El Salvador: New evidence shows links between army and paramilitary


((Ricardo Castrorrivas looks at a photo of his daughter Carminda -- La Jornada photo by Edgardo Ayala))

((Ricardo Castrorrivas looks at a photo of his daughter Carminda — La Jornada photo by Edgardo Ayala))

Recently found army document lists names of leftists to be pursued or assassinated

[Translation of an article from La Jornada of Mexico City for May 24, 2013. See original here.]

San Salvador, May 23 — A confidential Salvadoran army document from the 1980s could be the missing link confirming involvement of the armed forces in activities of the death squads during the civil war, including torture and forced disappearances.

The Yellow Book, as it is titled on the cover, is a report apparently written by the Estado Mayor Conjunto de las Fuerzas Armadas (EMCFA – Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces), the army’s elite operations unit, whose initials can be clearly seen printed on each of the 270 pages of the document, confirming its official nature.

The document, of which La Jornada has a copy, contains, in alphabetic order, 1,975 names and photographs of leftist opponents who were detained or being sought. It includes the guerrilla organizations they supposedly belonged to, the pseudonyms they used and the functions they performed. On the cover, someone has written by hand, “Make photocopies and post them on the bulletin board so they will know their enemies.”

The report is dated July 6, 1987, but it lists names from the late ‘70s and so it is clear that it did not originate in 1987 but that that was the year of its last update.

Many of the detainees who appear in the report were assassinated by their captors, human rights activists say, but the rest were never found and they are now included on the list of more than 8,000 disappeared in the civil conflict. The war, which left 75,000 dead, began in 1980 and ended in 1992 with peace accords signed by the government and the Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN), then a guerrilla force but now a political party and the governing party since winning the elections of 2009.

Many of the photographs in the report show clearly that they were taken in military or police barracks, where the detainees had been taken. “Those not identified, Phase C, are included so that any unit that manages to obtain information on any of these individuals can send it to C-II of the EMCFA for the proper procedure,” it reads on page four.

Accusations that the army and the security forces of the time were involved in torture and summary executions typical of the death squads are not new. Reporters like Craig Pyes of the Albuquerque Journal and Alan Nairn of The Progressive reported on the connections in the ‘80s, as did the victims in an abundance of testimony. But no army list that revealed the suspected “terrorists” they were capturing or were pursuing had appeared, much less information showing evidence of forced disappearances.

The book was apparently discovered three years ago by someone who found it while moving out of a house in San Salvador, where it had been hidden. The person turned it over to a civil organization.

“This book gives us evidence that the army and the security forces systematically pursued and assassinated many opponents,” Carlos Santos, president of the Asociación Salvadoreña de Sobrevivientes de Tortura (ASST) explained to La Jornada. Santos has investigated some 30 cases of persons found in the Yellow Book who were later tortured and disappeared.

One of the cases is that of 22-year-old Carminda Lizbeth Castro, arrested in February, 1982. She was in the Resistencia Nacional, one of the five factions that made up the FMLN, her father, the poet Ricardo Castrorrivas, told La Jornada. Carminda’s name and photograph appear in the Yellow Book with the code C-142, an unmistakeable sign that she was being sought by the military or had already been found.

“They came to take Carminda just as the death squads would come: heavily armed men in civilian clothes,” Castrorrivas stated. Carminda’s parents learned later that she was being held by the national police. That agency, along with the national guard and the treasury police, was disbanded by the peace accords of 1992, precisely because of its participation in serious human rights violations.

“We spent 30 years without knowing anything and now this book is the number-one witness that the military had her,” said Castrorrivas, who is also profiled in the report for being an activist in the Communist Party since the ‘60s.

Santos compared lists of opponents to the government who were disappeared during the conflict, as published by organizations like the United Nations, and found that 200 of those names are also in the army’s confidential report. La Jornada also compared some lists of the disappeared in the possession of the Comité de Víctimas de Violaciones a los Derechos Humanos (CODEFAM) and also found matches with the military file.

That is the case with Abel Enrique Orellana, a 25-year-old student of medicine detained by national guard agents and soldiers from the cavalry regiment on August 18, 1981. Abel’s name and photograph are in the Yellow Book, with the code number O-41. A random preliminary search of the CODEFAM list of the disappeared revealed more names: Nemesia Aguillón de Juárez, who disappeared on October 20; Rogelio Segundo Alfaro, July 16; Gilberto Alvarado Guardado, December 1; and José Alberto Arévalo Paz, November 7.

In addition, a group of 13 Salvadorans were detained in Honduras by that country’s military between August 5 and 10, 1981, the Comité de Familiares de Detenidos y Desaparecidos de Honduras (CODEFAH) reported in 2004. Among those detained and then disappeared is Jorge Enrique Jiménez Argueta, listed in the Yellow Book with the code JO-5, this newspaper verified. This reveals the close ties maintained between the military intelligence units of the two countries in their fight against what they saw as international communism.

Jorge was the husband of Carminda, who had been living in Honduras that year, together with her husband, but she returned to El Salvador weeks before the Honduran military operation, her father stated.

“The disappeared are in fact dead, they killed some of them there (in the barracks) after torturing them, some they took and disposed of them in other places,” according to Miguel Montenegro, director of the NGO Comisión de Derechos Humanos de El Salvador (CDHES). The Yellow Book “would help us to know where they are; the military were responsible, their captures have been documented in the book,” he added.

Nevertheless, retired General Mauricio Ernesto Vargas detracted from the importance of the document after analyzing a digital version he was shown by this newspaper. “In my 32-year military career I have never known of any yellow book,” he declared. He added that the report he was shown does not match the style or the format of those used by the army.

“It looks like a list of names, an insignificant list; this is not intelligence… This is like a notebook, bound in a very homemade way,” added the officer, who in the ‘80s commanded the Third Infantry Brigade. How to explain then that many of the people listed ended up disappeared? Vargas said that they may have died in combat.

La Jornada attempted to interview retired Colonel Reynaldo López Nuila, who served as director of the national police in the late ‘80s, and to show him the document. But the officer said by telephone, “I want to know absolutely nothing about that period.”

“But the families of the victims do want to know about it, they want to know where the remains of their disappeared loved ones are,” commented Benjamín Cuéllar, director of the Instituto de Derechos Humanos de la Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas.

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