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Monday, March 29, 2010

Journalist By Trade-v

The first bomb exploded about the South West corner of the National Cathedral on that brilliant Palm Sunday morning. The thousands gathered to pay their final respects to monsignor Romero crowded all over the neighboring streets and the Plaza Gerardo Barrios immediately across the front portico where the coffin had been carried out for the funeral mass. The Jesuit rector of the Universidad Católica (UCA), Ignacio Ellacuría, who some 10 years later would also be murdered along with seven other people (five of them priests) was one of the pallbearers.
”It’s most likely a propaganda bomb,” I told the startled American TV correspondent standing right in front of me. Minutes later, to use a proverbial cliché, all hell broke loose.
The lucky ones were probably those on the outskirts of the massive congregation of people, who most likely fled away from the area without much impediment. Worse off were probably the ones closer to the cathedral, and most especially the ones on the street right in front of the main portico. Those were the ones trampled and run over by the stampeded throng running away madly from the unseen assailants.
Most of the dead that day were probably people crushed against the fence surrounding the cathedral. The gates had been locked to prevent people from entering the temple and to allow for the mass to be officiated at the front steps, just a few feet away where I and some other local journalists and foreign correspondents like myself had gained access.
As you may have read in the abridged recollection of my dispatches from that Sunday morning in the book whose pages I reproduced in the first article of this series of posts, there was a moment where I recalled crouching down as I somehow sensed that the bullets were literally whizzing by. And just as I crouched down, I immediately realized that it would prevent me from seeing whatever was happening in front and around me [that’s me, circled at the right hand side of the cathedral steps, on the pix that you can find at the web pages dedicated to archbishop Romero on this website. I said so in one of the many dispatches that I wrote over the many hours of that Sunday afternoon, banging away at the old telex machine.
And so I stood up again and remained standing for the whole of the madness, my eyes and my heart and my mind sadly registering the overwhelming cries of the dying, the panic of the thousands of children, women, and men gathered to say goodbye to monsignor, the drone of the guerrilla cadre over the loudspeaker, the implorations of some of the priests closer to us on the front steps, the haunting El Greco-like faces of the poor [as captured by Harry Mattison in the picture circled on the screenshot of the web page from the Harry Ramson Center of the University of Texas at Austin] who to my understanding at that particular moment and many years later, look as it they were just previewing the horrific nightmare my country had just entered in.
Back at the EFE bureau office on the third floor of the building across the basilica where monsignor had issued his most dramatic and open call for an end to the violence just about a week before, we fielded calls from radio stations from different countries and filed one take after another. We didn’t stop writing until well into the early evening and then headed out for a drive around the city, basically deserted.
To this day, questions on who was responsible for the violence of that day are still unanswered. In our dispatches and those of many other correspondents from San Salvador that day you have read the accusations from visiting church dignitaries that government soldiers or rightist militants were involved. Some even were as far as to say that shots were fired from the National Palace, then a mostly abandoned governmental building on the Western edge of the Plaza Barrios.
I cannot discount the possibility that either government agents or rightist operatives were mixed in the crowd and helped to stir the chaos and disorder that ended in mayhem and death. But I was there for the whole of it and all I can do is reiterate that at no time did I see soldiers around the area or shots fired from the National Palace or even signs that somebody may have been inside the facility.
Which brings me to what probably is my motive to reminisce on the events of 30 years ago.

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