Salvadoran imprisoned for 1989 killings of 5 Jesuit priests

montano morales 2017 Inocente Orlando Montano Morales in 2017. | US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement

A former colonel of the Salvadoran military, Inocente Orlando Montano Morales, has been convicted in a Spanish court for his participation in the murder of five Jesuit priests in 1989. Montano has been sentenced to more than 133 years in prison.

The former colonel was El Salvador's vice-minister for public security during the civil war that divided El Salvador in the 1980s. He was convicted Sept. 11 of planning and ordering the killing of five Jesuit priests, all of whom were Spanish, at the Central American University in San Salvador.

A Salvadoran Jesuit priest, their housekeeper, and her daughter were also killed, but the former colonel was convicted in Spain only of the killings of the five Spanish Jesuits.

Montano maintained his innocence, though witnesses testified that he believed the Jesuits were collaborators of the Marxist guerilla Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, which El Salvador's military junta fought in a bloody civil war that spanned more than a decade.

The Jesuits in El Salvador were active proponents of peace talks and a negotiation between the government and the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front. One of the priests killed, Father Ignacio Ellecuria, SJ, was an outspoken critic of El Salvador's government, according to Reuters.

The killings took place on Nov. 16, 1989, during a battle being waged across the city of San Salvador. Ellecuria served as rector of the Central American University, which was occupied by an elite battalion of the Salvadoran army.

A unit of the Salvadoran Army dragged from their beds the six Jesuits and shot them.

The priests killed were Ellacuría, rector of UCA; Ignacio Martín-Baró; Segundo Montes; Amando López; Joaquín López y López; and Juan Ramón Moreno Pardo. All were Spaniards except for López y López, a Salvadoran.

The priest's housekeeper Elba Ramos and her 15-year-old daughter Celina were also killed.

The soldiers left a message at the site of the killings meant to implicate the guerillas.

The government was supported by the United States during the twelve year conflict, which killed 75,000 people, and during which 8,000 people disappeared. The United Nations has estimated that 85% of civilians killed during the conflict died at the hands of government forces.

In January, the U.S. Department of State announced that 13 former Salvadoran military members would not be eligible for entry into the U.S. because of their involvement in the killings.

"The United States supports the ongoing accountability, reconciliation, and peace efforts in El Salvador," Mike Pompeo, U.S. Secretary of State, said Jan. 29.

"We value our ongoing working relationship with the Salvadoran Armed Forces, but will continue to use all available tools and authorities, as appropriate, to address human rights violations and abuses around the world no matter when they occurred or who perpetrated them."

"Today's actions underscore our support for human rights and our commitment to promoting accountability for perpetrators and encouraging reconciliation and a just and lasting peace."

Pompeo said Jan. 29 that the U.S. "condemns all human rights abuses that took place on both sides of the brutal civil war in El Salvador, including those committed by governmental and non-governmental parties."

The Atlacatl Battalion, which killed Fr. Ellacuría and his companions, was trained by American advisers.

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The State Department said Jan. 29 it had credible information that the 13 former Salvadoran military personnel "were involved in the planning and execution of the extrajudicial killings" of November 1989.

It listed Montano, Juan Rafael Bustillo, Juan Orlando Zepeda, Francisco Elena Fuentes, Guillermo Alfredo Benavides Moreno, Yusshy René Mendoza Vallecillos, José Ricardo Espinoza Guerra, Gonzalo Guevara Cerritos, Carlos Camilo Hernández Barahona, Oscar Mariano Amaya Grimaldi, Antonio Ramiro Avalos Vargas, Angel Pérez Vásquez, and José Alberto Sierra Ascencio, who it said ranged in rank from general to private.

The 13 were designated under the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act 2019, which bars them and their immediately family members from entering the U.S.

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