El Mozote: The Road to Justice, Truth and Reparations Remains Difficult


Image: ARPAS - Communications Secretary of the Presidency
(Red Informativa Arpas-Secretaría de Comunicaciones de la Presidencia)

On September 21, a review of internal archives at a military base in San Francisco Gotera related to one of the most notorious massacres in El Salvador's history - the 1981 El Mozote massacre - was scheduled to begin. President Nayib Bukele, after promising to disclose military files related to the 1980-1992 armed conflict in his election campaign last year, has ordered a ‘health cordon’ (closure with restricted movement) in the city of San Francisco Gotera, where the military base is located and is subject by court order to a review of its internal files by a commission of experts. As long as the closure is active, no one will be allowed to enter the municipality, including the experts appointed to carry out the archive search at the base. Once again, using the pandemic as a pretext to militarize and deny access to public information, President Bukele has continued the impunity enjoyed by military perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

During the extreme right-wing governments, the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) (1989-2009) denied on several occasions that such a massacre occurred and in many cases there was no action to compensate the victims of this area of Morazán. It was not until the arrival of the leftist government of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) (2009-2019) that some actions of moral and material reparation started, among those were: the construction of monuments, the request for forgiveness from the State, the improvement of the infrastructure of the area, in addition to other minimal actions.

On June 13, 2016, the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) in El Salvador declared unconstitutional the 1993 'Amnesty Law' that had granted a "broad, absolute and unconditional amnesty" to persons who committed crimes during the Salvadoran armed conflict. Last June, the judge overseeing the investigation into the El Mozote massacre, appointed several experts to review the archives on the aforementioned date.

The Bukele administration has repeatedly mentioned that it is on the side of the victims, characterizing itself as the only government that has taken these people into account. However, as has been the custom lately, the actions of the administration are not consistent with its rhetoric. Recently, the current Minister of Defense, Rene Merino Monroy, presented a brief to the plenary session of the Supreme Court of Justice requesting that the inspection of the archives be denied, arguing that there was no legal basis for it. Both Minister Merino Monroy and the Presidency of the Republic of El Salvador agree with the defense of the accused military that "the opening of the military archives from 4 decades ago could put national security at risk.”

Despite having his request denied by the Supreme Court of Justice, Defense Minister Monroy has said he will not comply with the judicial order, which represents several non-compliance and criminal actions, among which could be; arbitrary actions, contempt and disobedience to a court order.

In addition, on the night of Sunday, September 20, hours before the investigations was to bebin, Health Minister Francisco Alabi decreed a "health cordon" in San Francisco Gotera, the departmental capital of Morazán and location of Military Headquarters Number 4. Alleging a resurgence of COVID-19 cases in the municipality, President Bukele has denied the investigative commission access to the archives. As CISPES has documented in its report, "COVID-19 Response Spurs Human Rights Violations, Abuse of Power," President Bukele has taken advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to militarize public security and prevent access to public information.

Several human rights organizations have spoken out about the way in which President Bukele is hindering the search for truth for the victims of the El Mozote massacre, among them the Human Rights Ombudsman, who said in an interview, "It is regrettable, sad, shameful and a dark day. Recently in Spain there was a sentence of 133 years to a person who was prosecuted for participating in the murder and massacre of Jesuit priests in 1989. This process should serve as an example in El Salvador, because we cannot continue the impunity.” Similarly, other international organizations for the defense of human rights have also condemned this action.

Denying access to archives that could help identify the intellectual and material authors of this atrocious crime committed against the civilian population by the Armed Forces in the context of the armed conflict, represents another step backwards in the search for justice. The position of Minister of Defense Merino Monroy and the President Bukele also signal a clear intention to protect serving military members involved in this and other crimes, making the path to achieving long sought justice and reparations more difficult. 

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