Famed Photographer and Forensic Anthropologist Participate in Central America 'Teach-in'

Map showing the nations of Central America

Photos, evidence, documentation, and a front page New York Times report. That is what it took Susan Meiselas and Mercedes Doretti to tell the story to the world of one of the darkest moments in the history of Central America. They recounted their experience at SUNY Old Westbury on March 25, 2019 for “Remembering the El Mozote Massacre” – a part of the College’s “Crisis in Central America: Yesterday and Today” symposium.

Created in collaboration between the Hispanic Latino Cultural Center, the Modern Languages and Politics, Economics and Law departments and the Amelie A. Wallace Gallery, the two-day event provided information about the conflicts in Central America, and their implications around the world. Historians, experts, artists, alumni and Old Westbury students all participated on various panels and presentations.

Meiselas was the first photographer on the scene of the El Mozote Massacre in 1981 during the Salvadoran Civil Way, where the Salvadoran Army killed more than 800 civilians. She detailed for the faculty, students and staff in attendance what took place during the tumultuous Civil War through her photos of the wreckage, burned bodies, and the lone survivor she discovered when conducting her investigative report after the massacre. The award-winning photographer shared the sentiment, “imagine you are working in such a way that you are hoping you are protecting the people you are taking the photos of.”

Doretti, a forensic anthropologist for the 1992 United Nations Truth Commission for El Salvador, and co-founder of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, also gave her perspective of the aftermath of the Massacre. She talked about the long process of finding the necessary evidence to prove that the women, children and elderly were killed by the Salvadoran Army, and not by shootout between the troops and rebels. Doretti demonstrated how coins and bullet casings provided a clear picture of what happened in El Mozote.

The art exhibition “Nicaragua 1978–2018: Susan Meiselas,” featuring works by Meiselas will run through May 2, 2019 at the Amelie A. Wallace Gallery at the College. Republications and appropriations of her iconic image of Pablo Jesús Arauz throwing a molotov cocktail will be on display.

Event organizer and Associate Professor of Politics, Economics and Law Thomas DelGiudice with Meiselas, Doretti and panel participant Julio Martinez Ellsberg, adviser to the University Coalition for Democracy and Justice.