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A Soldier’s Story Unanswered Questions About the Jesuit Killings BY LARRY BENSKY CES AR JOYA-MARTINEZ, a 28year-old defector from a Salvadoran army intelligence unit, says he wants to help solve the biggest murder case in his country’s history. He has information, he says, that could link the November 16, 1989 deaths of six Jesuit priests to the Salvadoran military and the United States CIA. Joya-Martinez wants to talk. But the key members of Congress investigating the murders don’t seem to want to listen. Instead, Joya-Martinez is facing the threat of deportation back to El Salvador which would mean, he says, almost certain death. Last month, he was convicted of illegally entering the United States after having once been expelled a rare felony charge which, his supporters allege, was brought only to silence him. Cesar Joya-Martinez now lives in Santa Monica, doing, he told me during a recent stop in San Francisco, “the first honest work I’ve ever done in my life,” as a motel maintenance man and painter. Until October 1989, he had been attached to an important Salvadoran army intelligence unit in the capital city of San Salvador. “I had to get out,” he said, “because I had been involved in an operation which had turned out badly. They were looking for someone to take the blame, and I know how such things work. My life was in danger.” The operation in question, he said, was a more-or-less routine military search of a Salvadoran village. Under confused circumstances, however, shooting broke out, and eight people were killed. The military blamed subversives for the attack, but numerous eyewitnesses told reporters that there was unprovoked gunfire from the military, and no civilian resistance. A few weeks later, the largest guerrilla attack in the 10-year-old civil war hit the capital, Joya-Martinez had already made his way, via Belize, to Texas, where he read of the slaughter at the University of Central America campus, where the six priests, along with their housekeeper and her daughter, had been killed. “I knew right away what had happened,” Joya-Martinez recalled. “My unit had them [the Jesuits at the University of Central America] under surveillance. We were told they were subversives, affiliated with the guerrillas. Such an action does not Larry Bensky is a national correspondent for Pacifica Radio. An earlier version of this article first appeared in The San Francisco Bay Guardian. take place without long study, much surveillance. The people in my unit were doing that kind of work. And I know there are records which will show that.” For Congressional investigators, who have been looking into the murders, Joya-Martinez would seem to be an ideal witness. And in fact, he has spoken to several staff aides to members of the investigative panel. However, he has also become associated with a filmmaker named Alan Francovich, who offended much of official Washington with his 1987 television documentary, The Houses Are Full of Smoke. The film documented that human-rights atrocities in Latin America were not an aberration, but rather an officially sanctioned part of local and U.S. government policy. Francovich has accompanied Joya-Martinez to meetings with congressional aides. In some cases, those aides and one of the defectors’ lawyers agree, the filmmaker has helped convince Joya-Martinez to refuse to answer sensitive questions. JoyaMartinez’s supporters say the questions could have tended to incriminate him, and that the defector was right to decline to answer. But others wonder whether Francovich was out to protect his exclusive right to the most juicy details of the Joya-Martinez story. Francovich met Joya-Martinez last October, when a fellow filmmaker alerted him that a Salvadoran military defector was in custody in Texas, and might be deported back to his country and face almost certain death. “I flew a lawyer down there on my American Express card,” Francovich said in a phone interview from Washington. “Our immediate concern was to stop JoyaMartinez’s deportation. But after I talked to him, I realized he had a sensational story to tell.” Francovich is now in the final stages of preparing that story for a documentary funded by a consortium of European television stations. “I’ll prove that everything that JoyaMartinez says is true,” Francovich asserted, “and that Congress doesn’t want to hear it because of the same reason they haven’t wanted to hear the truth about death and torture squads in Chile, Uruguay, Argentina, and other places. Their policy is what allows these things to happen.” Joya-Martinez and Francovich had no trouble getting staff aides to senators and members of Congress to hear their charges about the Salvadoran military. Obstacles began to appear, they say, when they began to lay out their charges of U.S. involvement. “I worked in an office with two United States officials,” Joya-Martinez recalled. “Their desks were just a few feet away. They controlled the payroll for everything that went on.” Congressional aides “don’t want to accept that Americans are there, funding an entire intelligence operation,” Joya-Martinez said. “They want to hear that it’s just some Salvadoran colonels. When I meet with them, they’re very interested when I name Salvadorans. But when I talk about United States agents, their faces change, they lose interest.” But congressional aides take a dim view of Francovich, and they say his involvement in the case has tainted Joya-Martinez’s credibility. “Joya-Martinez’s main problem is his choice of handlers,” said Jim McGovern, press secretary to Massachusetts Democrat Joe Moakley, who heads a congressional task force investigating the killings. “He should have hooked up with a group that tried to establish his credibility; that’s the name of the game in this town.” One of the defector’s attorneys said he understands that complaint. “Joya-Martinez says he’s willing to talk to anyone, anytime, and tell everything he knows,” said the lawyer, who agreed to an interview on the condition he not be named. “Yet when we set up meetings, Francovich always stops him from answering key questions, and there are never any supporting documents to back up his claims.” One such meeting took place on Capitol Hill in August. Initiated at the request of Ramsey Clark, the former attorney general, who has taken an interest in Joya-Martinez, the meeting included representatives from Moakley’s task force and majority and minority staffers from the House Intelligence Committee. “The first thing that happened,” recalled McGovern, who was present at the meeting, “was that Francovich, Joya-Martinez, and his lawyer left the room for a consultation. When they came back, they said that he couldn’t answer any questions about activities he had personally participated in, because of pending legal charges.” McGovern said that this so annoyed congressional aides at the meeting that Joya-Martinez wasn’t taken seriously. Francovich has a different explanation. “They were trying to put him in an impossible situation,” said the filmmaker. “Here he has strong evidence from working in his unit that the military, and U.S. advisers, were deeply implicated in the murder of the Jesuits, and all they’re interested in is putting him in a catch-22 situation where he would in THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13