Summary of the Testimony of Professor Terry Lynn Karl.
Note: Professor Karl testified for several days. We have divided up her testimony in several parts: qualifications as an expert witness (August 25, 2004), the roots of the conflict and the rise of death squads targeting the church (August 26, 2004), and the plot to kill Archbishop Romero, Saravia’s testimony and efforts to prosecute him, and the consequences of the Archbishop’s murder (September 3, 2004).
August 25, 2004: Qualifications as an Expert Witness:
Terry Lynn Karl is the Gildred Professor of Latin American Studies, Professor of Political Science and a Senior Fellow at the Institute of International Studies at Stanford University. She previously served as the Director of the Stanford Center for Latin American Studies. Her research on Latin America focuses on human rights, democratization, economic development, and the effects of U.S. foreign policy. She is the author of numerous books and articles. In conjunction with her scholarly research, she conducted many field research missions to El Salvador. She interviewed people from all sides, including the Left, members of the Christian Democratic Party, other political parties, the Right, the military and the security forces. She also interviewed death squad members.
Prof. Karl testified that El Salvador was an extremely difficult place to gather information. She noted that more foreign journalists were killed in El Salvador from 1980 to 1983 than during the entire Viet Nam War. As a foreigner, she had more protection than Salvadorans did, but the situation was also dangerous for foreigners.
Prof. Karl testified that she worked as an advisor or investigator for several Congressional delegations, and also was regularly asked by the U.S. military for her expert opinions. For instance, for a number of years, Prof. Karl debated then-Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs, Elliot Abrams, in front of members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and different branches of the U.S. military.
Prof. Karl testified about the civil war in El Salvador. She noted that most experts date the start of the war from late-1980 or early 1981, and the war officially ended in January 1992, the date the U.N.-negotiated peace accord was signed. Negotiations for the peace agreement began after the murder, in November 1989, of six Jesuit priests. The murders provoked strong bipartisan pressure from the U.S. Congress to end all military aid to El Salvador, which in turn placed pressure on the parties in El Salvador to negotiate. The peace agreement was implemented between 1992 and the Salvadoran elections of 1994. Starting in 1992, a U.N. Truth Commission conducted an investigation and issued its report in 1993. As soon as it came out, it was controversial, and, within days, the governing Arena party, which controlled Congress, passed a "self amnesty."
In preparing to testify in this case, Prof. Karl re-interviewed people who were formerly members of the Christian Democratic Party and military officers, including Colonel Majano. In October 1979, Majano had led a coup by reformist military officers, a major watershed in the history of El Salvador. The coup was a key event for understanding the events leading to the murder of Archbishop Romero. Col. Majano left El Salvador in 1980 or 1981 as a result of death threats, including an attempted car bombing. Prof. Karl stated that some members of the military continue to harbor tremendous animus towards him. This is because the military had ruled El Salvador throughout all of its modern history, and very openly since 1932. Colonel Majano was part of a reformist faction of the military that believed that the military should not be in the government, but that there should be a democratic system with civilian rule. Following the coup he led in October 1979 against hard-line military officers, he invited civilians into the government, primarily Christian Democrats and representatives of other political parties, who were considered by hard-line military officers to be among the chief enemies of the country. He also started a process of land reform, which was the single most controversial act in El Salvador.
In advance of this hearing, Prof. Karl reviewed extensive documentation, including documents produced by the left- and right-wing parties in El Salvador and documents held by U.S. agencies that had been declassified. Some had been declassified pursuant to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests from the National Security Archives, a private non-profit group that promotes transparency in government. Others had been declassified by the Clinton Administration starting in 1992 in the hope that these documents would help the U.N. to better understand how the death squads operated and thereby be better equipped to dismantle them during the peace accords.
Prof. Karl explained that the Salvadoran peace agreements required the dismantling of the Treasury Police and the National Police and the construction of a new police force. The U.S. and U.N. administrations were concerned, however, that the death squad apparatus that operated out of both of these forces would continue to operate. Since death squads are secret by their nature, it was important to gather as much information about them as possible so that pressure could be brought to bear in the appropriate places to prevent the death squads’ continued operation. Prof. Karl estimated that she had read somewhere between eight and ten thousand of these documents, which were the majority of those that had been declassified.
To prepare for her testimony, Prof. Karl also reviewed the U.N. Truth Commission report and documents relied on by the Truth Commission. The Commission had been established as part of the peace agreements to try to uncover the truth concerning the estimated 75,000 civilian murders. The hope at the time was that the Commission report would lead to some prosecutions, although it was not possible to investigate all civilian murders in the time frame allowed. Accordingly, murders were investigated either because they were of high importance or because specific complaints were brought forward by families.
Two processes were set up that are relevant to this case: one was the Truth Commission, comprised of three leading jurists; and the second , known as the Ad Hoc Commission complemented the Truth Commission. It investigated the human rights abuses of officers in order to decide which officers should be purged from the Salvadoran military as part of the peace agreement.
The Truth Commission investigated a range of crimes. Subsequently, because the issue of dismantling the death squads became so important, a joint commission was formed to investigate the death squads themselves, to try to get at the questions of who exactly were still in the death squads, who was paying for death squads, and how were they organized. Most of that material is still not public. Prof. Karl played a role in advising members of the Joint Commission. In preparing for her testimony, Prof. Karl reviewed unpublished material from that investigation, including copies of death squad threats and dossiers on people who were threatened, and associated interviews, including interviews with Alvaro Saravia.
Prof. Karl also reviewed documents from Guatemala, including U.S. government declassified documents, newspaper articles and reports. She conducted interviews with non-Salvadorans – especially people from Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Guatemala -- who were deeply involved in the Salvadoran process at the time, including Nobel Prize winner Oscar Arias.
She also reviewed publications of the World Anti-Communist League, and a Latin American branch, formed in 1972, called the Confederation of Latin American Anti-Communists. Roberto D'Aubuisson was one of the Salvadoran representatives to the World Anti-Communist League. Another representative of importance to this case was José Francisco Guerrero, the President of the Salvadoran Supreme Court when the case against Alvaro Saravia was reviewed by the Supreme Court in 1987.
The Roots of the Conflict and the Rise of Death Squads Targeting the Church.
August 26, 2004
Prof. Karl described the historical context of El Salvador at the time of the assassination. She testified that the roots of conflict centered on two main issues: land reform and military rule. El Salvador had one of the continent’s most concentrated patterns of land ownership and it had been under military rule since 1932, the longest military government in the history of Latin America.
Prof. Karl explained that the military in El Salvador – which also functioned as a government – included all of the branches of a traditional military and also included the National and Treasury Police. The military was unified under one set of officers called the High Command. The members of the High Command ruled by consensus and compromise, making, for example, High Command the decision about who became the Minister of Defense. The central place of government was both the headquarters of the Armed Forces in San Salvador and the Presidential Palace. The highest rank in El Salvador, before the civil war, was Colonel.
Prof. Karl testified that the military ruled in concert with a group of families, popularly called “the 14 Families” or “Los Quatorce.” She explained that the military and the landowning families had a sort of bargain, whereby the military would be stationed on private land in order to maintain order among the peasants working on the land. About 70% of the people lived below the poverty line.
Responding to Judge Wanger’s questions, Prof. Karl explained that there was a legislative body within the Salvadoran government, but it was made up of military parties. The legislature, like the judiciary, was not independent of military influence. In effect, there was no separation of powers or independent branches of government.
The concentration of land ownership continued until a reform was carried out during the civil war. A debate took place within the military, starting in the 60’s and continuing through the civil war, between the “hardliners and reformists.” Reformists believed that some sort of land reform had to occur, even if it was very small. Hardliners were absolutely and violently opposed to land reform. Pressure for land reform built up within the country from the 1960s.
The bargain between the landowners and the military changed over time. As resistance to military rule grew, military hardliners and the landowners believed that more violence was needed to control the country. This, in turn, made the military more powerful. Eventually, by the late 1970’s the military was making the major decisions, and not the landowners.
Prof. Karl explained that there were military units within the military that tended to be more closely allied with the landowners, particularly the Treasury Police. The Treasury Police would, for example, help control labor through the use of force. El Salvador, she said, had a classic “labor repressive system.” This system created enormous tension within El Salvador, as opposition to oppression began to grow.
Certain parts of Salvadoran history are especially relevant to this case, according to Professor Karl. Beginning in the late 1960’s, Colonel Medrano, the head of the National Guard, became a very powerful figure. He believed that the military and security forces alone were not going to be able to control the situation in El Salvador; they were not going to be able to stay in power as a military regime, unless they developed a more sophisticated repressive apparatus. Accordingly, Medrano formed a paramilitary apparatus, controlled by the National Guard, of 80,000 civilians throughout the country, called Orden. Orden, which means “order,” eventually became the roots for the Arena political party and had two wings: one was a political party in the traditional sense of running candidates for the legislature, and the second wing was the paramilitary apparatus.
Medrano also set up an additional, extensive intelligence apparatus known as Ansesal, the National Security Intelligence Agency of El Salvador. This would eventually become the base for Roberto D’Aubuisson, one of the major figures in this case.
Prof. Karl explained that Medrano was deeply opposed to land reform and democracy. He was opposed to the formation of civilian political parties and unions, and to the exercise of freedom of expression and press freedom.
Prof. Karl then described the advent of liberation theology, which had a huge impact in El Salvador The Catholic Church in 1968 in Medellin underwent a doctrinal shift. The Church developed what is called the “preferential option for the poor.” This meant that the needs of the poor were to be put ahead of others. In the case of El Salvador, the Church began to say that hunger, disease and poverty were not the will of God, but rather were man-made. To combat these man-made problems, it encouraged the formation of unions and peasant organizations, and membership in political parties. This shift in the Church’s position had a tremendous impact; 93% of Salvadorans at the time were Catholic.
El Salvador’s rulers had a visceral, negative reaction to this shift in the Church’s role. Until then, the Church had always been aligned with the wealthy, being responsible for the education of their children and ministering to their spiritual needs.; in every community the priest was the only major authority other than the military. When the Church began organizing the people and joining with civilian political parties, the military felt very threatened, and betrayed. With the Church’s new theological shift, the Christian Democratic Party became stronger and the Social Democratic party was formed, the former of which was especially anti-communist. Thus, there was a deeply religious component to all of the opposition parties and groups.
The 1972 elections were the first in which civilian parties were allowed to participate. By all accounts, Jose Napoleon Duarte and his new Christian Democratic Party won the elections by a landslide. However, the military intervened and installed Colonel Molina, a member of the military High Command, as President. Duarte was captured and beaten. He would have been killed but for the intervention of the CIA. Duarte fled to Venezuela. Molina served as President from 1972-1977.
The persons responsible for making Molina president were known as the “Molina Group”, most of whom figured prominently in Romero’s assassination. Some of the key members of this Group were Col. Medrano, Col. Gutierrez, Col. Garcia, Santivanez, who was in charge of Ansesal, and Roberto D’Aubuisson, who became part of the presidential guard, and answered directly to Santivanez. Alvaro Saravia, the defendant, worked under D’Aubuisson. The Molina Group was known as “the godfathers,” the “High Command” within the High Command.
Prof. Karl explained that one of the reasons that the military regime in El Salvador lasted for as long as it did was that it held elections, creating a rotating power structure that allowed a different group within the military to have the opportunity to be in power every five years. During their term in power, the Commanders would “cement [their] relationship with land owners . . . and [their] ability to live well after [they] left the army ”
By 1977, the question of who would become President became an extremely politicized question between the reformists and the hardliners within the High Command. In 1977, a reformist, Col. Humberto Romero, was “elected” President. The Molina Group lost their godfather position, although they remained in the military High Command.
Col. Romero’s election to the presidency led to extreme politicization of the military. Many hardliners worried that the military would not be able to retain control of the country. Accordingly, D’Aubuisson, who was by 1977 the third highest ranking member within AESESAL, began to develop death squads. It was about this time that D’Aubuisson began to attend international anti-communist organizations, in particular, the World Anti-Communist League and the Confederation of Latin American Anti-Communists (CAL). Francisco Guerrero, the president of the Supreme Court, also became active in these organizations.
Many death squad leaders throughout Latin America attended the CAL meetings, where they would share techniques and methods of organizing death squads. It was during this time that D’Aubuisson formed the White Warriors Union death squad, as a direct response to the growing movement for land reform.
At that time, the armed opposition groups were small, numbering far less than one thousand fighters.. Several small armed factions fought among themselves. The guerilla army, the FMLN, did not even form until after Romero’s murder.
Accordingly, D’Aubuisson and others did not view the armed opposition as the most significant threat. Rather, they targeted the Christian Democratic Party and the Church, even though they were also anti-communist. D’Aubuisson would say: “You know, the thing is, you can be a communist without knowing you are a communist. You don’t have to know you are a communist.”
Death Squads Target Priests
When Colonel Romero came to power in 1977, there was an escalation in death squad activities, and the “bodies started to appear in great numbers.” Archbishop Romero, in protest against the killing of priests and peasants, refused to attend the presidential inauguration of Colonel Romero. Karl claimed:
This was the very first visible thing that Archbishop Romero had done that showed he was not content with the way events were moving in El Salvador . . . Even though Archbishop Romero was an extraordinarily courteous man, it was a tremendous insult to Colonel Romero.
In 1977, the World Anti-Communist League’s Latin American network adopted Plan Banzer, which was an attempt to keep political dossiers on priests. D’Aubuisson was part of this network. They planned to set-up an office with files containing the names of priests and nuns, along with their personal background, to be annually revised. Within two years of compiling these files in Latin America, 28 priests were murdered by groups of armed men not wearing uniforms.
In El Salvador in 1977, Father Rutilio Grande was the first priest killed, along with a 12-year-old boy and 72-year-old woman from his parish. His murder was the start of a pattern and practice of killing religious figures.
Karl then discussed the pattern of deaths threats. First death squads would discourage the peasants form listening to the priests. “Attention peasants. Don’t let yourselves be fooled. These are liars.” Then they would be more specific in identifying the priest they were discouraging the peasants from following. For example, the threat might not mention the priest’s name, but it would mention the name of his parish. The next level of threat would refer specifically to the priest by name, calling on the people not to trust that specific individual. And finally, the threat would give a name and say “You are going to die.”
The idea was to associate priests with communists, particularly those who believed in the “preferential option for the poor.” Priests were portrayed as ones who needed to be converted back to the church. One statement read: “We pray to you, Lord, that these priests will be converted.”
Romero was also targeted with posters that depicted him as a communist sympathizer, in which he was depicted as naïve for not recognizing that his supporters were really communists and guerillas.
Another threat in 1977 gave all Jesuits 30 days to leave the country or be murdered. There were a series of such threats, so there was a tremendous build-up against Jesuits, which is the dominant order in El Salvador. These were serious warnings, so much so that the United States Congress held hearings on religious persecution in El Salvador.
Prof. Karl stated her opinion that Archbishop Romero would have been killed much earlier had it not been for the hearings and the Carter Administration, which had made human rights a priority in foreign policy. As a result of the Congressional hearings, the U.S. took a very firm line with the Salvadoran military. High representatives of the U.S. government went to El Salvador to warn the military that if anything happened to these priests, the U.S. would withdraw its ambassador and cancel a major outstanding loan for, $90 million which, at that time, was a very big loan.
And so the threats against the Jesuits stopped. The thirty-day deadline went by, none of the Jesuits left, and none were killed. The threats and murders subsided in 1977 and didn’t reappear again until 1979.
The 1979 Nicaraguan revolution, which defeated military rule in that country, caused panic within the Salvadoran military. The hardliners were petrified that the revolution would spread to El Salvador. In October 1979, Col. Majano led an internal bloodless coup to replace Colonel Romero. At the time, it was not known if Majano was a right-wing hard-liner or a reformist.
Immediately after taking power, Majano demonstrated that he was a major reformer. He set up a military/civilian junta to rule, inviting Christian Democratic Party members into the junta. D’Aubuisson presented himself to Colonel Majano, but Majano rejected him as being too much of a hardliner. Majano removed or “cashiered” 80 of the most hard-line officers, and decreed that Orden and Ansesal were to be dismantled.
In response to Majano’s reforms, the Molina Group immediately organized itself. Colonel Gutierrez, the highest-ranking member of the group, ordered D’Aubuisson to remove all intelligence files collected on “subversives” from the Orden and Ansesal agencies, and move them to the High Command headquarters where they would be safe from the new civilian-military junta. D’Aubuisson did as instructed, but also kept some files himself. The Molina Group developed an “inside-outside” strategy. They fought inside the military to get back key positions from Colonel Majano, and at the same time they set up an apparatus outside the military that was loyal to them. D’Aubuisson left the formal military, and was asked by Colonel Gutierrez to establish the parallel apparatus.
D’Aubuisson set up an intelligence apparatus to replace Orden. Thus, in affect, Orden, although formally disbanded, continued to operate. It became a network of death squads throughout El Salvador with D’Aubuisson as the point person who looked civilian but in fact remained a military officer.
His specific job, Prof. Karl explained, “was to do the kind of things that would have been too controversial for the military to do. . . He became the specialist in what are called high profile assassinations. . . And his death squad, the first one, the Union of White Warriors, specialized, in particular, in the killing of priests.”
At this time, D’Aubuisson asked Alvaro Saravia to become his Chief of Security.
Prof. Karl identified a declassified document that the Central Intelligence Agency prepared for Vice-President Bush in 1983, to brief him for a secret meeting with the High Command in El Salvador. The document identified D’Aubuisson as one of the people involved in helping to “develop civilian intelligence networks and vigilante organizations controlled by the National Guard,” and stated that D’Aubuisson and his colleagues “also engaged in illegal detentions, torture, and the killing of prisoners, habits which . . . stayed with some of them after the 1979 reformist coup.”
Operacion Piña: The Plot to Kill Archbishop Romero
September 3, 2004
Prof. Karl resumed her testimony by identifying a series of documents that revealed the close working relationship between the government of El Salvador and death squads. These documents also revealed D’Aubuisson’s involvement in planning coups and assassinations, and his plan for the defamation and murder of Monsenor Romero.
The first document Prof. Karl identified was a list of the 24 men, including 12 officers, who had been arrested in May 1980 for their involvement in a coup plot against the ruling junta. The list included the names of Roberto D’Aubuisson, Captain Saravia, and Amado Antonio Garay, who was the driver during the assassination. Prof. Karl testified that the officers’ names appeared frequently in many declassified documents as members of death squads. The documents revealed an interesting aspect of the arrest, namely, that Major D’Aubuisson and Captain Saravia had been separated from the group and held in a different location.
Prof. Karl testified that the individuals identified in this first document were a major concern to the United States. In fact, when Vice-President Bush went to El Salvador in 1983 to meet with the High Command, in highly confidential meetings, he gave the High Command a deadline to remove those individuals from the government, or risk losing renewal of U.S. aid. Prof. Karl stated that the documents showed that a few of those individuals had been removed for a short time – to placate the United States – and then had been returned to positions within the government.
Prof. Karl stated that along with the men who were arrested, a number of documents were seized during the arrests. These documents were later identified as having been provided by Roberto D’Aubuisson. Among them were 51 copies of “How to Carry Out a Political Coup in El Salvador,” “The General Organization of the Anti-Communist Struggle in El Salvador,” “Fan: A Political Alternative,” and 33 copies of “Knocking on the Doors of the Barracks” (identified as a document that taught officers how to organize the barracks to ensure that the soldiers remained loyal). One of the documents also listed was identified as Mr. Saravia’s diary.
Next, Prof. Karl explained that there were two “versions” of Saravia’s diary. The first was the declassified version, and the second was a more complete version, called the Todd Greentree version. Prof. Karl read portions of Todd Greentree’s declaration, in which he identified himself as a Desk Officer in the office of Central American Affairs in Washington D.C. In his declaration, Mr. Greentree said that a number of the documents taken in the (above mentioned) raid were provided to the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador. One of those documents was Mr. Saravia’s diary, which he photocopied at the U.S. Embassy.
Prof. Karl testified that the only difference between the Greentree collection and the declassified diary was that there was an extra piece of paper in the declassified diary that was slipped into the diary as if it were a part of it. In the Greentree version, this important page was with the diary, but was not a part of it.
Prof. Karl testified that this extra piece of paper – which was actually three small notes xeroxed onto the same page – described “Operation Piña” (Pineapple). One of the three notes included a list of automatic guns and grenades. Another note had a series of the names of the most prominent landowning families in El Salvador. Prof. Karl believed that the handwriting on these two notes was that of Roberto D’Aubuisson, which she had seen several times before. The third note Prof. Karl believed was in the handwriting of Saravia. It listed a series of payments to different individuals including himself and Amado Garay.
Prof. Karl testified that the diary had been delivered to Majano following the arrest and that he immediately showed these three notes to all of the members of the junta. Prof. Karl interviewed four or five of them and they all identified “Operation Piña” as the assassination of Archbishop Romero. This was also the view of the U.S. Embassy, as Ambassador White had previously testified. Prof. Karl explained that the reason that they reached this conclusion was that the document, which clearly described an operation to murder, listed equipment and personnel not typically used, and which were the same as those used in Archbishop Romero’s assassination, including a sharpshooter. The document also identified the names of the landowning families who financed the assassination.
Prof. Karl described several cables sent to and from the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador, which stated that the United States was very worried about those recovered documents and the attempted coup against Colonel Majano. The cable identified a split in the military between hardliners and reformists. Another cable, sent from the Secretary of State, confirmed that there was evidence of a coup, and that the United States was worried that, now that the government knew the names of the coup plotters, they would have to punish them. However, Prof. Karl testified that, instead of being charged, the group arrested at San Luis Finca was released several days later. Within two days of their release, Colonel Majano was removed from the High Command, and he was eventually forced to leave the country.
Prof. Karl stated that the San Luis Finca event was extremely important because it indicated not only that those who were implicated in the murder of Archbishop Romero were being released, but also that the hardliners were replacing the reformists, which eventually lead to civil war. Prof. Karl testified that after the release of the group at San Luis Finca, and the removal of Majano, hardliners were placed in all of the main institutions of the military.
Next, Prof. Karl testified about a document describing an interview between a political officer of the U.S. embassy and a low ranking National Guard officer, about a meeting to plan the assassination of Archbishop Romero. According to the source, Prof. Karl testified that the participants at the meeting – who included D’Aubuisson -- drew lots for the killing of Archbishop Romero. The national guard officer also claimed that the cartridge used in the assassination was his. In a document describing a different interview with the officer, the officer again said that the bullets used to kill the Archbishop were his, and that the weapon used was a 9mm, and not a .22 caliber.
However, Prof. Karl explained that claiming some role in the death of Archbishop Romero had become a “fundraising tactic” for the death squads, so some of the information received from these sources might not be credible. She also explained that some information was consistent throughout all of the accounts that she had received, namely that there had been a meeting to kill the Archbishop, that a sharpshooter was necessary, and that if they were drawing for lots, it was for the right to obtain the sharpshooter. Prof. Karl also said that other facts that were repeated consistently concerned the role of D’Aubuisson and the role of Mr. Saravia as his chief aid. She referred to this as the core of consistency of the evidence.
Prof. Karl testified that after the assassination, D’Aubuisson went to Guatemala where he worked on the design of a political party that later became the Arena Party, which remains the ruling party in El Salvador today. When D’Aubuisson returned to El Salvador, he was elected President of the legislature. Shortly thereafter a death squad started operating out of his office. Next, D’Aubuisson won an interim election for President. At that point, Prof. Karl testified, the United States opposed D’Aubuisson as President. Based on D’Aubuisson’s reputation, U.S. officials believed it would be impossible to get military aid through Congress. Thus, D’Aubuisson was given a lower profile position, but with a strong power base. Prof. Karl testified that D’Aubuisson campaigned for the Presidency again in 1984. He was again opposed by the U.S. government, which gave money to support his opponent.
Saravia’s Testimony and Efforts to Prosecute Him.
Prof. Karl testified that, with Arena in control of the government and the legislature, any attempt to investigate Archbishop Romero’s assassination was quashed. At that time, the Public Prosecutor was D’Aubuisson’s personal lawyer, Francisco Guerrero. In 1985, Guerrero submitted a confession called the Pedro Lobo confession. It was later discovered that Pedro Lobo, who had “confessed” to having assassinated the Archbishop, had been imprisoned during the time of the assassination, and therefore could not have been an accomplice. When this information was discovered, Pedro Lobo admitted he was paid $50,000 to confess to being an accomplice to the murder. In 1988, President Duarte appointed a Special Investigative Commission to re-open the investigation into the assassination. The Commission’s decision eventually resulted in a ruling from the Supreme Court of El Salvador sent to the United States to cancel an extradition request for Mr. Saravia. By that time, Guerrero had been elevated to the position of President of the Supreme Court.
With regard to the cancelled extradition request, Prof. Karl testified that, according to a declassified document from the Embassy to the Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs, a meeting took place between U.S. government officials and Saravia in 1993, in which Saravia offered to cooperate with the United States in its investigations into crimes in El Salvador in exchange for regularized immigration status in the United States. In the meeting, Saravia confirmed that D’Aubuisson gave the order to kill the Archbishop, but did not admit to any firsthand knowledge of the plot. Prof. Karl testified that according to the declassified document, Saravia explained that after seeing a newspaper announcement that Archbishop Romero would give mass in a certain place, they decided it would be a good opportunity to kill him. Saravia told the U.S. government officials that gunmen then went to the church and murdered Romero. According to the document, Saravia had described the murder as being planned on “the spur of the moment.” U.S. officials stated, in the document, that Saravia promised to expand upon the information he provided once agreement was reached on regularizing his immigration status. Prof. Karl testified, however, that Mr. Saravia’s immigration status was never regularized.
Prof. Karl stated that in 1992, the United Nations sponsored a peace agreement between both sides in the Salvadoran civil war. After the peace agreement was signed, it established a Truth Commission charged with investigating all of the crimes in El Salvador. Prof. Karl stated that she had read either transcripts or summaries of most of Mr. Saravia’s testimony before the Truth Commission, and that in it, he explained how the death squads had operated in El Salvador, how D’Aubuisson bought arms, and how the training in the military barracks was conducted. Saravia testified that the plan to murder Archbishop Romero was widely known among a group of landowners who paid for it, and that the murder helped D’Aubuisson’s group with fundraising, because it increased their prestige among financiers in El Salvador.
The Impact of the Murder of Archbishop Romero
Prof. Karl stated that the killing of Archbishop Romero helped to provoke a civil war in El Salvador, and had an impact worldwide. Prof. Karl explained that Archbishop Romero represented, and was in fact, the bridge between the two sides, and that after his death, El Salvador descended into civil war.
Prof. Karl testified that, after the arrest at San Luis Finca, reformists were pushed out of the government, effectively removing those in government who opposed state terror. The result was that the terror increased dramatically. When the terror increased, it unified the unarmed left, the FDR, and Archbishop Romero became their rallying cry. After this unification, Prof. Karl testified that all six of the leaders of the FDR were murdered by the Salvadoran military on one day in 1980. After the death of the Archbishop, the five armed factions of the Left also unified for the first time, creating the first guerilla army. Prof. Karl explained that, catalyzed by the assassination of Archbishop Romero, widespread social conflict deteriorated into civil war.
The civil war resulted in between 75,000 and 85,000 deaths of civilian non-combatants, in a country of 5 million people. The impact of the Archbishop’s death was immediate. In February of 1980, 237 people were killed, but by June, after the death of Archbishop Romero, the number of people murdered rose to approximately 1,000 per month. As the terror progressed, murder operations turned to massacres ranging from between 700 and 1,000 deaths per massacre.
Prof. Karl testified that another cost associated with this period of conflict was tremendous economic and social destruction. Infrastructure damage was estimated by USAID as $2.2 billion including damage to schools, hospitals, clinics, roads, energy plants, and factories. Health expenditures were one third of the average of other Latin American countries and domestic investment dropped from 22% of GNP to 12%.
Prof. Karl explained that one of the reasons that El Salvador is today one of the most violent countries in the world is because of the immense psychological disruption endured by the people of El Salvador. The extreme cruelty they suffered has resulted in continuing problems of disassociation, including high incidences of nightmares, fears of being recognized, and constant re-living of trauma. Prof. Karl stated that a profound sense of loss affects every Salvadoran she has ever interviewed, and that the terror in El Salvador continued after the signing of the peace agreement. In the late 1990s, for example, a death squad called the “Black Shadow” threatened to execute six judges in El Salvador.
The end of Professor Karl’s testimony moved many in the courtroom to tears. She stated: “El Salvador's civil war is framed by two extraordinarily important [political] murders… The catalyst for civil war, one of the main catalysts, [was] the murder of Archbishop Romero…. The catalytic event to end the civil war, on November 16th, 1989, was the murder of six Jesuit priests.” Their murders were so shocking that the U.S. made clear that it would end military aid unless the Salvadoran government began to negotiate a peace agreement.
Immediately before the murder of the priests, several of them – including Fr. Ignacio Martin-Baro -- had been offered visiting professorships at Stanford University, where Karl teaches. On November 14, she called Father Martin-Baro and pleaded with him to leave the country, telling him that she believed his life was in danger. He replied that, just like Monsenor Romero, they needed to stay in El Salvador with their people. After they were killed, Professor Karl remembered what Father Martin-Baro had said to her to encourage her when her own work in El Salvador had become especially difficult. “The worst thing that could happen is not that Monsenor Romero was killed. Even worse would be if he were to die, over and over again, because the truth were to be buried with him."
[Source: Center for Justice and Accountability, San Francisco, Usa, 30sep04]
DDHH en El Salvador
|This document has been published on 14Oct04 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights.