Moral Low Ground

US Government

Obama Visits Tomb of Salvadoran Archbishop Assassinated by US-Trained, US-Armed, US-Backed Death Squad

US President Barack Obama paid a solemn visit to the tomb of slain Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero in San Salvador yesterday as he wrapped up his Latin American trip. According to the Associated Press, Obama toured El Salvador’s national cathedral with Monsignor Jose Luis Escobar Alas, the nation’s current archbishop, and paid respects to Romero, who was assassinated on March 24, 1980 by members of the Salvadoran armed forces in what was then a right-wing military dictatorship.

With his constant advocacy for the poor and downtrodden in society, Romero was seen as a subversive threat by the ruling regime. Known as the “voice of the voiceless,” Romero took to the pulpit, and to the airwaves, to condemn the killing of innocent civilians, mostly poor, indigenous people, by the country’s armed forces as they fought leftist rebels during a civil war that raged for much of the 1980s. Death squads loyal to the government murdered nuns and priests who helped the poor, and in the spring of 1980 it was Romero’s turn. The day before his assassination– March 23, 1980– he gave an impassioned final sermon in which he made the following special appeal to the murderers, rapists and torturers of the nation’s armed forces:

“I would like to make an appeal in a special way to the men of the army, to the police, to those in the barracks. Brothers, you are part of our own people. You kill your own peasant brothers and sisters. And before an order to kill that a man may give, the law of God must prevail that says: Thou shalt not kill! No soldier is obliged to obey an order against the law of God. No one has to fulfill an immoral law. It is time to recover your consciences and to obey your consciences rather than the orders of sin. The church, defender of the rights of God, of the law of God, of human dignity, the dignity of the person, cannot remain silent before such abomination… In the name of God, and in the name of this suffering people whose laments rise to heaven each day more tumultuously, I beg you, I ask you, I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression!”

The Archbishop also knew his time may be running out:

“If they succeed in killing me, I forgive and bless those who do it. Hopefully, they will realize they are wasting their time. A bishop will die, but the church of God, which is the people, will never perish.”

The next day, Romero was shot through the heart as he finished delivering a sermon. A massive crowd turned out for his funeral mass; government forces opened fire on the crowd, killing more than 30 people.

Archbishop Romero is now on the path to sainthood.

Obama’s visit is significant because it was the United States that trained, armed and funded Romero’s murderers. Roberto D’Aubuisson and Captain Eduardo Ernesto Alfonso Avila planned and ordered the assassination. They were both trained at the US Army School of the Americas, where US-authored torture and assassination manuals formed the backbone of a grisly curriculum designed to teach right-wing, US-friendly security forces how to suppress dissent and resistance. The United States has never really owned up to its role in Romero’s murder, and no other American president has ever visited his tomb. “It’s a gesture the people of El Salvador will never forget,” Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes declared.

When President Obama stood before Romero’s tomb, eyes closed in a personal moment of silence and then nodding his head as he opened his eyes, I wonder if he was contemplating and silently acknowledging the role of the country he now presides over in this heartbreaking and tragic page of history?

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