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EL SALVADOR
War crimes remain unpunished
Tomás Andréu
8/29/2013
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Presidential candidates will not repeal the Amnesty Law for crimes committed during the armed internal conflict.

No candidate seeking to become president of El Salvador in 2014 will request the repeal of the amnesty law that eliminated the possibility of adjudicating war crimes committed during the armed conflict in the Central American country from 1980 until the signing of peace accords between guerrillas of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) and the government of President Alfredo Cristiani (1989-1994) in Jan.1992.

More than 20 years later, the left and right have something in common: they don’t want to reopen the wounds of the past and both are looking toward the future, according to their own words. So both sides have turned their backs on the Truth Commission (TC) report, published in Jan. 1993 that documents grievous human rights violations committed during the armed conflict that left more than 75,000 people dead, more than 8,000 missing, and millions of dollars in destroyed infrastructure.

Days after the TC report was released, the legislature passed the so-called General Amnesty Law for the Consolidation of Peace, granting “broad amnesty, absolutely and unconditionally” to people who committed human rights violations during the armed conflict.

Latinamerica Press asked the main presidential candidates if their government plans include a repeal of the legislation.

“The amnesty reconciled the Salvadoran family,” said Norman Quijano, candidate of the rightwing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA). “Repealing it would be harmful to reconciliation. If at that moment the slate was wiped clean, why do we have to open the wounds 20 years later?”

The same tone was used by former President Elías Antonio Saca (2004-2009), who is running for a second term with the Unity Movement, composed of established right-wing parties like the National Coalition, Christian Democrats and the Grand Alliance for National Unity, the latter a division of ARENA. Saca declared about the amnesty law through his campaign team: “the position remains as it always has. The Peace Accords established certain criteria, parameters and decisions that contain the amnesty law, therefore, [it] must be preserved. We must take into account that the executive branch doesn’t repeal laws.”

Deception with FMLN
While human rights organizations expect nothing from the Salvadoran right on the issue of the Amnesty Law and the reparation of the conflict’s victims, they also didn´t anticipate unpleasant surprises from the ruling FMLN party.
The FMLN won the 2009 election with former journalist Mauricio Funes as a presidential candidate, ending 20 years of power by ARENA. Although the FMLN has always been a harsh critic of impunity for those responsible for war crimes, Funes cleared doubts by announcing on TV Sept. 2, 2008, when he was a presidential candidate, “I´ll ask the deputies [of the FMLN] to not do it [promote initiatives to repeal the Amnesty Law]. We have already discussed this within the party.”

And so it went. Neither he nor the FMLN made any effort to repeal or amend the Amnesty Law. Its presidential candidate for 2014 — current Vice President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, a former guerilla commander — will not seek otherwise.

“First, I want to say that we closed the conflict through peace accords. These agreements opened a new phase in El Salvador. It is an example for Latin America and the world. Development – to build it, you need to build it in peace. Now we [the FMLN] are seeing the future and the future must mean opportunities for all,” he told Latinamerica Press.

For Benjamin Cuéllar, director of the Central American University’s (UCA) Human Rights Institute, “the present campaign proposals are so precarious, because no one is capable of encouraging hope. Any of the candidates that win the presidency will rule as Funes did, and as past ARENA presidents ruled.”

Alliance with military officers
Last June, a military group established a public partnership with the FMLN. Sánchez Cerén and his running mate, Óscar Ortiz, a former guerilla commander and current mayor of Santa Tecla, capital of the southwestern department of La Libertad, brought on as a defense adviser an active military officer, Colonel Roberto López Morales. The TC and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said he knew the plans to assassinate UCA Jesuits priests and two of their colleagues on Nov. 15, 1989, from attending a planning session for the massacre. He did nothing to prevent the attack.

“He is an accomplice and abettor. He knew they were going to kill the Jesuits. Perhaps out of fear he did not raise his hand when asked who disagreed with the murder, but later he could have picked up the phone and called the UCA and said, `Look, they´re going to kill you.’ Suppose he did not because there was no phone. Why did he not cooperate with the Truth Commission and give the information he had?” Cuéllar told Latinamerica Press.

The Foundation for the Study of Applied Law (FESPAD) has struggled to repeal the Amnesty Law. Its director, María Silvia Guillén, expressed her deep disappointment at the FMLN’s attitude.

“The government of Mauricio Funes and the FMLN have been very similar to previous governments in the logic that ´I was appointed to manage the future and not to judge the past.’ FESPAD believes without doubt the FMLN government has a historic debt, because we expected this government would take seriously reparation for victims, but also seriously seek truth and justice and that is what [this government] feared. That made me very sad,” Guillén said.

Although Funes has apologized on behalf of the State for war crimes, including the assassination of Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero in 1980, the massacre of El Mozote in 1981, the killings of the Jesuits, and all the cases documented by the TC — for Cuéllar that gesture is not enough.

“It is no use [to apologize]. The worst death there has been with this government is that of the people’s hope,” he said. “There is no commitment to the victims or to truth. The commitment is to the party or party leaders. The policy of protecting criminals is what makes El Salvador difficult to live in. There are people leaving this country because of the impunity also.”
—Latinamerica Press.


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Monument commemorating the victims of the El Mozote massacre in December 1981, when members of the Salvadoran Army killed 966 people. (Photo: Francisco Campos)
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