Constant Nieuwenhuys-L'exécution, 1982


Tom Haartsen





Late period
x 150,0cm
oil paint
Collection Fondation Constant, NL



17 March 1982 four IKON journalists, reporting on the Civil War in El Salvador, were shot by the Junta. This murder became known as the Santa Rita Massacre.

Constant was very shocked by the brutal and planned murder of four Dutch journalists - Koos Koster, Hans ter Laag, Jan Kuiper and Joop Willemsen - who worked for IKON. The four journalists had been ambushed - a bowl in the middle of wooded hills - where about twenty armed soldiers had holed up. This made escape impossible for the four men and the guerrillas who accompanied them.

José Napoleón Duarte (23.11.1925-23.02.1990) was a Salvadoran politician, who led a civilian military junta from 1980 to 1982. In 1979 he staged a coup, which was the start of the Salvadoran Civil War between the junta and Marxist rebellion. Duarte was president of El Salvador from 1984 to 1986. When Ronald Reagan took office as US president on January 20, 1981, Duarte became the symbol of an anti-communist ally in Central America.

On March 24, 1980, Bishop Óscar Romero was shot dead by an assassin while celebrating Mass. Archbishop Romero was killed because he spoke out against social injustice and violence amid the escalating conflict between the military government and left-wing insurgents. Before his murder, Koos Koster had interviewed the socially committed Romero and he confirmed his ideas about the situation in El Salvador. That same year he reported on the death squads in El Salvador, which would focus the attention of the Western media on that country. He came under criticism from the governments of the United States and El Salvador, who felt that Koster had presented the situation in one-sided terms.

In 1982, four IKON journalists, Joop Willemsen, Koos Koster, Jan Kuiper, Hans ter Laag, wanted to report on the violent Salvadoran Civil War. After previously being captured and released, they decided to interview a guerrilla group. They had already recorded several interviews.

On March 17, the journalists were driven to a location by a driver of a journalist from the Dutch newspaper Trouw, after which four guerrillas would guide them to the location of the interview. The driver had dropped them off at Chalatenango at 4:10 PM, from where they would continue on foot accompanied by the guerrillas, heavily packed with their equipment. Not far from the drop-off point, the journalists and guerrillas were shot dead by soldiers of the government army, the junta, in a clearing among the hills. The military had taken up positions on the surrounding hills. The journalists and guerrillas had no chance of fleeing, they were met and executed. This murder became known as the Santa Rita Massacre.

In 2016, the war crimes amnesty law was abolished, allowing prosecution of this crime. Gert Kuiper, Jan Kuiper's brother with Saskia ter Laag, Hans ter Laag's sister, filed a report in El Salvador. October 2022, after six years, Gert Kuiper was informed that there was sufficient evidence against three suspects for their arrest. There were a total of five suspects in the picture, two of whom had since died.

Colonel Mario Reyes Mena of the nearby El Paraïso barracks appeared to have ordered this gruesome murder. This Colonel received a post in the US from 1984-1986. He lives in Virginia in 2018. During the period of the murder about 20 American soldiers were also stationed at El Paraïso to train the junta's soldiers.

On a Friday evening in October 2022, it is announced that two of the three living suspects have been arrested: The former Minister of Defense, General Guillermo García and Colonel Francisco Antonio Morán, then director of a special police service. El Salvador is also asking the US for the extradition of Colonel Mario Reyes Mena, who is seen as primarily responsible for the murder.

[Source: Tulpen van hoop - d.d. 16.10.2022, episode Zembla | Wikipedia]

    English title

    The Execution


    Signed and dated, Constant '81-'82, bottom right in black paint on brown fond
    Human cruelty

    Frame dimensions

    160,0 x 170,0 x 6,5 cm
    Title Year
    ZT/Voorstudie L'Exécution 1982

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