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Romero’s Beatification and the CIA’s Assassination Attempts on Castro

Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero

The Catholic Church’s beatification of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was gunned down at the altar while celebrating mass at a small hospital chapel in El Salvador in 1980, provides a helpful reminder to us of how much the US national-security state warped and perverted the values of the American people, in the name of its anticommunist crusade during the Cold War.

In the eyes of Cold War anti-communists, Romero was guilty of three things: believing in and preaching liberation theology, which they considered to be a communist doctrine, aligning himself with the poor, and opposing the brutal U.S.-supported Salvadoran military dictatorship that came to power in 1979.

While no one was ever prosecuted for the assassination, it is widely believed that the hit was ordered by Salvadoran Major Robert d’Aubuisson, who operated Cold War military death squads that committed countless other assassinations of people who were suspected of being communists or socialists. According to Wikipedia, in 2010 a man named Alvaro Saravia stated that he had driven the assassin to the assassination site on orders issued by d’Aubuisson.

It certainly would not have been surprising that d’Aubuisson would have ordered the hit. After all, this was when the Cold War was still going on — an era when the U.S. military and the CIA and their military minions in Latin American military dictatorships considered it entirely proper to assassinate people who believed in and advocated communism. It’s worth mentioning that d’Aubuisson, like so many other Latin American military brutes who engaged in kidnappings, disappearances, torture, rapes, and assassinations during the Cold War, was trained at the U.S. military’s School of the Americas.

Recall Cuban President Fidel Castro. During the 1960s, the U.S. government, operating through the CIA, engaged in multiple attempts to assassinate Castro, both separately and in a formal partnership with the Mafia.

What had Castro done to deserve being assassinated by the U.S. government? After all, his military forces had never attacked the United States and his intelligence forces had never initiated terrorist attacks against the United States.

The reason U.S. officials were trying to assassinate Castro was that he was a believer in communism and socialism. That pro-communist, pro-socialist mindset, U.S. officials maintained, authorized them to assassinate — i.e., murder — the ruler of a foreign country and, for that matter, anyone else.

Ten years later, in 1970, the U.S. government embarked on much the same road in Chile, where Salvador Allende, a self-proclaimed communist-socialist, was democratically elected president by the people of Chile. U.S. officials, operating through both parts of the national-security branch of the federal government — the military and the CIA — immediately initiated steps to prevent Allende from coming to power, including bribing elected representatives in the Chilean congress to prevent Allende from assuming office. Once that failed, U.S. officials initiated steps to bringing about a military coup in Chile, one that ultimately caused the Chilean national-security establishment to fire bullets and missiles at Allende in an attempt to kill him or get him to surrender.

Pinochet was considered a hero to U.S. officials, especially those in the national-security branch of the federal government. And why not? He was killing communists and socialists while taking hardly any casualties, unlike the U.S. military, which had lost 58,000 American soldiers while killing communists in Southeast Asia.
What was the reason for violently ousting Allende from power? Like Castro, he had never ordered Chilean military forces to attack the United States and had never initiated terrorist attacks against the United States.

The answer is: Allende was guilty of believing in, preaching, and promoting socialism and communism. In the eyes of U.S. officials, that made him a legitimate candidate for being ousted from office in a violent military coup.

After the Chilean coup, Chilean military strongman Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s forces proceeded to kidnap, round up, torture, rape, or execute some 40,000 Chilean citizens. Their “crime”? They believed in socialism and communism. Some of them had even served in Allende’s administration. Certainly, most, if not all, of them had supported his presidency. Most of the 40,000 were tortured, many of them were raped, and about 3,000 of them were killed.

Through it all, the U.S. government was ardently supporting the Pinochet regime. Having ceased providing U.S. foreign aid when Allende was in power, U.S. officials opened the floodgates of U.S. taxpayer money once Pinochet took over. Pinochet was considered a hero to U.S. officials, especially those in the national-security branch of the federal government. And why not? He was killing communists and socialists while taking hardly any casualties, unlike the U.S. military, which had lost 58,000 American soldiers while killing communists in Southeast Asia.

Later, Pinochet organized the super-secret assassination, kidnapping, torture, and assassination ring known as Operation Condor, one in which the U.S. government, again operating through the CIA, was a partner by providing technological and communications equipment to the ring. According to the Wikipedia entry on Operation Condor, “Southern Cone Operation Condor resulted in up to 50,000 killed; 30,000 ‘disappeared’; and 400,000 arrested and imprisoned.”

Of course, the Southern Cone wasn’t the only place that Operation Condor agents conducted assassinations. There was, for example, the infamous assassination of former Allende official Orlando Letelier and his young assistant Ronni Moffitt on the streets of Washington, D.C.

Why did Operation Condor officials want Letelier dead? For the same reason that the U.S. government wanted Castro dead and Allende removed from power and presumably the same reason that Romero was assassinated. Letelier believed in communism and socialism and was also lobbying the U.S. Congress to terminate foreign aid to Pinochet’s brutal military dictatorship.

Oh, did I mention that the Chilean head of Operation Condor, Col. Manuel Contreras, was on the CIA’s payroll?

Immediately prior to his assassination, Romero took the same courageous stand against tyranny that Letelier was taking when he was assassinated. According to an article on, when a group of Salvadoran soldiers asked him whether it was morally okay to kill people who were resisting the Salvadoran dictatorship, the leftist Romero responded in a purely libertarian way (think Iraq):

No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God. No one has to obey an immoral law. It is high time you recovered your consciences and obeyed your consciences rather than a sinful order.

The next day Romero was assassinated.

On May 23, 2015, Romero’s beatification was celebrated in the Plaza Salvador del Mundo in San Salvador. According to Wikipedia, “an estimated 250,000 people attended the service,” many of whom were undoubtedly believers in socialism and communism. Fortunately, none of them was assassinated.

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

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