The UN Truth Commission on Romero's Murder

The murder of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero was investigated by the UN Truth Commission in 1992. The following excerpts are from the commission's final report.

On Monday, 24 March 1980, the Archbishop of San Salvador, Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdamez, was celebrating mass in the Chapel of the Hospital de la Divina Providencia when he was killed by a professional assassin who fired a single .22 or .223 calibre bullet from a red, four door Volkswagen vehicle. The bullet hit its mark, causing the Archbishop's death from severe bleeding.

Background:
Monsignor Romero had become a well-known critic of violence and injustice and, as such, was perceived in right-wing civilian and military circles as a dangerous enemy. His sermons deeply irritated these circles because they included human rights violations….  In his sermon on 17 February 1980, he expressed opposition to United States  military aid to El Salvador, pointing out that "...neither the (Government) Junta nor the Christian Democrats govern this country. Political power is in the hands of the armed forces which are unscrupulous in their use of this power. They only know how to repress the people and defend the interests of the Salvadoran oligarchy."

That same month, he received death threats and therefore decided that his colleagues should not accompany him when he went out, so as not to expose themselves to unnecessary risks. On Monday, 10 March...an attache case was found near the High Altar behind the pulpit, which the ….Police found had contained a bomb that had failed to go off.

The official investigation: The investigation to determine who was responsible for the Archbishop's assassination was not only inefficient but also highly controversial and plagued by political motivations. ...The National Police went to the Chapel of the Hospital...to gather evidence. They did not do this properly, however, since they failed to collect material evidence of the crime at the scene. Atilio Ramirez Amaya, the Judge of the Fourth Criminal Court, gave instructions for the Salvadoran Polyclinic to perform an autopsy on the prelate… . Following an attempt to assassinate him at his home on 27 March, Judge Ramirez Amaya tendered his resignation and left the country.

On May 7 1980, in a raid on the San Luis estate…, 12 active and retired military personnel and 12 civilians, including Major Roberto D'Aubuisson [soon to found the ARENA Party], who had gathered there were arrested and formally accused of plotting to overthrow the government by means of a coup d'etat. The documents seized during the raid included a "List of accusations made...against Monsignor Oscar Romero…, [and] a diary belonging to former Captain Alvaro Rafael Saravia… . The "Saravia Diary" contained various important pieces of information concerning the assassination of Monsignor Romero. It referred to purchases and deliveries of large quantities of arms and ammunition, some of which...were of the type used in the assassination.  None of the documents seized at the San Luis estate was made available to the Judge [investigating the assassination]…, and it was only years later that the court gained access to a copy of the diary.

In November 1987, Amado Antonio Garay ...revealed that on 24 March 1980, Saravia had ordered him to drive a red Volkswagen to the Hospital… . He had parked opposite the Chapel. His passenger, a bearded stranger, had ordered him to crouch down and pretend to be repairing something. He had heard a shot, turned around and seen the individual holding a gun with both hands pointing towards the right side of the rear right window of the vehicle. He had immediately smelt gunpowder and at that moment the bearded man had calmly told him: drive slowly, take it easy" and they [drove] off. Garay alleged that he had driven the individual to former Captain Saravia, to whom the stranger had said "mission accomplished". Three days later, Garay had driven Saravia to a house where former Major D'Aubuisson was and Saravia had said in front of D'Aubuisson: "We've already done what we planned about killing Monsignor Arnulfo Romero".

Findings: The Commission Finds the Following: 1. There is full evidence that… [F]ormer 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.

Editor's Note: The Romero assassination was only the most prominent of those ordered by D'Aubuisson. By the end of the 1980s, death squads founded and inspired by him had murdered thousands of Salvadoran civilians. His ruthlessness made D'Aubuisson the darling of the Salvadoran oligarchy and the most powerful man in El Salvador. Although now dead, D'Aubuisson's presence is still felt. In 1999, El Salvador's newly elected president dedicated himself to the memory of Roberto D'Aubuisson.

Find out more about Human Rights In Central America
CARECEN History of Central America
Archbishop Romero Statue at Westminster Abbey