Monday, February 13, 2006

Rufina Amaya

(El Mozote building destroyed)

Rufina Amaya, the woman who will remain in my heart for the rest of my days. If you know anything about the history of El Salvador, it is possible that you may remember the name of Rufina from reading a book about El Mozote, and the massacre that took place there in December 1981. The tragedy at El Mozote killed more than 1,000 campesinos, and Rufina is the only survivor. Her testimony is simple, it is real and it is full of a certain pain that she has carried with her every since.
Today I met Rufina, and looked into her eyes for the first time, knowing that my own heart will remain connected to hers. I’m not sure I will ever think of the history of El Salvador again, without thinking of her. As I walked through the streets of this small town in northeastern El Salvador, I had to remind myself to take deep breaths, so that I wouldn’t cry, in encountering the reality that Rufina once lived.

(church where men were killed)

We walked these dirt streets, accompanied by neighborhood kids, and the truth was revealed with the bullet holes in buildings. We walked past the home of Marcos Diaz, the richest man of El Mozote at the time, who convinced the families of the town to remain in the area on one particular day (the day that the Atlacatl battalion arrived), despite other intelligence that said something bad was going to happen.
We took pictures of the center square, where the town was forced to congregate before being divided by gender. I walked into the church, and prayed, the place where the men were brought and killed. We walked the path that the line of women took as they were escorted to a home where they would be raped and killed. It was on this path, that Rufina managed to find refuge and escape. It was on this same path, that soldiers walked day and night, dragging bodies (including Rufina’s husband and children).
I saw the tree that Rufina hid in, and the foundation of the house, where the bodies of women were exhumed. Nearby, was the giant crater from a 500 lb. bomb that was dropped by a US airplane just a few days before, and a perfect view over the trees, of the church in the center of the town.
The reality in this tragedy, is that everything was planned with the purpose of terrorism. The fact is, the soldiers of Atlacatl, were trained at The School of the Americas in Fort Banning, Georgia. They learned the latest technology of terror, fresh from the analysis of the Vietnam War. Basically the idea is, if you take away the towns where the guerrilla forces are strong, the guerrillas will also die of hunger. Thus, in the master minds of the six Americans that accompanied the Atlacatl battalion, killing everyone in El Mozote was a strategic move against the opposition. Never mind, that women were raped, children thrown into the air and shot, and the men decapitated. And never mind, that US tax dollars paid for this important education, as well as the guns and ammunition.
Today when I met Rufina at her home, she spoke to us a bit about her experience (minus the details, because there is no need to repeat it over and over again). We talked about her life now, the poverty of her family and those around here. We talked about the oppression that still goes on today and her hopes for a more liberated future. She explained that even thought the peace accords were signed in 1992, the root causes of the war were never addressed, and today she thinks it is even worse. With CAFTA, privatization, electoral fraud, and the dollarization of El Salvador, some things only got worse. Yet somehow, she still remains hopeful, that someday, the Left will take power and eradicate poverty in her country.
When asked about her faith in God, Rufina responds that her faith has always been strong. Even during the war, and during the massacre, God remained in her heart. She attributes her life, to her faith.
The images at the top, I took while I was in El Mozote. I’m not very fond of guided tours or being a tourist, especially when it involves the lives of real people. However, I felt that for this time, my photos might tell a visual story, of the history of El Mozote, and the memories that fill the heart of Rufina Amaya.


Tim said...


Thanks very much for this testimony to a story we must never forget.


Max the Poodle said...

Mego my eggo, I got a blog!

Thirteen-thirty-seven said...


My name is Esther, and I am a seventeen-year-old Catholic girl, living in England. have been reading your blog because I have an interest in the sad history of El Salvador. I read today's entry and I found it horrible - but not surprising. I know enough American history to see that a story like that is not an unusual thing. That is the saddest thing of all.

I found your blog by accident, through an interent search. I was looking for information on Oscar Romero's life, death and the campaign to canonize him. If your could send me any information on these subjects, I would be very, very grateful. My email address is

Ben Qufa said...

Thanx for the posting. I now hope to visit El Mozote in Nov.
After each of my visits to ES, I told anyone who listened about the shameful legacy that the US left in our names.
The 1999 vigil on the 10th anniv. of the Martyr of the 6 Jesuits & my weekend at the Rio Sumpal (04)
changed my life.
Thank Godthat there are people like you.

ProudTexasWoman said...

When I first read an account of El Mozote that showed its location on a map, I was stunned to discover that my then-fiancé (now my husband) had grown up within a few miles of the site. He was only six, so he didn't know about it then, but certainly he grew up in its shadow.

Sadly, the horror of El Mozote is compounded by the fact that the accounts were contradicted for more than a decade. The first U.S. reporters to give an account were ridiculed as gullible, when in fact the U.S. authorities who visited a nearby area and swallowed the lie that it was the site (along with a number of other lies about Rufina Amaya and her story) were the ones who were overly credulous. The Columbia Journalism Review gives the best account of the U.S. media's initial response:

It is heartening to know that you met Rufina Amaya and that she continues hopeful. I will share the message with my husband, who often is distressed by homeland news and may be glad to hear that one who has been through so much more than he can still have hope.

Soldado Truko said...

Thanks for your blog about El Salvador, I will never forget Rufina Amaya. Can you post more pics of your trip to El Mozote.

Eliana said...

Hi, My name is Eliana i am from boston, I also meet Rufina Amaya during my trip 2 years ago to El salvador it was a very hard experience at my age(16). I still see her face and the look on her eyes. I would like to know more about your experience of el salvador and share with you mine as well...