The site of the worst single atrocity committed by the US
-backed (and US-trained) right-wing militias in the Civil War in El Salvador
In December 1981, this previously peaceful village in the Morazan department of north-eastern El Salvador was attacked by "elite" soldiers, allegedly in an "anti-guerrilla campaign", and an unparalleled killing spree ensued. All villagers were herded together, then the men were separated from the women and children. The men were killed, typically by beheading with machetes, the women and girls were taken away, raped, then shot. Younger children were locked in a building at the convent next to the church where they were mowed down by machine guns through the windows. Then the village was set on fire, before the squad moved on. Some 1000 civilians were left dead.
There was only one single survivor, a young woman called Rufina Amaya, who managed to hide in a tree in the woods nearby and from there saw the horrors that unfolded, including the beheading of her husband and the slaughter of her children – her eyewitness report was later relayed to reporters.
However, the reports of the massacre were long denied and the whole issue brushed aside as "communist propaganda" by the Reagan administration. Only in the early 1990s, UN
forensic teams were sent in to look for evidence, as agreed as part of the Peace Accord. And they did find the undeniable evidence, including the remains of at least 143 hundred people at the convent, all killed at the same time in 1981, most of them under 12 years old …
So finally the reports were vindicated – which also meant it couldn't be denied that the USA
had indeed actively supported state terrorism … all out of the alleged fear of a "communist threat in their backyard" …
And now? As for dark tourism: what there is to see today at the former village of El Mozote may not be all that much, but it's worth it for its poignancy. There's a central memorial, the ruins of buildings with pock-marked walls (from machine-gun fire), and a pit in which the remains of many of the victims were finally discovered. There is little tourism infrastructure. But local guides may show you around.
Getting there is naturally tricky, so it's easiest to go with an organized tour rather than individually.
It's definitely hard core dark-tourism. Perhaps the hardest in the whole of Latin America.
in a remote corner of north-eastern El Salvador
, some 125 miles (200 km) from the capital San Salvador.