08 June 2020, The Tablet

Suspects go on trial 30 years after murders at Jesuit university

Suspects go on trial 30 years after murders at Jesuit university

Relatives of missing people during Salvadoran Civil War (1980-1992) at a 2012 meeting in support of Spanish Judge Ely Velazco's intention to requested extradition of former militaries for the murder of six Jesuits Priests
Edgar Romero/DPA/PA Images

More than 30 years after the murder in El Salvador of six Jesuits, their cook, and the cook’s 15-year-old daughter by a US-trained counter-insurgency battalion, two of those accused of planning the murders are this week going on trial in Madrid.

Spanish prosecutors allege that principal defendant Inocente Orlando Montano and former soldier Yusshy René Mendoza took part in “the decision, design and execution” of the murders.

In 2017 Monsanto was extradited to Spain from the United States, where he had lived for 16 years. He has denied involvement in the killings but a federal US judge ruled that evidence indicated he had taken part in the plot, and approved his extradition.

At the time of the killings Monsanto was vice-minister of public security. The murders were carried out at the Central American University (UCA) in El Salvador, in an attempt to derail peace talks in which the UCA’s 59-year-old rector, Fr Ignacio Ellacuría – originally from Bilbao – was a key player.

The counter-insurgency battalion entered the university on the pretext of searching for FMLN rebels, and a rifle taken from the rebels was used in the murders in an apparent attempt to pin the blame on the FMLN.

Along with Fr Ellacuria, also murdered on 16 November 1989 were Ignacio Martín-Baró, 47, and Segundo Montes, 56, both from Valladolid; Juan Ramón Moreno, 56, from Navarra, and Amando López, 53, from Burgos.

The soldiers killed a Salvadoran Jesuit, Joaquin López y López, 71, in his room before murdering the priests’ cook, Julia Elba Ramos, 42, and her daughter, Celina, 15.

According to El Salvador’s truth commission, which looked into the country’s 12-year civil war, Colonel René Ponce, the then head of the joint chiefs of staff, ordered the troops to kill Fr Ellacuría and leave no witnesses. Ponce died in 2011.

The truth commission found that Montano was present at two meetings at which the massacre was planned. Two officers have served short sentences in El Salvador but Montano and other high-level officials accused of planning the murders were never charged.

The Madrid trial will be held in two sessions – from 8 to 10 June and then from 8 to 16 July.

Prosecutors applied for it to be livestreamed to allow people in El Salvador to follow the proceedings.

Last week Almudena Bernabeu, a member of the prosecutorial team and a co-founder of the Guernica Group which has been instrumental in bringing the case, said: “After all these years and all the obstacles we are thrilled this trial will begin next week. This is the culmination of the enormous effort that started in El Salvador 30 years ago.

“This trial is the testament of the resilience of the families and the people of El Salvador and we celebrate that even in the context of the current world crisis justice can be served.”

The Madrid trial is taking place under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows human rights crimes committed in one country to be investigated and tried in another.

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