The Massacre at El Mozote
Since Latin American independence the United States has always kept a tight grip on the political and economic happenings in the region. Latin America’s vast natural wealth coupled with their close proximity to the US has made them the perfect target for American imperialism over the past two hundred years. When the Cold War spread to Central America and the threat of communism loomed over the US’s economic interests in the region they were given a prime opportunity to display their economic might by launching a series of funded government realignments; placing military elite leaders sympathetic to the US’s capitalistic, exploitive nature. In El Salvador foreign capital came pouring in to support the right-winged military dictatorship and to secure US interests in the lucrative Salvadorian coffee export economy.
The United States bears a tremendous deal of responsibility for the massacre at El Mozote because it was their purge of communism for their own economic gain in Latin America that lit the fuse for the inevitable explosion of civilian slaughter dealt by the right-winged, US-backed, Salvadorian military government. This massacre, as well as countless others like it in the region during this time were funded and proliferated by the United States’ initial backing and propaganda of the rightist military coup that set off the “dirty war”, their continual military funding of the right-wing government during the war, and their eventual denial of the actual massacre at El Mozote itself. Though there had been considerable conflict and turmoil in El Salvador prior, it was the conservative military coup in 1979 that fired off the “dirty war” between the Salvadorian Army and the FMLN. The United States did not want to send their own troops to fight, so instead sent billions of dollars in aid to the Salvadorian Army in order to prevent a socialist regime from taking root.
As conservative death squads began proliferating and killing thousands of, whom they believed, were revolutionary supporters the United States covered up their intimate knowledge of what was actually happening. Danner writes, “In public, the fiction was that the corpses were the work of ‘rightist vigilantes.’ This campaign of lies was designed in part to accommodate the squeamishness of the Administration in Washington, which had to deal with the growing concern in congress about ‘human rights violations’” (28). People were being mutilated and murdered in the streets by their own government, while the US did nothing. The initial denial of the atrocities that were taking place in El Salvador fed further denial and justified US aid in order to prevent the spread of communism and quicken the pace of “success” by the Salvadorian Army. Events like the massacre at El Mozote are directly linked to the United States inability, or, as it seems, conscious choice to deny the veritable slaughter taking place in the country in order to protect their own economic interests.
Though the US supplied the murderous Salvadorian Army with billions of dollars in military aid their worst crime was doing nothing in the face of the horrible human rights violations taking place. The US believed that by throwing money at the problem and turning a blind eye towards the massacre of innocent people the “communist problem” would solve itself. It did, but at a cost far greater and far more terrible than anyone could have imagined. The United States granted Salvadorian military aid in a number of ways. They continued flowing monetary aid and military arms into the Salvadorian government, even after various accounts of other dreadful human rights violations. Danner explains, “Given the geopolitical stakes in Central America, the United States had no choice but to go on supporting a ‘friendly’ regime, however disreputable it might seem, because the alternative – the possibility of a communist victory in the region – was clearly worse” (9).
The US was especially passionate about preventing the spread of communist ideals in Central and South America not only because of the regions’ close proximity to one another, but because the nationalization of domestic industries in Latin America (particularly coffee in El Salvador) would greatly harm the US economy, which obtained a huge amount of imports and raw materials from the region. As Danner explained the United States chose the lesser of two evils, in their opinion, by allowing vicious human rights violations to continue in El Salvador, as long the spread of communism was contained, ultimately protecting their foreign economic interests.
Much of the Salvadorian Army at the beginning of the war was virtually untrained. Danner writes, “With Congress and the American public resolutely opposed to dispatching American combat forces in Central America, it had become quit clear that the only way to prevent ‘another Nicaragua’ was to somehow ‘reform’ the Salvadorian Army” (22).
An American military advisor in El Salvador at the time also told Donner, “We had to reform or else we were going to lose. And it wasn’t because the guerrillas were so good; it was because the Army was so bad” (23).
The United States sent more than just monetary funding and arms to the Salvadorian Army; they sent disciplined military training too. Various United States military trainers and advisors were sent to educate the Army in the American art of war. They also tried to wean them off of their current, what many American military men believed to be, lackadaisical military competence often heavily tied to politics (23). While this American military training helped it was the emergence of Salvadorian Colonel Domingo Monterrosa that turned the Army from a bunch of murderous monsters into a platoon of murderous monsters with discipline, order, and a common purpose.
Monterrosa was described as, “a pure, one-hundred-percent soldier, a natural leader, a born military man with rare quality of being able to instill loyalty in his men” (24). Monterrosa’s men loved him. This coupled with his strong relationships with various military political rulers made him the driving force behind the Salvadorian army. It was because of his strong military leadership that the Salvadorian army was able to mobilize and, unfortunately succeed in their “leftist” purge of the countryside. Though the United States cannot be entirely to blame for Monterrosa’s unflinching brutality in Morazan, including El Mozote, they are the ones who trained him.
He took courses from the American military while they were stationed in Panama, and studied anti-Communist insurgency tactics in Taiwan (24). That, on top of the vast amount of military aid granted from the US puts them in the forefront of responsibility for the events leading up to and the massacre at El Mozote and the massacre itself. Over the twelve year course of the Salvadorian civil war from 1980 to 1992 the United States spent over 4 billion dollars funding a fascist government that left over seventy-five thousand Salvadorians dead in order to prevent the spread of communism and socialist ideals in one of the smallest countries in Latin America.
Along with the training of military strongmen like Monterrosa, the United States played a vital role in the massacre at El Mozote. Not only did the United States aid in causing the massacre at El Mozote, but they also denied that the massacre took place at all. Rufina Amaya Marquez, the lone survivor of the massacre, witnessed it first hand, and while she had served as the most eloquent witness of what had happened at El Mozote Danner states, “…the Republican administration, burdened as it was with the heavy duties of national security, denied that any credible evidence existed that a massacre had taken place” (8). Although she had witnessed the massacre the United States refused to believe her, or at least, refused to give credit to her account in order to save themselves the public humiliation and scrutiny from supplying the resources that caused the massacre. United States Ambassador Deane Hinton stated, “Congressmen didn’t want to take the responsibility to deny resources to the government of El Salvador and on the other hand they didn’t want to endorse it” (91). The US didn’t want to cut off aid to the Salvadorian government because they still wanted to protect their economic interests.
At the same time they didn’t want to make it look as though they were endorsing the slaughter of almost a thousand civilians in El Mozote. So, instead, they denied the severity of the event in order to justify further aid. By questioning the severity of the massacre and blaming it on “blatantly biased journalists” the US was able to lessen the blow of public outcry about them endorsing gross human rights violations while simultaneously continuing the flow of aid to El Salvador in order to protect their economic interests.
Finally, once it had become overwhelmingly evident that a massive amount of casualties had taken place at El Mozote the US government twisted the facts. In the Embassy summary of the happenings at El Mozote Greentree states, “it is certain that the guerrilla forces who established defensive positions in El Mozote did nothing to remove them [civilians] from the path of battle which they were aware was coming and had prepared for, nor is there any evidence that those who remained attempted to leave” (111).
This horrific fabrication makes it seem as if the guerrilla forces are just as guilty as the Salvadorian Army in the death toll at El Mazote. Not only were there no guerrilla forces present during the massacre, but also this depiction makes the civilian casualties seem like it was there fault because they didn’t leave the town and were caught up in the tactical fire between the two opposing forces. Washington’s publications of the massacre at El Mozote completely discredit the reality and the severity of the event. They even go as far as to place blame on both the guerrillas, whom were not present, and the citizens of the town, who were brutally executed. This was Washington’s grand propaganda scheme in order to save their skin, while at the same time continue feeding a murderous, fascist regime.
By denying the events at El Mozote ever took place, the US proliferated the ignorance that allows future events like this to happen. Thus, the United States bears a remarkable deal of responsibility for the massacre at El Mozote because they initially backed the fascist regime, continued to pour military and monetary aid into the oppressive Salvadorian government, and eventually covered their tracks by deceptive publication and outright denial of the massacre itself. United States imperialism continues to be an oppressive force in foreign markets and livelihoods. It seems like with the case of the massacre at El Mozote the US chose money over the lives of thousands of innocent people.