El Salvador, 1980

San Salvador, 1980: Romero’s Last Homily


Decapitated bodies lie in the streets every morning. Heads are found on poles along country roads. A business will one day develop selling heads at exorbitant prices to grieving families who want to unite the bodies of their loved ones for burial. Ten bodies a day appear as mothers gather with their small pictures of their sons or daughters outside the morgue.

Oscar Romero had been the oligarchy’s choice for archbishop three years ago. But he has had a conversion. The murder of his friend Rotilio Grande started it, but the people completed it. He sees into the humble lives of his flock and has gained courage to speak out. He writes a letter to President Carter: If you truly want to defend human rights… [then] guarantee that your government will not intervene directly or indirectly, with military, economic, diplomatic, or other pressure determining the Salvadoran people’s destiny.

And now as he stands in the Cathedral he addresses the army directly:

Brothers: you are part of our own people… God’s law must prevail that says: Thou shalt not kill! No soldier is obliged to obey an order against the law of God… It is itime to take back your consciences… In the name of God, and in the name of the suffering people, whose laments rise to heaven each day more tumultuous, I beg you, I beseech you, I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression!

Five times the applause of the people who love him so dearly interrupt him. He has to shout the last sentence as the cheering of the people lifts his words to heaven.

James Brockman, Romero: A life, 241-42




San Salvador, 1980: The Shepherd Murdered

It is March 24 and Romero is tired. So many are depending upon him for strength. Some try to dissuade him from saying the Mass at the hospital because it was publicized in the newspapers and there have been threats against his life. He has refused bodyguards because he says the people can’t have them. He wants to share the fate of the campesinos.

He begins Mass and reads from the Gospel: Unless the grai of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains only a grain. But if it dies it bears much fruit… He takes the body and blood of Christ and begins to pry. A bullet from a gun with a silencer pierces his chest. Blood pours from his mouth and nose. Some of the people rush up. They carry him to a hospital where he dies without regaining consciousness.

On a much earlier occasion he said, If I die, I will rise again in the Salvadoran people.

James Brockman, Romero: A life, 244-45


Snipers from the National Army fire from the top of buildings during Romero's funeral in 1980 in the central San Salvador park.


San Jose, Costa Rica, 1980: Last Resort

Enrique Alvarez

It is May and on the stage of the theater stands the whole spectrum of Salvadoran society. On one end is Enrique Alvarez, a member of one of the fourteen families, now president of the Democratic Revolutionary Front (FDR). Rejecting his wealth and family breeding, he has joined the people’s struggle. On the other end is Juan Chacon, leader of El Bloque. A field hand and factory worker, Juan remembers his father, killed and dismembered by the National Guard for being a Delegate of the Word in the church. Alvarez announces to the crowd:

The Salvadoran people have had to take up arms to end the conditions we have been subjected to for the last fifty years—by military governments, by the oligarchy and U.S. imperialism. The people have risen in arms to say “Enough” and to take power the only way they leave us, they way of armed struggle.

The name of this new guerrilla army, a coalition of various forces, is the Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN). Another name of a fallen hero takes its place in the continuing resistance of the people.

Robert Armstrong and Janet Shenk, El Salvador: The Face of Revolution, 168


San Salvador, 1980: Adelante

Characterization of Maximiliano Hernadez Martinez

Members of the FDR and opposition groups decide to return to El Salvador. They are meeting at the Jesuit High School to plan a press conference. Two hundred police surround the building. Men in plain clothes and guns kidnap the five FDR leaders. It is the work of the Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez Brigade, named after the general of the matanza. Recently, they decapitated four young men, leaving their bodies on the Avenida Espana with a note: Long live El Salador! Long live the massacre of 1932!

Five bodies are found on the shores of Lake Llopango. Enrique Alvarez’s left arm is missing, Juan Chacon’s face is mutilated, his left fist clenched in defiance above his head as if to encode in his body in death, the very essence of his life: Adelante! Forward!

Robert Armstrong and Janet Shenk, El Salvador: The Face of Revolution, 28-30


This music video describes the pain of war during the Duarte regime. Music provided by Midnight Oil, "Beds are Burning."