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El Salvador: Groundbreaking Insights into U.S. Cover-Up of El Mozote Massacre
by El Faro
29 April 2021

A United States military advisor, Sergeant Major Allen Bruce Hazelwood, was on location, and on duty, in December of 1981 as Salvadoran soldiers carried out the El Mozote massacre, slaughtering almost a thousand civilians.

This groundbreaking revelation was the big takeaway from the expert testimony of Stanford University political scientist Terry Karl during pretrial hearings in El Salvador on Monday, April 26. The news of Hazelwood’s presence — along with Colonel Domingo Monterrosa, commander of the Atlacatl Battalion — at the scene of the massacre offers new insight into the extent of the U.S. role, as well as what Karl calls a “sophisticated cover-up” on the part of the Reagan administration and Salvadoran civil-military junta.

It also rekindles the debate about the United States responsibility in the Salvadoran armed conflict, as well as the need for both governments to fully declassify internal documents on the massacre and other war crimes, which they have withheld for four decades.

“Had [Hazelwood’s presence at El Mozote] come to light at the time, it would have meant cutting off United States aid,” said Karl. She added: “The participation of an advisor in wartime activities is against our laws, and it was illegal at the time.”

The El Mozote massacre was the deadliest war crime of the Salvadoran civil war. Between December 11 and 13 of 1981, the Salvadoran Army deployed almost an entire elite battalion to El Mozote and six nearby villages in the Morazán department, killing 978 unarmed civilians. Most of them, 533, were children. 477 of these were under 12 years old, and 248 under six.
For years the governments of El Salvador and the United States denied that the massacre had occurred. Later, they questioned the identities of the victims in suggesting they were guerrillas. The two journalists who simultaneously revealed the massacre, in the New York Times and Washington Post, were Raymond Bonner and Alma Guillermoprieto, who then faced swift backlash for their work. By 2012, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights pronounced the Salvadoran state guilty of the crime.

The case is now in its final phase of the initial hearing, in which the judge will decide if there is sufficient evidence to begin a formal trial, with the possibility of a prison sentence for the implicated officials. Just days before the hearings resumed on Monday, the military’s defense attorney, Lisandro Quintanilla, motioned unsuccessfully to have the audience postponed. “They always throw up obstacles,” said Rosario Sánchez, a survivor of the massacre in the canton of La Joya, who was present in the courtroom. The same attorney also twice requested that the judge hearing the case be recused, arguing that “we know for a fact that you are not objective.”

Sergeant Major Allen Bruce Hazelwood “was known as one of the best sources for the United States,” wrote Karl in the first version of her expert report prepared for the El Mozote case. A 2018 documentary on the Dutch television network Zembla also identified Hazelwood as having inside knowledge of the plot of Coronel Mario Reyes Mena to murder four Dutch journalists in 1982. Karl suggests that the same could have been true in the case of El Mozote, when taking into account the deep trust that Hazelwood and Monterrosa shared.

“The documents and sworn statements suggest that Hazelton could have been aware beforehand of what was to come, though there is no implication that he supported the decision of the Salvadoran officers to kill civilians in any of these cases,” reads Karl’s report.

Two representatives of the U.S. Embassy were present for the first day of Karl’s testimony. “The United States supports the trial of the massacre at El Mozote,” said Jonathan Lloyd, the embassy’s political attaché. “We’re supporting the rule of law and an independent trial here in El Salvador, and we believe that efforts to guarantee accountability for human rights violations are important for ensuring justice for the victims,” he said, without referring to the presence of a U.S. military officer during the massacre.

Karl explained that, during the 1980s, El Salvador was “the most important country in terms of foreign policy for the United States. “I can’t say that Reagan knew,” Karl said, as part of her testimony. “But a lot of people in government did know what had happened.”

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Source: El Faro

El Faro