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Report of the Commission on the Truth for El Salvador

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)



3. Enforced disappearances



On 12 January 1990, Héctor Oquelí Colindres and Gilda Flores Arévalo were abducted in Guatemala City, Republic of Guatemala. Their bodies were found the same day in the village of San José El Coco in the Jalpatagua district of Guatemala, 5 kilometres from the border with El Salvador.

The facts of the killings are not in dispute. However, views differ as to who bears criminal and political responsibility.

Within the constraints imposed on it, the Commission made an exhaustive effort to determine who was responsible for the murders. It received some of the results of the investigations made by the Office of the President of the Republic of Guatemala, made inquiries with the authorities of that country, evaluated information supplied by the Government of El Salvador, studied the report prepared by Professors Tom Farer and Robert Goldman, and received some relevant testimony.

Having analysed the information available, it can say with certainty that members of the Guatemalan security forces, acting in conjunction with Salvadorians, took part in the crime.

It also notes that the incident was not properly investigated and that some essential procedures were omitted.

The Governments of Guatemala and El Salvador must make a thorough investigation of this double murder.



Héctor Oquelí, a leader of the Movimiento Nacional Revolucionario (MNR) of El Salvador, 308/ enjoyed tremendous national and international prestige and had been active for many years in the Socialist International. 309/ He was widely regarded as the likely successor to MNR leader Guillermo Ungo. 310/

Gilda Flores Arévalo, a citizen and resident of Guatemala, was actively involved in the Partido Socialista Democrático (PSD).

The murder occurred shortly after the biggest military offensive of the Salvadorian conflict, launched by FMLN in November 1989.

The fact that Héctor Oquelí was an opposition politician in El Salvador and the outrage which this crime prompted make this case a serious act of violence falling within the Commission’s mandate, regardless of the place where the incident occurred.

Some considerations

After the Government of President Vinicio Cerezo came to power in Guatemala, some opponents of the Salvadorian regime, including Oquelí, began to engage in low profile political activities on Guatemalan territory. 311/

As a member of MNR, Oquelí had returned to El Salvador and was publicly active in politics. In November 1989, during an FMLN offensive, he took refuge in the Venezuelan Embassy. He then moved to Mexico, where he continued his political activities within the Socialist International. The facts

On 11 January 1990, Oquelí was travelling from Mexico to Nicaragua to take part in a Socialist International meeting in Managua. He planned to make a one-day stopover in Guatemala and leave the next day for Managua.

The reason for this stopover was to hold a political meeting with Mr. René Flores, a member of the same political group as Oquelí. René Flores travelled from San Salvador specifically to meet with Oquelí. Oquelí also planned to visit Gilda Flores in Guatemala.

On 11 January, Oquelí arrived in Guatemala City. In the international arrivals area, he met up with René Flores, who was arriving on a flight from San Salvador.

Oquelí went through immigration control without a problem. Two immigration officials then came up to him and asked him to show his passport again, on some administrative pretext, and detained him for over half an hour. Because of this, Oquelí was unable to leave the baggage area or go through customs because he did not have his passport. Gilda Flores and René Flores were waiting for him outside and could not understand why he had been delayed.

Oquelí’s passport was new and absolutely in order and there was no reason why it could not be checked simply by looking at it. However, when the immigration officials returned it to him, they wrote in by hand over the date on the entry stamp the instruction "read this".

Once outside, Oquelí met up with René Flores and Gilda Flores. They talked about the passport episode that had occurred in the baggage area and drove to the home of Gilda Flores.

As they were leaving the airport, they noticed that some people who looked like plain clothes policemen were watching them, but nothing happened as they drove into the city.

When they reached Gilda Flores’ home, there were some people they did not know outside but since there was a foreign embassy there they did not see anything significant in this.

Once inside the house, Oquelí made a number of telephone calls. He and René Flores talked about the overall political situation in El Salvador and René Flores gave him some documents.

Gilda Flores and Oquelí then took René Flores to the airport. René Flores told the Commission on the Truth that he had been surprised that they went with him to the airport, as there was no need for this and it was not in line with the security measures that Oquelí always scrupulously observed.

Gilda Flores invited Héctor Oquelí to have dinner at her home. The maid left when dinner was over. Next morning, Flores and Oquelí set out early for the airport for Oquelí to take a plane to Managua. Gilda Flores was driving.

At approximately 5.45 a.m., on the Avenida Sexta in Zona Nueve, they were intercepted by a private vehicle from which a group of people got out. 312/ Oquelí, who was in the front passenger seat, tried to escape but was overpowered. He and Gilda were forced into the vehicle which had intercepted them.

Luis Ayala, the General Secretary of the Socialist International, and people at the International’s meeting in Managua, began to wonder why Oquelí had not arrived.

That same day, Guatemalan police went to the scene of the abduction and found papers in the vehicle abandoned on the street establishing that the vehicle belonged to Gilda Flores. That morning, a complaint had been lodged with the police that two individuals had violently stolen a vehicle from a Guatemalan citizen in Guatemala City. In doing so, the assailants had identified themselves as members of the police. 313/ The vehicle turned out to be the same one in which the bodies of Oquelí and Flores were found later. There were bullet wounds in the bodies and they appeared to have been injected with an unidentified substance. 314/

At 5 p.m. the same day, 12 January, the two bodies were found in a vehicle abandoned on the main road to the border with El Salvador. Héctor Oquelí’s papers were in his clothing.

Subsequent events

The Guatemalan authorities concluded on the spot that the body was indeed that of Héctor Oquelí Colindres. The body of Gilda Flores was identified by members of her family.

President Cerezo ordered an investigation of the case. The result of these investigations was the so-called "Third Report". The report made no findings and assigned no responsibilities, but simply set forth a number of theories, on which the Guatemalan Government had based its investigation, as to the possible motives for the crime. The investigation went nowhere, even though the report itself maintained that intelligence services obtained information that persons with ties to the activities of Salvadorian terrorist groups in recent years might be operating in Guatemala. Among the names obtained were those of Francisco Ricardo de Sola and Orlando de Sola. Although there is no definite evidence linking them to the crime, the investigation found that they were in Guatemala on the exact days on which the abduction and murder took place. 315/ The report added that "information was found pointing to Infantry Colonel Mario Denis Morán Echeverría of the Salvadorian army, El Salvador’s Military Attaché in Guatemala, as someone whose background gave grounds to suspect that he might be providing a cover for clandestine terrorist groups coming from El Salvador. 316/

Reacting to the report, the Salvadorian Government claimed that Salvadorian citizens had been implicated without grounds. President Cristiani ordered the Attorney General of the Republic to launch an investigation. However, this investigation did not yield any results either.

At the request of the Socialist International, Professors Tom Farer and Robert Goldman, human rights experts, evaluated the action taken by the Guatemalan Government. The Farer-Goldman report found that the deficiencies of the Government’s reports were so obvious that one could conclude that the investigation had been meant to fail. 317/

The Oquelí-Flores case is still awaiting a judicial resolution in both El Salvador and Guatemala.


The Commission interviewed a considerable number of people who had been close to Oquelí, both members of his family and political contacts, and made all kinds of inquiries in order to obtain more precise information on the official investigations made in Guatemala and El Salvador. It had access to information about many of the possible motives for the double murder. Unfortunately, the most important information needed to conduct an in-depth investigation and answer some of the questions which were suggested to the Commission as a basis for its work could not be substantiated when the Commission requested that it be given access to all the information gathered by the Salvadorian Government on the Oquelí-Flores case. The reluctance in both Guatemala and El Salvador to give the Commission access to the information it requested during its investigation imposed serious constraints on it.

In this case, the facts are documented and the characteristics of the abduction and murder of Héctor Oquelí and Gilda Flores are not in question. However, neither those who planned the double homicide nor those who carried it out have been identified.

It was never made clear why the Guatemalan authorities had detained Oquelí at the airport and confiscated his passport for over half an hour. Nor was the liquid injected into the victims before their death identified. The records of persons entering and leaving the country were not checked - not even the records of the frontier post that was five kilometres away from the place where the bodies were found. No statement was taken from anyone whose testimony was decisive for shedding light on the facts and no one took the fingerprints left on the vehicles. Lastly, there was no investigation of the fact that the individuals who stole the car used for the crime identified themselves as police.

The dossier does not contain any new information other than letters and reports from police units and purely procedural judicial documents.

The Commission requested all existing information on this case from the highest level of the Government of the Republic of Guatemala. 318/ Despite the latter’s pledge to cooperate in the Commission’s work, no relevant information was received. 319/

The Office of the Attorney General of the Republic of El Salvador provided the Commission with a copy of the dossier of the investigation made at the request of President Cristiani. In fact, the dossier is nothing more than a compilation of press clippings on the case. 320/ Moreover, the Office of the Attorney General did not interview the Salvadorians named in the "Third Report", some of whom were public officials in El Salvador.

Among the theories as to possible motives for the crime is the fact that Héctor Oquelí was an international political figure. This is the theory underlying the Guatemalan Government’s "Third Report", which speculates that the killers could have been from the most radical sectors of FMLN, the Guatemalan army, the Salvadorian authorities or the Salvadorian extreme right wing.

MNR provided the Commission with the original of a military identity card, belonging to a major René Grande Martínez, which had been handed over to it by President Vinicio Cerezo and which the Guatemalan authorities had apparently found at the scene of the murder.

The Ministry of Defence did little to respond to the request by the Commission on the Truth that it locate Major Grande Martínez. The Commission summoned him repeatedly but he never came to testify.

The Commission determined that the most important features of this murder were: (a) that the murderers knew beforehand that Oquelí would be in Guatemala; (b) that Oquelí was detained at the airport by authorities; (c) that his movements were constantly watched; (d) that persons claiming to be police stole the vehicle in which the bodies were later found; (e) that Oquelí was abducted in Guatemala City in broad daylight in the middle of the street; (f) and that the murderers were able to drive without incident from the capital city to the border with the two victims in a stolen car. All of this makes it absolutely clear that the Guatemalan authorities must have collaborated with or tolerated these crimes.


1. The Governments of Guatemala and El Salvador have not done enough to thoroughly investigate the reasons for the murder of Héctor Oquelí Colindres and Gilda Flores or to find out who was responsible. The Commission on the Truth urges the two Governments separately to order the necessary action to clear up the crime and jointly, with the cooperation of such international bodies as are able to help them clarify this tragic event, to provide the international community with information establishing what happened, without prejudice to the corresponding judicial action.

2. The Commission believes that there is a direct link between the following facts: the fact that Héctor Oquelí Colindres and Gilda Flores Arévalo were members of their countries’ political opposition; the fact that Oquelí was inexplicably detained by Guatemalan authorities at the airport; the fact that the home of Gilda Flores was being watched; the subsequent abduction and murder of Oquelí and Flores; and alleged police involvement in the theft of the car in which the bodies were found.

3. The Commission has found sufficient evidence that members of the Salvadorian security forces, acting in conjunction with or tolerated by Guatemalan security forces, were responsible for the murders.

4. There is sufficient evidence that the Salvadorian authorities did not investigate this crime properly. There is also sufficient evidence that the investigations made by the Guatemalan authorities were deficient and that the omission of basic evidence, even if not intended as a cover-up, had that effect.


308/ At the time, the Movimiento Nacional Revolucionario (MNR) was a member of the political alliance Convergencia Democrática, which was part of the Frente Democrático Revolucionario (FDR).

309/ The Socialist International is a world-wide grouping of social- democratic, labour and socialist parties.

310/ Guillermo Ungo died a few months later in Mexico after a long illness.

311/ Objectively speaking, the Republic of Guatemala was not a safe place for the Salvadorian opposition to engage in political activity, mainly because of the domestic situation in Guatemala itself and the long-standing close ties between extreme right-wing Salvadorian groups and similar groups in Guatemala.

312/ Office of the President of the Republic. Presidential Staff. Security Department. Caso: Oquelí Colindres, Guatemala, May 1990, p. 2.

313/ Statement by Mario Antonio Sánchez Urizar, Letter No. 093 from the Mixco National Police substation to the magistrate of the First Criminal Court, 12 January 1990.

314/ Autopsy report No. 045-90 from Dr. Julio Cesar Pivaral Santos to the judge of the Jutiapa Court of First Instance, Jalpatagua, 15 January 1990.

315/ Office of the President of the Republic, Presidential Staff. Security Department. Caso: Oquelí Colindres, Guatemala, May 1990, p. 10.

316/ Ibid., p. 10.

317/ Robert Goldman and Tom Farer, Evaluation of the investigation and reports made by the Government of the Republic of Guatemala, October 1990, p. 32.

318/ A source reported that the Presidential Staff of the Republic of Guatemala obtained transcripts of routinely traced and recorded radio broadcasts which would have shed light on the incident. One expert in Guatemala confirmed that, technically speaking at least, the Presidential Staff itself could have made the recordings. The same expert confirmed that the basic errors in the police investigation were unusual, unless there was a definite unwillingness to make an investigation in this case.

319/ Letters sent to the President of the Republic of Guatemala, Mr. Serrano and to the Minister of Labour, Mr. Zolórzano. Interview with the Ambassador of Guatemala to the Republic of El Salvador. Visit by the Chairman of the Commission on the Truth to Guatemala City on 14 December 1992. Telephone request to President Serrano in January 1993.

320/ Dossier No. 73-DD H-90 of the office of the Attorney General of the Republic of El Salvador.