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In Heart and Spirit

by Hugh Brown 09-01-1996
El Salvador's peace is still fragile.

"You are now entering the village of El Mozote." Harold Recinos, a community advocate from Washington, D.C., led a band of U.S. seminarians and clergy on a three-mile pilgrimage this spring that precisely followed the route of the Salvadoran military's Atlacatl Battalion some 15 years ago.

In December 1981, the U.S.-trained and funded Atlacatl entered El Mozote and massacred a village of evangelical Christians. The group of pastors and students that entered the village this spring was met by dozens of small children who spontaneously surrounded them—reaching out in a mysterious depth of hospitality that was especially poignant in light of their town's past.

In some ways El Mozote, crucified by war but with a tenacious will to survive, symbolizes the nation of El Salvador after four years of so-called peace. In January 1992, the government of President Alfredo Cristiani and the commanders of the FMLN, the umbrella guerrilla group that waged civil war against the U.S.-backed government throughout the 1980s, gathered in Mexico City and signed an agreement to end the 12-year-old war that left more than 75,000 Salvadorans dead.

Among other things, the 1992 peace accords provided that the army be purged of "known human rights violators" and be reduced by half; that the guerrillas disarm and some of their number join a new civilian police force; and that the Atlacatl and other rapid-reaction battalions be disbanded. The agreement also provided for a Truth Commission that would investigate "serious acts of violence" since 1980.