Oscar Romero’s Last Homily


Capilla de Hospital de la Divina Providencia
Capilla de Hospital de la Divina Providencia

At 6:00 p.m. on Monday, March 24, 1980, Monsignor Romero commenced his celebration of a memorial mass for the mother of the publisher and editor of a newspaper that was a voice for justice and human rights in El Salvador.  The service was held in the beautiful, intimate, modern chapel at a cancer hospital in San Salvador that was across the street from Romero’s small apartment.[1]

In what turned out to be his last homily, Romero lead the people in Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd . . . . Though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff–they comfort me.” Romero then read the gospel text for the service, John 12: 23-26:

“Jesus [said], ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified . . . . [U]nless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their own life lose it; those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.'”

Romero Mural @ His Apartment

Romero said, “[E]very Christian ought to want to live intensely. Many do not understand; they think Christianity should not be involved in such things. But, to the contrary, you have just heard in Christ’s gospel than one must not love oneself so much as to avoid getting involved in the risks of life that history demands of us, and that those who try to fend off the danger will lose their lives, while those who act out of love for Christ give themselves to the service of others will live. . . .”

“We know that every effort to better society, especially when injustice and sin are so ingrained, is an effort that God blesses, that God wants, that God demands of us. . . . [W]e must try to purify these ideals, Christianize them, clothe them with the hope of what lies beyond. That makes them stronger, because it gives us the assurance that all that we cultivate on earth, if we nourish it with Christian hope, will never be a failure. We will find it in a purer form in that kingdom where our merit will be in the labor that we have done here on earth.”

“Dear brothers and sisters,” Romero continued, “let us all view these matters at this historic moment with that hope, that spirit of giving and sacrifice. Let us all do what we can. We can all do something . . . . We know that no one can go on forever, but those who have put into their work a sense of very great faith, of love of God, of hope among human beings, find it all results in the splendors of a crown that is the sure reward of those who labor thus, cultivating truth, justice, love, and goodness on the earth. Such labor does not remain here below, but purified by God’s Spirit, is harvested for our reward.”

“This . . . Eucharist is just such an act of faith. To Christian faith at this moment the voice of diatribe appears changed for the body of the Lord, who offered himself for the redemption of the world, and in this chalice the wine is transformed into the blood that was the price of salvation. May this body immolated and this blood sacrificed for humans nourish us also, so that we may give our body and our blood to suffering and to pain–like Christ, not for self, but to bring about justice and peace for our people.”

[1] Oscar Romero, The Violence of Love: The pastoral Wisdom of Oscar Romero at 242 (Harper & Row 1988); James Brockman, The Word Remains: A Life of Oscar Romero at 219-20 (Orbis Books 1982); Oscar Romero, Voice of the Voiceless: The Four Pastoral Letters and Other Statements at 191-93 (Orbis Books 1985); James Brockman, The Church Is All of You: Thoughts of Oscar Romero at 110 (Winton Press 1984).

Oscar Romero’s Opposition

Oscar Romero

In 1979-1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero was a passionate, persistent, public, brave critic of the human rights violations by the government and the paramilitary groups in El Salvador.[1]

Such conduct did not go unchallenged.

Many local newspapers criticized Romero in hostile terms. They called him “a demagogic and violent Archbishop . . . who preached terrorism from his cathedral.” Sometimes the newspapers even made veiled threats like “the armed forces should begin to oil their weapons [to kill Romero].”[2]

The right-wing civilian and military personnel were angry about Romero’s pronouncements and viewed him as a subversive. In a February 1980 television address in El Salvador, Roberto D’Aubuisson, a former military officer, founder of the ARENA political party and organizer of death squads, included Romero and Attorney General Zamora on a list of “subversives.” Before the month was over, Zamora had been assassinated, and the church’s radio transmitter that was used to carry Romero’s homilies throughout the country had been destroyed with a bomb.[3]

Romero also received anonymous letters threatening his life. On March 10th a brief case with an unexploded bomb was found behind the pulpit at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart where Romero had preached the prior day.[4]

Another major player in the Salvadoran drama of this period was the Carter Administration and the United States Government. U.S. officials, believing that left-wing repression inevitably would be worse than that of the right-wing, were worried about the July 1979 Sandinista victory in Nicaragua and about a possible left-wing FMLN takeover in El Salvador.  As a result, the U.S. was providing financial and military support to the Salvadoran Junta. In addition, in February 1980, the U.S. helped to thwart a right-wing coup that was seeking backing from the U.S. The U.S. Embassy told “all conceivable participants in a rightist coup, particularly the military” that the U.S. supported the Junta and would terminate U.S. aid  if there were a coup.[5]

Romero in February 1980 publicly asked President Carter for an end to U.S. military aid to El Salvador and for a pledge of non-intervention.[6]

The very next day, February 18th, a bomb destroyed the church’s radio transmitter that carried Romero’s homilies throughout the country. The same day Romero received news that this homily had caused a “furor” at the Vatican.[7] Later that same week a U.S. diplomat visited Romero and explained what the U.S. deemed to be the legitimate reasons for U.S. military aid to El Salvador. Romero, however, responded that any kind of military aid would cause greater repression of the people because it was controlled by the Minister of Defense. In addition, Romero suggested that any military aid be conditioned on the Salvadoran government’s beginning to carry out its promised reforms. There is even the suggestion that the U.S. diplomat said, “If a stick [Romero] doesn’t break, you have to break it.”[8]

The formal U.S. response to Romero’s plea came in a March 11, 1980, letter from Secretary of State Cyrus Vance. It rejected Romero’s plea for ending U.S. financial assistance to the Salvadoran government. Vance said the Junta had shown itself to be “moderate and reformist” and the “best prospect for peaceful change toward a more just society,” thereby justifying U.S. assistance to the Junta. The vast bulk of this assistance, Vance asserted, was economic support for reform efforts while the military assistance was “to enhance the professionalism of the Armed Forces so that they can fulfill their essential role of maintaining order with a minimum of lethal force” coupled with U.S. monitoring any misuse of the assistance to prevent injury to human rights of the people. [9]

Vance’s letter then made seeming compliments of Romero that, in my opinion, were veiled criticisms of the Archbishop’s actions. The U.S. hoped, Vance said, that Romero would “agree that a less confrontational environment is necessary to implement the kind of meaningful reform program you have long advocated.” (Emphasis added.) Vance continued, “The great moral authority of the church, and your uncompromising defense of human rights and dedication to nonviolence, place you in a unique position to use your influence with other people of goodwill in a cooperative effort to quiet passions and find peaceful solutions. . . . You have a major role to play in helping your fellow countrymen find peaceful solutions to their problems. May God give you wisdom and strength in this difficult task.” (Emphasis added.)[10]

Meanwhile, the U.S. worked behind the scenes to try to get the Vatican to muzzle Romero. In January 1980 National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski noted that the U.S. already had contacted Pope John Paul II about Romero and had suggested that the Pope be urged to call Romero to Rome for consultations. The U.S. State Department then prepared a draft letter for Brzezinski to send to the Pope that said Romero had rejected prior U.S. requests for him to support the Junta and that asked for “the wise intervention of Your Holiness to ensure that the Church plays the responsible and constructive role on behalf of moderation and peaceful change.”  Although it is unclear if this letter was ever sent, Brzezinski in early February 1980 had a personal communication with Pope John Paul II, his fellow Polish national, seeking help to restrain Romero and probably voiced some of the same sentiments. At about the same time President Carter had drafted a letter to the Pope about the more general U.S. concern that “[e]lements of the extreme left” in Central America were engaged in “violence and terrorism designed to destroy the existing order and replace it with a Marxist one which promises to be equally repressive and totalitarian.”[11]

Whether the Pope needed U.S. urging or not, the Vatican did attempt to restrain Romero’s public opposition to the Salvadoran government and military. On January 30, 1980, Romero was in Rome, where the Pope told him that although he understood the difficulties facing El Salvador and the need to defend social justice and love for the poor, Romero needed to be careful of ideologies that could produce greater violations of human rights in the long run. The next day the Vatican’s Secretary of State told Romero that the U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican (Robert Wagner, the former New York City Mayor) had expressed concern over Romero’s apparent support of a “revolutionary line of action.” In part, these Vatican actions stemmed from Pope John Paul II’s opposition to liberation theology and its assertion that economic justice required deep structural changes to increase the power of the poor; for the Pope such thinking was too secular, too reliant on Marxist concepts of class warfare and too challenging to the authority of the Pope.[12]

Even the Salvadoran Conference of [Roman Catholic] Bishops did not support Romero. They had complained to the Vatican that Romero was too political. On March 11, 1980, a representative of the Pope came to see Romero to discuss the need for greater unity among the Salvadoran bishops. When Romero talked about the difficulties facing El Salvador, the papal representative expressed fear that the country’s popular organizations were communists. Romero said that he would be glad to yield on minor issues, but “never in my convictions about faithfulness to the gospel, the new directions of the Church and my dear people.”  The next day, March 12th, at a meeting of Salvadoran bishops with the papal representative, Romero set forth what he was trying to do, but the other bishops with the exception of Bishop Rivera, “were against the direction of [Romero’s] archdiocese.” And the other bishops surprised Romero by refusing to elect a Romero supporter (Bishop Rivera) as vice president of the conference and instead electing a Romero opponent (Bishop Aparicio), and by making what Romero saw as  “aggressive” attacks on him.[13]

Romero, however, had the support of many Salvadoran people and of Christians from other countries. He received honorary degrees from Georgetown University, a Jesuit institution, in early 1978 despite opposition from the Vatican, and from Belgium’s University of Louvain, the oldest Catholic university in the world, in early February 1980. In addition, in early March 1980, he received an award from Sweden’s Ecumenical Action group.[14]

Nevertheless, Romero was increasingly threatened and isolated in early 1980. Yet he continued to speak out against the repression. He was not deterred by the death threats he had received. He said in early March 1980 to a Mexican journalist, “I’ve been threatened with death many times, but I should say that as a Christian, I don’t believe in death. I believe in resurrection. If they kill me, I will rise again in the Salvadoran people. . . . A bishop will die, but the Church of God, which is the people, will never perish.” Romero added, “Martyrdom is a grace of God that I do not believe I deserve. But if God accepts the sacrifice of my life, let my blood be a seed of freedom and the sign that hope will soon be reality.”[15]

[1] See Post: Archbishop Oscar Romero, A Saint for All People and All Time (Oct. 5, 2011).

[2] Commission for the Truth for El Salvador, Report: From Madness to Hope: The 12-year war in El Salvador  at 128 (March 15, 1993), http://www.derechos.org/nizkor/salvador/informes/truth.html%5B“Truth Commission Report”].

[3] Id. at 127-28.

[4] Id.; Oscar Romero, A Shepherd’s Diary at 441, 501 (St. Anthony Press 1993)[“Diary”]; Betty Glad, An Outsider in the White House: Jimmy Carter, His Advisors, and the Making of American Foreign Policy at 254 (Cornell Univ. Press 2009) [“Outsider”]; Maria Lopez Vigil, Oscar Romero: Memories in Mosaic at 298, 359-60, 382-84, 395-96 (EPICA 2000) [“Mosaic”].

[5]  Outsider at 250-53; John A. Soares, Jr., Strategy, Ideology, and Human Rights: Jimmy Carter Confronts the Left in Central America, 1979-81, 8 J. Cold War Studies 57-67, 78-89  (No. 4 Fall 2006)[“Strategy”].

[6]  See Post: Archbishop Oscar Romero, A Saint for All People and All Time (Oct. 5, 2011).

[7]  Diary at 493; James Brockman, The Word Remains: A Life of Oscar Romero at 202-09 (Orbis Books 1982).

[8]  Diary at 494, 496-97; Mosaic at 378-79.

[9]  Outsider at 25; Strategy at 87-88; letter, Cyrus Vance, U.S. Secretary of State to Archbishop Oscar Romero (3/11/80)[Carter Presidential Library].

[10]  Id.

[11]  Outsider at 250-53; Diary at 461, 468, 493, 524-25; Mosiac at 378-79; Strategy at 66, 87-88.

[12]  Outsider at 250, 252, 257-58; Diary at 465-69, 493; Mosaic at 374-76.

[13]  Diary at 438, 460, 494, 520-22; Outsider at 257.

[14]  Oscar Romero, Voice of the Voiceless: The Four Pastoral Letters and Other Statements at 162-88 (Orbis Books 1985); Outsider at 257.

[15]  Mosiac at 396; Outsider at 255.

International Criminal Court: Investigation of Ivory Coast Situation Is Authorized

On October 3, 2011, the Pre-Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) authorized the Prosecutor to conduct an investigation of the situation in the Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivorie) for possible crimes against humanity and war crimes within the Court’s jurisdiction since November 28, 2010.[1]

Ivory Coast has been in turmoil since a coup in 1999 and a flawed 2000 election in which Laurent Gbagbo was elected president for a five-year term. Gbagbo, however, failed to hold an election in 2005 and was still in office when an election was held in November 2010. He was defeated in that election by Alassane Outtara, but Gbagbo refused to turn over power to Ouattara. Thereafter there was armed conflict between supporters of the two men that is the focus of the now authorized ICC investigation. In that conflict approximately 3,000 people were killed, and 500,000 people fled into neighboring countries. In April 2011 Gbagbo was forcibly removed from office and arrested with the help of French and U.N. military forces (In May Ouattara was formally inaugurated as president.) This August, Gbagbo and his wife were charged with looting, armed robbery and embezzlement by the country’s prosecutor.[2]

The Ivory Coast situation is an excellent illustration of the checks and balances within the ICC. One of the ways an investigation can be started by the ICC Prosecutor is on his own initiative (proprio motu), but that can happen if and only if a three-judge Pre-Trial Chamber authorizes the investigation, which is what just happened with the Ivory Coast.[3]

Such authorization is not automatic and cannot be presumed.

The Pre-Trial Chamber’s decision to authorize the Ivory Coast investigation is an 86-page careful analysis of the many legal conditions that must be satisfied for such an authorization. It concludes with a statement that one of the three judges will be filing a separate and partially dissenting opinion.[4]

The first condition was ICC jurisdiction over the Ivory Coast. It is not a State Party to the Court’s Rome Statute, but in April 2003 it submitted a declaration to the Court that the country accepted ICC jurisdiction for crimes on its territory since September 19, 2002 and for an unspecified period of time thereafter. The validity of this declaration was confirmed in a December 2010 letter from President-elect Ouattara, who pledged full cooperation with the Court in particular for crimes after March 2004. In addition, in May 2011 President Ouattara sent a letter to the Court in which he said that he believed crimes within the Court’s jurisdiction had been committed since the elections of 2010 and requested the ICC’s assistance in prosecuting perpetrators of such crimes. Therefore, the Pre-Trial Chamber concluded that the Court had jurisdiction over the situation in the Ivory Coast.[5]

The Pre-Trial Chamber then considered the materials regarding possible crimes committed by the pro-Gbagbo forces and concluded that there was reason to believe that they had committed crimes against humanity by murder, rape, arbitrary arrest and detention, enforced disappearances and torture and other inhumane acts.[6] The pro-Gbagbo forces also had been shown possibly to have committed war crimes in an armed conflict not of an international character by murders, intentional attacks on civilian populations and U.N. personnel, rape and sexual violence.[7]

The Pre-Trial Chamber also considered whether pro-Ouattara forces had committed similar crimes and concluded that there was reason to believe that they had. Their possible crimes against humanity were murder, rape and imprisonment and deprivation of liberty. Their possible war crimes were murder, rape, pillage, torture and other cruel treatment.[8]

The Pre-Trial Chamber emphasized that the authorization included continuing crimes after the Prosecutor’s application to the Chamber on June 23, 2011.[9] The Prosecutor also was asked in one month to submit additional materials for possible crimes in the Ivory Coast from 2002 (when the ICC commenced operations) through 2010.[10]

Last month President Ouattara appointed 11 people to the country’s new Commission on Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation. Although modeled after South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, it is unclear if it will be issuing amnesties and pardons.[11]

This Commission’s goals might be seen as conflicting with the ICC’s investigation and possible prosecution of people for committing crimes against humanity and war crimes in the country, but immediately after the Pre-Trial Chamber’s authorization of the ICC investigation, its Prosecutor stated that the investigation “should be part of national and international efforts to prevent future crimes in [the country” and that the Commission “would be a central piece of such efforts. National authorities could define other activities to help the victims, ensure peaceful coexistence and prevent future violence. Promoting justice and reconciliation . . . must be our common endeavour.”[12]

This is the Court’s seventh investigation, all from Africa. Three of the others are by submissions from States Parties: Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic. Two are from submissions from the U.N. Security Council: Darfur (Sudan) and Libya. The other, Kenya, was another Pre-Trial Chamber approval of an investigation initiated by the Prosecutor.[13]

[1] Decision Pursuant to Article 15 of the Rome Statute on the Authorization of an Investigation into the Situtation in the Republic of Cote d’Ivorie, (ICC Pre-Trial Ch. Oct. 3, 2011); ICC, Press Release: ICC Pre-Trial Chamber III authorizes the Prosecutor to launch an investigation in Cote d’Ivorie (Oct. 3, 2011); Assoc. Press, Int’l Court IJs Ivory Coast Violence Probe, N.Y. Times (Oct. 3, 2011); Post: International Criminal Court: Prosecutor Seeks To Open Investigation of Ivory Coast (May 23, 2011).

[2] Id.; Nossiter, Sayare & Bukefsky, Leader’s Arrest in Ivory Coast Ends Standoff, N.Y. Times (April 11, 2011); BBC, Ivory Coast reconciliation commission launched, BBC News (Sept. 6, 2011).

[3] Post: International Criminal Court: Introduction (April 28, 2011); Post: International Criminal Court: Prosecutor Seeks To Open Investigation of Ivory Coast (May 23, 2011).

[4] Decision Pursuant to Article 15 of the Rome Statute on the Authorization of an Investigation into the Situtation in the Republic of Cote d’Ivorie, (ICC Pre-Trial Ch. Oct. 3, 2011).

[5]  Id. ¶¶ 10-15.

[6]  Id. ¶¶ 51-91.

[7]   Id. ¶¶ 127-153.

[8]  Id. ¶¶ 95-116, 157-172.

[9]  Id. ¶¶ 3, 179.

[10]  Id. ¶ 213.

[11]  BBC, Ivory Coast reconciliation commission launched, BBC News (Sept. 6, 2011);BBC, Ivory Coast gets truth and reconciliation commission, BBC News (Sept. 28, 2001);Ivory Coast launches reconciliation panel,al Jazeera.net (Sept. 28, 2011).

[12] ICC, Press Release: ICC Prosecutor: This decision ensures justice for victims in Cote d’Ivoire. I will conduct effective, independent and impartial investigations, (Oct. 3, 2011).

[13]  Post: International Criminal Court: Investigations and Prosecutions (April 28, 2011).

President Obama Is Wrong on Cuba

Yesterday President Obama said that the U.S. was prepared to change U.S. policies toward Cuba, including the U.S. embargo, if Cuba takes steps to open up to democracy and human rights and releases political prisoners.[1]

This U.S. position is wrong.[2]

First, the U.S. does not have any right to impose such pre-conditions on the mere willingness to begin discussions on addressing the many differences that have arisen between the two countries over the last half century. Moreover, in my opinion, it is contrary to the U.S. national interest to do so.

Second, the minor premise of this U.S. position is erroneous. Cuba in fact already is taking steps to  make these changes.

Cuba, pursuant to an agreement with the Roman Catholic Church, has released many political prisoners over the last couple of years. Cuba also is taking steps to open up its economy to more private enterprise. These changes are not happening as fast as many people hope for, but as President Obama has discovered, change is not easy, it takes a lot of work.

Third, Cuba recently reiterated its desire and interest in having normal relations with the U.S. and mentioned specific problems on which the two countries should be able to work together fairly quickly. All the U.S. needs to do is to reciprocate with a stated willingness to start the necessary negotiations.[3]

I have been, and continue to be, a strong supporter of President Obama. But his recent statements about our relations with Cuba are wrong. The U.S. needs to change its policies and approach toward Cuba.

[1] Reuters, Cuba Must Reform Before U.S. Eases Stance: Obama, N. Y. Times (Sept. 29, 2011); White House Blog, What you Missed: President Obama’s Open for Questions Roundtable (Sept. 28, 2011), http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2011/09/28/what-you-missed-president-obamas-open-questions-roundtable.

[2] See Post: The Ridiculous U.S. Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor” of Terrorism” (May 20, 2011); Post: U.S. Repeats Its Ridiculous Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor” of Terrorism” (Aug. 21, 2011); Post: The U.S. Should Pursue Reconciliation with Cuba (May 21, 2011); Post: Commutation and Release of Convicted “Spies”

(Sept. 24, 2011).

[3] Associated Press, Cuba Seeks Normalization With US, N.Y. Times (Sept. 26, 2011); Archibold, Cuban Minister Leaves a Door Open to American’s Release, N.Y. Times (Sept. 26, 2011); Post: Roots of Hope for U.S.-Cuba Relations (Sept. 27, 2011).


Roots of Hope for U.S.-Cuba Relations

Desires for normal relations between the U.S. and Cuba often seem hopeless.[1]

Today’s news offers two new reasons for hope for such a day.

Roots of Hope or Raices de Esperanza is a Miami-based non-profit network of more than 3,000 students and young professionals across the U.S. and abroad focused on empowering Cuban youth. They seek to inspire young people to care about Cuba, think outside the box and proactively support our young counterparts on the island through innovative means. They hope to make a positive impact on Cuba through academic and cultural initiatives guided by three basic principles: amor, amistad y esperanza (love, friendship and hope).[2]

The group’s current projects are (a) to provide young people in Cuba with refurbished cellular phones; (b) to publish the Ex(CHANGE) Guide that outlines different ways young people outside of Cuba can connect with young people on the island; and (c) to host an annual national youth leadership conference of diverse Cuban, Cuban-American and Cuba-loving young leaders.[3]

The other news providing hope were remarks yesterday in New York City by Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, to the U.N. General Assembly and to the editors and reporters of the New York Times.[4]

Rodriguez reiterated his government’s willingness and interest in moving towards normalization of relations with the U.S. One way to make progress on this overall goal was to focus on problems where, he thought, both countries had an interest in negotiating cooperation agreements. These included drug-trafficking, terrorism, human smuggling, preventing and responding to natural disasters and protecting the environment.[5]

The Foreign Minister said the U.S.’ continued imprisonment of five Cubans (known as “The Cuban Five” in the U.S. and “The Miami Five” in Cuba) was “inhumane” and called for the U.S. to release them and allow them to return to Cuba.[6]

Cuba’s imprisonment of U.S. citizen Alan Gross, the Foreign Minister said, was not linked to The Cuban Five, but he hinted otherwise. He said, “I do not see any way in which we can move on towards a solution of the Mr. Gross case but from a humanitarian point of view and on the basis of reciprocity.”[7]

The time is ripe, President Obama. Commute the sentences of the Cuban Five and allow them to return to their homes on the island. Cuba has virtually committed to respond with its release of Alan Gross.

[1] See Post: The Ridiculous U.S. Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor” of Terrorism” (May 20, 2011); Post: U.S. Repeats Its Ridiculous Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor” of Terrorism” (Aug. 21, 2011); Post: The U.S. Should Pursue Reconciliation with Cuba (May 21, 2011); Post: Commutation and Release of Convicted “Spies”

(Sept, 24, 2011).

[2] Associated Press, Nonprofit Plants Seed for Future US-Cuba Relations, N.Y. Times (Sept. 26, 2011); Roots of Hope/Raices de Esperanza, http://www.raicesdeesperanza.org.

[3] Id.

[4]  Associated Press, Cuba Seeks Normalization With US, N.Y. Times (Sept. 26, 2011); Archibold, Cuban Minister Leaves a Door Open to American’s Release, N.Y. Times (Sept. 26, 2011).

[5] Id.

[6] Id.; Post: Commutation and Release of Convicted “Spies” (Sept, 24, 2011).

[7] See n.4.

Commutation and Release of Convicted “Spies”

The U.S. has been involved in three disputes over individuals convicted and imprisoned for alleged spying.

Shane Bauer & Joshua Fattal
Alan Gross

One dispute has been with Iran over its conviction and imprisonment of two American hikers (Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal) for alleged spying. This week Iran unilaterally released the two men, a decision prompted, in part, by its desire to improve its international image at the start of the U.N. General Assembly meeting.[1]

The second dispute is with Cuba over its conviction and imprisonment of an American, Alan Gross, who apparently brought some electronic equipment to Cuba for Jewish people on the island. Former Governor Bill Richardson recently was unsuccessful in his trip to Cuba to gain Gross’ release. Late this week, however, there were hints that Cuba might release him for humanitarian reasons. Cuba should follow the lead of Iran and commute the sentence to time served and release him to return to his family in the U.S.[2]

The last dispute is also with Cuba over the U.S. conviction and imprisonment of five Cubans for their efforts to gain information in the U.S. over Cuban exile groups’ flights to and over Cuba. The so called “Cuban Five” were arrested in September 1998 and subsequently convicted of various crimes. They have been in U.S. jails and prisons for the last 13 years. Yet during this long period the U.S. cruelly has granted very few visas to the Cuban spouses of four of them to visit them in U.S. prisons. One of the “Cuban Five” will complete his sentence this October, and the trial judge recently imposed three years of supervised release in the U.S. only, thereby rejecting his plea to be able to return to his family in Cuba. The U.S. should act in a humanitarian manner and commute the sentences of all five to time served and allow them to return to their families in Cuba.[3]


In Cuba the five are known as the “Miami Five” and are regarded as Cuban heroes for helping to protect Cuba from terroristic attacks by Cuban exile groups in the U.S. You see posters with their photographs or portraits all over the island. Cuba has mounted an international “Free the Cuban Five” campaign.


The time is way past due for the U.S. to have normal diplomatic and economic relations with Cuba.[4]

[1] E.g., Goodman & Cowell, American Hikers Leave Iran After Prison Release, N.Y. Times (Sept. 21, 2011).

[2] E.g., Archibold, Cuban Minister Leaves a Door Open to American’s Release, N.Y. Times (Sept. 23, 2011).

[3]  E.g., Assoc. Press, Spy Wants Return to Cuba After Prison, U.S. Objects, N.Y. Times (Sept. 12, 2011); Cave, Americans and Cubans Still Mired in Distrust, N.Y. Times (Sept. 15, 2011); Cuban Embassy in Netherlands, Denied by Judge Lenard, Rene’s motion on his return to Cuba (Sept. 16, 2011), http://www.cubadiplomatica.cu/EN.

[4] See Post: The Ridiculous U.S. Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor” of Terrorism” (May 20, 2011); Post: U.S. Repeats Its Ridiculous Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor” of Terrorism” (Aug. 21, 2011); Post: The U.S. Should Pursue Reconciliation with Cuba (May 21, 2011).

Memory and Human Rights: Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula

On September 29-October 1, 2011, the University of Minnesota Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies will host an “International Symposium: Ongoing Dialogues about Memory and Human Rights: Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula.”[1]

The  symposium will address the role that literature, art and film have in the struggles against enforced disappearance, torture, degrading treatment, forced prostitution, human trafficking, violence against immigrants, gender violence, and feminicide. We seek to address the relations between artistic practices and struggles against impunity and between aesthetics and ethics, and to give visibility to current human rights concerns and to the design of practices of memory.

I will be presenting a paper, “The Interactive Global Struggle Against Impunity for Salvadoran Human Rights Violators.”[2]  Other participants and their topics are the following:

  • Jean Franco (Emeritus Professor, Columbia University),“The Ghostly Arts.”
  • David William Foster (Regents’ Professor of Spanish and Women and Gender Studies, Arizona State University), “Helen Zout’s Desapariciones: Shooting Death.”
  • Ileana Rodriguez (Humanities Distinguished Professor, Ohio State University),“ Operación Pájaro: Expediente 27, 1998. Obispo Gerardi: Enemigo del Estado.”
  • Horacio Castellanos Moya (Escritor, periodista), READING from “Insensatez (Senselessness) y Tirana memoria (Tyrant memory).”
  • Guillermina Wallas (Independent Scholar),“Ciudad y memoria: reclamos de justicia a través de las marcas testimoniales de La Plata (Argentina).”
  • Margarita Saona (Associate Professor, Department of Spanish, University of Illinois at Chicago), “Memory Sites: From Auratic Spaces to Cyberspace in Peruvian Embattled Memories.”
  • Amy Kaminsky (Professor, Department of Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies, University of Minnesota), “Memory, Postmemory, Prosthetic Memory: Reflections on the Holocaust and Argentina’s Dirty War.”
  • Hernán Vidal (Emeritus Professor, Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies, University of Minnesota),“Verdad universal: notas jurídicas para una hermenéutica cultural basada en los derechos humanos.”
  • Alicia Kozameh (writer), READING from “Pasos bajo el agua, 259 saltos, uno inmortal, Mano en vuelo,y “Bosquejo de alturas.” Barbara Frey (Program director, Human Rights Program. University of Minnesota),”Forms and Practices of Human Rights Advocacy.”
  • Felix de la Concha (Artist),“Facing Memories: Portraits with Testimonies.”
  • Patrick J. McNamara, (Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Minnesota,“Memory Without Metaphor: Cognition and the Art of Human Rights in Mexico.”
  • Raul Marrero Fente, (Associate Professor, Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies, University of Minnesota),”Ethics and Law in the Inter-American Human Rights System.”
  • Luis Martín Estudillo (Associate Professor, University of Iowa),“The Banality of Torture? Earning Democratic Credentials Under Franco.”
  • Miguel Rep (Artist, cartoonist),“Del derecho humano al humor.”
  • Regina Marques (Professor of Communication Science at the Polytechnic Institute of Setúbal (Portugal), Member MDM (Movimento Democrático de Mulheres) , CES (Conselho Económico e Social) and WIDF’s (Women’s International Democratic Federation) bureau), “ Women’s Rights as Human Rights. Vulnerabilities in Portugal and in Europe. The Gap Between the Law and Life.”
  • Javier Sanjinés (Professor, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, University of Michigan),”Estética y Derechos Humanos bajo la Dictadura en Bolivia: el monumentalismo de Fernando Díez de Medina.”
  • Alicia Gaspar de Alba (Writer, Professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies, English, and Women’s Studies at UCLA), READING from “Desert Blood: The Juarez Murders.”
  • Leigh Payne, (Professor of Sociology and Latin American Studies, University of Oxford, Visiting Professor, Department of Political Sciences, University of Minnesota), “The Struggle Against Silence and Forgetting in Brazil.”
  • Alexis Howe, (Assistant Professor, Dominican University), “Madness and Disappearance: El infarto del alma” by Diamela Eltit and Paz Errázuriz.
  • Ofelia Ferrán, (Associate Professor, Department of Spanish and Portuguese, University of Minnesota), “Mala gente que camina, by Benjamín Prado: Uncovering the Plot of Franco’s ‘Stolen Children’ in Contemporary Spain.”

[1] Univ. Minnesota, Dep’t of Spanish & Portuguese Studies, International Symposium: Ongoing Dialogues about Memory and Human Rights: Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula, http://spanport.umn.edu/news/index.php?entry=297980. The Symposium will be held at the Maroon, Gold and the Gateway Rooms of the McNamara Alumni Center, 200 Oak St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455. For further information contact Professor Ana Forcinito (aforcini@umn.edu) or Jaime Hanneken (hanne045@umn.edu).

[2] An earlier version of this paper was presented at an October 2009 conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and has been published (in Portuguese translation) in Memorie e Justica by Brazil’s Museau da Republica (Museum of the Republic).