Who’s Defending Monsignor Romero? Revista Envio El Salvador http://www.envio.org.

ni/articulo/3717 Twenty-seven years of impunity after an assassination classified “a crime against humanity” by a US judge. Seven years of contempt by the Salvadoran state, as it sidesteps the recommendations of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. And since October 2007, a secret dialogue between the ARENA government and the Archdiocese of San Salvador to reach an “agreement.” So who’s defending Monsignor Romero? Elaine Freedman In March 1983, Brazilian bishop Pedro Casaldaliga wrote in his diary, “There is no way I can understand it, or rather I understand it too well: the photograph of the martyr Monsignor Romero with John Paul II on placards, which is utterly normal for the Pope’s visit, has been banned by the mixed government-Church of El Salvador commission. The martyr’s image hurts the persecuting and murderous government, and it’s natural it should hurt it. That it should hurt a certain sector of the Church is also natural, sadly natural.” On October 11, 2007, Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero again hit the headlines in La Prensa Gráfica: “Government asks Church for agreement on Romero case.” And once again, recent events related to the case of Monsignor Romero, the martyred priest who said he would be resurrected in his people, are all too sadly natural. The truth commission’s verdict The report issued in March 1993 by the three members of the Truth Commission—a former Colombian President, a former Venezuela Foreign Minister and a former president of the InterAmerican Court of Human Rights—included the following six conclusions on the assassination of Monsignor Romero: 1. Former Major Roberto D’Aubuisson gave the order to kill the archbishop and gave precise instructions to members of his security service, acting as a “death squad,” to organize and

supervise the assassination. 2. Captains Alvaro Saravia and Eduardo Avila, together with Fernando Sagrera and Mario Molina, were actively involved in planning and carrying out the murder. 3. Amado Antonio Garay, the driver of former Captain Saravia, was assigned to drive the gunman to the Chapel. Mr. Garay was a direct witness when, from a red four-door Volkswagen, the gunman fired a single high-velocity .22 calibre bullet to kill the archbishop. 4. Walter Antonio “Musa” Alvarez, together with former Captain Saravia, was involved in paying the “fees” of the actual assassin. 5. The failed assassination attempt against Judge Atilio Ramírez Amaya was a deliberate attempt to deter investigation of the case. 6. The Supreme Court played an active role in preventing the extradition of former Captain Saravia from the United States and his subsequent imprisonment in El Salvador. In so doing, it ensured, inter alia, impunity for those who planned the assassination. Case shelved in El Salvador Five days after this report was issued, the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly promulgated the General Amnesty Law for the Consolidation of Peace. Known as the 1993 General Amnesty Law, this legislation exempted the perpetrators of atrocious and aberrant human rights violations from penal and civil responsibility, unacceptably annulling the rights of thousands of victims of those crimes. Based on this Law, Judge Luis Antonio Villeda Figueroa definitively dismissed the case against Alvaro Saravia on March 31, 1993. He did not rule on Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) founder Roberto D’Aubuisson, arguing that he was never a formal suspect and that his death in 1992 had released him from any criminal responsibility. With that the penal process on the homicide of Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero was closed and the case shelved, like so many others.

Six months later, the director of the Archdiocese of San Salvador’s Legal Protection Office, María Julia Hernández, and the Monsignor’s brother, Tiberio Arnoldo Romero y Galdámez, took the case to the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (OAS/IACHR). The IACHR proceedings took seven years and were characterized by zero collaboration from the Salvadoran state in handing over information; it even asked that the case be dropped. Meanwhile, the petitioners were joined by the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), a nongovernmental, nonprofit organization with consultative status at the Organization of American States and the United Nations. They all stood firm in not accepting an amicable solution unless the Salvadoran state fully accepted its responsibility and pledged to take the necessary measures to investigate and punish those responsible for the crime. The IACHR’s ruling The IACHR ruled on the case on January 4, 2000. The investigation had included a number of irregularities, including the fact that the National Police went to the crime scene almost four days after the fact and provided no information or evidence whatsoever to help in the investigation; the testimony of Saravia’s driver, Amado Antonio Garay, who confessed to having transported the gunman to the site of the assassination, was rejected by the Supreme Court; there was no proper investigation of Major D’Aubuisson, Captains Saravia and Eduardo Ávila or civilians Eduardo Sagrera, Mario Molina and Walter Antonio “Musa” Álvarez, despite the existence of important incriminating elements; eyewitness Pedro Martínez was forcibly disappeared 20 days after he had picked up the injured Monsignor Romero to get him to the hospital; the attempt to kill Judge Atilio Ramírez Amaya, the judicial official in charge of the case just three days after Romero’s death; and the failure to investigate the kidnapping and subsequent death of “Musa” Álvarez, whom the IACHR accused of helping pay the killer. The IACHR ruling concluded that “the sluggish pace of justice was not spontaneous. In this case it came about as the result of strategic and concerted actions that kept the Supreme Court of

Justice, the Office of the Public Prosecutor of the Republic and the Courts from acting impartially and seeking a fair trial with due process guarantees.” It ruled that the Salvadoran state was responsible for the denial of justice in the case and issued three recommendations to it: 1. The holding of a complete and effective judicial investigation to identify, try and punish all of the direct perpetrators and planners of the violations established; 2) make reparations for all the consequences of those violations, including the payment of just indemnity; and 3) adapt its internal legislation to the American Convention, with the aim of nullifying the 1993 General Amnesty Law. “If I talk, El Salvador trembles” Like all OAS member states, El Salvador is obliged to comply with the recommendations of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. According to the established agreements, the countries have a period of approximately three months to initiate compliance, but by July 2007 there was still no indication that the Salvadoran state was taking any steps in that direction. However, some 4,000 kilometers north, in Fresno, California, former Salvadoran Air Force captain and right-hand man to Major Roberto D’Aubuisson, Alvaro Saravia, was convicted by a civil judge in September 2004 for his participation in planning the crime. He was judged under the Alien Tort Claims Act and the Torture Victim Protection Act. In an unprecedented ruling, Judge Oliver Wagner called the assassination of Monsignor Romero “a crime against humanity.” Saravia, who had been living in the United States since 1987, did not attend the proceedings or send any legal representation. Two years later Saravia was interviewed by the newspaper El Nuevo Herald, “from a country in Latin America,” just weeks after he appeared in a bookshop in Honduras. Saravia asked for forgiveness and showed a willingness to reveal the names of the others involved, including the man who pulled the trigger. “I’d tell it all if they’d guarantee my life, a job, a country where I could live... If I talk, El Salvador trembles.” Back home, the Archbishop of San Salvador, Sáenz Lacalle, told El

Nuevo Herald that he received “the message with Christian joy and surprise.” He added that “God always pardons when there is true repentance and a desire to make amends. How good it is that someone with such a heavy load on his conscience can unburden it and find the peace and friendship of God.” These events were not followed up by either the state or—barring its granting of pardon—by the Church. Saravia’s declarations, however, were another reminder that there was still much to investigate. Adding fuel to the fire: D’Aubuisson the “Meritorious Son” In early 2007, ARENA, the National Conciliation Party (PCN) and the Christian Democratic Party (PDC) joined forces to approve the honoring of two deceased citizens as “Meritorious Sons” of El Salvador. One of them was former President José Napoleón Duarte, icon of Salvadoran Christian Democracy; the other was ARENA founder Roberto D’Aubuisson. This would have been D’Aubuisson’s second public recognition in recent years, the first being a plaza and monument built in his honor using public funds from the municipality of Antiguo Cuscatlán, whose mayor is an activist in the governing party. These works were unveiled on June 22, 2006, by Elías Antonio Saca, President of both El Salvador and ARENA’s executive committee. The proposed honor and the monument before it were flagrant provocations for those victims still waiting for compliance with the IACHR’s second recommendation of material and moral reparations. On the day of the vote, members of the Christian base communities, human rights groups and individuals who sympathize with Monsignor Romero turned up at the Legislative Assembly to support a written demand that the initiative not be approved, presented by Maria Julia Hernández on behalf of the Archdiocese’s Legal Protection Office. At the same time, CEJIL and the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH) sent letters to the various Assembly benches asking them not to approve the conferring of this honor. It was rumored that several US congress people also got in touch with Salvadoran legislators in an effort to stop the

initiative. Under such pressure, the PCN withdrew its support. It was also no secret that there were serious disputes within the PDC, given that D’Aubuisson had participated in the torture and exiling of Duarte during the 1970s. In the end the PDC requested a change to the legislative agenda to avoid the vote, which the head of the ARENA bench, Guillermo Gallegos, justified as follows: “We did it to avoid any damage... The bill goes back to the commission, but we could approve the recognition sometime in the future.” Although the project was frustrated by national and international pressure, the proposal added further fuel to the fire and again highlighted the government’s unwillingness to assume its responsibility in the Romero case. How to compensate for the crime? David Morales, the Legal Protection Office’s legal adviser in 19901995 and 2005-2007 and currently the lawyer representing the victims, explained that the Office and CEJIL requested a hearing at the IACHR in July 2007. Its purpose was to follow up on its 2000 ruling because in a joint working meeting the state of El Salvador had “denied its responsibility in the assassination of Monsignor Romero and rejected both compliance with the Commission’s recommendations and the idea of discussing a reparations proposal presented by the petitioning institutions.” Among other forms of reparation, that proposal included holding a public ceremony in which the state would recognize its responsibility and ask for forgiveness, creating a plaza in memory of Monsignor Romero, prohibiting any homage to those responsible for his death and including the IACHR recommendations and conclusions in the Salvadoran school system’s history study plans. October 2007: The Washington hearing The hearing to follow up on the IACHR’s recommendations took place in early October 2007. Representing the Archdiocese, David Morales presented a missive from the Salvadoran ecclesiastical hierarchy stating that a dialogue had been initiated between the government and the Church in which the two parties expressed

“a willingness to continue listening to each other” and to take as much time as needed to do so. At the same time, he mentioned the state’s non-compliance with the recommendations and stated that Monsignor Romero’s case had become “an international symbol of impunity.”