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Victoria Kline
Anthropology 582: Mesoamerican Cultures
November 3, 2004
Dr. Ramona Perez

El Mozote Massacre Part I

Chapter 1 Reducing Cultural Distance in Human Rights Reporting
Boy, no beating around the bush. The opening lines of the book tell you exactly what the author is going to focus on. The reader knows at once the magnitude of the atrocities committed by the Atlacatl Battalion of El Salvador, the dates of the three days of the El Mozote Massacre, and that the training for the battalion came from the United States! Author Leigh Binford rivets your attention in the opening paragraph (1996:3). In this extremely well written chapter (truly impressive lead ins and word choice), Binford inadvertently points out what may be a mechanism of humans to repress information that they cannot deal with, that is too negative, goes against what they believe to be true, or just plain will not fit into a busy schedule that requires juggling of priorities so that individuals can maintain their own lives. We are part of a system that requires some adherence to after all. 

The events in El Salvador, says Binford, were not reported with the frequency they should have in our (US) news media. That which was reported was met with a measure of disbelief. That which was believed was soon forgotten. And we are to blame for our own shortcomings in ability to focus on something that we (Americans) should have been able to do something to intervene. Binford requires that we be actively involved in changing the system of repression and genocide in El Salvadore beginning with the way events are reported. He objects to the distancing of the reporting of events through objectifying and classifying humans in portraying incidents in a way that eviscerates reaction or emotion. At the end of the chapter the author previews what he will cover in the rest of the book.  

Chapter 2 The Massacre is a brief history of events leading to the massacre at El Mozote, and a succinct account of the three-day massacre. The peasants of the Morozan region of El Salvador, where El Mozote is located, was, at the time of the massacre, heavily influenced by the liberation theology of the Catholic Church under the leadership of Father Miguel Ventura (13-14). Through discussion groups held by members of the church at that time (through the 1970s and early 1980s) the peasant community became aware of the unjustness of the class structure and how it affected them in poverty and repression. This knowledge in turn led them (oppressed peasants) to join with guerilla forces that expressed the same determination to raise the standards of living for those marginalized peoples of El Salvador living in abject poverty. The guerilla base operating throughout Morozan was the People’s Liberation Army (ERP), finally joining with four other guerilla organizations in October of 1980 “to form the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN)” (15). The same month, the El Salvadoran military attacked northern Morozan, a prelude to the El Mozote Massacre in December of 1981.

This chapter contains blow-by-blow accounts about the military operation carried out by the Atlacatl Battalion to systematically invade and massacre all inhabitants of several hamlets in Northern Morozan including El Mozote, in the name of anti-communism and under the direct control of the El Salvadoran government.

One survivor, a woman, Rufina Amaya, lived to tell the story, as did many of the people who fled the hamlet before the invasion (23). And it is curious that one of the inhabitants of El Mozote, Marcos Diaz, warned the townspeople not to flee; that those caught fleeing the town would be killed (18). That they had had enough time to evacuate the area and did not because of the erroneous information that Diaz disseminated through the town. In the aftermath of the massacre, the guerillas were the ones to come in and bury the decomposing corpses of the army had left to rot (24-25).

Chapter 3 The Eye of the Oligarchy those few families that form the economically controlled agricultural core in El Salvador insulate themselves from the rest of the social system according to Binford, in a tightly knit and ideologically fused social system intended to protect their status, wealth, and power from displacement. In other words, it has become a self-protecting entity that retains its position through the calculated dispensing of wealth. National security became security for the elite plantation owners against the “communists” – anyone wishing to challenge the status quo (36-37). The military is in charge of national security. Army training is rigorous and meant to reward those capable of completion (42-43). There is not much attrition from the ranks once training is completed (44-45). At the end of the chapter Binford accuses us all of being oblivious to human rights violations (48), and it is true that we wish to maintain our blissful ignorance without which we may have to “do something” like get uncomfortably involved in other countries affairs.

Chapter 4 The U.S. Cover-Up, the response of the US government on hearing and reading stories of the atrocities in El Salvador, was to cover them up for reasons of “national security” rather than revealing to the public the incredibly bad judgment the US used in doling out tax dollars to the El Salvadoran government. However, the pro-capitalist El Salvadoran government also lied and covered up its involvement, as they did not want to loose out on free money from the US. The US Embassy to El Salvador essentially put blinders on (49-53), as did the State Department in their press release concerning the alleged massacre in El Salvador (53-55). Money, it’s all about money: male status and money.

Chapter 5 The Nascent Community of El Mozote is a description of life in El Mozote before December of 1981. A small but well organized community of recent (mid 1940s-early 1950s) establishment, the “hamlet” had more well off and less well-off members that were able to work together to become somewhat self-sufficient. With input of the members of the community in volunteer labor and donated and raised funds, the group was able to build its own church, and a small school. Much of the credit for organization and involvement to community projects was attributed to a well off resident of El Mozote (killed the December 11, 1981 massacre) Israel Marquez. Binford ends by saying that even with the organization and improvements the residents of El Mozote were able to accomplish, life was still difficult and impoverished for many. 

Chapter 6 The Politics of Repression and Survival in Northern Morazan
Binford points out that the population of El Mozote knew that “Northern Morozan had been a was zone since October of October 1980, and that thousands of people…had already left the area for cities and refugee camps” (90). There are two theories of why the people of El Mozote were still in residence in December of 1981. They were or had converted to evangelical Christianity and felt they would be protected (by God), or they were cooperating with the guerillas and therefore communists. Through interviews Binford manages to prove that most of the population of El Mozote was Catholic, not Protestant evangelicals.

It seems that people in El Mozote stayed (those that did), did so because they were afraid to leave the security of home for poverty out there, or were unconvinced that a massacre was on the way. Because, for most of the inhabitants, that were killed by the army, there was ample time to leave, and enough evidence to convince them to do so. 



Binford, Leigh
            1996    The El Mozote Massacre. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

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