Monday, February 1, 2010

The Search for the Rio Sumpul Massacre Victims

The following excerpt is from the United Nations Truth Commision for El Salvador carried out at the end of the war.
On 14 May 1980, units of Military Detachment No. 1, the National Guard and the paramilitary Organización Nacional Democrática (ORDEN) deliberately killed at least 300 non-combatants, including women and children, who were trying to flee to Honduras across the Sumpul river beside the hamlet of Las Aradas, Department of Chalatenango. The massacre was made possible by the cooperation of the Honduran armed forces, who prevented the Salvadorian villagers from landing on the other side.
The Salvadorian military operation had begun the previous day as an anti-guerrilla operation. Troops advanced from various points, gradually converging on the hamlet of Las Aradas on the banks of the Sumpul river. In the course of the operation, there had been a number of encounters with the guerrillas.

There is sufficient evidence that, as they advanced, Government forces committed acts of violence against the population, and this caused numerous people to flee, many of whom congregated in the hamlet, consisting of some dozen houses.

Troops attacked the hamlet with artillery and fire from two helicopters. The villagers and other people displaced by the operation attempted to cross the Sumpul river to take refuge in Honduras. Honduran troops deployed on the opposite bank of the river barred their way. They were then killed by Salvadorian troops who fired on them in cold blood.
According to a report in Prensa Libre, Guatemalan forensic anthropologists are heading to El Salvador to assist in the search for and exhumation of victims from the Salvadoran civil war.  One of the more well known and atrocious massacres on which they will be assisting occurred in May 1980 near Arcatao, Chalatenango and is noted above. 

Ana García, Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Center for Human Rights, is asking for witnesses and family members of possible victims to come forward with any information.  I am wondering whether the political climate in El Salvador has changed enough so that people with information about the killings from the war (as witness or participants) now feel free to come forward. 

A few years ago, a former soldier, José Wilfredo Salgado, spoke rather candidly about what his fellow soldiers had done at El Mozote and how it haunted him.  However, he recanted soon thereafter saying that he was misinterpreted and tricked.  Perhaps with a new administration in power, those who have something to share will feel more empowered to come forward with any information that they might have.  


  1. I presume Ana García of the Fray Bartolomé de las Casa Center is seeking information from Padre Fausto Milla, a Honduran priest who approached the scene of the massacre a day or two after and tried to get the word out. He was one of the first in Honduras to denoucen it on May 24 in his parish in Corquín, Honduras. It was ignored and called scandalous by the Honduran president. Yet a month later 36 priests and sisters and the bishop of Santa Rosa, Monseñor Chevez, denounced it publicly .

  2. From what I understand, both the church in Honduras and Salvador agreed that there was a massacre of a large number of civilians during the dates in question. At some point, both governments acknowledged that there had been a military engagement between the guerrillas and the Salvadoran military in which some civilians were likely, but unfortunately, killed.

    I visited Arcatao in 2008. The photo is from a mural at the place where I stayed. Investigators should not have a difficult time finding information on the massacre from either the truth commission or from speaking with survivors in the area. Most people I talked with were very willing to tell their stories.

  3. Iam thinking of building an Adult school overthere ,right now it is just in the works , the plan is to build a school where adults can learn trades , English , and how to use computers . The money would come from Churches here in the states that want to sponsor something like that and friends from El Salvador .Iam hoping to buy the land next year. I would like to get a place In Chalatenango out side the city . Please pray for this project .

  4. I am a family member of Father Earl Gallagher, or "father beto" as his Honduran families knew him.Ironically, He lost his life in NYC while visiting family for 2 weeks 11 years ago, while simply crossing the street. My wife and I have been searching for as much information as possible to share with our friends and children. He kept much of the goings on in Honduras to himself, but it became clear when talking to his people who knew him as "father Beto" that we have all realized he was far from an ordinary man, but more a living angel to some. His name has more than once been attached to the events of may 18th 1980, anyone who can give us more information about what he has done for so many, we would be truly grateful, please contact me

  5. "deliberately killed at least 300 non-combatants". It's incorrect! 600 non-combatants were killed

  6. Thanks. While I understand several people place the number killed at 600 or more, I went with the more official truth commission conclusion that had at least 300 killed.

    Either way, my description was correct and regardless the true number, it was a horrible crime.

  7. Thank you for this posting. I'm doing some research on the Rio Sumpul Massacre for a novel and I'm having difficulty finding out exactly where it took place. Since the hamlet of Las Aradas no longer exists, it doesn't show up on current maps. I gather that you've visited the site and so I was wondering if you might be able to tell me exactly where the massacre happened (e.g. where in relationship to Arcatao)? Thanks!

    Francis Kelly

  8. You might be interested in checking this Sumpul massacre testimonies. they are in Spanish. we are fundAbril a non-profit working around