( - promoted by KathyinBlacksburg)
cross-posted from Daily Kos
Weeks before he was murdered, Romero said, "If they kill me, I shall arise in the Salvadoran people." Many, both here and in the United States, believe that in this election Romero did, indeed, arise - in the ballots of the Salvadoran people. Yesterday, at a Mass in the cavernous, unfinished concrete Metropolitan Cathedral where Romero is buried, I wondered if a time will come, under President Funes, for it to be completed.
That is the final paragraph of an op ed in today's Boston Globe,. Charlie Clements, was an Air Force pilot in Vietnam who became a doctor who was treating many Salvadoran refugees in California when one of the last century's great men, Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez of San Salvador, was assassinated on March 24, 1980. Clement was an invited guest when more than a decade of civil war in El Salvador ended with a peace ceremony in Mexico. And today he will be present nas the new president of the nation, Mauricio Funes, is sworn in on the site of a 1977 massacre of people protesting a fraudulent presidential election.
I will discuss the op ed in passing, but you need to read it. I am more concerned about the rebirth of Romero through the Salvadoran people, as he himself predicted.
|The assassination of Romero,
as well as the kidnapping, torture, and murder of several civilian leaders of the broad coalition known as the Democratic Revolutionary Front, ended more than a decade of nonviolent social change in El Salvador and marked the beginning of the 12-year armed struggle of the FMLN (Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation). Funes is the first president of the political party that after the peace agreement in Mexico in 1992 arose from the Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN). FMLN began its armed struggle against the Revolutionary Government Junta that came to power in 1979 after a long series of human rights abuses and killings that seemed to have commenced with the shooting down of non-violent political protestoers at that demonstration in 1977. In included the rape and killing of four American nuns. Six priests, including a good friend of Romero, were murdered during the three brief years he was Archbishop.
Romero was an advocate of the poor. He became a proponent of Liberation Theology, an approach that arose within the Church in Latin America, which led to priests and bishops not only advocating for the poor and dispossessed, but also being involved in politics on their behalf. His advocacy was so strong that he was given an honorary doctorate by a Catholic University in Europe, at which time he met Pope John Paul II, at which time he told the Pontiff of the difficulties of supporting a government which legitimized terror and assassinations. He had similarly implored the American administration of Jimmie Carter to cease its support of the abusive government, but our President, apparently fearing a situation like Nicaragua, refused to terminate military aid.
Those who are older may remember a 1986 film by Oliver Stone entitled "Salvador" which starred James Wood and which covered the period of 1980-1981, including the rape of the nuns, the assassination of the Archbishop, the rise to unrestrained power of what were effectively death squads, and the attempts of Carter's outgoing Ambassador, Robert White, to make some difference.
The incoming Reagan administration tilted heavily towards the military leadership of the Junta. Sen. Jesse Helms was a prominent supporter of the man clearly responsible for the assassination of Romero, Roberto D'Aubisson. And for too long, far too long, El Salvador seemed to be almost a reenactment of some of the worst of Vietnam, albeit without the official participation of the American military. Clements writes
he dispatch of helicopters and US military advisers to El Salvador seemed eerily reminiscent of Vietnam and led me to volunteer to care for civilians. From 1981 to 1982 I worked in an area controlled by the FMLN, but was bombed, rocketed, or strafed daily by US-supplied aircraft. In Vietnam, pilots would have called it a "free fire zone."
I served in the US Military, as a Marine, during part of Vietnam, albeit stateside. This was before the huge escalation that would lead to more than half a million American troops being "in country," and before the kinds of atrocities such as 'free fire zones" becoming common. Even in early 1966 I was hearing tales from those returning to the States about tactics that seemed contrary to the principles Americans should abide by. By the time of common knowledge of "free fire zones," by the time the daily briefings in Saigon became known as "the Five O'Clock Follies" for the self-serving and inaccurate portrayals of US military action, America had already begun to lose its soul. Like the later failure of Carter to address the abuses of the Salvadoran government, Johnson's willingness to allow escalation including abusive actions occurred on the watch of a Democratic administration, one apparently too fearful of being called 'soft" on communism or unwilling to "support" our troops and our allies. The results in the country in which the actions took place were horrible, and the impact upon the soul of our own nation increasingly destructive. I mention this as a cautionary, as our newest Democratic administration has inherited situations in Iraq and Afghanistan that are also wreaking havoc on people in those nations and eroding some of whatever morality is still left in our national character. Our attacks from the air by plane and by Predator in both theaters is to me too reminiscent of the idea of free fire zones, of the "acceptability" of "collateral damage" - these are real humans who are dying and being shattered, and again our national image and morality both suffer as a result.
Let me return to Romero. He was killed while celebrating Mass. Those who were students of history and of literature almost immediately made mental connection with Thomas a Becket and the "Murder in the Cathedral" - the poetry of Nobel Laureate Eliot, or perhaps the film starring Peter O'Toole as Henry and Richard Burton as Becket after whom the film was titled. After all, when Romero had been elevated to Archbishop he had been viewed with skepticism by many of the Liberation priests as perhaps being too conservative. But just as Becket took seriously his responsibility for the Church over whom he had been given authority by Henry, Romero took seriously his responsibility for his flock, especially those describe in Gospel as "these the least of my brethren."
Oscar Romero has never even been beatified. It is ironic that the man who as a Cardinal originally cleared his candidacy for a very Conservative Pope, John Paul II, may now be responsible as Pope for stalling his elevation. John Paul opposed Liberation Theology, and forced many clergy from politics, including our own Fr. Robert Drinan, who as a Jesuit and as Congressman had sought to stop the violence in El Salvador. I suspect for John Paul the martyrdom while serving Mass of Romero outweighed any concerns for and objections to the man's embrace of liberation theology.
Jeane Kirkpatrick, who later served in the Reagan administration, had argued that right-wing authoritarian government were different from left-wing revolutionary regimes, the former not disturbing the normal flow of life. She opposed the attempts of the Carter administration to move the authoritarian governments who we supported to more rapid liberalization. In the context of El Salvador, one might argue that the Carter administration was already tilting somewhat in the direction of Kirkpatrick's thought, with our failure to support the efforts of Romero to move to a more just society. During the 12 years under Reagan and Bush 41 US policy in Latin America suffered, and the progress towards social and economic justice that far-sighted men like Oscar Arias and and Oscar Romero knew were necessary stalled, in some cases even being reversed, and thousands upon thousands died.
Today an American who cared greatly, Charlie Clements, a distinguished graduate of the US Air Force Academy who left the military because of his objection to how we were fighting in Vietnam, who became a doctor in order to serve people, will be an honored guest at the inauguration of a President who represents a movement on behalf of the dispossessed. I am reminded of another American as an honored guest - Patt Derrian, who was the person in Carter's State Department responsible for Human Rights, who was the one notable American invited to the inauguration of Patricio Aylwin in Chile, when democracy was restored after the horrid military dicatorship of Augusto Pinochet which began on a September 11 with the coup that toppled and killed Salvador Allende.
Clements was the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary, "Witness to War," about his experiences in El Salvador. As President of Physicians for Human Rights and current president of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee he has been an outspoken advocate of those who suffer most in war, an opponent of torture, a critic of much wrong that has flowed from the policy of our government. To many he is a hero.
Clements would reject that for himself. He would point at a man who inspired many, whose martyrdom was part of the motivation for his own service. Roberto D'Aubuisson and those who supported him might have thought that in the killing of Oscar Arnulfo Romero they were crushing those who sought change to a social and political order which had for so long oppressed them. They were wrong.
Clements is but one of many whose words and actions have continued the mission of Romero to help all the people of his nation.
The US will have important official representation today, in the presence of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. That is as it should be, because we need to turn the page on the poor policies of past administrations that enabled the suppression of the genuine aspirations of the dispossessed.
But the real witness to toda's inauguration is different. It is of people like Charlie Clements, an American who went on behalf of ordinary people. I think of my acquaintance Tom Fox, the American among the four Christian Peacemaker captives in Baghdad, himself martyred, who had felt called to serve the ordinary people whose lives in that country were being ravaged in large part due to the policies of our nation. I wish Tom had been able to live long enough to see the kind of change to which Clements will today serve as a witness.
A witness. But not THE WITNESS. That is the man whose presence has never left the nation and people he loved, served, and on whose behalf he was martyred. Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez. A man who lived the words of the Gospel of John, that greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. All the poor and ordinary people of El Salvador were not only his flock, his charge, but also is friends.
And today we remember these of his words: If they kill me, I shall arise in the Salvadoran people.
Today in the Salvadoran people we see the fulfillment of those words.