The murder of St. Oscar Romero remains in impunity
March 24 is the 39th anniversary of the assassination of Oscar Romero by a death squad in El Salvador. It was one of the opening events of a bloody civil war which would have tens of thousands of civilian victims.
Despite the notoriety of the murder of a man who would subsequently be declared a martyred saint of the Roman Catholic church, no prosecution of his killers has ever reached conclusion in the Salvadoran courts.
After an amnesty law was passed in 1993, no prosecution moved forward for 23 years until that law was declared void by the Constitutional Chamber in El Salvador. Shortly thereafter the case against Romero's killers was reopened, but there has been little visible progress. The Due Process of Law Foundation has a good summary this week of where such legal proceedings stand today:
The Attorney General’s office (under Douglas Meléndez, whose term ended in early January 2019) publicly supported the reopening of the Romero case. Nonetheless, Judge Chicas had to issue a reminder to the Attorney General’s office to comply with the Constitutional Court order invalidating the Amnesty Law, raising questions about the true commitment to this and other wartime cases. Furthermore, there are serious doubts about whether new Attorney General Raúl Melara, who has close ties to ARENA, will continue this incipient progress. For now, prosecutorial action on this case has been limited to pro forma requests for information from the judge, generally about facts already known regarding Saravia. It does not appear that the Attorney General’s office is carrying out in good faith Judge Chicas’ recommendation to pursue specific new lines of investigation, including those related to prosecution of intellectual authors.Saravia refers to Captain Álvaro Saravia, who described in an interview with Carlos Dada of El Faro his role in the death squad which committed the murder. Saravia is a defendant in the currently open case. But beyond Saravia, prosecutors have shown little interest in illuminating the truth about the rest of the plot to kill Romero, including other participants and intellectual authors and the role of Roberto D'Aubuisson, founder of the ARENA political party.
The biggest threat today to the ongoing pursuit of this case is perhaps the proposed draft of a new law which would re-establish amnesty for the war crimes committed during El Salvador's civil conflict. Human rights groups and victims' organizations have mobilized against the proposal which could preclude justice not just for Romero, but for countless other innocents who died at the hands of the military and death squads.
For more about Romero's legacy in current day El Salvador, read Jon Lee Anderson's piece in the New Yorker titled Archbishop Óscar Romero Becomes a Saint, But His Death Still Haunts El Salvador