Martyrs of El Calabozo: They are in our memory

by alejandra sandoval

What has come to be known as the “El Calabozo” massacre took place on August 21 and 22, 1982 in the Amatitán Abajo canton of San Esteban Catarina, San Vicente. More than 200 civilians were killed by the Atlacatl Battalion of the Salvadoran Armed Forces. 

This area of San Vicente was considered a guerrilla stronghold by the military, and as news of the offensive spread, the communities of San Vicente began to flee in fear for their lives. Many of those who stayed behind to protect their land were elderly, women and young children. 

Juan Carillo, an inhabitant of the Amatitán canton and survivor of the massacre, recalled that day when several of his family members were killed while he, a 7 year old, had to run for his life. “I lost more than 35 members of my family here. My mom, Orbelinda Carrillo, my grandparents and some of my siblings as well. We have psychological trauma. We were abandoned, you could say. We lost all of the support of family,” said Juan. 

Juan Carrillo is one of the survivors of the El Calabozo massacre, which occurred on the Amatitán River

José and another inhabitant of the area, Juan, see similarities between what happened then and the current State of Emergency in which police and soldiers are arresting thousands of people for alleged gang ties and without investigating. “At that time the army claimed that all the peasants were guerrillas, but it was a lie. Many of us ended up joining, but later, as a response to what the Army had done.” 

40 Years Without Justice

Every year, the Committee of Victims and Historical Memory of San Esteban Catarina organizes a commemoration to remember the victims and demand justice from the Salvadoran government. “People who forget their martyrs, do not deserve them. Martyrs of El Calabozo are in our memory,” exclaimed the gathering as they made their way in procession from the Amatitlán Arriba Community House to the Amatitlán Abajo River, the scene of the 1982 crime.

Every year the Committee of Victims and Historical Memory of the municipality of San Esteban Catarina remembers the massacre.

David Morales, head of Transitional Justice at Cristosal,  still hopes for collaboration from the Salvadoran State in order to bring justice in this case that has remained in impunity. “The military documents have been hidden. This is a political position of the Armed Forces and the current government, who, like previous administrations refuses to hand over the documents and instead takes a position that totally favors the military. However, we believe that the testimonial evidence is strong. There have been inspections in this place. Survivors are still testifying and we hope to schedule new hearings in the coming days and we believe that the fact of the massacre is very clear”, explained Morales.

Cristosal supports the struggle for justice and truth. We represent the victims in the criminal proceedings against those responsible for the massacre who are being tried in court in San Sebastián, San Vicente. Irene Gómez, lawyer of Cristosal’s Transitional Justice team, explained that the demand for truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition “are victims’ rights”.

Family members, human rights organizations and survivors of the El Calabozo massacre remember them every August 22 with music, songs, fruit and flowers, as well as a Mass in their memory.

People bring floral and fruit offerings to remember their murdered relatives.

On January 14 of this year, the Attorney General’s Office (FGR) ordered the arrest of five former military chiefs involved in the El Calabozo massacre. The Calabozo Massacre is a crime against humanity that has yet to move beyond the investigative stage, which means that impunity continues 40 years later.

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