Sunday, January 17, 2010
Perquin and El Mozote
Throughout most of the later parts of the 20th century El Salvador found it self in one of the most brutal civil wars in modern memory. The exact rationale for its start are a little foggy, at least to me, but in general it started because some people had everything and others had less than nothing. As people began to speak out and protest for reform they were met with more and more resistance and eventually the two colliding forces took to armed conflict. The guerrillas took to the highlands and a force of us trained soldiers took to snuffing them out. The war has moments of extreme violence including the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero in public as he was delivering mass and the Mozote massacre.
After spending time at the beach it seemed like a good idea to check out some of the sights of the civil war and learn a little bit more about the history of the country we were staying and enjoying. We headed off for a remote village called Perquin where the rebel army had a base and recently converted some of their headquarters into a museum and walking tour through some of their camps.
The museum was interesting though a little bit scrappy, i guess would be the best adjective. Some rooms looked like they just had a bunch of pictures and tossed them up on the walls well others had authentic machine guns and destroyed parts of helicopters and plains that they shot down. They also had the sight of their radio station. The pictures though they looked just tossed on the walls were pretty interesting, showing some extremely young soldiers and you just wished you could take them out of the picture and put them in school or something.
After the museum we got a quick walking tour through a guerrilla camp. Our guide had fought and made a point to let me know that he was not a soldier, he was a guerrilla. He walked with a severe limp, having taken shrapnel in his chest and extensively in his right leg. He led us through tunnels and over rope bridges,showed us huge craters from bombings and was even nice enough to let everyone in our group know that even though the us is frequently painted as the villain there was a tremendous amount of aid and volunteers who came from the us to help the guerrillas as well as the government money that helped the soldiers.
We then took a quick hike up a mountain where every twenty feet or so tremendous craters lined the way. They were all created from bombing raids during one of the major battles of the war. It was a pretty compelling series of sights, that takes you aback a little. It is nice to see how proud all of the people are of being guerrillas and changing their country the way they did. They have incredible perspective on the situation and i learned alot just from listening.
The next day we headed off for Mozote. At best Mozote is a village of two and a half streets with a church and a school. When we headed in that morning all of the restaurants in the main square were out of breakfast food and we were walked by a tiny girl to her home which was kind of a restaurant but really just a table in their cluttered tin roofed home and we got a breakfast of basically what they had left on the shelves. In the background the family showered and got ready for their day as we ate eggs and sipped coffee, a strange breakfast in deed.
Mozote is the sight of one of the if not the biggest massacre during the war. Im not sure i have all the facts but i will do my best. The military came in looking for guerrillas and really in an effort to intimidate and set a precedent that they were done screwing around. They pulled everyone into the main square and scared the crap out of them for hours and then sent them back to their homes and told them if they step outside they would be shot.
The next day the soldiers tortured and interrogated the men and eventually executed them all over the town. When the finished they raped and executed the girls some as young as 12 years old. When the finished that they shot out the windows of the church and murdered the remaining children both in the church and other locations. After murdering everyone in the town they left the bodies out in the open, presumably to send a message to the guerrillas but no one can be certain exactly why they left the bodies out.
All in all over a thousand people were massacred some children as young as just a few days old were murdered, some of whom had never even been given names. When the army finished they went on to continue there actions in a second village though to a lesser extent. Mozote was destroyed though it served to bring international attention to the situation in El Salvador and shed a negative light on the united states who consequently started distancing themselves from El Salvador. It is widely considered the largest massacre in modern latin american history.
The town has erected two monuments to the citizens who were massacred. One is a garden dedicated to the children who were murdered. The garden is simple, it has a large mural and then a series of plaques with the names and ages of the children who were killed. The plaques are enough to make your stomach churn but they also kept many of the bricks that people were killed on and even though the massacre took place about 20 years ago you can still very much so see the blood stones, it takes you back and leaves you speechless for a good portion of time. The other is dedicated to others who died and includes a shadow figure family looking at tall of the names of the dead while they hold hands.
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