Neither Bullets Nor Impunity Will Silence You, Monseñor

On December 7th, a coalition of Salvadoran legal rights and activist organizations working to pressure the Salvadoran government to investigate the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero will unveil a new campaign to end ongoing impunity in the case. 

ImageOn December 7th, a coalition of Salvadoran legal rights and activist organizations working to pressure the  Salvadoran  government to investigate the assasination of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo  Romero will unveil a new campaign to end ongoing impunity in the case.

The groups will launch the Campaign for Truth and Justice in the Monseñor Romero Case. The beginning of the 6-month long campaign is timed to coincide with the 26th anniversary of the El Mozote Massacre, which occurred in December, 1981. The campaign will end July 2, marking the two year anniversary of the assassination of Francisco Antonio Manzanares, 77, and Juana Monjarás de Manzanares, 75.

They were the parents of Marina Manzanares, a.k.a. "Mariposa," who worked famously with Radio Venceremos, the FMLN radio station during El Salvador’s 1980-1992 civil war.

The Romero campaign will kick-off on the 7th at the Parque Cuscatlán in downtown San Salvador.

In the year 2000, the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) issued a list of recommendations to the Salvadoran state that would help them to comply with International Human Rights standards. One part of the recommendation focused on the assassination of the Archbishop of San Salvador, Monseñor Oscar Romero. It is widely accepted that Roberto D’Aubisson, graduate of the School of the Americas and founder of the ruling ARENA party, was the intellectual author of the 1980 assassination of Monseñor Romero.

Romero was deeply involved in denouncing the government repression that was rampant in the late 1970s, and held weekly masses in the downtown Cathedral that at their peak were attended or listened to by radio by 70% of all Salvadorans in the country. He was
shot in the heart by an unknown assassin on March 24, 1980 while celebrating Mass.

The Inter-American Commission’s recommendation for the case of Monseñor Romero was threefold. First, they recommended that a full, impartial and expedited investigation should be held with the purpose of identifying, judging, and punishing all authors, material and intellectual, of the assassination. This should be carried out regardless of the General Amnesty Law of 1993 that was related to the Peace Accords that ended the war in 1992, and grants amnesty for crimes committed during the war. The Commission expressed their belief that the Amnesty Law has been a barrier towards creating accountability and justice.

Secondly, the Commission recommended that reparations be made to correct the violation of the law with regards to Monseñor Romero, including the payment of a just reparation. Third, the state should make changes to bring internal legislation into agreement with the American Convention, without regard for the General Amnesty Law.

Included in these recommendations were suggestions to include relevant information from the Romero case in Salvadoran history textbooks, and the creation of a documentary about the life, work, and death of Monseñor Romero. Also included were suggestions for the creation of a public space in his memory, the prohibition of monuments created for people known to be responsible for his death, and the training of the Armed Forces to ensure greater respect for Human Rights.

In October this year, the Human Rights Commission held a follow-up audience in order to evaluate compliance with these recommendations. They found that there has been no progress made by the government in this regard, and warned the government that the recommendations are obligatory and have not been completed. Further, in clear contempt of the report, current President Antonio Saca inaugurated a monument in San Salvador on June 22nd, 2006 to honor D’Aubisson.

In order to resolve this issue without addressing the government’s continued violation of human rights, the government has been holding private meetings with the current Archbishop of San Salvador, Fernando Sáenz Lacalle in order to arrive at an agreement around the handling of the case.

Immediately after the audience before the Human Rights Commission, held in the United States, the Archbishop fired lawyer David Morales from the Office of Legal Guidance of the Archbishop. During the audience, Morales had discussed the recommendations and his belief that there was a total lack of compliance. He later called a press conference and said that he was let go as a direct result of not remaining silent with regards to the Romero case.

The director of FESPAD, María Silvia Guillén, has argued that the Romero case should not be resolved internally within the relationship of the state and the Catholic church, but that the significance of Monsignor Romero is international and to respect that fact the case must be public. She has said that when considering the reparations usually awarded to family members of victims, in the case of Msgr. Romero, we must take into consideration all Salvadorans as well as the international community.

In an interview with the Spanish daily newspaper El Pais, Guillén emphasized that, “to repeal the amnesty and allow a judgement to open so that the truth is known about the assassination of Romero would mean the end to the historical impunity in El Salvador. . . until now the empire of truth and justice has not been possible because the government knows that many of its functionaries and founders of their party, especially D’Aubisson, were those who committed those atrocities and many others. To overcome them would mean to restore dignity to El Salvador.”

Recognizing this basic moment of Salvadoran history is just one step that the state can take to begin constructing a secure country and overcoming impunity. However, violent repression of popular movements and death-squad style assassinations continue to exist, creating a climate where overall respect for human rights is a distant goal. The only thing that is certain in El Salvador is that the people will continue to organize for justice and truth, and not even violence will stop them.