El Salvador releases officers jailed for murdering Jesuits

The 1989 martyrs of El Salvador: six Jesuits and two laypeople
The 1989 martyrs of El Salvador: six Jesuits and two laypeople

Three of the four former military personnel who had been jailed in El Salvador for the killing of six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter in 1989, have been released by the country’s Supreme Court. The request for their extradition to Spain was also denied.

The former officers - Colonel Angel Perez Vasquez, Sgt Ramiro Avalos Vargas and Sgt Tomas Zarpate Castillo – had been jailed in February after Salvadoran authorities acted on international arrest warrants issued by Spain and took them into custody. Former Colonel Guillermo Benavides, who was arrested at the same time, remains in custody, while 12 other former military officers being sought in El Salvador are still fugitives.

The six Jesuits murdered on 16 November 1989 were Ignacio Ellacuría SJ, Ignacio Martín-Baró SJ, Segundo Montes SJ, Juan Ramón Moreno SJ, Joaquín López y López SJ and Amando López SJ. Also killed were Elba Ramos and her 16-year-old daughter Celina. The massacre was carried out by members of the Atlacatl Battalion, an elite unit of the Salvadoran Army, which was a counter-insurgency battalion created in 1980 at the US Army's School of the Americas, located at that time in Panama.

Negotiations for a peaceful solution

Between 1980 and 1992, El Salvador was embroiled in a violent civil war between the country’s military-led government and the Farabundo Martí National LiberatiGuerrilla combatants in Perquín, El Salvador in 1990. Credit: Wikipediaon Front (FMLN). It is estimated by the United Nations that it claimed 75,000 lives, and thousands more civilians were unaccounted for.

In negotiations for a peaceful solution to the conflict, Father Ellacuria played a pivotal role. Many of the armed forces identified the Jesuit priests with the rebels, because of their special concern for those Salvadorians who were poorest and thus most affected by the war.

Read more about the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador on Thinking Faith.