Why U.S.-Backed Governments Murder Church Workers

On November 16,1989, the world was stunned by the murder in El Salvador of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter. Americas Watch testified to Congress that the Jesuits were murdered by members of a U.S.-trained elite unit (the Atlacatl Battalion) with a long history of human rights violations.

Missing from most discussions of who ultimately is to blame for the Jesuit murders is acknowledgment that the U.S. government is actively and consciously targeting progressive church workers as enemies. As part of its broader strategy of warfare against the poor called "low-intensity conflict," our government is at war against liberation theology and against churches that seek to empower the poor. Whether or not agents of the U.S. government ordered the massacre of the Jesuits, the United States is morally and practically responsible for their deaths and those of numerous religious workers.

There are five unpardonable sins committed by Third World governments or social change movements: reclaiming a sense of national dignity, exercising political power outside the control of economic elites, redistributing wealth from the rich to the poor, building alliances with progressive churches around common agendas to empower the poor, and developing a military independent of U.S. control.

The United States is determined to punish those guilty of one or more of these sins by using a flexible array of weapons within its low-intensity conflict arsenal. If Christians are complicit in such sins by challenging political and economic injustices or by forming alliances with groups that share similar goals, they too will be targets of U.S. warfare.

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