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Bishop James W. Malone
February 8, 1984
The report of the National Bipartisan Commission on Central America proposes several partial answers to the urgent question of how to achieve peace with justice in the region. Its emphasis on today’s grave economic and social crises, especially hard on the majority poor, is most welcome and its proposals to improve the economic well-being of the Central American peoples deserve fullest consideration. But in recommending massive increases in the already high level of military aid to the area, especially to the Salvadoran armed forces, the report highlights as never before the insistent question: Can the peace that Central America and all of us yearn for be accomplished by a policy of war? The report seems to suggest it can.
It has long been the position of our bishops’ conference, as well as that of the bishops of El Salvador, that at root there is a single problem to be addressed and that ultimately there is only one route to the solution. The core problem, stripped of all that has been added to it in recent years, is endemic social inequity and brutal military repression that has long characterized Salvadoran society. There cannot be authentic peace, which is the fruit of justice, until the tyranny of social discrimination and political repression is ended.
Similarly, the single acceptable way to achieve the peace and build justice lies along the route of dialogue and negotiations.
Last year, at the request of the episcopal conferences of Central America, bishops of our conferences visited those countries to meet with the bishops as well as with representatives of many sectors and all walks of life. On the central question of the Salvadoran civil conflict, our bishops heard over and again the insistent plea for a dialogue to bring about a cessation of hostilities leading to a negotiated authentic settlement of the conflict.
In congressional testimony following this visit, our conference muted its long-standing opposition to all U.S. military aid to El Salvador in favor of pressing more urgently than ever the route of dialogue and negotiations. While acknowledging the international dimension of the conflict and accepting the view that a precipitous cut-off of all U.S. support could result in even more chaotic bloodletting, we urged the gradual diminution of military support and a much more forceful effort on the diplomatic and political fronts.
Last October, shortly after meeting with the Kissinger Commission, Auxiliary Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez of San Salvador spoke of the view presented to the Commission by the Salvadoran bishops. The church, he said, “speaks clearly in favor of a political solution to our conflict and continues to insist that this war which pits brother against brother be humanized, reduced and ended as quickly as possible.”
Three weeks later, Archbishop Arturo Rivera y Damas of San Salvador underscored the point, saying that from the time he carne as Apostolic Administrator to that see in 1980 to the present moment, he has “insisted on the necessity of resolving our problems by means of talking, of dialogue...”
In concluding his public comment on the meeting with the Commission, Bishop Rosa Chavez said, “Time will tell if our view was heard.”
It now appears that this view, both of the bishops of El Salvador and of the bishops of the United States, was not accepted by the Kissinger Commission. Still less has it been accepted by the Administration which has reportedly called for a fivefold increase in military aid to El Salvador over the next two years.
No matter how conditioned on human rights progress such aid may be, we must protest in strongest terms this further militarization of our policy, holding diplomacy hostage and delaying the longed-for peace.
The task is not to win the war but to win the peace. In the words of Pope John Paul, “the ethical principle of peaceful solution of conflicts is the only way worthy of man... It is necessary to win the peace.”
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