José Antonio Rodríguez-Porth
He was born on April 7, 1916, in San Salvador, El Salvador, the son of a local pharmacist and a German immigrant from Dresden. He attended the García Flamenco school, the first non-Catholic private school in his country, because his parents believed in secular education. He was educated from a young age in the ideals of democracy and rule of law. In a country where blonde hair is fairly rare, his blonde mane earned him the nickname “golden lion” from his law school peers.
He rose to prominence as a lawyer, defending victims of the dictatorship in the 1940’s, then as dean of the Law School of the National University, then in several positions in public service. His later years were spent as advisor to the National Private Enterprise Association and Executive Director of the Salvadorean Chamber of Commerce. The free enterprise model is contrary to totalitarian philosophies of the right and left, so his work became a struggle to open the economy to business and allow equal opportunity under the law. His preferred form of communication were articles in the op-ed pages of local newspapers, where he was fiercely critical of policies designed to suppress individual liberties and impose government controls over the economy.
El Salvador at the time was a “hot” front of the Cold War, and a Marxist guerilla movement, the FMLN, received support from Cuba to overthrow the U.S.-supported elected government. José Antonio Rodríguez-Porth became a prominent intellectual with a large following, a strong voice for democracy and free enterprise, and so was seen as a threat by the Communist Party leadership within the guerrilla forces.
After the presidential elections in March 1989, president-elect Alfredo Cristiani named José Antonio Rodríguez-Porth as his Minister of the Presidency, a position roughly equivalent to Chief of Staff. The new government took possession on June 1, 1989, with a mandate to end the war through peace negotiations. On June 9, 1989, José Antonio Rodríguez-Porth was attacked outside of his two-bedroom bungalow by an FMLN guerrilla commando using AK-47 assault rifles. He was killed together with two Ministry employees, Juan Clará Carranza, and Benjamín Pérez. All three were unarmed civilians who had never resorted to violence in their lives.
The Cristiani government followed through on the electoral mandate and negotiated peace accords that put an end to the 12-year civil war in 1992. The FMLN guerrillas formed a political party and participated in all the next electoral processes, winning the presidency through elections in 2009. The FMLN government now continues its persecution of political opponents, now threatening those who are critical of its policies with jail time on invented charges.
José Antonio Rodríguez-Porth’s son now enjoys freedom in Toronto with his family.