SAN SALVADOR – A Salvadoran judge trying to investigate the army’s 1981 slaughter of a thousand people was blocked on Monday from entering a military installation in pursuit of files relating to the El Mozote massacre.
It was the second time in less than a month that the military acted to obstruct the probe by magistrate Jorge Guzman.
When Guzman, accompanied by prosecutors, investigators and attorneys representing families of the victims, arrived on Monday at the headquarters of the air force general staff to inspect the archives, an officer refused to allow them to enter the building.
The officer, identified only by his surname, Ortiz, reiterated the position of President Nayib Bukele and Defense Minister Rene Merino Monroy that the search was not permissible because it could lead to the exposure of classified information.
David Morales, a lawyer for victims’ families, said that Bukele and Merino were guilty of dereliction for their efforts to “hinder” the probe targeting more than a dozen former commanders for their part in what happened in El Mozote.
“There are no legal faculties for them to block an order for a judicial procedure,” he said, adding that the same applies to the events of Sept. 21, when Guzman was prevented from entering the offices of the armed forces general staff.
Merino wrote a letter to the Supreme Court saying that the military does not support the case and has no interest in cooperating.
The high court rejected the defense minister’s position.
On Sept. 24, Bukele said in a nationally broadcast address that Guzman’s intention was to reveal military secrets.
The right-wing president added, however, that he would declassify some materials relating to the massacre, though it remains unclear whether the evidence has been delivered to Guzman or the Attorney General’s Office.
The bloodbath took place during El Salvador’s 1980-1992 civil war pitting government forces against the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) guerrilla coalition.
A United Nations truth commission said in a 1993 report that during the period Dec. 10-13, 1981, units of the elite Atlacatl counter-insurgency battalion tortured and executed men, women and children in El Mozote and other nearby villages.
The killing spree was accompanied by rape, the destruction of homes, the burning of crops and the slaughter of domestic animals.
The massacre was one of the deadliest attacks perpetrated against civilians by a Latin American army and has been compared to Nazi atrocities and the Vietnam War’s My Lai massacre.
The current probe got under way after the Supreme Court overturned in July 2016 a 1993 law providing amnesty for war crimes during the conflict that cost some 85,000 lives before ending in a negotiated peace.