Sumpul River


Home Up

NOTE: Our Sister School Community experienced this massacre.  Our girls go swimming here when they visit.


"In 1980 five hundred people were killed when they tried to cross the Sumpul River. There, the few survivors

say that babies were thrown into the air and speared on U.S.-provided bayonets."


Yvonne Dilling

Witness For Peace



Chalatenango, July 2005


Sumpul River Massacre Remembered


by Jesse Stewart, volunteer at U.S./El Salvador Sister Cities (

May marked the 25th anniversary of the massacre at Las Aradas, along the Sumpul River in Chalatenango.  As has happened every year since the 1992 Peace Accords, people from all over Chalatenango and the rest of the country made the pilgrimage on foot from nearby villages to converge on the massacre site.  Present were survivors, family of the victims and their children all baring physical testimony to history, retracing the paths that cut the rugged riverbed to where the Salvadoran and Honduran Armies corralled the organized civilians of the region, leaving more than 600 dead.

Felipe Tobar, president of the Junta Directiva of San José Las Flores spoke as a survivor of the massacre.  Felipe and a group of more than 200 civilians had fled a nearby community in the wee hours of the morning the 14th, hoping the troops hunting them would not follow them as far as the Honduran border.  However, no sooner had they arrived in Las Aradas were the community welcomed them with open arms and set about preparing food for the famished refugees, than the army fell upon them.  They were fired upon from the range of hills lining the Sumpul on the Salvadoran side of the river.  They fled to the river to escape the gunfire with the hope of crossing it and finding safety in Honduras.  However the river at that point was deep due to rains at that time of year and many drowned, especially women with young children.  Those who didn’t were either machine-gunned in the river by patrolling helicopters, or captured by the Honduran Army once they crossed.  Once captured, the Hondurans handed them back over to Salvadoran troops, who lined them up and executed them in mass in the fields along the river.

As Santiago Serrano Mejia president of the CCR declared as he opened the event of commemoration last week, “we are here today to bear testimony to the assassinations that took place here, and also to remember the cruel lessons of that struggle, so that histories such as these never repeat themselves”.  There in Las Aradas, perhaps especially because of the sobering reality of the commemoration, the sparks of that age-old struggle every generation must eventually acknowledge against the tortured circles that history so often follows were vibrantly present in Santiago’s words.  There are still haunting signs of the past in El Salvador today:

1335 people were violently killed in El Salvador in the first five months of the year, not of 1980 but of 2005. The killing continues twenty-five years later, even if the tactics and circumstances have changed.  El Salvador’s violent history haunts it despite the marching of the years.  Economic and political repression today, and the violent trauma suffered during the war years, incite a new reality of violence every bit as lethal if perhaps somewhat more subtle.  So it is fitting that on a day dedicated to the remembrance of the atrocities committed against the Salvadoran people along the Sumpul River, that the connection was made between those who died in the struggle during the war and our commitments to the changing struggle today.

Thus as the hottest most suffocating part of the day silently arrived, and those gathered in Las Aradas took to their individual paths winding back up into the hills, the echo of Santiago’s words rung in the air.  To commemorate and remember those who where assassinated in Las Aradas and in so many other places all over the country in those years, is to remember not just the deaths, but especially the lives and the struggle.  In remembering the lives and struggles of so many who died, every step taken on that long march out of the hot riverbed of the Sumpul was for me a step of affirmation of my own commitments to a struggle that continues despite the deceptive changes in battlefields that new forms of violence and repression have brought.