Tag Archives: Suchitoto

Massacre in Platanares, Suchitoto, El Salvador, 1980

It was about 11 am on July 25, 1980. They were meeting in the unfinished church in Caserío Los Leones, Platanares, Suchitoto, El Salvador –  a seminarian, Othmaro Cáceres, and thirteen young men.

cacereshermita

The chapel in Los Leones, where Othmaro Cáceres and thirteen young men were killed.

Othmaro was to be ordained in a few months for the neighboring diocese of San Vicente.  He was from Platanares and often would return from his studies in Mexico. His brother noted how he would help with the labors, like any other campesino, milking cows and working with a cuma in the fields. The young people in the area looked up to him.

caceres-foto

Photo of Othmaro Cáceres inthe hands of a family member.

The young people had taken a break in their meeting and were in the church, sharing candy, but Othmaro was outside. They were talking about their lives as well as about the construction of the new church building. They may have also been talking about plans for Othmaro’s ordination.

Othmaro had just left the chapel when Ventura’s troops arrived, coming from two sides – the road and the fields. He heard shots and hid in the grass. When he thought the troops were gone, he entered a nearby house. But they had not yet gone and caught him there. “You’re the one we’re looking for,” they said and accused him of being a guerrilla leader. He asked them to wait a bit and went down on his knees. He asked God for forgiveness and was then shot. They then attacked his body with machetes. He died of several shots in the chest; afterwards his head was destroyed by blows of a machete.

The other young people were also killed.

This massacre is one of many that happened in El Salvador in the 1970s, 1980s, until the end of the civil war in 1992. Many like Othmaro Cáceres were people of faith, martyred for their commitment to God and the people. Others were like many of the youth killed with him. Some were very involved with the church. A few may have been allied with the opposition forces but most were probably sympathetic to the opposition. Some of them were probably active in their communities, perhaps building underground shelters for friends and family to provide some shelter when the government bombed the area or initiated military incursions into the region.

In the midst of this, they had come together with a friend in walls of a structure they were building to be a House of God in their community.

Victims of war and oppression by a government that had the backing of the US government. But their faith, their resilience can give us strength – as the forces of evil still roam this world.

caceresprocess

Procession to the site of the massacre for a memorial Mass,about 2001.

 

Laura López, martyr of solidarity

laura lopezduranThirty years ago, on April 24, 1985, a Salvadoran catechist gave up her space in a bomb shelter and was killed while running to escape the guns of the Salvadoran government troops, near Valle Verde, in the municipality of Suchitoto.

Laura López was the pseudonym of Felipa Duran. She was active as a catechist in the rural region of Suchitoto, a region devastated by the Salvadoran civil war. The Salvadoran guerrillas operated fairly freely in the region since they had the support of many rural communities which had been evangelized in the style of liberating theology by a series of priests and lay leaders.

Thus the Salvadoran government military often invaded the zone – both with troops and with major bombings. There were a series of major massacres in the area.

Laura came into this area, allied to a number of priests and religious leaders who supported the cause of the guerrillas, though not always their tactics. Though she was not from the area, she came in solidarity.

She led Celebrations of the Word. I heard several people say how she always seemed to come in the most difficult times and offered a word of consolation.

She also passed on the testimony of the crimes of the Salvadoran government troops to the church’s legal aid office.

But she was not uncritical of the guerrillas. Her denunciations of promiscuity among the guerrilla troops almost had her expelled from the region, but the communities resisted such a move.

Her stance was based in her faith and so her opinions were not as ideological as some supporters of the guerrillas. As reported in the Memorial Martirial, “she used to say that the members of both the guerrillas and of the armed forces were not as much to blame for what they did as were those who led them.”

On the fateful day when she was shot, she was fleeing with her daughter. She told her daughter to hide, lest she be killed. Handing over her knapsack she told her, “Adelante. Go forward.”

She had gone forward, giving up a place of safety – not only in the shelter but also by entering and serving in a war zone. But she did it out of love, with a vision of a civilization of love. As she once said:

“We have gotten used to hating, to being afraid. We have to put an end to that. We have to confront ourselves, to kill the false pride within our soul, so that a new person may arise, so that a new civilization may come into being — one composed of love.”

Laura was but one of thousands of pastoral workers in El Salvador who were killed. In a month, on May 23, Monseñor Oscar Romero will be beatified. He is but one of those who were martyred for their commitment to a God who hears the cry of the poor.

—–

A more detailed description of the witness of Laura López can be found in this extract from a book I’m writign on the witness of the church in the parish of Suchitoto, El Salvador: Laura Lopez extract.