1,850 pages of CIA and State Department files related to the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero (15 August 1917 – 24 March 1980). Romero was a bishop of the Roman Catholic Church in El Salvador. He became the fourth Archbishop of San Salvador. After his assassination, Pope John Paul II gave him the title of Servant of God.
Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez was born on August 15, 1917. On April 4, 1942 Romero was ordained a Catholic priest in Rome. In 1944, he returned to El Salvador and spent the next 20 years as a parish priest in Anamorós and San Miguel. In 1970, he was appointed auxiliary bishop to San Salvador Archbishop Luis Chávez y González and began his rise in the archdiocese's leadership.
On February 23, 1977, Romero was appointed Archbishop of San Salvador. Romero at the time was seen as being conservative and his appointment was met with approval by the El Salvadorian government. Many priests in El Salvador who believed in liberation theology were disappointed.
On March 12, 1977, a Jesuit priest named Rutilio Grande was assassinated. Grande advocated liberation theology and was a close friend of Romero. Romero encouraged the El Salvadoran government to investigate the murder, assumed to be the work of a right-wing/anti-Marxist "Escuadrón de la Muerte", (Squadron of Death). The death of Grande and lack of response from officials moved Romero to speak out against the El Salvadoran government. From May 11, 1977 to August 4, 1979, five more Catholic priests were assassinated.
Romero's new public, pointed, and persistent criticism of social conditions in El Salvador gained him worldwide attention. In February 1980, the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium gave him an honorary doctorate degree. While in Europe, Romero met with Pope John Paul II.
In February of 1980, Romero wrote an open letter to President Jimmy Carter asking for an end to United States military aid to El Salvador. In his last Sunday sermon given on March 23, Archbishop Romero said: "In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise up to Heaven more urgently with each day that passes, I beseech you, I beg you, I order you to stop the repression."
Romero was shot and killed by a sniper on March 24, 1980, while elevating the chalice at the end of the eucharistic rite, as he celebrated mass in the Chapel of the Hospital de la Divina Providencia. During Romero's funeral, approximately 40 people were killed and 200 injured in the chaos that befell the San Salvador Cathedral, when a bomb exploded outside, followed by shots fired into the crowd gathered outside the Cathedral during the funeral.
On May 7, 1980, former Army Major Roberto D'Aubuisson was arrested with a group of civilians and soldiers. Officials found documents connecting D'Aubuisson to the death squad that assassinated Archbishop Romero, and plans for a coup d'état against the Revolutionary Government Junta. Pressure from D'Aubuisson supporters lead to the Junta releasing the former major. After his release, D'Aubuisson launched a public campaign denouncing the ruling Junta. In September 1980, he founded a right-wing political party, ARENA (National Republican Alliance).
ARENA won 19 out of 60 seats during the disputed March 1982 Salvadoran legislature election. ARENA formed a coalition with other parties giving it a 36 seat majority. The coalition elected Álvaro Magaña as interim-president of El Salvador. D'Aubuisson became President of the Constituent Assembly and the ruling Junta dissolved in May.
D'Aubuisson ran for President of El Salvador in 1984. He received 46.4 percent of the vote losing the presidency to José Napoleón Duarte of the Christian Democratic Party, who received 53.6 percent of the vote. In 1992, D'Aubuisson died at the age of 47 from esophageal cancer.
In 1993, a United Nations investigation concluded that Major D'Aubuisson ordered the assassination of Archbishop Romero. The report, "Report of the UN Truth Commission on El Salvador," states, "Former Major Roberto D'Aubuisson gave the order to assassinate the Archbishop and gave precise instructions to members of his security service, acting as a 'death squad', to organize and supervise the assassination."
On March 24, 2010, the thirtieth anniversary of Romero's death, the president of El Salvador, Mauricio Fune, delivered an official state apology for Romero's assassination.
On March 22, 2011 United States President Barack Obama, during an official visit to El Salvador, visited the burial site of Archbishop Romero.
STATE DEPARTMENT FILES
1,566 pages of Department of State documents dating from June 1979 to September 1991. Highlights include:
A January 31, 1980 memo presents the draft of a letter to Pope John Paul II, seeking his assistance in getting Romero to not give up support of the ruling Revolutionary Governing Junta, in favor of farther left political movements in El Salvador.
A February 19, 1980 State Department telegram from the Embassy in San Salvador to Washington gives the translation of an open letter published in El Salvadorian newspapers to President Jimmy Carter. From Spanish to English, the telegram reports the letter as saying, "I am very worried by the news that the government of the United States is studying a form of abetting the arming of El Salvador." Romero in the letter writes, "The contribution of your government instead of promoting greater justice and peace in El Salvador will without doubt sharpen the injustice and repression against the organizations of the people which repeatedly have been struggling to gain respect for their fundamental human rights."
A March 1, 1980 State Department cable contains Secretary of State Cyrus Vance's response to Romero's open letter to President Carter. The response says that the Revolutionary Governing Junta, "has shown itself to be moderate and reformist. The United States, dedicated by tradition and long practice to democratic principles, is anxious about El Salvador's grave political crisis and stands ready to contribute to peaceful and progressive solutions. We believe the reform program of the Revolutionary Junta of Government offers the best prospect for peaceful change toward a more peaceful change toward a more just society." Concerning U.S. military aid the response says, "Any equipment and training which we might provide would be designed to overcome the most serious deficiencies of the Armed Forces, enhancing their professionalism so that they can fulfill their essential role of maintaining order with a minimum of lethal force."
A four page telegram, written the day before Romero's assassination, on March 23, 1980, details the points made by Romero in his homily given earlier that day.
A November 19, 1980 State Department cable from the American Embassy in San Salvador contains information given by an informant concerning the assassination of Romero and other information concerning paramilitary killings in El Salvador. The informant, a member of the El Salvador National Guard, said that Roberto D'Aubuisson organized a meeting a day or two before the assassination of Archbishop Romero. According to the source, the participants drew lots for the task of killing the archbishop.
A December 21, 1981 State Department cable follow-up to the November 19, 1980 cable, says more information from the informant indentifies Walter Musa Antonio Alvarez as Romero's assassin. The cable gives information about the September 27 abduction and murder of Alvarez. Years later, the United Nation Truth Commission Report on El Salvador identified Alvarez as transferring money from Roberto D'Aubuisson as payment to Romero's assassin.
CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY (CIA) FILES
284 pages of CIA files dating from 1977 to 1993 related to the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero. The CIA documents cover the climate in El Salvador before Romero's murder, his assassination and funeral, and El Salvador in the years that followed. The files cover Roberto D'Aubuisson and others thought to be involved in Romero's murder.
DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE AGENCY (DIA) FILE
A two page March 25, 1980 DIA telegram from the Office of the Defense Attaché, El Salvador, reporting on the assassination of Romero and the aftermath in El Salvador.
FOREIGN BROADCAST INFORMATION SERVICE (FBIS) REPORT
At this time the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) was an open source intelligence component of the Central Intelligence Agency's Directorate of Science and Technology. The FBIS function was to monitor, translate, and disseminate within the U.S. government various foreign publications and broadcasts. This February 25, 1981 report covers a broadcast by a clandestine radio station "Radio Venceremos." In the broadcast an interview is conducted with El Salvadorian Army officer Lt. Col. Ricardo Bruno Navarrete, who implicates Roberto D'Aubuisson and other members of the Salvadoran armed forces in the assassination of Archbishop Romero.