El Salvador’s Archbishop, José Luis Escobar Alas, commended President Mauricio Funes yesterday for his decision to award the country’s highest honor to six Jesuit priests assassinated by the army in 1989—an event that sparked international outrage and helped lead to the war’s end three years later. At a press conference held yesterday in San Salvador, Archbishop Escobar Alas said, “We, as a Church, sincerely see these gestures as a sign of reconciliation, of unity and peace.”
A week ago today—on the twentieth anniversary of their deaths—Funes presented the families of the priests with the National Order of José Matias Delgado. “For me, this act means [we] pull back a heavy veil of darkness and lies to let in the light of justice and truth,” Funes said. “We begin to cleanse our house of this recent history.”
In surprise comments, Minister of Defense David Munguia Payes said that the army would also cooperate in investigations into the deaths if ordered to by the government. Reversing long-standing army policy, the minister resolutely commented: “If the government asks me to open the archives, I will do it.”
The assassinations were carried out by the Salvadoran army on November 16, 1989, at the University of Central America in San Salvador. One of the priests, Ignacio Ellacuria, was a follower of liberation theology and advocated for justice on behalf of the poor. The 12-year civil war, which left nearly 75,000 dead, was brought to an end with a peace accord signed in 1992.