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Retired Salvadoran Officer Apprehended in U.S. for Role in El Mozote Massacre of 1981

This week, a former Salvadoran military officer was apprehended by U.S. agents for his alleged involvement in the merciless El Mozote Massacre of civilians during El Salvador's prolonged civil war in the 1980s.

Roberto Antonio Garay Saravia Arrested by ICE in New Jersey on Tuesday for his role in El Mozote Massacre.

The Hill

According to a statement released on Thursday, Roberto Garay was taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials in New Jersey on Tuesday. Garay had previously led the Atlacatl Battalion, a specialized military unit, as its section commander from 1981 to 1985.

In 2020, retired Salvadoran general Juan Rafael Bustillo had to come clean and admit that the Atlacatl squad was indeed responsible for the infamous El Mozote massacre of 1981, in which more than 1,000 innocent villagers, mostly women, and children, were brutally killed.

This particular battalion not only carried out extrajudicial killings at El Mozote but was also involved in three other massacres where "hundreds of noncombatant civilians" were slaughtered like sheep.

Garay had the audacity to knowingly misrepresent his role in the massacre while submitting an immigration application.

He probably did not have to forge his background history, given Washington’s blithe acceptance of the massacres during that anti-Marxist zeitgeist of the 1980s that prompted unscrupulous financing of such vicious mercenaries in El Salvador.

How America Endorsed the Massacre

How could the U.S. not know this guy?

After all, the Reagan administration formed Operation Rescue in 1981 as a counterinsurgency operation to train the infamous Atlacatl death squad led by Garay.

In response to the spread of communism in Latin America, Reagan poured millions of dollars into the region, including Guatemala, Nicaragua, and especially El Salvador.

During the horrific events of December 1981 in El Mozote, the bodies of the victims were callously discarded in various locations such as behind houses, in fields, and on dirt roads.

These poor souls were left to decompose or even set on fire.

In a desperate bid for survival, the villagers had to scurry away and take refuge in a nearby cave.

It was a truly devastating and heart-wrenching situation.

During congressional hearings in 1982, Elliott Abrams, the assistant secretary of state, put up a spirited defense of maintaining aid to the Salvadoran army.

In order to support his argument, he referred to an investigation that the State Department had requested the U.S. Embassy to carry out.

The investigation aimed to refute claims of the massacre at El Mozote. Although two researchers were dispatched to the site, they were unable to access the area and were repeatedly hindered by Salvadoran soldiers.

Despite interviewing refugees who revealed the horrific extent of the violence, their accounts were overlooked.

How long was the Salvadoran Civil War?

The civil war of El Salvador that took place from 1980 to 1992 was a part of the Cold War and caused immense bloodshed.

The army of the right-wing U.S.-supported government fought against the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) rebels, resulting in the deaths of approximately 75,000 and the disappearance of another 8,000 people.

ICE emphasized the importance of holding accused war criminals accountable through their investigation team.

The agency stated that individuals like Garay should be investigated, prosecuted, and expelled from the United States.

But, will the U.S. pursue legal action against Abrams or other high-ranking U.S. officials for their complicity in the El Mozote Massacre?


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