Page 6, 6th January 1989

6th January 1989
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Page 6, 6th January 1989 — `I think they would have killed me'
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`I think they would have killed me'

PROFILE

MIRNA Anaya remembers the morning of October 26, 1987 as if it were only yesterday. The Salvadoran lawyer and former judge recalls the last time her husband left the family home to take their five children to school. As he walked towards his car, four armed men in plain clothes got out of a vehicle with tinted windows. Moments later, his children watched helplessly as a shower of bullets riddled his body, killing him instantly.

"As soon as I saw Herbert's body, my first reaction was to do exactly as he would have done go and denounce the crime." This is exactly what Mrs Anaya did and within a day, the news of the murder of Herbert Anaya, ex-president of the Salvadorian non-governmental Human Rights Commission had reached human rights groups, press and other organisations all over the world.

The murder of Herbert Anaya was yet another example of the fate that befalls many who dare to defend human rights in El Salvador.

In March 1980, the world was stunned by the news of the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero, gunned down as he preached a sermon calling for an end to the violence and for a more just distribution of resources in a country the size of Wales where 60 per cent of the land is owned by 14 families.

The Anayas were under no illusions about their own safety. "From the moment he joined the Commission, Herbert always knew that time was running out for him. He crammed as much as he could into the seven years he worked there. It was almost luck that he was killed, as to have been 'disappeared' would have been much, much worse both for him and for us."

Since her husband's death, the 33-year-old widow has travelled all over the USA and Europe to publicise the appalling human rights situation in her country. In London recently, she described her last few days in El I Salvadeff.

• ""A couple of days after Herbert's death, eight policemen dressed in green camouflage type trousers and khaki shirts surrounded our home, holding machine guns. At the time, an American friend was staying with me. We lay down on the floor with the children and phoned the TV, radio, press, any media we could think of. If my American friend hadn't been there, I think they would have killed us."

On three other occasions, police trailed her to her office once in a. security vehicle belonging to the US embassy. Finally, with some help from the Canadian government, Mrs Anaya and the five children left El Salvador to take up residence in Costa Rica.

Since Mrs Anaya's departure from El Salvador, a I9-year-old youth, Jorge Alberto Miranda, has been charged with the murder of Herbert Anaya. Arrested on December 23, 1987, by January 4 Miranda had "confessed" to the murder, saying that a left-wing guerrilla group of which Anaya was supposedly a member had ordered him to kill him. Since then Miranda has declared that before signing the declaration he had been tortured and offered a bribe of US $2,400 by the investigating commission.

"This was President Duarte's last desperate attempt to discredit the work Herbert did by construing him as a member of the guerrillas. There's no way that Jorge Alberto Miranda murdered my husband he was picked up for a petty crime and then framed. It has been proved that he was sitting examinations at the time of the murder. That's what goes on in El Salvador. They arrest poor, unknown ordinary people like this youth torture them, force them to sign an extra-judicial confession, and with that they leave them to rot in jail."

Miranda is still in prison, in solitary confinement and has been given no sentence. Mirna Anaya is certain that those really responsible for the murder of her husband are the Treasury Police. The death threats that Herbert Anaya received during an eight-month spell in prison without trial in 1986 have led her to this conclusion.

"While he was there, Colonel Reynaldo Gulches, the then head of the Treasury Police, who would normally never talk to prisoners, personally threatened to kill Herbert."

Another death threat came from the Treasury Police in August 1987, three months before the murder.

Mirna Anaya is determined to return to El Salvador. Her contract as a lawyer with the Central American Human Rights Commission in Costa Rica terminates in March 1990. "I'll go back then, if not before. I want my children to grow up in their own country."

She is heartened by a growing courage and awareness among ordinary Salvadoran people.

"Before, it would never have occurred to a peasant to denounce a murder or a disappearance. Now, many more people report the crimes.

Half the battle is won when people start to understand the power they have to change things, even when we use this power, many Of us fail.'

Mirna Anaya has asked readers to write to President Duarte of El Salvador, requesting that Jorge Alberta Miranda be tried, and if found guilty, be convicted of the minor traffic offence for which he was originally arrested, Write to President Napoleon Duarte, Casa Presidential, San Salvador, El Salvador.

Mary Durran




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