El Salvador to prosecute members of Salvadoran Death Squads of the 1980s for the first time in history

By Karla Ramos  |  Sep 8th, 2022

On September 8th, 2022, Salvadoran prosecutors presented an indictment against four people who were part of Salvadoran death squads, which operated in the 1980s during the Salvadoran Civil War.

The Salvadoran death squads were a group of paramilitary members responsible for multiple killings during the country’s 12-year civil war, 1980 to 1992. They persecuted and exterminated anyone suspected of being a guerilla member and anyone critical of the government.

According to prosecutors, this death squad group operated in the 1980s in the department of San Miguel in Eastern El Salvador. This is the first time charges have been filed against death squad members.

This is the first time in the history of the country that a structure of this type is prosecuted for acts committed in the 1980s, under the modality of crimes against humanity.” FGR tweet.

The accused are: José Ines Benavides Martínez, Luis Alonso Benavides Polio, José de la Cruz Orellana and Ángel Aníbal Alvarado Benítez. They are accused of Murder and Deprivation of Liberty, Illicit Associations and Crime against the Laws or Customs of War.

Diario El Mundo reported that three of the four accused were captured in August 2021; during their initial hearing, the Judge declared the act a crime against humanity. Two of the accused were granted alternative measures to detention in exchange for bail of $20,000.

The Prosecutor’s Office explained that five people who lived in the San Andres Village; (Angel Chavez Benavides, María Veronica de Chavez, Jose Luciano Benavides, Guillermo Magaña Castellon, and Rogelio Magaña Castellon) were violently taken at night from their homes by individuals with military uniforms and vehicles.

According to prosecutors, someone informed paramilitary members that the five individuals had an association with guerillas. The five individuals were kidnapped, tortured, and consequently assassinated.

They were found in the municipality of El Carmen, on the road to San Alejo, La Union. According to the investigation, their bodies had gunshots and injuries resembling torture.

El Salvador death squads of the 1980s

Salvadoran Death Squads
Salvadoran National Guard during the 80s.

The El Salvador death squads consisted of soldiers, police officers, and civilians. During the Salvadoran civil war, these individuals persecuted and killed those suspected of being government opponents.

Investigations into the actions of the Death Squads indicate that these clandestine structures began as part of the Salvadoran intelligence services of the security forces and the country’s Armed Forces.

The death squads had no direct connection to the government; however, these paramilitaries were almost consistently soldiers from the Salvadoran Armed Forces.

The late ex-military and politician Roberto D’Aubuisson was accused of creating and leading the activities of the death squads from his position as director of the Salvadoran National Security Agency. D’Aubuisson was the founder of the ARENA political party; he has also been named as the one who ordered the assassination of Monsignor Romero.

The National Guard and Police covered up the death squads commanded by Major Roberto d’Aubuisson.” Geovani Galeas.

Roberto D’Aubuisson
Roberto D’Aubuisson, founder of the right-wing political party ARENA.

The activities of the death squads began in the late 1970s; their action increased during the Salvadoran civil war, from 1980 to 1992, when the conflict ended with peace agreements.

The death squads allegedly distanced themselves from the government and the military, so they wouldn’t take any responsibility for the actions of the paramilitary group.

Death squads carried out acts against people reported as guerrillas or anyone suspected of supporting the fight against the government. They illegally kidnapped, threatened, and murdered hundreds of people.

The victims of these acts of violence included women, children, priests, and other civilians they saw as a threat to the government or those who financed them. Eventually, the death squats targeted prominent community leaders and opposing politicians.

The Salvadoran civil war resulted in about 75,000 deaths and over 8,000 missing persons; many of these deaths and disappearances are attributed to the Salvadoran death squads.

In 2016, the Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador ruled that crimes against humanity that transpired during the armed conflict could be investigated and tried.