The Salvadoran press is reporting that Thursday morning El Salvador's National Assembly will address a resolution to declare former major Roberto D'Aubuisson, a "Son of Highest Merit" of the nation. D'Aubuisson is best known as the organizer of death squad activity in El Salvador during the 1980's, and as the founder of the ARENA party. The measure has been criticized by the human rights office of the Catholic church and the human rights institute of the University of Central America.
Responding to criticism of the measure, a legislator from ARENA could respond only that D'Aubuisson had "never been convicted by a court" of any criminal act.
While the Salvadoran court system never brought justice for D'Aubuisson's victims, the UN Truth Commission, which took testimony and reviewed the record of the war years, left no doubt about D'Aubuisson's role in death squads which summarily rounded up, tortured and executed political opponents, labor leaders, peasant organizers and others:
THE GROUP HEADED BY FORMER MAJOR D'AUBUISSON
The 1979 coup d'etat altered the political landscape in El Salvador. 419 One of the competing factions directly affected by the coup was a core of military officers who sought to pre-empt the groups that had staged the coup and also any reform movement. 420 They considered the Government Junta to be "infiltrated by Marxist officers, which could be fatal for the independence and freedom of the Salvadorian fatherland if the anti communists in the population failed to act". 421 The leader of this faction was former Major Roberto D'Aubuisson, who up until 1979 had been third in command of ANSESAL and who, on being retired, kept part of the agency's archives.
Former Major D'Aubuisson drew considerable support from wealthy civilians who feared that their interests would be affected by the reform programme announced by the Government Junta. They were convinced that the country faced a serious threat of Marxist insurrection which they had to overcome. The Commission on the Truth obtained testimony from many sources that some of the richest landowners and businessmen inside and outside the country offered their estates, homes, vehicles and bodyguards to help the death squads. They also provided the funds used to organize and maintain the squads, especially those directed by former Major D'Aubuisson.
As the social conflict in El Salvador intensified, subversive operations increased. D'Aubuisson was well placed to provide a link between a very aggressive sector of Salvadorian society and the intelligence network and operations of the S-II sections of the security forces. He was virtually catapulted to undisputed national political leadership of the only faction capable "of preventing a left-wing takeover". 422 He then opted for applying what he saw as the only method used by the subversives: the illegal use of force. "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth", as the saying goes.
D'Aubuisson arranged meetings between powerful civilians and economic interests and groups in the armed forces, thereby combining two elements in a strategic relationship: the input of resources (money, vehicles, weapons, homes, etc.) by civilians and the definition of a political line for the operations of the S-II intelligence sections. This gave political meaning and purpose to the attacks on and intimidation of civilian opponents and individuals suspected of collaborating with or belonging to the guerrilla movement.
For D'Aubuisson, having access to intelligence reports was of the utmost importance, because it served the cause and the functioning of his political plans. He lost no opportunity to infiltrate the security forces and the armed forces and elicit information from them. In line with D'Aubuisson's political project, all such information was used for "direct action", which explicitly included assassination attempts on individuals, abductions, "recovery of funds" and sabotage. 423
After the assassination of Monsignor Romero, which, in very closed circles, D'Aubuisson took credit for having planned (see the case of the assassination of Archbishop Romero), his prestige and influence grew among the groups that wielded economic power, gaining him further support and resources. The San Luis estate incident and his temporary stay in Guatemala did not interrupt his political plans, since it was in Guatemala that he was able to establish contacts with internationally linked anti-communist networks and organizations and individual anti-communists such as Mario Sandoval Alarcón, Luis Mondizabal and Ricardo Lao.
From Guatemala, D'Aubuisson continued to plan and direct numerous attacks by groups identified as "death squads" and, on his return to El Salvador, had access to sources which kept him permanently supplied with abundant, up-to-date intelligence information from most armed units or territorial districts, whose leaders shared his political views. They also offered him actual logistical support for his activities, seconding and rotating troops for his personal protection and supplying weapons.
Although members of the Armed Forces Joint Staff knew about this steady leak of information, not only was nothing ever done to control it but intelligence leaks were even organized intentionally: in fact, there were serving members of the armed forces who participated actively in D'Aubuisson's group.
There is substantial evidence that D'Aubuisson operated during this period through concealed channels in which civilians and both serving and discharged members of the armed forces mixed politics, murder and the defence of their own economic interests in their zeal to combat both the peaceful and the armed opposition.
One of those closest to D'Aubuisson was his Chief of Security, Héctor Antonio Regalado. The Commission on the Truth obtained sufficient evidence to conclude that Regalado not only formed his own death squad in the town of Santiago de María but also used to coordinate and train D'Aubuisson's networks in the capital. Regalado ran D'Aubuisson's death squad from his office in the National Assembly, where he was Chief of Security when D'Aubuisson was President of the Assembly.
Elsewhere in the Truth Commission Report:
Former Major Roberto D'Aubuisson gave the order to assassinate Archbishop [Oscar Romero] and gave precise instructions to members of his security service, acting as a 'death squad', to organize and supervise the assassination.
From Madness to Hope, Report of the UN Truth Commission on El Salvador.