By Gabriela Acosta
Monday, January 16th marked the twentieth anniversary of the signing of the Salvadoran peace accords. FMLN President Mauricio Funes commemorated the occasion by asking the families of victims for forgiveness for the massacre of El Mozote—an unspeakably atrocious event of unprecedented magnitude that the government publicly had denied ever taking place for years. In the midst of the fiercely brutal civil war, the U.S.-trained Atlacatl battalion notorious for its brutality, entered the small village in Morazán and accounted for the massacre of one thousand innocent lives over the course of three days—December 11-13th, 1981. Death Squads targeted anyone suspected of rebel activity, leading to the torture, assassination, wounding and disappearance of twelve thousand of innocent men, women, and children, in the course of the civil war overall. Many of the victims bodies have yet to be found.
These human rights abuses have been denied of justice for over two decades, leaving a deep scar in the hearts of those who had survived the event. Standing solemnly at the massacre site, President Funes suggested that he could not be expected to erase the pain that the family members have carried, but that he hoped this act of public recognition would at least help dignify the victims lost in the tragedy. “I ask forgiveness of the mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters of those who still today do not know the whereabouts of their loved ones. I ask forgiveness from the people of El Salvador, who suffered an atrocious and unacceptable violence,” pronounced Funes to the assembly made up of thousands of campesinos. It has been two decades of struggle for the country to gain even the minimum democratic footing and yet there is still an enormous amount of work to be done.
Of course the questions remains to be asked: how can there be crime without justice and retribution? The question can also be asked that while it is all very well for President Funes to ask still grieving family members to forgive the military and associated death squads, at the very least, the victims’ relatives deserve to know the names of those who had butchered the innocent at Mozote and that they will at the very least admit to their transgressions and seek penance. However, under Funes’ formula, these heinous murderers are allowed to walk away from their crimes simply by tipping their caps and saying “good afternoon,” – yet, another act of tokenism by President Funes.
Gabriela Acosta is a COHA Research Associate