Court orders arrest of ex-El Salvador President Cristiani

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — A court in El Salvador on Friday ordered the capture of former President Alfredo Cristiani in relation to the 1989 massacre of six Jesuit priests and two others by soldiers.

Prosecutors allege that Cristiani knew of the military’s plan to eliminate the priests and did nothing to stop them. The daughter of Cristiani denied these allegations in a statement.

“The truth is I never knew of the plans they had to commit those killings,” Cristiani said. “They never informed me nor asked for my authorization because they knew that I would never have authorized that that Father (Ignacio) Ellacuria or his brothers were harmed.”

Cristiani and a former lawmaker, Rodolfo Parker, had been summoned to court Tuesday, but did not appear.

“The court’s resolution stated that there was no other option than to order the detention of those individuals because they failed to appear at court or did not send attorneys.

Cristiani left El Salvador in June 2021 after appearing before a special congressional panel investigating overpayments to former government officials. Claudia Cristiani’s daughter published photos of her father after prosecutors opened the case against the priests. She said that they had been in Italy with the land of their grandfather but were not sure if he was still there. El Salvador’s Attorney General’s Office alleged that Parker, Cristiani and other former military officers were behind the crimes. A general amnesty passed in 1993 during Cristiani’s administration had prevented pursuit of those involved in war crimes until it was repealed in 2016.

The killings during the country’s civil war spurred international outrage.

On Nov. 16, 1989, an elite commando unit killed the six priests — five Spaniards and one Salvadoran — along with their housekeeper and the housekeeper’s daughter in the priests’ residence. They tried to create the illusion that the murders were carried out by leftist rebels.

Nine military personnel were originally tried, but seven of them were acquitted by a court. Two officers served short sentences, but were released in 1993 under the amnesty. The Supreme Court ruled that the amnesty was unconstitutional and a judge sent Col. Guillermo Benavides back to the prison where he is currently.

While the case stalled at home, a Spanish court in 2020 sentenced former Salvadoran Col. Inocente Orlando Montano to 133 years for the priests’ killings. The court called the massacre “state terrorism” carried out by powerful interests, including Cristiani, aimed at “holding onto their positions of privilege within the power structures.”

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