When Oscar Romero was made archbishop in 1977, wealthy Salvadorans breathed a sigh of relief. If his reputation as a fairly conservative priest was any indication of how he would run the Church here, they believed the right wing had nothing to fear. But the growing violence against the poor and the repeated killing of church leaders who grappled with economic injustice drove Romero to speak out. Eventually this mild-mannered priest became the charismatic spokesperson of his people.
As a Liberation Theologian, Romero invited his followers to see Christmas as the story of a poor, homeless mother with a hungry baby. Romero taught that the lessons and inspiration offered by the Bible were tools for the faithful as they dealt with the struggles of their day-to-day lives.
Because Archbishop Oscar Romero asked why, he was gunned down in 1980 while saying Mass. Then, dozens of worshippers were murdered at his funeral.
After the killing of Romero, the poor — emboldened by their Liberation Theology — rebelled, plunging El Salvador into their long and bloody Civil War. The united guerilla front (FMLN) expected a quick win, but the US under Ronald Reagan spent $1.5 million a day to keep that from happening. With the success of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua in July 1979, Reagan was determined to stop the spread of what he considered to a communist threat.
Salvadoran forces assumed, because the guerillas were maintaining their strength, that innocent civilians in territory leftist forces controlled were no longer innocent. Civilian women and children were considered combatants — fair game — in order for the popular revolt to become less popular. As if draining the sea to kill the fish, right-wing forces targeted and terrorized civilians with a brutal vengeance. Notorious "death squads" wrought havoc on El Salvador's poor. Today this policy, considered an option for quelling insurgencies around the world, is known as the “Salvador Option.”
While the FMLN could have fought on, the toll on their country was too great. In 1984, negotiations began that finally led to a 1992 peace accord. The negotiated settlement ending the Civil War meant the guerilla forces would trade in their guns for a spot in the government. Suddenly, the guerillas shaved, washed, and found themselves members of parliament representing a now-peaceful FMLN party.
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You are reading "El Salvador's Civil War", an entry posted on 26 October 2009 by Rick Steves.