Despair and hope: looking back on the 1989 killings of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador


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El Salvador’s government last week honored six Jesuit priests slain by the army in 1989, presenting gold medallions to their relatives for the priests’ ‘extraordinary service to the nation.’ Los Angeles Times editorial writer Marjorie Miller covered the executions as a foreign correspondent. Miller has written today about the slow healing that the nation has undertaken, in a column titled ‘In El Salvador, a grim reflection, and a glimmer of hope

Six Jesuit priests rousted from their beds in the night lay face down on the lawn, arms still stretched over their heads in a futile gesture of self-defense, skulls shattered by bullets. The University of Central America had been an intellectual oasis in El Salvador’s civil war, but in the middle of a guerrilla offensive on the capital, the army moved in to kill those it saw as the brains behind the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front.As I look back on those executions that I covered as a reporter 20 years ago in one of the last battles of the Cold War, I am struck by despair and hope. Despair, because what we saw in those days as a figurative beheading of the guerrilla movement has become both literal and routine in today’s conflicts in Iraq and South Asia. Hope, because this year, nearly two decades after the Farabundo Marti front traded guns for politics, the right-wing party that had long ruled El Salvador peacefully transferred power to the left for the first time. President Mauricio Funes, the Farabundo Marti party’s candidate, was educated by Jesuits at the University of Central America.


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From our archives: An account of the priests’ slaying in 1989. Also, two pieces by Miller in the aftermath of the bloody civil war in 1992, ‘Of Peace Accords and Firecrackers: A Christmas in El Salvador’ and ‘Wounds of War.’