SAN SALVADOR — Rightist political leaders Wednesday angrily vowed to retaliate against President Jose Napoleon Duarte for accusing former Maj. Roberto D'Aubuisson of ordering the 1980 murder of the Archbishop of San Salvador.
The rightists said they will "fight to the ultimate consequences" to defend D'Aubuisson, who is founder and honorary president of their National Republican Alliance (Arena) Party.
"Duarte is talking about peace, but he is provoking war," said former army Col. Sigifredo Ochoa Perez. "If we have to fight, we will fight no matter what has to happen here."
In the days after the 1980 murder of Msgr. Oscar Arnulfo Romero, such public threats often resulted in political killings, and in the current climate of rising political tensions, some Salvadorans may see the implied threats as a call for a return to violence.
The rightist leaders said at a press conference that they mean to do battle only within the legal and political system. D'Aubuisson, however, warned afterward that death squad killings could resume.
"They are going to reappear. All the conditions are there," D'Aubuisson said. "This atmosphere is very, very dangerous."
D'Aubuisson, a retired National Guard intelligence officer, charged that the tens of thousands of so-called death squad murders in 1979 and the early 1980s were committed by out-of-control government security forces. It is unusual for a Salvadoran military man to attack the armed forces, but D'Aubuisson blamed the killings on Duarte's vice minister of defense for public security.
Duarte reopened the emotionally charged Romero case Monday as leftist political leaders allied with guerrillas fighting his U.S.-backed government returned to the country to begin above-ground political organizing.
Guillermo Ungo, president of the civilian Revolutionary Democratic Front, and Vice President Ruben Zamora held a spirited rally Wednesday at the University of El Salvador, where they used to teach. Many rebel leaders have emerged from the university and the guerrillas enjoy a base of support there. Hundreds of chanting faculty, students and university employees packed into the law school auditorium, whose walls were covered with stencils of Ernesto (Che) Guevara and revolutionary slogans of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front to hear Zamora lay out the rebels' proposal for a negotiated settlement to the eight-year war. Their plan includes an interim coalition government, a cease-fire, new general elections and a withdrawal of U.S. military advisers.
"No one can make us a gift of democracy or impose it on us with $700 million a year," Zamora said, referring to U.S. aid. "Only we Salvadorans can build our democracy. It is unacceptable that the economic, political and military decisions of our country are made in Washington."
At the Arena party's press conference, Ochoa called Duarte "a puppet of the United States" and accused him of resurrecting the Romero case to divert attention from his own failures. He said Duarte was falsely accusing D'Aubuisson in order to smear the right before Legislative Assembly elections in March.
On Monday, Duarte said D'Aubuisson and a former army captain were responsible for the Romero killing, based on new testimony from a man who claimed he drove the triggerman to the hospital chapel where Romero was slain as he said Mass on March 24, 1980.
The witness, Amado Antonio Garay, said in sworn testimony that three days after the murder, he heard the captain tell D'Aubuisson that his orders to kill Romero had been fulfilled.
Alvaro Rafael Saravia, the former captain, was detained Monday night in Miami on an immigration charge, and officials said he will be held until the Salvadoran government requests his extradition.
The government, meanwhile, has begun the process of stripping legal immunity from D'Aubuisson, who is a member of the Legislative Assembly. If he is to be formally charged, it must be done by the assembly, which Duarte's Christian Democratic Party controls. D'Aubuisson went to the Supreme Court, seeking to block the move.
D'Aubuisson told the press conference that he was in the eastern province of San Miguel the day Romero was shot and in Guatemala the day Garay claims to have heard his conversation with Saravia.
Some U.S. and Salvadoran officials have long linked D'Aubuisson to the Romero killing and accused him of leading or participating in the death squads that tortured and killed students, union and church activists and even Christian Democrats suspected of being leftists.
D'Aubuisson and Saravia were arrested with more than a dozen other military officers and rightist businessmen in May, 1980, for allegedly plotting a coup against a ruling junta. An agenda confiscated from Saravia contained notes on what officials believed were death squad activities, including one, "Operation Pineapple," which was believed to be the plan for the Romero killing.