W11,1, the murder or Archbishop Romero have a lasting affect on the history of El Salvador? Gerald MacCarthy in his Letter from Latin America argues that the answer lies with the United States.
So FAR the plea of Archbishop Romero that cost him his life has gone uneeded. The day before he died. in his weekly sermon, he said to his country's soldiers, "i beg you, I implore you, I order you in the name of God to cease this ICpression".
He then went on to advise them to disobey orders which conflicted with their conscience. "Remember". he said. "that the dead campesinos are also your brothers. No soldier is obliged to obey an order if it goes against his conscience".
That as surely put the bullet' that killed him through his heart as if he had pulled the trigger himself. I lere was the only man in the country who was universally respected as good as telling the army. key to the jtiraa's power, to mutiny.
It was the last straw. For the last two and a half years, this shy, myopic, unprepossessing man had been a thorn in the side of two successive military governments. His namesake, exPresident Romero, who was overthrown in the military coup Iasi October. was denounced with his government each week from the pulpit of the Archbishop.
The problem then and now has remained the same: the poor. demanding or fighting for the elementary rights of a human being. are harassed and, if necessary. exterminated in order to silence them.
Archbishop Romero wasn't against any particular government. In fact he was the only popular leader in the country who asked that the present junta be given a chance. When it finally introduced an agricultural reform at the beginning of March, he again was the only nungovernment leader who spoke in favour of it and who was prepared to trust the junta's motives.
What he condemned was the state of siege proclaimed at the same time, which, he along with all the anti-government groups in El Salvador, quickly saw was being used as a means to cover up -a systematic extermination of the Left. In the fortnight before his death he condemned these turocities insistently. Vvthout apportioning blame, there is no doubt that for the moment the death of the Archbishop serves the purposes of the government very well.
In the first place there is noone to replace him who has captured the ear and devotion of the people as he had. Further, he was undermining a strategy upon which the survival of' the present government, and the power of the army and rich land-owners depends.
In order to continue, the government has to put down the growing force of the Left and its guerilla backing, and it has come to the conclusion that this can only be done by systematic elimination. Ii is precisely this that Archbishop Romero was opposed to.
It was more important for him that justice should be given to the poor of his country than that the strategy of the government should succeed or that the United States policy for Central America should succeed.
Shortly before his death he wrote to President Carter in forthright terms: "As a Salvadoran and Archbishop of the Archdiocese of San Salvador, I am obliged to work for faith and justice in my country; I ask you, it you really want to defend human rights, to stop giving military aid to the government of El Salvador; to guarantee that your government does not interfere either directly or indirectly with military, economic, diplomatic or
other pressures to determine the destiny of the people of El Salvador".
This is of course the crux of the whole problem. The United States, not unnaturally, wants to avoid another Nicaragua: it wants to avoid having another country on its doorstep whose attitudes and policies are unpredictable and outside US control.
It doesn't take a great stretch of the imagination to see that once El Salvador 'goes', its neighbours. Guatemala and Honduras. whose peoples suffer similar problems and repression, are likely to follow.
So the United States is engaged in a shoring-up operation. It has made it clear that it will support the military junta as the best of the present alternatives open to the country. The government has after all promised a programme of reform. which if carried out to the letter and in a spirit of good will would certainly go some way toward.s re-distributing the country's wealth, and to giving some of the poorest a much better deal.
The trouble is that now the great majority are completely opposed to the government and to the whole plan. The only means by which the government can get its way is in the face of almost total opposition, With US help it may well succeed for the moment; the guerillas are ill-armed and the main opposition parties have no official status. They are all vulner able, and the killings continue, on both sides. The Palm 'Sunday massacre in the Placa Barrios at the Archbishop's funeral is only a single instance of daily violence of terrible proportions.
Unfortunately the power of the Archbishop's memory and his sanctity is not yet sufficient to have made his fellow countrs'inen follow the path of justice which he gave his life for.