2014 Stanford Delegation

2014 Stanford Delegation
Stanford Delegation in the UCA Chapel

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Cruel Irony of El Mozote and the Millennium Challenge

By Cole Manley

            On Monday, March 24, our group went to El Mozote, a small town in Northeast El Salvador. The town is simple, with a small group of homes and a well-worn park. But for Salvadorans, El Mozote is infamous. From December 11 to 12, 1981, the Salvadoran military murdered over 1000 men, women, and children with their bayonets and guns. Over 400 children died. Pregnant women watched as their kids were killed. For eight days, the military patrolled the area, ensuring no one from the community could bury the dead.
El Mozote Memorial

            Today, the massacre is remembered, but less well known is the role the US government played in it, and how it is memorialized.

            Like the park, the memorial to the victims is plain. There is a small wall with the names of all of the dead with a smaller plaque in front. Below the plaque there are still-fresh burial mounds from victims found in 2013 and buried in a mass grave. To the left of the wall is a mural and garden commemorating the children. Above the names of the dead is a bright and colorful mural depicting several children floating up to the heavens. Below them, a garden filled with flowers celebrates their lives—however short.

            Our group listened to a tour guide at the memorial. Her narrative was particularly powerful as some of her family died in the attack. Yet 20 years later she displayed little visible emotion in recounting the horror of that day. She simply recounted what happened, how the poor were killed.

A Few of the 146 Children that were Massacred
            The United States played an important role in the deaths of these Salvadorans and in the civil war in El Salvador from 1980 to 1992, a conflict between pro-guerrilla forces and pro-government [US backed] forces which killed more than 75000. The US helped train pro-government militias and death squads at the School of the Americas (SOA), essentially a training camp for death squads located in Fort Benning, Georgia. As for El Mozote, the commanders of the soldiers, and probably their commanders, were trained by US specialists in counterinsurgency from the CIA. The history of El Salvador—and, in turn, the history of El Mozote—is thus intertwined.

            I knew some of this history before going to El Salvador and before traveling to El Mozote. But what shocked me beyond the tour guide’s story and the memorial to the children was the gift shop close by.

            At the top of the makeshift shop there was a sign which seemed out of place: “Millennium Challenge Corporation” (MCC). According to its website, the MCC is an “innovative and independent US foreign aid agency that is helping lead the fight against global poverty.” In El Salvador, the MCC gives grants based on specific protocols. Much has been written about the subject, and our class read about how the MCC is not as positive as it portrays itself. For one, the grants are part of a longer narrative of free trade agreements and neo-liberalism which the working class in El Salvador had no say in crafting. The MCC, along with NAFTA and CAFTA, is dominated by United States’ capitalist economic interests, not the real needs and demands of the people of El Salvador.

            It was with this context in mind that I was so shocked to see this sign. Our country has never issued a formal apology for its involvement in the massacre of El Mozote. Is this our way of saying sorry to El Salvador? According to a Salvadoran woman who worked in the gift shop, several American MCC workers came to El Mozote with the idea of training Salvadorans in how to make arts and crafts. They did not listen to the needs of the community. I cannot imagine what the tour guide thinks when she sees this sign, nor what the community thinks about it. But I know that there is a cruel irony at El Mozote in the shape and form of an MCC sign at a memorial for a massacre that our government helped commit.

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