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.