Montano jailed pending trial for El Salvador Jesuit murders

This week has seen important developments in the case against perpetrators of the 1989 murder of six Jesuit priests and two women in El Salvador.

On Wednesday 74 year old former El Salvadorean government security minister Inocente Orlando Montano was extradited to Spain from the United States.  On Thursday he appeared before a Spanish magistrate in Madrid, who ordered that he be jailed while awaiting trial for alleged involvement in the 1989 murders. 

Montano faces charges of terrorist murder and crimes against humanity in the killings of Fr Ignacio Ellacuria SJ and four other Spanish Jesuits. Another Jesuit, their housekeeper and her daughter were also killed in a case that sparked international outrage.

Fr Ellacuria was at the time the dean of José Simeón Cañas Central American University (UCA El Salvador) in San Salvador. El Salvador was in the grip of a brutal civil war between 1980 and 1992 which the UN estimates led to death of 75,000 and thousands more civilians who ‘disappeared’.  Fr Ellacuria was brokering a peace deal in the latter years of the war.

Montano has denied involvement in the killings. His Spanish lawyer, Antonio Alberca, requested on Thursday that he be freed on medical grounds because of his weak condition having suffered bladder cancer. The former colonel arrived at the National Court in Madrid by ambulance and appeared before magistrate Manuel Garcia-Castellon in a wheelchair.  But the judge upheld a 2011 decision to jail Montano, saying there was a risk that he would attempt to flee.

The magistrate said that the Spanish investigations showed that Montano “took an active part in the decision and design of the assassinations” as one of the leading members of La Tandona, a group of 20 Salvadoran military officers.  He allegedly attended a key meeting in which a decision was made to murder Ellacuria on the following day and, “to make sure that there were no witnesses.”

In 2011, a Spanish court ruled against members of the Salvadoran military finding them guilty of murder, terrorism, and crimes against humanity. The authorities in El Salvador have refused extradition requests from Spain to bring other perpetrators to justice, in part owing to the application of an amnesty law in 1993 which has since been declared unconstitutional.

Montano has served time in prison in the United States for immigration fraud and perjury. 

Please play for the repose of the souls of the eight El Salvador martyrs:

• Ignacio Ellacuría SJ.
• Ignacio Martín-Baró SJ
• Segundo Montes SJ
• Juan Ramón Moreno SJ
• Joaquín López y López SJ
• Amando López SJ
• Elba Ramos, their housekeeper
• Celina Ramos, her sixteen-year-old daughter

Read more about the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador on Thinking Faith.