El Salvador court re-opens investigation into 1986 massacre of Jesuit priests

SAN SALVADOR – The El Salvador Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the reopening of an investigation into the 1989 massacre of six Jesuit priests, which sparked international outrage.

Attempts in El Salvador to investigate and prosecute the masterminds of the murders during the civil war have been sidetracked by judicial maneuvers since the Supreme Court declared the 1993 post-war amnesty unconstitutional in 2016.

A lower court ruled that an investigation could be launched into the alleged involvement of a group of military officers and former President Alfredo Cristiani in the killings. However, the investigation was suspended when officials appealed to the Supreme Court in 2019.

Prosecutor General Rodolfo Delgado had urged the case to be reopened and welcomed Wednesday’s verdict.

“The case is being rolled back,” Delgado wrote on his Twitter account. “We will persecute those responsible to bring justice to these heinous murders.”

On November 16, 1989, an elite commando killed the six priests – five Spaniards and one Salvadoran – along with their housekeeper and the housekeeper’s daughter in the priestly residence. The killers tried to make the massacre look like it was perpetrated by left-wing guerrillas.

Nine military personnel were initially tried, but seven of them were acquitted by a court. Two officers were serving short sentences but were released under the amnesty in 1993. After the Supreme Court found the amnesty unconstitutional, a judge ordered one of these officials, Colonel Guillermo Benavides, to return to the prison, where he is staying.

In 2020, while the case stalled at home, a Spanish court sentenced former Salvadoran Colonel Inocente Orlando Montano to 133 years in prison for murdering the priests. The court described the massacre as “state terrorism” carried out by powerful interests, including Cristiani, and aimed at “maintaining their privileged positions within the power structures”.

The former president denies any involvement or knowledge of the plan to kill the priests. Attempts to reach him for comment after Wednesday’s ruling have not been successful.

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