WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
10 Nov 2009 | News

20th Anniversary of the Six Jesuits’ Murder in El Salvador Commemorated with Country’s Highest Award

Next week, President Mauricio Funes will present El Salvador's highest award to the six Jesuit martyrs murdered in 1989 by the military during the country's civil war. The Jesuits were committed to bridging dialogue between the two warring parties and many of them had close relationships to Washington. Their murders led to international outrage and shifted U.S. support for the war, reducing the millions of dollars in military and economic assistance given to El Salvador. The ceremony, which will be held on Monday, November 16, during the 20th anniversary of the massacre, marks a sharp break with the past, in which conservative post-war governments ignored the Jesuit case.  Funes, elected as the candidate of the FMLN, the party of the former rebels, is taking a step to acknowledge and help heal the wounds of the war.

The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) will accompany a delegation to El Salvador for the commemoration of the murder and to a ceremony bestowing an honorary degree to Rep. James P. McGovern, who played a key role in policy toward El Salvador during the those years.  The award will be given by the Jesuit University of Central America. 

Events in El Salvador:

*Thursday, November 12- Reception hosted by WOLA/AJCU in honor of Jim McGovern, Member of the U.S. House of Representatives and co-chair of the bi-partisan and bi-cameral "Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission" of the U.S. Congress – at FUSAL, Bulevar Orden de Malta #10, Santa Elena, Antiguo Cuzcutlan, El Salvador, 5 PM-7 PM.

*Friday, November 13- Presentation of honorary degree in Human Rights awarded to Representative Jim McGovern by the Universidad Centroamericana-at the University of Central America.  Ceremony and remarks, 6PM- 7 PM.  Reception, 7PM- 9PM.

*Saturday, November 14-  Forum:  "El Salvador Today:  Twenty Years after the Jesuits" with Hugo Martinez, Minister of Foreign Relations of El Salvador; Father Jose Maria Tojeira, S.J.,  Rector of the UCA; Dr. William LeoGrande, Dean of the School of Public Affairs at American University, Washington, DC; and Jim McGovern, U.S. Representative- 2 PM, Hotel Siesta, San Salvador.

*Monday, November 16-Award presented by President Funes posthumously to the Jesuit martyrs – Casa Presidencial.

The delegation of 20 people will include Rep. Jim McGovern, members of his family and staff; Geoff Thale, Program Director at WOLA; William LeoGrande, Dean of the American University School of Public Affairs; and Fr. Charles Currie, S.J., Pdte, Association of Jesuit Schools and Colleges.


Geoff Thale, WOLA's Program Director, (+011) 503-7637-7221.
Kristel Mucino, WOLA's Communications Coordinator, kmucino@wola.org, 617-584-1713.                     


El Salvador suffered a 12 year civil war from 1980-1992 in which over 70,000 people were killed, the overwhelming majority of them civilians.   Human rights abuses were endemic.  A rebel offensive in November of 1989 that threatened the capital provoked security forces and paramilitary forces to new abuses, culminating in the slaying of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her 15-year-old daughter.  The priests were affiliated with the Universidad Centroamericana "Jose Simeon Canas," and several of them had played a leading role in efforts to promoted dialogue between the warring parties.  Many in the military and on the extreme right viewed the Jesuits as in some way legitimizing the guerrillas, and in the tense days of the November offensive, they became military targets.  The priests and two women were executed on the evening of November 16th, 1989, by a military patrol that entered the university grounds and sought them out.  The cold-blooded nature of the murders, and the fact that the victims were priests led to a wave of revulsion in the international community, and shifted thinking about the war itself. 

This was especially the case in the United States, which was providing millions of dollars in military and economic assistance to the government of El Salvador.  Several of the Jesuits were known in Washington, and one of them, Fr. Segundo Montes, had spoken at a Congressional briefing less than two weeks before his death.  The outcry at their murders prompted the House of Representatives' leadership to appoint a task force to investigate the killings, lead by Rep. Joe Moakley, and staffed by his then aide, Jim McGovern.  The killings of the Jesuits and the work of the Moakley task force led to a re-evaluation of U.S. policy toward El Salvador and accelerated momentum toward a settlement of the war. 

A peace agreement ended the war in El Salvador in January of 1992, after eighteen months of negotiations.  The FMLN guerrillas demobilized and participated in internationally supervised elections.  They quickly became a significant political party, with a substantial legislative bloc, and the mayoralty of the capital and other cities (though the conservative ARENA Party controlled the Presidency). 

In March of this year, Mauricio Funes, the candidate of the FMLN, was elected President of El Salvador.  (Funes will present posthumous awards to the Jesuits, at a ceremony on Monday, November 16th.)

On the 20th anniversary of the Jesuit slayings, and a few months after the inauguration of the new President, WOLA and the AJCU are taking a delegation to El Salvador to remember the sacrifices of the Jesuits, and explore the situation in El Salvador today, looking at what has changed and what not.  Rep. McGovern will receive an honorary degree from the University of Central America for his consistent commitment to human rights and democracy over the last twenty years.  And in a series of private meetings and public events, Rep. McGovern and the delegation will explore the state of El Salvador today.