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CHOMSKY: Pope Francis, Oscar Romero and the horror of Reagan foreign policy

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Bishop Oscar Romero was assassinated by a death squad in El Salvador in 1980.
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Last month an apparently unremarkable series of reports about Pope Francis drifted through the international news carousel, attracting little attention from the national media — though it should have. They recorded the pontiff’s desire to expedite a deceased bishop’s journey toward prospective sainthood in accordance with the customs of the faith.

The cleric in question was Oscar Romero who, prior to his murder in 1980 by local death squads, held one of the most senior positions in the Catholic church of El Salvador. As some of the coverage mentioned in passing, he was killed not long after after havingwritten to President Carter, appealing to him to halt his support for repressive government forces that were tearing the country apart in their assault on mass movements that opposed their undemocratic rule. Carter never replied; Romero was shot at mass.

At that point in time, El Salvador was in the early stages of a civil war that would go on to cause untold misery in the small central American nation and claim tens of thousands of lives. As the violence raged throughout the ’80s, Washington increased the level of military aid it sent to the ruling authorities, overwhelmingly the main perpetrators of the many war crimes that occurred that decade, who put this generous assistance to efficient use murdering defenseless civilians across the country.

The U.S. government under Reagan went on to train, fund and arm the same government forces, dismissing accurate reports of massacres they had committed, as well as discouraging attempts to achieve a negotiated settlement between the warring sides.

Having helped to lengthen the conflict and having armed the most abusive party, a report commissioned by the  speaker of the house eventually precipitated a UN-brokered accord which helped to end the fighting in the early 1990s, demonstrating that had there been the political will to do so, the U.S. could have helped to halt the bloodshed far earlier.

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