Wednesday, August 25: Ambassador Robert White

Ambassador White testified via videotape deposition. White served as Ambassador to El Salvador from March 1980 to March 1981. He is currently President of the Center for International Policy in Washington, DC. He testified that during the period of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, he and his embassy staff, including intelligence personnel, closely monitored developments in El Salvador.

Ambassador White testified that Archbishop Romero was the most important leader speaking out against human rights violations in El Salvador and probably in all of Central America during the period leading up to his assassination. He stated that the Archbishop was “the voice of the voiceless” because he used his pulpit and his radio station to communicate “the desires of the poor in what some considered a responsible eloquent way [but] which the rich considered to be reckless.”

Ambassador White testified that the embassy had weekly reports called the “Grim Gram” because the situation in El Salvador was so replete with repressive violence. He was aware that young boys were being rounded up and summarily executed. He stated that the death squads were primarily operated by the military.

The Ambassador stated that he received the news of the assassination of Archbishop Romero while in a meeting with a small group of people that included members of the Salvadoran military. He observed the shock and sadness of some of those present, but also observed that those from the military showed no sign of surprise or outrage. This led Ambassador White to surmise that they had already been informed that the murder was to take place.

The Ambassador identified a report from a US political officer that cited a source who claimed to have participated in a meeting in which the assassination of the Archbishop was planned. According to the source, the meeting was led by Major D’Aubuisson. Ambassador White testified to his firm belief in the credibility of the report. He stated, “I have no doubt that Roberto D’Aubuisson was the man responsible for the planning and execution of the assassination of Archbishop Romero. I regard that as fact.”

Ambassador White testified that he had met both Roberto D’Aubuisson and the defendant, Alvaro Saravia, in person on several occasions, and that Saravia was “one of the principal lieutenants of D’Aubuisson.” The Ambassador testified that he obtained a diary belonging to Saravia that contained a written plan which he, and several experts in his embassy, concluded had to refer to the assassination of the Archbishop. The diary was given to the Ambassador by Colonel Majano, the only reform-minded member of the military in the ruling junta. It was obtained during a raid of the San Luis finca (or farm) in May 1980 on suspected coup d’etat plotters that included D’Aubuisson and Saravia. Ambassador White stated that when Savaria was arrested during the raid; he was trying to eat the pages of his notebook out of concern that its contents would convict him. In the notebook, under the title, “Operation Pina” was a list of equipment typically used by a sharpshooter, including a rifle. The writing also included a meticulous accounting of monies spent on the “operation”. Ambassador White called this the outline of the plan to kill Romero.

Ambassador White stated that the US State Department had a significant amount of evidence linking the top command of the Salvador military to D’Aubuisson and his “clan.” He stated, “I have no doubt that the [high command] had full knowledge that D’Aubuisson was operating death squads. I have no doubt whatsoever that they approved of them and protected them.” He also stated his firm belief that the high command was involved in decisions regarding whom the death squads should target.

Ambassador White met with Archbishop Romero only a few days before the Archbishop’s assassination and was present when Archbishop Romero delivered his powerful homily on March 23 in which he called upon the soldiers to stop killing and implored them to disobey orders. This provoked anger and outrage, according to the Ambassador, that “served as a … rationale for … the military to come together and say, ‘Yes, we have to get rid of this man,’ and also served as a rationale for the rich to fund D’Aubuisson and his group.” He stated that he and others knew that the killing of Archbishop Romero was conducted “in the hope of provoking a mass reaction that would justify a crackdown involving large scale killing.”

Ambassador White explained, “Those who killed Archbishop Romero knew perfectly well what they were doing and what they would accomplish. They destroyed the one figure in El Salvador who could have served as a bridge, as a creative interpreter, between all the different sides.” He stated that the removal of the Archbishop by violence sent a strong signal that there would be no dialogue and that the rich of El Salvador and the military would not tolerate a movement towards democratic change. He testified:

I also have to say that the failure of the Salvadoran military to arrest, and keep under arrest, Roberto D’Aubuisson and Alvaro Saravia and their fellow conspirators, their failure to try them and convict them and put them into prison was another lesson to the Salvadoran people that impunity in El Salvador was alive and well, that there was no chance of getting justice from the system. And, therefore, the [killing of the] Archbishop not only [...] reinforced the image of a military that was a law unto itself, but also served as a recruiting tool for revolutionaries, because if you can kill an Archbishop, you know you can kill anybody. No one is sacred.

Ambassador White testified that there were no efforts in El Salvador to bring the killers of Archbishop Romero to justice. The Supreme Court judges, as he recalls, actually went out of their way to protect the groups charged with the murder. According to Ambassador White, justice is still weak in El Salvador. He said that no progress has been made toward any measure of justice or accountability for the crimes of the past. He stated, “I see that impunity and a concentration of economic power in the hands of a few is still what runs El Salvador.”

The Ambassador stressed the great importance of holding those responsible for the killing of Archbishop Romero accountable in a court of law in the US. This would serve both as an example of what a free democratic society can achieve by way of justice, and also as atonement because, as Ambassador White stated, “in many ways we encouraged this violence and certainly did very little to stop it.”

[Source: Center for Justice and Accountability, San Francisco, Cal, 27ago04]

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small logoEste documento ha sido publicado el 31Aug04 por el Equipo Nizkor y Derechos Human Rights