via A Letter Explaining the Reason Behind the Choice of Writing “Secrets & Lies in El Salvador” as Historically-Based, Rather than Historical Fiction
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The prequel to this novel “Crimes & Impunity in New Orleans” will be out in December.
Peace & justice for all,
Posted on May 27, 2015 by Jimmy Franco Sr.
A ceremony attended by 300,000 people was held on May 23, in the city of San Salvador to honor and celebrate the beatification of El Salvador’s deceased Archbishop Oscar Romero. Supportive commemorations were also held in Los Angeles and other cities. Pope Francis made the decision to beatify Romero which is a step before sainthood after designating him as a martyr who gave his life in 1980 for the cause of social justice. Prior to his death, the
300,000 people gather as Archbishop Oscar Romero is honored and beatified.
Archbishop had assisted poor communities in El Salvador in order to improve their lives and had been a public and outspoken critic of the brutal Salvadoran military. He had demanded that the army halt the widespread violence and killings being committed against innocent people who were merely attempting to exercise their basic rights. Monsignor Romero wrote a personal letter to President Jimmy Carter in early 1980 pleading with him to end US financial and military support of the Salvadoran armed forces due to its violence and human rights violations being inflicted upon civilians who merely wanted democracy. Carter never directly answered the Archbishop’s letter and Romero was murdered shortly after by a member of a right-wing death squad who shot him through the heart as he gave mass in a cathedral. Days after at Romero’s funeral service, Salvadoran soldiers opened deadly fire on the huge crowd that came to pay their respects to the martyred Archbishop. The murders by the government of many other Catholic church members were to follow as their peaceful activities to help the poor and pronouncements for an end to the violence had them branded as enemies by the military and their US trainers. These anti-democratic actions by the Salvadoran military and their allied death squads would lead to a violent and deadly 12-year long civil war which tore apart the country’s social fabric. Presidents Carter and particularly Reagan openly supported, financed, armed and trained El Salvador’s military and its death squads throughout the long war.
The background of the brutal 1980’s Salvadoran civil war
The civil war in El Salvador was caused by the repressive Salvadoran government that used violence to block fair elections and the democratic participation of the Salvadoran People and their chosen political parties. Peaceful gatherings were regularly attacked with deadly force as a brutal message was being conveyed by the military government to the civilian population that they should accept injustice and stay in their place. The majority of the people as well as many representatives of the church refused to
The murder of Romero by a US-supported death squad turned people against the govt.
do so as peaceful protests and public outcries continued to demand that the government respect human rights and cease their attacks upon civilians. These democratic aspirations were met by more violence and deaths on the part of the military. Leaving no other available option, the opposition groups coalesced into the FMLN (Frente Farabundo Marti de Liberacion Nacional) to oppose the US supported military government and civil war broke out. Both Presidents Carter and Reagan praised the repressive right-wing Salvadoran government as a “democratic” ally which opposed the Soviet Union and therefore needed to be given substantial economic and military assistance to crush their ‘subversive’ critics and opposition. Even the US Ambassador to El Salvador Robert White denounced the human rights abuses being perpetrated upon the population by the military and government supported death squads and for his honesty was removed from his post by Reagan who wanted him silenced. Soon, the dumps on the outskirts of San Salvador became periodically littered with bodies of students and others targeted for death for attempting to exercise their rights. This was followed by the kidnapping, rape and murder of four US churchwomen in El Salvador by government soldiers which was meant as a warning to the religious community to stop their peaceful activities which aided the poor. In 1989, six Jesuit priests at a Salvadoran university who espoused social justice in their teachings were also murdered by government soldiers who also killed their housekeeper and her daughter in order to eliminate any witnesses. In all, over 75,000 people died in 12 years at the hands of the armed forces who were armed and financed by President Reagan and trained at the US ‘School of the Americas’ at Fort Benning Georgia. During this time, Reagan also supported the repressive military of Guatemala who killed thousands and the brutal Contras rebel group in Nicaragua. This period in history was not a proud episode in US-Central American relations.
The long and brutal civil war ended with positive and negative results
The thousands who died during the 12 years of government inflicted violence along with the thousands of Salvadorans who fled the war and settled in many US cities and countries left the country deeply divided. President Reagan had consistently refused to negotiate a peaceful settlement to the civil war and instead opted for a military victory by the repressive government which ultimately failed as the FMLN coalition forces successfully fought back. A positive aspect was that many people here in the US and other countries demanded an end to the killing and assisted in applying political pressure to bring the war to a close. Broad-based
After years of struggle the FMLN which is now a party was elected to power.
organizations were developed within El Salvador in addition to support groups abroad which were training grounds for organizers to develop democratic institutions and norms. Despite the right-wing opposition by Pope John Paul ll at that time to church members who followed the activist teachings of Liberation Theology, most religious orders sided with the Salvadoran people against the brutal excesses of the government. Presently, the people of El Salvador have voted freely without any widespread violence and have elected a government led by the former FMLN rebels who are now a legal party. This would have been unheard of a decade ago as both the present military and Obama have grudgingly accepted the will of the Salvadoran People for self-determination. On the negative side, El Salvador is still a poor country which lacks jobs and resources and has permanently lost many well-educated people who were vital to the country’s economy but who left during the civil war and never returned. Another growing social problem that resulted from the civil war and that needs to be dealt with in El Salvador are gangs which were initially organized in Los Angeles and other US cities by certain young Salvadoran immigrants. Many of these gang members have since been deported back to El Salvador where they have regrouped and recruited other unemployed young people to increasingly engage in widespread gang violence and criminal activities.
Monsenor Romero: a man of principle who was dedicated to justice
The ‘Dirty War’ waged in Argentina from 1976 to 1983 by the US supported military dictatorship resulted in thousands of deaths which Pope Francis as a priest did not publicly oppose at the time and therefore he was not harmed. The beliefs and convictions of Oscar Romero would not allow him to do such a thing and simply recede into the background and remain silent and safe. During this volatile and brutal period in Latin American history there were many churchmen and women who practiced Liberation Theology in various countries. This theology emphasized a socially active church and direct work among the poor as articulated in the old Gospel of the New Testament. Many of these church members,
Monsenor Romero: a true patriot, hero and friend of the poor.
particularly the well-educated and outspoken Jesuits, were targeted as subversives by the US supported right-wing authorities and killed. During this time conservative Pope John Paul ll strongly criticized and condemned church members who practiced activist Liberation Theology. John stated that its emphasis on siding with and aiding the poor was an element of Marxism and threatened many of them with ex-communication from the church. Despite these threats, the efforts of these martyred church activists and followers of Liberation Theology contributed greatly to the struggle against tyranny, the defense of human rights and the development of present-day democracy within Latin America. They actually practiced the Gospel with their actions and not just with abstract words on Sundays. The facts of history will show that Archbishop Romero is a true hero and patriot who regardless of the danger he faced stood up to presidents and generals in order to defend justice and his people’s human rights. An historical evaluation of the actions of individuals will contrast the just principles and morality of Monsignor Romero with those of the unjust Presidents Carter and Reagan who committed crimes and behaved in an immoral and cowardly manner by supporting dictators with US weapons and giving orders to armed thugs to torture, rape and kill innocent people. The 1980’s was a decade of shameful anti-democratic and murderous US policies in Latin America that left deep scars which still exist. Many individuals who were guilty of crimes during these decades have not been held accountable nor punished for their murderous actions with many of them now living comfortably in the US. The peoples of the region are still recovering from this repressive period as a democratic and independent trend in Latin America is now beginning to freely take hold.
Copyright, May 28, 2015: Jimmy Franco Sr.
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About Jimmy Franco Sr.
Jimmy Franco Sr. is the moderator and writer of the blog site: “A Latino Point of View in Today’s World” latinopov.com
The assassination of Monseñor Romero is in my novel.
Do you know a/b my debut novel “Secrets & Lies in El Salvador”? A young American woman goes to war-torn El Salvador: http://tinyurl.com/klxbt4y
My husband made a video about the novel. He wrote the song too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P11Ch5chkAc
Honor Comes Late to Óscar Romero, a Martyr for the Poor
By ELISABETH MALKINMAY 22, 2015
SAN SALVADOR — María de los Angeles Mena Alvarado knelt at the tomb of the slain archbishop and wept.
She had come to the crypt of the city’s cathedral to pray for a cure for the diabetes that was threatening her eyesight and weakening her kidneys. “I feel that, yes, he can perform a miracle,” said Ms. Mena, 62.
Thirty-five years after Óscar Romero, the Roman Catholic archbishop of San Salvador, was assassinated with a single bullet as he said Mass in a modest chapel here, this small country is celebrating his beatification on Saturday, the final step before sainthood.
For many here and in the rest of Latin America, though, Archbishop Romero is already a saint.
His tireless advocacy for the poor resonates deeply in a region where the gulf between those with riches and those without remains vast. He was the champion of impoverished Salvadorans, his homilies and radio broadcasts giving voice to their struggles. And as political violence battered the country and death squads killed any activist who challenged the existing order, the archbishop was defiant.
“I have frequently been threatened with death,” he said two weeks before he was killed. “If they kill me, I shall rise again in the Salvadoran people.”
The decision by Pope Francis to declare Archbishop Romero a martyr to the faith and speed up the long-stalled process toward his sanctification is widely seen as a recognition of the deep pastoral commitment the archbishop demonstrated, at the cost of his life.
“He spoke the truth; he spoke through facts,” said Eva Menjívar, a former Carmelite nun who knew him in the 1970s and continues as a religious worker in poor communities. “We have never stopped teaching the spirit and values of Monsignor Romero.”
For decades, the conservative Vatican hierarchy was suspicious of Archbishop Romero, as it was of many Latin American priests who were influenced by liberation theology, which challenges the social and economic structures that perpetuate poverty. Even today he remains a divisive figure in El Salvador, where some on the right believe he was a communist in clerical garb.
Archbishop Romero never identified himself with liberation theology. But as an advocate for the poor, “he took sides; he was not a neutral bystander,” said Robert Ellsberg, a scholar and publisher of Orbis Books, a Catholic publishing house. “He spoke out clearly without compromise against the violence and injustice of the elite.”
In that sense, he had much in common with Pope Francis, who has said he wants “a poor church for the poor.”
The Rev. Gustavo Gutiérrez, the Peruvian priest whose 1971 book first outlined liberation theology, said Archbishop Romero was motivated by the poverty and suffering he saw in El Salvador rather than by any ideology. “Monsignor Romero now appears to be understood, as he was also very misunderstood,” he said.
Before Archbishop Romero was appointed in 1977, he had not confronted the growing military repression directly. But a few weeks later, a Jesuit priest and friend, the Rev. Rutilio Grande, was assassinated. The archbishop celebrated Mass several weeks afterward and then organized a procession through the rural town where Father Grande had been organizing farmworkers, recalled the Rev. Jon Sobrino, a liberation theologian who became an adviser.
The group suddenly encountered soldiers with their rifles drawn and stopped short. But from the back of the file the archbishop’s voice rang out, urging people, “Forward!” The soldiers lowered their rifles.
In the context of the Cold War, Archbishop Romero’s stance marked him as subversive in the eyes of the United States-backed Salvadoran military, even though he also criticized violence by the guerrillas.
The month before he was killed, Archbishop Romero wrote to President Jimmy Carter to ask him to end United States support for the military. Then, on March 23, 1980, he called on soldiers to disobey illegal orders. “The peasants you kill are your own brothers and sisters,” he said.
The next day, a red Volkswagen pulled up outside the chapel at the cancer hospice where he lived, and a shot was fired from the car’s back window through the chapel doorway to the altar, and the archbishop fell bleeding.
A United Nations truth commission found that his murder was planned by a group of officers led by Roberto d’Aubuisson, a former army major who led the death squads. Nobody was ever prosecuted for the assassination, and Mr. d’Aubuisson died of cancer in 1992. Left open is whether he was acting for someone in the oligarchy.
At the archbishop’s funeral, snipers fired on mourners, killing as many as 40 people amid scenes of panic.
In the months after Archbishop Romero’s death, the violence escalated into a brutal civil war in which at least 75,000 people were killed before peace accords were signed in 1992. Under President Ronald Reagan, Washington sent as much as $1.5 million a day to support the Salvadoran military.
The long-awaited recognition for Archbishop Romero comes to a country and a region that is very different in some ways. But the daily reality of the poor has changed little.
Right-wing military dictatorships have been swept away in Latin America. Outright political violence is rare, and in all but a few countries there is a vibrant civil society that is free to criticize governments without fear.
In El Salvador, the warring sides of the civil war now compete in elections, and President Salvador Sánchez Cerén is a former guerrilla commander.
Democracy has proved a profound disappointment, though. Inequality is as entrenched as it was in Archbishop Romero’s time, and the poor of El Salvador — along with those in many other countries in Latin America — now live in the grip of criminal, not political, violence.
“The violence now is of the poor against the poor,” said Roberto Cuéllar, a lawyer who worked with Archbishop Romero to offer legal services to the poor and document human rights abuses. “He would be bitter to see that after reaching the peace accords that we are still in the same place.”
Msgr. Ricardo Urioste, who was the vicar general to Archbishop Romero, said the Salvadoran church had failed to take a role in addressing the gang violence that rages through the poor neighborhoods.
“I think the church should take a more active part,” said Monsignor Urioste, taking a sharply critical view of a hierarchy that has long resisted honoring the archbishop. “I think if Monsignor Romero were here he would talk to the gangs, something no bishop is doing here. And he would be talking about injustice.”
The question now is whether Archbishop Romero’s beatification will prove to be merely a symbol or a watershed for Latin America.
Many Central Americans — almost 50 percent of Salvadorans are younger than 25 — have no direct memory of the wars that racked the region and the role that socially committed priests played.
And a generation of young people who were inspired by liberation theology in the 1970s have moved on, preferring to work in human rights, labor organizing, legal aid or economic development. They have helped to enrich civil society, where the church now plays a much smaller role.
Those who revere Archbishop Romero worry that the long-awaited official recognition may simply be an effort to soften his legacy. “It is an attempt to claim his message,” Lissette Hernández, 42, who works on rural development projects, said after a concert in the archbishop’s memory. “He was correct in the way he lived the Gospel.”
“I have mixed feelings” about the beatification, she said. “Nobody has asked for forgiveness or solved the crime.”
Gene Palumbo contributed reporting.
A version of this article appears in print on May 23, 2015, on page A4 of the New York edition with the headline: Honor Comes Late to Martyr for the Poor.
The assassination of Monseñor Romero is in my novel. Do you know a/b my debut novel “Secrets & Lies in El Salvador”? A young American woman goes to war-torn El Salvador: http://tinyurl.com/klxbt4y
God’s Politics Blog
What Would Oscar Romero Say Today About El Salvador?
by Rev. Timothy Kesicki
Two years ago I was in El Salvador and asked a fellow Jesuit priest if he thought that Archbishop Oscar Romero — famously slain while celebrating Mass in 1980 — would ever be beatified. The Salvadoran Jesuit’s answer: only when all of the people who loved Romero, and all of the people who hated him, were dead.
Fortunately, that prediction turned out to be grossly off the mark, as Pope Francis will beatify Oscar Romero on May 23, putting him one step shy of formal sainthood.
At the height of El Salvador’s civil war, Romero was a lightning rod with enemies. One of the most prominent Salvadorans to call out the country’s government and military leaders to end their bloody and oppressive human rights violations, he was also an outspoken advocate for the poor.
Shot to death by an unknown assassin said to be acting on the orders of the Salvadoran army, Romero used his last homily to call on soldiers to listen to their consciences and disregard orders to kill fellow Salvadorans.
If he were alive today, what would Romero say from the pulpit?
El Salvador’s civil war is long over, but the violence and inequality haunting the nation is as real as it was back in the 1980s. Children and families continue to flee El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras because the region is the deadliest non-war zone in the world. Jesuits working in ministries throughout North America and Central America encounter these faces of human suffering daily.
While last year’s media spotlight on the Central American children and families crossing the U.S. border has faded, the humanitarian emergency gripping the region continues. The number of children and families reaching the U.S. may have dropped, but it is not because the violence has diminished or people have stopped fleeing.
Instead our government, which already spends nearly $18 billion on immigration enforcement in the U.S., has now leveraged funding, training, and diplomatic pressure to impel Mexico and Central America to intercept desperate people, some fleeing violence and persecution, from journeying beyond borders to find safety. The U.S. has invested heavily in border security and immigration control, despite grave and troubling human rights violations. Meanwhile, we have failed to publicly and persistently convey the message that asylum seekers, victims of human trafficking, and refugees must be screened and not returned to the hands of their persecutors.
The Obama administration’s FY2016 budget request includes $1 billion for Central American assistance, some of which would be allocated for development and poverty reduction projects. However, it also proposes pumping hundreds of millions more into the militarization of Central American societies and borders, a plan that would further deteriorate the human rights situation. Absent is a vision of how to address the urgent humanitarian needs of people displaced by violence.
Instead of funding the militarization of the borders between the U.S. and Central America and intercepting refugees before they reach our country, we must address the root causes of migration and provide direct assistance that builds the capacity to address humanitarian needs.
Central America needs help expanding education opportunities, building child welfare systems, and sheltering victims of violence and witnesses to crime. But none of these reforms can be sustained unless Central American governments also work to eradicate corruption and reform their judicial systems.
As Romero said during a time of similar urgency, “On this point there is no possible neutrality. We either serve the life of Salvadorans or we are accomplices in their death. … We either believe in a God of life or we serve the idols of death.”
Finding a viable solution to Central America’s problems while offering appropriate protection to those fleeing violence may be an uncomfortable conversation, but the U.S. will face an even more uncomfortable result if we continue our out-of-sight, out-of-mind attitude toward Central America’s desperate and dispossessed victims of violence.
The Rev. Timothy Kesicki is president of the Jesuit Conference, the organization that represents the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in Canada and the United States. Via RNS.
The assassination of Archbishop Romero is in my novel “Secrets & Lies in El Salvador” American woman goes to war-torn El Salvador: http://tinyurl.com/klxbt4y