The Film

Niños de la Memoria

2012 (64 minutes)

Niños de la Memoria tells the story of the search for children who disappeared during the Salvadoran Civil War. Survivors of massacres carried out by U.S.-trained Salvadoran Army batallions, they were taken away from the massacre sites by soldiers. Many grew up in orphanages, were raised by military families or were adopted abroad, losing their history and identity. The film follows Margarita Zamora as she traverses the Salvadoran countryside probing memory, swabbing DNA samples, and searching for disappeared children – including her own four siblings. An investigator for the human rights organization Pro-Búsqueda, her vocation is reuniting disappeared children with their families. In the United States, Jamie Harvey, adopted from El Salvador in 1980, dreams of locating her birth family; but with no information she has little hope of finding them. Jamie’s quest, and Margarita’s best efforts to help her, are frustrated by lack of access to the Salvadoran military war archives, closed since the war ended. As Jamie’s search intensifies with a trip to El Salvador, she finds herself forced to confront a  history she has never known. Salvador Garcia, a farmer in rural Usulutan, discovered the bodies of his wife and three children, brutally massacred by the Army in 1981. But he never found his daughter, Cristabel. Now thirty years later, remarried with a new family, Salvador still longs for her. Niños de la Memoria weaves together three separate yet intertwined journeys in the search for family, identity and justice in El Salvador, and asks the larger question: How can a post-war society right the wrongs of the past?


“ABANDONED”: the photographs of children in Niños de la Memoria

During the Salvadoran war, photographs of the disappeared children were sometimes published in newspapers as part of the process to clear them for adoption. They were declared “abandoned”, as these three boys were: the caption says that their last name was unknown and they were “found in the Department of Chalatenango in conflict zones”.
In reality, Emilio, Pablo and Rafael were survivors of the 1982 Guinda de Mayo massacre, where Margarita’s mother and four siblings disappeared. Pro-Búsqueda investigators searched newspaper archives and adoption records after the 1992 Peace Accords and found some of these photographs.
In 1996, brothers Emilio and Pablo López Rivera were located in France by Pro-Búsqueda. A year after they were found, they returned to El Salvador to see their grandparents and other surviving family.
Two sisters, Francisca and Marina, abducted at the same time as Emilio and Pablo, have never been located.
The identity and destiny of Rafael is unknown.


Update: November, 2013

Marina has been found and on November 11, 2013, was reunited with her siblings and other surviving family members.

Pro-Búsqueda announced the reunion of Marina López, the last to be located of four siblings who were taken by soldiers from the Guinda de Mayo massacre in 1982. Marina was three years old at the time. Her parents, Herminio Rivera and Cruz López, were killed as they tried to protect their children: Marina, Francisca, Emilio and Pablo.

Pablo and Emilio were found in France in 1996 and their sister Francisca was located in Spain in 2008. All four children participated in the reunion with the extended family in Chalatenango.

Margarita, one of the protagonists in our film, is still looking for her own four siblings who disappeared in that same army operation.

The Guinda de Mayo massacre, called “Operación Limpieza” by the armed forces, was carried out by the Atlacatl Battalion and the Belloso Battalion – both trained in the United States.  Several leaders of those battalions have now been convicted of immigration fraud in the U.S. in cases that documented their roles in human rights violations during the war; cases brought by the Center for Justice and Accountability (Read about the cases on that CJA link and here.)

El Faro, the online Salvadoran publication, commented in August 2013 on the most recent conviction, of former vice-minister of Security Inocente Orlando Montano: “Although he was charged with immigration fraud and perjury in the U.S., [he] became the first Salvadoran military person whose links to human rights violations resulted in a prison sentence.”

For more information about the reunion, see the Pro-Búsqueda website and Facebook pages