- Marcos Gonzalez Diaz
- BBC News World correspondent in Mexico and Central America
The relatives of ten of the victims of the El Mozote massacre in El Salvador were finally able to close one of the most painful parts of the terrible tragedy that they had to suffer.
Last Wednesday, the remains of their relatives who had been exhumed more than three years ago were handed over to them to be subjected to DNA tests as part of the criminal process against a group of soldiers identified for their links to the case, considered the largest massacre. of the 20th century throughout Latin America.
Perpetrated in 1981 by the Salvadoran Army during the internal confrontation against the guerrillas of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), soldiers tortured and murdered with extreme cruelty nearly a thousand people in just three days, most of them peasants. About half were children.
For Fidel Pérez, who at only 6 years old survived that massacre in which his mother and newborn sister died, recovering their remains and being able to bury them means at least a breather in his journey to obtain justice that is already lengthening for more than 40 years.
Progress is being slow and they criticize that the support of the different governments has been null. To this day, there is still no not a single person convicted for what happened.
Despite this, far from giving up, Pérez assures that he will continue fighting until those responsible are punished and the truth about one of the darkest and most terrible chapters in the history of the Central American country is known.
We were a very poor family, very humble but very united. We lived in (the town of) Flor del Muerto hamlet. My parents lived from handicrafts and agriculture, and that’s how they supported two brothers and me.
At the beginning of the war we did not understand what was happening, but later we understood that the military assured that, from the river to here, we were all guerrillas.
They believed that every child that was born or young person that grew up was a future guerrilla fighter.. So, in view of that, they were killing everyone where we lived.
Already in 1980, a grandfather was killed and we had to leave our houses. But between December 6 and 7, the military operation called “Scorched Earth” entered our area because they destroyed everything: land, animals, people…
We began to go from one place to another, hiding in caves, without water, without eating, with nothing to wear… We walked at night because the operation was ready in all the hills and they could discover us.
On the 9th, my mother who was pregnant he had his girl in the mountains, because there was no where. A day later, we couldn’t walk because she could barely move. But on the 11th we had to flee as best we could because the operation was getting closer.
On that trip we were a large group, about 50 or 60 people. The older adults knew the area well and were guiding us.
We arrived at a house, but at dawn the soldiers also arrived and it was a “bump”. That thundered, it was scary. When they stopped shooting for a moment, we escaped. The advantage was that the moon was clear and we could see where we were going.
There, many families were separated because each one ran where they could. We lost our grandmother, who went the other way. My brothers and my parents ran and crossed the river while they kept shooting.
The massacre in the cave
Some 100 meters further up we stayed, because daylight was coming and the soldiers were on a hill in front of us. There we made a group of about 20 people and we took refuge in a cave on Cerro Ortiz.
In the morning, a woman decided to go down to the river to wash clothes, and there she found the soldiers. She ran upstairs and crying she told us: “today they are going to kill us.”
A catechist who was with us asked us to come closer to start praying. He only managed to get the Bible out when a soldier appeared, he took out the grenade that was on his chestand threw it towards us.
That was a dream for us, we fell asleep suddenly, that’s what I remember. Around 6:00 in the afternoon, my dad would talk to us and tell us to get up. But we were surrounded by all the people who had died.
I got up, there was blood on my face. I was injured in my eye, head and arm. My dad was hardly listening and one of my brothers had ringing in his ears. And then I saw that my mother and the girl had also died. I wasn’t even 7 years old.
I did not know what to do. My dad told us that we had to leave before they came back and killed us. He told us to say goodbye to our mom and sister. That was very sad.
It is tremendous for me to remember how they were, how the two of them had been. No matter how many years pass, it cannot be forgotten.
Now I am 47 years old and, despite all the time that has passed, his image is the worst memory I have of everything I experienced. Especially that of the girl, just a few days after being born.
Even if I die I will never get that image out of my mind. and from my heart, wherever I go. That is what struck me the most.
Together with my two brothers, my father and I, two other people from the group survived. We got out and escaped.
Eight days later, still under fire and with the operation in the area, my father and other men returned to the cave. Just as the bodies were after so many days, as they could and endured, they threw earth to cover them.
There were all the remains from that December 11, 1981 when they were killed.
A few months later, we left for Honduras. It was not until 1989 that we returned to El Salvador.
My brothers are out of the country and the rest are already dead. I am the only person in El Salvador who can attest to what happened in that cave.
The recovery of the remains
Years later, in 1994, the mortal remains were extracted from the cave and we brought them to the cemetery, as they deserve.
The remains were exhumed in November 2019. They told us they would deliver them to us in six months or a year, but that was not the case. Every year we hoped to bury them in the annual commemorations of what happened, but we had to wait too long.
Finally, after three days waiting in Legal Medicine, last Wednesday they handed over the remains of our relatives, our bones. Among them were those of my mother.
We returned to our community of Yancolo and we had to watch over them one night, because it was not possible to come and do the burial directly. They are human beings like us and they deserved a night of vigil. This is how the relatives decided and they were buried on Thursday.
The commemoration was made in the presence of ten coffins. There was also a little box that we made as a symbol for my little sister, because no remains of it appeared.
I was waiting for this moment with two very different feelings. On the one hand, the longing for the remains to be delivered to me, but at the same time, I wondered what am I going to do after they give them to me?
What is clear to me is that when I got home with the remains, I felt that they were there, that they had been living with me for years.
But right now I don’t feel good. When you bury them again, it’s like they died again somehow. They always live with me and always will.
Now that they have been handed over to us and we have buried the remains, what follows is that we are going to continue seeking justice, that the truth be known, and that such cruelty never be repeated again. The search for justice is our flag.
They were people, children… imagine my little sister who was three days old. It’s not fair, it’s not fair. We were civil people, we owed nothing. We were only in the middle of the two sides and that’s how people died unfairly.
“Without support” from governments
Of course, sometimes one has phases in which one is less hopeful that everything will end well. That he doubts if he will be able to or not. But all the relatives believe that, while we are alive, we want justice to be done. We will never give up as long as we are alive.
Unfortunately, the oldest witnesses to the massacre are dying. Also the military. We feel that governments are purposefully extending the process so that the people involved are dying.
But we are going to continue fighting, of that I am sure.
From the current and previous governments we have felt unwillingness to clarify things. We see how they don’t care, like what happened is a thing of the past. Neither left nor right governments helped us solve this.
The current government seems to want to erase that memory from history, of those events that took place during the conflict during the war years.
A month after he took office, (the president, Nayib Bukele) we met with him and he promised to hand over the military files on the massacre. If necessary, from A to Z. He was committed to helping us.
But when the judge asks them, that delivery does not occur. And without them, we cannot know the truth to do justice. So we believe that they are playing with the relatives of the victims. We do not see will.
Nor has this president attended any commemoration of the massacre, he has not accompanied us. We feel isolated and without giving us support.
search for justice
After more than 40 years, there is still not a single convicted person. And the most terrible thing is that they removed the judge who had been working on it since 2016, he was removed and the new judge is almost like starting everything over again, revictimizing the relatives whom she calls to repeat all their stories again. It’s frustrating.
Of course, all that marked my life forever. In addition to having to live with what happened, it is also very hard when one returns to that place where I was born and began to grow. Now you only see pure forest, pieces of tile, burned wood…
Then it comes to my mind that I lived there, and that there I could have grown up happily with the whole family… but when I returned, we were already half the family and with no one to support you.
To those who tell us that it would be better to forget about that, that it is better not to reopen the wounds… I answer that it is clear that they did not suffer what we, who live with their entire family and who do not know what it is to endure hunger or thirst .
These people seem to want this story to end and say that nothing has happened here… but we are not going to allow it.
I hope there is justice and have someone honor what they did. El Salvador would be an example for the world, because what happened here were crimes against humanity that should not be forgiven.
Now we see in these times what happens in other countries where there are wars, and it is terrible. Seeing what one went through in his childhood, we do not wish any country or human being to go through the same thing, because it is not easy to live with it.
That stays in one’s mind, and I’ll die with that. I wish no war on anyone.
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