The killing of Herbert Anaya Sanabria


By Jose Gutierrez

Herbert Anaya Sanabria, president of the non-governmental Human Rights Commission of El Salvador (CDHES), was gunned down by "unknown" assassins in the Zacamil neighbourhood in San Salvador on October 26, 1987.

The international Truth Commission established as part of the El Salvador peace agreement, in its recent report said it could not ascertain whether the death squads, the Salvadoran army or the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) were responsible for the murder of Herbert Anaya.

Journalists soon began embellishing the commission's comments, saying it had named the leadership of the Revolutionary People's Army (ERP) as responsible for the assassination. These reports have angered many FMLN supporters, since it has always been clear to many Salvadorans that the army and the Duarte government were responsible for the execution. Many members of the ERP are willing to testify in court to defend the organisation.

Mirna Perla de Anaya, Herbert Anaya's widow, has also denied that the ERP had any involvement in the execution of her husband. The CDHES has taken a similar position.

Back in 1987, both the US embassy and the Salvadoran army accused Herbert Anaya of being a guerilla commander of the FMLN. They had also accused the CDHES of being a "rebel propaganda arm".

In 1986 Herbert Anaya and Reynaldo Blanco, now president of the CDHES, were captured and tortured by the Treasury Police. They spent nine months in jail.

After his release, Anaya became more outspoken. He gave press conferences denouncing the armed forces for gross human rights violations; he also unmasked the death squads and charged that they were part of the military.

Herbert Anaya was a threat to the state. It was the Salvadoran army and the US embassy who wanted him dead. An assassin shot him five times with a silenced gun.

In a press bulletin at the time, the National Union of Salvadoran Workers accused the military of carrying out the murder: "Those who bear sole responsibility for this crime are José Napoleón Duarte, the US embassy ... and the high command of the armed forces".

The crime was part of another wave of repression launched by the Salvadoran army against the popular movement. On October 29, 1987, the FMLN and FDR (Revolutionary Democratic Front) suspended the dialogue with the Duarte government in protest against the killing of Anaya. The reaction from the international community also indicted the Duarte government. The West German government, the West German Social Democratic Party and the French government demanded that Duarte clarify "the circumstances of the crime" and give an immediate explanation. UN secretary general Javier Perez de Cuellar, Americas Watch, Amnesty International and other human rights groups added their protests.

On October 27, an angered popular movement staged a

protest in front of the US embassy, laying the body of Herbert Anaya on its doorstep. The next day, they again carried the coffin to the US embassy and then to the high command of the armed forces.

There followed four days of intense protests and political crisis. At this time, the Legislative Assembly had just passed an amnesty law that forgave all political crimes committed during the war.

On October 29, 1987, Reni Roldán resigned from the Commission of National Reconciliation. "The murder of Anaya, the disappearance of university labour leader Salvador Ubau, and other events do not seem to be isolated incidents. They are all part of an institutionalised pattern of conduct", said the Social Democratic leader.

Since the death of her husband, life has not been easy for Mirna Perla de Anaya. Early this year, armed men tried to intercept her car and when she didn't stop, they shot at her, wounding her 15-year-old son. She has lived in a permanent state of terror, which she has confronted with great courage.

It now looks quite odd that the Truth Commission could not establish who was responsible for the killing of Herbert Anaya Sanabria.

If you like our work, become a supporter

Green Left is a vital social-change project and aims to make all content available online, without paywalls. With no corporate sponsors or advertising, we rely on support and donations from readers like you.

For just $5 per month get the Green Left digital edition in your inbox each week. For $10 per month get the above and the print edition delivered to your door. You can also add a donation to your support by choosing the solidarity option of $20 per month.

Freecall now on 1800 634 206 or follow the support link below to make a secure supporter payment or donation online.