Eyewitness testimony in Jesuit massacre trial
The Jesuit massacre trial proceeded this week in Spain with three more days of testimony. The witnesses included former Lieutenant Yusshy Mendoza, who was one of the Salvadoran soldiers at the University of Central America on the night of the assassinations, and Lucia Barrera and her husband Jorge who, unbeknownst to the assassins, heard the gunshots, shouts of the priests, and saw the Salvadoran soldiers as they departed.
El Faro put together a video with the highlights of some of the testimony:
Video of all the witness testimony is accessible here.
Very good English language summaries of the testimony are being put together by the Guernica Center. From the summary of Mendoza's testimony:
Lieutenant Mendoza continued his account of the events of the evening of 15 November 1989. Following the orders he had received from the High Command, Colonel Benavides ordered his second in command, Major Camilo Hernández Barahona, to organize the operation. Benavides sent for Lieutenant Espinoza, head of the Atlacatl Battalion’ command units, and gave him the order to assassinate Father Ellacuría, since “they already knew the Jesuits’ residence at UCA due to the search they had carried out two days before”. To commit the murders, the unit was ordered not to use its regulatory weapons but rather an AK47, the typical weapon of the guerrillas, property of Major Camilo Hernández Barahona. Additionally, he ordered Lieutenant Mendoza to accompany them. According to the testimony of the witness, Atlacatl Battalion’s command unit, along with Lieutenant Mendoza, went to UCA that very night, in the early morning hours of 16 November 1989. Inside the building where the Jesuit priests lived, Lieutenant Mendoza saw two women hugging each other. Moments later, he heard gunshots, which he reacted to by running outside where he saw, in spite of the darkness, the bodies of 5 people lying face down and apparently dead. After the commission of the massacre, Lieutenant Espinoza said, “It’s over, let’s go, give the withdrawal signal.” The soldiers launched a flare and they all began to shoot at once, to simulate a confrontation with FMLN.
Summarizing the eyewitness testimony of Lucia Barrera and her husband Jorge Cerna:
According to her testimony, Barrera woke up in the middle of the night surprised by the great noise of the shots that were heard. She got up and leaned out the window, through which she saw the Army soldiers, in their uniforms and with rifles, entering the Jesuits’ residence. Moments later, she heard loud screams, beats and gunshots, as well as the voice of Father Martín Baró shouting “that it an injustice and that they were scavengers.”
For his part, Jorge Cerna declared that at dawn, he was able to see the bodies of the two women hugging each other, covered in blood and with their legs destroyed by the bullets. He was also able to see the bodies of the Jesuit priests, who were covered in blood too, showed gunshots everywhere and had their heads smashed.
Another important witness was Father José María Tojeira, colleague of the murdered Jesuits. Tojeira spoke of the public threats against the UCA and Ignacio Ellacuria in the time period leading up to the massacre, and then hearing the gunfire on the night of the murders. After discovering his martyred companions in the early morning hours, Tojeira described the intransigence of the government in permitting a true investigation and justice for the intellectual authors of the crime.
There were many examples of the cover-up in the days and weeks following the assassinations.
Lieutenant Mendoza also pointed out during his testimony that, many days after his detention on 8 January 1990, CIHD called him to testify. However, in the middle of his testimony, Rodolfo Parker, lawyer and legal advisor to the Chief of Military Staff, interrupted him and ordered him to begin again without mentioning anyone who wasn’t Benavides or members of the Atlacatl Battalion. Or, in other words, to begin again without stating that Benavides had received his orders in a meeting with High Command.
According to Lieutenant Mendoza’s testimony, in the days following his detention he remained incommunicado, and his pregnant wife went to Vice Minister Montano’s office to try to find his whereabouts, condemning him for ordering the killing of the Jesuits. Colonel Montano responded by grabbing her by the arm and pulling her into his office, where he sat with his feet on top of his desk and warned her “Please, don’t repeat that again. We are in a war and anything can happen. Including to you.”
Other witnesses this week included persons involved in subsequent investigations of the events from 1989, sharing additional information they had learned about the events of November 16, 1989 and the cover-up.
The trial concludes during the week of July 13 including the testimony of professor Terry Karl, who has testified in virtually every prior trial relating to war crimes committed during El Salvador's bloody civil conflict.