In 1992, I spent a six month sabbatical in the parish of Santa Lucía in Suchitoto, El Salvador. Assisting the Salvadoran pastor and the six US sisters ministering there, I spent time in the countryside, accompanying the people, helping train catechists, visiting rural communities.
It was a formative time for me, especially as I experienced the faith and hospitality of a people that was poor and had suffered much from the war that was waged in that area.
I also heard many accounts of the war which led me later to seek more stories of the faith and struggle of the people in that parish.
Several people told me about the killings and the massacres which abounded in that area.
Thirty-five years ago today, on July 30, 1981, about 130 people were killed at the community of Zacamil, in the municipality of Suchitoto, El Salvador, one of many massacres in El Salvador by US-supported government forces.
|Commemoration of the Zacamil massacre, 29 July 2016|
Here is my account of that massacre.
In January 1986, a resident of the displaced persons’ center in the Basilica in San Salvador reported:
“I was in Guazapa in July 1981 when there was a massacre. In the canton of Zacamil, 130 died. There were mostly women, children and elderly together in a shack when a Mustang flew over. There was a military operation to drive us out. I didn’t know where to go, there were bullets everywhere. There was a pregnant woman running next to me with three small children. She couldn’t keep up and the Army caught up with her. They cut off her head and the heads of her three children. . . .
“Machetes were used in the massacres. This way the people in Suchitoto wouldn’t hear lots of shouting and the noise of the massacres. So they would cut heads like animals. The bodies would keep moving and the hearts beating for a time. Seeing this gave me much fear for a long time. . .”
In February 1992 in La Mora, Gerardo Murillo told how he had escaped the massacre but went back after the troops had left. In the devastated ruins, he found the corpse of his mother-in-law; yet he found a brother who was still alive. They proceeded to pick up fifty or so bodies and put them in a well so that the dogs and vultures would not consume them.
A few months later, while visiting the repopulation of Zacamil and walking in the woods, a catechist pointed out to some mounds in the path. “There they buried some of the dead.”
An important question is why were the people there? Why had they not fled?
The people in the area had been on guinda for a long time. The long marches at night, the days in underground shelters, the paucity of food and the fear were too much for some of them. They were in Zacamil when the word came that the military was again approaching. Exhausted, drained physically and emotionally, many decided to stay: “We cannot go on.” Gerardo Murillo had led one group out to safety, but many stayed behind. The army came and massacred those who remained.
This is just one of several massacres that happened in the parish, one of the scores that happened in El Salvador.
Massacres and killings continue even today, whether by terrorist bombs or drone strikes. But I think it is important to remember that these are real people who died. It is also important to remember that in some parts of the world, particularly Central America, many of the massacres were perpetrated by soldiers financed by the US government, sometimes with US-supplied weaponry.
This is a cause for repentance even as we sit beside the victims as they mourn for their lost loved ones.