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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Journalist By Trade-iv

The setting was the early 1990s, at a Christmas party offered by the then Nicaraguan Ambassador to the OAS, José Antonio Tijerino. The topic among a group of diplomats attending the party was El Salvador, and the reasons for the apparent lack of progress in the negotiations toward peace between the government and the guerrillas.
If the killing of Archbishop Romero had definitely unleashed the dogs of war on the country, much of the impetus for a negotiated settlement to the bloody confrontation had been the result of another atrocity just about 10 years later, the murder of six Jesuit priests and two women: their cook and her teenage daughter.
Given Washington’s support for the Salvadoran government before and during the war, some of the diplomats talking with John Maisto, a top American diplomat in charge of relations with Latin America, wondered whether there was any receptivity from the decision-makers in the Salvadoran government side to the signals the State Department may have relayed on the need for a peace agreement.
“What kind of signals are you giving them? Are they clear enough?” was the question asked of Maisto, a Yoda-like man who was at the time one of the most skilled Latin American specialists at the State Department. “As clear as this,” was Maisto’s reply, cocking his right-thumb and –index in a pistol like manner and pointing it to one diplomat’s forehead. “You MUST sign peace.”
The anecdotal retelling by one of the partygoers is, I believe, appropriate. Allow me to explain.
Most everybody who on 23 March 1980 heard monsignor Romero’s now historic appeal to the military (and by that I mean men in uniform, not necessarily just officers) will probably tell you that his reaction was the same as mine. Count among them the ones that probably thought of that calling as an excuse to justify the violence against priests. Also the ones that probably feared that such a thing would happen. Or, as in my own case, a kind of premonitory feeling, not unlike the dread you get when your tot climbs up the steps.
My point here is that our collective mistake is attaching a cause-and-effect relationship to monsignor’s historic appeal to non-violence to his murder on the following day [the pix is from the archives of EL DIARIO DE HOY.] It may be so. But the killing of the archbishop, is my belief, was not decided at the time of his Sunday homily or in the hours after. It had by then been planned and staged. It was most probably the result of twisted minds thinking that (as it had indeed been widely circulated at the time) Pope John Paul II’s rebuke of Romero’s open militancy was a carte blanche for murder.
Which is not, let me hasten to clarify, assigning blame to the Roman Pontiff. Somebody should have made clear, should have cocked his thumb-and-index in a pistol-like manner, much like John Maisto did many years after to make a point, to tell whoever thought of killing a man of peace that doing so was an open indictment of the whole of Salvadoran society as a violent one.

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