Learn from History, 31st Anniversary of the Assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero

Published on National Security Archive, Electronic Briefing Book No. 339, by Kate Doyle and Emily Willard, March 23, 2011.

Washington, D.C., March 23, 2011 – Thirty one years ago tomorrow, El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero was shot and killed by right-wing assassins seeking to silence his message of solidarity with the country’s poor and oppressed. The assassination shocked Salvadorans already reeling in early 1980 from attacks by security forces and government-backed death squads on a growing opposition movement. Romero’s murder further polarized the country and set the stage for the civil war that would rage for the next twelve years. In commemoration of the anniversary, the National Security Archive is posting a selection from our digital archive of 12 declassified U.S. documents that describe the months before his death, his assassination and funeral, as well as later revelations about those involved in his murder. 

The documents are being posted as President Barack Obama leaves El Salvador, his final stop on a five-day trip to Latin America. Obama spent part of his time in the country with a visit to Monsignor Romero’s tomb last night. Although the United States funneled billions of dollars to the tiny country in support of the brutal army and security forces during a counterinsurgency war that left 75,000 civilians dead, the president made no reference to the U.S. role, seeking in his speeches instead to focus on immigration and security concerns. The day before his visit to Romero’s gravesite, Obama had told an audience in Chile that it was important that the United States and Latin America “learn from history, that we understand history, but that we not be trapped by history, because many challenges lie ahead.”

Just weeks before his murder, Archbishop Romero published an open letter to President Jimmy Carter in the Salvadoran press, asking the United States not to intervene in El Salvador’s fate by arming brutal security forces against a popular opposition movement. Romero warned that U.S. support would only “sharpen the injustice and repression against the organizations of the people which repeatedly have been struggling to gain respect for their fundamental human rights.” Despite his plea, President Carter moved to approve $5 million in military aid less than one year after the archbishop’s murder, as Carter was leaving office in January 1981 … //

… The documents posted below are from the National Security Archive’s Digital National Security Archive’s two El Salvador collections, El Salvador: The Making of U.S. Policy, 1977–1984 and El Salvador: War, Peace, and Human Rights, 1980–1994. These two full collections, among others, are available through a subscription with the ProQuest research database.

Read the Documents 1 – 12
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