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Jesuit Massacre Whitewashed

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Parent Issue
Month
March
Year
1990
Copyright
Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
Rights Held By
Agenda Publications
OCR Text

Fearing a cutoff of his $600 million a year subsidy by the U.S. Congress, right-wing Salvadoran President Alfredo Cristi ani admitted in a nationwide televisión address on Jan. 7 that "elements of the armed forces" had carried out the Nov. 1 6 massacre of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her 15year-old daughter. Six days later, standing next to five military commanders believed to be some of the real in teil ectual authors of the massacre, Cristiani gave out names of eight carefully selected scapegoats: seven Salvadoran soldiers and low-ranking officers from the U.S.-trained Atlacatl Battalion, and one token colonel, Guillermo Alfredo Benavides, the head of El Salvador 's military academy and nominal commander of the San Salvador zone in which the assassinations took place. According to a number of witnesses at the University of Central America (UCA) campus, the six priests and two women were brutally murdered and mutilated by a heavily armed squad of approximately 30 soldiers who dragged the victims from their beds in the middle of the night on Nov. 16. The killings took place five days after left-wing guerrillas of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FM LN) launched the largest and most effective military offensive in the country 's 10-year civil war. In retaliation for the rebel uprising, which brought thousands of new recruits into the FMLN ranks, the S al v adoran armed forces, undeT the leadership of Air Force General Juan Rafael Bustillo, went on a rampage. They bombed heavily populated working class zones in and around the cities of San Salvador, San Miguel, Usulatan, and Zacatecoluca; killing and kidnapping several thousand persons throughout the country; and imposing martial law. This repression has included a sharp crackdown on labor unions, students, human rights groups, humanitarian organizations, and the churches. According to well-placed sources inside the military, it was General Bustillo - with the compliance of the entire military high command - who ordered the slaughter of the Jesuits. Since the civil war began, o er 75,000 of the country 's 5.5 million citizens have been killed. According to America ' s Watch and church sources, approximately 50,000 civilians have been assassinated or disappeared by the Salvadoran military and i is affiliated death squads, who were originally funded and trained by the U.S. military and the CIA. In its 1989 report, the Legal Aid Office of the Catholic Church in El Salvador documented nearly 3,000 politica! assassinations for the year, the overwhelming majority committed by govemment-organized or -sanctioned hit men. Despite this bloodbath, not one single officer in the El Salvadoran armed forces has ever been convicted of human rights abuses; not even in such highly publicized cases as the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero and the four U.S. churchwomen in 1980. According to spokespersons from the Jesuit University , the six priests were killed because they were some of the most imporant and respected intellectuals in the country calling for a just, negotiated settlement between the ruling ARENA Party (Nationalist Republican Alliance) and the FMLN. In the days preceding the massacre, military-controlled radio bro adcasLs called for the execution of the "Jesuit subversives." The night before the UCA massacre, the entire military command of several dozen colonels and generáis joined Roberto D' Aubuisson (head of the ARENA party) in a televisión address calling for "total war" against the FMLN and their collaborators in the aboveground opposition. Hours later military death squads raided the UCA campus as well as the homes and offices of opposition leaders throughout the capital. After several months of lies and disinf ormation, Cristiani's reluctant admission of guilt in the Nov. 16 massacre seemed to represent, at least at first glance, a serious public relations setback for the Bush administration who have consistently tried to deny that military and ARENA Party death squads still opérate throughout the country. As recently as Jan. 3, the U.S. Ambassadorto El Salvador, William Walker, reportedly told aides of Congressman Joe Moakley that the assassins "could have been FMLN guerrillas dressed in military uniforms." The New York Times reported 1 1 days later that a U.S. Major had been recalled to the U.S. for withholding mation from North American of ficials about the Jesuit killings - an incident which fueled speculation that the U.S. Embassy and the Bush administration have known what was going on all along. Robert White, former U.S. ambassador to El Salvador, along with many other commentators, has characterized the leader of the death squads and President Cristiani's ARENA Party, Major Roberto D'Aubuisson, as a "pathological killer" andan open admirer of the Nazis. As everyone in Washington and El Salvador acknowledges, the ARENA regime would fall immediately without its U.S. subsidy, which equals 60% of the govemment's entire budget. This, in f act, is the real reason for the public relations charade that will now unfold in regard to the prosecution and trials of a token number of Salvadoran soldiers. Since the November FMLN uprising and the Jesuitmassacre, there has been a significant upsurge in grassroots anti-war activity in the U.S., prompting asignificant number of U.S. Congresspeople to cali for a cutoff of aid unless significant advances are made in regard to human rights and a negotiated settlement of the civil war. Although no one in El Salvador expects Cristi ani to actually prosecute nis own party leaders or the mili tary high command for their involvement in carrying out the Jesuit massacre or the thousands of other unresolved cases, Christiani is expected to choreograph a long, drawn-out show trial that will succeed in preserving U.S. Congressional aid. Either the Salvadoran high command is prepared to sacrifice Col. Benavides and a few lieutenants and draftees in order to safeguard Bush administration programs of "low-intensity warfare" in Central America, or else they've reassured Col. Benavides that he'll be quietly pardoned or found not guilty in a few years. In any case, opposition leaders wam that this public relations maneuver should not be confused with an actual modification of Salvadoran state terrorism. A serious prosecution of the country 's death squads would involve jailing thousands of govemment officials, military persormel, and their handlers in the U.S. Embassy - not eight soldiers. If the investigation and trial can be orchestrated successfully and the U.S. subsidy can be preserved, "total war" advocates in the military command and the ARENA Party apparently believe that they can militarily defeat the FMLN. But if the FMLN continúes to get strenger, and worldwide solidarity efforts intensify, the ruling elite in San Salvador may find themselves living in Miami in a few years. That is, unless the Bush administration is prepared to launch an all out invasión of the country using Guatemalan, Honduran, and U.S. troops. Opposition critics have emphasized that it took five years to bring a token number of enlisted soldiers to trial for the 1980 murderof the U.S. churchwomen, and that the assassins of Archbishop Romero have never been brought to trial - even after establishment spokespersons (including the Christian Democratie Party) brought forth conclusive evidence that Cristiani's boss, D'Aubuisson, ordered Romero's assassination. A currentmagistrate in the Jesuit massacre case, Ricardo Zamora, is reponed to be one of the judges who has refused to bring indictments against D'Aubuisson in the Romero case. TheU.S. Embassy in El Salvador and the FBIappear to have suffered a loss of credibility in the wake of Cristiani's admission of guilt. Up until Cristiani's announcement, these agencies steadfastly denied armed forces involvement in the incident - suggesting at various times that the FMLN killed the Jesuits and the two women to make the Cristiani administration look bad. Although the FBI admitted immediately after the massacre that they had collected bloody fingerprints and other forensic evidence at the scène of the crime, they were later caught intimidating and terrorizing a Salvadoran eyewitness to the massacre, Lucia Barrera de Cema, who had been brought to Miami supposedly for "her own safety." The FBI held Barrera incommunicado for four days in Miami while they conducted joint interrogations with a notorious Salvadoran military torturer who threatened the woman with deportation back to El Salvador (and certain death) if she didn 't recant her swom testimony of seeing 30 uniformed soldiers carrying out the slaughter. (see WHITEWASH. page 6) WHITEWASH (from page 5) The Aichbishop of El Salvador, Arturo Rivera y Damas, strongly condemned the Bush administration for intimidating the woman and her husband: "instead of being protected as promised by the personnel of the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador, Lucia Barrera de Cerna was subjected to brainwashing and blackmail that she would be deported if she didn't teil the truth." U.S. Ambassador William Walker stated in December that "I am saddened that the Archbishop does not believe that the U.S. government and he are on the same quest for truth." After 50,000 murders and disappearances going unpunished, one might wonder what kind of "truth" the Bush administraü'on is looking for in El Salvador. Following her interrogation by the FBI in Miami, Lucia Barrera de Cerna went into hiding, under protection of the Jesuit Order in the United States. As the whitewash and cover-up of the massacre progresses, we can expect the commercial mass media and the U.S. Congress to continue to debate the "sincerity" of Cristiani's promise to be a good boy from now on. As Cristiani's polished U.S. televisión performance on theMacNeilLehrer Report on Jan. 18 indícales, we may be dealing with the same Murder Incorporated in El Salvador; but under the expert direction of White House spin doctors Cristiani and company are learning how to put a kinder and gentier mask over their bloody deeds.

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