By Miguel Huezo Mixco (for Safe Democracy)

Miguel Huezo Mixco recounts the history of massacres committed by the military in El Salvador in the 1980’s, explaining that during this period the government adopted policies designed to exterminate the civilian population, principally peasants. These government-sponsored crimes have served as precursors for the apprenticed violence of gangs and organized crime currently rocking Salvadoran democracy. In Huezo Mixco‘s opinion, the solution to violence does not solely depend on understanding the crime being committed today, but on recognizing the tragic impact that decades of trivialized crime has had on Salvadoran society.

Miguel Huezo Mixco is a writer and essayist from El Salvador. He has published three books on cultural topics, and is a part of the editorial team of the Human Development Report for the UNDP in El Salvador.

AT FIVE O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING ON SEPTEMBER 11TH OF 1980, Dolores Soriano and Anita Rodriguez crossed the Titihuapa River on their way to the city of Sensuntepeque, north of San Salvador, the capital. After crossing the ford they met with an army patrol that stopped them and forced them to return to the river. There, on the banks, under an almond tree, they were raped and tortured.

Felipe Alvarado was on the other side of the river at the time. He heard the screams and sobbing of the two women, and listened to the four gunshots that the soldiers fired into their heads and breasts. On that day, he became one of the first witnesses to the decade-long human butchery committed against peasants in the area.


In Tejutepeque, near Albino hill, there is an orange tree under whose shadow rests a small tomb with a cement cross. There, dressed in their woolen pajamas, the bodies of Maria and Rita Iraheta were found. They had been killed along with three other people dumped into a ditch on January 24 of 1980.

A report of the judicial system of Tejutepeque details the discovery of the bodies. The report then goes on to explain that due to the law for amnesty and the consolidation of peace decreed after the Peace Accords of 1992, there will be no investigation into the murders.

All of these stories are written down in the book Massacres: Traces of Salvadoran History Told by the Victims (Madeleine Lagadec Center, 2006), which documents fourteen massive killings committed throughout the decade of the 80’s through personal testimony and judicial documents.

But these fourteen cases were hardly the only ones to occur during the decade of El Salvador’s civil war. The publication does not include the most well known killings, on the Sumpul River and the El Mozote that brought national and worldwide attention to the deliberate policy of Salvadoran authorities to exterminate the peasant population.

The policy was a part of the government’s anti-guerilla strategy designed to destroy the popular recruitment base upon which the armed movement sustained itself.

During this time, the police, military, and paramilitary made wide use of torture. In fact, two ex-ministers of defense were recently found guilty by a North American court to pay a million dollar fine to three Salvadorans who were tortured by their subordinates.

The methods and cruelty used by the government during this time have served as lessons for their modern day apprentices: gangs and organized crime. And it is impossible to avoid thinking that if the state-sponsored crimes had received even a fraction of the attention that delinquency now receives in El Salvador, it may have helped prevent the worst butchery in all of El Salvador’s history: a massacre that left 80,000 dead, tens of thousands of refugees, and thousands of injuries.

But as is usual, the state did everything in its power to hide its crimes, and even worse, to justify them.

Salvadoran society finds itself now razed by a wave of violence, delinquency, and insecurity that the government has been unable to stop. he costs of violence exceed, according to estimates of the UNDP, 700 million dollars a year: double the spending of the ministries of Health and Education combined.

And while many believe that the current delinquency in El Salvador puts the entire democracy at risk, the issue of violence lies deeper than what is happening today. El Salvador must take into account not only what its people are capable of now, but what they have been capable of in the past.

Salvadoran society has been exposed to decades of trivialized crime. The mass killings of the 1980’s, and the impunity with which they were met, have weakened the ethical and cultural norms of El Salvador to such an extent that it is now one of the most brutal and bloody societies in the hemisphere.

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