Last December, I commented on the 30th anniversary of the El Mozote massacre in El Salvador. While that massacre has received broad international and historical attention, it is tragically far from the only incident of state terrorism and widespread human-rights violations in the Salvadoran Civil War. Today marks the 30th anniversary of another of those massacres: the El Calabozo massacre. Although not as large as the El Mozote massacre, it was still a gross injustice; as the US Institute for Peace’s truth commission, found:
There is sufficient evidence that on 22 August 1982, troops of the Atlacatl Battalion deliberately killed over 200 civilians – men, women and children – who had been taken prisoner without offering any resistance. The incident occurred at the place known as El Calabozo, near the canton of Amatitán Abajo, Department of San Vicente. Although the massacre was reported publicly, the Salvadorian authorities denied it. Despite their claim to have made an investigation, there is absolutely no evidence that such an investigation took place.
As tragic as the massacre is, its circumstances are moreso. The 200-plus victims that the military murdered had previously tried to flee an area where the military had launched a massive campaign against guerrillas, presumably in order to escape the violence. Yet they were met with the very fate they had hoped to avoid in escaping:
The victims had converged on El Calabozo from various directions, fleeing a vast antiguerrilla military operation which had begun three days earlier in the area of Los Cerros de San Pedro and which involved, in addition to the Atlacatl BIRI, other infantry, artillery and aerial support units.
According to witnesses, the fugitives were surprised by the Atlacatl Battalion unit. Some of them managed to escape; the rest were rounded up and machine-gunned.
The military operation continued for several more days. The Government informed the public that it had been a success: many guerrillas had been killed, camps had been destroyed and weapons and other supplies had been seized.
On 8 September, two weeks after the incident, the massacre was reported in The Washington Post. The Minister of Defence, General José Guillermo García, said that an investigation had been made and that no massacre had occurred. He repeated this assertion in an interview with the Commission.
The El Calabozo massacre is an important reminder that El Mozote was far from the sole case of state-sponsored terrorism and murder during El Salvador’s 12-year civil war, during which 75,000 Salvadorans died or were murdered, and helps us remember why the ongoing fight for justice for the perpetrators and at least some modicum of peace for the victims and their families is still relevant today.