The resurgence of the death squads

Press release

Certain Latin American States such as Brazil,
Argentina, Guatemala and Salvador have in the past
resorted to the use of death squads in the context of
methodical policies of terror aimed at stopping the
progressive organisation of civil societies.

Their aim was to fighten, intimidate, or even cause the
disappearance of any person taking a stand against
injustice. It is a recognised fact nowadays that this type
of "structure" committed thousands of crimes.

In Salvador, the State made use of the action of these
criminal groups to terrorise the people. In 1976, the
White Warrior Union (UGB), whose members came
mostly from the ruling classes (military people and
those with economic power) made its appearence; its
action consisted in eliminating the leaders of the
people’s organisations. The organisation called "Death
Squad" (EM) appeared in 1978, comprising elements
from the different security corps such as the national
police, the financial police, the national guard, and
members of the Nationalist Democratic Organisation
(ORDEN). Next the "Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez"
Brigade, named after an old dictator responsible for the
assassination of more than 30 000 people in 1932,
and another group called the "Secret Anti-communist
Army" (ESA) were created.

The modus operandi of these "militias" consisted in
moving around in armed groups in vehicles without
plates. Their favoured targets were trade unionists,
teachers, students, factory workers, priests any person
indicated by informers (nicknamed "ears") or suspected
of subversive activity. Most of the time, the attackers
entered the home of their victim at night to take them
away. In other cases, the victim was kidnapped while
going home or to work, then savagely assassinated in
an isolated spot. Little by little, a climate of was instilled in the population, with everyone afraid of being
kidnapped by these groups - the army of the security

The beginning and the middle of the 1980s were
marked by the intensification of the activities of these
groups. Leaning on them for support, the government
systematically able to have recourse to a repressive
policy, without having to answer for the Human Rights
violations committed. At the end of the 1980s , the
method followed by the death squads changed. It was
now a case of brutally suppressing victims or of
capturing and disposing of them without leaving any
traces; if witnesses had been present at the kidnapping,
the victims would be taken to the various military
garrisons and tortured, and then transferred to certain
intelligence services called S-2s. These S-2s were
specialised departments directed by members of
clandestine groups, and were also the places where the
murders or final disappearance operations of the death
squadrons were planned.

Vietnam Joya Martinez, member of an S-2 cell of the
first infantry brigade, has recounted how they operated.
He has explained how the members of the armed forces
and the different security corps carried out, with the
consent of the top military chiefs and the government,
the capture , assassination, and torture operations.
This witness has related how different attacks were
planned against leaders of the people.

One must point out the responsibility of the judicial and
legislative institutions for the policy of repression
against the Salvadorian people. Many judges
intimidated detainees with fire arms to make them
accept the charges brought against them and so that
there would be no investigation into the alleged crimes.
In the same way, the Legislative Assembly adopted
repressive anti-constitutional laws. The death squads
could therefore act freely and with complete impunity.
Cases never went to Court and the cases of thousands
of people who were assassinated, who disappeared or
who were tortured during this period, have never been

The signature of the peace accords between the
government and the Farabundo Marti Front of National
Liberation (FMLN) in 1992 at Chapultec in Mexico
generated an immense hope for the Salvadorian people.
Not only because it marked the end of an internal armed
conflict that had lasted for more than 12 years, but
because it provided the removal of the various security
corps and of the elite battalions, the identification and
location of the victims, and the creation of new
institutions such as the national civil police and the
Commission for the Defence of Human Rights

The peace accords also provided for the creation of a
Truth Commission charged with investigating the
exactions committed against the people of Salvador.
This Commission was created, and in its final report it
not only named military people and civilians as
responsible for the thousands of assassinations and of
disappearances, but also members of the FMLN who
were implicated in the assassination of mayors and
political opponents

Moreover, the Truth Commission gave over an entire
chapter of its report to the death squads. In it, it
underlines the participation of members of the armed
forces and government officials and recommends an
investigation specifically into the phenomenon, to be Certain Latin American States such as Brazil,
Argentina, Guatemala and Salvador have in the past
resorted to the use of death squads in the context of
methodical policies of terror aimed at stopping the
progressive organisation of civil societies.Certain Latin American States such as Brazil,
Argentina, Guatemala and Salvador have in the past
resorted to the use of death squads in the context of
methodical policies of terror aimed at stopping the
progressive organisation of civil societies.carried out with the active collaboration of the
national institutions and the support and assistance of
politically motivated foreign authorities. So, a "Joint
Group to Investigate the Illegal Armed Groups" was
constituted on 8 December 1993, with the consent of
the two parties which signed the peace accords and
under the mediation of the United Nations.

In its final report, the Joint Group concluded:
"The information gathered allows one to affirm that
there are solid grounds for asserting that the network of
organised crime which is hitting the country cannot be
dismantled. In many violent actions carried out with a
political aim, one notes indications of the active
participation of members of the armed forces and of the
national police (...). However, many questions remain on
the link between certain individuals previously identified
as having participated in death squad actions and highly
organised criminal structures which carry out bank
robberies, vehicles theft and arms and drug trafficking,
amongst other illegal activities".

The Joint Group recommended bringing proceedings
against all those responsible and dismantling this sort
of network. However six years later, the government,
entrenched in particular behind the amnesty law adopted
in March 1993, has still not followed up on these
recommendations and no legal action commenced. This
very clear lack of political will to put an end to the
phenomenon of the death squads now has very grave

Thus, during recent years, these groups have resurfaced
(they are now called "Extermination Groups" or the
"Black Shadow"). Representatives and official agents of
the current national civil police - an institution born out
of the peace accords - have been implicated in these two
organisations. Their activities essentially come down to
the "eradication" of thieves, juvenile delinquents,
prostitutes and homosexuals. Moreover, they have now
widened their field of operation and have assassinated
people who do not belong to these "target" groups.
Since the beginning of 1999, a new extermination
commando has been attacking people and is particularly
targeting of Human Rights defenders: threats,
sequestration, harassment...The premises of civil
society organisations are also ransacked and their files
and equipment stolen.

The very worrying level of criminality together with the
amount of organised crime, are realities which
undermine the establishment, in modern Salvador, of a
state based on law.

Miguel Montenegro,
President of the Commission of Human Rights
in Salvador

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