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Mar 23 / Elizabeth DiNovella

President Obama at Archbishop Romero’s Tomb

President Barack Obama took the extraordinary step of stopping by Archbishop Oscar Romero’s tomb at the end of his Latin America tour.

"Stop the Repression in Honduras"

The Archbishop was a fearless defender of the poor during El Salvador’s brutal civil war. He was assassinated by rightwing death squads a few weeks after asking President Carter to cut off military funding to his country, as the Salvadoran military was terrorizing its citizens.

A 1993 UN report named rightwing death squad leader Major Roberto D’Aubuisson as the person who ordered Romero’s death. D’Aubuisson was a graduate of the notorious School of the Americas. This U.S. military facility at Fort Benning, Georgia, has trained so many dictators and human rights abusers.

(And lest people think U.S. military connections to Latin American human rights abusers are a thing of the past, remember that the general who led the military coup in Honduras has a connection to the U.S. military. General Romeo Vasquez attended military training in Fort Benning, Georgia, at least twice.)

“I was honored to visit the cathedral this evening and pay my respects to Archbishop Romero, who remains an inspiration to people all around the world,” President Obama said last night.

If Obama really wants to pay his respects to Archbishop Romero, he should close the military training facility at Fort Benning.

Or better yet, Obama could stop conducting a covert war in Yemen.

Just as El Salvador was a proxy war, so is Yemen. Counter-terrorism is the new counter-insurgency. Terrorism has replaced Communism as the U.S. existential threat. But the victims remain the same: the poor.

Out of Libya

Obama could also stop bombing Libya. At the joint press conference with Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes, Obama said this about Libya:

“Now with respect to our national interests, the American people and the United States have an interest, first of all, in making sure that where a brutal dictator is threatening his people and saying he will show no mercy and go door-to-door hunting people down, and we have the capacity under international sanctions to do something about that, I think it’s in America’s national interest to do something about it.”

Obama’s justifications ring hollow especially in Latin America. Successive Democratic and Republican Administrations have had no qualms about backing brutal dictators in region. And the U.S. defense department taught Latin American soldiers how to go door-to-door hunting people down.

At the very least, Obama could have apologized for the U.S. role in the atrocities committed during the twelve-year civil war, which left more than 75,000 Salvadorans dead. According to the UN Truth Commission, the vast majority of them—95 percent—were killed by Salvadoran military forces, which the United States financed and trained.

Last year on the anniversary of Romero’s assassination, President Funes apologized to the Salvadoran people. “Again, as president of the republic, I ask for forgiveness in the name of the Salvadoran state for this assassination that occurred thirty years ago and which took our best patriot from us.”

Tomorrow is the 34th anniversary of Romero’s assassination. Obama still has a chance to make it right.

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