Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: human rights violations

Reconciliation in El Salvador


This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday, 17 June 2012

From the early 1970s, there was conflict in the Central American republic of El Salvador as a result of great disparities between rich and poor. There was a resurgence of guerrilla activity which the government countered with death squads, which killed 687 civilians in 1978 and 1,796 in 1979.  The Revolutionary Government Junta took power in a bloodless coup in October 1979 and made promises to improve living standards, hold free elections, and put an end to human rights violations.

US-funded barbarity

The US began offering large-scale military and economic support. For over 20 years, Latin American officers were trained at the notorious US Army School of the Americas. In 1996, the Pentagon was forced to release training manuals from the School. These manuals advocated targeting civilians, extra-judicial executions and torture. In one training exercise, trainees act out the murder of a local priest.

In 1980, government forces murdered at least 11,895 people, mostly civilians. On December 2, 1980, the National Guard raped and murdered four American nuns. In 1981, government forces killed at least 16,276 unarmed civilians. Military death squads wiped out entire villages. In December 1981, the military killed 1,000 in the village of El Mozote. The US denied reports of these atrocities.

Failure to implement reforms provoked the five main guerrilla groups to unite into the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN). The death squads forced many civilians to flee to the US but most were denied asylum. The US-assisted plan was to burn all vegetation, including subsistence crops, and to destroy everything that might be of use to those, who opposed the Salvadoran armed forces.

The London Sunday Times reported that Menendez de Iglesias, was arrested in September 1985 by U.S. officials, “handed over to the Salvadoran Treasury Police and repeatedly raped and tortured while in detention and further questioned by U.S. officials while in custody.”


Baptist Carter wages war on Catholic Church


When we see the venerable and saintly Jimmy Carter roaming the world doing good in 2012, let us not forget that he was the US president who began funding the Salvadoran sadists, and he  refused  Archbishop Oscar Romero’s request to cut US military aid to El Salvador. Romero was assassinated while saying mass in 1980. At Romero’s funeral, government snipers killed forty-two mourners. Carter ignored the Archbishop’s plea and authorized $5.7 million in military assistance to “strengthen the Army’s key role in reforms.”

In one of its last acts, the outgoing Carter administration increased military aid to the Salvadoran armed forces to $10 million, claiming that the regime had taken “positive steps” to investigate the murder of the American nuns; this was disputed by US Ambassador, Robert E. White, who said that he could find no evidence the junta was conducting a serious investigation.”

Reverend Daniel Santiago was a Catholic priest working in El Salvador. He reported:
“People are not just killed by death squads in El Salvador — they are decapitated and then their heads are placed on pikes and used to dot the landscape. Men are not just disembowelled by the Salvadoran Treasury Police; their severed genitalia are stuffed into their mouths. Salvadoran women are not just raped by the National Guard; their wombs are cut from their bodies and used to cover their faces. It is not enough to kill children; they are dragged over barbed wire until the flesh falls from their bones while parents are forced to watch. There is a purpose to all of this. … Sadomasochistic killing creates terror in El Salvador. Terror creates passivity in the face of oppression. A passive population is easy to control. Why the need to control the peasants? Somebody has to pick the coffee and cotton and cut the sugar cane.”

Remember Father Santiago’s words when next you hear Jimmy Carter pontificating about human rights. This devout Christian president funded and gave immoral support to what many have interpreted as a war against the Catholic Church in El Salvador, which promoted “liberation theology” and defended the poor.

On  November 16, 1989, the US-backed Atlacatl Battalion summarily executed six Jesuit priests. In the middle of the night, the six priests, and their housekeepers, were dragged from their beds and then shot in the head. “They were assassinated with lavish barbarity” said the Rev. Jose Maria Tojeira, the Jesuit Provincial for Central America. “For example, they took out their brains.”

Blowtorch Bob


Major Roberto D’Aubuisson Arrieta, can stand as a symbol of the horrors that the US funded in El Salvador. He was known as “Blowtorch Bob” because of his interrogation techniques. D’Aubuisson was the master-mind of the death squads. There is little doubt that he was responsible for the assassination of Archbishop Romero. He lost a presidential campaign in 1984 to Jose Napoleon Duarte. In 1992, D’Aubuisson died at 47 of oesophageal cancer. He was never tried for any of his crimes.



This most uncivil of wars ended on  January 16, 1992, when the Chapultepec Peace Accords were signed. The Comisión de la Verdad para El Salvador was a truth commission established by the UN to investigate and report on human rights abuses during the civil war. The Commission received testimony from 2,000 people in relation to 7,000 victims, and gathered information from secondary sources related to more than 8,000 victims. In addition, 23,000 written statements were received. The commission selected 13,569 cases and highlighted 32 cases, which illustrated the patterns of violence by the combatants in the war. On March 15, 1993, the commission published its report From Madness to Hope: the 12-year war in El Salvador. Five days later the legislative assembly approved an amnesty covering all the violent events of the war.

The complaints attributed almost 85 percent of the violence to State agents, private paramilitary groups, and the death squads. In its conclusions, the Commission called for an end to impunity. “Acts of this nature, regardless of the sector to which their perpetrators belong, must be the object of exemplary action by the law courts so that the punishment prescribed by law is meted out to those found responsible.”

The Commission recommended systemic changes: “In order to avoid any risk of reverting to the status quo ante, it is essential that El Salvador establish and strengthen the proper balance of power among the executive, legislative and judicial branches and that it institute full and indisputable civilian control over all military, paramilitary, intelligence and security forces”.

Did reconciliation work?

In an academic paper, Ruth Velasquez Estrada contends that the amnesty law closed what little space there had been for attaining symbolic retributive or restorative justice. However, she believes that “remembering” and “creating” communities have become part of a contestation against the socio-political polarisation based on ideological discourses serving the interests of political parties. She argues that, despite some claims of continuing political polarisation in El Salvador, many former army and guerrilla combatants are coexisting in the same communities and working together in various ways, and a space has opened up for the recreation of social networks and the creation of post-war communities. She calls this process ‘grassroots peacemaking’.
El Salvador today

In 2010, El Salvador celebrated the 18th anniversary of the signing of the Peace Accords. President Mauricio Funes gave a speech addressing important issues of human rights and accountability and asked forgiveness, in the name of the state, of those who were victims of the armed conflict. Mr. Funes, who was elected in 2009, is a leader of the former rebel movement, the FMLN. The government has taken a number of important steps on impunity and human rights.  Investigations into police and government corruption have been launched, with suspensions and several arrests. President Funes honoured the six Jesuit priests and their two companions who were murdered in 1989.

In March 2011, President Obama visited El Salvador and met Funes who, despite his left-wing roots, does not share the suspicion and hostility towards US imperialism expressed by other Latin American leftists such as Hugo Chavez.

A common thread in these articles has been that reconciliation, whatever truth-telling talky-talk  goes on, is fragile if economic inequality and abuses of human rights persist. This is true in El Salvador today. Only last week, Robert Lorenzana, FMLN deputy and vice president of parliament, warned that conditions for a coup are being generated. The economic crisis has hurt El Salvador.  Crime has continued to be a major problem; homicide rates have risen. The government has been criticized by the human rights community and the business community, for not introducing a comprehensive and effective anti-crime plan. A military crack-down might be a temptation. These are still dangerous times.

– See more at:


Reconciliation in Peru

This article was published in the Nation on Sunday, 13 May 2012


In October 1983, I attended a ceremony at Huancavelica Cathedral in the Peruvian Andes, my heart fluttering at an altitude of 12,000 feet. Huancavelica was founded in 1572 for the purpose of mining mercury, which was essential to extract silver from the ore from the fabulous mine at Potosi. In 1648 the Viceroy of Peru declared that Potosí and Huancavelica were “the two pillars that support this kingdom and that of Spain.”



Outside the cathedral, a local Quechua man questioned me about Mrs. Thatcher and the Malvinas. He seemed to approve of Thatcher. Argentineans are generally unpopular in Peru.



The Huancavelica police station at which we had registered was blown up by the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) the day after we had been there.



Sendero Luminoso was a Maoist group of quite outstanding brutality. Defenders of these “freedom fighters” would no doubt cite “state terrorism”, but the national government was somewhat slow to react to provocation. A state of emergency was declared in 1981 and the army was given the job of fighting the guerrillas. The Armed Forces created the Ayacucho Emergency Zone, in which military power was superior to civilian power, and many constitutional rights were suspended. The military committed many human rights violations in the area where it had political control. A specimen was the Accomarca massacre on August 14, 1985 in Ayacucho where 69 unarmed men, women and children were killed. Twenty-seven years later, Telmo Hurtado, who led the massacre, is finally in custody in Peru after being extradited from the US. Hundreds more former military and police officers have yet to be put on trial.



Scores of peasants were massacred by the armed forces. A specialist counter-terror police battalion known as the “Sinchis” were particularly notorious. They were US-trained. The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC)- formerly named School of the Americas -, is a US Department of Defense Institute located at Fort Benning near Columbus, Georgia. WHINSEC trained many military personnel before and during the years ‘dirty wars’ in Latin America. WHINSEC graduates continue to surface in news reports regarding human rights cases.



Shining Path opted to fight their war in the style taught by Mao. A major Sendero tactic was the mass slaughter of the indigenous people it claimed to be fighting for, to goad the authorities into matching savagery. Its original goal was to overthrow the government and social structure of Peru and neighboring countries and replace them with a socialist system controlled by the indigenous peoples of the region. Shining Path also adhered to Mao’s teaching that guerrilla war should be fought primarily in the countryside and gradually choke off the cities.


The peasants resist their liberators



The peasants did not always appreciate what the brave revolutionaries were doing for them. The Shining Path filled its ranks by forced conscription and forced kidnapped children to fight as child soldiers. In some areas, peasants formed anti-Shining Path patrols, called rondas. I was in Peru in October 1983. In January 1983, near Huata, rondas killed 13 senderistas; in February in Sacsamarca, rondas stabbed and killed the Shining Path commanders of that area. In March 1983, rondas captured Olegario Curitomay, one of the commanders of the town of Lucanamarca, took him to the town square, stoned him, stabbed him, set him on fire, and finally shot him. The Shining Path retaliated by killing 69 people including a six-month-old child and several pregnant women. Most were hacked to death with machetes and some were shot at close range in the head.



Alberto Fujimori


President Alberto Fujimori adopted an ‘iron fist’ approach to the rebels. He dissolved Congress and abolished the Constitution. Military courts were set up to try captured rebels. Fujimori also announced that Peru would no longer accept the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Between 1990 and 1994, Grupo Colina , a paramilitary anti-communist death squad carried out several massacres. The Grupo Colina, believed to be mandated by Fujimori, victimized trade unions and activists that spoke out against the Peruvian government, by intimidation or sometimes murder.



Fujimori signed a law that granted amnesty to anyone accused of, tried for, convicted of, or sentenced for human rights violations that were committed by the armed forces or police. Since the collapse of the Fujimori government, several people have been tried for Grupo Colina’s crimes, including Fujimori. Trials have established that Grupo Colina was not an informal group of renegade officers but an organic part of the Peruvian state. Julio Salazar, former chief of the National Intelligence Service (SIN), was sentenced to thirty-five years for his role in the La Cantuta massacre. During Salazar’s tenure at the SIN, Vladimiro Montesinos was the de facto chief and national security advisor. Montesinos is currently imprisoned and faces over seventy trials for various human rights abuses, as well as charges of drug trafficking and political corruption.



On September 12, 1992, Peruvian police captured Guzmán and several Shining Path leaders. Shortly after, most of the remaining leadership fell and Shining Path suffered embarrassing military defeats to rondas, supposedly its social base — and the organization fractured into splinter groups. The then leader of the Shining Path, Artemio, was shot and captured in the jungle in February 2012.



In September 2010, President Alan Garcia succumbed to pressure to pass a thinly veiled amnesty law to benefit indicted army officers. He quickly retracted it as Peru’s Nobel laureate author Mario Vargas Llosa (and one-time presidential candidate) attacked the measure in a stinging open letter.



Truth and Reconciliation Commission



Alberto Fujimori resigned the Presidency in 2000. Congress installed Valentin Paniagua in his place. He rescinded Fujimori’s announcement that Peru would leave the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission which found in its 2003 Final Report that 69,280 people died or disappeared between 1980 and 2000 as a result of the armed conflict. A statistical analysis led the Commission to estimate that the Shining Path was responsible for the death or disappearance of 31,331 people, 46% of the total deaths and disappearances. According to its final report, 75% of the people of the victims spoke Quechua as their native language, despite the fact that the 1993 census found that only 20% of Peruvians speak Quechua or another indigenous language as their native language.



The final report was criticized by almost all political parties and former Presidents Fujimori, Garcia and Paniagua, the military and the Catholic Church, which claimed that many of the Commission members were former members of extreme leftist movements and that the final report wrongfully portrayed rebel groups as “political parties” rather than as terrorist organizations.



Only last August, remains of Grupo Colina victims were unearthed only 20 minutes away from their homes. Gloria Cano of the Peruvian human rights organisation APRODEH said that until the discovery of the remains, several mothers were convinced that their sons were still being held prisoner in the jungle or even in another continent. “Until the bodies are found, the parents keep on hoping they will find their children alive”.

Fujimori escaped to Japan but returned to South America in 2006. He spent almost two years under house arrest in Chile before being extradited to stand trial in Peru. In April 2009, he was jailed for 25 years for authorising 25 death squad killings.



Reconciliation Today?



Daniel Mora, Peru’s defence minister, told a Lima radio station last September: “There has to be a cut-off point for the reconciliation of the country,” adding that judicial proceedings against members of the military and police for human rights crimes could not go on forever. The Washington Office on Latin America said Mora’s remarks suggested a state policy of impunity.


Peru has not signed the 2006 international convention for the protection of all persons from disappearances. Peruvian society is still deeply divided about the Sendero years. It is difficult to believe that national reconciliation will be served by impunity talk of an amnesty.

On August 16, 2006 prosecutors in Peru filed charges against Ollanta Humala for alleged human rights abuses including forced disappearance, torture, and murder against guerrillas during his army service in San Martin. Humala is now president of Peru. Opponents suggest Humala bribed judges and bought witnesses to have his case dismissed.

THE PRESS | Music Reviews

Click Header to Return Home

Julie MacLusky

- Author and Blogger -


A fake image is worth zero words

Poet's Corner

Poems, poets, poetry, writing, poetry challenges

Casual, But Smart

Pop Culture From An Old Soul

PN Review Blog

‘The most engaged, challenging and serious-minded of all the UK’s poetry magazines’ - Simon Armitage

The Manchester Review

The Manchester Review

Slugger O'Toole

Conversation, politics and stray insights

Stephen Jones: a blog

Daoism—lives—language—performance. And jokes

Minal Dalal

The Human Academy