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El Salvador's Death Squads: New Evidence from U.S. Documents

March 7, 1994 | Report

By Lauren Gilbert

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In October and November of 1993, a rash of killings in El Salvdor of ranking members of the former rebel movement, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), threatened to undermine El Salvador's hard-won peace and threw into doubt the likelihood of free and fair elections. Concerned that the whole peace process could unravel, and for the personal safety of their members, high-ranking officials of the FMLN met with United Nations officials to request an immediate investigation into the violence. In November, U.N. undersecretary Marrack Goulding made a special visit to El Salvador to investigate and U.N. secretary-general Boutros Boutros-Ghali called for an "impartial, independent and credible" investigation into illegal armed groups, as had been recommended by the U.N. Truth Commission on El Salvador.

After weeks of difficult negotiations in early December, President Alfredo Cristiani finally agreed to the formation of a Joint Group whose mandate would be to investigate illegal armed groups and their possible involvement with political violence during the two-year period since the signing of the peace accords.(1) Although the signatories to the accords and the United Nations recognized the implications of the recent violence for the ability to hold free and fair elections, they also acknowledged that a full-scale investigation could tell against ARENA, the ruling party linked to death-squad activities in the past, and could even destabilize the political process by eliciting a violent response from ultra-rightist groups. Thus, it was agreed that the Joint Group's report would not be released until after the elections.

The Center for International Policy has carried out its own investigation of Salvadoran death squads based on twelve thousand previously- classified documents released by the Clinton administration last November in response to a request from Congress. The documents released by the State Department, Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Department shed new light on what the U.S. government knew about the structure, operation and financing of death squads from the late 1970s and into the 1990s.

Cables and reports from the U.S. embassy in San Salvador reveal the involvement of high-ranking members of the armed forces and of ARENA in the planning and operation of death-squad activities in El Salvador throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s. Moreover, documents from 1990 link such activities, including a plot to oust President Cristiani, to top officials of the ARENA government and armed forces, including, among others, Vice-President Francisco Merino, supreme-court president Mauricio Gutierrez Castro, Col. Sigifredo Ochoa Perez, General Juan Orlando Bustillo, and Col. Francisco Elena Fuentes.

U.S. documents paint a vivid and disturbing picture of the roots of right- wing terrorism in El Salvador, of the role of ARENA in creating civilian paramilitary structures, and of the involvement of high-ranking members of the armed forces in death-squad activities. Although this report focuses on civilian death squads and in particular on the ARENA paramilitary structure, which worked in close coordination with the intelligence units of the security forces and the military, U.S. documents also suggest that throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s death squads were also being run out of the security and military forces.(2) These groups usually operated out of the S-2 intelligence units and frequently involved civilians in some capacity.(3) Although this report focuses on the role of the ultra-right and in particular the ARENA party in sponsoring violence in El Salvador, we do not wish to downplay the very important role of military institutions in death-squad activities.

This report bases its analysis of the historical antecedents of the current political violence on the documents themselves, which include embassy cable traffic as well as finished reports prepared by analysts. Some of the information in these reports may be inaccurate; moreover, some sources may have provided false information. Nonetheless, the documents reflect that U.S. government agencies possessed extensive knowledge, much of it conclusive, on death-squad operations and those involved in such activities at the planning, financing and operational levels.

Origins of death-squad activity in El Salvador The paramilitary organization created by D'Aubuisson, wealthy civilians and former and active members of the military finds its origins in what the CIA called El Salvador's "long history of using violence as a political tool, perhaps marked most vividly by the widespread repression and murder of campesinos following the failed peasant rebellion in 1932."(4) The organizational precursor is the National Democratic Organization (ORDEN), a government-sponsored group created in 1966 to counter a surge of political activity among peasants and urban workers. According to a March 18, 1981 CIA report, ORDEN

was comprised of tens of thousands of conservative rural peasants and served as a tool of the landed elites. It included many former armed forces personnel who were part of the nation's reserve force, the Territorial Service. [Until its official dissolution in 1979] ORDEN served principally as an intelligence gathering organization -- identifying and taking direct action against real and suspected enemies of the regime.(5)

ORDEN was created under the direction of Col. Jose Alberto ("Chele") Medrano, the ultra-right former chief of the National Guard, father of the intelligence agency ANSESAL (also dissolved in 1979 at the time of the reformist military coup), and mentor to Major Roberto D'Aubuisson, who was number three at ANSESAL at the time of its dissolution.

ANSESAL dates back to the Special Intelligence Agency formed in 1962 by Colonel Medrano. This agency was transferred from the ministry of defense to the presidential palace in 1965, where it became the Salvadoran Intelligence Agency. In 1967, the ANSESAL name was adopted and its head served as close adviser to the president on internal security matters. Its principal task was to collect intelligence on leftist groups and their activities. Its operations section conducted interrogations and investigations, worked in counterintelligence and propaganda, and exchanged information with the National Guard, the National Police, and ORDEN. According to a variety of sources, D'Aubuisson stole the files of ANSESAL at the time of his own departure in 1979, and used the information in these files to plan and carry out terrorist activities. ORDEN, whose basic structure remained intact despite its official dissolution, would serve as a network for local paramilitary groups throughout the country.

Origins of ARENA The Nationalist Republican Alliance, better known as ARENA, was "founded in 1981 by Roberto D' Aubuisson -- a former Army intelligence officer who was cashiered by the military following the 1979 coup."(6) According to a 1985 CIA intelligence assessment, "Behind ARENA's legitimate exterior lies a terrorist network led by D'Aubuisson henchmen and funded by wealthy Salvadoran expatriates residing in Guatemala and the United States."(7) U.S. documents demonstrate that at the time of its formation, ARENA was first and foremost a paramilitary organization. Even as it built itself into a modern political party, it never lost its paramilitary character, even though some of its members, including President Cristiani, sought to distance themselves from its more violent tendencies.

In May 1980, at a farmhouse in Santa Tecla, government troops arrested a group of twenty-four individuals, consisting of wealthy civilians and active and retired military officers, including Major D'Aubuisson, Major Roberto Mauricio Staben, Captain Alvaro Saravia, Lt. Rodolfo Lopez Sibrian, Antonio Cornejo, Ricardo Valdivieso, and others connected to the far right. According to U.S. documents,

At the time of the arrest, documents were seized, apparently belonging to D' Aubuisson, which give clear indication of rightist coup plotting, including a proposal for a new junta...(8)

Among the documents seized was the notebook of Alvaro Saravia, which included notations indicating the involvement of members of this group in the murder of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero and in other paramilitary activities. Yet despite the evidence against the coup plotters, they were released within days, and D'Aubuisson fled the country, where he proceeded to raise money and international support for his political party the Broad National Front, the predecessor to ARENA.

During this time, D'Aubuisson received tactical and financial support from wealthy Salvadorans living in exile. According to a State Department cable from December 1980, one reliable source had indicated that "a group of four Salvadorans living in Guatemala provided support for much of the rightist terrorist activity that occurs here." The group consisted of Roberto D'Aubuisson, Col. Eduardo Iraheta Gonzalez Suvillaga, Col. Eulalio Santivanez, and Col. Eduardo Melendez. According to the source, D'Aubuisson "maintains direct contact with Minister of Defense Garcia," headed the "Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez Anti-Communist Brigade" and was "responsible for creating some of the country's leading death squads."(9)

Miami also provided a critical link to death-squad activities. In January 1981 a "highly respected Salvadoran lawyer" informed Ambassador Robert White and Deputy Chief of Mission Mark Dion "that a group of six Salvadoran millionaire emigres in Miami have directed and financed rightwing death squads here for nearly a year," and that they were threatening other businesspeople who did not cooperate with their political plan. According to the source, this group of six "enormously wealthy former landowners who lost great estates in Phase I of the agrarian reform" had the following strategy:

To rebuild the country on a new foundation it must first be destroyed totally, the economy must be wrecked, unemployment must be massive, the Junta must be ousted and a "good" military officer brought to power who will carry out a total "limpeza" [sic] (cleansing), killing three or four or five hundred thousand people, whatever it takes to get rid of all the communists and their allies.(10)

D'Aubuisson also traveled to South America during this period to seek support for his activities. A memorandum from the U.S. embassy in Argentina from January 5, 1981 recounts a conversation with an Argentine intelligence agent who reported that D'Aubuisson had been in Buenos Aires, where he received "substantial financial support from rightist civilians in Argentina."(11)

It was during this period that ARENA was born as a political party, some say with the support of U.S. advisers in Miami and the U.S. Congress. Wealthy civilians and members of the military realized that in the new political climate, marked by U.S. pressure for "free and fair elections," a party was needed to represent their interests at the political level.(12)

D'Aubuisson returned to El Salvador and helped found ARENA in September 1981. The new party went on to win the 1982 election for the Constituent Assembly, to vie unsuccessfully for the presidency in 1984, and finally, to win the presidency in 1989 after a change in image.(13)

The ARENA death squad and its military connection In their October 1983 "Selective Study on Death Squads," the CIA and the State Department describe in detail the structure and operation of the ARENA death squad:

The paramilitary organization of the National First Republcian Alliance Party (ARENA) ... was organized and is directed by Dr. Pedro [sic] Regalado Cuellar ... the Chief of Security at the Constituent Assembly. The group's activities are undertaken with the knowledge and approval of ARENA leader and Constituent Assembly President Roberto D'Aubuisson. This squad has most recently used the name "Secret Anti-Communist Party" (ESA) in order to have a public front for issuing communiques and threatening people while convering the true source of the violence...

Membership in ARENA's death squad varies between 10 and 20 individuals, composed of members of the military, the National Police, the Treasury Police and selected civilians. The group engages in assassination, kidnapping, torture and political intimidation. Their primary targets are the revolutionary left and members of the Christian Democratic Party (PDC), their principal competitors for political power. The operatives see themselves as vigilantes whose purpose is to protect El Salvador in ways that the Army cannot since their orders "tie their hands in the fights against the guerrillas." On a political level the Arenistas see civil unrest as advantageous for their party. They perceive the Christian Democratic Party as an enemy of their party almost equal to the guerrillas...(14)

The study goes on to describe how ARENA's paramilitary organization occasionally operated in coordination with a death squad composed primarily of members of the National Police, and how the National Police would provide weapons to support ARENA paramilitary operations.(15) Specifically, it describes the involvement of Rene Emilio Ponce in death- squad activities in the early 1980s:

Also supportive of ARENA death squad activities and himself a member of the National Police paramilitary squad is Ltc. Rene Emilio Ponce, director of the National Police Traffic Department. Ponce has provided assistance to Regalado and his team in the acquisition and documentation of vehicles used in terrorist activities.(16)

Ponce, the head of the Tandona, the powerful military class of 1966, would later go on to become chief of staff of the Salvadoran armed forces and later minister of defense, and be implicated by the Truth Commission in the murder of the six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter.

In 1983, another source provided the U.S. embassy with a chilling account of how death-squad operations were planned, financed and executed. According to the source, these right-wing death squads, which were all connected to D'Aubuisson's group,

get their orders from paymasters in the Sol family ... younger members of the de Sola family and some members of the National Association of Businessmen (ANEP) ... The chain of command then proceeds to death-masters like [deleted] [who] have contacts with retired officers who go around to the different security forces as "black bag" men, paying off and recruiting likely footsoldiers. The latter are recruited at the lower and even middle levels (captains and majors) of the different security forces. Death squad hitmen thus recruited are on the receiving end of a vertical hierarchy leading up to the paymasters (whom the footsoldiers do not know...).(17)

U.S. documents present substantial evidence indicating the involvement of the security forces, including the National Police, the National Guard, and the Treasury Police in death-squad activities throughout the 1980s and linking such activity to ARENA. Yet during this period, the U.S. government publicly claimed that death-squad activities were attributable to right-wing extremists rather than to the government itself. Although it acknowledged that certain members of the armed forces and security forces may have been linked ot death squad activities, it denied institutional responsibility. U.S. documents demonstrate, however, that high-ranking members of the security forces and the military were involved in such activities.

For example, in 1983, Captain Eduardo Alfonso Avila, a close associate of Roberto D'Aubuisson who had been implicated in both the assassination of Archbishop Romero in March 1980 and in the killings at the Sheraton Hotel in January 1981 of two U.S. labor advisors and the head of ISTA, the Salvadoran land reform program, made a clandestine visit to El Salvador that caught the attention of the U.S. intelligence community. Although legally subject to arrest on charges of desertion, Captain Avila returned with the aid of sympathizers in the immigration service and "lived under the protection of the National Guard." According to the 1983 State Department/CIA briefing paper:

Among the visitors Avila received on this trip were Roberto D'Aubuisson, Ltc. Roberto Straben, probably member of the rightist death squad "White Warrior Union," Maj. Enzo Guillermo Rubio, National Police Chief in Santa Ana, Ltc. Aristides Marquez, head of the National Police death squad, Cpt. Rafael Lopez Davila, supervisor of the National Police Secret Prison, Cpt. Francisco Moran Recinos, Treasury Police officer, Ltc. Joaquin Zacapa, Executive Officer of Military Detachment 6 (the unit involved in the Las Hojas massacre), Ltc. Rene Emilio Ponce, National Police death squad member, Lt. Rodolfo Isidor Lopez Sibrian, who along with Avila ordered the killings in the Sheraton murders, Ltc. Mario Denis Moran, leader of recently organized death squad in the armed forces engineering center (which may use the name General Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez Anti-Communist Brigade). The visitors probably all represent major elements of the right-wing terrorist subculture of El Salvador.(18)

As these documents indicate, throughout the 1980s, ARENA often acted as an umbrella organization for a diversity of death squads, including those operating out of the security forces, to tie the work of these distinct paramilitary groups together under a unified political plan. A 1985 CIA Intelligence Assessment report noted "the broad sponsorship for rightwing terrorism by ARENA." It noted that the methods used often suggested a nationwide capability. There was substantial evidence of a working relationship with the security forces and among clandestine organizations, many of which were believed to have direct links to D'Aubuisson and the ARENA paramilitary structure, such as the Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez Anti-Communist Brigade, the Secret Anti-Communist Army (ESA), and the White Warriors' Union.(19) According to one source:

The ESA is just one of the heads of the same hydra. There are similar groups througout the nation, including the Anti-communist Salvadoran Guild (GAS) and the ESA in Central El Salvador. They are really all controlled by the same paymasters: the appearance of fractiousness is a ploy to give the impression of multifocal responsibility and mass participation. Sometimes, Major D'Aubuisson will give an order directly; otherwise, party underlings who are D'Aubuisson's social superiors ... take the initiative themselves.(20)

Visit by Vice-President Bush In late November of 1983, in the face of growing violence by right-wing paramilitary groups and army death squads and increased evidence of a Miami connection, the director of the FBI initiated a formal investigation "regarding a group of individuals operating out of Miami who are purportedly furnishing funds and weapons to so-called death squads in El Salvador." In early December, State Department political officer Todd Greentree traveled to Miami to discuss right-wing activities with two groups of wealthy Salvadorans. Two of the sources were supporters of Jose Alberto Medrano, who Greentree described as the 'Godfather' of such rightist officers as ex-Major Roberto D'Aubuisson, Lt. Col. Mauricio Staben, ex-Maj. Guillermo Roeder and ex-Col. Ramon Gonzalez Suvillaga." According to Greentree:

All sources stated that ARENA members are directing Death Squad activities in association with Security Force members. They name [excised] as the key ARENA figures ... They assume that members of the Security Forces are collaborating, at least at a low level ... None of the sources was willing or able to name members of the Armed Forces or the Miami expatriate community who might be involved in extreme rightist activity. Sources agreed that younger wealthy individuals are probably involved in ARENA-sponsored violence on their own.(21)

It was in this context that Vice-President George Bush, accompanied by Col. Oliver North, made his notable visit to El Salvador in December 1983, bringing with him a list of officers and civilians involved in death squad activities. In meetings with President Magana and top military leaders, Bush stressed that the Reagan administration would seek an increase in U.S. assistance for the war effort only if the Salvadoran government and military took immediate steps to address the death squad problem. He insisted that certain military and civilians linked to such activities be assigned abroad, called for the arrest of Captain Avila, and demanded that others be arrested and prosecuted.(22)

Although President Magana promised the U.S. embassy that measures would be taken to comply with these recommendations, one month after Bush's visit the CIA said, "Efforts by the civilian government and military high command to crack down on right-wing violence seemed aimed almost exclusively at placating Washington."(23) It went on to describe how measures to transfer two police intelligence officers abroad had been offset

by their replacement with ultrarightist officers, one of whom is a leader of a police death squad. Moreover, in the course of recent general orders, several other notorious right-wing extremists have been assigned to prestigious commands. These included Lieutenant Colonels Moran, Zepeda, Zacapa, Ponce, and Staben -- all close associates of ultrarightist standard-bearer Roberto D'Aubuisson and his Nationalist Republican Alliance.(24)

Paramilitary activities continue Although death-squad-style killings declined following Bush's visit in 1983, U.S. documents indicate that death squads continued to operate in El Salvador throughout the eighties. Less than six months following Bush's visit, U.S. General Vernon Walters met with Roberto D'Aubuisson to inform him that President Reagan "was greatly disturbed by what he believed to be absolutely reliable information that ARENA people are plotting to assassinate Ambassador Pickering and others." In February 1985, the CIA concluded that in spite of official efforts to discourage extremist activities, death-squad structures remained intact, and ARENA continued to contribute to the violence. As one report indicated:

Ultrarightist standard bearer Roberto D'Aubuisson and members of his Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) coopeprate with and direct some terrorist groups. Although we perceive ARENA's internal terrorist network to be one component of the much broader phenomenon of rightist violence in El Salvador, the party's attitudes and goals probably influence extremist perspectives in general, and by extension, help determine the prospects for resurgent violence ..."(25)

In a case that came close to unveiling the structure and operation of death- squad activities in El Salvador, in March and April of 1986, high-ranking members of ARENA and the military closely associated with Roberto D'Aubuisson were implicated in a kidnapping-for-profit ring. The ring was not a death squad per se in that the kidnappers did not kill their victims. Moreover, the victims were not suspected subversives, but rather wealthy Salvadorans, often with links to ARENA. Nonetheless, its modus operandi bore a striking resemblance to that of the death squads: the kidnappers pretended to belong to the FMLN, the arms and vehicles used belonged to the army, and an alliance existed between civilians and members of the military. Moreover, many of those implicated in the ring had been associated with death-squad activity in the past.

On March 30, in connection with one of these kidnappings, Orlando Llovera Ballete, the father-in-law of Lopez Sibrian, was arrested, interrogated and began to talk. He named several civilians and military officers linked to D'Aubuisson, including Antonio Cornejo Arango, who had also been implicated in the assassination plot against Pickering, Col. Carlos Alejandro Zacapa Butter, executive officer of the Cavalry Regiment, and Major Jose Alfredo Jimenez Moreno, former intelligence officer of the Fifth Brigade.(26) Col. Roberto Mauricio Staben, a member of the Tandona, the powerful military class to which Ponce belonged, and Joaquin Zacapa were also implicated in the case.(27) Several individuals were detained in connection with the case. Although initially, the military leadership indicated that they would accept disciplinary measures against their colleagues, several weeks later, representatives of the Tandona informed President Duarte that "it would not be possible to prosecute Staben for involvement in the kidnap ring" due to a lack of sufficient evidence.(28)

This case is notable in that even the most powerful sectors of society were unable to obtain justice against this group of powerful civilians and military officers. Eventually the case was dropped against most of the defendants, but not before several individuals died under unusual circumstances, including Sigifredo Perez Linares, one of the leaders of the death squads operating out of the National Police, who died in police custody. Joaquin Zacapa, Carlos "Sandi" Zacapa, and Victor Antonio Cornejo Arango became fugitives from justice. Only Lopez Sibrian is serving time for his participation in the ring.

In 1988, members of ARENA also were implicated in an attempt to thwart the extradition to El Salvador of Alvaro Saravia for his role in the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero. Saravia, a former air force officer, was among those captured at the farmhouse in Santa Tecla in 1980, and the owner of the famous notebook which indicated the involvement of wealthy civilians and members of the military in paramilitary activities. The U.S. government had speculated that D'Aubuisson's circle of associates was connected to Saravia's defense. Then, in August 1988, Saravia's U.S. attorney presented to the U.S. court an opinion to overturn the arrest warrant against Saravia, which he represented as coming from the Salvadoran Supreme Court. In fact, it was the draft of an advisory opinion by a civilian lawyer appointed as administrative judge, and had been telefaxed from the offices of Mariscos Tazumal, a shrimp-fishing company whose board of directors included such notables as D'Aubuisson, Victor Antonio Cornejo Arango, Lt. Col. Joaquin Zacapa, and Lt. Carlos "Sandi" Zacapa. As the October 1988 State Department cable indicates:

The Mariscos Tazumal fax identification clearly links the Saravia defense to an entire realm of coup plotters, death squad chiefs, kidnappers, baby robbers, mad bombers, car thieves, and other assorted criminals. None, however, has ever been convicted, and prosecution is unlikely as long as D'Aubuisson and his backers are free to manipulate the Salvadoran judicial system.(29)

The extradition effort was ultimately unsuccessful, but Alvaro Saravia would eventually provide the U.S. government with key information on death-squad activities. In addition to implicating D' Aubuisson, Eduardo Avila, and Ernesto Sagrera in the murder of Archbishop Romero, he also claimed that D'Aubuisson had ordered the kidnapping of Emilio Charur at a meeting held at the home of Armando Calderon Sol, ARENA's presidential candidate for the March 1994 elections.(30)

Can ARENA break with its violent past? Throughout the 1980s, right-wing death squads played a destabilizing role in Salvadoran politics. Although inactive (en reposo) during certain periods, death squads were reactivated when necessary to carry out ARENA's political plan. In October 1983, the CIA and the State Department, in their selective study on death squads, said the following about the political context in which the ARENA paramilitary organization was operating:

The Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) and its leader Roberto D'Aubuisson ... have consolidated their power and now feel able to act with relative impunity against those perceived to be enemies. At the same time, democratic competitors for power have improved their organization, expanded their political bases, and threaten ARENA's hold on power in the coming elections. Rightists also feel threatened by "liberal" political trends exemplified by the government's amnesty program, Salvadoran and U.S. government dialogue with guerrilla leaders and social/economic programs such as the agrarian reform, and in response they have instituted campaigns designed to dreail those programs, punish those implementing changes and intimidate others considering lending support to the programs.(31)

Today, ARENA has expanded to become the party of the right-wing private sector. Yet even after D'Aubuisson died in 1992, ultra-rightists who formed the party remain at its core.(32) U.S. docuemnts reveal that, as of mid-1990, members of ARENA close to D'Aubuisson were discussing ways to assassinate President Cristiani, who is viewed as a more moderate member of the party.(33) Such individuals included high-ranking civilians and former members of the military. Those directly implicated included D'Aubuisson, Vice-President Francisco Merino, and other wealthy Salvadorans, who allegedly would pay squad members and cover expenses. Francisco Merino recently denied any personal involvement in death-squad activities, while acknowledging that death squads were a reality in El Salvador.(34) Supreme-court president Mauricio Gutierrez Castro and Col. Sigifredo Ochoa were also implicated in the assassination plot as D'Aubuisson loyalists.(35)

Moreover, in December 1990, the State Department expressed serious concerns about reports of an intended revitalization of right-wing death squads, and about the participation of D'Aubuisson, Colonel Ochoa, Juan Bustillo, Elena Fuentes, and others in such an effort.(36) The cable indicates that the State Department had received disturbing allegations aobut the involvement of the ultra-right and the armed forces in such activities, including the Air Force, the First Brigade and the Treasury Police.

Although death squads can no longer operate with the same degree of impunity as they did in the early 1980s, the resurgence of death-squad activity at this critical juncture raises serious concerns for the survival of the peace accords. The FMLN's participation in the elections, the implementation of agrarian reforms, and the interntaional involvement in the peace process all pose a threat to ARENA's hold on power and could provoke a violent reaction from extremists.

Calderon Sol does not represent President Cristiani's more modern wing of the ARENA party. His close past relationship to D'Aubuisson and to the ultra- conservatives in the party raises serious concerns about his commitment ot the peace accords and to respect for human rights. In a recent Washington Post article by Douglas Farah, sources familiar with ARENA reported that the far right was regaining control and intended to eviscerate the peace accords. Its efforts reportedly were being aided by recently retired military officers.(37)

Recommendations for U.S. policy The bulk of the recently declassified U.S. documents on death-squad activities are from the early 1980s, largely because the death-squad cases investigated by the U.N. Truth Commission are from this period. Nonetheless, the scant information available from the late eighties and early nineties suggests that many of the smae people may still be involved in death-squad activities today, and that the close times between members of the armed forces and wealthy civilians persist. To the extent that U.S. documents cast light on those involved in current political violence, they may prevent a further loss of life.

In addition to those documents already declassified by the State Department, CIA and Department of Defense, the U.S. government should order the FBI to release the results of its investigations into Miami-based funding of death-squad activities in El Salvador, declassify documents of the Naional Security Council relating to this investigation and release further documentary evidence of death- squad activities in recent years. Finally, it should encourage the new Salvadoran government to prosecute those individuals, both civilian and military, implicated in the planning, financing and operation of death-squad activities. Only by proceeding against those involved at the highest levels in paramilitary activities can there by a lasting peace, respect for human rights, and an end to the impunity with which death squads continue to operate.

Lauren Gilbert was an investigator for the United Naions Truth Commission on El Salvador.

 

ENDNOTES

1. See Department of State, Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1993 (February 1994), pp. 433-34. 2. See also "Controlling Rightwing Terrorism," CIA, February 1985 ("In addition to the 6th Detachment in Sonsonate, other regular military units implicated, [excised] in abductions and death squad activities included components of the ARmy Signal Corps, the Air Force, and the 1st Brigade, all three located in San Salvador; the Cavalry Regiment in San Andres; the Artillery brigade in San Juan Opico; the Engineers Center in Zacatecoluca; the former 4th Infantry Detachment in Usulutan; and the 2nd Brigade in Santa Ana.") 3. See State Department, "Avila Case: Other leads on Romero Assassination," March 15, 1985 (discusses involvement of civilian cabal, which included Ricardo Sol Meza, Hans Christ, Arturo Mason, Ernesto Panama, Ricardo Paredes, and Federico Hill, in defining activities of intelligence section of National Guard, which was run by Denis Moran). 4. Report of the Central Intelligence Agency, March 19, 1981, p.3. 5. See CIA, "Controlling Rightwing Terror" (February 1985), p.6. 6. Ibid., p.4. 7. Ibid. 8. CIA, "Arrest of Rightist Coup Plotters," May 1980. 9. State Department, "Possible leads on Rightist Terrorist Activities," December 11, 1980. 10. See State Department, "Millionaires' Murder Inc.?" January 6, 1981. 11. State Department, "El Salvadoran Rightists Allegedly Receive Assistance of Argentine Right-wing Civilians," January 5, 1981, p.2. 12. See C. Norton, "The Hard Right: ARENA Comes to Power," in A Decade of War, eds. A. Sundaram and G. Gelber (CIIR: London, 1991), p. 199. See also Stanley, "Inter-Elite Confliict and State Terrorism in El Salvador," paper presented to the Latin American Studies Association, Crystal City, Va., April 4-6, 1991. 13. Ibid. But see CIA, "El Salvador: Rightist ARENA Party Election Frontrunner," March 14, 1989 ("We believe D'Aubuisson continues to be the most important policymaker in ARENA, although the jockeying between moderate and conservative factions will likely intensify if ARENA comes to power. D'Aubuisson's public deference to Cristiani is largely cosmetic in our view, calculated to put a better face on the party.") 14. CIA/State Department, "Briefing Paper on Right-wing Terrorism," October 27, 1983, pp.3-4. 15. Ibid, p.6. 16. Ibid. 17. State Department, "Renewed Threat from Extreme Right," September 16, 1983. 18. "Briefing Paper on Right-wing Terrorism," pp.6-7. 19. "Controling Rightwing Terrorism," p.11. 20. "Renewed Threat from Extreme Right," September 16, 1983. 21. State Department memorandum from Todd Greentree regarding meetings in Miami with Salvadoran oligarchs (December 1983). 22. State Department, "Vice President Bush's meetings with Salvadoran officials," December 14, 1983. 23. CIA, "El Salvador: Dealing with Death Squads," January 20, 1984, p.2. 24. Ibid. 25. CIA, "Controlling Rightwing Terrorism," p.iv. 26. "Kidnapping Case Threatens Duarte Government," April 2, 1986. 27. "Lopez Sibrian et al. Kidnapping CAse," April 5, 1986. 28. "Developments in Lopez Sibrian et al. Kidnap Case," April 1986. 29. State Department, "The Saravia Extradition and the D'Aubuisson Mafia," October 3, 1988, p.2. 30. Sttae Department, "Saravia Revelations," May 17, 1980. Although other cable traffic demonstrates close political ties between D'Aubuisson and Calderon Sol, this is the only document found that implicates Calderon Sol in paramilitary activities. 31. CIA/State Department, "Briefing Paper on Right-wing Terrorism," p.3. 32. See Norton, p.204. 33. See August 10, 1990 CIA cable. 34. See "El Salvador assails 'death squad' files," Miami Herald, November 12, 1993. As Minister of the Interior, Merino had direct contact with all ARENA- controlled townships and their municipal police forces. Under him, heading immigration, waaas Col. Maximiliano Leiva, who had worked in ANSESAL. See Norton, p.205. U.S. documents implicate Leiva in death squads operating out of the Air Force. See CIA, "Improvement of Human Rights Abuses by Salvadoran Airforce," march 18, 1991 ("The practice of dropping prisoners from FAES helicopters and airplanes was called 'night free fall training' and was common during Leiva's term at A-2 and A-3. In fact, Leiva earned a reputation as being to senior duty officer to see in order to get such activities approved.") 35. See "New Rightist Plots," CIA Assessment, June 28, 1990. See also "Lt. Col. Sigifredo Ochoa's First Weekend in the U.S.," State Department, February 18, 1983 (describes three-day meetings in Miami attended by early supporters of ARENA, including Roberto Daglio and members of the Fourteen Families, at which Ochoa and Gutierrez Castro were present). 36. State Department, "Resurgence of Death Squad Activity," December 22, 1990. 37. "Peace Process Sputtering," Washington Post, November 20, 1993.

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