Trampling Out the Vintage

In the bright morning sunlight of March 24 1980, a car stopped outside the Church of the Divine Providence in San Salvador. A lone gunman stepped out, unhurried. Resting his rifle on the car door, he aimed carefully down the long aisle to where El Salvador’s archbishop, Oscar Arnulfo Romero, was saying mass. A single shot rang out. Romero staggered and fell. The blood pumped from his heart, soaking the scattered hosts.

Romero’s murder was to become one of the most notorious unsolved crimes of the cold war. The motive was clear. He was the most outspoken voice against the death squad slaughter gathering steam in the US backyard.

The US vowed to make punishment of the archbishop’s killers a priority. It could hardly do otherwise as President Reagan launched the largest US war effort since Vietnam to defeat the rebels. He needed support in Washington, which meant showing that crimes like shooting archbishops and nuns would not be tolerated.

But US promises to bring justice came to nothing. With no trigger-man, gun or witnesses, officials claimed lack of evidence. The fall-guy for the killing, Major Roberto D’Aubuisson went on to become one of El Salvador’s most successful politicians.

Irrefutable evidence now suggests that Washington not only knew far more about the killing than it admitted – but also did nothing to investigate for fear of jeopardising our war effort. Vital evidence was ignored. Key witnesses, including the most likely gunman, were killed by the would-be investigators.

But as Americans understand deep in our bones and express when we sing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”,

Mine eyes have seen the glory
of the coming of the lord,
He is trampling out the vintage
where the grapes of wrath are stored,
He hath loosed his fateful lightning
of His terrible swift sword,
His truth is marching on
Glory! Glory ! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah
Glory! Glory ! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.

Justice may be excruciatingly slow rather than a “terrible swift sword.” But, justice will be done! This very week, a Florida judge has paved the way for the deportation of a former top Salvadoran general accused of overseeing widespread torture and murder, including the notorious killing of several Americans during the country’s civil war.

Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova served as El Savador’s defense minister from 1983 to 1989. Prior to occupying the nation’s top military position, Vides was the commander of El Salvador’s infamous national guard. He has been living comfortably in Florida for the past twenty years.

While serving as its commander in 1980, the national guard murdered four American chruchwomen working in the country at the time. Americans Dorothy Kazel, Maura Clarke, Ita Ford and Jean Donovan — three religious sisters and a lay missionary — were gunned down on December 2, 1980.

The decision this week by the Florida judge marks the first time a US court has determined a senior foreign military official could be deported on human rights violations since the passage of a 2004 law aimed at barring such violators from seeking refuge in the United States.

Glory! Glory ! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.

Having been vetted as a “martyr for the faith” by the universal church, Archbishop Oscar Romero will be beatified by the Catholic Church during a public celebration held in the central plaza of San Salvador on May 23, 2015.

Glory! Glory ! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah
Glory! Glory ! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on. 

_____________

The Morman Tabernacle Choir offers what is arguably the most moving rendition of The Battle Hymn of the Rebublic [here]

I am indebted to British journalist Tom Gibb writing in
The Guardian, Wednesday 22 March 2000 for the introduction to this post and facts about Romero’s death.  You may read his complete article [here].

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