1977: U.S. backs military rulers of El Salvador.
70,000 Salvadorans and four American nuns killed.
In its 1980 report El
Salvador and Nicaragua, 1977-1980: United States Policy Toward Revolutionary
Change, the State Department outlined US involvement with El
During 1977 President Carter firmly committed the United
States to work toward a order that respected individual human
rights and responded to human aspirations. El Salvador and Nicaragua
posed situations that demonstrated the complexities involved in
implementing human-rights policy. El Salvador, the most densely
populated country in Central America, was a logical setting for
unrest. The highly imbalanced distribution of income, wealth and
land characterized the export-oriented economy. Nearly a third
of the work force was unemployed". During 1977, the United
States support for economic growth with social justice in El Salvador
and in Nicaragua became manifest in three main areas: economic
cooperation, dispute settlement, and human rights.
Of course, Carter's concern for human rights was
outweighed by the US government's concern over a leftist or "revolutionary"
leadership in El Salvador. US aid helped to prop up El Salvador's
ruling party. For years, El Salvador's "democratic" government
had been corrupt. In election after election, the ruling party "the
PCN" had controlled the results and declared themselves victors.
In 1972, the center-left opposition party "the UNO" was
announced as the winner in the presidential elections. The government
responded by blocking all news coverage, and, in two days, it was
announced that the PCN had, in fact, won. Following the elections
in 1977, which ended with the same result, protesters were shot
down by the hundreds and the UNO was banished, its leaders exiled
or killed, its followers targets for arrest, torture and death.
Faced with the Junta's proposed reforms in 1979, and ignoring continued
egregious human rights violations, the Carter administration gave
El Salvador $5.7 million in military assistance.
In 1980, El Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero wrote to President
Carter, pleading with Carter to stop all military assistance to
his country. He wrote that US aid "sharpen[s] injustice and
repression against the people's organizations." Weeks later,
while performing a mass, Romero was killed by the Salvadoran government.
Demonstrators protesting the killing were shot down by government
troops. Carter responded by cutting off aid to El Salvador, but
this lasted only a short time. Whatever he said about human rights,
Carter was running a government that was deeply involved in El Salvador.
Robert E. White, Carter's ambassador to El Salvador, writes:
"I was under specific instructions to do everything possible
to reduce human rights violations by the Salvadoran military. In
early 1980, right after the assassination of Archbishop Romero,
I instructed the station chief to provide intelligence on violent
right-wing leaders and their plans. I made this request in the full
knowledge that the CIA station had on its payroll agents intimately
linked to the death-squad violence. With the full backing of headquarters,
the station chief refused on the ground that the CIA's mission lay
The US government was perfectly aware of the death squads. They
feigned worry, and satisfied themselves that the El Salvadoran leaders
were denouncing the squads, though the squads continued their work.
this heavily edited CIA document.
Chomsky writes of one of the worst death squads, which once
killed six Jesuit priests:
The Jesuits were murdered by the Atlacatl Battalion, an elite
unit created, trained and equipped by the United States. It was
formed in March 1981, when fifteen specialists in counterinsurgency
were sent to El Salvador from the US Army School of Special Forces.
From the start, the Battalion was engaged in mass murder. A US
trainer described its soldiers as "particularly ferocious....We've
always had a hard time getting [them] to take prisoners instead
of ears." In December 1981, the Battalion took part in an
operation in which over a thousand civilians were killed in an
orgy of murder, rape and burning. Later it was involved in the
bombing of villages and murder of hundreds of civilians by shooting,
drowning and other methods. The vast majority of victims were
women, children and the elderly.
The United States continued to fund El Salvador's military even
after these murders, and the murders of four American church women,
and despite this
state department report urging against military funding and
report on government violence against citizens.
A UN truth commission report found that two-thirds of the El Salvadorans
convicted of atrocities were trained at the United
States' School of the Americas (due to bad press, it‚s
now the Western
Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation), based at Fort
Benning, in Georgia.
As Senator Craston reported in a 1989 hearing of a subcommittee
of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, "US taxpayers have
sent more than $3 billion to El Salvador since 1980. In the last
decade, 70,000 Salvadorans have died and little in the situation
has imporved." All this in a concerted effort to deny the voices
of the people of El Salvador.
Between 1980 and 1991, the Republic of El Salvador in Central America
was engulfed in a war which plunged Salvadorian society into violence,
left it with thousands and thousands of people dead and exposed
it to appalling crimes, until the day - 16 January 1992 - when the
parties, reconciled, signed the Peace Agreement in the Castle of
Chapultepec, Mexico, and brought back the light and the chance to
re-emerge from madness to hope. Read the Commission on Truth for
El Salvador's report:
From Madness to Hope: The 12 year war in El Salvador.
Read a declassified State
Department document outlining responses to Panama's call in
1986 for the US to cease funding and aiding the Salvadoran government.
From the National Security Archives:
El Salvador: The Making of US. Policy,
1977-1984 reproduces on microfiche over 27,000 pages of rarely-seen
government documents. You can order
El Salvador: War, Peace, and Human Rights,
1980-1994 contains 1,384 United States intelligence, defense,
and diplomatic records representing 6,614 pages of formerly secret
documentation produced by the highest levels of the U.S. government.
You can order
Read more from William
Blum, or get his book, Killing
Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions since WWII (or through