El Salvador On Amnesty
The amnesty granted in El Salvador after the Truth Commission's report was made public is an affront to justice. The capricious, non-consensual, indiscriminate promulgation of the amnisty law will do nothing to reconcile Salvadoran society.
José María Tojeira
In the wake of a civil war lasting more than a decade, few in El Salvador question the need for mechanisms providing for legal pardon. Yet the capricious, indiscriminate, nonconsensual and apparently illegal nature of the recently promulgated amnesty law leads one to see it as a mockery of justice that does everything except facilitate reconciliation in Salvadoran society.
Death Sentence for the PoorThe amnesty law is, first and foremost, an offense to El Salvador's poor. It reaffirms the sense that the lives of the poor hold neither value nor interest for the country. It is more important to avoid shaming a military officer by making him face his crimes, even if they are finally pardoned, than to compensate the memory of innocent victims. The more than 100 children murdered in cold blood at Mozote weren't worth even a request for official forgiveness by the institution responsible for the massacre. It is an attempt to force the poor to forget the past so that a very few people in power do not have to assume the slightest responsibility for such brutal crimes.
ARENA, the governing party in El Salvador, very recently called for the broadening of the death penalty to cover certain kinds of common crimes. Thus is a terrible injustice committed. The common criminals affected by the law those guilty of institutional corruption remain untouchable are overwhelmingly people of scarce resources who have taken the path of crime as a consequence of the environment of poverty and violence generated by the war. Those who have committed political or "related" crimes are generally educated and come from wealthy and powerful families; they were entrusted with upholding a Constitutional order that was never respected. For them, the government asks that people completely forget their crimes and offer them wholesale absolution from any type of responsibility for the crimes committed.
The approved amnesty law has clearly illegal aspects: Article 244 of the Salvadoran Constitution states that, during the presidential term in which he or she serves, no government official can be given amnesty for crimes committed. If we take into account that all the military officers with the rank of colonel are government officials, it becomes clear that the current amnesty law is trying to ensure that, among others, the ten colonels mentioned in the case of the Jesuits are not brought to justice. Since they committed these crimes during the presidential term of Alfredo Cristiani, the amnesty law violates at least the spirit if not directly the letter of the Constitution.
Serious ContradictionsThus serious contradictions will surely arise. While the government wraps itself in the protective cloak of the Constitution to avoid complying with the Truth Commission's recommendations, it issues new laws in open violation of the Constitution. And we are not even speaking yet of the violation of the right first the human right and then the Constitutional to life, which has been violated and in the face of which the government is attempting to assert, with the amnesty law, that "nothing happened here," but of an entire concrete paragraph of the Salvadoran Constitution that it has calmly and superficially disregarded.
To justify this amnesty law, the Salvadoran government has turned to public lies and to the systematic manipulation of information. It has launched sophisticated campaigns within the country to undermine the prestige of the three commissioners who sat on the Truth Commission. These campaigns are orchestrated by media such as El Diario de Hoy, among others, which served in earlier times to prepare the terrain for the assassinations of Monsignor Romero, the Jesuits at the UCA and so many others who were murdered for daring to think in a manner different from the tyrants of El Salvador.
Members of various state powers have slandered and insulted the commissioners who wrote up the Truth Commission report. Not once have they responded to the report, titled "From Insanity to Hope," with even a minimal effort to investigate and clarify the grey areas left by the text for example, those referring to the death squads. On the contrary, the government has preferred instead to attack the commissioners, close its eyes to the truth and denigrate any and everything that would lend credibility to the report. In the face of the report's internal consistency, the government party has reacted with arrogance and the contempt for truth that one sees in a gang leader who runs his turf with an iron hand.
Some government officials have insisted upon the amnesty law as a Christian duty. In light of the Christian duty to construct a modus vivendi based on justice and later visit the jails and the jailed in which the current government has shown absolutely no interest the government wants to convince us that forgetting the deepest human values is a virtue. We must forget that the war animalizes human souls, we must forget the rational custom of publicly asking pardon for public crimes, we must forget the moral teachings that tell us that those with public responsibilities have a greater responsibility to society.
And this governmental attitude does not come as a reaction to a vengeful position, or to an irrational search for compensation. All of us in El Salvador speak of the need to search for rational mechanisms of legal pardon, of assuring peaceful coexistence for the future, of constructing a new society, where war and its causes are banished a society based on a process of truth, justice and forgiveness. At this moment, there are not two "extremes" in El Salvador. There is simply a longing for authentic reconciliation and, at the same time, an attempt by the government to bury the truth in oblivion.
A Mechanism for PardonInjustice, violation of laws, lies... All of this, and for what? There are only two logical responses, neither of which excludes the other. Either there is clear subordination to the scoundrels indicated in the report, or there is complicity with them.
The alternative to amnesty and the tense situation it has brought about continues to be what we have been saying for some time now: we must deepen our search for truth in order to change attitudes and structures that harm all Salvadorans. It is of great importance that justice be done so that society is able, through its institutions, to officially and formally sanction the crimes that have been committed, thus avoiding the risk that these crimes be repeated. In this respect, we proposed the confession, before a judge, of the crime committed, so that some kind of pardon could later be granted. There should also be mechanisms for legal pardon so that in this small country, where personal issues have such an influence on institutional operations, we can coexist and build, without trauma, a new democratic and participatory society, especially attentive to the serious needs of the impoverished majority, and with a full state of law. Faithful compliance with the Truth Commission's recommendations would offer an excellent path towards what we propose.