'Jesuit Martyrs Would Again Today Raise Their Voices,' Says University Rector on 33rd Anniversary of UCA Massacre


November 16, 2022, marked the 33rd anniversary of the massacre at the Central American University José Simeón Cañas (UCA) in San Salvador. In the early morning hours of that day in 1989, elite forces of the Salvadoran military entered the university campus and assassinated six Jesuit priests as well as the priests’ female coworker and her 16-year-old daughter. Of the twenty-five soldiers that carried out the murders, nineteen were trained graduates of the United States’ infamous School of the Americas military training program in Ft. Benning, Georgia.

It is one of the most notorious crimes of El Salvador’s brutal civil war era, and the date is commemorated each year at the UCA with cultural and historical events, a candlelight vigil, and continued demands for justice. This year’s commemoration, however, took place in what social movement and civil society organizations condemn as a harrowing return to that repressive civil war era in the context of President Bukele’s ongoing State of Exception, which was extended for an eighth time on November 15.

As now has been widely condemned, since March 2022, when the State of Exception was first approved, more than 60,000 people–mostly poor and rural youth–have been arrested and jailed without due process or other Constitutional guarantees. More than 80 people have died in custody. Human rights organization Cristosal continues to register complaints of abuses in the thousands–including against children as young as 12 years of age–for everything from illegal raids, to arbitrary detention, assault, and torture.

President Bukele has justified the military incursion into communities as a “war on gangs,” but social movement leaders denounce it as a war on the poor and working class and worry that one of the government’s underlying objectives is to wear down those communities, weakening local resistance to “development” megaprojects, including luxury hotels and urban megacenters, that will displace people from their homes and lands.

Today, as in 1989, popular organizations are again resisting violent and deadly government control of the population for the benefit of the elite. Current UCA rector Andreu Oliva said on the anniversary of the massacre that:

“If they were alive today, the Jesuit martyrs would again raise their voices against the ongoing violations of young people’s human rights in El Salvador under the State of Exception.”  He continued: “The martyrs were great defenders of justice, great preachers of profound respect for the dignity of every human person and for human rights. I believe that if the martyrs were alive today, and they saw what we are experiencing in our country, they would raise their voices and say this is an attack on the youth for being poor, an attack on people who should be respected and who should be considered innocent if it cannot be proven that they have committed a crime, which is the majority of the young people who are being detained.”

Social movement organizations, including the recently assembled coalition MOVIR (Movement of Victims of the Regime) likewise used the historic day to march to San Salvador courts, condemning the abuses under the State of Exception and denouncing Bukele-imposed judges, who, instead of acting impartially to enforce protections under the law, are complicit in these abuses, they say:

“As MOVIR, we find the actions being carried out by the specialized investigating judges shameful; instead of exercising their judicial functions independently, adhering to the Constitution and the Law, they have proceeded to extend all prosecutorial investigating periods under the State of Exception without justification for those extensions. For six months, investigators have not been able to find any evidence that links the majority of detainees to the crimes they’re accused of, and they will not find any evidence because they are innocent.”

MOVIR demands an immediate end to the State of Exception and “reversal of court actions that violate fundamental rights against thousands of people illegally detained by the emergency regime and that today are being processed in illegal processes before their courts.”

“We are and will continue to await and monitor their actions, since the people will demand the determination of individual responsibilities in the face of human rights violations, especially violations of fundamental rights to liberty, life, health, and integrity.”

Facing some of the same militarized repression as the UCA martyrs, the social movement in El Salvador continues their legacy through fierce and unrelenting resistance.

Elba Ramos, Celina Ramos, Ignacio Ellacuría, Ignacio Martín-Baró, Segundo Montes, Juan Ramón Moreno, Amando López, Joaquín López y López presente!


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