Alleged Salvadoran War Criminal Found Living in Boston Suburb
“A former Salvadoran government minister accused of colluding in the infamous killing of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador two decades ago has been living a quiet life in a modest apartment building in Everett, says a human rights group pursuing a legal case against him.”
That’s the lead paragraph of a recent front-page article by Mark Arsenault in The Boston Globe. Inocente Orlando Montano (third from the left above) has apparently been living in Everett, a Boston suburb, for years – though the day after the reporter’s unsuccessful attempt to interview him, his name had been removed from the mailbox of his apartment.
I’ll get back to this important case below, but wanted first to comment on an aspect not discussed by Arsenault: the fact that throughout the United States, in virtually every community that is host to immigrants from politically oppressed and war-torn countries, there are perpetrators of abuse and torture living among those they have victimized.
The incident for which Montano is now being sought received internation attention, and its direct victims are dead, but they had friends and family members and, as a high-ranking officer in a regime whose first options of choice were assassination and torture, he is unquestionably responsible for many more. And he’s not the only one; he’s probably not even the only one in the Boston area, now home to thousands of immigrants from El Salvador.
What must it be like to know that any day you could turn the corner in your new community and come face to face with someone responsible for the murder of your parents or your children? What must it be like to know that one of the faces you pass on the street might be the face that was behind the mask of your torturer?
During the interviewing for our forthcoming documentary, Refuge: Caring for Survivors of Torture, some of the professionals we spoke with mentioned that they sometimes encounter or hear about people who were perpetrators living in the communities they serve. Some have even had to help clients deal with the trauma of encountering a person who was responsible for harming them or their family. It was obviously a troubling issue, and not one I had thought about before, but it didn’t come up again in any of our interviews with survivors themselves.
Or so I thought until months later, going through the typed transcripts of the dozens of interviews we conducted, I found something I had totally missed:
He was a survivor who had already told us a disturbing and emotionally draining story (for all of us) about torture and murder in his home country. Now he had moved on to a kind of long, rambling narrative about life in the U.S., and I just wasn’t getting the point. Maybe I was emotionally drained and not paying close enough attention. I wondered if he was just wrapping up – letting us know, in his own way, that the interview was over.
Months later, when I read and re-read the interview transcript, I realized that — in the midst of describing his long struggle to adjust to life in America — he had actually also been telling me that he encountered one of the men responsible for the death of his family members, a man who was now living in the same neighborhood.
I think I’m a pretty good interviewer, but in this case I think I just wasn’t ready to hear what I was hearing.
So, back to the El Salvador story: Montano was located through the efforts of the San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability. Together with a Spanish group, the Center filed the lawsuit in the Spanish courts which has led to recent indictments and extradition orders against twenty former Salvadoran military officers.
Their case is based on events of November 16, 1989, during the country’s Civil War. Elite Salvadoran troops, under orders from Montano and other officers, invaded the University of Central America and murdered six Jesuit priests who were faculty members there, along with their housekeeper and her daughter. The six priests, associated with the Liberation Theology movement, had advocated peaceful negotiations to end the war and were therefore considered subversives.
A 1993 UN “truth commission” on the case named Montano as one of the leaders who participated in planning the assassination of the University’s rector, Father Ignacio Ellacuria. The troops (trained, as has been frequently noted, at the U.S.A.’s School of the Americas) were told to leave no witnesses, according to the UN report.
Spanish Judge Eloy Velasco issued arrest warrants for the men on May 31, 2011, under the principle of Universal Jurisdiction as well as “a preexisting extradition treaty with El Salvador and allegations of foul play in the original trial proceedings,” according to a commentary on the case by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. Five of the six priests had Spanish citizenship.
Nine of the 20 former military accused of planning or participating in the murders are now fighting extradition to Spain, according to Alex Renderos of the Los Angeles Times. After learning of the Spanish indictments, the nine men voluntarily turned themselves in to military authorities rather than be arrested by civilian police, presumably expecting – based on past experience – that they would be protected by their former colleagues. In an unexpected turnaround, however, military officials turned them over to the civilian court which handles extradition cases. (A tenth suspect, former army chief of staff Rene Emilio Ponce who was accused of ordering the murders, died in May, before the indictments were issued, according to the National Security Archive and other sources.
According to Renderos, another accused officer, Hector Ulises Ocampo was living in San Mateo, California until recently, “but some believe he was placed under witness protection by the U.S. government and moved elsewhere.” There are reports that other perpetrators are also living, so far safely, in the United States.
Additional Sources: Another pretty good discussion of Universal Jurisdiction is available on Wikipedia. For more information and further links about this case, see the Center for Justice and Accountability website . For background information about Father Ignacio Martín-Baró, one of the six murdered Jesuits, see this prior post or the website of the Ignacio Martín-Baró Fund for Mental Health & Human Rights.
(In AP photo at top, from left: Col. Rene Emilio Ponce (died earlier this year), former Defense Minister Rafael Humberto Larios, Col. Inocente Orlando Montano, and Col. Juan Orlando Zepeda.)Complicity in Apartheid Torture