughter and showed us pictures of her older daughter, whose father had died in the war. There were pictures of him and her on the wall as guerrillas armed, with their comrades. You very much got the impression he was her one love. I guess she was roughly 17 years old and love in combat must have been incomparably intense. There was no sign/pictures of the second daughters father, and no mention of him either. Even through the language barrier you could feel her pride and convictions for what the FLMN had done, and what she had contributed. I asked, through Jorge what she thought of the party now. She said she felt betrayed somewhat, and that they are so far removed from the ideals they all fought for. That some of those have even become like those they were fighting against.