Reflection: Romero vive!
Today, Salvadorans took to the streets to commemorate the 41st anniversary of the assassination of Oscar Romero, killed on March 24, 1980, for using his platform as Archbishop of San Salvador to side with the poor, denounce U.S.-supported military repression in El Salvador, and urge that the entire capitalist system be pulled out “from its roots.”
Although it would be Reagan’s policies that prolonged more than a decade of bloodshed in El Salvador, U.S. intervention in the region, then as now, has always been a bipartisan affair.
Just before Romero was killed, he wrote to Reagan's predecessor, then-President Jimmy Carter, pleading with him not to send military aid to the Salvadoran dictatorship, expressing that it would be “unjust and deplorable” for the U.S. to violate the Salvadoran people’s organized struggle for democracy and justice or their right to self-determination. Specifically, he asked that Carter “forbid that military aid be given to the Salvadoran government; and guarantee that [the U.S.] government will not intervene directly or indirectly, with military, economic, diplomatic, or other pressures, in determining the destiny of the Salvadoran people.”
Carter ignored Romero's plea, and the U.S. went on to send over $4 billion in military aid to the repressive military regime over the following decade. At the height of the civil war, the U.S., under Reagan, was sending more than a million dollars a day.
The United States also has a long history of training Salvadoran soldiers, including Roberto D'Aubuisson, the architect of Romero’s assassination and founder of the arch-right Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), in techniques of torture and killing. Some of the most horrific massacres, including at El Mozote in 1981, were carried out by soldiers and death squads trained at a U.S. training facility for Latin America then known as the School of the Americas, now the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC). As a result, more than 75,000 people were killed, thousands disappeared, and millions more displaced.
The historic and revolutionary struggle of the Salvadoran people that gave rise to the armed conflict continues today, as organized movements relentlessly fight for popular control over public resources, like water, in addition to fights for LGBTQ rights; reproductive health and justice; labor protections; environmental regulation; Indigenous rights and recognition; feminist priorities, and beyond.
The organizations that joined together to march in San Salvador today—students, rural associations, ecumenical faith communities, and many more—under the banner of the National Monseñor Romero Committee, invoked the words of Romero to reflect on the current political panorama in the country.
As of June 1, President Bukele's New Ideas party will have a supermajority in the Legislative Assembly. “In the face of this scenario,” the Committee wrote in a March 24 statement, “Monseñor Romero would be making this call: ‘It's important that the government define itself and it is necessary to define itself on the side of the people’ (Homily, 10/7/79). He would also call on the people to get organized, not to allow themselves to be manipulated, and to be the protagonists of the structural changes the country urgently needs.”
The Committee made two calls to the government of Nayib Bukele. First, to “ensure justice for the victims of the armed conflict and to comply with the recommendations of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission in the cases of the massacre at El Mozote, the Jesuits, other priests, religious sisters, and catechists who were assassinated as well as for Monseñor Romero himself.”
The second is to “govern with transparency, to make clear to the people how public funds are spent; without lies, without hate, instead generating tranquility and peace with social justice.”
Read their full statement here in Spanish.
The Salvadoran social movement is also calling for international solidarity in the face of a creeping return of state repression under Bukele, who has militarized El Salvador’s northern border with Honduras under the guise of combatting narco-trafficking; used the police and Armed Forces to arbitrarily detain citizens during the COVID-19 lockdown; deployed riot police to repress and barricade demonstrators; and in general, has installed a military presence throughout Salvadoran society that has not been seen in generations.
The National Monseñor Romero Committee made a specific call “to the peoples of the world to be vigilant as to the conduct of new deputies in the Legislative Assembly and Central American Parliament, and of the Municipal Councils, that they respect the Constitution in the interests of the people.”
As Romero wrote to Carter, the organized people of El Salvador are “the only ones capable of overcoming the crisis. It would be unjust and deplorable for foreign powers to intervene and frustrate the Salvadoran people, to repress them and keep them from deciding autonomously the economic and political course that our nation should follow.”
Since our founding in 1980, CISPES has echoed the call to respect the self-determination of the people and social movements in El Salvador. Join us in renewing Romero's call by calling on Congress to end police and military funding to El Salvador and throughout the region. Click here to send an email to your representative and senators today.
¡Que viva San Romero!