El Salvador ex-solder convicted in Jesuit murders arrested in US

A former El Salvador army officer convicted over the 1989 murder of six Jesuit priests and two other people has been arrested in the US and faces deportation after illegally entering the country.

The San Jose Mercury News reports that the killings sparked international outrage and tarnished the image of US anti-communism efforts in the region after it was found that some of the soldiers involved had received training at the former School of the Americas operated by the US military at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Federal agents acting on a tip arrested Gonzalo Guevara Cerritos, 43, last week at a motel near the University of California, Los Angeles. He illegally entered the country in January 2005, according to a statement from the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

He was being held at a detention facility in Lancaster pending a deportation hearing next month, a government spokeswoman said.

"We will not allow the United States to be a place of refuge for aliens seeking to escape a violent criminal past," Robert Schoch, special agent in charge of the ICE office of investigations in Los Angeles, said in a statement. "Removing human rights violators and other persecutors from the United States is one of ICE's top enforcement priorities."

Hector Hugo Herrera, El Salvador's consul general in Los Angeles, said the deportation wouldn't mean much to Salvadorans because Cerritos had served his prison sentence and had been given amnesty in 1993.

"This is just like any other case of an El Salvadoran being deported," said Herrera.

The 12-year civil war in El Salvador, which cost the lives of some 75,000 people, ended in 1992.

Guevara Cerritos was a sub-lieutenant with the Salvadoran army's counterinsurgency Atlacatl Battalion during that country's bloody civil war.

He and eight other officers and soldiers were convicted of involvement in the 1989 killing of six priests, their cook and her teenage daughter at a university in the capital city of El Salvador. Jesuits had called for a peaceful, negotiated end to the war and some in the army considered them to be subversives, along with union and human rights activists.

Jose Ortega, director of the San Francisco-based SHARE Foundation, a faith-based group that does social work in El Salvador, said the case is a reminder to the country that those who ordered the killings were still largely unknown.

"The people behind the crime were never convicted," said Ortega. "The lower level military was just taking orders. If you didn't follow orders at that time you could be killed."

Ex-Salvadoran soldier convicted in priest massacre found in U.S. (San Jose Mercury News, 26/10/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
El Salvador Martyrs, 10th Anniversary, Creighton University
Jesuit Portal

Archbishop slams ruling on Jesuit murder enquiry (CathNews, 10/4/00)

27 Oct 2006