This Day in History

Nov. 16, 1989: Jesuit Scholars/Priests and Staff Massacred in El Salvador

Time Periods: Post-Civil Rights Era: 1975 - 2000
Themes: US Foreign Policy, Wars & Related Anti-War Movements, World History/Global Studies

On Nov. 16, 1989, six Jesuit scholars/priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter were murdered by the U.S. backed, trained, and equipped military in El Salvador. The priests were internationally recognized scholars who wrote and spoke extensively about the need for peace and the root causes of the war in El Salvador. They were among the 75,000 people killed during this period.

Salvadoran Jesuit Martyrs | Zinn Education Project

Paintings of Salvadoran Jesuit Martyrs. Artwork by Mary Pimmel. Click image to learn about the painting and artist.

The massacre was carried out by the elite Atlacatl Battalion of the Salvadoran Army. The Army came to their residence at the José Simeón Cañas Central American University, ordered them to lay face down on the ground, and shot them. They also shot the housekeeper and her daughter to eliminate potentional witnesses. Learn more from a Democracy Now! report on the 20th anniversary and the National Security Archive.

Those murdered were:

Scholar Noam Chomsky wrote a statement about why we may know of the names and words of Eastern European dissidents, but not the Salvadoran,

[Eastern European dissidents] were given massive support and attention by the entire Western world, quite unprecedented support, vastly greater than the support given to people within Western domains who were suffering far worse oppression and were defending freedom and justice with far greater courage.

The disparity is so extraordinary that the very word ‘dissident’ in Western languages refers to East Europeans; no one, except those few who have extricated themselves from the Western propaganda system, even uses the word ‘dissident’ for people like the Central American Jesuit intellectuals who were assassinated in November 1989 by elite forces armed and trained by the U.S.

And while every word of East European dissidents is widely publicized, hailed, and treasured, try to find even a reference to the very important and courageous writings of Fr. Ellacuría and his associates, or other Central American dissidents who had to flee from slaughter or were simply tortured and killed by U.S.-run forces.

Learn about the U.S. involvement in Latin America in Harvest of Empire by Juan Gonzalez. Find resources below for teaching about Central America and at the Teaching Central America website.