Roberto D'Aubuisson Arrieta (23 August 1944 - 20 February 1992) was a major in the Salvadoran Army and a political leader who founded the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), which he led from 1980 to 1985. He was known as "Chele", or "light-skinned face", and was considered a leader of right-wing death squads who tortured and killed thousands of civilians before and during the Salvadoran Civil War. To political prisoners, he was known as "Blowtorch Bob", due to his frequent use of a blowtorch in interrogation sessions.
D'Aubuisson was born in Santa Tecla, La Libertad Department, El Salvador, graduating from the national military academy in 1963. He was trained in communications at the School of the Americas in 1972, subsequently joining Salvadoran military intelligence.
From 1978 to 1992, before and during the civil war, he commanded what are widely considered to be death squads. Among his victims was San Salvador Archbishop Óscar Romero, a prominent Catholic clergyman and campaigner for human rights. On 7 May 1980, six weeks after Romero's assassination, D'Aubuisson and a group of civilians and soldiers were arrested on a farm; the raiders found weapons and documents identifying D'Aubuisson and the civilians as death squad organizers and financiers, and of planning a coup d'état to depose the Revolutionary Government Junta (1979–1982) (JRG) governing El Salvador. Their arrests provoked right-wing terrorist threats and institutional pressures, leading to D'Aubuisson's return from Guatemalan exile. Thereafter, on right-wing television, he regularly denounced the JRG and specific enemies; these enemies in turn were often assassinated soon after the broadcasts.
His opposition to the JRG gave him international infamy; in August 1981, The Washington Post reported that D'Aubuisson "openly talked of the need to kill 200,000 to 300,000 people to restore peace to El Salvador". Shortly afterwards, on 30 September, he founded ARENA (National Republican Alliance), a right-wing political party. D'Aubuisson accumulated much political capital via his anti-leftist and counter-insurgency fighter reputation, often using this capital to claim that the JRG was a Marxist threat to El Salvador.
1982 legislative election
Despite alleged electoral fraud and political violence, the 28 March 1982 Salvadoran legislative election of a Constituent Assembly was an ARENA victory, gaining them 19 of 60 seats, and their allies 17 seats. D'Aubuisson's people were thus the majority, who then elected Álvaro Magaña as interim-president of El Salvador. D'Aubuisson became President of the Constituent Assembly. The JRG's government elapsed in May.
On 25 March 1984, D'Aubuisson campaigned for the Salvadoran presidency. On 2 May 1984, he lost the presidency to José Napoleón Duarte of the Christian Democratic Party, receiving 46.4 per cent to Duarte's 53.6 percent of the electorate. D'Aubuisson claimed fraud and U.S. interference on behalf of Duarte.
In 1992, D'Aubuisson died at 47 of esophageal cancer. He was never tried for any of his alleged crimes. In 1986, ex-US ambassador Robert White reported to the United States Congress that "there was sufficient evidence" to convict D'Aubuisson of planning and ordering Archbishop Romero's assassination, describing D'Aubuisson as a pathological killer, as early as his 1984 Salvadoran presidential run.
After the Salvadoran Civil War, the United Nations Commission on the Truth for El Salvador and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights confirmed that D'Aubuisson "gave the order to assassinate the Archbishop" to military officers who also tried to kill Judge Atilio Ramírez Amaya "to deter investigation of the case". Views of him amongst contemporary Salvadorans are mixed and often drawn across party lines; ARENA supporters revere him for his right-wing beliefs and steadfast opposition to Communism, while FMLN supporters vilify him for his alleged human rights atrocities and involvement in Archbishop Romero's assassination. On 20 January 2007, President Antonio Saca of the ARENA party celebrated the anniversary of D'Aubuisson's death, promising "to continue the ARENA party, based upon his ideologic legacy." Amid oppositional debate, ARENA tried to name D'Aubuisson a "meritorious son of El Salvador", a national honor, but failed against protesting Church leaders and human rights workers.
In April 2010, Alvaro Saravia, an ex-Captain who has admitted involvement in Romero's assassination, testified in an interview with the Salvadoran newspaper El Faro that D'Aubuisson had given the order to proceed with the killing of the Archbishop.
Death of son
In February 2007, D'Aubuisson's son Eduardo, along with two ARENA politicians and their driver, were killed in Guatemala. Investigating authorities believe they were connected to Colombian and Mexican drug cartels.
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