El Salvador: The Assassination of Archbishop Romero

On the night of March 24, 1980, Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero was shot through the heart by killers, carrying out orders that came straight from the reactionary oligarchy that rules over the country. He was killed because he was giving voice to the needs of the oppressed. To this day justice has not been done and the masses are still waiting.

“While it is clear that our Church has been the victim of persecution during the last three years, it is even more important to observe the reason for the persecution... The persecution comes about because of the Church's defence of the poor, for assuming the destiny of the poor.

"A church that suffers no persecution but enjoys the privileges and support of the things of the earth - beware! - is not the true church of Jesus Christ. A preaching that does not point out sin is not the preaching of the gospel. A preaching that makes sinners feel good, so that they are secured in their sinful state, betrays the gospel's call."

"When the church hears the cry of the oppressed it cannot but denounce the social structures that give rise to and perpetuate the misery from which the cry arises." (Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, March 11,1979)

On the night of Monday March 24, 1980, Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero was shot through the heart as he was saying a memorial mass for a friend's mother. He died within minutes. On March 23, 1980, the day before his death, he directly addressed the country's soldiers in his weekly sermon, pleading, "In the name of God, in the name of these suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you: Stop the repression."

The masses reacted angrily to the assassination. During the archbishop's funeral services, a bomb exploded outside the cathedral in San Salvador, and government troops then opened fire on the crowd of 50,000 who had gathered there to pay their last respects. An estimated 40 people died and another 200 were wounded.

One day after the assassination an accusation was made of direct Cuban involvement. But there was no question of the Cubans being involved in the killing of the archbishop. Everybody knows who is responsible for the murder. It was the work of the right wing reactionaries who shortly afterwards in 1981 founded the ARENA party, set up by Roberto D'Aubuisson, who had previously been the founder and leader of El Salvador's notorious death squads, who personally called for Romero's murder.

The report issued in 1993 by the UN Truth Commission on El Salvador states unambiguously:

"There is full evidence that former major Roberto D'Aubuisson gave the order to assassinate the Archbishop and gave precise instructions to members of his security service, acting as a death squad, to organize and supervise the assassination."

The Archbishop was a highly popular and outspoken critic of the military that ruled this Central American nation with an iron rod. Romero came to be known for his courageous public denunciations of the atrocities committed by the military in the turbulent years before El Salvador's bitter civil war.

His memory is revered by the masses of workers and peasants in El Salvador and in all Central America. On the occasion of the 30th anniversary (March 23, 2010) of this brutal political murder, the people of El Salvador took to the streets to celebrate the memory of this brave man.

The assassination of Monseñor Romero took place in the context of a revolutionary situation, in which power was within the grasp of the workers and peasants. The 1970s was a period of mass mobilizations. The workers and peasants of El Salvador were fighting for a better life. Unfortunately, the Communist Party (PCS) did not give the necessary lead. Instead of placing itself at the head of the masses, basing itself on the programme of the proletarian revolution, the leaders attempted to win over the “progressive bourgeoisie” and even the army. This false policy led many revolutionary youth to join the guerrilla organizations.

Thousands joined the ranks of mass left wing organizations like the BPR, FAPU, LP-28, UDN y MLN, which were led by guerrilla organizations which preached armed struggle. This reaction of the most revolutionary section of society was entirely understandable. Counterrevolutionary violence had racked El Salvador for many months. Workers, peasants, trade unionists and priests were regularly arrested, tortured, killed or simply disappeared. Romero himself had recently written to President Carter asking him not to supply more military aid to the ruling junta until it succeeded in stopping this. Naturally, his pleas fell on deaf ears.

The Theology of Liberation

El Salvador was, and still is, dependent on the USA, which takes most of its exports and also is the source of remittances form a large number of migrant workers. Like most other Central American countries, it is a backward, mainly agricultural economy, with semi-feudal relations on the land, which is dominated by a handful of wealthy big landowners (latifundists). The big landowners and capitalists form a reactionary bloc, the oligarchy, which has dominated the country’s economic and political life for generations.

Power in El Salvador is in the hands of a small and wealthy oligarchy, which has maintained its rule through organized state terror. There was already a growing atmosphere of tension and violence over the course of the 1970s, which finally broke into open civil war. The ferment in society inevitably found its reflection in the lower ranks of the Catholic Church, among the rank and file priests who were working in close contact with the poor and oppressed. Out of this ferment arose the movement that became known as the Theology of Liberation.

There was nothing in Romero’s early career in the Church to suggest that he would die a martyr for the cause of the poor. He started off as a conservative and a supporter of the right-wing Catholic organization, Opus Dei. But, as Lenin once pointed out, history knows all kinds of transformations. People can and do change. It would be a very bad state of affairs if they did not!

Camillo Torres, a former Colombian priest who took up arms and was killed, once declared:

"I have cast off the priest's habit in order to become a real priest. It is the duty of every Catholic to be a revolutionary; it is the duty of every revolutionary to carry out the revolution. The Catholic who is not a revolutionary is living in mortal sin."

People like these are the worthy successors of those early Christian revolutionaries who stood for the cause of the poor of the earth, the sinners and the oppressed, and were not afraid to give their lives fighting against oppression. They are the modern martyrs whose memory should be held in respect by all who hold dear the cause of freedom and justice.

Between 1968 and 1978, over 850 priests, nuns and bishops were arrested, tortured, murdered and killed in Latin America. The Salvadorian Jesuit Rutilio Grande, before he was killed was quoted as saying: "Nowadays, it is dangerous [...] and practically illegal to be an authentic Christian in Latin America." The emphasis is on the word "authentic".

In 1968, Latin American Catholic bishops gathered at Medellin, Colombia. They spoke of the "institutionalized sin" that afflicted and oppressed the majority of people in Latin America, and they called the whole Church to support the poor. At first, Romero wanted nothing to do with this. In fact, for much of his earlier career, was politically conservative. He opposed community-based pastoral projects that he felt were too radical and protected the status quo.

In February 1977 Romero was named archbishop of the archdiocese of San Salvador, a choice that was opposed by the rank and file priests, but enthusiastically welcomed by the right wing and the oligarchy, which saw in Romero just the man they needed to purge the Church of “communists”. He was specifically chosen because of his conservative views. Romero had the confidence of the army chiefs and the oligarchy. He had publicly criticized the progressive stances adopted by followers of Liberation Theology, which was becoming a growing force.

A wave of agitation swept the country in 1977. There were strikes and demonstrations, and the peasants occupied the landlords’ estates. On February 28, just a few days after the elevation of Romero, a major protest against election fraud ended in bloodshed when a crowd of protesters were attacked by soldiers in the town square of the capital. Romero did not intervene or protest.

Then, on March 12, 1977, something happened that would change his outlook. A radical Jesuit priest, Rutilio Grande, was murdered together with a young boy and a 72-year old layman. Father Rutilo, a priest from a humble peasant background, had been a firm supporter of the Medellin line. He was a man who Romero knew personally, and greatly respected, and he asked why there was no official inquiry into these deaths. He wrote a letter to the President, which shows a touching naivety:

“Knowing the friendship that you have shown me, your ability and noble personal sentiments, I do not doubt that you will satisfy these just demands of an eminently Catholic people, while also saving your prestige from any shadow of complicity.”

Naturally, he got no reply. From that point forward Romero continued to ask questions that embarrassed the wealthy elite that had supported him for archbishop. These same people were either behind the violence that maintained their positions, or at the very least, turned a blind eye to it.

On 1 July General Carlos Romero took over the government. He had been the Armed Forces Minister in the Molina government and was probably himself responsible for the murder of father Rutilio Grande. The wave of strikes and occupations continued and grew stronger. The attempts of the government to crush the movement through repression only increased the mood of militancy. The workers and peasants frequently occupied churches to escape from the police. In Easter 1978 the BRP occupied the Catedral. Monseñor Romero asked the authorities not to intervene, arguing that, although he did not agree with the occupation, the government left the workers and peasants no alternative.

From the pulpit, Romero relentlessly spoke out against the violations of human rights and repression exercised by the soldiers and death squads. He harshly criticized the far right, and promoted pastoral work in rural communities and slum neighbourhoods. "Political power is in the hands of the armed forces," Romero declared in a sermon just a month before his death. "They use their power unscrupulously. They only know how to repress the people and defend the interests of the Salvadoran oligarchy."

Romero spoke for those who had no voice. He had the only uncensored voice in San Salvador: a small radio station that broadcast the names of people who were missing. A man would be taken off and never heard from again, and his family would ask a priest for help in finding him. The archbishop's attention would be drawn to such cases and he demanded answers. He began to pester the authorities on a regular basis, asking why people were arrested, where they were, and what was happening to them.

In May 1979, Romero presented the pope with seven dossiers filled with reports and documents describing assassinations, disappearances, and human rights abuses in El Salvador. At the same time, the revolutionary ferment in society continued to grow and this further radicalised the archbishop. In January 1980, the different mass organisations of the workers, peasants, students, etc, formed a united Coordinadora Revolucionaria de Masas (Mass Revolutionary Coordinating Committee) and called for a demonstration on January 22, on the anniversary of the revolutionary uprising of 1932. This was the largest ever demonstration in the history of the small country, with up to 300,000 taking part and which was met with harsh repression. This was followed by a series of general strikes.

Romero strongly condemned repression and even talked about the “legitimate right to insurrectionary violence” on the part of the masses. In an interview given on February 2 he said:

“Christians are not afraid to struggle, they know how to fight, but they prefer to speak the language of peace. However, when a dictatorship seriously undermines the human rights and the common well-being of the nation, when it becomes unbearable and all channels to dialogue are closed... when this happens, then the Church speaks of the legitimate right to insurrectional violence. To fix the date of the insurrection, to determine when all channels for dialogue are closed, this is not the task of the Church. But I warn the oligarchy: open your hands, give away your rings, because a time will come when your hands will be chopped off”.

His analysis of the economic and political situation in El Salvador also became sharper, clearer and thus more revolutionary. It is worth quoting at length from an interview he gave to Prensa Latina on February 15:

“The cause of all our malaise is the oligarchy, this small nucleus of families which do not care about the people going hungry, but on the contrary, they rely on it for a plentiful supply of cheap labour to reap their crops and export them. Industrial companies, national and foreign, base their competition in the world market on the wages of hunger and that explains their stubborn opposition to any reforms and to the trade union organisations which seek to improve the conditions of the people. This oligarchy cannot allow for the workers and peasants to become organised in trade unions because they consider this as a threat to their economic interests. For this handful of families, repression against the people is needed in order to maintain and increase their profits, even if it is at the expense of the growing poverty of the working classes.

“However, the concentration of wealth and property also means the authoritarian character of social, economic and political power, without which it is not possible to keep their privileges, even at the cost of human dignity. In our country, this is the root of the repressive violence, and in the last instance, is the main cause of our social, political and economic underdevelopment.

“The Armed Forces are charged with guaranteeing the interests of the oligarchy and with defending the political and economic structure under the pretext that this is in the interest of national security. All those who disagree with the State are declared as enemies of the nation, and with the excuse of national security, the most despicable crimes are justified. All is done to defend the interests of the oligarchy, an all powerful oligarchy, which completely despise the people and its rights.”

This was too much! The right-wing politicians and the oligarchy that they represented became angry at this constant interference, which was even more infuriating because it came from a man who they had trusted. They now saw him as a traitor and a dangerous subversive. They needed to silence this irritating voice. And silence it they did.

Murderers unpunished

Romero’s murderers have never been caught and punished. But that is only one case. There are tens of thousands of other cases, all well-documented. For more than a decade the army, security forces and death squads linked to them committed massacres, sometimes of hundreds of people at a time. Throughout the years of armed conflict against the guerrilla forces of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), the Salvadoran security forces and paramilitary death squads were responsible for massacres, killings, torture and "disappearances" on a massive scale.

The war left 75,000 dead and another 7,000 "disappeared," while an estimated one million Salvadorans fled the violence by seeking refuge in other countries. Among those murdered by the army and death squads were 18 Catholic priests and five nuns, four of whom were from the United States.

The UN "Truth Commission" produced a report that gives detailed examples based on extensive testimony and investigation, responsibility for some of the worst and most widespread violations of human rights in El Salvador between 1980 and July 1991. The document makes interesting reading and brings to light many facts about the horrific atrocities perpetrated by the Salvadorian oligarchy. It states, for instance:

“1. Jesuit Priests: The Commission found that in November 1989, several members of the Salvadoran Army high command ordered the murder of the Jesuits. Officers at the military academy organized the killings. Elements of the army Atlacatl battalion murdered the six priests, their housekeeper and her young daughter; then attempted to leave evidence falsely implicating the rebel FMLN.

“2. El Mozote: The Commission finds that the army killed over 200 people in El Mozote, including women and children in 1980. It cites former Atlacatl battalion commander Col. Domingo Monterrosa Barrios and Col. Natividad de Jesus Caceres Cabrera, a major at the time of the massacre. The Commission also cites Supreme Court President Mauricio Gutierrez Castro for improper interference in the judicial proceedings concerning the investigation of the massacre.

“3. Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero: The Commission finds that Major Roberto D'Aubuisson ordered the assassination of the Archbishop and that Army Capt. Eduardo Avila and former Capt. Alvaro Saravia, as well as Fernando Sagrera played an active role in the assassination. The Commission further finds that the Supreme Court of El Salvador played an active role in impeding the extradition from the United States of Capt. Saravia.”

In order to present a “balanced” case, the document then goes on to blame the FMLN guerrillas for acts of violence:

“4. Assassinations of Mayors by the FMLN: The Commission finds that the General Command of the FMLN approved the killing of civilian mayors and that the People's Revolutionary Army (ERP) of the FMLN was responsible for the killing of at least eleven mayors. The Commission cites ERP commandantes Joaquin Villalobos, Ana Guadelupe Martinez, Mercedes del Carmen Letona, Jorge Melendez, and Marisol Galindo for having responsibility for the executions.”

In broad terms, the Commission finds the FMLN responsible for having committed "grave acts of violence". The Commission calls on the FMLN to renounce forever all forms of violence in the pursuit of political ends. However, the document says that “the vast majority of abuses studied by the Commission were committed by members of the armed forces or groups allied to them.”

Is that not clear? The vast majority of abuses were committed by members of the armed forces or groups allied to them, i.e. the death squads. And if that is the case (we do not doubt that it is) how can we put on the same level the small number of “abuses” committed by the insurgents with the vast majority of murders and other crimes committed by the state?

The role of US imperialism

The document continues:

“The Commission also is concerned that Salvadoran exiles living in Miami helped administer death squad activities between 1980 and 1983, with apparently little attention from the U.S. government. Such use of American territory for acts of terrorism abroad should be investigated and never allowed to be repeated.”

Everyone knows that the United States was intervening actively and aggressively in Central America throughout this period. In Nicaragua in 1979 the Sandinista revolutionary movement overthrew the oppressive regime of Anastasio Somoza, whose family had ruled the country since the 1930s. Washington immediately began to undermine the revolutionary government in Managua, launching a vast operation of military, economic and diplomatic aggression.

Throughout the 1980s, US imperialism waged a bloody war against the people of Nicaragua and El Salvador as part of Reagan’s global war against “communism”. It poured billions of dollars into these dirty wars, in which terrorism, political murders, torture, kidnapping and disappearances were common occurrences. Romero denounced the involvement of the U.S. government, which sent billions of dollars in military aid to the Salvadoran government during the civil war, as well as providing training for the country's armed forces. Major D'Aubuisson, the notorious founder of the death squads in El Salvador, was a graduate of the School of the Americas, a U.S. military college specializing in counter-insurgency.

Just weeks before his death, the archbishop sent a letter to then U.S. President Jimmy Carter, in which he wrote, "You say that you are Christian. If you are really Christian, please stop sending military aid to the military here, because they use it only to kill my people." The letter was never answered.

There is nothing new or surprising here. US imperialism regards El Salvador, and the whole of Central and South America as its back yard, and sees itself as the owner of this important piece of real estate. And like any responsible owner, it needs a guard dog to keep an eye on its property day and night. That guard dog must be fierce and not afraid to bite. It is called the Salvadorian oligarchy, which maintains a big repressive apparatus, the army, the police, the intelligence services, the prison warders, the torturers and hired assassins.

These individuals are linked by a thousand links to the CIA and US imperialism. They are trained to kill and torture in places like Miami. To request that this should not occur is like asking the owner of the yard to dispense with his guard dog, to which he will reply with an ironic smile: “I will get rid of my guard dog when you can assure me there are no burglars in this neighbourhood!”

The authors of the report shake their heads in disapproval, like a schoolmaster rebuking a troublesome pupil. They shake their finger at Washington and ask it politely never to do such things again. But the US imperialists are not impressed by such sermons. They have serious interests to defend, and they will defend them with serious methods. The people of Iraq and Afghanistan know all about these methods, which are being utilized right now.

Terror is an instrument of war. It is a necessary feature of any war, because the sole objective of war is to make the enemy submit to your will. Where the enemy is far more numerous than your side, the use of terror becomes even more necessary. That was the case in El Salvador, where a tiny and parasitic oligarchy was surrounded by a sea of discontented workers and peasants. It is the case in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the occupying forces are heavily outnumbered by a hostile population.

The imperialists use terrorist methods against the masses in occupied countries. The masses of those countries use terrorist methods to defend themselves and drive out the foreign enemy. The terrorism of the Resistance is crude, unsophisticated and frequently unsuccessful. The terrorism employed by the imperialists is highly sophisticated, backed by vast sums of money, and equipped with the latest resources of science and advanced technology. The latter always kills many more people than the former.

The Ten Commandments inform us that we must not kill. But the whole history of the world shows us that governments have never paid the slightest attention to the Ten Commandments. And we doubt very much if they will pay any attention to the moral lectures contained in this report.

Reconciliation?

The Commission finds that death squads, often operated by the military and supported by powerful businessmen, land-owners and some leading politicians, have long acted in El Salvador and remain a potential menace. The Commission received testimony on more than 800 victims of death squads. This problem is so serious that the Commission calls for a special investigation of death squads in order to reveal and then put an end to such activity. The Commission is especially concerned by the close relation between the military, hired assassins and extremists within the Salvadoran business community and some affluent families, who resorted to killing to settle disputes.”

Now we come to the most important point. Having established the existence of a vast number of murders and other abuses committed by the forces (both official and “unofficial”) of a state at war with its own people, the question arises: what is to be done about all this? This is not a secondary question, because if adequate measures are not taken now to identify, arrest and punish the guilty parties, it can never be sure that the same crimes cannot be committed in the future. The state must be thoroughly purged of all those who, directly or indirectly, participated in crimes against the people. What does the Commission propose?

This brings us to a very negative side of the document. As one could expect from the UN, it has not a single atom of class content, and it presents the civil war in El Salvador in hypocritical moralistic terms. It condemns violence in general, without bothering to analyze the concrete content of this violence. It deplores the fact that “there was violence”, but it never tells us why there was violence, and who was the aggressor and who the victim. In other words, it puts the victim and the aggressor on the same level.

If a woman is attacked on the street by a man who tries to rape and murder her, and the person concerned fights back in order to save her life, can we condemn them both, as if the violence practiced by the rapist and the violence that the victim is obliged to use in legitimate self-defence was the same thing? No reasonable person would say so. But that is just what the UN document attempts to do. It says, for instance:

“It is the Commission's hope that a more just El Salvador will arise from the ashes a war in which all sides were unjust.” This is the kind of hypocrisy that serves to disarm the poor and oppressed in the face of their oppressors. “All sides were unjust!” As if the violence of the oppressed slave who fights to defend himself against the master’s whip could be put on the same level as the violence of the slave owner!

“Forgiveness also is indispensable,” the UN document informs us. Then, immediately contradicting itself, it says: “The abuses and the pain inflicted on tens of thousands of people in El Salvador will not and should not be forgotten.”

Can we expect Justice?

All this is clear enough for anybody and nobody will be surprised by it. But, as we have said, the question that arises is: what is to be done?

“The Commission feels justice demands punishment for the violations of human rights. But it is not itself constituted to specify sanctions and recognizes that the present Salvadoran judicial system is incapable of fairly assessing and carrying out punishment. Therefore the Commission feels it cannot recommend judicial proceedings in El Salvador against the persons named in its report until after judicial reforms are carried out.”

We are naturally in favour of any reform of the legal and judicial system that tends to make it more democratic and more responsive to the needs and demands of the populace. However, in the case of El Salvador, this would mean sacking almost the entire judiciary, and putting many of the judges on trial for complicity in war crimes! Such a judicial reform would have many implications and could only be carried out as part of a revolutionary reconstruction of society – a total change from top to bottom.

The Commission's report noted that with regard to the Romero case, the Salvadoran government had violated numerous international agreements on due justice. The report further recommended

"that the State carry out a complete, impartial, and effective judicial investigation, expeditiously, so as to identify, try, and punish all the perpetrators, both the direct perpetrators and the planners of the violations established, notwithstanding the amnesty decreed."

Every worker and peasant knows that the judiciary is part of the bourgeois state, that it is composed of individuals drawn from the ranks of the rich and powerful, that, despite all the hypocritical show of “impartiality”, it is by no means impartial, and, in the last analysis, will always defend the interests of the rich minority against the poor majority. That is the case even in the most advanced and democratic countries. In El Salvador the situation is a lot clearer still.

The Commission further ruled that "a state cannot rely on the existence of provisions of internal law to elude carrying out its obligation to investigate human rights violations, place on trial the persons responsible, and prevent impunity." But that is precisely what the state in El Salvador has done. The very same year the report was released, an amnesty law was passed by the legislative assembly, which was then controlled by ARENA, the party that was behind all the atrocities perpetrated by the army and the death squads.

Occasionally, the ruling class will make a gesture towards “justice” in order to revive the illusion in the minds of the people that the state is impartial, and that justice will always win in the end. It may even sacrifice certain individuals who served it in the past, but in whom they have lost interest. Such was the case of former Salvadoran Air Force Captain Alvaro Saravia, who was found guilty of planning Romero's murder together with other former military officials.

Saravia had emigrated to the United States when an investigation into his role in the assassination began. In 1987 he was detained by U.S. authorities when Salvadoran prosecutors sought his extradition. But the Salvadoran government and judicial system moved quickly to have the request withdrawn, under the pretext that there was “not enough evidence” to lay charges, and Saravia was set free in 1988.

Archbishop Romero's surviving family – his two brothers, now in their 70s – eventually turned to the U.S. courts, filing a civil suit against Saravia in the state of California under the Alien Tort Claims Act and the Torture Victim Protection Act, which allow foreign nationals to be tried in the United States for crimes committed abroad.

Saravia was ordered to pay $10 million in damages by a U.S. federal court judge in the state of California. Saravia did not appear in court, and was tried and sentenced in absentia. Although his exact whereabouts are unknown, it is assumed he is still in the United States

On March 15, 2009 the people of El Salvador won a historic victory. With the election of Mauricio Funes, the candidate of the Frente Farabundo Marti para la Liberacion Nacional (FMLN), for the first time, the left formed a government. Funes said he would favour the poor and the excluded. That is very good, but it is necessary to translate words into deeds.

The people of El Salvador are determined to find out the truth, to put an end to impunity and cover-up, and to obtain justice. The Salvadoran Government has undertaken to conduct a full judicial inquiry to "identify, prosecute and punish" all authors and instigators of the murder of Romero. That was a step in the right direction, but it is far from sufficient. It is necessary to rescind the scandalous 1993 Amnesty Act, which effectively blocks any investigation into crimes committed during the civil war.

The murder of Archbishop Romero was a crime against the whole people. It was a perfect example of the brutality and lawlessness of the ruling class, and it cannot be sheltered by any law. For years the ARENA-led government hid behind the amnesty law to avoid reopening the case. Its repeal is absolutely necessary if the desire of the people for justice is to become a reality.

Now it has become fashionable to talk of “dialogue, tolerance and reconciliation”. They talk of “national reconciliation” and “reuniting the Salvadoran family”. The opponents of justice are never short of arguments. "Reopening old wounds from the past would not be in the best interests of a country looking towards the future." “Reopening old wounds will do no good to anybody. It will cause disunity,” and so on and so forth.

But all this is just empty talk and hypocrisy. There is no “family” between rich and poor. There can be no reconciliation between the oppressors and the oppressed, between the exploiters and exploited, between the murderers and the murdered. They talk of a “democratic process”, but what democracy can there be when the same oppressive and corrupt oligarchy remains in control? What justice can there be if three decades later, the murderers and torturers are allowed to walk freely on the streets of San Salvador and laugh in the faces of their victims?

The UN report says:

“A national monument should be erected, listing the names of all the victims of the war. A national annual holiday should be declared to remember the dead and celebrate reconciliation. This report should be discussed and analyzed at a national public forum in El Salvador.”

That is all very well, but all this is merely skirting around the problem, not tackling it at its roots.

It is very easy to take a serious issue, talk loudly about a “solution”, and then reduce it to a farce by presenting symbols, in place of serious action. That is just what we see here. This year there will be numerous official religious and cultural activities to commemorate the murdered archbishop. In 2005, on the 25th anniversary of his assassination we saw the lighting of the eternal flame outside the cathedral. This year the national congress agreed to declare March 24 as “Monseñor Romero Day”, with the opposition of both ARENA and the PCN.

Apart from “eternal flames” and “cultural and religious activities”, the question that must be asked is: what concrete steps are being taken to bring the murderers to justice? What concrete steps are being taken to purge the army and the police of fascists, torturers and assassins? Until these questions are answered, we can have no confidence that the events of the past will not be repeated in the future. This is not a secondary question for the people of El Salvador!

The election of an FMLN government was a big step forward. But it is not enough to win an election. The government was elected by the people in order to carry out a fundamental change in society. It is impossible to carry out such a change while the main levers of political and economic power remain in the hands of the reactionary oligarchy.

In the past the Stalinists defended the disastrous theory of two stages. That is to say, the workers and peasants of El Salvador must not try to take power, but must support the “progressive” bourgeoisie and limit themselves to the fight for democratic demands. This argument was false from start to finish. There is no progressive bourgeoisie in El Salvador, where the landlord and capitalists constitute a reactionary bloc, standing in the way of progress.

However, we agree that it is necessary to fight for democratic demands in El Salvador, beginning with the most elementary demand: for the arrest and punishment of all those responsible for atrocities against the people; for the purging of the army, police and judiciary of fascists; for the trial and punishment of all assassins and torturers.

These just and necessary demands will be supported by the overwhelming majority of workers and peasants and resisted by might and main by the oligarchy, which will see this as an attack on their power. This will mean a serious fight. The reactionaries control the state. But the working class and the peasants are the decisive majority of society. Once they are organized and mobilized to change society, no force on earth can stop them.

Only a revolutionary socialist programme can offer a way out of this impasse. The Marxist tendency represented by the BPJ offers just such a programme. We are not utopians or anarchists. We understand that the fight for socialism is not a single battle, but is composed of many struggles over different issues. Only through the day-to-day struggle for different demands – including the most advanced democratic demands – can the masses acquire the strength and confidence to advance to the most decisive battle of all: the conquest of political power.

The workers and peasants of El Salvador have already won an important battle on the electoral front. Now they must ensure that this first victory leads on to a decisive blow against the reactionary oligarchy. The struggle for democracy, if it is a consistent struggle, can only lead to a struggle to break the power of the oligarchy. That is to say, it can only lead to the expropriation of the landlords, bankers and capitalists and the taking of power by the working class, as the first step towards the victory of socialism in El Salvador and in all Central and Latin America, which will be a decisive step towards the victory of world socialism.