Category Archives: Jesuit martyrs

Ending impunity in El Salvador

Nina Lakhani takes a look at whether Spanish trial of soldiers who killed priests raises hopes of ending impunity in El Salvador for The Guardian.
Benjamín Cuéllar, director of the UCA Human Rights Institute until 2013, told the Guardian: “They sent the army’s most elite unit to kill six peaceful priests and two women, but it could have been anyone, that’s why the two condemned men were pardoned.”
But Cuéllar’s testimony helped convince a Spanish judge that the Salvadoran justice system has failed the victims, first by conducting a fraudulent trial and subsequently by refusing to prosecute the intellectual authors.
Cuellar still believes the case should and could be heard in El Salvador. “It would finally open the door to justice for crimes committed before, during and after the war, as it would transcend impunity,” he said
Technically, that would still be possible. The constitutional court is expected to rule imminently on the constitutionality of the amnesty law, and the case remains open at the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights which could order El Salvador to reinvestigate the massacre.
But David Morales, the country’s human rights attorney general, is pessimistic. “I see little possibility of justice in El Salvador. The legal process has been manipulated and the most senior judges have violated the constitution, international treaties and national laws,” he said.
At the conference I attended last week in New York City, the US and Salvadoran military representatives were in favor of investigating and prosecuting soldiers who committed human rights violations, including the murders of the Jesuits and two women, during the Salvadoran civil war. Such murders have no place in war. However, it was a politician (former President Armando Calderon Sol) and former guerrilla commander (Facundo Guardado) who thought that trials were terrible ideas. Carlos Dada, who also attended the conference, wrote about the exchange here.

I wasn't surprised with Calderon Sol's attack against those who have sought to bring members of the high command to justice in Spain. However, I was disappointed with Facundo's comments:
“El asesinato de los jesuitas y de monseñor Romero fueron violaciones de derechos humanos, pero ni las más horrendas ni las más crueles. Yo no creo en las guerras buenas. El asunto era eliminar al enemigo y a su entorno. Nuestra sociedad y el mundo tienen derecho a conocer la verdad pero que no sean vendetas. Yo me alejo de quienes dicen que la justicia pasa por la cárcel. En la cárcel deben estar quienes son una amenaza y (los militares acusados) no son una amenaza”.
"Nadie habla de la crudeza de la guerra. Yo, si me preguntan, lo hago. Pero no voy a ir a la cárcel. ¿A cuenta de qué?"
I've interviewed Facundo a couple of times. He's a great interview. He even paid for my coffee and drove me around town a bit. However, his comments seemed a bit strange as much of the conference involved people discussing how terrible the murders of the Jesuits were and how their deaths caused the US and ARENA to increase their support for a negotiated solution to the war. Both actors were already moving in that direction. However, the killings undercut those in the US government and the Salvadoran oligarchy who did not support negotiations and were instead clinging to hopes of total victory.

(Can El Salvador continue to resist calls to investigate war time atrocities?)

Salvadoran colonel one step closer to trial in Spain

Retired Salvadorans colonel Inocente Montano is one step closer to facing charges related to the November 1989 UCA murders. From the AP
A judge has ruled that a former Salvadoran colonel can be extradited to Spain to face charges that he helped plan the slayings of priests in 1989 during El Salvador's civil war.
United States Magistrate Judge Kimberly Swank granted the government's extradition request for Inocente Orlando Montano Morales in a ruling filed Friday.
Swank ordered that U.S. Marshals take custody of Montano so he can be turned over to Spain, pending final approval by the Secretary of State.
The United States recently deported two retired generals to El Salvador following legal investigations that showed that they had been involved in human rights violations during the 1980s. A Spanish court has also asked that Salvadoran authorities detain soldiers alleged to have been involved in the Jesuit murders. Authorities have not moved against any of the military officials because of the amnesty and because the FMLN government does not want to get caught up in being at the forefront of transitional justice efforts. There are some in the FMLN who are pushing for justice - just not those at the top who might be targets as well (Salvadoran Sanchez Ceren).

Given positive developments in Guatemala with regards to transitional justice and the actions of the US and Spanish governments, one gets the impression that it is only a matter of time before the wall of impunity is broken in El Salvador. It's not inevitable and will require a great deal of struggle and courage. They just need a few judges and lawyers with the people behind them to kick the door open.

Okay, that's a lot.

But I'm hoping my February 2013 post on Can El Salvador continue to resist calls to investigate war time atrocities? is eventually answered with a no.

What can the US, an accomplice to many of the crimes, do? I'd say that it can continue to detain, extradite, and deport those former military officials involved in civil war-era crimes. It can provide classified information to investigators.

Like Guatemala, it can accompany victims and survivors in their pursuit of justice. It can also provide support to those who take up the struggle in El Salvador as those who have investigated civil war era crimes have previously been threatened (Tutela Legal).

It can also investigate and prosecute if deemed necessary those Americans who were intimately involved in the planning and execution of war crimes and crimes against humanity in El Salvador. At a minimum, it should come clean about its role.

Hello El Salvador, it is Spain calling again

***Update - In the beginning of the El Pais news story, the author states stat an arrest warrant has been re-issued. However, later in the article, it only says that Judge Velasco has asked for the order to be re-issued. However, as an astute reader of El Salvador mentioned in an email, it's not clear which one is actually the case - asked for or actually re-issued.

In my reading of the article, it also appears that Bernabeu is confirming what El Pais had heard from another source. The same reader questions whether that is the case as well. Perhaps it is all coming from Bernabeu (a very good source but only a single source)? Anyway, that just means that I / we should wait for official confirmation from the court before reading everything in the story as fact.***

A few days ago, a Spanish court reissued arrest warrants for eighteen officers connected to the deaths of six Jesuits and their a housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador in November 1989. The Spanish court issued a red alert in May 2011 (I can't believe it's been over four years already) but the Salvador Supreme Court of Justice interpreted the notice as only requiring that the Salvadoran government locate the officials, not actually arrest them (if I remember correctly). Most of those wanted by the Spanish court then took refuge on a military base in El Salvador.

In this re-issuance of arrest warrants, the court makes clear that these men are not only to be found but to be arrested. It's kind of hard to see the Salvadoran government moving against these men but one can hope. Salvadoran authorities have shown little interest in challenging the 1993 amnesty that (allegedly) protects individuals from all crimes committed during the Salvadoran civil war even though there have been similar, successful, attempts in neighboring Guatemala. Guatemala was helped by the deportation of individuals from US but in those cases Salvadoran authorities were looking for the men. El Salvador has had one retired general deported from the US and a second on the way. It's also possible, maybe even likely, that the US will extradite Montano to Spain for trial He is one of the men left off the recent request from Spain because he is known to be in the US.

The murders of the Jesuits was an egregious crime during the Salvadoran civil war. It wasn't the only terrible crime but hopefully the pursuit of justice in this case will open the door to justice in other cases as well.

26th anniversary of the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador

On Monday, the world commemorated the 26th anniversary of the murders of six Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter at the UCA in San Salvador. The murders were ordered by the Salvadoran high command in response to an offensive launched by the FMLN earlier in the month. The Jesuits were not the only pro-peace advocates targeted by the government in November but their deaths shocked the world, even many of those who had been sympathetic to the military and Salvadoran government.

Reflections on the Martyrs from Jesuits provides some details as to how their deaths affected younger Jesuits in-training in 1989. One Jesuit who I spoke to here at Scranton and who was in Rome at the time retold a story about how several of the Jesuits around him in the Vatican assumed that the Jesuits were murdered by the FMLN. They just had no clue as to the reality of El Salvador at that time.

I remember sitting in my guidance counselor's office at Regis in NYC when I first heard the news of the Jesuits' deaths. In many ways, it was a life changing moment for me. Their deaths, as well as that of Sr. Maura Clarke who was from my neighborhood, aroused my interest in El Salvador and Central America. I learned more about the country during my remaining years of high school and then in college at Fairfield.

Even then, I chose to study abroad in Argentina during my junior year. I loved learning about and traveling in Latin America. Fortunately, for me, I was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study in El Salvador following graduation from Fairfield in 1996. And the rest is somewhat history.

I am giving a talk this afternoon on the University of Scranton campus entitled "IDPs, Asylees, Refugees, Migrants: What's the Difference?" Tomorrow I have telephonic testimony in an asylum case related to an individual who fled El Salvador. I am reminded of how many Salvadorans and Guatemalans were denied asylum in the US during the 1980s because of politics. They fled governments we were supporting so therefore it would look bad on our country if we then granted them asylum in large numbers. On the other hand, if you came from Nicaragua the threshold for asylum was much lower. We just didn't like their government and anything we could do to make them look even worse was okay with us. Then on Friday, I'll be discussing recent developments in Central America as Freedom House prepares its next Freedom in the World Report.

Finally, I just watched an advance copy of Blood in the Backyard. The film should be available next year and I highly recommend it.

Spain continues to investigate UCA Jesuit murders

The Spanish Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of a High Court judge's continued investigation into the murders of the Salvadoran Jesuits and their companions. The Supreme Court ruled that reforms made to the country's universal justice doctrine (done so under pressure from China) does not prevent an investigation into the case of the UCA martyrs.

The Supreme Court ruled that because five of the eight victims were Spanish, the investigation can continue. The Court also ruled that the investigation can continue because the Salvadoran government's decision to prosecute low level soldiers in 1991 was done so not in the pursuit of justice, but as part of an effort to deflect attention away from superiors who ordered the killings (somewhat liberal interpretation on my part).
Passed by Congress with the sole support of the Popular Party (PP), part of the text of the new law states that Spain cannot investigate some crimes committed in other countries where judicial proceedings have already been opened unless there are indications that a foreign government cannot or is unwilling to prosecute.
Two retired military officers, Colonel Alfredo Benavides Moreno and Lieutenant Yusshy René Mendoza Vallecillos, were convicted by a Salvadoran jury in 1991 and sentenced to 30 years in prison for the massacre. However, they were both freed under a government amnesty two years later.
In its opinion, Spain’s Supreme Court said that there were “serious and reasonable” indications that the 1991 jury trial was not held to find those responsible for the murder but instead to obstruct justice, “all of it accompanied by the absence of the necessary guarantees of independence and impartiality.”
In other news, Tim has Destructive waves returning to El Salvador and Big business failing to pay taxes in El Salvador and IPS has Talk of Death Squads to Combat New Wave of Gang Violence in El Salvador.