“We are committed to remain walking alongside people.”
The primary goal of the Association of Survivors of the Sumpul Massacre and Other Chalatenango Massacres (Asociación de Sobrevivientes de la Masacre del Sumpul y Otras Masacres de Chalatenango) is to dignify all massacre victims and survivors in the region who were subjected to repressive state violence during the Salvadoran Civil War (1980-1992). Members of the Sumpul Association work to preserve historical memory of wartime massacres; recognize and appreciate the popular organization of campesinos and our struggles against state violence; and seek moral and material reparations for survivors.
The Sumpul Association was established through an organic process. It is part of a long history of popular organization and struggle for social justice and political transformation. During the civil war, campesinos and campesinas in Chalatenango engaged in various forms of social organization to defend their lives, land, homes, and families. Organizations such as CRIPDES and CCR generated a strong sense of social responsibility that continues to structure our political and social lives today. The process of repopulation is one of the most important events in our history, a significant collective achievement that included contributions from Salvadoran popular organizations such as organic intellectuals, and religious leaders. After the war, many of us remained politically active, taking. on community leadership roles and extending our work to institutional spheres like mayor’s offices as the regional political power has been reconfigured.
With the support of Father Jon Cortina and other priests in the region, commemorations in the place of the massacre (where the village of Las Aradas once stood) began in 1992. To this day, the communities of Chalatenango participate widely in the commemorations, which are held on May 14th every year. After the commemoration in 2010, a debate about the need to take on a leadership role emerged among survivors and collaborators. We agreed that it was necessary to work on documenting testimonies, and educating and communicating with the general population.
That same year, the Legal Tutelage of the Archbishop’s Office, known today as Human Rights Association María Julia Hernández, informed us that the legal process that began in 1992 was never closed and remained open in the Court of First Instance of Chalatenango. They encouraged us to re-activate the case including new legal proceedings, witnesses, and claimants.
In response to this new scenario, we held the first “The Sumpul Massacre Victims and Survivors Assembly” in Chalatenango on February 27, 2011. We agreed on a three-fold plan that included awareness and documentation of the massacre, re-activation of the legal process, and protection of the massacre site at Las Aradas.
After two years of work as the Victims Committee, which included an investigation and a topographic survey conducted by the Secretary of Culture of the President’s Office, Las Aradas was officially declared both a “historical site” and a “cultural asset” in 2012. It also established measures of protection for the site. This was the first official act of recognition of the importance of the massacre by a state office.
In 2013, after several meetings, we decided to participate in the National Victims Census, sponsored by the Human Rights Division of the Ministry of External Affairs in conjunction with other human rights organizations. We formed a team that registered 300 families who were victims of the Sumpul River Massacre. Our goal was to break our historical silence and raise awareness among Salvadorans about the history of oppression, affliction and endurance of campesinos and campesinas during the. terrible years of war. In the process, we engaged in various activities, such as: documenting the Chalatenango massacres; collecting survivor testimonies; accompanying individuals and families through the legal processes of exhumation and investigations of wartime massacres; establishing small monuments and memorials; sponsoring community events; and organizing massacre commemorations. Our purpose was to recover and dignify the history of struggle of our communities.
In 2013, 2014 and 2015, thanks to the support of Christian Initiative Romero in Germany, we realized workshops with 80 massacre survivors and victims in different locations. They had the opportunity to write their memories and their “spoken portraits” of people they knew who died in the massacre, including family members, neighbors, and friends. This material, along with the drawings made by the participants, is the foundation of a book that is in the process.of production at Equipo Maiz. The book also includes a story about the operation and pictures taken by a Chilean journalist weeks after the massacre.
Since its inception, the Association has worked closely with the survivor community. We have organized community assemblies to identify local needs, prioritize social projects, and realize training workshops. All these community assemblies have provided guidance and have shaped the Association’s work philosophy, which is rooted in a profound solidarity among the massacre survivors and families, and is based on our shared experiences of suffering in our struggle for social justice against state oppression and violence.
In 2016 we acquired a land in Las Aradas, thanks to the financial support of the local, national, and international community. The deed is temporarily jointly held by three members of the committee. The same year we worked on a draft statute sanctioned by a general assembly of survivors in March 2017. The assembly also decided to expand its mandate to victims and survivors of other 58 community-identified massacres in Chalatenango.
Election of the Board of Directors, August 11, 2017.
In August 2017, we held a constituent assembly, which included other massacres’ representatives, to begin the legal process of registration. We also elected a new temporary Board of Directors (Junta Directiva) until the Sumpul Association’s bylaws were approved by the Ministry of Governance.
By emphasizing social justice, human rights, solidarity, collective work, local knowledge, and historical memory, the Sumpul Association is opening new paths of empowerment and justice for hundreds of survivors. We are also working to educate a new generation of Salvadorans about the history of the war, and to fulfil the still unmet recommendations of the 1993 United Nations Truth Commission for El Salvador that the.victims of state-sponsored atrocities be properly commemorated.
The first large-scale project of the Sumpul Association after being officially recognized is raising funds to establish a memorial park in Las Aradas, at the site of the Sumpul River Massacre, which we purchased from a private owner in 2016. In collaboration with local, national, and international supporters, we are working on the memorial park design while continuing to preserve memory through the documentation of testimonies, the mapping and preservation of additional massacre sites across the region, and the development of programs for education and justice.