The repression was particularly acute in El Salvador. During the 1970s Father Rotilio Grande organized peasants in Aquilares and trained campesinos as Delegates of the Word, leaders of liturgical services.
The emphasis among these leaders was one of serve and collective leadership. At the same time, popular organizations were organizing throughout El Salvador. In 1977 the conflict came to a head. Security forces murdered Father Rotilio Grande and arrested, tortured, and expelled priests. A right-wing terrorist organization threatened to kill every Jesuit in the country. That was also the year that Oscar Romero was named archbishop of El Salvador.
The sealing of elections was common in El Salvador, so the vast majority of people had no hope in an electoral system filled with fraud. The popular organizations and then the guerrilla groups were the only hope most of the people had for fundamental change in El Salvador. The popular organizations were composed of peasants, workers, teachers, and students who were engaging in nonviolent actions to bring about change. These actions included demonstrations, land occupations, and strikes. The government responded with greater and greater violence and repression.
In 1980 the repression reached another height when Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated while saying mass and four North American church women were raped and murdered on their way from the airport. In all, ten thousand civilians were murdered that year, the vast majority by right-wing death squads and government security forces.
Since then, seventy thousand civilians have been killed in El Salvador, most at the hand of their own government—a government which has received over four billion dollars in U.S. military and economic aid during those years. The year 1980 also saw the escalation of the guerrilla movement, fueled by the government’s killing of opposition leaders and students demonstrating in the streets.