School of the Americas Graduate Responsible for Priest Murders Found in U.S. Print
WASHINGTON ? The shocking event that galvanized opposition to the U.S. relationship with Central American death squads and that sparked the movement to close the U.S. Army School of the Americas is making headlines again. Former Salvadoran army officer Gonzalo Guevara Cerritos, convicted for the 1989 murder of six Jesuit priests, a housekeeper and her 14-year-old daughter, was arrested by federal agents on October 18 in Los Angeles, California.

Gonzalo Guevara Cerritos, a sub-lieutenant in the notorious Atlacatl Battalion, took part in the November 16, 1989 massacre at the Central American University (UCA) in San Salvador. Less than a year before the brutal killings, Guevara Cerritos received military training at the U.S. Army School of the Americas in Ft. Benning, Georgia.

A United Nations Truth Commission cited 26 Salvadoran officers for the 1989 "execution-style" massacre. Nineteen of those, including Guevara Cerritos, were trained at the School of the Americas, renamed in 2001 the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation or WHINSEC. After its role in training human rights abusers came to light, Central Americans frequently dubbed the SOA the "School of Assassins.?

The SOA made headlines again in 1996 when the Pentagon released training manuals used at the school that advocated torture, extortion and execution. Despite this shocking admission and hundreds of documented human rights abuses connected to soldiers trained at the institution, no independent investigation into the training facility has ever taken place.

In 1991, a jury in El Salvador convicted Guevara Cerritos for instigation and conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism. The convicted terrorist escaped with minor consequences, being released in 1993 after less than two years of house arrest.

According to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office, Guevara Cerritos entered the country illegally in January 2005. He is now being held at a detention facility in California.

This is not the first time that an SOA-trained human rights abuser has returned to the United States. Salvadoran Colonel Francisco del Cid Diaz was cited by the OAS Commission on Human Rights as responsible for ordering the point-blank shooting of 16 residents of an indigenous community in El Salvador in 1983. Instead of facing justice, Colonel del Cid Diaz was a guest at WHINSEC in 2003 and was also enrolled in the SOA in 1988 and 1991.

Protests calling for the closure of the School of the Americas/WHINSEC have taken place around the November 16 anniversary of the San Salvador massacre since 1990. Last year over 19,000 participated in the annual demonstration. Next month, on November 17-19, thousands will again gather at the gates of Ft. Benning, Georgia to call for the closure of the military training school, which continues to instruct Latin American soldiers.