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Us role death romero { March 24 2002 }

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Sunday, 24 March, 2002, 18:28 GMT
US role in Salvador's brutal war

Salvadoreans mark the anniversary of Romero's death

By Tom Gibb
BBC correspondent in El Salvador during the civil war in
the 1980s

There is a tremendous irony that President
George W Bush has chosen to visit El Salvador
on the anniversary of the murder of the
country's Archbishop, Oscar Arnulfo Romero,
22 years ago.

A campaigner against the Salvadorean army's
death squad war, Monsignor Romero was shot
through the heart while saying Mass, shortly
after appealing to the US not to send military
aid to El Salvador.

The appeal fell on deaf ears and for the next 12
years, the US became involved in its largest
counter-insurgency war against left-wing
guerrillas since Vietnam.

Today US officials are
saying that President Bush's visit is in part to
celebrate a US success story in which his
father was personally involved.

His father was president when the two sides in
El Salvador finally negotiated a UN-brokered
peace deal, signed in 1992.

US officials say that President Bush senior's
policies set the stage for peace, turning El
Salvador into a democratic success story.

However, it took more than 70,000 deaths and
mass human rights violations, before peace
was reached.

Archbishop Romero's murder is a good example.

War against rebels

It was, according to declassified US
documents and other witnesses, carried out by
Salvadorean police intelligence agents on the
orders of Major Roberto D'Aubuisson.

He was at the time running the army's
intelligence war and went on to found the
right-wing Arena party which is in power in El
Salvador today.

No-one was brought to justice and for the
next decade, when President Bush's father
was heavily involved in Salvador policy, the
same police agents would be at the centre
of US funded efforts to wipe out left-wing

To defeat the rebels, the US equipped and
trained an army which kidnapped and
disappeared more than 30,000 people, and
carried out large-scale massacres of thousands
of old people women and children.

Republican worries

Many of the colonels in charge of these
policies, far from facing war crimes tribunals at
the end of the war were later made US

George Bush's father, then US vice-president,
also visited El Salvador in December 1983.

At the time the guerrillas were winning the war
and the Reagan administration was deeply
worried that a Democrat-controlled congress
would cut military aid because of the
Salvadorean army's dreadful human rights

In election campaign ads, President Bush
senior later boasted that he "faced down the
death squads in El Salvador".

In reality he met with the high command of the
army - whose policies were behind the killings.

Priests murdered

The Salvadoreans were given a list of names of
army officers the US wanted removed.

President Bush's aide, who personally handed
over the list, was Lieutenant Colonel Oliver
North - later discredited for selling weapons to
Iran to pay for the CIA's secret wars in Central

The war ended largely because Perestroika in
the Soviet block forced the guerrillas to
change their aims and opt for a democratic

But the US only applied serious pressure on the
government to negotiate after the rebels
launched their largest offensive of the war in
November 1989, showing that they were far
from defeated.

At the same time an elite US-trained army unit
murdered six Jesuit priests, the country's
leading intellectuals, in cold blood.

The murders showed that after a decade of US
instruction the army still had a lot to learn
about human rights and democracy.

The priests were taken out of their house and
repeatedly shot through the head with
machine guns.

A US congressional investigation found strong
evidence that the army's high command had
ordered the murders, prompting a cut in
military aid.

Model for Colombia?

Since the end of the civil war, El Salvador has
remained one of the most violent societies in
the hemisphere - with a murder rate rivalled
only by Colombia.

A new civilian police force has struggled to
cope with a crime wave in a country still
awash with weapons and plenty of former
combatants hardened by a decade of killing.

Today the model of US involvement in El
Salvador is being put forward by some in
Washington as a possible solution for
Colombia's 30-year civil war.

Apart from the open agenda of free trade and
immigration - wishing to raise support for a
policy of more active US involvement in
Colombia may be part of the real reason behind
President Bush's choice to visit El Salvador.

However many would say it takes a serious
re-writing of history to portray El Salvador as a
US success story.

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Generals connected to soa found liable for torture { July 23 2002 }
Genocide { March 31 1980 }
Killing 4 women not policy { October 19 2000 }
Murdered nun case refused { June 5 1998 }
Negroponte knowledge of 1980s death squads { March 21 2005 }
Nuns raped murdered
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Rapist murderers of nuns in elsalvador released { July 22 1998 }
Romero { March 24 2002 }
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Suit filed oscar romero death { September 17 2003 }
Time line { July 18 2002 }
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US considers salvador option for iraq { January 10 2005 }
Us role death romero { March 24 2002 }

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