Spain’s highest criminal court opened proceedings Monday against a former high-ranking Salvadoran military officer accused of masterminding the murder in El Salvador in 1989 of five Spanish Jesuit priests, alongside a Salvadoran priest and the Jesuits’ housekeeper and her daughter.
If found guilty, Inocente Montano, the 76-year-old accused former army colonel and former deputy defense minister of El Salvador, could face up to 150 years in prison.
Montano is accused of participation in “the decision, design and execution” of the five Jesuits in an attack on their residence in San Salvador by the feared Atlacatl anti-insurgency battalion of the Salvadoran military, which was then waging a war against rebels of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN).
Spanish Jesuits Ignacio Ellacuría, then rector of the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA), Ignacio Martín Baró, Segundo Montes Mozo, Amando López Quintana and Juan Ramón Moreno Pardo were executed by the military troops on 16th November 1989. Also killed were Salvadoran priest Joaquín López, the priests’ housekeeper Julia Elba and her youngest daughter Celina Mariceth Ramos.
Spanish judges have a track record of robust pursuit of human rights abuses committed against Spanish nationals abroad, most notably in Spain’s former Latin American colonies.
In 1988, Chile’s General Augusto Pinochet was indicted by Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón for human rights violations and murders of several Spanish citizens committed in his native Chile following the September 1973 military coup that overthrew the government of democratically elected Socialist President Salvador Allende. But for the decision by the British government not to extradite Pinochet, the Chilean leader would have been forced to stand trial on the charges in Spain.
Less effective have been efforts in Spain to bring to justice those accused of similar human rights violations and extrajudicial murders of opponents during the dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco, which lasted from the end of Spain’s Civil War in 1939 until Franco’s death in 1975.
In recent years, Spanish judges have repeatedly thrown out lawsuits alleging human rights violations during the Franco dictatorship, claiming such crimes are exempt from prosecution because of Spain’s 1978 Amnesty Law passed during the country’s transition to democracy.
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