Spanish court rules in Jesuit massacre case.
The court in Spain which heard the case of the 1989 Jesuit massacre, issued its ruling today, more than 30 years after Salvadoran troops killed six Jesuit priests, their co-worker and her daughter. The court has been trying ex-Salvadoran vice minister of security Inocente Orlando Montano for his involvement as part of the military high command in giving the orders and subsequently covering up the massacre.
The judges of the court unanimously found Montano guilty of being one of the persons who directed the massacre. He was sentenced to 26 years in prison for each of the 5 Jesuit priests who were Spaniards.
As Almudena Bernabéu, the Spanish human rights lawyer who helped build the case against Montano and get him extradited from the US, was quoted in The Guardian saying: “It’s not just a crime that happened 30 years ago, it’s about what impunity really means.”
|Montano during trial|
Montano was 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 only Montano sat in the dock, the trial offered 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 evidence was damning against the entire military high command. (Although none of the evidence was a surprise). The evidence left open the question of whether then-president Alfredo Cristiani had foreknowledge of the plot, but his knowledge of the subsequent cover-up to shift blame from the military was clear.
This is the second court case bringing criminal charges. The first occurred in the final days of El Salvador's civil war, when Salvadoran prosecutors tried several mid-ranking officers for the massacre, convicting only two. One of those convicted, Lieutenant Yusshy Mendoza, was a key witness in this most recent trial in Spain. The other, Colonel Guillermo Benavides, sits in a Salvadoran prison. Yet the 1991 trial, marked by wide-ranging procedural irregularities, failed to convict anyone in the chain of command.
The trial in Spain represented another chance to assess the fault of the military high command in a judicial process. The court acted under a theory of universal jurisdiction for prosecution of crimes against humanity, but also because 5 of the 6 Jesuit priests were originally from Spain. The court in Madrid had sought to have a much larger group of former Salvadoran military officers as defendants. El Salvador's courts, however, refused to extradite any defendant to Spain. Montano ended up in Spain only because he was found living in the US, which subsequently extradited him to Spain.
In El Salvador, a court case was reopened in 2018 in El Salvador against the top military officers with authority to order the massacre. In March, 2019, an appeals court ruled that this case may proceed. Despite the permission to proceed, the Salvadoran prosecutors office has shown little signs of moving the case forward.