Romero's Struggle For Social Justice Continues in El Salvador

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Romero's Struggle For Social Justice Continues in El Salvador

Written by Cameron Herrington, Seattle CISPES

Monday, 26 March 2007

March 24th marked the 27th anniversary of theassassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, the tenacious defender of ElSalvador's poor and marginalized majority who was gunned down by an operativeof El Salvador's U.S.-backed military while saying Mass. Romero had predictedhis own death just days earlier, but he also foresaw the powerful effect thathis martyrdom would have, famously stating that, "If they kill me, I willrise again in the Salvadoran people." Indeed, Romero's example still inspiresSalvadorans and countless others around the world in their ongoing struggleagainst injustice and inequality.

Archbishop Romero's life was among the 75,000 that werelost during El Salvador's 12-year civil war, a conflict he recognized as havingits roots in "the social structures that give rise to and perpetuate themisery" of the oppressed. Tragically, these same social structures thatled to the civil war mass poverty, inequality and exploitation remainlargely intact even 15 years after the war's end and the signing of the PeaceAccords in 1992. According to the Washington Office on LatinAmerica, a D.C.-based policy and advocacy group, "almostfifty percent of the population [remains] under the poverty line. Poverty [and]inequality rates still persist at levels comparable to the pre-war era."

Similarly consistent over the past 27 years has been therole of the United States inmaintaining poverty and inequality in El Salvador. As they did in 1980,these structures benefit the UnitedStates today by enabling foreign ownershipof land and natural resources and the exploitation of a cheap, abundant supplyof labor. During El Salvador'scivil war, the United Statesgovernment used the guise of fighting communism to justify its support for ruthlessmilitary regimes that protected these economic interests. Today, theinstruments used to perpetuate such conditions are more subtle: "Freetrade" agreements, the privatization and comodification of public goodsand services, and the extraction of natural resources through mining and othercorporate activity.

In the face of such policies, Romero's demand for justicecontinues to be echoed, just as he predicted it would be. Student activists,religious leaders, union organizers and the leftist party have continuedworking to build a new El Salvadordespite the efforts of their own government, as well as that of the United States, to maintain the status quo in El Salvador andsilence those who will not acquiesce. Just as the U.S. was complicit inArchbishop Romero's murder along with those of thousands of other civilianskilled by the Salvadoran military throughout the war today our governmenttrains and funds a Salvadoran security apparatus that fails to meet humanrights standards, violates the country's 1992 Peace Accords, and is used by thestate to carry out politically-motivated repression against the Salvadoranpeople.

Among the most blatant violations of the Peace Accords isthe reintegration of the military into domestic law enforcement activity, withsoldiers now joining civilian police to conduct joint patrols. For its part,the National Civilian Police (PNC) is routinely manipulated for political endsby the government, including military-style operations to confront peacefulprotest and assembly by university students. One such confrontation last Julylead to the occupation of the NationalUniversity campus by thePNC; a direct violation of the Peace Accords' guarantee of the University'sautonomy. Student leaders who have organized protests against the recentrepression have been detained and interrogated, and one such leader recentlydisappeared.

As during the 1980s, this new wave of repressive andillegal tactics on the part El Salvador'ssecurity forces is carried out with the complicity of the United States, which recently opened anInternational Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) in El Salvador. Similarly, the United States continues to train the Salvadoranmilitary at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC- formerly the School of the Americas)at Ft. Benning, Georgia . This training, combinedwith U.S. military aid to El Salvador,legitimizes and endorses the tactics of Salvadoran security forces. In light ofthis fact, 46 members of Congress called on the State Department to investigatethe conduct of the National Civilian Police in a July 31, 2006, letter.

Along with Congress, watchdog groups and El Salvador'sHuman Rights office have repeatedly decried recent violations of the PeaceAccords on the part of both military and police, and have even presentedevidence of the resurgence of the notorious "death squads" thatoperated with impunity during the war. The assassination of social justiceorganizers, including members of the clergy, has again become commonplace, andthe nation's own Human Rights Ombudswoman alleges the involvement andcomplicity of the state's security forces in such acts.

The cry for justice rising from El Salvadortoday is as urgent today as it was when it rose as the voice of ArchbishopRomero in 1980. And, as in later case, those cries are largely directed at usin the United States,where our government is actively working to maintain the structures of povertyand injustice that Romero struggled against. In the coming months, the U.S.Congress will have several opportunities to respond to El Salvador'scries.

In the legacy of Monse

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