ARAMBALA, El Salvador – They didn’t see the blood nor the gunfire. They didn’t hear the screams nor the shrapnel. They didn’t flee through the streets nor did they leave behind what they had built with their own hands turning into ashes.
But everything that the brutality of the Salvadoran army destroyed in El Mozote and the surrounding areas in December 1981 was also a part of them, of their lives.
From the ashes of the El Mozote massacre, which claimed some 1,000 lives, is emerging a new generation of children and grandchildren of survivors who are not afraid to take the baton in their fight to salvage their family members’ memory and to secure justice in courts.
Between Dec. 10-13, 1981, elite military units executed at least 988 people, mostly children, in an operation for which more than a dozen retired army officials are being prosecuted.
Olga Sanchez Vigil, Walter Gutierrez, and Nancy Guevara Marquez are part of a group of members of the El Mozote Association for the Defense of Human Rights aged between 20 and 30 years, whose parents were able to leave the area shortly before the massacre took place.
Olga told EFE that her father returned to El Mozote “one day after the massacre.”
From the road, he “felt a burning smell,” and managed to quickly bury some relatives he recognized in the hamlet.
“He had to leave again because there were still soldiers,” recalled the young woman, whose family lost more than 50 members.
She said that “it is very important that young people get involved in these processes” to achieve a “generational relay,” because “in the end our parents will die and will not be able to see justice as they would like.”
Olga came in contact with the group of survivors who founded the association while helping her father with the minutes of the meetings when she was 12 years old.
Walter Gutierrez said he was born outside El Mozote and that his family was displaced from the area after three of its members were killed.
They returned to El Mozote when he was 12 years old when the civil war in El Salvador had ended (1980-1992).
He recalled that he began to understand the history of the massacre while volunteering to search for archives in nearby Catholic churches to support the existence of those killed.
This information would serve to take the case to local courts and the international lawsuit with which the Inter-American Court of Human Rights condemned the Salvadoran State in 2012.
“What shocks me the most is that children were not excluded, no one was excluded,” he said.
He explained that there are still cases of murdered people whose identity has not been legally proved due to the destruction of documents in the burning of churches and houses.
He lamented that no psychological assistance has been provided to survivors in El Mozote, because of which some of them have been unable to share their experiences and begin to heal.
Nancy told EFE that “when your mother or father tells you how your grandparents or uncles were killed, it really is an experience that helps you understand their pain and become sensitive to the fight.”
She said that state support for reparations measures “has declined,” especially in recent years.
“We don’t feel we are moving forward because they are not willing to open military archives” and the arguments “are based on lies” by the government, she said.
This refers to the blockade of judicial inspections in the military archives by the army with the backing of President Nayib Bukele.
“We hoped that we would set a precedent for the new generations so that this is not repeated (...); however, it is not happening, we are not seeing progress and it is not being supported as a process of this magnitude should be supported,” she said.
The massacre took place during the civil war between the military, funded by the United States, and then-FMLN guerrillas that left 75,000 people dead and 8,000 missing.
State records indicate that of the nearly 1,000 people executed in El Mozote, at least 552 were children.
Nancy, Olga, and Walter are parents to a new generation who will not grow up without knowledge of the massacre.
“One gets involved in this due to one’s family,” and “the important thing is the chain that can be created in a family so that there can be a generational relay,” Olga said.