Historic trial begins in Spain

Ex-colonel Inocente Montano on Day 1 of trial

This week an historic human rights trial began in Spain.  A court in Madrid has begun trying the ex-Salvadoran vice minister of security Inocente Orlando Montano for the 1989 massacre of six Jesuit priests, their co-worker and her daughter in El Salvador.  

Montano is the only defendant in Spain because the Supreme Judicial Court of El Salvador has continuously protected the remaining military officers involved from being extradited to Spain.  Although there is only a single defendant, this trial offers another chance for El Salvador and the world to hear and reflect on the events of November 1989 and to consider what justice requires more than thirty years later.

The best place to follow this trial is the website of the Guernica Center which is posting daily trial reports in English and Spanish.  Montano testified on his own behalf during the second day of the trial.  An excerpt from the Guernica trial note describes some of his testimony:  
Regarding the victims, former Colonel Inocente Orlando Montano claimed that he “had nothing against Father Ellacuría”, right before accusing the Jesuit priests and the Central American University (UCA) of orchestrating the 1979 coup d’état against General Francisco Romero, specifically stating that they had indoctrinated young university students and convinced them to take up arms and rise against the military government. Furthermore, in a statement that shocked many of those present in the courtroom, Montano specifically stated that Jesuit priest, Jon Sobrino, was directly responsible for training children for the FMLN guerrillas, affirming that there was video footage and photographs of Father Sobrino “teaching 10-year-olds how to use an AK-47 riffle [the same model of the murder weapon used against the Jesuits]”.

With regard to his alleged participation in the events that led to the assassination of the Jesuits, his housekeeper and her daughter, Montano denied having played any role in the criminal act or any contribution to the furtherance of these crimes at all. The defendant maintained that the murders had been solely perpetrated by military personnel, belonging to the Atlacatl battalion, and under the direct command of Colonel Emilio Ponce, the then head of the Chief of Staff, to whom he attributed full responsibility for the crimes. 
[After the hearing, Jesuit Fr. José María Tojeira, a colleague of the murdered Jesuits as well as Father Sobrino, tweeted that there were no photos of Sobrino with weapons, only a subsequent photo of another Jesuit holding an AK-47 on the day the FMLN guerrillas were turning in all their weapons following the war].

On the third day of hearings, witnesses from a delegation  testified about the original 1990-91 trial for the Jesuit massacre conducted in El Salvador.   It is important to the current trial in Spain that the prior judicial proceedings in El Salvador were a sham, designed to assuage international critics without actually threatening justice for high military figures.

Next to testify on July 8 will be Yusshy Mendoza, a soldier from the Escuela Militar who was part of the mission with the Atlacatl Battalion in 1989.   Also testifying will be the only third party witness to the massacre, Lucía Barrera.

The trial is being live-streamed for reasons of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as to make it available to the public, especially in El Salvador.