As Evidence Grew, State Department Advised U.S. Ambassador: "Please Hold This Information Very Closely"
Spanish Court Moves Closer to Prosecution of Surviving Defendants
Washington, DC, November 16, 2014 – Twenty five years have passed since the horrifying murders in El Salvador of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter, during a rampage by Salvadoran security forces in the early morning hours of November 16, 1989, on the campus of the University of Central America (UCA) in the country's capital. It has been twenty five years of grieving by the victims' families and the Jesuit community; and twenty five years of waiting for justice to identify and prosecute the killers.
As they have done on so many other anniversaries of the brutal crime, thousands of Salvadorans and international visitors gathered in San Salvador to commemorate the lives of Father Ignacio Ellacuría Bescoetxea, UCA's rector at the time of his assassination; Father Ignacio Martín-Baró; Father Segundo Montes; Father Armando López; Father Juan Ramón Moreno; Father Joaquín López y López; Julia Elba Ramos and her 13-year-old child Celina Maricet Ramos.
But this year's anniversary is a little different. Although the perpetrators have yet to be brought to trial for their role in planning and ordering the crime, human rights lawyers at the San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) believe they are closer than ever to achieving some measure of justice. A case that CJA opened in 2008 before the Spanish National Court under the principle of universal jurisdiction is inching forward, with presiding Judge Eloy Velásquez ruling just over a month ago to continue prosecuting the Jesuit killings , despite the reluctance of the Spanish Parliament to allow Spain to pursue international human rights cases. Velásquez has indicted twenty senior members of El Salvador's military for planning, ordering, or participating in the crime .
Taken together, the documents indicate the striking initial unwillingness on the part of the United States to acknowledge the possibility that its closest Central American ally — the Salvadoran armed forces — may have been behind the atrocity. Despite overwhelming evidence of the Army's bitter hostility toward the Jesuits — as documented by the UN Truth Commission report — the first reaction of United States officials on the day of the murders was the imprecise speculation that often served as a default US setting whenever political violence struck in El Salvador: that "extremists on either the right or the left may be responsible," as Ambassador William G. Walker wrote in his earliest cable to Washington about the crime.
The theory was expanded in a lengthy CIA memorandum the following day that dwelled on indications that the killers could have been from the guerrilla forces of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), citing such evidence as, "Civilians reported the presence of 100 insurgents eating and resting on the highway behind the Hoescht factory [near] Ciudad Merliot … two kilometers southwest of the University of Central America …. " On the other hand, wrote the Agency, the killers might have been "rightist extremists," an encoded reference to polarizing rightwing politicians such as Roberto D'Aubuisson — a leading member of the ruling party ARENA — who reportedly made threatening comments about the priests in a talk given hours after they had already been killed. Nowhere in the CIA's analysis was the military mentioned as a possible perpetrator.
In addition to ignoring signs that members of the armed forces had carried out the crime, US officials sought to bolster Salvadoran President Alfredo Cristiani as he prepared to face the possibility that his own party's leadership was responsible for what Walker called "a barbarous and incredibly stupid action." On November 19, Ambassador Walker sent an impassioned (and profoundly wrong) telegram to the State Department focusing on the alleged responsibility of ARENA extremists and proposing that he tell Cristiani that "with the USG [US Government], the leadership and majority of the armed forces officer corps, and the decent forces of Salvadoran society on his side, he can and must once and for all separate himself from those responsible for this barbarism." Meanwhile, Secretary of State James Baker asked his ambassador in Madrid to urge Spain not to cut aid to El Salvador, which it had announced it would do in response to the murder of the Spanish-born priests. read more>>>