Six Jesuit priests killed by the army during El Salvador's civil war two decades ago were decorated with the country's highest honor Monday.
Mauricio Funes, El Salvador's first leftist president, called the decorations an act of atonement for an atrocity during the 1980-1992 war between leftist rebels and a U.S.-backed right-wing government.
He presented the National Order of Jose Matias Delgado to the families of the priests on the 20th anniversary of the massacre.
"It means lifting the dirty carpet of hypocrisy and starting to purge our home of our recent history," said Funes, whose election in March brought to power the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, which fought for 12 years to overthrow U.S.-backed governments until laying down their arms and becoming a political party.
"For me, it means lifting the thick veil of darkness and lies to allow the light of truth and justice to enter," Funes said.
On Nov. 16, 1989, members of an army battalion killed Spanish-born university rector Ignacio Ellacuria, five other Jesuits, a housekeeper and her daughter.
The killings at the University of Central America sparked international outrage and tarnished the image of U.S. anti-communism efforts after it was found that some of the soldiers involved received training at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Ellacuria, a follower of liberation theology, had promoted a negotiated end to the war, which left 75,000 dead before ending in peace accords in 1992.
His brother, Juan Antonio Ellacuria, traveled from Spain to accept the award Monday.
Two army officers were convicted in the massacre in 1991. Both were released early under a 1993 amnesty.
In January, Spanish Judge Eloy Velasco opened an investigation into 14 Salvadoran former military officials, including former Defense Minister Humberto Lario, to consider their indictment for the killings.
Velasco acted under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows for the prosecution of crimes against humanity and other serious offenses such as terrorism, even if alleged to have been committed in another country.
Two human rights groups _ the Spanish Association for Human Rights and California's Center for Justice and Accountability _ filed suit in November 2008 asking Spain's National Court to indict the 14 and former Salvadoran President Alfredo Cristiani.
Velasco rejected the request to include Cristiani, citing lack of evidence.