Thursday, February 24, 2005

The Romero trial in a U.S. court

With one month until the 25th Anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador, the Chicago Tribune ran a story today about the trial in a U.S. court which held an ex-Salvadoran military officer liable for the murder. On September 3, 2004, a judge in Fresno, California, found Alvaro Saravia had been part of the plot to kill Romero.

It was the first time that the case of Romero, a beloved defender of the poor, had been heard in a courtroom. And as the country prepares to mark the 25th anniversary of the archbishop's death March 24, it provided what many consider the first bit of justice in the case....

Five days after the United Nations truth commission's report was published, the Salvadoran president, Alfredo Cristiani, pushed the blanket amnesty law through El Salvador's Congress....

The Fresno verdict has rekindled debate over the amnesty at a time when other countries in Latin America, such as Chile and Mexico, are witnessing new attempts to put former presidents on trial for their Cold War actions.

Salvadorans remain deeply divided over the question. And the ruling National Republican Alliance (ARENA), a party founded by Roberto D'Aubuisson, an army major who was accused by a 1980s truth commission of ordering Romero's death, has refused to revisit the violent era.

"Those who have their gaze set on the past are only thinking about vengeance," President Tony Saca said in an interview earlier this month. "I think we need to overcome that past. I am a president elected to manage the future."

Three days ago, Tony Saca laid a wreath at the grave of D'Aubuisson, author of the Romero murder, so it's a safe bet that El Salvador won't reverse track on amnesty anytime soon.

The suit in US court was based on the Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789, which permitted the claim against Saravia who was living in Modesto, California before he fled. The Tribune article notes that the Alien Tort Claims Act is opposed by the Bush administration. The administration fears that the statute could be used to sue U.S. officials for actions in foreign countries as part of the war on terror.

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