FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Killing the Monseñor

by

In Graham Greene’s novel The Power and the Glory, the central character is a priest.  Both saint and scoundrel, the priest represents the collusion with colonialism and power that the Catholic Church fostered and represented in Latin America.  At the same time, the priest is just a man; a man with compassion and an understanding of the plight of the people who no longer want the Church in their country after a revolution that hoped to overthrow the very forces the Church was part of.  Greene’s priest embodies the contradictions—the evil and the good—the Catholic religion and its institutions represent in Latin America.  He is the people of El Salvador, Nicaragua, Brazil, Chile, Venezuela and the whole of the continent.  In other words, he is the Church hierarchy often aligned with the most reactionary elements of Latin American society—a part of a colonial legacy that murdered, raped and enslaved millions in the name of Crown and Church.  At the same time, Greene’s priest is part of a society that struggles to free itself from the bonds of colonialism and repression—a struggle perhaps best represented in the writings and actions of Father Gustavo Gutierrez, the priest most identified with liberation theology.

Another non-fictional priest now revered as a revolutionary hero was both part of the Church hierarchy and a village priest.  His political perspective slowly shifted from a priest who told his listeners to look toward heaven for their eternal reward to a priest who spoke out against the extraordinarily repressive and murderous government of El Salvador.  The reason for his metamorphosis was simple: he could no longer watch people of his flock get gunned down by military men and death squads (often one and the same) who worked for the El Salvadoran oligarchy.  This man’s name was Oscar Romero.  He was assassinated by a sniper’s bullet while saying Mass.  Days later, at his funeral, several mourners were murdered by other snipers as they mourned his death.

Although the civil war arguably sparked by Romero’s death ended in a peace agreement that included the establishment of Truth Commissions designed to investigate and publicize the foulest deeds of the conflict and their perpetrators in the name of reconciliation, no one was ever so named and convicted in the murder of Romero until recently. Even then, this pursuit of justice was not the result of any El Salvadoran investigation, but of a human rights legal team based in the United States.

It is that investigation which is the subject of a new book by one of the team’s members, Matt Eisenbrandt.  Titled The Plot to Murder Óscar Romero and the Quest to Bring His Killers to Justice, this book is a passionate and detailed chronicle of the work of the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA.)  After providing the essential historical context that the crime of Romero’s murder occurred in, the author spends the rest of the text detailing the ins and outs of the investigation itself.  It is a story of subterfuge, interference from intelligence agencies, individual spies, freelance assassins and the legal system itself.  There is no clear resolution, but there is a feeling by the book’s end that at least some of the guilty are seeking some sort of contrition.

Like many others involved in the social justice struggles around Central America in the 1980s, I recall when I first heard the news of Bishop Romero’s assassination.  The aspects of the aftermath that remain with me the most though are the remarks and actions of the US government after the murder.  Those immediate responses challenging the accepted understanding that it was a death squad that killed Romero would pale in the years following the assassination as Ronald Reagan’s White House (and Congress) stepped up military aid to the regime while also supporting the country’s most reactionary elements.  As the war and repression amped upward, the revolutionary forces of the Farabundo Marti Liberacion National (FMLN) grew in size and garnered international support.  Indeed, various Salvadorans associated with this organization were occasionally allowed to travel in the US came to the town I lived in to raise funds and encourage citizens in the belly of the beast to support the FMLN.  On occasion, some of these revolutionaries would crash at my house; the conversations and debates were always invigorating and revealing.

If there is a flaw in this book, it is that at its core its politics are decidedly liberal.  There is a philosophical thread that underpins the investigation: that the existing courts of law are able to deal with crimes that go beyond individuals actually perpetrating a crime to the system that required those crimes to be committed.  This is revealed in the simple fact that only one man has ever been found responsible for Romero’s murder despite the common knowledge that it was a conspiracy of money and murderers that is actually responsible.  This means there is no means to convict an entire system built on murder and repression even though each individual conviction is a further indictment of that system.

Assassination of a Saint is an important book.  It is important because it shows the shortcomings of a human rights definition that equates leftist insurgents struggling to free people from oppression with those who are the oppressor, but mostly it is important because it tells the story of a group of individuals dedicated to seeking justice for one of the most blatant and arrogant crimes of the Salvadoran right wing.  That story is a hopeful one.  It is also a warning that any similar pursuit that targets the wealthy and powerful is never guaranteed to achieve the justice their victims richly deserve.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

May 23, 2017
Patrick Cockburn
A Gathering of Autocrats: Trump Puts US on Sunni Muslim Side of Bitter Sectarian War with Shias
Shamus Cooke
Can Trump Salvage His Presidency in Syria’s War?
Thomas S. Harrington
“Risk”: a Sad Comedown for Laura Poitras
Josh White
Towards the Corbyn Doctrine
Mike Whitney
Rosenstein and Mueller: the Regime Change Tag-Team
Jan Oberg
Trump in Riyadh: an Arab NATO Against Syria and Iran
Susan Babbitt
The Most Dangerous Spy You’ve Never Heard Of: Ana Belén Montes
Rannie Amiri
Al-Awamiya: City of Resistance
Dimitris Konstantakopoulos
The European Left and the Greek Tragedy
Laura Leigh
This Land is Your Land, Except If You’re a Wild Horse Advocate
Hervé Kempf
Macron, Old World President
Michael J. Sainato
Devos Takes Out Her Hatchet
L. Ali Khan
I’m a Human and I’m a Cartoon
May 22, 2017
Diana Johnstone
All Power to the Banks! The Winners-Take-All Regime of Emmanuel Macron
Robert Fisk
Hypocrisy and Condescension: Trump’s Speech to the Middle East
John Grant
Jeff Sessions, Jesus Christ and the Return of Reefer Madness
Nozomi Hayase
Trump and the Resurgence of Colonial Racism
Rev. William Alberts
The Normalizing of Authoritarianism in America
Frank Stricker
Getting Full Employment: the Fake Way and the Right Way 
Jamie Davidson
Red Terror: Anti-Corbynism and Double Standards
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange, Sweden, and Continuing Battles
Robert Jensen
Beyond Liberal Pieties: the Radical Challenge for Journalism
Patrick Cockburn
Trump’s Extravagant Saudi Trip Distracts from His Crisis at Home
Angie Beeman
Gig Economy or Odd Jobs: What May Seem Trendy to Privileged City Dwellers and Suburbanites is as Old as Poverty
Colin Todhunter
The Public Or The Agrochemical Industry: Who Does The European Chemicals Agency Serve?
Jerrod A. Laber
Somalia’s Worsening Drought: Blowback From US Policy
Michael J. Sainato
Police Claimed Black Man Who Died in Custody Was Faking It
Clancy Sigal
I’m a Trump Guy, So What?
Gerry Condon
In Defense of Tulsi Gabbard
Weekend Edition
May 19, 2017
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Getting Assange: the Untold Story
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Secret Sharer
Charles Pierson
Trump’s First Hundred Days of War Crimes
Paul Street
How Russia Became “Our Adversary” Again
Andrew Levine
Legitimation Crises
Mike Whitney
Seth Rich, Craig Murray and the Sinister Stewards of the National Security State 
Robert Hunziker
Early-Stage Antarctica Death Rattle Sparks NY Times Journalists Trip
Ken Levy
Why – How – Do They Still Love Trump?
Bruce E. Levine
“Hegemony How-To”: Rethinking Activism and Embracing Power
Robert Fisk
The Real Aim of Trump’s Trip to Saudi Arabia
Christiane Saliba
Slavery Now: Migrant Labor in the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia
Chris Gilbert
The Chávez Hypothesis: Vicissitudes of a Strategic Project
Howard Lisnoff
Pay No Attention to That Man Behind the Curtain
Brian Cloughley
Propaganda Feeds Fear and Loathing
Stephen Cooper
Is Alabama Hiding Evidence It Tortured Two of Its Citizens?
Sheldon Richman
The Real Danger From Trump is Ignored
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail