December 11, 1981, is a day El Salvador will never forget. That was the day when American trained soldiers marched into the town of Mozote, and massacred over 800 civilians—half of which were children. As part of El Salvador’s brutal Civil War, the massacre was simply written off as a tragic byproduct of conflict, where leftist guerrillas must be suppressed, regardless of what it might cost. Today, the world has come to realize the slaughter was only of innocent civilians, and had no bearing, and nothing to do with, the rebels the government was fighting. When touring El Mozote Monument today, hear the stories of the lone survivor who escaped the village alive, and see the church where dozens fled just be to shot while inside. Outside the church is a powerful memorial with the names of those who were killed, and a silhouette statue of a family holding hands that rests in the “Garden of the Innocents.” A second memorial sits atop a hill just half a mile from town, where the same silhouette of the family holding hands is which looks out over the forests and valleys that housed such senseless slaughter.
While there is no cost to visit the memorials, it’s suggested to hire local guides who provide insight and personal stories, as well as purchase some of the crafts the villagers sell from their stalls. Reaching El Mozote requires a long, arduous drive, but is worth the effort for the dose of perspective you find when you trek all the way out here.