Update: Twenty Salvadoran Soldiers Indicted for 1989 Massacre

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Also included in this update:

  • Leaked Cables Prove U.S. Intervention in Salvadoran Elections
  • After Court-Ordered Dissolution, Right-Wing Parties Struggle for Survival
  • Labor Unions Fight Decertification Order
  • Top Latin America State Department Official Announces Resignation
On Monday, May 30, Spanish judge Eloy Velasco indicted and issued international arrest orders for 20 members of the Salvadoran Armed Forces for the 1989 massacre of 6 Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter on the campus of the Central American University (UCA) by the U.S.-trained and equipped Atlacatl Batallion. The case was originally filed before the Spanish High Court in November of 2008 against 14 army officers and ex-President Alfredo Cristiani. Judge Velasco did not proceed with the charges against Cristiani, current president of the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party, as his charge of covering up a crime against humanity do not fallunder the principal of universal jurisdiction as the other officers' crimes do.  For more history of this case, see past CISPES updates: 11/18/08, 2/6/09, 5/20/09.

After reviewing witness testimony and official documents from the U.S. State Department, El Salvador justice system and the U.N. Truth Commission on the Civil War, Judge Velasco indicted the officers on 8 counts of terrorist assassination and crimes against humanity. In addition to former members of the Atlacatl Batallion - known for the massacre of a thousand unarmed, civilian men, women and children at El Mozote - the indicted include former Minister of Defense Rafael Humberto Larios, former Army Chief of Staff René Emilio Ponce, former Vice Minister of Defense Juan Orlando Zepeda, former Vice Minister of Public Security Inocente Orlando Montano and former Director of the Military Academy Guillermo Alfredo Benavides - the last of whom is accused of ordering the murders. If captured, the indicted officers would face jail time without bail and then face trial for the crimes. Although Spain and El Salvador have an extradition treaty, the Funes Administration has shown little interest or ability to prosecute high-ranking officials of past administrations. None of the recent corruption allegations brought against the ex-Minister of Health, Guillermo Maza or  ex-Ministers of the InteriorRené Figueroa and Juan Miguel Bolaños, have resulted in convictions. Former President Cristiani and the Salvadoran right-wing have condemned Velasco's ruling as a violation of national sovereignty, staunchly ignoring Spain's legal principal of universal jurisdiction in cases of crimes against humanity. Two of the indicted officers, Colonel Benavides and Lieutenant René Yusshy Mendoza, were already convicted in Salvadoran courts in 1991; however, they were absolved of charges and released from prison after an Amnesty Law passed in 1993 prohibited the prosecution of crimes committed during the Civil War, setting the stage for the continued impunity of human rights violators in El Salvador today. Legal experts argue that El Salvador's Amnesty Law is not merely a barrier to justice, but also violates international law. Since the Amnesty Law passed during the Cristiani Administration, which governed over the end of the Civil War, the administration effectively granted itself amnesty in direct violation of international statutes. Leaked Cables Prove U.S. Intervention in Salvadoran Elections On Monday, May 23, the Salvadoran online publication El Faropublished a series of confidential cables sent by the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador to various officials at the U.S. State Department that wereleaked as part of Wikileaks Cablegate (read the English translation of the El Faro article or the original Spanish article). According to El Faroist José Luis Sanz, thecables demonstrate that “U.S. intervention in Salvadoran electoral processes has been calculated and sustained over time” and that “from 2005 to 2008 their diplomats analyzed practically every facet of their bilateral relationship with El Salvador in light of its effect on the possibility of victory for ARENA - the party that guarantees U.S.-backedeconomic policies.” journal Foryears, CISPES and other solidarity groups have denounced U.S. intervention in El Salvador’s electoral processes as a violation of the country’s national sovereignty and the self-determination of the people of El Salvador.  The leaked cables demonstrate decisively, as Sanz says,“the constant effort of the Embassy to make the political tempo of the bilateral relationship coincide with the Salvadoran electoral calendar." Withinthe cables, State Department officials outline specifically how U.S. policies such as Temporary Protective Status (TPS) - a program that allows more than 200,000 Salvadorans to live and work in the U.S. - and the disbursement of U.S. assistance for development projects could be leveraged to ensure electoral victories for ARENA and prevent the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) party from making political gains. The recently published cables coming to light atthe start of the 2012 legislative and municipal elections season, creating yet another publicity scandal for the ARENA party which has been also been racked by internal divisions since the 2009 victory of Mauricio Funes. After Court-Ordered Dissolution, Right-Wing Parties Struggle for Survival The Party for National Conciliation (PCN) fraction submitted last-minute electoral reform legislation before the Legislative Assembly on May 18, in the face of a recent Supreme Court decision calling for the dissolution of two of the oldest right-wing parties in El Salvador - the PCN and Christian Democrat Party (PDC).  Six years after the case was submitted, the Supreme Court finally declared “unconstitutional” thelegislative decree passed by a right wing majority in 2005 that gave the two parties legal standing following their failure to obtain 3% of the vote in the 2004 presidential elections – El Salvador’s constitutional requirement for political parties to remain active. El Salvador’s electoral authority, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), officially declared that the two political parties would be dissolved and have begun decertification proceedings in support of the Supreme Court decision. The PCN has 10 legislative deputies and governs 33 of 262 municipalities; the PDC has 2 deputies and governs 11 municipalities. Both have the option of joining another party and ceding their legislative seats and municipalities to that party, or pushing through the registration process to obtain legal standing for the next elections. The PCN’s proposed electoral reforms would reduce the time frame for the registration process of political parties. If passed, the legislation would allow the dissolved parties to register more quickly, facilitating their participation in the 2012 municipal and parliamentary elections. Regardless of the new proposed reforms, it is unclear what the fate of the PDC and PCN will be.  Neither party has issued concrete statements regarding future steps, and both are appealing the Supreme Court and TSE pronouncements. Ina related decision, the Supreme Court declared the election of a PCN magistrate and substitute magistrate to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal in July 2009 unconstitutional, as the parties were not legal at the time of the election. This ruling orders the Legislative Assembly to elect anew magistrate and substitute to fill the two vacant positions from a pool of non-partisan candidates. The Supreme Court has publicized its intention to resolve all pending cases related to the electoral process as soon as possible in preparation for 2012 legislative and municipal elections. Labor Unions Fight Decertification ElSalvador’s Telecommunications Worker’s Industrial Union (SITCOM) and the AVX-Kyocera Plant Worker’s Union (SITRAVX) are currently fighting decisions by Labor Court magistrates to decertify both unions.  SITCOM was formed as an industrial union in 2003 by unions at four different telecommunications companies, but despite meeting legal requirements from the beginning, fought for six years before receiving official recognition and credentials from the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare in 2009. SITRAVX formed in 2007 by workers at the AVX-Kyocera electronic components assembly plant but also had to fight for two yearsafter meeting legal requirements to obtain its credentials from the Ministry of Labor in 2009.  SITCOM and SITRAVX, both members of the Salvadoran Union Front (FSS), credit the new Minister of Labor Dr. Victoria de Ávileswhotook office in June 2009 for her commitment to supporting unions and following labor law that has allowed the unions to obtain legal recognition. “Itis clear that the private business sector became accustomed to having aMinistry [of Labor] that served its interests,” explains Marielos de León, Secretary General of SITRAVX.  “That is no longer the case, so they are turning to other battlefields - in this case the courts - to try to destroy the unions the Minister has recognized.”  Shortly after SITCOM and STRAVX received credentials, the telecommunications company CTE-Telecom Claro (América Móvil) and AVX-Kyocera filed separate complaints in the country’s Labor Courts calling for the decertificationof the two unions.  In both cases, the magistrates decided in favor of the unions; however, both companies then appealed the decisions to the First Labor Chamber.  The First Labor Chamber, whose magistrates have been denounced for corruption by the FSS, reversed the decisions in favor of the unions and issued orders for the decertification of both SITCOM and SITRAVX.  “There are magistrates in the First Labor Chamber who have clear conflicts of interest,” said de León.  “For example, the Magistrate Wilfrido Arnoldo Sanchez Campos’ son Mario Sanchez Chinchillais a lawyer at the firm that represents many transnational corporations, including AVX-Kyocera and América Móvil.” Both SITCOM and SITRAVX still have their legal union credentials, as the court orders have not yet been submitted to the Ministry of Labor, and are organizing mobilizations and exploring further legal options to fight the decertifications.  “We cannot allow this attack against the organized labor movement to succeed,” said Wilfredo Berríos, Secretary General of SITCOM.  “It would set a dangerous precedent for employers to circumvent the Ministry of Labor through corrupt courts in order to continue their attacks against unions.” Top Latin America State Department Official Announces Resignation On May 5, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela announced his plans to resign from his post asthe State Department’s top Latin American policy official.  In his official statement, Valenzuela expressed desire to return to his previous post as a professor at Georgetown University as the reason for his resignation.  While no end date has been announced, a Foreign Policy article by Josh Rogin reports Valenzuela wrote to friends and colleagues of  his plans to vacate the post at the end of this Spring. The article includes speculation as to why he is resigning, with quotes from “State Department insiders” that report that Valenzuela was cut outof many Latin America policy decisions by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s preference to work directly with Valenzuela's predecessor and current Ambassador to Brazil, Tom Shannon, as well as former Ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual.  The State Department has not announced Valenzuela’s successor; however, according to Rogin, “Multiple Latin America hands said that one name wason everybody's short list: Bill Brownfield, former U.S. Ambassador to Colombia and current Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL).”  Brownfield's possible appointment has raised red flags for many U.S.-based organizations that work in Latin American solidarity and human rights issues.  As Ambassador to Colombia from 2007-10 Brownfield supervised the close U.S. relationship with the Colombian government and military, supported heavily by U.S. tax dollars for Plan Colombia despite Colombia's atrocious human rights record.  As current Assistant Secretary of State for INL, Brownfield is orchestrating a build up of US military programming in Latin America based in fighting the so-called "War on Drugs".  Many worry this trend will only accelerate and come to define the Obama Administration’s policy towards Latin America, particularly ifBrownfield fills this influential post.

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Municipal workers in San Salvador remove political party announcements for the upcoming 2018 legislative and municipal elections. Photo: Contrapunto