Torture Victims in El Salvador Speak Out
Torture Victims in El Salvador Speak Out
By Edgardo Ayala
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[image: Salvadoran activists Carlos Santos (left) and Fabricio Sant�n
alongside a papier-m�ch� sculpture of a torture victim with a plastic bag �
�la capucha� - on his head. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS]
Salvadoran activists Carlos Santos (left) and Fabricio Sant�n alongside a
papier-m�ch� sculpture of a torture victim with a plastic bag � �la
capucha� - on his head. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS
SAN SALVADOR, Mar 21 2013 (IPS) - A report containing the testimonies of
victims of torture during El Salvador�s 1980-1992 civil war will be
published 27 years after it was written, to help Salvadorans today learn
more about that chapter in the country�s history.
The 197-page book �La tortura en El Salvador� (Torture in El Salvador), to
be launched in April, contains the accounts of 270 victims interviewed in
1986, in the heat of the civil war, by the non-governmental Human Rights
Commission of El Salvador <http://www.cdhes.org.sv/> (CDHES). IPS was given
exclusive access to the report prior to publication.
Most of the interviews were carried out in the La Esperanza prison on the
outskirts of San Salvador by members of the CDHES who had also been
arrested, tortured and later imprisoned in that facility, where many of the
country�s political prisoners were held in the 1980s.
�In the 1980s it was impossible to publish the document, because of the
repression. But finally it will see the light of day,� CDHES director
Miguel Montenegro told IPS.
El Salvador�s 12-year civil war left 75,000 � mainly civilians � dead and
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When a peace agreement put an end to the conflict, a lack of funds stood in
the way of publication of the report, Montenegro said.
The activist was seized in 1986 by the notorious Treasury Police, and
learned first-hand about the torture techniques practiced by the security
Because of their involvement in serious human rights abuses, the National
Police, the Treasury Police and the National Guard were dismantled and
replaced by the National Civilian Police under the United Nations-sponsored
peace accord reached in January 1992 by the Farabundo Mart� National
Liberation Front (FMLN) guerrillas and the government of Alfredo
the far-right National Republican Alliance (ARENA).
More than 40 torture techniques are described in detail and depicted in
drawings in the report.
One of the most commonly used techniques was the �avioncito� (airplane), in
which the victim�s hands were tied behind his or her back and the victim
was suspended in the air from the wrists, often causing dislocation of the
In the �capucha� (hood), a plastic bag was placed over the prisoner�s head,
to partially suffocate them, while the �submarino� (submarine) involved
Other methods were electric shock, cutting off the tongue, or destroying
the eyes with chemicals.
�They would take me to a room in the Treasury Police headquarters in San
Salvador where the walls and the floor were covered with dried blood,�
The book also provides profiles of torture victims who were forcibly
The abuses formed part of a state policy put into effect by the army high
command, and Salvadoran society has a right to know what happened,
The amnesty law<http://www.ipsnews.net/2011/07/rights-el-salvador-rumours-of-amnesty-repeal-cause-panic/>
by Congress in 1993 protected the perpetrators of war crimes and other
human rights abuses committed during the conflict from prosecution.
But retired generals Eugenio Vides Casanova and Jos� Guillermo Garc�a, both
of whom served as defence minister in the 1980s, were found guilty in 2002
by a U.S. court for the torture of three civilians by units under their
command. The court ordered the two retired officers to pay 54.6 million
dollars in damages to the civilians.
The CDHES document is coming out shortly after an investigative report by
the BBC and The Guardian, published as a documentary on Mar. 5, revealed
that retired U.S. Colonel James Steele, a Special Forces veteran of Vietnam
who was posted in El Salvador in the 1980s, was later sent to Iraq.
The British media report said Steele, who trained and directed
counterinsurgency operations in El Salvador, was sent to Iraq to implement
the so-called �Salvadoran option� to fight the insurgency after the
U.S.-led invasion of Iraq 10 years ago.
Steele was reportedly sent to train special Iraqi police brigades in
torture techniques employed in this Central American country in the 1980s.
�It is sad that what was used here in El Salvador is being revived in Iraq;
this country served as the school,� Montenegro said.
Another investigation into torture committed during the civil war is being
conducted by the Salvadoran Association of Torture Survivors (ASST),
founded three years ago.
The ASST has two aims: to find out what happened and to bring complaints
before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). �We are
documenting the cases, to file formal complaints,� Carlos Santos, the
president of the ASST, told IPS.
Santos was studying theatre when he was arrested in 1983 along with another
student, Fabricio Sant�n, in the eastern city of San Miguel, where they
were tortured before they were transferred to La Esperanza prison.
�Because no one was ever held accountable or punished for the abuses, there
is a risk that they could be committed again in the future,� said Sant�n.
�And that is what we don�t want.�
In 2012, the IACHR accepted a complaint brought by the Human Rights
Institute of the Central American University in representation of Santos
and Rolando Gonz�lez, another member of the ASST.
The complaint also covers four other cases, including the death of
Salvadoran poet Roque
who was killed in 1975 by fellow members of one of the left-wing groups
that made up the FMLN, after he was found guilty of insubordination and
spying for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency in a �revolutionary trial�.
The case brought before the IACHR accuses the current government of
centre-left President Mauricio Funes of the FMLN of negligence with respect
to investigating crimes like torture.
The Funes administration has refused to sign the Optional Protocol to the
Convention against Torture, which provides for in situ monitoring such as
unannounced visits to local prisons.
Nor has it ratified the Rome Statute, which established the International
Criminal Court set up to try war crimes, genocide and other crimes against
humanity that national courts cannot or will not handle.
�These are the things that worry us, because they hinder progress in the
search for truth, justice and reparations,� the president of the Committee
of Relatives of Victims of Human Rights Violations
Guadalupe Mej�a, told IPS.
David Morales, director general of the government�s Human Rights Unit,
declined to comment to IPS on government policy.
Since September 2012, Santos and Sant�n have been touring the country with
the exhibit �Nunca m�s en El Salvador� (Never Again in El Salvador), which
uses papier-m�ch� sculptures of people to show torture techniques used
during the years of state violence.
�Some of the images are shocking, but we want to show them so that this
won�t happen again,� Sant�n said.
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