Monday, March 25, 2013

ROMERO AND THE EXTREME LEFT


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The respected Romero writer, Roberto Valencia, author of the book Hablan de Monseñor Romero [Speaking of Archbishop Romero] has posted about an anonymous manuscript given to the Romero Foundation in which a self-claimed former guerrilla alleges that his old insurgency outfit carried out the Romero assassination.  Valencia concludes that, although he remains convinced that Romero was killed by the ultra-right at the direction of Roberto D’Aubuisson (the universally accepted view), the “manuscript feeds my suspicion that D’Aubuisson and his followers may not have been the only ones planning the murder of Archbishop Romero at the time.”
The manuscript in question is a two-page, hand-written note which begins, “Let’s tell the people of El Salvador and the world over the truth about who murdered Archbishop Romero.”  The note goes on to matter-of-factly describe a conversation supposedly overheard by the anonymous writer, while he was a member of the People’s Revolutionary Army (ERP, for its Spanish name) on Monday, March 24, 1980—the date Romero was killed.  The writer claims that at 2 p.m. that day, he was at a meeting in a San Salvador neighborhood, in which a Nicaraguan urban combat specialist called Fran[k] and his Salvadoran brother-in-arms named Willia[m] discussed the Romero assassination.  What they discussed is not made explicitly clear, but the note alleges that the ERP were the real killers of Archbishop Romero: “Members of the ERP or People's Revolutionary Army, using a commando from Nicaragua, murdered [Romero] solely and exclusively to arouse the populace so that they would take up arms, because days before his death they circulated the order that the time for taking up arms was near.”

The thought that the extreme Left would kill Romero to instigate an uprising is not implausible.  Romero himself considered as much in his diary on Monday, November 5, 1979, when he writes about receiving word of a death-threat against him, presumably from the ERP, the most radical of the various guerrilla groups at the time.  I received a letter from the [papal] Nuncio to Costa Rica, brought here by a Salesian nun, in which [the Nuncio] confidentially communicates that the Vatican Secretariat of State has begged him to warn me that they have received—from a trustworthy source—news of a threat against my life from the extreme Left,” Romero writes.  This possible threat,” he continues, “which could have some grounding in reality, seeks to create problems for the new ruling junta and sow confusion among the populace.”  Thus, the new manuscript, if it proves to be authentic, may not contain much that is new, as there was already evidence that the ERP considered assassinating Romero to ignite an uprising.
Additionally, the manuscript does not provide very much detail or verifiable background information to establish its authenticity.  With respect to the overheard conversation, the anonymous writer states that “William” asked who would be blamed for the assassination and that “Frank” responded with the name of “Roberto,” who we are to assume is a reference to Roberto D’Aubuisson, the paramilitary death squad leader from the extreme right.  The purported exchange raises multiple questionsk including: whether extreme-leftists would be referring to D’Aubuisson by first name—or whether “Roberto” is a reference to D’Aubuisson, at all (Roberto is a very popular Spanish name); whether it is feasible that the Romero assassination was hatched by “Frank” and “William” late in the afternoon of the day on which it took place; whether “Frank” and “William” acted alone; if not, who else was involved; who the shooter was; who owned the infamous red VW seen by the witnesses, etc.  In short, there are no operational details revealed in the manuscript that attribute specific responsibility to the Left or—more importantly—that clear specific individual members of the D’Aubuisson gang of such responsibility where other investigations have assigned it to them.  For example, other investigations have accounted for who drove the getaway car, who purchased the weapons, who paid the shooter, etc.  Here, we have nothing to offset that specific information with.

The anonymous note does provide a number of details that are intended to give assurance of authenticity, but they tend to either be common knowledge that does not show information only the real killers would know, or in other cases the information in the manuscript is simply to vague to verify.  For example, the manuscript states that “Frank” (the Nicaraguan urban combat expert) has a cousin nicknamed “El Chocho,” who was in command of the Salvadoran town of Perquín for a long time.  That description appears to refer to Rolando Cáceres who had that nickname, fits the description during the war as Perquín commander for the rebels, and is Nicaraguan, to boot.  But, the information is common knowledge, as Cáceres runs a famous guerrilla exhibit called the Museum of the Revolution, which attracts many tourists and visitors to Perquín.  (Though it would be interesting to ask Cáceres if he had a cousin named “Frank” who came to El Salvador to give urban combat training, and whether he ever heard “Frank” talk about killing Romero.)  Other verifying details are almost useless: the manuscript says that “Frank” died in combat in the province of Usulután, that “William” had a brother who died in combat in the town of Zacamil; and that “William” eventually fell in Usulután, also.  Given that “Frank” and “William” are likely nicknames, such vague references would be difficult to verify, and even if they were confirmed, they would simply establish that such people existed—not that they were involved in the alleged plot.
Finally, a number of prior accusations that the Left was behind Romero’s murder have turned out to be frauds—usually sponsored by the Right, which seeks to rehabilitate D’Aubuisson.  For example, in the mid-80s, there were sensational hoaxes designed to shift blame across the political spectrum, including a faked videotape confession by Adalberto Salazar, who it was later shown was behind bars at the time of the assassination, and was apparently coerced to make his video-taped confession by unnamed people in the military-police apparatus.  The tape was widely discredited.  Similarly, the anti-Romero Salvadoran cleric, Msgr. Freddy Delgado, also conjectured (without even the pretense of having any proof of it!) that Romero had been assassinated by the Left because they were angry that he was beginning to heed Vatican admonitions to distance himself from them.  Accordingly, we must take all earth-shaking revelations in this area with a healthy grain of salt.

In its ambivalent plausibility, the anonymous manuscript is a useful reminder that Romero was targeted for assassination by both the Left and the Right; and that it has only been in the subsequent years that the idea of Romero as a darling of the Left and the bane of the Right has become an idée fixe in the public imagination.
The Anonymous Manuscript.  Roberto Valencia Photo.
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