On Wednesday 15 July, the last day of his trial in Madrid for involvement in the murders of the Jesuits of the Central American University (UCA) in San Salvador, together with their cook and her daughter, in November 1989, Inocente Orlando Montano, former colonel and former deputy public security minister of El Salvador, devoted much of his closing remarks to defending his fellow officers in the “class of 1986”, the so-called tandona, whose members occupied senior positions in the Salvadoran army.
Having previously exercised his right not to be questioned by the prosecution, he asserted his right to have the last word. In addition to defending the tandona, he attacked the report of the El Salvador Truth Commission, set up as part of the peace agreement sponsored by the United Nations that ended the civil war. The report, Montano said, has been written “by our enemies, the political advisers in the UCA”.
The former minister opened his address to the court by criticising the Madrid hearing for “various defects, not only technical but also moral”. The evidence of the experts who had given evidence on behalf of the Jesuits’ families had been “a stream of lies”.
“The tandona of which I was a member for my thirty years of service, and still am – because this organisation hasn’t gone away,” was a sort of dining club.
“Every year we meet in December to celebrate birthdays and significant events. The accusation against my comrade Colonel Benavides was largely based on what was said in El Salvador by the soldiers who took part in the operation. They didn’t say anything about people higher up.”
The people higher up, according to the prosecution, included Montano, and it was they who ordered Benavides to send members of the Atlacatl batallion into the UCA.
Montano stressed his Catholic faith: “I am a Catholic, a believer, and I ask my Lord Jesus to enlighten me as I speak.”
He insisted that there was no “preconceived plan or intention or desire to murder the fathers. It was a very big mistake made by the soldiers. I deny any responsibility on the part of the high command.
“I deny all responsibility on the part of those of us who were mentioned by the Truth Commission report. The report was written in the UCA, nowhere else. It was written by the UCA political advisers and they labelled the whole class of 1968 real delinquents, kidnappers, thieves, rapists, common murderers.
“President Cristiani did not choose us as members of the high command because we were exceptional in the armed forces, but for length of service, because it was our turn. We had had 25 years’ service when he promoted us, and he made the decision also on the basis of our service records. There is nothing against me in the records of the courts in El Salvador.”
As he ended his address, Montano turned to counsel for the family of Ignacio Martín-Baró to offer – he struggled for the word – his condolences.
Speculation in Spain is that it may be several weeks before the judges of the Spanish high court deliver their verdict and any sentence.