Jesus Rojas (1950-1991)

By Bill Stouffer
May 1991; page 11; Volume 2, No. 6
Antonio Cardenal, RIP

Jesus Rojas (1950-1991): "After ten years of war, we have earned the right to return to political life without them killing us." - press conference the day before his assassination by Army troops, El Mundo/AP, 4/12/91.


On the 11th of April, FMLN commandante Antonio Cardenal, better known by his nommé de guerre Jesus Rojas, was ambushed and killed in the northern province of Chalatenango along with fourteen other FMLN combatants. Cardenal, 41, was Nicaraguan, a nephew of Violeta Chamorro who lived in El Salvador and was trained as a Jesuit. He left the order to join the FMLN and was active both at a political and military level. FMLN reports now indicate that Cardenal was wounded during the ambush and subsequently executed with a pistol to the head. According to one report broadcast on Radio YSU two US advisors were with the Atlacatl Battalion just before the incident.

A key figure in El Salvador, Cardenal helped hold and define the FMLN zones of control in Chalatenango. He commanded the FPL, one of five armies that make up the FMLN. Since 1989 he has been a member of the FMLN's political-diplomatic negotiating team and participated in nearly all negotiating sessions of the current peace process. The guerrillas have charged that the assassination was part of a deliberate attempt to sabotage the negotiations. Nonetheless, the FMLN has pledged not to walk out of the negotiations, but to combine retaliation with dialogue.

Although neither the FMLN nor the civilian popular movement depends of particular "great leaders" to be effective, Cardenal was among the most impressive figures of the revolution. His vision of a revolutionary pluralism for post-war El Salvador and his evident depth of commitment to the Salvadoran people made him an unusually effective ambassador both internationally and in El Salvador.

When we met with him less than a month before his death, he stressed the critical importance of the negotiations for the future of El Salvador. He saw negotiations and demilitarization as the first step toward opening up a political space where people all across El Salvador could organize their lives without fear of assassination or torture. From this space, people could make his vision of the new El Salvador into a reality.

In the small town of Chalatenango, like San Jose las Flores and Arcatao, people have resettled and begun to rebuild their lives after the army massacres and bombing in the early 1980s. Run cooperatively by the people who live in them, these towns provide health care, educational and even day care systems. They have the space to do this because the army can no longer maintain a persistant presence to the region without being destroyed by the FMLN.

We witnessed an educational meeting among the FMLN forces under Cardenal's command on overcoming sexism and machismo. A substantial number of FMLN troops, including commanders like Maria Serrano, are women. This kind of emphasis on education and equality was a key part of Cardenal's commitment to building the new El Salvador today not only in words but in practice.