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A mural on El Salvador's martyrs includes the 6 Jesuits assassinated in 1989.    A mural on El Salvador's martyrs includes the 6 Jesuits assassinated in 1989.   (ANSA)

US sanctions 13 former Salvadoran soldiers for 1989 killing of Jesuits

The United States State Department sanctions 13 current and former El Salvadoran military officials for their roles in the high-profile extrajudicial killings of 8 people, including 6 Jesuit priests, over 30 years ago during the Central American country's civil war.

By Robin Gomes

The sanction imposed on Wednesday bars the 13 and their immediate family members from entering the United States.

The 6 Jesuit priests were dragged from their beds and killed on Nov. 16, 1989, by uniformed gunmen at the Jesuit-run Central American University (UCA) in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador, during the height of a major leftist rebel offensive during the civil war. The priests' cook-housekeeper and her daughter were also shot.

In a statement on Jan. 29, Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State, said he has "credible information" that the current or former officials were directly or indirectly involved in "a gross violation of human rights or significant corruption."  They were “involved in the planning and execution of the extrajudicial killings”.

“The United States supports the ongoing accountability, reconciliation, and peace efforts in El Salvador,” Pompeo said. “We value our ongoing working relationship with the Salvadoran Armed Forces, but will continue to use all available tools and authorities, as appropriate, to address human rights violations and abuses around the world no matter when they occurred or who perpetrated them.”

“Today’s actions underscore our support for human rights and our commitment to promoting accountability for perpetrators and encouraging reconciliation and a just and lasting peace,” Pompeo added.

The Salvadoran Civil War was fought from 1979 to 1992 between the country's right-wing military government and the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), a left-wing revolutionary group, which today is a political party. 

The war killed an estimated 75,000 people and left 8,000 more missing.

The Jesuits in El Salvador were active proponents of peace talks and negotiation between the government and the FMLN. It is believed that the Jesuits were ordered to be executed for their apparent support of the FMLN, who had just launched an offensive.

The priests killed were Ignacio Ellacuría, rector of UCA; Ignacio Martín-Baró; Segundo Montes; Amando López; Joaquín López y López; and Juan Ramón Moreno Pardo.  All were Spaniards except for López y López, a Salvadoran. 

Their housekeeper, Elba Ramos, and her 15-year-old daughter, Celina, were also executed.  The soldiers disguised the operation as a rebel attack, leaving a message at the site meant to implicate the FMLN.

The US was a supporter of the Salvadoran government during the war. The Atlacatl Battalion, which killed Fr. Ellacuría and his companions, was trained by American advisers.  

The extrajudicial killings garnered international attention and increased pressure for a peace settlement.

30 January 2020, 13:03