Prosecutors accuse former president of massacre of priests in El Salvador

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The Public Ministry of El Salvador presented on Friday an accusation against former president Alfredo Cristiani (1989-1994) and 12 other people who are linked to the massacre of six Jesuits and two of their collaborators, which was perpetrated by an army commando during civil war more than three decades ago.

"The Attorney General's Office is determined to bring to the dock those responsible for ordering this unfortunate and tragic event that occurred during the armed conflict," Attorney General Rodolfo Delgado said in a video posted on Twitter.

He added that they hope that this accusation will serve so that these types of events are not repeated.

The decision to prosecute the alleged masterminds comes after the Supreme Court ratified its decision to reopen the case.

Cristiani left the country in June 2021 after appearing before a special congressional commission that was investigating the bonuses of former government officials. It was reported that he lives in Italy. The former president has denied any involvement or knowledge of the plan to kill the priests.

Recently, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court ordered the Criminal Chamber to modify the resolution of September 8, 2020, which established that the intellectual authors of the massacre should not be investigated, and they decreed the definitive dismissal.

After learning of the resolution, in December, the Human Rights Institute of the José Simeón Cañas Central American University (UCA) filed a complaint with the Prosecutor's Office against magistrates José Roberto Argueta Manzano and Juan Manuel Bolaños Sandoval for refusing to reopen the case, but no processing was given.

Delgado asked the Supreme Court in November to annul the ruling of the Criminal Chamber and to order the reopening of the case. Delgado maintained that the resolution violates legal certainty and access to truth and justice, by declaring nullity in the process against the alleged masterminds, including former President Cristiani, General René Emilio Ponce, now deceased, General Juan Rafael Bustillo and Colonel Inocente Montano. The latter has already been sentenced by a court in Spain.

new battle

After the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the 1993 amnesty law that prevented those involved in war crimes from being prosecuted, the Salvadoran Jesuit community has been fighting to allow the trial to be reopened.

In March 2019, a Chamber of San Salvador ordered a court to reopen the trial against a group of soldiers accused of their alleged participation in the massacre, but the lawyers filed appeals to avoid the process, taking the case to the Supreme Court. The Jesuits insist on clarifying the intellectual authorship, and that the participation of the military and former President Cristiani himself be investigated.

In a trial considered not very transparent, Colonel Guillermo Benavides, two lieutenants and five soldiers from the elite Atlácatl battalion were prosecuted for the massacre, but in 1991 a jury acquitted seven of the accused. Benavides and Lieutenant Yusshy Mendoza were convicted, but benefited in 1993 from an amnesty promoted by Cristiani. A report by the United Nations Truth Commission, which investigated and documented the massacre, held the high-ranking military commanders responsible for the murder of the Jesuits.

Benavides had been favored and dismissed with the amnesty law, the same one that in 2016 was declared unconstitutional.

After the repeal of the amnesty law, a judge confirmed the 30-year sentence and Benavides returned to jail. His lawyers appealed the decision to a higher court without success.

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