General Bustillo Faces El Mozote Victims

For the first time since the start of the El Mozote trial, the former head of the Air Force, also wanted for the massacre of the Jesuit priests at the University of Central America, appeared before the court yesterday.

General Bustillo listens to defense lawyer / Photo:  La Prensa Grafica

General Bustillo listens to defense lawyer / Photo: La Prensa Grafica

"In addition to houses, the soldiers burned many corpses. Some houses were left intact because they were uninhabited; some people took refuge in the nearby mountains and saved themselves.” That was one of the accounts, part of the judicial file of the massacre at El Mozote and surrounding areas, heard yesterday by General Juan Rafael Bustillo, former head of the Air Force, in the Court of San Francisco Gotera, Morazán.

Bustillo arrived at the court to face, for the first time, accusations from the massacre committed by the Atlacatl Battalion between December 8-14, 1981, as part of a scorched-earth operation called "Operation Rescue," which left more than a thousand people dead. He did so while flipping through a copy of the Truth Commission report, where his name does not appear.

"The acts that have just been reported, and of which you were accused in 2006, constitute the following crimes, attributed to you and the other military leaders in this process: murder, deprivation of liberty, rape, aggravated damages, theft, breaking and entering, terrorism, and preparatory acts of terrorism," Judge Jorge Guzmán Urquilla informed Bustillo.

These crimes are addressed in the Criminal Code of 1973, which has since been repealed.

The case began in October 1990 when one of the victims, Pedro Chicas Romero, filed a complaint. The proceedings, advanced by the judge as established by law, continued until 1993, due to the Amnesty Law.

In 2006, private accusers filed a new indictment where they asked to reopen the case. The court decided to open it in 2016, following the repeal of the Amnesty Law.

The judge added that the indictment against General Bustillo is motivated "by the fact that, when these events happened, you commanded El Salvador’s Air Force. It was said in the reading of the facts that these operations were preceded by bombings executed by aerial troops."

The judge listed the reasons for each of the crimes attributed to General Bustillo and 31 other senior military officers (14 of whom are already dead) that were committed during the military operation that ended in what was considered the largest massacre during the Salvadoran civil war and the worst in Latin America’s recent history.

General Bustillo committed murder, said the judge, because the intellectual authors acted with treachery and premeditation, with the means to produce great havoc. He is also charged with the crime of aggravated rape because "military personnel raped the young women who lived in El Mozote and nearby places."

The facts of the case also establish the crime of aggravated deprivation of liberty, "because many people were deprived of liberty under threats, violence, and conditions that impaired their dignity." In addition, the military leaders are charged with the crime of breaking and entering because soldiers violently forced entry into the houses.

The judge told General Bustillo that they also charged him with acts of terrorism, "because it is alleged that these acts were carried out with the purpose of exterminating and destroying the civilian population of that area to produce fear using weapons of high destructive power.”

And finally, he notified Bustillo that he must also face the crime of preparatory acts of terrorism, "in view of the fact that all these acts were previously planned from the highest spheres of the military leadership at that time, that is to say, in December 1981.”

After hearing the charges, Bustillo wanted to testify at the hearing yesterday; but the public defender advised against it and the general recanted. At the end of the hearing, Bustillo decided to stay and listen to the testimony of María del Rosario López Sánchez.

The prosecution (private accusers) asked to remove the general so as not to affect the witness, but after a recess for the psychologist to evaluate López Sánchez, she testified about how 24 members of her family were massacred in El Mozote in December 1981. Lopez Sanchez told the judge about the murder of her parents. She did it in front of General Bustillo.

When the prosecution asked her to name the victims, she could only get through four names before breaking down in tears. "I’m sorry, but it is not easy to lose your whole family and then go on giving statements," she said after recovering.

In the afternoon, Maria Margarita Chicas de Argueta, a survivor of the massacre, told how Colonel Domingo Monterrosa, head of the Atlacatl battalion, killed her husband and six other men on a farm in Arambala on December 8, 1981.

After committing that massacre, according to Chicas de Argueta, the soldiers left for El Mozote.

"I know because they said that before getting on the trucks," she said.


Translated from Flores, R. (October 20, 2017). General Bustillo encara a las víctimas de El Mozote. La Prensa Grafica. Retrieved from