El Salvador Jesuits seek reopening of case in 1989 massacre
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) — The Roman Catholic Jesuit community in El Salvador will ask authorities to reopen the case against a group of military officials suspected in the 1989 massacre of six priests and two female employees, a lawyer said Thursday.
The announcement came a day after the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for a Salvadoran ex-colonel’s extradition to Spain to face charges of allegedly helping plan the attack on the Jesuit priests, five of whom were Spaniards.
Manuel Escalante, a human rights lawyer at the Jesuit-run Jose Simeon Canas Central American University, told YSUCA radio that a conviction in Spain would be a big step toward “eliminating historical impunity.”
He added that Salvadoran prosecutors must also act to advance the case in the Central American nation.
“The defenders of the victims, and the victims, we are going to seek justice,” Escalante said. “We are going to ask for the reopening of the trial.”
The priests and their workers were killed in November 1989 by soldiers who made them kneel in the garden of their residence on the university campus and then shot them in the head. The massacre sparked international outrage.
On Wednesday the U.S. Supreme Court denied without comment a request by former Col. Inocente Orlando Mondano Morales to block his extradition. The U.S. State Department, which has final say over extraditions, signed a warrant in October allowing him to be sent to Spain unless the court intervened.
It wasn’t clear when extradition would take place for Montano, who has been held by federal authorities in a South Carolina facility in recent weeks. He was still in U.S. custody early Thursday afternoon, U.S. Marshals Service spokeswoman Lynzey Donahue said, declining further comment.
“The immediate effect is that there will be a trial in Spain against Inocente Montano,” Escalante said, while noting that El Salvador has rejected extradition requests for the other military figures suspected of involvement.
Montano, 76, arrived in the U.S. in the early 2000s. His lawyer argued in his Supreme Court appeal that there were flaws in evidence presented by Spanish authorities and cited his client’s precarious health.
Court documents allege that Montano was part of a group of military officers accused of conspiring to kill the priests, who were helping organize peace talks during the country’s 1980-1992 civil war.
Initially the Salvadoran government tried to pin the massacre on the guerrilla group known as the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front. But it later became clear that soldiers were responsible, and a U.N. truth commission determined that military commanders ordered the attack.
The Central American University says it considers the case closed against those who carried out the killings — and has even called for clemency for former Col. Guillermo Benavides, who has served four years of a 30-year sentence as the only military official in prison for his role — even as it insists on clarifying who issued the order.
Associated Press writer Jonathan Drew in Raleigh, North Carolina, contributed to this report.