Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles In 1984, a group of radio broadcasters and operators walked into the abandoned village of El Mozote in El Salvador. Fireflies illuminated the remnants of a massacre that had taken place three years earlier. Led by Colonel Domingo Monterrosa, government soldiers had tortured, raped, and murdered 978 people, including 553 children. The youngest victim, Concepción Sánchez, was just three days old. Both the US and Salvadoran governments denied the massacre had taken place, and the slaughter left few people alive to tell their story. But with the help of Radio Venceremos, one of those survivors, Rufina Amaya, shared her testimony— exposing both Monterrosa and the governments funding his crimes. This massacre was one in a long line of atrocities committed against El Salvador's farmers. Since the 1800s, a handful of oligarchs had controlled nearly all the country's land, forcing laborers to work for almost nothing. In 1932, Indigenous farm workers led an insurrection, but the dictatorial government responded by committing genocide against these communities. From then on, one military dictatorship after another ruled the country in concert with wealthy landowners. Their power only grew in the 1960s, when the United States began supplying the regime with military aid. The US wanted to stop the spread of reformist and revolutionary movements, which they saw as threats to capitalism. So they spent huge sums of money training Salvadoran soldiers and “death squads”— fascist military units versed in brutal counter-insurgency methods. Throughout the 1970s, these forces slaughtered farmers who organized to demand basic rights, such as living wages, food, and clean water. Finally, in 1980, farmers and urban workers formed the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front. This coalition of guerrilla groups fought to overthrow the dictatorship and build a socialist society that met the needs of laborers. These revolutionaries were attacked from every direction. Colonel Monterrosa led a special battalion intent on destroying the FMLN, using tactics he'd learned at an American military school. State forces terrorized farmers to stop them from joining or aiding the guerrillas. But one group of rebels would not be silenced: the operators of Radio Venceremos. This clandestine guerrilla radio began in 1981, and its broadcasters Santiago and Mariposa became the voice of the revolution. They transmitted news from the front lines and reported military abuses that no other source covered. The station's politics and popularity made it a high-profile target. And because they operated in a relatively small area, its broadcasters had to move constantly to evade capture. To communicate undetected, the group modified to radios into telephones, linked together through kilometers of barbed wire covering the countryside. This secret telephone line helped the rebels stay one step ahead of their pursuers. In addition to reporting news, the radio broadcast educational programs in areas under guerrilla control. Here, farmers organized democratic councils to govern themselves, alongside cooperatives, schools, and medical clinics. Organizers also encouraged civilian women to participate in these councils to ensure the revolution overthrew both capitalism and patriarchy. Women made up roughly a third of the guerrillas, working in a huge variety of roles. Colonel Monterrosa was obsessed with destroying Radio Venceremos. In October 1984, government soldiers finally captured their radio transmitter. Monterrosa himself went to retrieve the equipment and held a theatrical press conference celebrating his “decisive blow to the subversives.” But in reality, the radio team had outsmarted him once again. The transmitter was boobytrapped. Once Monterrosa's helicopter left the press conference, radio members detonated the device over El Mozote, killing the colonel near the village he had massacred. Monterrosa's death was one victory in a much larger conflict. The civil war raged on for 8 more years before concluding in 1992, when peace accords dissolved the oppressive National Guard and allowed the FMLN to become an electoral party. But these accords didn't address problems of deep, structural inequality. In 1993, the UN Truth Commission reported that over 75,000 people died during the war. Yet the Salvadoran legislature prevented the prosecution of war crimes and continues to obstruct justice to this day. As of 2021, no participating American officials have been put on trial, and only one individual from the Salvadoran government has been sentenced for war crimes. Historical erasure exists in the US as well, where these and other stories of US intervention in Central America are rarely taught in public schools. But the victims refuse to be forgotten. Rufina Amaya continued to share her testimony until her death in 2007. And survivors of other massacres still organize to denounce state violence. They map old massacre sites, exhume and bury loved ones, and build sanctuaries and museums, all in the hope of pollinating a more just future.