This weekend, people from throughout El Salvador and the world gathered in a remote location in northeastern El Salvador to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the El Mozote massacre, in which more than 800 men, women, children, and babies, were killed by the Salvadoran Army. It was a time to remember and a time for renewed commitment to the quest for justice for the victims. This year, the commemoration commenced on Saturday, Dec. 10, which is the 63rd anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Anniversaries bring infrastructure improvements to El Mozote. There was fresh asphalt pavement on the last few hundred yards into the village. A grader smoothed a hill side to make parking spaces for cars, just as the cars started to pull in.
A stage had been raised close to the little church on the main plaza in El Mozote. The whole plaza was filled with hundreds of people. Vendors sold artisan items, T-shirts, and pupusas.
As we arrived, a children's chorus was beginning to sing under the direction of Sister Anne Griffin. More than one of the subsequent speakers commented on the hope embodies by those voices singing on the spot where hundreds of children were massacred. Children read the names and ages of child victims.
The event was attended for the first time by a high-level official of the current Salvadoran government: Hugo Martinez, El Salvador's foreign minister. Others present included the ambassadors of Venezuela and Colombia, representatives of the United Nations, Oscar Luna, El Salvador's Human Rights Ombudsman, and others. But the most important attendees were the family members of the victims of El Mozote.
The headlines this event generated came from the remarks of Foreign Minister Hugo Martinez. After commenting that prior Salvadoran governments had treated the immense suffering of El Mozote was a matter of indifference, he said:
I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate on behalf of the government of El Salvador our request for forgiveness to the thousands of innocent victims, but especially the victims of the massacre at El Mozote.
Martinez said that the government under President Mauricio Funes was accepting the responsibility for the crimes committed and that it was in solidarity with the victims of El Mozote and the surrounding communities.
Later in the morning, Oscar Luna, El Salvador's human rights ombudsman, made his presentation. Starting with the events of 30 years ago, he traced the search for justice up to the present day proceedings in front of the Inter-American Court for Human Rights. He left no doubt of his opinion that what has been done so far has been insufficient. He called for a repeal of the Amnesty Law, a judicial investigation of those responsible for the command and control of the massacre, and concrete reparations including financial, medical, psycho-social and legal assistance to the families of the victims.
The voices of the victims were also heard this day as those who had lost family members presented their testimony. Other parts of the commemoration included a Catholic mass, a music concert, dance presentations, and more.
This weekend also saw the dedication of a new monument to the innocent victims of the massacre. The new monument is located about 1 km down the road past El Mozote. Not completely finished, it rises dramatically on a hillside with dramatic views. On top, as a crown, are the silhouettes of the El Mozote family from the monument in the village square. Statutes of prophets of non-violence encircle the monument including Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Sister Teresa. A figure of Jesus Christ includes the phrase "my peace I give you, my peace I leave with you."
You can see pictures I took of the new monument and the anniversary activities at this link.
--- Tim Muth covers the news and politics of El Salvador at his blog, Tim's El Salvador Blog. This post is the ninth in a series on his blog about the El Mozote massacre.