Victims of El Mozote Massacre: echoes of the past claiming justice
Indiscriminate machine guns, the thunderous noise of bombings, desperate escapes, and childhood terror fill the testimonies of Alejandro Hernández Argueta, Eugenio Mejía, and Benito Márquez Chicas, given before the second judge of first instance in San Francisco Gotera, Morazán.
Hernández Argueta’s memories stretch back to the "Scorched Earth" operation of El Salvador’s Armed Forces, for which the military High Command is now being held responsible.
Hernández Argueta, a 48-year-old farmer, recounted how he lost his family in just four hours when the military reached La Joya, one of the villages surrounding El Mozote which is officially identified as part of the string of December 1981 massacres included in this case.
"Two of my older brothers came running from the Del Cid hill and told my mother they had seen people carrying weapons.
"She immediately filled a blanket with tortillas, a lot of tortillas, and gave them to me. She gave them to me to carry, and I left. She also sent my 4-year-old brother José María with me. I was 11 years old. We ran to a water hole and on the way, I saw some dark shapes—they were soldiers. We were very afraid and we ran. When I went back to the house, my mother was gone and my little brother had gotten lost. I had to go back and hide by the river. We ran away because we knew what had happened in El Mozote,” he said.
In that military incursion, Hernández Argueta’s mother, María Modesta Argueta, and his three brothers, Santos, Elvira, and 4-month-old Gilberto, were killed. His brother José María was never found. "I came back again around five in the afternoon to look for my mother, but I didn’t find anyone. It wasn’t until the next day that my father found them. They were a little further down the river. My father told me that my mother was missing a part of her face, and that my other brothers were there, too,” he added.
61-year-old Mejía, also from La Joya, said he endured torture and beatings from soldiers on December 10, 1981, causing him to go permanently blind at age 25. Mejía was tied up with hemp and tortured by rifle butts, cut with sharp weapons, and wounded by kicks. All the while, the soldiers shouted at him that he was a guerrilla and demanded that he hand over his weapons.
"It was early, and I was making breakfast for my father when they came inside the house, tied me up, beat me, and threw me to the ground. Meanwhile, some others took my father out of the house to a nearby farm. They shouted that he was a guerrilla and then they took his life. I was saved because some neighbors saw me when the soldiers took my dad away. The neighbors came looking for me and we fled together. People were crying about all the shooting. Most of the victims were children and women. I hid for six days; they burned my house down while I was gone. With some neighbors’ help, I buried my father as well as I could, but the animals had already started eating his body.
"On that day I could hardly see. Six days after the beating I was blind," he said.
When the prosecutors asked Mejía what he wanted now, he answered, "Justice, that nothing like this ever happens again. I fled to Colomoncagua, [Honduras,] and only came back after the signing of the Peace Accords [in 1992]. I was alone, without family. I never had children. I remember that if nobody gave me bread or money for food, I did not eat, because I could not feed myself. There were more than 40 people murdered in my valley, and that is sad," he reflected.
Benito Márquez Chicas testified about the difficult moments of searching for his family, who lived in Ranchería, another site linked to the El Mozote massacre, on December 10-12, 1981. Although he lived several kilometers away in Las Pilas, Arambala, Morazán, he knew his life would change forever when he heard the news about El Mozote.
"It was eleven in the morning when some people came to tell me that they had killed everyone in El Mozote and burned their houses down. I waited a few days and then went to Ranchería to look for my two brothers, Facundo and Segundo. All I found was their burned-down houses. I didn’t find them or their families, there were only bones. Then I decided to go to El Mozote. I went to the church; it was missing its roof. I went into the sacristy but all I found was a lot of dead children. I couldn’t see how many there were because the stench was unbearable," he said during his testimony. Márquez Chicas summed up his petition for justice: "I'm still suffering. They killed everyone, I lost 15 members of my family between brothers and cousins. My brothers never reappeared. That’s why I’m asking for justice," he said.
Translated from Orellana, S. G. (February 12, 2018.) Víctimas de Masacre de El Mozote, ecos del pasado que claman justicia. Diario Co Latino. Retrieved from www.diariocolatino.com/victimas-masacre-mozote-ecos-del-pasado-claman-justicia