FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Remembering Archbishop Romero

by MARK ENGLER

Twenty-five years ago, on March 24, 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero was shot down while celebrating Mass in San Salvador. In the years before his murder, Romero had emerged as an outspoken defender of the Salvadoran poor, making him one of the best-known embodiments of the liberation theology that was infusing new life into the Catholic Church in Latin America in the ’70s and ’80s.

Today we would do well to remember Romero as an example of moral courage in a time of war. But his story is also significant because El Salvador has repeatedly been used by the current Bush administration as a parallel for the situation in Iraq.

During El Salvador’s long conflict, which stretched from the late 1970s to 1992, the country’s government and its paramilitary death squads murdered some 75,000 citizens. A 1993 U.N.-sponsored Truth Commission confirmed that these forces made a special point of attacking political dissidents, trade unionists, religious ministers, and human rights workers.

Romero was resolute in his response to this situation. He insisted on the need to “denounce the social structures that give rise to and perpetuate the misery” of the people. When his priests were targeted as part of the official repression, Romero unflinchingly stated, “I am glad that they have murdered priests in this country, because it would be very sad if in a country where they are murdering the people so horrifically, there were no priests among the victims.”

The day before he was killed, Romero made a “special appeal” in his Sunday sermon, in which he called upon soldiers to “[obey] your consciences rather than a sinful order.” In words broadcast by radio across the country, he said, “I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression.”

Romero’s pleas were directed not only at the Salvadoran army, but also at the United States.

Regrettably, the U.S. had a significant role in supporting the government responsible for rampant human rights abuses. Six weeks before his death, Romero wrote to President Jimmy Carter, warning that increased military aid would “undoubtedly sharpen the injustice and the repression inflicted on the organized people, whose struggle has often been for their most basic human rights.” Carter, wary of being tagged with “another Nicaragua,” ignored the plea.

Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush later sent hundreds of millions of dollars worth of armaments, aid, and advisers. When the Salvadoran regime put this support to murderous use, officials like Elliott Abrams built their careers by denying, obscuring, or minimizing the harrowing abuses. (Today, Abrams is the newly appointed deputy national security adviser to the current President Bush, responsible for coordinating the administration’s efforts to “advance democracy” abroad.)

All this might be relegated to the annals of Cold War history, except that, in past months, officials including Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld have held up El Salvador as a model of successful U.S. intervention, relevant to Iraq and Afghanistan. They cite the early 1980s Salvadoran elections the U.S. helped stage — neglecting to mention that these were farces in which voting was mandatory and opposition party members were targets for repression. Moreover, the atrocity-laden conflict continued for a decade afterward before peace accords were adopted. That’s hardly a desirable route when mapped onto the situation in Iraq.

More troubling still is what these references reveal about the understanding of the Cold War that now prevails in Washington and beyond. Romero’s martyrdom has done little to alter conservatives’ view that the Latin American “dirty wars” were a matter, in the words of The Weekly Standard, of “totalitarianism vs. democracy — the Soviet bloc vs. the Free World.” Hawks lambaste anyone, from Romero to John Kerry, who dared link uprisings in Central America with “socioeconomic factors such as poverty.”

As the Cold War itself is resurrected as a model for the “war on terror,” El Salvador’s guerillas become “terrorists,” and U.S. support for military governments is blanketed over with Bush’s rhetorical assertion that “from the day of our founding” America has pursued the “great objective of ending tyranny.”

In remembering Romero, our challenge is to promote a new narrative of the Cold War that provides a realistic assessment of America’s past actions and asserts that a true commitment to freedom demands self-examination. Until our country comes to terms with its role in the history of El Salvador’s conflict, we will be condemned to accept a vision of U.S. infallibility that neither allows us to appreciate Archbishop Romero’s moral example, nor to ensure that events like those that led to his murder will never be repeated.

MARK ENGLER, an analyst with Foreign Policy In Focus, has previously worked with the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress in San José, Costa Rica. He can be reached via the web site http://www.democracyuprising.com.

Research assistance for this article provided by Jason Rowe.

 

 

 

 

 

MARK ENGLER is author of How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle Over the Global Economy (Nation Books, April 2008). He can be reached via the web site http://www.DemocracyUprising.com

Weekend Edition
February 12-14, 2016
Paul Street
When Plan A Meets Plan B: Talking Politics and Revolution with the Green Party’s Jill Stein
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Comedy of Terrors: When in Doubt, Bomb Syria
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh – Anthony A. Gabb
Financial Oligarchy vs. Feudal Aristocracy
Rob Urie
The (Political) Season of Our Discontent
Pepe Escobar
It Takes a Greek to Save Europa
Gerald Sussman
Why Hillary Clinton Spells Democratic Party Defeat
Andrew Levine
What Next in the War on Clintonism?
Carol Norris
What Do Hillary’s Women Want? A Psychologist on the Clinton Campaign’s Women’s Club Strategy
Robert Fantina
The U.S. Election: Any Good News for Palestine?
Linda Pentz Gunter
Radioactive Handouts: the Nuclear Subsidies Buried Inside Obama’s “Clean” Energy Budget
Michael Welton
Lenin, Putin and Me
Manuel García, Jr.
Fire in the Hole: Bernie and the Cracks in the Neo-Liberal Lid
Thomas Stephens
The Flint River Lead Poisoning Catastrophe in Historical Perspective
David Rosen
When Trump Confronted a Transgender Beauty
Will Parrish
Cap and Clear-Cut
Victor Grossman
Coming Cutthroats and Parting Pirates
Ben Terrall
Raw Deals: Challenging the Sharing Economy
David Yearsley
Beyoncé’s Super Bowl Formation: Form-Fitting Uniforms of Revolution and Commerce
David Mattson
Divvying Up the Dead: Grizzly Bears in a Post-ESA World
Matthew Stevenson
Confessions of a Primary Insider
Jeff Mackler
Friedrichs v. U.S. Public Employee Unions
Franklin Lamb
Notes From Tehran: Trump, the Iranian Elections and the End of Sanctions
Pete Dolack
More Unemployment and Less Security
Christopher Brauchli
The Cruzifiction of Michael Wayne Haley
Bill Quigley
Law on the Margins: a Profile of Social Justice Lawyer Chaumtoli Huq
Uri Avnery
A Lady With a Smile
Katja Kipping
The Opposite of Transparency: What I Didn’t Read in the TIPP Reading Room
B. R. Gowani
Hellish Woman: ISIS’s Granny Endorses Hillary
Kent Paterson
The Futures of Whales and Humans in Mexico
James Heddle
Why the Current Nuclear Showdown in California Should Matter to You
Michael Howard
Hollywood’s Grotesque Animal Abuse
Steven Gorelick
Branding Tradition: a Bittersweet Tale of Capitalism at Work
Nozomi Hayase
Assange’s UN Victory and Redemption of the West
Patrick Bond
World Bank Punches South Africa’s Poor, by Ignoring the Rich
Mel Gurtov
Is US-Russia Engagement Still Possible?
Dan Bacher
Governor Jerry Brown Receives Cold, Dead Fish Award Four Years In A Row
Wolfgang Lieberknecht
Fighting and Protecting Refugees
Jennifer Matsui
Doglegs, An Unforgettable Film
Soud Sharabani
Israeli Myths: An Interview with Ramzy Baroud
Terry Simons
Bernie? Why Not?
Missy Comley Beattie
When Thoughtful People Think Illogically
Christy Rodgers
Everywhere is War: Luke Mogelson’s These Heroic, Happy Dead: Stories
Ron Jacobs
Springsteen: Rockin’ the House in Albany, NY
Barbara Nimri Aziz
“The Martian”: This Heroism is for Chinese Viewers Too
Charles R. Larson
No Brainers: When Hitler Took Cocaine and Lenin Lost His Brain
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail