San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Mitt Romney’s Salvadoran links questioned

From the print edition

With presidential elections in the United States less than three months away, questions have emerged over Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s past business dealings with investors from El Salvador who were connected to right-wing death squads in the 1980s and early ’90s. 

An Aug. 8 story by Huffington Post reporters Ryan Grim and Cole Stangler, which added to previous reports by the Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, Salt Lake Tribune and, described how in 1983, Bain Capital founder Bill Bain asked Romney to find investors for the private equity firm. On the advice of Bain executive Harry Strachan, Romney turned to “a group of Central American oligarchs who were looking for new investment vehicles as turmoil engulfed their region,” the Huffington Post reported.

In 1984, Romney met with Salvadoran investors in Miami and secured $9 million, or 40 percent, of Bain’s initial investments, Grim and Stangler said, citing the Los Angeles Times. 

Investors included the de Sola and Salaverría families, who, together with the Dueñas and Poma families, at the time were financing “either directly or through political parties, death squads in El Salvador.” 

Like other countries in the region, from 1979-1992, El Salvador was engulfed in a brutal civil war between the left-wing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front and the military government, backed by wealthy Salvadoran families and the U.S. government. An estimated 75,000 people were killed or disappeared during the conflict. According to a United Nations truth commission, 85 percent of deaths and disappearances were attributed to right-wing factions, HuffPost noted.

One of the most public assassinations perpetrated by a right-wing Salvadoran group was the March 24, 1980 murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero, a hit orchestrated by death-squad leader Roberto D’Aubuisson, founder of the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), a right-wing political party that helped organize the paramilitary death squads. 

One of the Salvadoran families who invested in Bain – the Salaverrías – had significant ties to ARENA, which D’Aubuisson founded in 1981.

“The Salaverría family were very well-known as backers of D’Aubuisson,” former U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador Robert White told HuffPost. Alfonso Salaverría was linked to death-squad backer Orlando de Sola, and both supported D’Aubuisson, the report noted. The de Solas, wealthy coffee barons, also supported ARENA.

According to HuffPost, citing the Los Angeles Times and Boston Globe, Francisco de Sola and his cousin, Herbert Arturo de Sola, were early Bain investors, and two other de Sola family members were “limited partners.”

The report said the Romney campaign acknowledged Orlando de Sola’s link to death squads, but said he was not a Bain Capital investor, although his family was.

Romney’s campaign maintains that Bain conducted due diligence at the time on its Salvadoran investors, finding “no unsavory links to drugs or other criminal activity,” a 1999 Salt Lake Tribune story noted.

“Nobody with a basic understanding of the region’s history could believe that assertion,” Grim and Stangler wrote.

HuffPost also reported that in 1990, Bain investor Francisco de Sola – along with Orlando de Sola and D’Aubuisson – was accused of killing two left-wing activists in Guatemala, according to Guatemalan intelligence sources. While the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which looked into the killings, concluded that right-wing Salvadorans were likely responsible for carrying out the assassinations, it was unable to prove the involvement of the de Solas and D’Aubuisson.

However, noted Grim and Stangler, the fact that Guatemalan intelligence sources would suspect the trio is enough to demonstrate that links existed between families involved in investing in Bain and right-wing Salvadorans involved in funding death squads and committing human rights violations.

Some supporters of ARENA operated from the U.S. city of Miami. In 2007, Romney traveled to Miami and personally thanked Ricardo Poma, head of the Poma Group and a member of the Bain Capital investment committee, HuffPost reported. The Poma family also had funded ARENA.

Romney also thanked Miguel Dueñas, who belongs to the powerful Regalado-Dueñas family, one of ARENA’s leading supporters. According to a CIA document cited by HuffPost, Arturo Dueñas provided information used to compile hit lists for the death squads. 

“This money, certainly there wasn’t much concern where it came from and what these people had done to make that money,” University of Michigan professor and author Jeffrey Paige told HuffPost. 

“To now learn that a man that may become president of the U.S. deserves some of his success due to the incredible inequality that the U.S. helped to preserve in El Salvador is ironic,” added Arturo J. Viscarra, an immigration lawyer whose family fled El Salvador to the U.S. after receiving death threats in 1980. 

Grim and Stangler noted that Romney has not shown public remorse over his early Bain business dealings: “When he [Romney] returned to Miami in 2007, he condemned those who had financed torture and other human rights abuses during the Salvadoran civil war – just not those he was connected to.”

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