PBI-Canada remembers Oscar Romero on the 40th anniversary of his assassination
Today, March 24, marks the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador.
Jon Lee Anderson reported in The New Yorker, “In a homily that Romero delivered on the day before he was assassinated, which was broadcast on the radio, he issued an appeal to soldiers to disobey their orders: ‘In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise to Heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression!’”
“That appeal was his death sentence. The next day, a small group of men drove a hired sniper to the chapel. The moment of Romero’s death—his final words and the sound of the single gunshot that killed him—was recorded.”
“Those responsible for Romero’s murder have not been brought to justice, though the identities of some of the suspects have long been known.”
“A United Nations–backed ‘Truth Commission’ investigation, published in 1993, concluded that the mastermind of the assassination was Roberto d’Aubuisson, a former National Guard major who, in collusion with wealthy businessmen and Salvadoran security forces, had set up the anti-communist death squads that had begun to murder suspected leftist sympathizers.”
Alfredo Barahona writes in rabble.ca, “Romero was murdered because of his unequivocal opposition to the violation of human rights in El Salvador, the government’s violent military repression and the country’s extreme poverty.”
“On the day of his funeral, the Salvadoran army attacked the crowd gathered around San Salvador’s cathedral, killing several hundred people.”
Barahona notes, “The day after Romero’s funeral, in Guatemala City, a group of Indigenous people occupied the Spanish embassy. In response, the Guatemalan government security forces burned the embassy.”
“Thirty-seven people, mostly Indigenous people died [in that fire], including Vincente Menchú, father of Nobel Peace Prize recipient Rigoberta Menchú Tum [who Peace Brigades International accompanied in the late 1980s].”
In May 1982, Daniel N. Clark, one of the founders of Peace Brigades International in September 1981, along with Fr. Jaime Diaz (another founder of PBI) and Julio Quan, met with Arturo Rivera y Damas who succeeded Romero as the Archbishop of San Salvador.
The PBI delegation also met with Jesuit priest Ignacio Ellacuría, who was assassinated seven years later (on November 16, 1989) by Salvadoran soldiers.
Reflecting on that trip, Clark writes, “On May 25, we flew to San Salvador to learn more about refugee and other problems within El Salvador itself. There were at the time 300,000 displaced persons within El Salvador, approximately 160,000 of them in internal camps. We first visited the 1400 refugees crowded into the grounds of San Jose de Montana Seminary. We were told that visits such as ours gave the residents a greater sense of security since it is more difficult for the government to harass them when they receive international attention.”
Peace Brigades International began accompaniment in El Salvador in 1987 at the invitation of Lutheran Bishop Medardo Gomez.
PBI made regular visits to villages of returned refugees and accompanied popular organizations including COMADRES (Committee of Mothers and Relatives of the Disappeared), UNTS and FENASTRAS (trade unions), CRIPDES (Christian Committee for Internal Refugees), and AMS (a women’s organization).
In November 1989, Karen Ridd, a 28-year-old PBI volunteer from Canada, was abducted in El Salvador along with four other PBI volunteers Marcela Rodriguez (from Colombia) and Ester Domenech, Francesc Riera, and Luis Perez (from Spain).
Josephine Beecher, an American religious worker, and Zea Melendez, a Guatemalan, were also among the seven abducted that day.
The story of what happened is told in this PBI-Canada article, 30th anniversary of PBI volunteer Karen Ridd’s remarkable act of courage.
Peace talks began in El Salvador in 1990. Those talks were mediated by the United Nations and involved representatives of the Salvadoran government, the FMLN rebel movement, political parties, along with the Roman Catholic Church as observers.
The Chapultepec Peace Accords were signed in January 1992 in Mexico City.
The Accords included a 70 per cent reduction of the armed forces, the dissolution of the rapid deployment forces, the National Guard, the National Police, the Treasury Police and the transfer of the state intelligence agencies to the Presidency of the Republic. All armed FMLN units were also demobilized.
The ceasefire took effect on February 1, 1992.
Following that ceasefire, the Peace Brigades International presence in El Salvador also came to an end later that year.
The Massachusetts-based The Peace Abbey Foundation in conjunction with the Life Experience School honours individuals and organizations for their peace activism.
Peace Brigades International received their Courage of Conscience Award in 1990. It features the bust of Oscar Romero.
Other recipients of the award have included Daniel Berrigan, Helen Caldicott, Rigoberta Menchu, Dave Dellinger, Howard Zinn, Roy Bourgeois, and Noam Chomsky.
PBI-Canada now holds that award pictured below.