Pope Francis, Oscar Romero and the horror of Reagan foreign policy
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Sid Shniad
2014-10-13 18:46:56 UTC
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Sep 5, 2014Noam Chomsky exclusive: Pope Francis, Oscar Romero and the
horror of Reagan foreign policyChomsky decries awful silence over the
murder of bishop Oscar Romero, as Pope Francis speeds journey to
sainthoodEmanuel Stoakes*

Last month an apparently unremarkable series of reports about Pope Francis
<https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-28845998> drifted through the
international news carousel, attracting little attention from the national
media — though it should have
They recorded the pontiff’s desire to expedite a deceased bishop’s journey
toward prospective sainthood in accordance with the customs of the faith.

The cleric in question was Oscar Romero who, prior to his murder in 1980 by
local death squads, held one of the most senior positions in the Catholic
church of El Salvador. As some of the coverage mentioned in passing, he was
killed not long after after having written to President Carter
<http://www.seniorreligion.com/new_page_261.htm>, appealing to him to halt
his support for repressive government forces that were tearing the country
apart in their assault on mass movements that opposed their undemocratic
rule. Carter never replied; Romero was shot at mass.

At that point in time, El Salvador was in the early stages of a civil war
that would go on to cause untold misery in the small central American
nation and claim tens of thousands of lives
<http://www.pbs.org/itvs/enemiesofwar/elsalvador2.html>. As the violence
raged throughout the ’80s, Washington increased the level of military aid
it sent to the ruling authorities, overwhelmingly the main perpetrators of
the many war crimes that occurred that decade, who put this generous
assistance to efficient use murdering defenseless civilians across the

The U.S. government under Reagan went on to train, fund and arm the same
government forces, dismissing accurate reports of massacres they had
as well as discouraging attempts to achieve a negotiated settlement
between the warring sides.

Having helped to lengthen the conflict and having armed the most abusive
party, a report commissioned by the speaker of the house eventually
precipitated a UN-brokered accord which helped to end the fighting in the
early 1990s, demonstrating that had there been the political will to do so,
the U.S. could have helped to halt the bloodshed far earlier.

During the war there was modest coverage of the atrocities that took place,
and relatively little focus on the trail that led to the White House. One
of the few voices expressing an appropriate level of criticism, during and
after this period, was the scholar and activist Noam Chomsky, who hasn’t
relented in his efforts to try to bring attention to the issue.

I wrote to Chomsky to ask him for a statement on these events. He provided
me with a long reply, from which I will quote an extended excerpt:

*“By the 1980s, the plague of repression that had been spreading over Latin
America struck Central America with full force. In El Salvador, the decade
opened with the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero
A few days before he had
sent a letter to President Carter pleading with him to cut off aid to the
murderous military junta, aid that “will surely increase injustice here and
sharpen the repression that has been unleashed against the people’s
organizations fighting to defend their most fundamental human rights.” *

*Aid soon flowed
 One of the most murderous forces was the army’s Atlacatl
battalion, which slaughtered thousands of peasants, labor and human rights
activists, priests, and others who were in the way. The decade of horror
ended in November 1989, when the Atlacatl battalion, fresh from renewed
training at the John F. Kennedy school of counterinsurgency, was dispatched
by the high command to assassinate six leading Latin American
intellectuals, Jesuit priests, at their university dwelling, along with any
witnesses, their housekeeper and her daughter. Archbishop Romero’s grim
prognosis was more than fulfilled, in the neighboring countries as well.
The horror is only deepened by the silence that has descended over it in
the United States and the West generally.”*

There’s little more to say, other than to state that while the events that
took place in El Salvador during that period were utterly horrendous, they
occurred in the context of several decades of regional tumult with easily
identifiable causal links to U.S. foreign policy. When we broaden the
picture in this way, the number of deaths linked to Washington potentially
reach into the hundreds of thousands, spread across a broad collection of
Latin American nations.

Daniel Kovalik
<http://www.law.pitt.edu/people/adjunct-faculty/daniel-kovalik>, a human
rights lawyer and Professor at the University of Pittsburgh, is among a
small group of academics that have dedicated their time to write about the
bitter legacy of these crimes. When I contacted him for comment, he told me
that the U.S.’ “war on Latin America” really began in 1962 in response to
the emergence of Liberation Theology, a Marxist-influenced school of
thought within Catholicism which emphasized social justice and advocated
peaceful activism designed to improve the lives of the poor.

American assaults on multiple societies below its southern border were
“designed, in large part, to wipe out that movement” Kovalik suggested,
recalling that “we know from its training manuals and training exercises as
well, the [U.S.-run] School of the Americas <http://www.soaw.org/> trained
Latin American military personnel to view community priests as suspect and
to attack them accordingly.”

“The result was the murder of scores of Catholic priests, nuns and a number
of Bishops from 1962 and continuing indeed to the present time,” he added.

As Kovalik indicated, the consequences of this war on Liberation Theology,
and other popular movements associated with it within the continent can be
seen today in societies that are still recovering from their brutal past
By contrast, a substantial portion of those in the United States that bear
some responsibility for the horrors of that period remain comfortably

The fact of such injustice is a familiar story; Washington’s legacy of
destruction in Latin America, sadly, is still news to many north of the Rio
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