UN Commission on the Truth for El Salvador, From Madness to Hope: The 12-Year War in El Salvador, Report, 15 March 1993, in UN Secretary General, Letter to the President of the Security Council (S/25500), Annex. (PDF link)
TABLE OF CONTENTS
(i) Garcia Arandigoyen (1990)
(k) Oquelí and Flores (1990)
SUMMARY OF THE CASE
In the early morning of 31 October 1989, persons unknown placed a bomb at the entrance to the offices of the Comité de Madres y Familiares de Presos Políticos, Desaparecidos y Asesinados de El Salvador Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero (COMADRES) in San Salvador. Four people, including a child, were injured.
At midday, a bomb was placed in the offices of the Federación Nacional Sindical de Trabajadores Salvadoreños (FENASTRAS) in San Salvador. Nine people were killed and over 40 injured. As a result of the attack, FMLN decided to suspend peace negotiations with the Government.
The Commission on the Truth finds the following:
1. The bomb attacks on the offices of COMADRES and FENASTRAS on 31 October 1989 were part of a systematic pattern of attacks on the lives, physical integrity and freedom of members of those organizations.
2. The Government of El Salvador failed in its duty to guarantee the human rights to which the members of these organizations are entitled as individuals and as members of their organizations.
3. The attack on FENASTRAS was carried out using a bomb which persons unknown placed outside its offices.
4. The competent authorities of El Salvador did not carry out a full and impartial investigation of the attacks on the offices of COMADRES and FENASTRAS.
5. There is no countervailing evidence that FMLN or FENASTRAS members carried out the attack.
DESCRIPTION OF THE FACTS 293/
COMADRES is a non-governmental organization established to provide support for mothers and relatives of victims of politically motivated disappearances or murders. It was founded in December 1977 at the suggestion of Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero.
FENASTRAS is an independent confederation formed in 1974 to strengthen trade unions and promote the interests of Salvadorian workers. It has 25,000 individual members and 16 member trade unions. It is the largest industrial trade union confederation in El Salvador. Its main office is located two blocks away from the National Police in San Salvador.
In the early morning of 31 October 1989, two men in uniform allegedly placed a bomb at the entrance to the COMADRES offices in San Salvador. A large lorry was also reportedly heard leaving the scene moments later. Four people, including a child of four months, were injured. The National Police blamed the crime on the guerrillas. 294/
At approximately 12.30 p.m. the same day, a worker who was a member of FENASTRAS noticed someone propping a sack against the outside wall of the FENASTRAS cafeteria. He smelt gunpowder and ran inside to warn his companions. Another witness, a scrap dealer, noticed two young men entering FENASTRAS grounds through the door in the access wall. One of them was carrying a suitcase in a jute sack. Through the door in the wall, we saw one of them "crouch down as if he was setting light to something". As he came out, he shouted that they had planted a bomb and the two of them ran off northwards.
Outside, someone yelled "bomb!" and people began running. At that moment, the bomb exploded. The building was enveloped in smoke and powder and the offices were destroyed. More than 40 people were injured and the following were killed: Ricardo Humberto Cestoni, trade unionist; Carmen Catalina Hernández Ramos, FENASTRAS cook; José Daniel López Meléndez, trade unionist; Julia Tatiana Mendoza Aguirre, trade unionist and daughter of a leader of the Frente Democrático Revolucionario (FDR) assassinated in 1980; Vicente Salvador Melgar, trade unionist; María Magdalena Rosales, student and daughter of a trade union leader; Rosa Hilda Saravia de Elias, FENASTRAS cook and trade union member; Luis Edgardo Vásquez Márquez, trade unionist; and Febe Elizabeth Velásquez, International Secretary of FENASTRAS and a member of the Executive Committee of the Unidad Nacional de Trabajadores Salvadoreños (UNTS).
FENASTRAS members and the main trade unions blamed the armed forces. UNTS accused the Ministry of Defence of "summarily executing" the workers in retaliation for an FMLN attack on the Armed Forces Joint Staff the previous day.
These attacks on the offices of COMADRES and FENASTRAS occurred in a specific political and chronological context. It was common knowledge that the two organizations were critical of government policy, especially with regard to human rights violations, and that FENASTRAS was critical of governmental measures which, from its point of view, were detrimental to workers’ interests. The armed forces considered FENASTRAS a "front" for FMLN. 295/
The security forces had several members of COMADRES and FENASTRAS, as well as their offices, under constant surveillance. The offices of the two organizations were raided repeatedly and their members were regularly threatened, harassed and detained by the authorities. 296/ On 22 February and 5 September, explosive devices were thrown at FENASTRAS headquarters. Hundreds of incidents of violence, persecution and threats against the two organizations have been reported.
In this political and chronological context, it should be noted that during October 1989, there had been a number of attacks against the army and against opponents of the Government. 297/ The day before the attacks on COMADRES and FENASTRAS, FMLN members had attacked the Armed Forces Joint Staff using explosive devices. 298/
The investigation of the attacks
Immediately after the attack on FENASTRAS, the Commission for the Investigation of Criminal Acts (CIHD), the judiciary and the National Police launched their respective investigations. The Second Justice of the Peace, Nelson Ulises Umaña Bojórquez, attempted to make a judicial inspection 299/ on 31 October. He was forced to abandon his efforts owing to "the congestion and commotion caused by the crowd which [was] present at the scene". 300/ CIHD experts arrived half an hour after the attack to make a visual inspection. Neither they nor staff from the Police Explosives Unit were able to gain access to the inside of the building. 301/
There are many doubts as to the seriousness and impartiality with which the investigations proceeded. That same day, CIHD representatives expressed the view that "the cause of the explosion was the mishandling of explosive materials inside the building itself". 302/ Members of the Police Explosives Unit concluded that the attack "... formed part of the conspiracy to discredit the Government of El Salvador by making the national and international community believe that the attack was a government response to the artillery attack launched by FMLN on 30 October 1989 against the Armed Forces Joint Staff ... which leads us to conclude that FMLN carried out the attack against itself in order to confuse public opinion, making it believe that it was an act of revenge for the earlier attack".
The CIHD dossier suggests that its investigation was based on the conclusions of the investigation carried out by the Technical Assistance Department of the "Sargento Carlos Sosa Santos" Explosives and Demolition Unit of the National Police, which ruled out the possibility that the explosive device had been planted at FENASTRAS offices "by an unknown person unconnected with that organization, since a meeting was being held inside the building and it is possible that access to it was being monitored by FENASTRAS staff". 303/ One of the first steps taken by CIHD was to request the security forces "urgently" to provide any political or ordinary information on the people killed and injured in the explosion. 304/
In November 1989, at the request of President Cristiani, the United States Department of State sent FBI experts to inspect the site of the explosion at the FENASTRAS offices. 305/ In its report, the FBI concluded that the disturbance of the scene of the crime, the passage of time and the conditions in which the crime had occurred reduced the possibility of identifying the type of explosive used. 306/ It was able to determine only that a high-power explosive, weighing approximately 15 pounds, had been used, and that the explosion had occurred in the area between the access wall and the outside wall of the building itself. 307/
It has been heard that the Government allegedly pressured some detainees to blame FMLN for the attack or to issue false statements to the press.
The Commission finds the following:
1. There is sufficient evidence that the bomb attacks on the offices of COMADRES and FENASTRAS on 31 October 1989 were part of a systematic pattern of attacks on the lives, physical integrity and freedom of members of those organizations.
2. There is full evidence that the Government of El Salvador failed in its duty to guarantee the human rights to which the members of these organizations are entitled as individuals and as members of their organizations.
3. There is full evidence that the attack on the FENASTRAS offices was carried out using a bomb which persons unknown placed outside the building.
4. There is substantial evidence that the competent authorities of El Salvador did not carry out a full and impartial investigation of the attacks on the offices of COMADRES and FENESTRAS.
5. There is no countervailing evidence that FMLN or FENASTRAS members might have carried out the attack.
293/ The Commission on the Truth reviewed the dossiers of the investigations carried out by CIHD, the Second Justice of the Peace and the National Police in the case of the attack on FENASTRAS premises. It requested the armed forces, the National Police, the Treasury Police, the National Guard and CIHD to provide all relevant information on the 31 October 1989 bomb attacks. CIHD, the National Police and the National Guard provided the Commission with copies of the official dossiers and other documents concerning these incidents.
The Commission interviewed military officers, CIHD investigators, National Police agents, including the Chief of the Explosives Unit, leaders of FENASTRAS, COMADRES staff and numerous victims and witnesses. It summonsed Colonel Iván Reynaldo Díaz, Colonel Juan Vicente Eguizábal, Colonel Dionisio Ismael Muchuca, Colonel Carlos Mauricio Guzmán Aguilar and Colonel José Antonio Almendáriz Rivas, none of whom appeared.
294/ National Police patrol headquarters informed the Police Operations Centre that "D/T NI" (unidentified terrorist criminals) had "planted and detonated an explosive device". (Police Operations Centre news summary for the period from 6 p.m. on 30 October 1989 to 6 a.m. on 31 October 1989, National Police.)
295/ A report provided to the Commission on the Truth by the National Police stated that FENASTRAS "is organically linked to the clandestine organization Fuerzas Armadas de la Resistencia Nacional (FARN/RN) and its aim is to organize the working class to support FMLN ideological plans for destabilizing the Government of El Salvador by raising political, social and economic issues and the issue of human rights violations at the national and international levels, thereby mobilizing the working class to fight against the Government".
296/ On 18 September, National Police agents arrested 64 members of FENASTRAS who had taken part in a demonstration; some of them were tortured in police custody. El Mundo, 19 September 1989; confidential memorandum from Americas Watch. According to reports, one of those arrested, Julia Tatiana Mendoza Aguirre, later sued the National Police for alleged rape. She was one of those who died in the attack. The Commission received direct testimony from 364 people concerning cases of violence against trade unionists.
297/ On 19 October 1989, persons unknown carried out an attack on the homes of Rubén Zamora and Aronette Díaz, widow of Mario Zamora. On 17 October, Ana Isabel Casanova Porras, the daughter of Colonel Edgardo Casanova Vejar, was murdered.
298/ The attack left one civilian dead and more than five people injured. (Police Operations Centre news summary for the period 6 a.m.-6 p.m. on 30 October 1989, National Police.)
299/ According to article 149 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, in the case of offences "which have caused serious public outrage because of the circumstances of the crime or the status of the persons involved in them, either as victims or as suspects, the judge of first instance shall, under penalty of incurring a fine of 200 colones, personally carry out all the investigation proceedings ...". However, the proceedings were carried out by the justice of the peace, without any involvement of the judge of first instance.
300/ Inspection required by law, 31 October 1989, court dossier, folio 15.
301/ Report by Lieutenant Juan Antonio Aguirre Guerra, Commander of the Investigation Battalion, 31 October 1989, CIHD dossier, folio 10.
302/ Letter to the chief of the Investigations Section of the CIHD Executive Unit, signed by Detective Sergeant Juan Orlando Ramos Arevalo, dossier, folio 2.
303/ It was also determined that the explosion occurred in the passageway between the access wall and the wall of the FENASTRAS offices. The final report ruled out the possibility that the explosive device had been thrown from the street or that it had been a car bomb. See the report of the Technical Assistance Department of the Explosives Unit of the National Police, undated, CIHD dossier, folio 11.
304/ Letters to Colonel Héctor Heriberto Hernández, Director of the Treasury Police, Colonel Carlos Armando Carrillo Schlenker, Director of the National Guard, and Colonel Dionisio Ismael Machuca, Director of the National Police, dated 7 November 1989, CIHD dossier. The Treasury Police sent a reply to CIHD, describing nine of the victims as members of Restistencia Nacional.
305/ FBI report, 24 January 1990, court dossier, folio 50.