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News > Latin America

Murder Case of Salvadoran Poet Roque Dalton's Reopened

  • Salvadorean poet Roque Dalton during his exile in Prague. 1966.

    Salvadorean poet Roque Dalton during his exile in Prague. 1966. | Photo: Republic of Cuba

Published 17 July 2018

El Salvador's Supreme Court has reopened the case after 43 years.

The Supreme Court of Justice in El Salvador has accepted a petition to re-open the murder case of poet Roque Dalton, who was killed in 1975 by his own partners in the Revolutionary People's Army (EPR), accused of being a revisionist, a Cuban agent and collaborating with the CIA.


Roque Dalton: The Revolutionary Life of a Revolutionary Poet

The court accepted a habeas corpus request and ruled that the country's prosecuting office had failed to investigate the kidnapping and murder of Dalton. Now, 43 years later, the case will be finally investigated.

“We still don't know where his remains are so, for me, for my family and for my dad's closest friends, this is incredibly painful because it hasn't ended. My dad is not in peace and neither are we!” said Jorge, the youngest son of the Salvadoran poet,

The prosecuting office took a year and seven months taking the case to tribunals and included Joaquin Villalobos and Jorge Melendez as suspects of ordering and carrying out the execution of Dalton.

“This is for the prosecutors to investigate and to make another request to process the case. Our mission is to undo the injustice committed against poet Roque Dalton,” said Benjamin Cuellar, the family's lawyer.

Melendez, now the secretary general of the Social Democrat Party (PSD) has denied any involvement in the murder and accuses Dalton himself of promoting the internal rules that led to his eventual execution.

“People, I'm not the murderer of Roque Dalton. I belonged to an organization whose rules were established by the directives, Roque Dalton among them,” said Melendez in an interview with Radio Sonora after the habeas corpus request was accepted.

Melendez said he was a “20-year-old boy” that couldn't leave the organization. Anyone who left was considered a traitor and therefore would be executed. “We couldn't avoid complying with the rules imposed by them because we would be killed,” he said.

“How is it possible that now they're turning around things and the one responsible of those decisions is now the victim? We were kids, I was 20 years old.

On the other hand, Villalobos, at that time one of the leaders of the EPR, has previously admitted his responsibility in the murder in different interviews.

Jorge (l) and Juan Jose (r) Dalton, sons of the Salvadorean poet, during a mass honoring the 35 anniversary of Roque's murder. San Salvador, El Salvador, May 10, 2010. Photo | EFE

“I was one of the seven members of the tribunal that ordered his execution,” admitted Villalobos during an interview with Dalton’s son Juan Jose that was published in the Mexican newspaper Excelsior in 1993. “It was an act of ideological radicalization, and passionate and personal immaturity. Dalton was the victim of ignorance, intrigue and dogmatism. It was a grave error.”

And according to an interview with one of EPR's members, Porfirio Hernandez, Villalobos himself was allegedly the one who pulled the trigger.

The EPR was one of the leftist armed political organizations that integrated the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN). After the peace agreements were signed in 1992, in which Villalobos had a great role, the FMLN became a legal political party.

After disagreements with the FMLN leadership, Villalobos decided to leave and founded the centrist Democratic Party, which disappeared shortly after. He has since then become a fierce critic of leftist governments in Latin America.

Juan Jose Dalton, another one of Roque's sons, has been documenting the case in search of justice.

“There are witnesses still alive, they have provided more information to statements we already had from those involved: Joaquin Villalobos and Jorge Melendez. We also have the documents they published after my father's murder. We want to know if they are responsible or not, and if they are, we want them to face justice,” said Juan Jose.

Recognized as one of the most important poets of El Salvador, Dalton is known worldwide as a revolutionary poet. His family waits for the case to be solved and to finally find his remains.

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