Saturday, November 29, 2014

Salvador: honors for Romero assassin

Victims of political assassination in El Salvador, 1982.  Giovanni Palazzo photo, El Faro.
The mayor of San Salvador has created a stir by announcing that a historic thoroughfare in the Salvadoran capital is being renamed to honor Roberto D’Aubuisson,  a man believed to have organized rightwing death squads during El Salvador’s civil war (1980-1992) and masterminded the assassination of Archbishop Óscar A. Romero in March 1980.  Mayor Norman Quijano insists that the decision is not intended as a slight to Romero, whose beatification is widely expected within the next year, but is based on D’Aubuisson’s merits as president of the constituent assembly that drafted El Salvador’s constitution and as founder of the ARENA party that ruled El Salvador after the war.
Human Rights Ombudsman David Morales announced that he will mount a legal challenge to the action on grounds that it infringes the right to the truth, and that it flouts the recommendations of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in the case of Archbishop Romero.  Morales said his office has received complaints regarding the decision.  [In the interest of full disclosure, Super Martyrio wrote the Ombudsman on the subject.]

The Salvadoran Church has also declared its disapproval. Abp. José Luis Escobar, the successor of Abp. Romero, noted that the street is now named for Saint Anthony the Abbott and that the Church considers it a lack of respect for religious sensibilities to replace the name of the saint with D'Aubuisson’s. Moreover, Escobar said the Church considers itself an “injured party” in the Romero case, the case of the Jesuits, the American churchwomen and other priests and laity killed by the death squads. Escobar compared the feeling of the Church to “when a person whose brother is killed sees the person presumed to be the material or intellectual author of the murder receive an award.”
The timing of Quijano’s announcement, coming just days after Salvadorans marked the somber 25th anniversary of the assassination of six Jesuits in El Salvador’s Catholic university and a few months shy of the 35th anniversary of the Romero assassination, have raised eyebrows and objections from activists who argue it is inappropriate to create monuments for a war criminal.  Mayor Quijano’s argument that D’Aubuisson was never convicted of any of the crimes he is accused of ring hollow to protesters who are quick to point out that D’Aubuisson and his allies blocked every effort to prosecute or investigate those atrocities.
To hazard the motives behind Quijano’s decision requires a crash course in Salvadoran politics.  First, Quijano is a bit of an Icarus figure in Salvadoran politics, having risen in a blaze of glory as San Salvador’s brazen, no holds barred mayor, and then having crashed and burned after a failed attempt to take the country’s presidency for his party.  Not long after that defeat, Quijano was dumped by ARENA in what should have been an unquestioned mayoral reelection bid.  Instead, Quijano was forced to step aside and another candidate is taking his place on the ballot early next year.  Therefore, there is a parting shot flavor to this decision, which Quijano quietly rammed through his city council—in Salvadoran elections, voters elect their municipal governments by party flag and thus the mayor and the council are always from the same party.  Chances are that Quijano is seeking to unify the party after these divisions with an appeal to the hardcore ideological bases.
D’Aubuisson had been an officer with the notorious Salvadoran Guardia Nacional, an internal military police force, and an intelligence operative believed to have been almost single handedly responsible for creating the country’s internal intelligence apparatus, including as director of the Salvadoran National Security Agency (Ansesal).  In the late 70s and early 80s, D’Aubuisson was linked to funding and organizing paramilitary death squads that evaded civilian monitoring. 
In 1993, a U.N. Truth Commission found that, “As the social conflict in El Salvador intensified … D’Aubuisson was well placed to provide a link between a very aggressive sector of Salvadorian society and the intelligence network and operations of the S-II sections of the security forces.”  The Commission concluded that D’Aubuisson actively sought to eliminate opposition to the regime through “the illegal use of force.” Prior to the Commission’s findings, D’Aubuisson had been denied a visa to enter the United States by the Reagan administration under  INA § 212(a)(28)(G)(ii), a former provision of the immigration law which made it grounds for inadmissibility into the U.S. to support politically-motivated extrajudicial killings. 
The U.N. Truth Commission also specifically concluded that, “[f]ormer Major Roberto D’Aubuisson gave the order to assassinate the Archbishop and gave precise instructions to members of his security service, acting as a ‘death squad’, to organize and supervise the assassination” of Archbishop Romero.  The findings as to Romero have been confirmed by an OAS human rights commission, a U.S. federal civil lawsuit, and numerous journalistic and scholarly investigations.
In Antiguo Cuscatlán, where the mayor is an ARENA stalwart, a roundabout (traffic circle) bears D’Aubuisson’s name and flies the party’s tricolor flag along with the national standard.  Every year, the party’s most loyal members, including multiple former presidents, visit D’Aubuisson’s grave to mark the anniversary of his death in a private ceremony.  In 2007, ARENA attempted to obtain a legislative decree granting D’Aubuisson a “Meritorious Son of the Nation” recognition.  The effort was beat back by legendary human rights activist María Julia Hernández, a Romero disciple.

[More at Tim’s El Salvador Blog.]
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