An example of the sloppy coverage came in a recent interview of Ryan Grim, the author of a Huffington Post piece on the supposed link. Amy Goodman, host of the independently syndicated Democracy Now!, played a clip of Raul Julia as “Romero” and then asked Grim to “talk about how he died and the connection to your story.” Grim responded that we “know, conclusively, that [Romero’s] assassination was ordered by Roberto D’Aubuisson;” that D’Aubuisson started the rightwing ARENA Party, which was “quite simply, the political organization which was managing the death squads;” and therefore, “Mitt Romney, in this context, knew very well what was happening in El Salvador.” While the evidence consistently points to ARENA founder D’Aubuisson as the intellectual author of Archbishop Romero’s assassination, the characterization of ARENA as “the political organization which was managing the death squads” that killed Romero is problematic: Romero was killed on March 24, 1980, and ARENA was first registered as a political party in El Salvador on December 4, 1981.
What Grim may have intended to say was that Romney should have known that D’Aubuisson was accused of leading the death squads in 1984, when the questioned Bain investments were made; that he should have known the investors were linked with ARENA and that ARENA was founded by D’Aubuisson; and that therefore Romney should have questioned whether the investors could be linked to D’Aubuisson’s death squad activity, as well. But that linkage is much more tenuous than what Grim said in his response.
Evaluating the byzantine relationships considered in the Huffington Post article and a similar article recently posted on Salon.com requires following a convoluted path, but none of the suggested connections used to cast suspicion on Romney and Bain establish a direct link between the investors and the death squads, and certainly not with the assassination of Archbishop Romero. A titillating prospect is put forth in the Salon piece, authored by Justin Elliot, who posits that the original Bain investors included four members of the de Sola family, and that a fifth member of that family is mentioned in a ledger seized from a D’Aubuisson aide which reflects purchases of weapons used in the Romero assassination. While that much is true—that the de Sola kinsman was named in the ledger—the man in question, Orlando de Sola, was not mentioned in the ledger in relation to the Romero assassination, but with respect to another matter (making contributions to the Nicaraguan contras, an armed group seeking to topple the neighboring Sandinista regime).
Similarly, the Huffington Post piece floats the possibility that certain named investors or their relatives could be linked to the death squads, but does not quite get us there. Some of the suspicions entertained and promoted are based on accusations against the investors’ relatives, as was true in the Salon piece just discussed. At other times, the suspicion is based solely on a connection to the ARENA Party. For example, the Huff piece notes that, “Ricardo Poma was the first investor Romney thanked when he traveled to Miami in 2007,” in a notorious speech in which Romney name-dropped some of the Salvadorans to flaunt his Hispanic bona fides. Ricardo Poma (the man Romney thanked), the article continues, “became one of the three members of the Bain Capital investment committee,” and it concludes with the ominous note that, “The Poma family were financiers of D’Aubuisson’s ARENA party.”
While factually true, the danger is that, by themselves, these facts about the de Solas and the Pomas, don’t establish complicity with the death squads. For one thing, wealthy Salvadoran families often were divided between members who were complicit with one band and those who sympathized with the other side. Miriam Estupinián was Archbishop Romero’s private secretary and devoted collaborator. She herself was from a wealthy family, from whom she hid her work with Romero. (In fact, even the D’Aubuisson family is thus split. Marisa D’Aubuisson, sister of the ARENA founder, is a fervent Romero devotee, who encouraged her brother to kneel in repentance at Romero’s grave.) In an interview, the archbishop’s secretary described how “progressive” members of these families worked on the same archdiocesan projects that she worked on for the benefit of the poor, and that among these progressive businessmen were, “Francisco de Sola, Ricardo Poma, Luis Poma,” and others—the same families (de Sola and Poma) and even the same individuals (Ricardo Poma) accused in the Salon and Huffington pieces.
Archbishop Romero himself appears to vouch for these families. In his pastoral journal, he recounts a meeting in August 1979, with “Messrs. Poma and de Sola.” He describes them as “Two leaders of private enterprise who are very concerned about the country’s situation, and they wanted to share with me their opinion on the matter since, they maintain, the Church is the only entity that has a moral voice that can guide the country.” Archbishop Romero recounted the Poma and de Sola meeting in his next Sunday sermon and he described them as “businessmen who maintain good labor relations with their workers, even beyond that which the law requires,” and called them “lights of hope.” Romero’s secretary recalls that the families were friendly towards the archbishop as well, and that he had to turn down their gifts. “The Pomas,” she recalled, “were going to give him a car, and he said no.”
Of course, it is still possible that some of the Bain investors had real connections to the death squads that have not been fully described or disclosed. But it is wrong to impute guilt by association or to bandy about Archbishop Romero’s good name just to score political points. That’s just the type of manipulation of his figure that has hurt his cause. Such manipulation was evident in a recent opinion piece that posited that, because Romney was in bed with death squads responsible for the death of Romero (an unproven contention, we know), Romney is not really “pro-life” (“They killed priests, nuns and Archbishop Oscar Romero. How pro-life is that?”).
While we should ask Mr. Romney’s campaign to provide more information about the Salvadoran investors (and, if necessary, ask Bain to divest itself of any “blood money”), let’s not rake Archbishop Romero through the mud. We would do well to model Romero, who did not shrink from denouncing atrocities, but he made sure that any accusation was first substantiated by his legal team. Perhaps tellingly, although Archbishop Romero repeated death squad accusations against D’Aubuisson, he did not make those accusations against the Bain investors.