News Highlights, Uncategorized, violence

20 Salvadoran Army Members Indicted for 1989 Murders

The government of Spain has indicted 20 members of the El Salvadoran armed forces, including 2 defense ministers, for the 1989 murder of six Jesuit priests: Ignacio Ellacuria, Segundo Montes, Ignacio Martin-Baro, Joaquín López y López, Juan Ramón Moreno, and Amando López — and their housekeeper Elba Ramos, and her daughter Celia Marisela Ramos.  One of the defense ministers indicted for this crime, Rene Emilio Ponce, died last month, prompting many to express regret that he was never held accountable for his alleged role in the killings.

These charges are the fruit of years of international protest regarding the murders that have come to symbolize the brutality of the Salvadoran government and military during the 1980s. The unique legal principle that allows Spain to carry out these charges is its Universal Jurisdiction law enacted in 1985. The law recognizes that Spanish Courts have jurisdiction to adjudicate crimes involving genocide, terrorism, or other human rights abuse. The scope of the law was narrowed in 2009 to apply to cases only in which the victims were Spanish. In the case of the Jesuits, five of the six priests killed were Spanish nationals. In 1999, prosecutors used the same law to go after Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet for extra-judicial killings and human rights abuses during his reign.

In 1989, the Jesuits at the University of Central America in San Salvador were attempting to mediate between left-wing groups and the government. In the early morning hours of November 16th 1989, armed men broke into the Jesuit residence at UCA in San Salvador and the six Jesuits were ordered into their garden where they were shot and brutally mutilated. Their housekeeper and her daughter were found shot in their beds. Witnesses claim that the death squad poured out of military vehicles.

Judge Eloy Velasco, the Spanish judge who issued the charges, has also issued international arrest warrants to Interpol and Spanish police, demanding that they appear in court within 10 days.  Although actual trials rarely result from charges under the Universal Jurisdiction Law, it is an important acknowledgement of the crime and the search for justice, even years after the fact.

However, in light of the recent indictments, the current community at UCA released a statement saying that they only desire the murderers to be apologetic, echoing the message of peace and forgiveness that these martyrs preached.

To end with the words of one of the priests, Ignacio Ellacuría, S.J. “The struggle against injustice 
and the pursuit of truth cannot be separated nor can one work for one be independent of the other.”

A rose garden planted in memory of the priests in the garden where they were killed, outside their residence at UCA.


Former Salvadoran General Dies

René Emilio Ponce, one of El Salvador’s most notorious generals and the son of Sensuntepeque judge and treasurer José Ponce, died last week in a San Salvadoran hospital of complications following an aortic aneurysm. Ponce is an important figure given his national influence and regional political power in Cabañas. His post-war position was the president of the El Salvador Military Veteran’s Association (ASVEM) further cemented both his power and his less than sterling reputation. According to editors at the Hague Justice Portal, ASVEM’s “main mission is to lobby the Salvadoran government to oppose any efforts to lift the Amnesty Law that currently protects its most influential members.”

Ponce’s military career was marked by alleged cruelty and crimes against humanity. Though he only rose to military prominence during the second half of the civil war, Ponce embraced his post as defense minister and army chief of staff. In 1989, bolstered by his military cohort La Tandona, a group of high-ranking officers all from the same army academy graduating class, Ponce is accused of ordering the killings of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter. A year after this massacre occurred at the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA), he was promoted to general. In 1992, however, he was forced to step down when the U.N. Truth Commission released a report implicating Ponce in the UCA killings. Due to the Amnesty Law passed in El Salvador the year following, Ponce was never tried or punished for his crimes by a Salvadoran court.

At the time of his death, Ponce was being tried in absentia in a Spanish court brought by the relatives of the murdered priests, accusing him of assassination and crimes against humanity. His death means that these families will never see Ponce brought tried for the crimes of which he is accused, and many human rights activists have expressed regret that he died with total impunity.

Ponce leaves behind a wife and three children.