A former Salvador military commander, Inocente Montano, went on trial in Spain this month, accused of ordering the murder of six Spanish Jesuit priests in 1989. Two Salvadoran women were also killed in the incident. Montano was formerly held in the US, but was extradited to Spain in 2017. Ex-colonel Montano was the vice-minister of public security in El Salvador during its civil war from 1979-1992. Montano commanded troops believed to be responsible for at least 1,169 human rights violations. Additionally, prosecutors believe Montano was part of the paramilitary group La Tandona. This far-right group of military leaders carried out extrajudicial executions of those who supported a peace deal with the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) guerillas.
Mounting police-state measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are now resulting in stand-offs between executive and judicial authorities. In El Salvador, President Nayib Bukele, for the third time in 10 days on April 16 publicly dismissed Supreme Court rulings to respect fundamental rights while enforcing quarantine regulations. First, on March 26, the court ordered the government to release individuals who had been detained while grocery shopping. Then on April 8, the court explicitly provided that the government lacked proper statutory backing to detain citizens. After both rulings, Bukele took to Twitter, urging security forces to be strict with the lockdown and reiterating that violators will be placed in a containment facility. The third order states that the Bukele administration must respect the COVID-19-related rulings. Again, Bukele responded on Twitter, declaring that "five people will not decide the death of hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans." Security forces have already arbitrarily detained hundreds of people in the containment centers, where rights observers charge they face an increased risk of spreading COVID-19. (HRW, CISPES, Jurist)
As nations across the globe remain under lockdown, more sweeping powers are being assumed by governments in the name of containing the COVID-19 pandemic. Facing demands for relief from poor barrios running out of resources under his lockdown orders, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to shoot protesters in the streets. Particularly naming the popular organization Kadamay as planning protests, Duterte said April 1: "Remember, you leftists: You are not the government. Do not go around causing trouble and riots because I will order you detained until this COVID [outbreak ends]. I will not hesitate. My orders are to the police and military...that if there is trouble... shoot them dead. Do you understand? Dead. Instead of causing trouble, I'll send you to the grave." (Rappler)
The US State Department on Jan. 29 announced sanctions against 13 former Salvadoran military officials for their involvement in the 1989 killings of eight individuals. The former officials were found to be implicated in gross human rights violations when they planned and carried out the extrajudicial execution of six Jesuit priests and two others on the campus of Central American University in El Salvador on Nov. 16, 1989. The officials were designated under Section 7031(c) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriation Act 2019. Section 7031(c) states that when the Secretary of State has credible information that current or former foreign government officials have been involved, whether directly or indirectly, with human rights violations or corruption, those individuals and their immediate family members are ineligible for entry into the US.
Recent headlines from Central America shed light on the migrant exodus from the isthmus that has now sparked a political crisis in the United States. The ongoing protests against neoliberal "reform" in Honduras saw a frightening escalation June 25 as military police opened fire on students demonstrators at the National Autonomous University in Tegucigalpa, injuring at least four. President Juan Orlando Hernández has deployed the army and military police across the country after clashes left three dead last week. (BBC News, La Prensa, June 25) In a hopeful sign a few days earlier, riot police stood down in Tegucigalpa, returning to their barracks and allowing protesters to block traffic and occupy main streets. Troops of the National Directorate of Special Forces said they will not carry out anti-riot operations if they do not receive better benefits. (Reuters, June 19)
The first mission of the new security force created by Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador will be blocking migrants on the Guatemalan border, evidently part of a deal struck with the Trump administration. Mexico has pledged to deploy up to 6,000 National Guard troops to its southern border in an effort to avoid Trump's threatened tariff on all exports to the United States, the Washington Post reports. The deal was announced as Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard is leading a Mexican delegation in talks with White House officials in Washington. Mexican officials said that 10 National Guard contingents of 450 to 600 troops each will be assigned to the border with Guatemala by September. The deployment would represent a fourfold increase on the 1,500 federal troops currently patrolling the border. A further three units will be deployed to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in southern Mexico, to set up roadblocks and checkpoints to stop the movement of migrants.
Days after the Catholic Church declared El Salvador's martyred Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero a saint, a judge in the Central American country issued an arrest order for a former military captain long suspected of ordering the killing of the religious leader. Judge Rigoberto Chicas issued the order Oct. 23 for national and international authorities to apprehend Alvaro Rafael Saravia, 78. He remains at large and is believed to be in hiding. Saravia had been arrested for the crime in 1987, but the case against him was dropped when El Salvador passed its amnesty law in 1993. The case was re-opened after El Salvador's Supreme Court struck down the amnesty law in 2016.
The ACLU of Southern California on March 12 filed a lawsuit (PDF) in federal court on behalf of several immigrants with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and citizens whose parents have TPS, challenging the Trump administration's revocation of the status for over 200,000 people. The Trump administration has terminated TPS for all people from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan. The suit contends that the Trump administration's interpretation of the TPS statute is unconstitutional as it interferes with the right of school-aged citizen children of TPS beneficiaries to reside in the country. The young citizens would have to choose whether to leave the country or to remain without their parents.