BY ISN STAFF | September 11, 2020
A national court in Spain sentenced a former Salvadoran colonel, Inocente Orlando Montano, to more than 133 years in prison for the murders of five of the six Jesuit priests. In total six priests and two laywomen were killed on November 16, 1989, at the Jesuits’ Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas (UCA) in San Salvador. Only five of the Jesuits were Spanish citizens, which enabled a Spanish legal team encouraged by the family of Ignacio Martín-Baró, S.J., (one of the five Spanish citizens) to utilize Spain’s universal jurisdiction laws to initiate the case.
“Today a great step has been taken toward the truth. Justice in El Salvador is still in doubt,” noted a video statement released by the UCA, where the 1989 martyrs’ legacy is ever-present in the university’s commitment to social analysis on the present-day realities of El Salvador as well as the memorial sites and institutes, centers, and programs named after the martyrs.
In addition to Martín-Baró, the murdered included of Ignacio Ellacuría, S.J., the rector (president) of the UCA, Amando López, S.J., Joaquín López y López, S.J., Juan Ramón Moreno, S.J., Segundo Montes, S.J., and their housekeeper and her daughter, Elba Julia Ramos and Celina Maricet Ramos.
At the time of the murders, Montano was El Salvador’s Vice-Minister of Public Security and was extradited from the U.S. in November 2017. In 2012, Montano pled guilty to six counts of U.S. immigration fraud and perjury for making false statements on his application for Temporary Protected Status in order to hide his Salvadoran military career and to obtain a humanitarian benefit for which he was not eligible.
The assassination of the Jesuits priests and the two women they employed shocked the entire world and further tainted Salvadoran history with atrocity and injustice percolating for years after the deaths of Saint Oscar Romero, four U.S. Catholic sisters, and over seventy thousand innocent civilians. However, the UCA murders were so significant that experts identify them as the pivotal event that forced the end of the civil war in El Salvador and catalyzed the victims’ quest for truth, justice, and accountability after an era of state-sponsored terror and repression against the civilian population. The Salvadoran civil war and military oppression were fed by the United States, which contributed over $1 billion dollars in military aid to El Salvador during that period. In addition, thousands of Salvadoran soldiers received training at the notorious “School of the Americas,” (known today as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation), including 19 of the 26 soldiers who committed the murders at the UCA in 1989.
“We are humbled to carry on the legacy of the UCA martyrs in our work for justice here in the United States,” said Christopher Kerr, executive director of the Ignatian Solidarity Network.
The Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice, an annual convening hosted by the Ignatian Solidarity Network, began as a response to the murders of the UCA martyrs and the desire to bring greater attention to the U.S. role in human rights abuses throughout El Salvador’s civil war. From 1997 to 2009, the Teach-In served as a gathering place for the Jesuit network and larger Catholic Church during the yearly public witness at the gates of Fort Benning organized by School of the Americas Watch. In 2010, the Teach-In moved to Washington, D.C., and broadened its focus to address issues beyond human rights in Central America. Today, the Teach-In is the largest annual Catholic social justice gathering in the U.S., bringing together over 2,000 individuals in Washington, D.C., each fall. This year, due to the pandemic, the Teach-In is scheduled to take place virtually from October 19-26.
“Despite their deaths taking place over 30 years ago, the martyrs’ witness continues to inspire new generations to commit themselves to work for justice grounded in faith,” said Kerr. He continued, “We welcome the entire Ignatian family to join us on October 24 as we commemorate their lives during the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice,” noting the iconic “Prayer and Litany of the Martyrs” that takes place during the annual Teach-In.