Carlos Calleja and ARENA's past

The National Republican Alliance ("ARENA" for its initials in Spanish) is the major right wing political party in El Salvador.   Its candidates won the presidency in El Salvador in 1989, 1994, 1999, 2004 before losing to the left wing FMLN party in 2009.  The party currently has the largest number of deputies in the National Assembly.  For the 2019 presidential elections, ARENA has nominated Carlos Calleja as its candidate for president.

Roberto D'Aubuisson
ARENA's founder, ex-major Roberto D'Aubuisson, is venerated by the party.   So much so that when you visit the ARENA official party website, clicking a link for "ARENA History" delivers you to a page titled "History of Major Roberto D'Aubuisson".   His image adorns the party headquarters.  The party and D'Aubuisson are inextricably linked.

But D'Aubuisson was the author of numerous high crimes and atrocities. Multiple investigations by international bodies identified D'Aubuisson as the leader of death squads in the 1970s and 1980s and the man who ordered the assassination of now Saint Oscar Romero.

ARENA always kicks off a new election campaign with a rally of its party faithful in the town of Izalco in the west of El Salvador.  Why Izalco?  "Porque aquí inició la lucha contra el comunismo" according to D'Aubuisson -- "because here began the struggle against communism."

D'Aubuisson was referring to the genocide called simply "la Matanza" or "the Massacre." When indigenous people and campesinos rebelled in 1932 against deadly poverty and abuse, the dictator General Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez proceeded to slaughter 20-30,000 indigenous persons in the zone around Izalco.  Martinez and his troops did all this in less than a month,.
Victims of La Matanza 1932 (photo MUPI collection)

Starting in 1982, the 50 year anniversary of La Matanza, ARENA has celebrated the start of its campaigns in Izalco.   This celebration goes along with the party hymn of ARENA with its refrain "El Salvador será la tumba donde los rojos terminarán"  "El Salvador will be the tomb where the reds will be ended."

ARENA became a recognized political party in the country on December 5, 1981, five days before the Salvadoran armed forces massacred almost 1000 innocent children and others at El Mozote.  On Wednesday this week, an ARENA deputy in the National Assembly asked for a moment of silence to commemorate and honor the anniversary of the death of Domingo Monterrosa, the military commander who led the massacres at El Mozote and other locations.

ARENA's presidential candidate Carlos Calleja celebrated his party's history but has been awkward in talking about his party's past and its founder when asked about it.   For example, he participated in the traditional campaign rally in Izalco last weekend.  Calleja joined other party leaders on August 23 at an event commemorating the anniversary of the death of D'Aubuisson at his tomb. 

Carlos Calleja at tomb of Roberto D'Aubuisson
Reporters at that event, questioned Calleja about the UN Truth Commission report which identified D'Aubuisson has the man who ordered Oscar Romero's death.   Calleja responded that the Truth Commission report simply contained "speculations."

Shortly after that event at the tomb, at a presentation in Washington sponsored by The InterAmerican Dialogue for the Americas, Calleja again minimized the UN Truth Commission Report, stating that it only found "indications" that D'Aubuisson was involved.  This was different in Calleja's mind from arriving at the truth.   When an angry man demanded that ARENA apologize for crimes committed during the war, Calleja dodged saying he was not a spokesman the party.

Calleja is 42 years old and was only a boy during the country's civil conflict. The day before Romero was canonized, Calleja tweeted that he hoped that the figure of the new saint would put the country on the path to finding unification and reconciliation:

The eyes of the world are placed on El Salvador and my hope as a Salvadoran and a Catholic is that the figure of Saint Oscar Arnulfo Romero motivates us to find a path of unification and reconciliation for our people
ARENA and Calleja argue that the figure of Saint Oscar Romero should not be politicized.  Calleja and ARENA would rather not be asked any more questions about D'Aubuisson and his role in killing a saint.  I don't think those questions are going to stop.