Good Government—Will It Ever Be Realized?
Did you ever hear someone say about the conditions in his country: “If my group were in power, we could improve things”? Have you ever known anyone who overthrew a government and became a ruler in his country? The following is the account related by a man who did these things. But, as you will see, he learned that bringing about good government is not that easy.
IT WAS October 25, 1960. The Central American country of El Salvador was about to receive a new government. Our revolt began at 10 p.m.
A military force surrounded the private residence of President José María Lemus and told him that we had taken power. He reached for a phone, but found it was dead—our people had taken control of the national communications center.
A few miles away in my office at El Zapote fort, across from the casa presidencial (official presidential residence), I quickly advised the officers under my command of our actions. Then, from the communications room, I hurriedly called the commander of each military unit in the country. I explained who had already sided with us, and asked: “Do you agree?” Only one important colonel opposed us. I reminded him that we could destroy him. So he had no choice but to accept what we were doing.
At the time, I was second in command at El Zapote fort. My commander, who also did not favor the take-over, returned at midnight. But one of my men, guarding the entrance, advised him to go home. Wisely he did so, and he did not come back.
At 6 a.m. all the commanders and the members of our new government assembled in my headquarters at the fort. Our coup d’état had succeeded, without any blood’s being shed. Cannons were fired in celebration, and the radio let the people know that a new six-man government—which we called “La Junta”—had taken charge. It was an exciting time!
WHY WE OVERTHREW THE GOVERNMENT
El Salvador is the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America. A newspaper at the time also called it the “most industrialized and most prosperous of the Central American republics.” We believed that it needed a radical change, a better government, and others agreed. Shortly after our take-over the New York Times of November 5, 1960, observed:
“Even those who fear what may follow the overthrow of President Lemus agree that his regime had become increasingly authoritarian and brutal, and had earned the hatred of moderates as well as liberals.”
In keeping with such sentiments, the statement that we issued said that Lemus had “governed outside the law, trampled on the Constitution and the rights of citizens, committed illegal acts and created a climate of general discontent.”
Under his rule student demonstrators had been shot in the streets. Others had been tortured. The newspapers reported that women were raped in prison. Weapons from my regiment had been used as false evidence in the arrest of a man accused of having too many weapons. Lemus had declared the country to be under a state of siege, a modified form of martial law.
I felt that military action could solve these problems and would bring better conditions. You may understand better why I felt this way if you know something about my background.
I was born in 1925, the third of seven children in a farming family in Paraíso de Osorio, El Salvador. When I was 15 I began four and a half years’ training in Escuela Militar, our country’s military academy, graduating in July 1945. I learned the strong discipline—obeying and commanding—traditional in Latin-American armed forces.
At age 19 I became an officer, at 21, first lieutenant, at 25, captain. I went to Mexico and studied for three years in that country’s general staff school Escuela Superior de Guerra. There I learned how to organize and direct military training.
On my return to El Salvador, I was told: “We need an infantry school.” So, with authorization to set one up, I helped to establish the Escuela de Armas, El Salvador’s infantry school, in 1954. Later, in 1958, I set up the Escuela de Artillería, El Salvador’s artillery school.
Also, I was an observer to the United States’ 504th Field Artillery Battalion in the Panama Canal Zone. As military aide to the El Salvadorian minister of defense, I traveled to Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Panama.
As you can see, I had a successful military career, with many achievements. So, at the time, it was only natural for me to think that military change could bring a better government to our land.
OUR NEW GOVERNMENT
I had been contacted by friends—political leaders who wanted to overthrow the Lemus government. As for myself, I was not a politician, but the prospect of political power was appealing to me. I had high ideals and felt that I was honest enough to help to change a situation that needed changing. In agreeing to become part of the new government, it was on the condition that I be given complete control of planning and executing the military part of the overthrow.
Our government would be made up of six persons: three civilians, two colonels and myself. I was a captain-major, a rank below colonel, but my position at El Zapote fort put me in a strategic spot. For eight months we worked on the details. Then on the night of October 25, 1960, everything went into action.
It was our publicly announced intention to recognize all political parties, follow a democratic program, remain in the Western bloc of nations and hold power only until the next presidential elections were held. We really felt that we could be instrumental in changing conditions in El Salvador for the better.
However, things did not go as we planned. Shortly after we came to power, the archbishop called me. He said that he wanted to talk to the Junta in private, and that the discussion should be kept secret.
The archbishop told us, in effect: ‘You are a new government and I am in position to support this government from the pulpit. In return, you can support us.’
We knew what he was talking about. From the records available to us, we knew that Catholic religious institutions had been receiving financial support from the previous government. The archbishop obviously was interested in seeing a continuation of such considerations to the Church by our new government.
I was a Catholic, but I could see that such preferential treatment was not proper; it was not constitutional. The other members of the Junta agreed. So the six of us refused to provide the Church financial support. The archbishop was visibly upset and suggested that we would regret our decision.
Shortly, a campaign started from church pulpits. The priests asserted that our government was pro-Castro and pro-Communist. We had tapes made of these talks, so we knew the charges being made. But we felt it might do more harm than good to suppress this campaign, since the Church carried much weight with many.
WHAT ABOUT THE CHARGES?
An adverse effect on our government was soon felt. There came to be suspicion about our political orientation. The United States was concerned and withheld recognition of us. But what were the facts?
In time the Church-sponsored charges were seen to be unfounded, and the United States extended us recognition. The New York Times of December 1, 1960, said:
“The tendency to see communism and the new appeal of ‘Fidelismo’ in every drive for political and social change in Latin America is a dangerous one. . . .
“The three civilian members of the junta, despite loose accusations of ‘Fidelismo,’ are liberals and democrats. . . . All six men have pledged themselves to a democratic program and they deserve every chance to prove their goodwill.”
Despite the vindication, great harm to our credibility had been done by the Church-sponsored vilification campaign. But there were also other forces working to undermine our new government.
OUR HOPES DASHED
The army was not pleased with us. It had been our intention to take the army out of the political situation, but the army did not want to lose its special privileges. Another group that had been planning a coup while we were preparing ours offered to let the army keep its privileges, and thus got the officers on their side.
Evidently they talked to the commanders of the different military posts, just as I had done. On January 25, 1961, an aide came to my house to tell me that the communications had been seized. At once I went to the casa presidencial. My men said: “We support you—we will die for you.”
Obviously, though, none of us really wanted to die. Though the area was surrounded, I crossed the street to El Zapote fort, where the officer opened to me. I started organizing the defense. My orders were obeyed, and I felt strong enough to stand against the new coup.
A colonel, a friend of mine, was sent to advise me that the situation was very serious. He said: “If you surrender there will be peace. Otherwise there will be a battle here.” Under his guarantee of peace, I surrendered.
I was taken to the new group’s headquarters, and that was the end of the Junta. Its other members already had been captured. I could hear shouting and machine guns in the street. The newspapers said that many were killed. One young man is reported to have used his own blood to write on the street: “Libertad se escribe con sangre,” which means: “Liberty is written with blood.”
Three days later I was in exile. I stayed in Mexico till December, then I returned secretly to El Salvador. Once there I made my presence known and began working toward establishing a new government. The following September I was told to leave the country or I would be killed. In face of that threat, I came to the United States, arriving October 7, 1962.
CHALLENGE OF A NEW LIFE
We settled in Los Angeles, California. At age 37, I had to start all over. Customs were much different, and I didn’t speak the language. I had practically nothing in a material way. There was just my family: my wife Maria and our four children, Ruben 13, Miriam 11, Jorge 9 and Gustavo 7.
On November 2, 1962, within a month after arriving in Los Angeles, I got a job with the Bekins moving company as a driver’s helper. I still carried hate in my heart and a tremendous desire for vengeance against those who overthrew our government. But I recognized and accepted my immediate responsibility to support my family. So I worked hard and lived peaceably.
As a result, I became closer to my family than at any time before. So I could see that, in a way, the sudden change of circumstances was a blessing in disguise. Then things happened to change my thinking, and eventually my very personality. My hatred and desire for vengeance began to drain away. In its spring 1972 issue, an article in the moving company’s paper, Bekinews, entitled “The Warehouseman Who Ruled A Nation,” noted about me:
“He learned both English and warehousing fast and well. In 1969, he was promoted to Warehouse Foreman at the Beverly Hills/Santa Monica district’s facility on Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica. . . .
“‘Ruben,’ says District Manager Tom Fowler, ‘has displayed a combination of efficiency, courtesy and good humor that has made for excellent customer relations. It seems that everyone who deals with him likes him and our nominating him for Warehouseman of the Year attests to his excellent operating record.”
Just a few years before nobody could have said such pleasant things about me. I had been arrogant, as well as immoral. As a military commander, I had the prestige and power that provided me opportunity to realize many immoral relationships. Earlier experiences had contributed to such a way of life, even as the radical change in my personality has resulted from altogether different experiences in life.
I had been a Catholic, as were most people in El Salvador, but that didn’t stop me from having a number of women besides my legal wife. This is common among men in Latin America. The priests themselves commonly set the example. I know that a priest in Cojutepeque, where I used to live, had a woman. It was public knowledge. He even had sons by her. ‘So why should we be any different from the priests?’ is the way I excused my conduct.
But it wasn’t just the priests’ sexual immorality. It was their unethical conduct—the archbishop’s trying to make that shady “deal” with our new government was one example. Also, I learned that the archbishop had a diplomatic passport—a privilege to which he had no right. So, when we had the authority we took the passport away from him. I must say that from what I saw going on, I had little respect for religion.
Actually, I knew nothing about the Bible. I had never read one. I hadn’t even owned a Bible. The Catholic Church never encouraged this in El Salvador. I had studied the Catechism and had received first Communion. And my mother had taught me some Church doctrines, such as the infallibility of the pope, purgatory, hellfire, Trinity, and so forth. But none of these teachings encouraged me to want to learn more about God. So you can see why, after our moving to the United States, religion wasn’t much a part of our family’s life.
MY SON INFLUENCES ME
It was quite a surprise one day when Ruben, who was about 17 years old at the time, asked: “Father, would you mind if I study the Bible?” A schoolmate of his was studying with one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and he had talked to Ruben. I had no real objection. So Ruben soon became very interested in the Bible, and started going to the meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In time he wanted to be a Witness.
This didn’t please me at all. I wanted Ruben to go to college and “make something” of himself. But he wanted to use his time in sharing his newfound beliefs with others. He stood firm in his convictions, and I began to oppose him strongly. However, the Witnesses advised him to obey me as his father, and he did. Yet he continued to spend a great deal of time preaching.
Ruben’s conduct began to impress me, and made me curious about his new religion. One incident stands out in my mind. I told Ruben that if a particular friend of mine called on the phone he was to tell him I wasn’t home. I was surprised, and I must add impressed, when he said that his conscience wouldn’t permit him to lie. Ruben would bring friends home, and eventually I accepted the invitation of one of them to study the Bible.
THE BIBLE MAKES SENSE
What impressed me was the reasonableness of what the Bible teaches. Many Church teachings, such as purgatory, hellfire and Trinity, never did make much sense to me. But now I began to see that these things were not even taught in the Bible. I found our studies extremely interesting, particularly when it came to discussing practical matters that involve government and the administering of affairs on earth.
With my background, I recognized the need for an honest government with the power to enforce righteous laws. It was our hope to provide such a government for the people of El Salvador. But now it became clear to me that men simply are not equipped to govern fellow humans independent of God’s help. Yes, the Bible is true when it says: “It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step.”—Jer. 10:23.
Isn’t it a fact that all human efforts, regardless of how well meaning, have never been able to bring justice and peace? For thousands of years men have tried; they have set up many kinds of governments. But one man’s good intentions are overcome by another faction with different ideas, and injustice remains. As the Bible says: “Man has dominated man to his injury.” (Eccl. 8:9) But why is this so?’
A primary cause is human imperfection. Humans not only get sick and grow old but are inclined toward pride and selfishness, real obstacles to good government. From a study of the Bible the reason for this basic defect of humans became clear to me. It is because the first man and woman rebelled against God’s rule, and so lost their precious relationship with God. This resulted in imperfection and eventually death, not only for themselves, but for all their yet-to-be-born offspring as well. (Rom. 5:12) But I began to appreciate another reason why man’s efforts at self-government have failed.
The first human pair were enticed to rebel against God’s rulership by another rebel. It was a spirit son of God. To settle issues raised by the rebellion, God allowed this angelic opposer a free hand for a period of time. So complete was his freedom to act that the Bible calls this one “the ruler of this world,” and the Bible also states that “the whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.” (John 12:31; 14:30; 2 Cor. 4:4; 1 John 5:19) With that superhuman influence, it became clear to me why even well-meaning men have been helpless to bring about good government. What hope is there then?
This is where the Bible really began to make sense. From childhood I had learned the “Our Father,” in which Jesus taught his followers to pray: “Let your kingdom come. Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth.” (Matt. 6:10) As we studied, I could see that God’s kingdom was the theme of Christ’s preaching, yes, and the very theme of the Bible itself! It became obvious to me that this kingdom is a government, with Christ himself the principal ruler. In time I became convinced that God’s kingdom is the only hope of realizing good government on earth. But how will this government take control?
The vast majority of humankind have no genuine interest in God’s government. They have been so blinded that they even oppose it. Thus the Bible says: “The God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be brought to ruin. . . . It will crush and put an end to all these [human] kingdoms, and it itself will stand to times indefinite.”—Dan. 2:44.
That may sound farfetched to you; it did to me when I first heard about it. I couldn’t believe that God would really bring an end to all earthly governments and set up his own government. But the more I studied, the more sense this Bible teaching made. Then something convinced me of its truthfulness.
A SURE PROSPECT
I had been studying with Veron Long for about a year when I finally accepted his invitation to attend a meeting at the Kingdom Hall. I was impressed by the friendly welcome. The freedom from discrimination was amazing. I was moved to attend regularly.
Why were these people so united, happy and peaceful? It took a while, but I became convinced of the answer: They were conforming their lives to God’s laws, the laws that will govern those who live under God’s kingdom. So, when the Kingdom destroys all present-day human governments, these are the people Jehovah God will preserve to start a new earthly society.—1 John 2:17.
I wanted to be part of this united family of Christians. So in August 1969 I symbolized by water baptism my dedication to serve God. I have had the joy of seeing my entire family, as well as some relatives in El Salvador, join me in serving our loving Creator, Jehovah. How happy I am to have learned that soon the whole earth will enjoy good government, under the rule of God’s kingdom!—Contributed by Ruben Rosales.
[Blurb on page 9]
“I could hear shouting and machine guns in the street”
[Blurb on page 11]
The Bible says: “It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step”
[Picture of Ruben Rosales on page 5]
[Picture on page 7]
“La Junta”—the six men who made up our government
[Picture on page 8]
The archbishop in private meeting with members of our government