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The Massacre at El Mozote

by Mark Danner

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272376,611 (4.11)5
"Thorough account of Dec. 1981 massacre of villagers by Salvadoran armed forces includes details of subsequent cover-up. Guerrillas acknowledged many civilian victims were rebel supporters, but El Mozote was Protestant stronghold unreceptive even to liberation theology. Good overview of military, death squad, and guerrilla violence in early 1980s"--Handbook of Latin American Studies, v. 58.… (more)
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This book looks at a forgotten bit of the Cold War in 1980s Central America. In December, 1981, a US-trained battalion of the army of El Salvador entered the town of El Mozote, and surrounding hamlets, and systematically murdered everyone; over 700 people were killed.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the Salvadoran army was in bad shape. There were numerous examples of guerrillas joining the army to get some military training, then intentionally deserting to join the rebels. The army was poorly-trained and poorly-led, except the US-trained Atlacatl battalion. In late 1981, an army operation was planned in Morazan province (where El Mozote was located) to squeeze the rebels out of the area, once and for all.

El Mozote, a town of evangelicals, barely tolerated the rebels. The townspeople were willing to sell corn or chickens to the rebels, but, when it came to joining the rebels, the people of El Mozote were not interested. When the rebels got word that the army was coming, they urged the people to head into the jungle until the army left. One of El Mozote's leading citizens said that he was assured, by the army, that the people were safe. The army was interested only in the rebels.

That day, several helicopters full of Atlacatl soldiers landed at El Mozote. The soldiers went from house to house, dragging everyone into the town square, and forcing them to lay flat on the ground. After a couple of hours of interrogation, accompanied by kicks and rifle butts, regarding rebel membership among the townspeople, the men were taken to the local church, and women and children were taken to one of the houses. The men were taken out of the church, a few at a time, into the nearby jungle, where they were all shot or decapitated. After all the men were dead, the soldiers came for the women and children. The younger women were taken into the jungle and gang-raped, by the soldiers, before being murdered. The small children were thrown into the air, and impaled on bayonets. When it was over, everyone was dead.

When word got out about what had happened, helped by front page stories in the Washington Post and New York Times, the reaction of the Salvadoran army and Reagan Administration was to dismiss the reports as nothing more than enemy propaganda. Congress was in the middle of debating further aid for the Salvadoran government, so the timing of the articles was hardly convenient for the Reagan Administration. A pair of officials from the US Embassy in San Salvador tried to go there to investigate, and got within a mile or two of El Mozote, before being turned back by the army (supposedly, guerrillas were in the area). They couldn't confirm reports of several hundred dead (the people from the area were hardly willing to talk), but it was pretty obvious to them that something huge had happened at El Mozote. The Reagan Administration used inconsistencies in the death toll, and the fact that it was first reported by Radio Venceremos, the rebel's radio station, as "proof" that it was not as bad as reported. The army said that there was a major gun battle with the rebels in El Mozote (untrue), so some townspeople got killed, but nowhere the reported number of several hundred. Was this massacre big enough to get the US Congress to reduce, or eliminate, funding for the Salvadoran military to continue their war against the people? No one in Washington wanted to "lose" El Salvador the same way that China was "lost" after World War II.

This is a first rate piece of investigative journalism. It contains nearly 100 pages of US Government documents about what happened to El Mozote. This may seem like an "old" book, but to bring a forgotten bit of the Cold War back into the collective memory, it is very much recommended. ( )
  plappen | Jul 30, 2008 |
Danner's writing quickly draws you in to the world of the oppressed, making it impossible not to empathize with them. As a journalist he knows how to get the facts to the reader - frequently providing us with both sides to the story - while also creating a fascinating tale. This book also serves to get the word out on an important event in U.S. and Central American history that didn't get much coverage at the time it happened. ( )
  ivy7496 | Nov 13, 2006 |
An accounting of a peasant massacre in El Salvador's civil war during the ealy 1980's. ( )
  jcvogan1 | Dec 8, 2005 |
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Heading up into the mountains of Morazan, in the bright, clear air near the Honduran border, you cross the Torola River, the wooden slats of the one-lane bridge clattering beneath your wheels, and enter what was the fiercest of El Salvador's *zonas rojas* - or "red zones," as the military officers knew them during a decade of civil war - and after climbing for some time you take leave of the worn blacktop to follow for several miles a bone-jarring dirt track that hugs a mountainside, and soon you will find, among ruined towns and long-abandoned villages that are coming slowly, painfully back to life, a tiny hamlet, by now little more than a scattering of ruins, that is rapidly being reclaimed by the earth, its broken adobe walls cracking and crumbling and giving way before an onslaught of weeds, which are fueled by the rain that beats down each afternoon and by the fog that settles heavily at night in the valleys.
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"Thorough account of Dec. 1981 massacre of villagers by Salvadoran armed forces includes details of subsequent cover-up. Guerrillas acknowledged many civilian victims were rebel supporters, but El Mozote was Protestant stronghold unreceptive even to liberation theology. Good overview of military, death squad, and guerrilla violence in early 1980s"--Handbook of Latin American Studies, v. 58.

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