Archbishop Romeroís memory defiled by US links to death squads - news from ekklesia

By staff writers
April 14, 2005

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Archbishop Romeroís memory defiled by US links to death squads

-14/04/05

Delayed by several weeks to avoid clashing with Easter, and then with the illness and death of Pope John Paul II, the 25th anniversary of the death of Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador was marked by a Mass earlier this month involving tens of thousands of local people and over 3,000 foreign guests, says Paul Jeffrey writing from Central America.

Romero was assassinated with the connivance of the government-sanctioned, US-trained Salvadorean death squad on 24 March 1980. His anniversary highlights the controversial role of President George W. Bushís father, President George Bush senior, in Central America. This has come to the surface again with the recent nomination of former American ambassador to Honduras John Negroponte as US intelligence director.

ìThe continued refusal of US officials to accept their share of responsibility for the death of the Archbishop and of thousands of other Salvadoreans is a stain on the memory of a great man,î a Catholic priest who attended the Mass told Ekklesia.

A shy and conservative Catholic by background, Archbishop Romero came to be an inspired spiritual leader and a passionate advocate for the poor. His subsequently published diaries cast light on his fears, but also his strong calling ìto follow Christ by identifying with the suffering of my peopleî.

Romeroís name is one of many engraved in black marble at the edge of San Salvadorís Cuscatlan Park, part of a wall of memory constructed in 2003 to remember the violence that tore El Salvador apart. Over 70,000 people died, many of them ëdisappearedí. Around 25,000 names are engraved on the memorial, all civilians murdered or disappeared between 1970 and 1991.

ìIn the section of those killed in 1980, nestled amid the Rs, he is listed simply as ëOscar Arnulfo Romeroí ñ no auspicious title, no little cross attached to his name to signify he was anything other than an ordinary Salvadoran,î writes Paul Jeffrey in the National Catholic Reporter. ìHe made himself part of the people, even if it meant dying alongside the poor who died violently every day.î

Mr Jeffrey says that why Romero is still growing in popularity must be understood against a background of deteriorating economic conditions for El Salvadorís poor today. ìGlobalization has made some Salvadorans even wealthier than before; the traditional landowning rich have been replaced by new financial sector elites who benefited from extensive privatization and the 2001 ëdollarizationí of the countryís economy.î

He goes on: ìThe 43 percent of the population that lives on less than two dollars per day faces difficult times, and the looming approval of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) promises only to deepen the crisis. Were it not for the more than billion received every year in family remittances from outside the country Ö the feeling of hopelessness would be even worse.î

According to declassified US documents and other witnesses, the murder of Archbishop Romero was carried out by Salvadorean police intelligence agents on the orders of Major Roberto D'Aubuisson ñ who was backed by the first President Bush, and headed up the ARENA party that subsequently came to power.

In 2004 there was a trial in Fresno, California, involving one of the agents associated with Romeroís execution. But the US officials have been obstructive to the process of bringing those responsible to trial, and few expect any of the assassins to appear in a court in San Salvador any time soon.

While Vatican conservatives are keen to push for the rapid beatification and canonisation of Pope John Paul II, they have stoutly objected to similar moves on behalf of Romero, who is seen as ìtoo subversiveî.

But many devotees of the late Archbishop are relieved that he will not be turned into what one called ìa plaster saintî, saying that his identification with ordinary people and Godís love for them is better recognised in a humble memorial.

In election campaign ads, President Bush senior later boasted that he "faced down the death squads in El Salvador", says then BBC correspondent in the region Tom Gibb. But in reality he met with the high command of the army, whose policies were behind the killings.

The Salvadoreans were given a list of names of army officers the US wanted ìremovedî. President Bush's aide, who personally handed over the list, was Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North - later discredited for selling weapons to Iran to pay for the CIA's secret wars in Central America. Mr North has been vociferously supported by the religious right in America.

Other victims of a US-trained elite army unit were six Jesuit priests, who were taken out of their house and machine gunned to death. Also a group of nuns who were abused and murdered.

President George W. Bushís newly nominated director of intelligence, John Negroponte, a former ambassador in Honduras as well as (more recently) Iraq, was heavily involved in US strategy in Central America in the 1980s.

Critics say that there is concrete evidence that Negroponte tried to subvert the left-leaning administration in Nicaragua and stall the peace process. He was known to back authoritarian governments in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

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