Rene Emilio Ponce was born in El Salvador. He finished first in his class at the Salvadorian military academy in 1966 and pursued a career in the military. In 1989, he was the Colonel in charge of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
At dawn on 16 November 1989, Salvadorian military troops invaded the campus of the Universidad Centroamericana “José Simeón Cañas” (UCA) and brutally murdered six Jesuit priests, including the headmaster, as well as the university’s housekeeper and her daughter. According to the report of the United Nations Salvadorian Truth Commission, Rene Emilio Ponce is to have ordered Colonel Guilermo Alfredo Benavides Moreno to kill the headmaster of the UCA on 15 November 1989. The minister of defence, General Rafael Humberto Larios, General Juan Rafael Bustillo and the Colonels Juan Orlando Zepeda, Inocente Orlando Montano and Francisco Elena Fuentes are also said to have been present at this meeting. Rene Emilio Ponce and Rafael Humberto Larios are also said to have had an audience with the president of El Salvador, Alfredo Cristiani a few hours before the massacre.
Since 1989, Rene Emilio Ponce has been promoted to the rank of General. He served as minister of defence between August 1990 and July 1993 but was forced to abandon this post shortly before the publication of the U.N. Truth Commission report that revealed his involvement in the Jesuit massacre. He resides in El Savaldor and is currently the president of the Association of Salvadorian Military Veterans (ASVEM). In this capacity, he led a protest against the proposed repeal of the 1992 amnesty law. The newspaper El Diario de Hoy quoted Rene Emilio Ponce as saying that El Salvador should choose reconciliation over bitterness and should therefore not reconsider this question of war crimes.
In March 2000, the UCA had asked the San Salvador prosecutor to open a new investigation into the murders of the Jesuit priests, including Rene Ponce’s involvement in the affair. No indictments resulted.
On 13 November 2008, the Spanish Association for Human Rights (APDHE) and the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) filed a suit with the Spanish National Court against Rene Emilio Ponce, 13 other Salvadorian military officers and Alfredo Cristiani, the former Salvadorian president.