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
(b) Rivas Hernández (1986)
C. Massacres of peasants by the armed forces
SUMMARY OF THE CASE
The Commission on the Truth received abundant complaints of disappearances and studied most of them in depth. The present case is symptomatic of the disregard shown for family values, family feelings, maternal grief and trade union solidarity, which is why the Commission chose to focus on it.
On 18 August 1989, trade unionists Sara Cristina Chan Chan Medina and Juan Francisco Massi Chávez were walking home along the Boulevard del Ejército, near San Salvador. She was 20 years old and a photographer for the trade union confederation FENASTRAS; he was 25, a student and worked for the LIDO factory. As they passed the Reprocentro factory, 2.5 kilometres from the capital city, six air force members arrested them in front of the main gate: passengers in the buses driving by on the road recognized the young people and saw them standing against the wall with their hands in the air while being interrogated by the soldiers. This occurred at approximately 6 p.m. They have not been seen since.
DESCRIPTION OF THE FACTS 340/
Juan Francisco was born on 25 February 1973 in Quezaltepeque, La Libertad, to Carmen Chávez de Massi and Simeón Massi. He lived with his family in the Las Margaritas district in Soyapango, was a worker, was public relations secretary of the trade union at the LIDO company, worked with FENASTRAS members on various trade union projects, had never been arrested and had no criminal record.
Sara Cristina Chan Chan was the eldest daughter of Jorge Eduardo Chan Chan Jiménez and María Juana Antonia Medina. The family used to live in the city of Santa Ana, where her father was an office worker and a well-known leader of the trade union ANDA. She had never been arrested either and had no criminal record. She had however, suffered the consequences of her family’s trade union activities.
On 16 June 1980, when Sara Cristina was barely 10 years old, men in civilian clothing came to her home and murdered her father in the presence of Sara Cristina, her three younger brothers and sisters and her mother. The men arrived at 2 a.m. and identified themselves as members of the National Guard. When Sara Cristina’s father refused to open the door, the men broke one of the windows and shot him. They also fired at the propane gas cylinder in the kitchen, and one of the men was about to light a match when he say Sara Cristina and her brothers and sisters hiding under a bed. They left without setting fire to the house because there were "quite a few children" in it.
Because of the murder of Jorge Eduardo Chan Chan Jiménez, the family went to live in San Salvador. It was only after "quite some time" that Sara Cristina’s mother decided to return to Santa Ana. In July 1989, according to witnesses, a group of uniformed soldiers from the Second Brigade, together with some civilians, came to her house. They blindfolded her and put her into a vehicle to take her to the Santa Ana barracks; on the way, she was tortured. After her release that same month, the family returned to the capital to live. There, Sara Cristina had obtained a job as a photographer for FENASTRAS, one of the country’s largest and most active trade unions. Because FENASTRAS took positions critical of the armed forces, it was labelled a "front for FMLN". In 1989, threats against FENASTRAS were common and its members were accused in the media of having organizational links to FMLN. A month before the disappearance of Sara Cristina and Juan Francisco, a paid advertisement in the newspaper El Diario de Hoy blamed leaders of FMLN, priests Ignacio Ellacuría and Segundo Montes and leaders of FENASTRAS for the country’s destruction by terrorism. The same advertisement asked President Cristiani to institute the death penalty and summary trials for these people.
Such characterizations, and the persecution of members of the trade union movement in general, added to the years of confrontation between FENASTRAS and the armed forces, created a situation in which the armed forces viewed anyone belonging to FENASTRAS as suspect. As a result, FENASTRAS members and persons linked to the trade union movement were generally considered by the Salvadorian authorities to be a threat to the security of the State.
On Saturday, 18 August, Sara Cristina spent the entire morning at FENASTRAS. She then took a bus to go and visit Juan Francisco, who worked at the LIDO factory on the Boulevard del Ejército. She met him and they set off on foot towards San Salvador. The young people lived in the Santa Lucia district, near Juan Francisco’s work.
As they passed the Reprocentro commercial factory, 2.5 kilometres from the capital, six air force members stopped them in front of the main factory gate. The soldiers were armed with M-16 rifles and wore red berets with the air force metal badge. Three of them were in olive-green uniform, the others in camouflage.
Air force motor patrols and soldiers on foot were a common sight. The air force maintained checkpoints and patrols on the Boulevard del Ejército, near its base, 24 hours a day. It also had soldiers stationed inside several commercial firms located on the Boulevard, close to the base.
Between 6 and 6.30 p.m., several people travelling past the place recognized Sara Cristina and Juan Francisco. The first to go by was a colleague from work who recognized the two detainees, got out of the vehicle in which he was travelling and returned to San Salvador to report the arrests to FENASTRAS. Minutes later, two colleagues went by in a minibus; when they realized that the two had been arrested, they too got out and returned to the city. Febe Elizabeth Vásquez, General Secretary of FENASTRAS, also drove by; she witnessed the arrest and returned to the office to inform her colleagues.
According to the log of incoming and outgoing vehicles kept by the Paratroop Battalion, a driver left at 6.50 p.m. to drop off patrols on the Boulevard. Others also left to patrol the Boulevard at this time. 341/
According to testimony, one of the soldiers asked Sara Cristina and Juan Francisco for their identity papers, while others stood guard. Other witnesses said that the soldiers had surrounded them and had placed them against a wall with their hands in the air, directly in front of the Reprocentro factory.
Some people were waiting for a bus nearby and must have witnessed the arrest. Out of fear, they did not approach, but they commented that the soldiers "had some detainees over there". That is what people usually said in those days.
The Paratroop Battalion was in charge of patrolling the Boulevard del Ejército and, that day, its third squadron was the unit assigned to guard the Boulevard. The officer in charge was Captain Oscar Arnulfo Díaz Amaya. In August 1989, some six or eight air force members were on duty 24 hours a day at the Reprocentro factory. These soldiers had orders to stay inside the factory premises. The air force did not provide the Commission on the Truth with the names of the officers of the unit which was guarding that company. The arrests were reported immediately to FENASTRAS which telephoned the media to report the incident. A FENASTRAS member left within 15 minutes to investigate; when he arrived on the scene, the young people were still being held. Later, two other people drove to the place, but the young people were no longer there. A total of five people witnessed the arrests.
The soldiers allegedly took Sara Cristina and Juan Francisco to the air force barracks, although no one saw a military vehicle at the scene. Lieutenant Colonel René Alcides Rodríguez Hurtado, Commander of the Paratroop Battalion at the time, told the Commission that, when Battalion troops made arrests, the normal procedure was to communicate with the duty officer through the air force base radio station; a vehicle would then be sent to bring the detainees to the base, where they would be interrogated. Following interrogation, the detainee was either released or handed over to the Treasury Police, the National Police or the National Guard. Lieutenant Colonel Rodríguez Hurtado, who was chief duty officer at the tbime, did not record the arrest of Sara Cristina and Juan Francisco. 342/ When FENASTRAS telephoned the air force to find out whether they had been transferred to the barracks, the duty commander denied that any arrest had been reported.
Efforts made by relatives
The next day, Sara Cristina’s mother was informed of her daughter’s arrest. Juan Francisco’s family, however, learnt of the arrests the same day, through a relative.
According to testimony, on Monday, 20 August, a representative of the Human Rights Commission of El Salvador who was at the Ilopango air force base investigating the arrests of Sara Cristina and Juan Francisco said that he had been informed that the young people had been arrested by members of the air force, but that they had already been handed over to the Treasury Police central barracks. A sister of Juan Francisco and a FENASTRAS lawyer also went to the air force base but were not allowed in. The Paratroop Battalion log of incoming and outgoing vehicles for the period from 18 to 20 August 1989, however, has no entry concerning the detainees. 343/
From that moment on, the authorities systematically denied even the fact that the arrests had occurred, and hence all knowledge of the victims’ whereabouts and fate. That same day, Monday, 20 August, Sara Cristina’s mother had gone to the Ilopango air force base to ask about her daughter. The soldier on duty took out a list and then went to call another officer. A few minutes later, an officer by the name of Flores arrived. He told the mother to "do me a big favour, tell those FENASTRAS people to stop putting that propaganda on television. We don’t have them".
From that moment on, Sara Cristina’s mother found herself embarked on a futile quest. She went to various military and police departments around the city in search of information; from the National Police to the air force; from the air force to the Treasury Police; from the Treasury Police to the air force. All her efforts were in vain.
Juan Francisco’s sister also went to the Treasury Police, where she was told that the air force had not transferred anyone. Returning to the air force base, she was told that she had been misinformed and the air force had not arrested anyone by the name of Juan Francisco Massi or Sara Cristina Chan Chan.
Sara Cristina’s mother went to the air force a third time, at 8 a.m., on Tuesday, 21 August, where they insisted that she look for her daughter at the National Guard barracks. From there, she went round in circles again: from the National Guard to the Treasury Police; from the Treasury Police to the National Police; from the National Police to the Treasury Police; from the Treasury Police to the National Guard. Again, all her efforts were in vain.
On Wednesday, 22 August, she returned to the air force base, accompanied by a FENASTRAS lawyer. At the entrance to the base, she met Juan Francisco’s father, who was taking similar steps to find his son.
The same air force officer dealt with them. This time, he told Sara Cristina’s mother that if she came back one more time, "the same thing would happen to her", in other words, they might make her disappear. The officer denied the arrests, but took the opportunity to tell them that Juan Francisco was an FMLN commander and that young people who joined the guerrillas often died.
Since the mother insisted that various people had witnessed the arrests by members of the air force a few days earlier, another officer was finally called in; he took the mother to the bartolinas. She inspected six cells, but saw neither Sara Cristina nor Juan Francisco. The officer shouted, "Don’t come back unless you want this to happen to you!". Out of fear, she never returned.
On Thursday, 23 August, Sara Cristina’s younger sister went to the air force base, accompanied by a lawyer. The officer who dealt with them said to her: "You must be her sister, you look a lot like her. But we don’t have her. Stop coming here to ask about her, because we don’t have her here!" Sara Cristina’s sister returned to the air force base with a sister of Juan Francisco on Friday, 24 August. Despite her pleas, the soldiers again denied the arrests.
The families of Sara Cristina and Juan Francisco left no stone unturned: they put paid advertisements in the newspaper demanding the release of both young people; 344/ they made countless visits to hospitals, cemeteries and police and military departments; they filed complaints with the (governmental) Human Rights Commission, the (non-governmental) Human Rights Commission, the Archdiocesan Legal Protection Office, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other human rights bodies; and they filed writs of habeas corpus with the Supreme Court. 345/
Letters were also sent to the Legislative Assembly and the Ministry of Justice. Two members of the Assembly informed Sara Cristina’s mother that the young people’s names were recorded in the air force’s internal prisoner logs and that they were being held in the cellar of the air force barracks. The arrest and transfer to Ilopango air force base were thus confirmed.
The Director of the Archdiocesan Legal Protection Office sent letters to the Director-General of the Treasury Police at the time, Colonel Héctor Heriberto Hernández; the Commander of the air force, Colonel Juan Rafael Bustillo; the Chief of the Armed Forces Joint Staff at the time, Colonel René Emilio Ponce; the Minister of Defence and Public Security at the time, General Rafael Humberto Larios López; the Vice-Minister for Public Security, Colonel Inocente Orlando Montano; and the Vice-Minister for Defence, Colonel Juan Orlando Zepeda.
The only reply received was from the Treasury Police. In a letter dated 23 August 1989, Colonel Héctor Heriberto Hernández replied that he had "painstakingly" searched "the archives" and that Juan Francisco and Sara Cristina were not being held and had not been held by that body. 346/
The governmental Human Rights Commission searched for Sara Cristina and Juan Francisco at the air force base, the Artillery Brigade, the Cavalry Regiment, the National Police central barracks, the National Guard, the Treasury Police, the First Infantry Brigade, the Fourth Infantry Brigade and Military Detachment No. 1. 347/ These efforts proved fruitless and the investigation was apparently limited to asking the officer in charge of each unit to fill out a form stating that he was not holding the young people. The Human Rights Commission finally stated that it had been unable to find out any information on the case.
The Commission on the Truth asked the air force, the National Police, the Treasury Police and the National Guard for information on all the people arrested by them during the period from 16 to 20 August. It also asked for the list of people transferred from the air force to the other security forces during that week. The air force transmitted the list of people arrested by its units during the period from 16 to 20 August 1989; however, the list was not the original, but a typewritten copy, and listed only six people as having been arrested on 17 August. There was no record of the arrest of Sara Cristina or Juan Francisco. 348/
The National Police transmitted a list of people arrested by its units during the period from 17 to 19 August 1989. This list, a typewritten copy of the names of several people arrested on those days, also contained no record of the arrest of Sara Cristina or Juan Francisco. 349/ The National Guard transmitted copies of the pages of the book in which it kept a record of people arrested on 17, 18, 19 and 20 August. There was no record of Sara Cristina or Juan Francisco. It stated that, on those days, "no one was transferred to it from the Salvadorian air force". 350/
The Massi family received several telegrams telling them to go to the National Police to get Juan Francisco. Juan Francisco’s father established a relationship with an individual who allegedly belonged to the National Police and who told him that his son was at the police barracks in the Monserrat district and that he could communicate with him. According to that source, his son had injuries from the blows he had received and needed clothes and money. Although Juan Francisco’s father took him food, clothing and money, he was never allowed to see him. He was told that Juan Francisco was in bad shape and that he had to wait until the young man was better. The father stayed in contact with the policeman until 1991, but Juan Francisco never appeared. Finally, the family gave up the search.
A month after the disappearance of Sara Cristina and Juan Francisco, on 18 September 1989, Sara Cristina’s mother took part in a demonstration organized by FENASTRAS to demand the release of the two young people. Along with 63 other people, she was arrested by members of the National Police and transferred to the central barracks. She was threatened, beaten and tortured. The next month, her younger daughter was injured when a bomb exploded at FENASTRAS headquarters. After this last incident, the mother stopped looking for her daughter.
The official investigations
The military authorities, the Government and the judiciary all refused to investigate the incident. Because of the publicity surrounding the case, however, the air force asked then Lieutenant Edgardo Ernesto Echeverría, Chief of the C-II Tactical Support Division, to carry out an internal investigation. Lieutenant Echeverría questioned the soldiers in his division and, upon receiving negative replies, reported that no one in his unit had seen the two young people.
In testimony before the Commission, Lieutenant Echeverría described the investigation as "a bureaucratic investigation", confined to asking questions orally. He said that such cases had been common during the two years in which he worked in the intelligence division. The air force commander or chief had requested internal investigations on various occasions, and Lieutenant Echeverría could not recall a single case in which the air force had admitted responsibility.
The Commission finds the following:
1. There is full evidence that members of the air force arrested Sara Cristina Chan Chan and Juan Francisco Massi.
2. There is sufficient evidence that the detainees were transferred to the air force base.
3. There is sufficient evidence that they disappeared while in the custody of the air force, and there is no evidence that they are still alive.
4. There is full evidence of a cover-up by air force personnel, who denied the arrests of Sara Cristina Chan Chan and Juan Francisco Massi.
5. The judiciary and the police investigation units which have so far refused to act must launch a special investigation into the air force to clear up the circumstances of the arrest and subsequent disappearance of the two young people. The Commission on the Truth considers it unacceptable that people seeking evidence in this case, which is typical of many such cases of disappearance, have been denied access to individuals or archives. It is incumbent on the judiciary, headed by the Supreme Court of Justice, to open this exhaustive investigation into the air force. As the expression of Salvadorian society, the State has an obligation to history to investigate the incident in a transparent manner, to punish the culprits and to compensate the families of the young victims Sara Cristina Chan Chan and Juan Francisco Massi.
340/ The Commission interviewed many witnesses, civilian and military, and vetted public documents on the case.
341/ Copy of the Paratroop Battalion log of incoming and outgoing vehicles, provided to the Commission on the Truth on 5 December 1992.
342/ The Commission on the Truth had access to official documents confirming that Colonel Rodríguez was on duty on 18 and 19 August 1989.
343/ Copy of the Paratroop Battalion log of incoming and outgoing vehicles. Information available to the Commission on the Truth shows that it was common practice, in cases of disappearance, not to keep official records of arrests.
344/ El Mundo, 21 August 1989, 4 September 1989 and 6 September 1989.
345/ On 5 September 1989, through the Archdiocesan Legal Protection Office, a sister of Juan Francisco filed a writ of habeas corpus with the Supreme Court of Justice. Sara Cristina’s mother also requested a remedy of habeas corpus for her daughter, but the Court never dealt with the case.
346/ Letter dated 23 August 1989 from the Director-General of the Treasury Police to the Archdiocesan Legal Protection Office, contained in the Massi Chávez case file, Archdiocesan Legal Protection Office.
347/ Case No. 1906, Human Rights Commission of El Salvador.
348/ To date, the armed forces have not transmitted the information requested from the Treasury Police.
349/ National Police report transmitted to the Commission on the Truth, 23 December 1992.
350/ Report of the former National Guard transmitted to the Commission on the Truth on 20 January 1993.