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Ex-Salvadoran Colonel Faces Charges for 1989 Killings

Like many of my generation, my political awakening centered around three events in the 1980s: anti-apartheid activism, AIDS, and US intervention in Central America. It is with a real sensation of deja vu that I again see all three of those struggles (anti-Black racism, the disproportionate impact of a global health emergency on marginalized communities, and US militarism) repeating/continuing today. That’s why news that a former Salvadoran army colonel will appear on trial for his role in murders in El Salvador in 1989 caught my attention, and my breath.

When the Jesuit priests, a university housekeeper and her daughter were murdered in San Salvador, it was yet another in a string of assassinations of progressive, leftist and populist leaders. The six were among nearly 75,000 people killed during this period. Even at that time, it was clear that the US played a role, by providing training to Salvadoran military personnel at the then-called School of the Americas. It was also clear that the perpetrators would likely get away with their crimes, and that their attempts to derail the peace process in the war-torn country would likely succeed as well.

Ignacio Martín-Baró was among the Jesuit priests killed that day. The Spanish-born professor specialized in social psychology and worked among people all-to-familiar with trauma, violence and repression. The Martín-Baró Initiative at Grassroots International is proud to play a small role in continuing his legacy by supporting community health and wellbeing, particularly among those severely harmed by political repression, structural violence and social injustice.

Now, some 30 years later, Spanish courts have succeeded in securing the extradition of Inocente Orlando Montano from the United States, where he has lived for the last 16 years. The former colonel and vice minister of public security is accused of participating in “the decision, design or execution of the killings” of Ignacio Martín-Baró and his companions, as well as untold numbers more over the course of his ignominious career.

It remains to be seen whether this will be a case of justice delayed — and whether after three decades of impunity one of the multiple plotters of mass killings will at last be held accountable. What remains undeniable is the persistence of resistance and movement building to call for justice. That persistence and determination are on display in the streets of the United States, and in the courtroom of Madrid.


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