El Salvador can set precedent by trying masterminds of Jesuit killings

Supreme Court Justice Eduardo Jaime Escalante Diaz attends to a court hearing on March. 26, 2019, in San Salvador, El Salvador. EPA-EFE / Miguel Lemus

Supreme Court Justice Eduardo Jaime Escalante Diaz attends to a court hearing on March. 26, 2019, in San Salvador, El Salvador. EPA-EFE / Miguel Lemus


The Salvadoran judiciary will set a precedent if it decides to bring charges against the people accused of ordering the 1989 massacre of six Jesuit priests and two other people at the Central American University (UCA) in this capital, attorney Arnau Baulenas said in an interview with EFE.

Baulenas, a plaintiff in the criminal proceedings against the alleged masterminds, said that the reopening of the criminal case following the March 11 decision upholding a ruling from April 2018 “is a good sign for achieving justice and the truth.”

This month’s court finding “is an historic decision because it confirms that we are dealing with a crime against humanity and a war crime,” the legal counsel for the UCA Human Rights Institute (Idhuca) said.

Baulenas noted that the Attorney General’s Office “also has an opportunity to vindicate itself and issue an injunction based on the facts.”

“Because not doing so could (implicate them in) a crime of omission and the image of the attorney general (Raul Melara) would look bad,” he said.

“We are hoping this case moves to the pre-trial stage so that the investigation can be continued to get to the bottom of the matter,” Baulenas said.

He said he is hoping the initial hearing will be held in mid-April and that those involved in the case “will not delay a trial that is so important for justice.”

These types of cases, according to Baulenas, “are the ones that have to help us lay the foundations for building justice and show the victims that perseverance and struggle are the key (elements) in reaching the truth.”

“I am convinced that those who don’t want to face justice are afraid and they know they are to blame,” he said.

The army men accused of the crime are retired Gens. Humberto Larios, Juan Rafael Bustillo, Francisco Elena Fuentes and Rafael Zepeda and Col. Inocente Montano, along with the late Gen. Rene Emilio Ponce.

All were in the 1966 Salvadoran Army Academy graduating class, which led the armed forces through much of the 1980-1992 civil war against leftist rebels and implemented a “scorched earth” strategy against them

In April 2018, a court declared null and void an earlier decision blocking prosecution of the six military men and former President Alfredo Cristiani.

That judicial ruling came in response to Idhuca’s request in 2017 to reopen the case after the Supreme Court overturned an amnesty law in July 2016.

On the night of Nov. 16, 1989, a unit of the Salvadoran army’s elite Atlacatl Battalion slaughtered Spanish priests Ignacio Ellacuria, Segundo Montes, Ignacio Martin-Baro, Amando Lopez and Juan Ramon Moreno, and Salvadoran Jesuit Joaquin Lopez. Also slain were their cook, Elba Ramos, and her 16-year-old daughter.

The only person still behind bars for the massacre is Col. Guillermo Alfredo Benvides, one of the two people sentenced to 30 years in prison in a 1992 trial.

By Sara Acosta.