Roberto D'Aubuisson Arrieta (August 23, 1944 – February 20, 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" (light-skinned face), and was alleged to be a leader of anti-communist death squads that were alleged to have 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.
Death squads allegation
From 1978 to 1992, before and during the civil war, D'Aubuisson commanded what are alleged to be death squads. The most prominent single victim of the conflict was San Salvador's Archbishop Óscar Romero, an outspoken priest whose death has often been attributed to D’Aubuisson, though the case remains unsolved.
On May 7, 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 terrorist threats and institutional pressures, leading to D'Aubuisson's return from Guatemalan exile. Thereafter, he regularly denounced the JRG and specific enemies on television, and many have accused him of culpability in the subsequent deaths of some of those he publicly denounced.
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 September 30th, he founded ARENA (Nationalist Republican Alliance), a rightist political party. D'Aubuisson accumulated much political capital among Salvadorans for his anti-leftist stridency and for his reputation as an effective counter-insurgency strategist. He often accused the JRG of being a Marxist threat to El Salvador.
1982 legislative election
Despite alleged electoral fraud and political violence, the March 28, 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 ended in May.
On March 25, 1984, D'Aubuisson campaigned for the Salvadoran presidency. On May 2, 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.
After the Salvadoran Civil War, the United Nations Commission on the Truth for El Salvador and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights stated 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 probable involvement in Archbishop Romero's assassination. On January 20, 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 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. In April 2010, Alvaro Saravia, an ex-Captain who has admitted taking part in Romero's murder, 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. Investigators looking into the murders suggested that the murders may have been connected to drug trafficking groups. In March 2015, D’Aubuisson’s surviving son, Roberto D’Aubuisson, Jr., was elected mayor of Santa Tecla, a neighboring municipality of the capital San Salvador.
In popular culture
- Shawn Foster. "Window to honor slain church workers: window will stand in memory of assassinations," The Salt Lake Tribune (UT), 22 April 1995, Religion section, D1.
- Editorial. "No hero for El Salvador ...," The Salt Lake Tribune (UT), 24 February 1992, A10.
- Marianne Armshaw. "Trial of Salvadoran generals opens in Florida" National Catholic Reporter, 20 October 2000. Retrieved 20 August 2008.
- Wayne Partridge. "The School of the Americas: leadership or terrorist training?: jailed Ky. nun to be among protesters at annual rally Sunday", Lexington Herald-Leader (KY), 20 November 1999, 1A: "But the school can hardly be blamed for the misdeeds of its graduates, supporters say. D'Aubuisson, for example, attended only a six-week radio maintenance and repair course at the school."
- Rod Nordland. "How 2 rose to vie for El Salvador's presidency," Philadelphia Inquirer, 23 March 1984, A1.
- Loren Jenkins, "El Salvador," The Washington Post, 16 August 1981, Washington Post Magazine, p. 10.
- Timeline: El Salvador: A chronology of key events, BBC News, 15 February 2008. Retrieved 20 August 2008.
- Latin American election statistics: El Salvador elections and events, 1981-83, Social Sciences Humanities Library, University of California at San Diego. Retrieved 20 August 2008.
- An interview with Edward S. Herman: "Freedom is not on the march," International Socialist Review, 41, May–June 2005. Retrieved 20 August 2008.
- el_salvador/tc_es_03151993_casesD1_2.html "Chapter IV, Cases and patterns of violence: Part D., Death squad assassinations: Section 1, Illustrative case: Oscar Romero," From madness to hope: the 12-year war in El Salvador, Truth Commissions Digital Collection: Reports: El Salvador. Provided by United States Institute of Peace. Retrieved 20 August 2008.
- "El Salvador, 11.481a: Irregularities in the investigation," Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Retrieved 20 August 2008.
- Marc Lacey. "4 Salvadorans killed in way that evokes ’80s conflict," The New York Times, 21 February 2007. Retrieved 20 August 2008.
- Anne-Marie O'Connor. "Participant in 1980 assassination of Romero in El Salvador provides new details" Washington Post, 6 April 2010. 
- Rosenberg, Mica. "A murder spree in Central America," Time, 5 March 2007.
- Son of Death Squad Leader Elected to Salvadoran Municipality, Telesur, 4 March 2015.
- Salvador: Oliver Stone, lose the fast and loose approach The Guardian, 9 April 2009.
- "Report of the UN Truth Commission on El Salvador" (1993)
- Democracy Among the Ruins: Citizens struggle with a turbulent campaign (Mario Vargas Llosa's report on the 1984 presidential campaign), TIME, 26 March 1984 (retrieved 6 November 2006).
- Salvadoran Far-Right Leader Ill With Cancer, by Shirley Christian, The New York Times, 22 July 1991 (retrieved 6 November 2006).
- "US role in Salvador's brutal war", BBC World Service, 24 March 2002.