Friday, August 8, 2014

El Mozote

The following is yesterday's journal entry after a visit to El Mozote in Morazán, El Salvador. The town is best known as the site of the largest and most brutal massacre to occur during the Salvadoran 12-year Civil War. On December 11th, 1981, the Salvadoran military systematically tortured and murdered between 800 and 1,000 men, women and children. The military unit, trained by US advisers, arrived on the 10th, ordering all residents and those who had sought refuge in the town to remain in their homes or else be shot on sight. On the 11th, the soldiers called everyone back to the square, separated the men, women and children into groups, and then proceeded to interrogate, torture and machine gun the men. Around noon, they moved on to the women and girls, separating them from their children and raping them before killing each one. Finally, in the evening, they proceeded to decapitate and kill the children, throwing some in the air and spearing them on the ends of their guns. They then lit the bodies on fire, making it more difficult for forensic teams to identify the number and age of those killed. The military's purpose was to kill guerrillas, and "the best way to kill a guerrilla is in the womb." The only survivor, Rufina Amaya, escaped and later shared her testimony on the clandestine Radio Venceremos.

August 7th, 2014

This morning we woke up in Flori Luz's home. I walked out onto the porch and looked out at a mountain of Eden, birds, roosters and sunlit jungle greenery. Breakfast was delayed, making the cuajada (a rich, homemade cheese) sharper, the frijol (beans) and crema a perfect combo of salty sweet. And then we arrived in El Mozote, and I listened superficially to the facts, with neutral observations running through my mind.

"Was this cobble stone road the same that the military took all those years ago? What were they thinking at 4am, knowing what they were about to do? Probably excited..."

Over 1,000 murdered. That number, the tiered center of the square, hypotheticals running through my head about the Church and how it was all carried out, like Spielberg planning out a movie scene in his mind. Much like reading about Palestine... numbers, deaths, nameless faces... then flip the page and move on to the weather.

We pay to enter the flower garden at the side of the Church, and I follow my friend in. On the side mural there are names and numbers. I saw the first column - the youngest of the list - and I felt the outlines of my body shrink inwards. 6 months old. 2 years old. 2 years old. 6 years old. 14 years old. (Writing this too seems artificial - it shouldn't be able to be articulated and preserved so easily). There were hundreds of them, names stretching along the wall beneath a tiled mural of faceless children playing, dancing... They were torn from their mothers, thrown in the air and pierced like celebratory hams or detached piñatas. 8 years old, 3 days old... KIDS. Brutally, inhumanely, maliciously...

Every sentence feels more inadequate than the last. I couldn't stop crying. I looked for the 14 year olds - somehow my baby brother always seems 14 - as if they couldn't possibly have killed someone so easily. Not someone like Travis. But the names were there all the same.

I cannot replicate the experience in words, only with the conclusion that a life lived in the pursuit of justice is a life lived fully. Anything less is a shallow existence that demands willful ignorance in order to survive. Nunca más/Never more. These aren't words for politicians, peacekeepers, official suited men in UN vans. Squatting in that garden, eyes sore and blurry, I watched the yellow flowers swaying in the wind, imagining the children were still here in some way. Letting us know they're ok. Nunca más is for us. We are the witnesses.

The plaque in front of the flower garden and memorial to the children murdered at El Mozote.

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