WASHINGTON — A former top Salvadoran intelligence officer, speaking publicly for the first time, said El Salvador's senior military officials cooperated in creation of right-wing death squads five years ago to purge the government of leftists.
Ex-Col. Roberto Santivanez, former director of ANSESAL, the forerunner to El Salvador's current intelligence agency, said senior military officials, sitting on the Committee for National Security, ordered soldiers and officers to work with death squads led by rightist leader Roberto D'Aubuisson.
Santivanez said the committee, which included current Defense Minister Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, approved the cooperation in early 1980 to undermine a reformist government led by Col. Adolfo Majano and "to eliminate people they considered the enemies of the armed forces."
A wave of political violence swept El Salvador in early 1980, including the assassinations of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero and Atty. Gen. Mario Zamora. Majano and other perceived leftists were ousted by mid-1980, with some of them joining the guerrillas fighting the U.S.-backed government.
The interview with Associated Press on Wednesday was Santivanez' first on-the-record account of the government's role in the political violence that has claimed an estimated 50,000 civilian lives in El Salvador over the last five years.
Last year, the Salvadoran government fired Santivanez as Salvadoran consul in New Orleans after accusing him of making similar accusations to Congress and American reporters on condition he not be identified.
Santivanez' public comments preceded a planned broadcast of an hourlong interview with him on British television Sunday, the fifth anniversary of Romero's death. Santivanez said the interview is also scheduled for release in the United States.
At a news conference today, Santivanez charged that Col. Ricardo (Chino) Lau, who belonged to Nicaragua's ousted National Guard and served as an intelligence officer for CIA-backed Nicaraguan rebels, received $120,000 from Salvadoran rightists for helping to arrange Romero's assassination.
The U.S.-supported Nicaraguan Democratic Force, known by its Spanish initials FDN, has claimed that Lau was removed from that organization by the beginning of 1983, but according to statements by two FDN leaders, Lau was still working with the rebels at least into last year. Lau's whereabouts are unknown.
Although Santivanez claimed today to have independent knowledge of Lau's receipt of the money, he said in Wednesday's interview that his information on the question was limited to an apparent reference to Lau in a diary captured from an aide to D'Aubuisson in 1980.