Two former members of El Salvador’s National Guard, who were serving 30-year terms for murdering two American agricultural advisers and a Salvadoran official, have been freed under a government amnesty for prisoners convicted of political crimes, a prison official said Wednesday, and the U.S. State Department said it was “appalled” by the action.
Vitelio Escobar, the security officer at Mariona Prison, said both former guardsmen, Jose Dimas Valle and Santiago Gomez Gonzalez, were released Dec. 19 after court orders blocked an attempt by Atty. Gen. Roberto Giron Flores to prevent their release. Their lawyer, Luis Arevalo Diaz, also confirmed that they had been freed.
Angry U.S. Reaction
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Phyllis Oakley said, “We are appalled and outraged at the court decision” that rejected the Salvadoran attorney general’s appeal.
Oakley said the shootings, in a hotel coffee shop, were not political offenses because “the killers were convicted under purely criminal statutes.”
The U.S. Embassy in San Salvador said the judicial action freeing the two former guardsmen was cause for reviewing a $9-million U.S. aid program designed to improve El Salvador’s judiciary.
Both men were convicted of the Jan. 3, 1981, murders of Michael P. Hammer, 39, of Potomac, Md., and Mark David Pearlman, 36, of Seattle.
The two Americans, who were assisting the government with a controversial land reform program, were killed along with Jose Rodolfo Viera, 39, head of the Salvadoran Agrarian Institute. The shootings occurred in the coffee shop of the Hotel Sheraton in the Salvadoran capital.
Each of the former guardsmen was sentenced in February, 1986, to 30 years’ imprisonment for murder, and they were serving their sentences in the prison, seven miles north of the capital.
Amnesty for the prisoners was granted under terms of last August’s five-nation Central American peace accord, which included in its provisions a call for amnesty for prisoners convicted of political crimes. About 450 Salvadoran prisoners have been released, most of them leftists suspected of collaborating with guerrillas.
Earlier in December, the 5th Penal Court approved a petition by the attorney, Arevalo Diaz, that the two men be freed on grounds that theirs was a political crime. When the attorney general tried to block their release, the 2nd Penal Appeals Court rejected his appeal.