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  HOME | Central America

El Salvador Recalls Murder of Jesuit Priests

SAN SALVADOR – El Salvador on Monday commemorated the 20th anniversary of the murder by soldiers of six Jesuit priests, to whom President Mauricio Funes awarded the country’s highest honor.

“The Salvadoran brothers to whom we pay homage today gave their lives so that El Salvador might get out of its infernal cycle ... that breeds death, and get on the road of reconciliation,” the country’s first leftist head of state said at a ceremony in the presidential palace.

On Nov. 16, 1989, Salvadoran soldiers invaded the campus of the Central American University, or UCA, and killed then-chancellor Ignacio Ellacuria and four other Spanish priests: Segundo Montes, Ignacio Martin-Baro, Amando Lopez and Juan Ramon Moreno, and Salvadoran Jesuit Joaquin Lopez.

Also slain were a cook and her 16-year-old daughter.

The massacre came at the height of the 1980-1992 civil war between the Salvadoran military and the FMLN rebels, a conflict that left some 80,000 dead.

Funes, standard-bearer of what is now the FMLN party, posthumously presented to the relatives and colleagues of the Jesuits the order of Jose Matias Delgado, a gesture by which, he said, “a dense veil of obscurity and lies (is being pulled back) to allow the light of justice and truth to enter.”

“It signifies lifting the dusty carpet of hypocrisy and beginning to clean the house of our recent history,” Funes added.

“We want this to be an act of recovery of collective memory, an acknowledgement of the labor of those who always were on the side of human rights, of democracy, of the tireless search for justice, of the poor,” he emphasized.

The president called for “unity for what these men fought for” and said that the country will only be able to build its future if Salvadorans adopt the stance of being “brothers and sisters.”

UCA’s current chancellor, Jose Maria Tojeira, emphasized during the ceremony that this is the first time that a Salvadoran government “publicly and officially acknowledges the valor, the dignity and the service that this group of academicians and men of faith furnished.”

“Defending victims ended up for them also turning them into victims, but their deaths, along with those of Elba and Celina, and those of so many regular people like them, became a clamor for peace that overcame the brutality of war,” he said.

“If the murder of Monsignor (Oscar Arnulfo) Romero was a sign of the opening of the civil war, precisely because of the intent to destroy in his person the compassion and peaceful rationality that he represented, the massacre of the Jesuits and their two supporters was the door to peace,” Tojeira said.

Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador, was gunned down in 1980 during Mass at church on the outskirts of the capital.

Of the 14 members of the Salvadoran military who stood trial in September 1991 for the murders of the Jesuits, only Col. Guillermo Benavides and Lt. Yussy Mendoza were found guilty. Though sentenced to 30 years in prison, they were released in March 1992 thanks to a broad post-civil-war amnesty.

Spain’s National Court early this year accepted a criminal complaint against both the 14 original defendants and the man who was president of El Salvador in 1989, rightist Alfredo Cristiani.

The complaint was filed by the Spanish group APDHE and the U.S.-based Center for Justice and Accountability and is based on the principle of “universal jurisdiction,” the same doctrine that led to the 1998 arrest in Britain of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet by order of National Court Judge Baltasar Garzon.

The limitations the Spanish Parliament recently imposed on universal jurisdiction would not apply in this case because five of the victims were Spaniards. EFE

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