Issue Date: September 23, 1994
A look at declassified State Department
Some of what U.S. government knew -- and when it new it
For several weeks this year, NCR editor-at-large Arthur Jones
looked through the 12,000 El Salvador cables, dating from 1980 through 1991,
released by the U.S. State Department on orders from the Clinton
administration. A selection of cables from the departments El Salvador
files is offered below. NCR asked four people intimately involved with
El Salvador issues in that era to comment on the cables significance and
the overriding issues of U.S. involvement in El Salvador. Margaret Swedish is
cofounder of the Religious Task Force on Central America, which began life as
the Religious Task Force on El Salvador. Robert White was U.S. ambassador to El
Salvador at the time of Archbishop Oscar Romeros assassination and the
murders of the four U.S. churchwomen. Cynthia Arnson has long handled El
Salvador issues for Human Rights Watch, where she is acting director, Latin
America. Fr. William Callahan of the Quixote Center has been involved in
Central American issues since the 1970s.
By ARTHUR JONES
WASHINGTON -- It was November 1987. El
Salvadors assassinated Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero had been dead
seven years. In Miami, U.S. marshals were keeping Alvaro Saravia under
surveillance. Saravia was a self-proclaimed key witness in the Romero slaying
who had fled El Salvador and was in the United States illegally.
Saravia was prepared to finger, in the U.S. State Departments
words, ultrarightist Salvadoran politician Roberto DAubuisson. ...
Saravia has already told us he was present when DAubuisson ordered the
1980 Romero assassination. Saravia wants to trade information about
DAubuissons involvement in political violence for resident status.
... While unsurprising, Saravias story is convincing. We believe Saravia
knows more about the Romero case and may have additional information about
DAubuissons involvement in death squads and kidnapping for
While the penniless Saravia tossed pizzas in a Miami parlor, telegrams
marked CONFIDENTIAL that could determine his fate chattered back
and forth between the State Department on C Street NW in Washington and the
U.S. Embassy in central San Salvador and memorandums classified
SECRET/NODIS (no distribution) circulated around the State
Departments top floors.
Cables, telegrams, memorandums and reports are how the State Department
and most other governmental agencies conduct their business. And in November
1993, the department released 12,000 of them concerned with U.S. activities in
El Salvador in 1980-91.
It took a U.N. Truth Commission Report on El Salvador in 1993 to shame
the United States into making its documents public. Even then, the U.S.
document release was accompanied with some fanfare and not a little deceptive
self-congratulations. They were issued in keeping with the
presidents and the secretarys interest in providing the public with
a full accounting of U.S. government involvement in El Salvador.
These documents, more than 35,000 pages -- on the case of the four slain
churchwomen alone there are 31 volumes, or about 11,000 pages -- in no way
provide a full accounting of the U.S. governments
involvements in El Salvador.
President Clinton had acted in response to a March 26 letter from the
chairmen of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign
Affairs Committee and 15 other members of Congress, by directing the State and
Defense departments and the CIA -- in coordination with the National Security
Council -- to declassify documents related to El Salvador human rights
Yet there are no White House or Justice Department or FBI or NSC
documents here, all of which are vital pieces in the same El Salvador jigsaw
puzzle. Even these documents are incomplete: Ten percent are edited versions
and a further 6 percent (roughly 600 documents, or three volumes of vital
information) were withheld because they are properly classified under
Executive Order 12356 in the interest of national defense or foreign relations
and, as such, exempt from release, (or) exempt under other provisions of the
Freedom of Information Act. Obviously, much has been withheld.
Some documents are basic housekeeping: Carothers would like
reservations at the Sheraton Hotel. Please meet him at arrival. Other
telegrams illustrate what goes on behind the scenes: cables from the U.S.
Embassy in San Salvador being routed to Rome for delivery to the Vatican. CIA
documents reveal that the United States knew that Salvadors defense
minister, Col. Rene Emilio Ponce, was directly implicated in the deaths
of the six Jesuits and their two housekeepers, but the United States thought
Ponce was worth protecting in the hope he could reform the armed forces.
What impresses me now, when I look at some of these cables,
said Marge Swedish of the Religious Task Force on Central America, is
realizing what a box the U.S. put itself in by deciding to support the
Salvadoran army no matter what.
The thing that kept coming through was that (the administrations)
knew everything that was going on and simply made the choice it was better to
work with this army, even when it was clear, as in the case of Ponce, they were
not going to be able to reform these people. Strategic reasons for defeating
the (Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front) were more important than human
Said Cynthia Arnson of Human Rights Watch, Weve known for a
long time that the (Reagan) administration suppressed the information it had
about human rights abuses by the Salvadoran government. What has only now
become evident is the depth and breadth of the lie. And you have to remember
what these documents are: The congressional request said, Release
documents relevant to the 32 cases investigated by the Truth
The information that has come out was limited by the way Congress
formulated the original request. They didnt say, Release documents
relevant to all aspects of U.S. policymaking in El Salvador.
Former ambassador to El Salvador Robert White said of the
documents release, This was something the State Department
reluctantly, dragging its feet, kicking and screaming, got pushed into by
(Congressman) Joe Moakley.
White also drew a distinction between the generally bland State
Department cables and some of the revealing CIA cables: The State
Department (and) many offices write cables with the idea that theyll
become public. The CIA really hasnt learned the technique yet.
To Fr. William Callahan of the Quixote Center, the release of documents
has a deceptive pattern to it. Those that have been made public are designed
to show that the U.S. government had some knowledge of what was going on,
but consistent with no firm evidence, no hard knowledge, so that no one could
be blamed for failing to take action.
I think lurking behind the entire story is a huge amount of
deception, he said. It is clear that from the earliest days the
U.S. government knew exactly what was going on, especially through the Reagan
era, and didnt care what it was as long as their policy objectives were
They didnt care how many tens of thousands of people were
killed, slandered and persecuted in their determination to keep the ruling
elite intact and their allies in power -- in their determination that the
so-called leftist element not only would not share power, but
certainly not triumph in the Americas.
Its clear that human rights, even for (President) Carter,
wasnt in any way a U.S. government priority that was allowed to come into
conflict with what were considered to be strategic interests.
Basically, each of these declassified documents -- including pages of
nongovernmental reports, letters from people protesting U.S. policy in Central
America and El Salvador, congressional testimony, even a photocopy of an NCR
story dated April 22, 1983 -- contains a little bit of truth. But the sum total
of the documents is not the whole truth. All the truth will never be told. Much
of it was never committed to paper. Absent are accounts of the meetings and
telephone calls -- minutes were taken for some of them -- involving presidents
and secretaries of state, such as Jimmy Carter and Cyrus Vance; Ronald Reagan
and Alexander Haig; George Bush and James Baker.
Many of these cables show again the extent to which State Department
work involves finding the rights words to appease, to evade, to
deflect. Whether preparing talking points for traveling cabinet
members or anticipating questions in the daily briefings (If asked,
dont offer), the word control is at once impressive and laughable.
Not among these documents are details of positions argued when people such as
Elliott Abrams or Jeane Kirkpatrick sat down with other Reagan appointees to
conspire. There is nothing on the religious rights role, which was
significant, except for a mention of Jerry Falwells Old Time Gospel
Hour turning up with a camera crew in San Vicente province, where
Reagans pacification program was under way.
There is nothing vital or telling here about Vatican documents and
actions that, for the same period, would be extremely enlightening. What does
exist is innocuous, such as Cable R 012101Z APR 86, which was labeled:
FM:AMEMBASSY SAN SALV
TO SECSTATE WASH DC -- USIA FOR AR/CENTAM ROME
FOR VATICAN INFO
In separate conversations with Poloff [political officer],
Papal Nuncio to El Salvador Archbishop Francesco de Nittis said he would not be
surprised if Romero were canonized a saint, and Mons. Ricardo Urioste said he
truly believes that Romero was a saint.
CORR -- CONFIDENTIAL
If the Reagan-era ideological mindset were removed from the U.S. actions
that generated these telegrams, this would be merely a story about cable
traffic between the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador and the State Department in
Washington. Placed in the context of the times, as reflected in National
Catholic Reporter files, the cables provide a glimpse of how the U.S.
government wanted its war fought.
In a March 1983 cable (0 311822Z MAR 83), Deane Hinton, ambassador to El
Salvador at the time, reports on a meeting with Jesuit Fr. Ellacuría
(the cable is run at length later in this article), in which Ellacuría
described the situation with some accuracy:
President Reagans new policy relies on a failed scheme. The policy
emerges from two assumptions: (1) that a Marxist regime is so unacceptable that
anything, including war and repression, would be preferable and (2) that the
negotiated presence of the FMLN in a power-sharing or representation scheme
will inevitably usher in a Marxist regime.
Not at any point in these cables is the State Department about to
entertain the idea, let alone concede it, that Romero and those around him --
or the human rights organizations or the religious groups and church workers --
actually were reading the situation pretty accurately. Certainly, those risking
their lives to bring some sense to the El Salvador situation stated the case as
they saw it. The San Salvador archdiocese human rights unit, Tutela Legal, at
one point may have overestimated deaths. But Romero did not overstate the case
in his appeal to Carter, and this account will begin with Carter. In the final
analysis, as in the beginning when the U.S. religious community first
challenged Carter, the protesters were correct.
They were correct about what was happening in El Salvador, about what
would continue to happen because of the intent of U.S. financial aid. The U.S.
government was co-responsible -- the Salvadoran government was doing the
killing; the U.S. was the paymaster. Again, Ellacur¡a was pointed in this
when he told Hinton that the two protagonists in El Salvador were, in fact, the
U.S. government and the FMLN.
In looking at the cable traffic, it is important to remember that an
embassy does not give orders, it takes orders. Equally, a U.S. secretary of
state also takes orders -- from the president.
Embassies tell the State Department what they see occurring in a nation
and bolster that with items from many sources. Here is such an item, in which
the late Roberto DAubuisson, who since has been intimately linked with El
Salvadors death squads, blames the United States for Romeros
0 082300Z MAY 80
FM: AMEMBASSY SAN SALV
TO SECSTATE WASH DC
DRAFT MANIFESTO DAUBUISSON
We have been supplied with a copy of draft
manifesto captured at the time of Major DAubuissons arrest,
evidently to be released to the public at opening of the right-wing coup
scheduled to begin May 1.
QUOTE: In our country the influence of the
Tri-Lateral Commission began with the coup of Oct. 15, 1979, which was promoted
by Carter and Cyrus Vance (head of the Department of State and creature of the
Tri-Lateral Commission). They installed a revolutionary governing junta (JRG)
in our country with the participation of the Christian Democrats, international
socialists, multinational corporations, communists and military officers. This
shrimp salad, together with its cabinet of guerrilla fighters, was never able
to reach any agreement, and the first JRG resigned.
QUOTE: Wednesday, Jan.
9, 1980, a second governing junta was formed. The military and the communists
remained in the government, and the Tri-Lateral Commission retained its power
and believed that by putting Christian Democrats in the second JRG they might
be able to gain popular support. When this proved false, the Tri-Lateral
Commission was on the verge of losing its control of El Salvador. It provoked
the resignation of Dada Hirezi and replaced him with Napoleon Duarte, whom they
regarded as the Imam of the masses. They also decided it was necessary to send
a loyal spy to the country and thus on Tuesday, 11th of March 1980, Robert
White, a left-wing socialist, arrived in the country [as U.S. ambassador].
On the 24th March 1980, only 13 days after Robert Whites arrival,
Cuban communists were hired to assassinate Msgr. Oscar Arnulfo Romero. The JRG
was left tottering. The first week of April, White left for Washington where he
argued that the survival in power of the Tri-Lateral Commission necessitated a
government with enough popular support to avert a civil war. He calls civil war
an invasion of mercenary communists operating from a base in the territory of
our Nicaraguan brothers. Robert White returned 6th April and only 12 days
afterwards the Frente Democratico Revolucionario, Social Democratic Coalition,
was formed as a last alternative for installing a communist regime in the
The Revolutionary Democratic Front is nothing but the conversation
carried on among Robert White, Col. Arnoldo Majano, Juan Chacon and Pichinte.
The FDR merged with the Coordinadora Revolucionaria de Masas (CRM), the new
alternative which is being prepared for El Salvador. The campaign of
destabilization against the second JRG was planned by Robert White, who used
the CRM to secure the resignations of various ministers ... in order to put the
FDR and the CRM in power.
The plan is to turn Central America into a Cuban
paradise. Salvadoran Military Officers: These are to be your new rulers. The
people are depending on your intelligence and on the integrity of the Armed
Forces. We know how small communist penetration has been in your ranks. The
people and the Armed Forces will stop the communist advance. Long live the
Armed Forces. Long live Liberty. Death to communism.
END QUOTE -- WHITE --
The coup failed; DAubuisson was arrested but later released
without charges. The Reagan administration found in DAubuissons
views ideas that were already the basis for its own El Salvador policy: Build
democracy by defeating the FMLN at whatever cost. DAubuisson of the
diatribe was a natural ally for the right wing in the United States and a
special favorite of conservative Republican Sen. Jesse Helms of North
Later, when the Reagan-Bush administrations wanted the Christian
Democrats in power, Helms would become an irritant to the White House for
promoting instead DAubuisson and the Nationalist Republican Alliance,
known as ARENA.
The Reagan administration seemingly wanted communist plots near home,
anywhere south of Harlingen, Texas -- in Nicaragua and El Salvador and
Communist plots, socialism, Marxism and revolution were the foundation
of the eras right-wing and reactionary politics. El Salvador was made to
pay a bigger price -- at least 70,000 dead -- during the 1980s, when the United
States and Soviet Union were playing out their final Cold War battles, than
either superpower was prepared to pay.
Also made to pay a price, in lives, in ridicule, in harassment, were
those North Americans who understood what it was most Salvadorans were trying
to accomplish: basic human rights and a decent, democratic way of life. In one
32-day period, from Dec. 2, 1980, to Jan. 3, 1981, seven U.S. citizens were
murdered in El Salvador. All were shot to death.
Yet from the beginning, the Reagan administration attacked those
Americans. It set the FBI to spy on them and, throughout the 1980s, not only
discounted what they said but labored to disprove it by any means possible. The
administrations conclusions in El Salvador are thoroughly
flawed, wrote Human Rights Watchs Holly Burkhalter in 1984.
Some U.S. journalists were as unpopular as the U.S. activists. The New
York Times recalled Ray Bonner, who was loathed by the U.S. Embassy in
San Salvador, according to State Department files. When Bonners
successor, Lydia Chavez, turned on the heat after a slow start, her life was
Laurie Becklund of the Los Angeles Times was another rarity: a
mainstream U.S. journalist digging at the unpalatable facts it would take the
Truth Commission to ram into the American psyche. On the margins, many brave
U.S print and electronic media journalists regularly circulated some of the
There is in the cables the occasional cutting remark about a Salvadoran
government official; or a lighthearted handwritten comment about a new
development; or the occasional insight into a cable writers views -- but
not much else. Any embassys job is to gather information about the
country it is in and relay that information to the secretary of state and his
subordinates for policy interpretation and decisions. In cable traffic, there
is room to summarize, comment and recommend. And, occasionally, to complain.
Here is Hinton taking a jab at Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams (0
041743Z APR 83):
When I play poker, raises are in firm amounts, not reiterated promises
of something. ... This is the same case that prompted me to withdraw the US
trainers from Sonsonate. ... Why dont you and your staff provide
thoughts, rather than questions? Better still, why dont you plan a trip
down here to concentrate on this issue?
Only when placed in the broader chronology of its time is this
accounting of what the U.S. Embassy and State Department reported on El
For space purposes here, the cables are identified only by their numbers
and whether they were from the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador to Washington (FM
SAN SALV) or from the secretary of state, Washington, to San Salvador (FM
SECSTATE WASHDC). There has been no attempt to identify every individual or
incident in each of these cables in the belief that the cable context is
usually sufficient to provide the flavor of what was occurring or being
recommended. The particular cables have been selected with that in mind.
The five parts to this report: 1. Jesuits, Romero, Carter, Reagan; 2.
the churchwomens murders; 3. DAubuisson and human rights; 4. the
Jesuits murders. The chronology of the times is woven into parts 1 and 4;
the segments on the churchwomen and DAubuisson are restricted mainly to
cable accounts. Part 5 is assessments by Swedish, White, Arnson and
These cables should be read as pages torn from three
administrations El Salvador diaries, culminating in the U.S. reluctance
to properly pursue Salvadoran military chief of staff Rene Emilio Ponces
responsibility for ordering the deaths of the six Jesuit priests and their two
The cables below constitute a selection of clues and indications of the
state of the mind that gave rise to the Carter, Reagan and Bush El Salvador
Throughout the 12,000 cables, letters and reports -- some cables are six
and eight pages long -- there is little internal or cross-agency or
That said, Ambassador Hinton, who was regarded by the Reagan
administration as a safe player to succeed the ousted Ambassador
Robert White, later shocked the Reaganites by publicly denouncing El
Salvadors gorillas of the right wing. Reagan disavowed
Hintons speech and ordered him removed.
The El Salvador story leading up to these cables begins early in 1977.
The mood in the government was anti-Catholic; liberation theology was viewed as
a threat. Priests were being expelled, and Salvadoran presidential candidate
Carlos Romero vowed, if elected, particularly to expel all Jesuits.
In March, Jesuit Fr. Rutilio Grande was murdered. In April, two
University of Central America professors were arrested. Jesuit Fr. Jorge
Sarsane was deported. Then three U.S. priests, Benedictine Fr. John Kevin
Murphy and Maryknoll Frs. Bernard Survil and Lawrence McCulloch, were
On Oct. 15, 1979, came the bloodless coup by junior army officers. The
oligarchic dictatorship was ended; the new ruling junta consisted of Catholic
intellectuals and the military.
Jesuits, Romero, Carter and Reagan
As 1980 opened, Jesuits were under attack in El Salvador, Guatemala and
Rome. In February, San Salvadors Archbishop Oscar Romero wrote to
President Carter and begged him not to approve aid to the Salvadoran
O R 192010Z FEB 80
FM: SAN SALV
Following is embassy informal
translation of Archbishop Romeros letter. ...
QUOTE: In the last few
days news has appeared in the national press that worries me greatly: According
to the reports, your government is studying the possibility of economic and
military support and assistance to the present junta government. Because you
are a Christian and because you have shown you want to defend human rights, I
venture to set forth for you my pastoral point of view. ... I am very worried
that the government of the United States is studying a form of abetting the
army of El Salvador by sending military teams to train three Salvadoran
battalions in logistics, communications and intelligence. If this
information is correct, the contribution, instead of promoting greater justice
and peace in El Salvador, will without doubt sharpen the injustice and
repression against the organizations of the people which repeatedly have been
struggling to gain respect for their most fundamental human rights.
present junta government and above all the armed forces and security forces
unfortunately have not demonstrated their capacity to resolve, in political and
structural practice, the grave national problems. In general, they have only
reverted to repressive violence producing a total of deaths and injuries much
greater than in the recent military regimes whose systematic violation of human
rights was denounced by the international committee on human rights.
SECRET: State Department synopsis: On March 24, 1980, at approximately 6
p.m., Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero was saying Mass in the small chapel of a
cancer hospital. He was hit by a single bullet fired from the rear of the
church. Romero died a short time later at a nearby hospital. Romero was
reportedly targeted because of his public stance against the death squads and
his call for peace.
In April, President Carter expressed his support for military aid to El
Salvador. That action triggered a major split -- between the White House and
religious and secular human rights advocates. It was a breach that widened
considerably when, later that same year, Ronald Reagan was elected president.
Typical of the rumors that were circulated, or misinformation that was
generated in San Salvador, Defense Minister García suggested to the U.S.
Embassy that right-wing Cuban hit men had been hired by local big
money to assassinate Romero.
0 261700Z MAR 80
FM: SAN SALV
It is important to do as much as I
can in San Salvador to guide a press basically hostile to our policy. A
reporter asked me if I could confirm that a right-wing Cuban terrorist had
killed Archbishop Romero. (I know that Colonel Majano and others are giving
this to reporters as a strong supposition.) I responded that I had no
information whatsoever. ... When pressed ... I responded that a government
source had told me that the bombing of Archbishop Romeros radio station
and other acts of violence were carried out with such a degree of
sophistication he believed a group of Cuban terrorists were in the
I have previously reported to the (State) department my source on
this was Colonel García, minister of defense.
In U.S. religious, human rights and pacifist circles, the United States
was seen as the moral author of the Central American
Tragedy, and a new wave of refugees, Salvadorans, was under way that
would change the face of U.S. politics in some regions of the country.
In 1980, the Cleveland diocesan team in Salvador, which included Sr.
Dorothy Kazel and Jean Donovan, had made a commitment to remain despite the
violence. Those in the United States opposing administration policy were urging
President Carter to cease assistance to the junta; on Sept. 5, 1980, Amnesty
International agreed, stating that military aid would be used against the
peasants. Late that same year, the church was feeling a new onslaught of
persecution: The radio station and a seminary were bombed, and Fr. Manuel
Monico was killed.
A late 1980 presidential fact-finding mission, only weeks after the
deaths of the four churchwomen, would find no cover-up of
Salvadoran military high-command involvement. By 1981, the U.S. bishops were
steadfastly opposing U.S. aid to El Salvador, where Catholic groups were
describing the current revolt against the government as the last means to
Catholic relief shipments to El Salvador were being searched for arms,
and in February 1981, Secretary of State Alexander Haig ousted Ambassador
In the United States, El Salvadors consul attacked San
Franciscos Archbishop John R. Quinn for his criticisms, accusing Quinn of
In February and March 1981, the religious lobbying against Reagan
The Vatican involvement in El Salvador was being influenced in Rome by
the late conservative Cardinal Sebastiano Baggio, who decades earlier had held
a minor diplomatic post in San Salvador. The pope and the Canadian bishops also
were at odds over the Vaticans policy toward El Salvador.
By that time Haig was telling Congress that the dead churchwomen had
run a roadblock, and Reagans acting assistant secretary of
state for inter-American affairs stated that protests against the Reagan policy
were part of a well-orchestrated effort by a worldwide communist
network. The extent of the breach was obvious.
In the spring and summer of 1981, Maryknoll Sisters President Melinda
Roper testified in Congress. A fundraising event in San Antonio for the
Committee In Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, CISPES, was raided by
police, and the House Foreign Affairs Committee placed restrictions on foreign
Maryknoll Fr. Roy Bourgeois -- somewhat recklessly in
Whites opinion -- deliberately disappeared and reappeared in El Salvador.
Meanwhile, Reagan worried that the churches were winning in Congress. He must
have thought they were winning elsewhere, too, when, in June, Archbishop Quinn
banned conservative Salvadoran Archbishop Aparicio y Quintanilla from speaking
in San Francisco. The Salvadoran prelate, who supported the Salvadoran military
and the junta, was scheduled to speak at the right-wing Ignatius Institute at
the University of San Francisco.
The next month, Salvadoran Archbishop Rivera Damas evened the score on
Aparicio y Quintanilla by attacking the Salvadoran military in his homily and
blasting the laxity in the juntas inquiry into the churchwomens
The Reagan administration, by the fall, was attempting to sway U.S.
bishops. But a special briefing for them failed to persuade, and the church
kept up its pressure.
As a further effort to offset the bishops, Undersecretary of State James
Buckley sent a letter to all 169 dioceses insisting that Salvadoran bishops
were saying the U.S. bishops did not understand the situation.
That the critique of the U.S. bishops came only from one Salvadoran
right-wing prelate and an episcopal conference priest seemed to make little
impression on The Washington Post: In October it echoed the refrain, accusing
the U.S. bishops of being misleading.
In spring 1982, Reagan tripled Salvadoran aid. Using emergency funds,
Undersecretary of Defense Fred Ikle had brought 1,000 Salvadoran soldiers and
500 officers to the United States for training. Protesters outside Fort
Braggs School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Ga., were being
Families of the slain churchwomen, meanwhile, were suing under the
Freedom of Information Act for American Embassy-State Department cables (such
as those released a decade later). The State Department reclassified the
relevant documents to prevent the families from seeing them.
The recertification process for Salvadoran military aid was called a
sham by Morton Halperin of the ACLUs Center for Security Studies. He
emphasized that the Reagan administration had made no effort to have human
rights agencies determine the situation in El Salvador before the January 1982
The administrations view of human rights was expressed in August
by Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Thomas Enders:
Progress is marred, but real. That same year, Reagan lifted the ban
on Roberto DAubuissons visiting the United States (but the next
year, Revolutionary Democratic Front leader Ruben Zamora was refused a visa).
DAubuisson was regularly a cable topic, even more so after former junta
member Col. Majano (not to be confused with junta President Magana), said he
had documents implicating DAubuisson in Romeros death:
R 211608Z AUG 82
FM: SAN SALV
Duarte confirms there exists a
document which many overseas critics believe supports the charge that
DAubuisson was involved [in Romeros death]. Duarte reports that he
received and studied the document while he was a member of the junta. The
document was the basis for the arrest of DAubuisson in May 1980. Duarte
notes that the document offers no proof. Duarte believes that this document was
taken abroad by Colonel Majano after he lost his seat on the junta.
Duartes capsulized summary of the oft-mentioned but seldom quoted
document and the circumstances of its distribution overseas appear to be
accurate. On the other hand, his statement concerning the circumstances of
DAubuissons arrest in May 1980 is not accurate as we understand the
facts of the case. Duarte seems to imply that DAubuisson was arrested for
suspected participation in the murder of Archbishop Romero or, at the very
least, for his possession of incriminating documents. In fact, we understand
that Roberto DAubuisson was arrested for suspected plotting to overthrow
the GOES (Government of El Salvador).
BLEAKLEY -- CONFIDENTIAL
White would later say that we fixed DAubuisson as the author
of the killing very early on. There was not the same level of certainty
in the San Salvador Embassy three years later:
O 181711Z MAR 83
FM: SAN SALV
Reference quotes Majano as saying he
captured documents one month after event implicating DAubuisson in murder
of Archbishop Romero. He is further quoted as saying, I arrested the
conspirators and submitted evidence to both the military junta and the U.S.
In addition, Ambassador Robert White has been quoted as
saying DAubuisson staged Romero murder. Without knowing much about it, I
had until reading FBIs report assumed there was supposition but no hard
evidence. Unfortunately, embassy files on this subject apparently were
destroyed or transferred to Washington some time ago.
My curiosity piqued, I
asked President Duarte March 17 if reports were well-founded. He said evidence
Majano presented to him did not make the case but that he had always thought
that Majano had withheld information. Duarte wondered if Ambassador White might
not have received a more complete file. Certainly, in Duartes opinion,
DAubuisson was capable of the act and Majano capable of withholding
evidence. Action request: 1. Contact Robert White and ask him about evidence,
substantiating his public charge. 2. Search State, CIA and DOD files; 3. Advise
HINTON -- CONFIDENTIAL
DAubuisson, perhaps with encouragement from the United States,
played a wily game with the San Salvador Embassy.
0221935Z DEC 83
FM: SAN SALV
I saw President Magana briefly
evening Dec. 20 and later on the 21st. He told me that DAubuisson had
been around to see him to say that two of the civilians on our list would not
leave the country and would prefer to be investigated here. DAubuisson
made a couple of points to Magana which foreshadow his public reactions in days
to come: viz the CIA will assassinate his innocent friends if they are forced
to go overseas. And the USG (U.S. government) seeks to deprive him of his loyal
supporters during his political campaign which is just beginning.
officials have arrived to brief Vides on forming his special investigative
unit. We will be working closely with them.
Independent sources continue to
give us good vibrations in response to vice presidents (Bushs)
visit in the military and most of the parties.
PICKERING -- SECRET
The 1983 peaks and valleys of Salvadoran rhetoric from the Reagan
administration included Secretary of State George Shultzs alluding to
churchmen (U.S. bishops) who wanted to see the Soviet influence in El
Salvador improved. He was echoing Bush. Meanwhile, the administration had
embarked on its San Vicente pacification program: Reagans $23 million
Operation Wellbeing, which included the visit from Jerry Falwells
Old Time Gospel Hour.
Catholics were less popular. Chicago Cardinal Joseph Bernardin said U.S.
policy and Reagan administration attitudes toward human rights were sending
the wrong message, and Rivera Damas was telling the United States
to negotiate with the guerrillas or make a serious mistake. The
administration continued to prefer extending its string of serious
Within a year, the pacification project was sputtering, the FMLN was
improving its strength, and White, having held his tongue, under oath would say
there had been a cover-up in the investigation of the churchwomens
deaths. An administration investigation, the Tyler Report in
February 1983, denied that allegation. The other issue, of course, was that no
one was being brought to justice for the murder of Romero. The following
cables, 1984 to 1989, are examples of official U.S. efforts to resolve the
FEB 8 84
FM: HOUSE COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS
OF STATE SCHULTZ
In recent testimony before this committee, former
Ambassador Robert E. White made some very serious accusations regarding
information possessed by the administration concerning death-squad activities
in El Salvador, Major DAubuissons involvement and the role certain
Salvadoran exiles in Miami play in supporting and financing these activities.
Contrary to the assertions of Deputy Assistant Secretary Alan Romberg to the
press, the Committee has NOT received all relevant cables or other information
on any of these subjects:
(1) Several cables from the embassy in 1980
reporting activities of Salvadoran exiles in Miami.
(2) A diary and other
materials captured in Major DAubuissons possession listing
connections between military, security, death-squad, government and Miami-based
Salvadorans involved in civilian murders. ...
(3) A Nov. 80 cable from
AMEMBASSY implicating Major DAubuisson in the murder of Archbishop
William S. Broomfield, ranking minority member
Dante B. Fascell,
MAR 20 84
FM: W. TAPLEY BENNETT JR.,
LEGISLATIVE AND INTERGOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS
TO: U.S. SENATOR TED STEVENS
... former Ambassador White ... alleges the State
Department has been suppressing information about U.S. resident Salvadoran
expatriates involvement in death squad activities and about Roberto
DAubuissons supposed complicity in Archbishop Romeros murder.
Whites charges are incorrect.
Information developed by our embassy in
San Salvador about these expatriates activities was sent in January 1981
to the FBI along with a request to prosecute if violations of federal law were
discovered. The FBI early in 1981 interviewed White, among others, but no
JAN 4 89
FM: ELLIOTT ABRAMS
TO: THE SECRETARY
As I mentioned in
my NODIS, we are deeply concerned about the action of the Salvadoran Supreme
Court in ordering the withdrawal of the extradition warrant for Alvaro Saravia.
This closed the last remaining avenue of prosecution in the notorious
assassination of Archbishop Romero. ... I believe it is time to send an
unambiguous signal to ARENA and those who do their bidding that we will not
stand idly by while thorough investigation and prosecution of heinous human
rights offenses are prevented. We will have an excellent opportunity to make
this point this week: Salvadoran Foreign Minister Acevedo will be in town
(Washington) (on) civil aviation negotiations. It would be useful for you to
meet with Acevedo to emphasize our displeasure.
agree to meet with ForMin Acevedo: Disagree
Baker be invited to attend: Disagree.
The left-right divisions the Reagan administration dealt in were used
also to assess those around Romeros successor, Archbishop Rivera Damas.
Typical is this cable:
R 012154Z APR 85
FM: SAN SALV
COMMENT: Church hierarchy is
fighting a battle against the lefts political exploitation of one of its
most notable figures, Archbishop Romero. To reclaim him from his current status
as the patron saint of the left, however, the archbishop (Rivera Damas) must
counter five years of successful guerrilla propaganda. His chances of
succeeding are good but will require him to persevere with his quiet internal
diplomacy and pastoral work. ... Rivera has also for the first time presented a
humane and respectable orthodoxy whereby Romeros real place in the
turmoil of the past half-decade can be defined. Some will see this as a
sacrilegious revisionism, but perhaps he has rescued Romero from an
uncomfortable captivity among the cynics, and perhaps the late archbishop can
now rest more peacefully.
PICKERING -- CONFIDENTIAL
R O218Z Mar 89
FM: SAN SALV
The (PDC) key to success in the (March
19 election) campaign is to get DAubuisson so emotionally involved that
he comes out swinging in public. ... The Duarte administration made every
effort to bring Romeros murderers to justice and was rightfully outraged
when the Supreme Court overturned Garays testimony and the Saravia
extradition petition and the ARENA legislative assembly majority fired Attorney
General Giron in December 1988. Should Cristiani win the presidency in March,
it is unlikely his administration would continue the investigation with the
same vigor. ... Duarte expressed in Emboffs (Embassy officers)
presence in Dec. 1987 certainty that Regalado was the (Romero) triggerman.
The period between the assassination of Archbishop Romero and the murder
of the four U.S. churchwomen in December was less than nine months. Salvadorans
were being slain at the rate of 200 a week, and threats against foreigners were
Even this early, critics were asking to what extent the United States
was responsible for El Salvadors chaos. Some asked whether U.S. Secretary
of State Cyrus Vances lukewarm response to Romeros
no military aid appeal had contributed to Romeros death.
Would a strong, supportive U.S. response to Romero have forestalled his death
and much else that followed?
By June, the San Salvador archdiocesan legal aid office had been raided,
and three rightist Catholic paramilitaries in the Knights of Christ had been
slain. The refugee exodus, a development that would have a profound effect on
U.S. domestic politics, was already under way.
Opposition groups in El Salvador were begging the United States, as
Romero had, to stop assisting the junta; the 1980 death toll climbed toward
Back in the United States, in San Francisco, there was a prayer vigil at
the docks from which weaponry would be shipped to El Salvador, and angry
longshoremen eventually refused to load it. In San Salvador, the Catholic
church was besieged.
Then, on Dec. 3, 1980, four U.S. churchwomen were reported missing after
arriving at the San Salvador airport the previous evening. They were later
found raped and shot to death.
That same month, the United States revealed its strategy for the decade
ahead: The incoming Reagan administration transition team announced that the
United States would reduce its worldwide influence on human rights issues.
After a one-week, fact-finding mission to El Salvador, former Secretary
of State William Rodgers declared there was no direct evidence that
the El Salvador military high command was involved in the killings of the four
churchwomen. What becomes apparent from the State Department documents
concerning the deaths of the four women is that had the United States not led
the way in discovering the names, details and actions surrounding the night the
women were killed, the Salvadoran investigation would have led nowhere.
Equally, the State Department was stalling the churchwomens families.
The real break in the case came early. As it happened, shortly before
the deaths, a U.S. Embassy officer in San Salvador had developed a source
with right-wing leanings [an officer in the security forces] who was
approached after Salvadoran investigators failed to make headway in
identifying the murderers.
According to a 1984 State Department briefing for Congressmen Barnes and
Studds and to other mentions in cable traffic, the right-wing source provided
the information that, with other U.S. input, became the basis for both the
subsequent investigative work and the prosecution. Even so, Salvadors
Napoleonic Code legal system and a judicial network that ran from indifferent
to hostile, threatened to keep the case bottled up.
Reagan was under enormous pressure in the United States to resolve the
issue. Not only was military aid threatened but the indignation over inaction
on the murders, as the months turned into years, cut across partisan lines.
In December 1983, Judge Tyler compiled a secret report on the deaths.
Tyler explored the possibility of having the right-wing source testify. The
foreign service officer who had originally developed the source returned to El
Salvador offering him U.S. government relocation assistance if he testified.
The source refused.
The SECRET 1984 Barnes-Studds briefing states: Because
the source, if forced to testify, might perjure himself and because the other
evidence, e.g., ballistics tests, against those charged is quite good, Judge
Tyler opted not to press the witness further.
The same briefing reveals suggestions of an even murkier world, with
allegations that the former head of the Salvadoran Treasury Police, Carranza,
received $90,000 a year as a CIA asset.
Another element of routine embassy and State Department work begins to
emerge. A key element of the diplomatic world is ensuring that only the correct
words are spoken and that they convey as little information as possible.
The released 1980-93 documents are punctuated with talking
points for State Department and other officials. Similarly, there were
suggestions for dealing with the media: Use following guidance on an
if-asked basis when queried by the press. Typical of the
talking points are those prepared in advance of Defense Secretary Caspar
Weinbergers September 1983 El Salvador visit. The embassy proposed that
during his call on DEFMIN Vides Casanova, Secretary Weinberger request
Vides personal intervention in speeding the investigations in the
churchwomens and Sheraton murder cases.
Suggested Weinberger talking points included:
-- I wish to commend your recent efforts to reduce human rights
abuses by all branches of the security forces -- as you are aware, however,
there are a number of unresolved human rights cases in El Salvador which
continue to attract considerable attention in my country.
-- I need not emphasize the direct relationship between progress
in the prosecution of the churchwomens and Sheraton cases and the ability
of the Reagan administration to assist your government in pursuit of our shared
objectives -- resisting communist subversion and building democracy.
The cable was signed BLEAKLEY CONFIDENTIAL. What follows are
samples of the cable traffic and other State Department reports and files
covering the next four years as the deaths of the four churchwomen were
resolved, if only to official U.S. satisfaction.
DS DEC 4 80
TO: SECSTATE WASHDC
At 4 p.m. on Dec. 3 Father Paul
Schindler, a U.S. citizen Catholic priest resident in Saragosa (Zaragosa) near
La Libertad, called the ambassador to report the disappearance of three U.S.
citizens nuns and one U.S. citizen lay missionary. One nun attached to his
parish, Sister Rita (Dorothy) Kazel, accompanied by lay missionary Jean
Donovan, went to the international airport at 5 p.m. on Dec. 2 to meet Sister
Maura Clark and Sister Ita Ford, resident in Managua, who were arriving on a
Lanica [sic] flight due in at 6 p.m. The four never returned. Father Schindler
had not been alarmed because he assumed they had gone directly to San Salvador
and stayed with friends. When they did not appear in San Salvador or Saragosa,
he became alarmed and phoned the ambassador for help.
ambassadors instructions, MILGP Commander Col. Cummings telephoned DefMin
García to request his assistance in finding the missing missionaries.
Col. García promised full cooperation and, over the next 10 hours, spoke
repeatedly with Col. Cummings. Meanwhile, U.S. Consul Patricia Lasbury, a
personal friend of the two missionaries in Saragosa, telephoned the Direc. of
National Police, Col. Lopez Nuila, to ask his assistance.
Lopez Nuila spoke to Miss Lasbury and Col. Cummings by telephone throughout the
night of Dec. 3. At approximately 8 p.m. the ambassador was informed by Father
Schindler that the parish vehicle, a Jeep Wagoneer, had been found by local
people some nine km from the airport exit road on the main highway to San
The vehicle was off the highway and had been burned. No one was in
the vehicle. This information was passed immediately to the Defense Minister
and the Police Chief. They promised to send investigators to the site
At 10:40 a.m. on Dec. 4, Msgr. Freddy Delgado, vicar of the
archdiocese of San Vincente, called to speak to teh ambassador. DCM [deputy
chief of mission] took the call. He was told that the bodies of the four nuns
were found by parishioners near Santa Rita Almendro in the vicinity of
Zacatecoluca. They were buried on the farm of Fulgencio Guzman. The four were
wearing sandals and dresses of slacks and have the appearance of North
Americans. He is certain they are the four missing nuns.
who found the bodies are terrified to be identified. Their pastor called the
archbishopric of San Vicente and proviede all the information.
Administrator Rivera Damas spoke to DCM by phone at 11 a.m. He had received the
same information from Msgr. Delgado and was forming a committee to proceed to
the site in order to identify the bodies. ...
DCM told Msgr Rivera Y Damas
that full details on the location of the Guzman farm had been given Ambassador
White by telephone at the airport and that the ambassador planned to go there
directly. He would be accompanied by U.S. Consul Miss Lasbury.
MILGP Commanding Cummings at the office of Chief of Police Lopez Nuila and
provied hem with above information. Col. Cummings has now reported that he made
the strongest representation to Lopez Nuila and will see Col. Garcia now, to
express shock and dismay of the U.S. Embassy with this tragic incident and to
counsel that a throughgoing investigation be made immediately into the
circumstances with the aim of punishing the guilty as promptly as possible.
WHITE -- CONFIDENTIAL
0 050500Z DEC 80
Ambassador White and Consul
Patricia Lasbury were present at exhumation of bodies of three Catholic nuns
and one lay missionary. All U.S. citizens, buried morning of Dec. 3 under
direction of members of El Salvador National Guard in mass grave.
In Washington, an immediate priority was finding the right
words; State Department wordsmiths sprang into action.
0 04128267 DEC 80
FM: SECSTATE WASHDC
We are preparing guidance
for a statement by the department spokesman expressing our shock and dismay
over the killing of the four U.S. citizens and stating that we are asking the
GOES urgently to carry out a full investigation of the murders.
Accordingly, you should approach junta and MINDEF García ASAP to urge
that a thorough investigation of these murders be carried out.
-- LIMITED OFFICIAL USE
President Carters response to the deaths was to establish a quick
mission of inquiry.
The December day the womens bodies were discovered, six
assassinated revolutionary coordinating council leaders kidnapped from a Jesuit
high school meeting in November were buried. But assessing Salvadoran national
security was a higher priority than investigating deaths when junta President
Duarte met with embassy officials.
JAN 11 81
TO: SECSTATE WASH DC IMMEDIATE
Junta President Napoleon
Duarte gave us a summary this morning of the current security situation in El
Salvador. He says the armed forces are in control throughout the country and
that while the guerrillas can use surprise to carry out multiple attacks they
cannot hold ground or sustain a battle as long as overt foreign intervention
does not take place. He said there is abundant evidence of Cuban and
particularly Nicaraguan intervention that is thinly disguised, but a
crossborder attack by several thousand volunteers could alter the
outcome here drastically. The Salvadoran armed forces are short of transport,
especially helicopters, and ammunition, principally for rifles. A sudden attack
from outside by well-armed and trained troops would be difficult to repel,
fresh forces could seize and hold a piece of territory while the leftists
proclaimed a government.
The second major subject of discussion we the
investigation into the murders of the four U.S. churchwomen and the AIFLD
officials, Mike Hammer and Mark Pearlman. We urged the GOES to prosecute these
investigations fully and promptly. He gave us a progress report that
demonstrated his close involvement with the investigations but progress seems
to be slow to the pointo fo invisibility.
A great many questions were posed
to Duarte which he tended to answer with legalistic apologies for the inaction
of both investigations to date.
He was pleased to hear that Ambassador
Pezulla [Pezzullo] had issued three stern warnings to the Nicaraguan junta
regarding direct intervention. ...
WHITE -- SECRET
The outrage in the United States over President Carters decision
to approve military aid to El Salvador included criticism from U.S. bishops,
legislators and scores of religious and human rights organizations. The NCCB
president, Archbishop John R. Quinn of San Francisco, said the move
enhances the possibility of more violence from security forces, and [it]
associates the United States with acts of oppression that can only alienate the
majority of people in El Salvador. The charge was reduced to its simplest
terms when Americans in San Salvador picketed the U.S. Embassy, declaring that
U.S. guns kill U.S. nuns. Ten Salvadoran Catholic agencies
published a statement that supported the right of legitimate
insurrection as a last means to obtain justice and peace in
Conservative political and religious elements in the United States were
quick to counterattack. The Reagan nominee for the State Departments
human rights bureau, Ernest Lefever, said the nuns used religion as a
garb for cloaking political activity and hiding guns for the
insurgents, a statement he later refuted; Jeane Kirkpatrick, U.S.
ambassador to the United Nations, said, The nuns were not just nuns, they
were political activists, and we should be very clear about that. The
smear campaign against the Catholic church and U.S. religious in general, and
the Maryknollers and Jesuits in particular, began early and was sustained.
Typical of the drumbeat being picked up in nongovernmental right-wing
circles, the Council for Inter-American Security in a March press release
fudged the issues in a manner that would be repeated in the years ahead. The
council was a privately funded advocacy group that supported Reagans
foreign policy. CIS said the religious women may have been working with
left-wing guerrillas to overthrow the government. The council offered no
proof for the charge except that all but one of the murdered women were
members of the Maryknoll Society, which has earned a reputation for championing
radical politics and liberation theology. Next, came the guilt by
association: Two of the nuns were killed when returning from Nicaragua,
where another member of the Maryknoll Society, Sandinista Miguel DEscoto,
is foreign minister. It is unknown what the women were doing in Nicaragua at a
time when vast quantities of arms were being sent through Nicaragua to the
guerrillas in El Salvador. (The activities of the women were not unknown.
Two of them, Srs. Maura Clarke and Ita Ford had been at the sisters
regional assembly in Managua.)
CIS continued that the families of three of the women recently
signed an ad in The New York Times soliciting contributions to the Committee in
Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, a group that supports a takeover by
pro-Castro guerrillas. Everyone had been tarred.
The State Department chose to see no evil. On March 24, Secretary of
State Alexander Haig explained the churchwomens deaths to Congress as an
accident caused by nervous soldiers who misread the mere traveling down
the road (of the nuns van) as an effort to run a roadblock.
Nonetheless, the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador was well ahead of the Salvadoran
junta in investigating who had killed the American women.
0 132250Z APR 81
FR: SAN SALV
On APRIL 12 an officer of one of the
security services told POLOFF that six National Guard [GN] member posted at the
international airport were responsible for the December killing of the four
American churchwomen. He identified the post comander who, he said,
ordered the murders. The source promised to give POLOFF a complete list of the
GN people involved later on this week. The four U.S. women were killed, said
the officer, after a call from the police [presumably National
Police] in La Libertad to the GN at the airport. POLOFF asked the officer why
the four Americans had been killed. He answered that the police [presumably
National Police] had called the GN at the airport to alert them to the arrival
of what were considered subversive nuns. According to the source,
the police told the GN that they -- the police -- were unable to do anything
about this arrival and suggested that the GN do something [not specified] about
it. POLOFFs contact supposed that Colindres assumed that this meant kill
CHAPIN SAW THIS, DION -- SECRET
0 251923Z APR 81
FM: SAN SALV
POLOFF received two telephone calls
during the night of Apr. 24 from the security officer with whom he spoke
before. The officer called at 7 p.m. said he had the information which POLOFF
requested but could say no more and would call back at 10p.m. He did. the
officer told POLOFF take this down and then whispered two names.
Francisco Orlando Contreras and Jose Roberto Moreno Canjura. He said no more
about the two men. He went on to say he was willing to meet POLOFF on Apr 27 in
San Salvador and give POLOFF more details about the killing of the U.S.
churchwomen. He made a vague comment about having more on the other [los
otro]. In previous conversations los otros has meant the
Sheraton murders. The source officer then said that there had been
movement, and he was not scrared. He asked POLOFF not to take any
actions until their Monday conversation. You have got to help me with
this, he said. With that he hung up.
Comment: we expect to have on
Monday a complete list of the six guardsmen at the airport checkpoint on the
night of Dec. 2. We may have, in addition, specifics about the events of that
night: which of the six actually killed the women, etc. We note that the names
given us by this source do not correspond with the names Jose Luis Monterosa,
Luis Napoleon Cornejo and Vidal Cruz Piche, earlier fingerprinted as National
Guardsman staffing the airport roadblock on the night of Dec. 2.
0 272253Z APR 81
FM: SAN SALV
Charge and DCM had breakfast meeting
Sunday, April 26, at home of a civilian lawyer with the MINDEF Guillermo Garcia
and Director General of the National Guard Col. Eugenio Vides Casanova.
Stressed negative press treatment, public demonstrations and tough
congressional questions on three cases: the Sheraton murders; the failure to
find the killers of the American churchwomen; and the Soyapango massacre. Col.
Garcia spoke at some length about his personal commitment ot the arrest and
prosecution of guilty parties in both cases. Regarding the presence at the
Sheraton on the night in question of Lt. Lopez Sibrian and Major Denis Moran,
Col. Garcia said declarations would be taken from them. Charge made plain that
in the interests of US/Salvadoran relations, the armed forces should encourage
these two officers to be candid in their testimony even if it meant
incriminating their civilian friends or themselves.
Comment: in the course
of breakfast, Vides made plain his viewpoint that the natural strategic
interests of the U.S. and El Salvador should take priority over concerns of a
secondary importance such as the two investigations currently under way. Charge
and DCM used every opportunity to convince the two officers that this was a
minunderstanding of the situation and that accumulating impatience in the U.S.
with the dilatory action of the Salvadoran armed forces to get to the bottom of
these murders could jeopardize our economic and military assistance.
The battle lines in the United States were clearly drawn: The
battlefield was Congress, and it was a war of words, slurs and headlines. The
Reagan administrations anti-Marxism was both the vocabulary and the cloak
for dealing publicly with El Salvador.
Reagan was furious because congressional support for El Salvador
military aid was wavering as public protest against White House Central
American policies increased. The U.S. Catholic Conference held to its position
of opposing arms to El Salvador from any source.
In San Salvador, Archbishop Rivera Damas assailed the U.S. weapons flow,
attacked the Salvadoran military for civilian deaths and criticized the laxity
of the junta in pursuing the inquiry into the churchwomens death. Duarte
now wanted U.S. assistance in solving the murders. Polygraph testing became a
major behind-the-scenes issue, as, over the next 18 months, did suspicions of a
OCT 26 81
Hon. Mr. Ambassador. My government wishes to request that
the government of the United States offer assistance necessary to give
polygraph tests to persons who might be involved during the course
of the investigations of the two cases [churchwomen and Sheraton].
union and liberty.
Engineer Jose Napoleon Duarte
0 201731Z JAN 82
FM: SECSTATE WASH DC
In the opinion of the
polygraph operator, Colindres Aleman did not -- repeat -- not lie when gave a
negative reply to the question:
Were you ordered or did you receive
instructions to assault those women? (He) showed deception on: Did you
participate in any form in the killing of those women? Did you shoot any of
those women? Did you have sexual relations with any of those women?
Comment: The polygraph examinations are bearing out our previous predictions.
Those suspects who spent time in detention with Colindres Aleman are
uncooperative and closed-mouthed. Those who have not are willing to talk.
HINTON -- CONFIDENTIAL
The State Department was already finding the right words on
the coverup issue:
OCT 24 83
TO: THE AMBASSADOR
SUBJECT: Your meeting with
churchwomen lawyers Posner and Greathead.
They may well raise the issue of a
cover-up. I suggest that you sidestep any discussion of the actual evidence of
a cover-up and simply state:
1. Our principal focus at the moment is to
convict the Guardsmen and
2. we do not want to be diverted from that
objective. As to whether we intend to pursue possible cover-up after the trail,
you could respond by saying that we will address that issue after the
completion of the trial and will take into consideration the recommendations of
the Tyler Report which we have not yet seen.
Though 1982 had opened with news that National Guardsmen were to be
charged in the churchwomens death, how well was the Salvadoran military
doing? According to former Ambassador Robert White, All the experts
agree: The initiative has shifted to the insurgents. At this rate theyre
going to win a military victory. [President] Duarte has clearly (been telling)
any sophisticated reader that if the military isnt doubled, the
government is going to lose. But there is no possibility of
doubling the military, said White, they have their hands full just
trying to keep their strength at its current level. Jesuit Fr. Tojelio
Pedraz, president of the Catholic University in San Salvador, in March told an
Italian journalist, when asked whether the Jesuits encouraged the guerrillas,
There are only 32 Jesuits in this country. Four of them are over 90, and
one is sick. So the idea that 27 priests are capable of causing a social
revolution is all too flattering.
In April in Washington, Argentine Nobel laureate Adolpho Perez Esquivel
joined other international justice and peace promoters in a 10-day fast to end
at Easter. Washington Archbishop James Hickey opposed it; his spokesperson
said, The archbishops position on El Salvador is very clear, (but)
he does not like anything that smacks of a demonstration.
In August 1982, Pope John Paul II bemoaned Salvadors
Prosecuting the guardsmen accused of murdering the four churchwomen
would be expensive for all parties concerned. The question now arose as to
whether or not the case would be helped with U.S. funds.
OCT 27 82
TO: MR. EAGLEBURGER
Issue for decision. Whether to provide money to the families of four
murdered Americah churchwomen to assist them in paying the costs of an acusador
particular, a private counsel who, among his several functions, whould
participate actively in the prosecution of the accused murders. Our experts
advise su that an effective prosecution will require such private
participation. The conflicting policy considerations are 1. the undesirability
of a precedent for using official funds and 2. the importance of assuring
vigorous prosecutions in these cases. The Bureau of Consular Affiars strongly
opposes (as) the State Department handles over 10,000 welfare and whereabouts
cases each year and 5,000 arrest cases each year.
Recommendation: That you
approve up to $75,000 form appropriations for Emergencies in the
Diplomatic and Consular Service to fund an for the churchwomens
families and that such funding be certified as not advisable for public
disclosure (ARA favors, CA opposes).
In November, Reagan Defense Secretary Fred Ikle was publicly warning the
Salvadorans that without human rights improvements, military aid might be cut
by Congress. In December, the trial of five guardsmen was postponed. Five
months later, with still no trial date in sight, the State Department had
Reagan call Salvadoran President Magana.
0 071913Z APR 83
President Reagan telephoned
President Magana Apr. 5 and requested his support in obtaining significant
movent on issues of concern to USG.
There should be no doubt in
anyones mind what the issues of concern are; therefore, the list follows
and you should present it to Magana:
-- The amnesty must be approved by the
constituent assembly and a significant number of political prisonersreleased --
Lopez Sibrian must be arrested and prosecution of his case must begin.
ICRC [International Red Cross] should have the right to make unannounced visits
to all prisoners and detention centers.
-- the peace commission must show
-- the churchwomens case must go to trial without further
-- The peace commission will have to demonstrate that the GOES is
serious in inviting the guerrillas into the ongoing democratic process.
We need to work together to implement a program of judicial reform.
Action must be taken by the GOES to identify and develop competent military
leaders and reinvigorate the war effort. We are prepared to be helpful in
training, but we urge president to find competen, aggressive combat commanders
who are dedicated to winning the war.
-- Progress must be sustained in phase
III of the land reform.
-- the perpetrators of the Las Mujas killings must
be detained and charged, and those responsible for killing Florida cooperative
peasants must be charged and tried. There needs to be evidence that those in
the government who violate the law will be punished.
SHULTZ -- SECRET
The cover-up fears were not going away.
SEP 14 83
TO: THE AMBASSADOR
Whites remarks concerning churchwomens case.
Without the names
of the witnesses it is hard to figure out to whom he is referring. It is true
that two of the witnesses we had hoped to interview were reported dead by the
National Guard. Isabel Aquino Giron, who was Colindres Alemans
second-in-command, died in a car accident in April 1982. The embassy reported
at that time there was no reason to suspect foul play in the accident. We
certainly would have questioned Giron about his knowledge of any information
Colindres Aleman might have received ... but there is no strong reason to
believe that he would have been able to tell us anything more than the others,
namely, that Colindres simply told him he had received orders concerning the
My personal theory is that White garbled a bit the information
he must have received from the families or their lawyers and is exaggerating
and hyping it for his own purposes.
In what critics saw as a return to Vietnam-era pacification, but in a
new location, the Reagan administration determined that with a
multimillion-dollar scheme titled, Operation Well Being, it wanted
to rebuild the badly damaged infrastructure of the central San Vicente
province. In addition to the Old Time Gospel Hour, and a one-day
visit from Defense Secretary Weinberger, there were U.S. Green Berets as
advisers to the U.S.-trained Immediate Reaction Battalion.
TO: THE AMBASSADOR
SUBJECT: DECEASED NATIONAL GUARD WITNESSES
information is incomplete, and we have not heard back from the National Guard.
Guardsman Margarito Perez Nieto, the GN trooper at the airport, who
was suspicious of Dorothy Kazel and Jean Donovan and reported their movements
to sub-Sergeant Colindres Alemna, testified before Major Madrano in Dec. 81 and
before Judge Rauda in Feb. 83. Disappeared in action Jan. 84. Guardsman Alirio
Elber Orantes Menjivar was the GN trooper with Perez Nieto at the airport on
the afternoon of Dec. 2. Never testified. Nieto testified that Orantes was
killed in action sometime in 1981.
Corporal Isabel Aquino, Giron was the
second-in-command at the GN detachment at the airport on the day of the
murders. Testified before Major Madrano and Judge Rauda. Killed in automobile
accident Apr. 82.
Salvadoran officials were not always impressed by U.S. pleas for urgent
attention to the case at hand.
NOV 7 83
TO: THE AMBASSADOR
SUBJECT: Dr. Castillo: Dont Cry,
Ill be in Argentina. At a lunch on Friday, Dr. Castillo reaffirmed his
intentions to attend a criminology course in Argentina which begins Nov. 8 and
ends Dec. 22. He continued to insist at this stage the chuchwomens case
really did not require his staying here. We are somewhat concerned that even if
everything goes as Castillo predicts, the GOES would look bad if Sanator
Specter or the press find out that the coordinator of the churchwomens
case has left town. On balance, it would not be worth the bad feelings
engendered to prevent Castillo from leaving.
Not much except the names changed on the U.S. public front. Now it was
Shultz saying he might refuse human rights certification, and Cardinal Joseph
Bernardin saying the U.S. was sending the wrong message with Reagans
attitude toward human rights.
In December 1983, Judge Harold R. Tyler Jr. handed in his 20,000-word
classified report on the churchwomens case. Recommendations and
conclusions included that elements of the Salvadoran military undertook
an initial attempto to protect the perpetrators of this crime and that
the special evidence gathered by the U.S. Embassy ought not be
disclosed -- the risk of loss of life that would result was too great.
The information has already been highly useful to the United State since,
without it, we doubt the prosecution would ever have been undertaken.
0 240132Z MAY 84
FM: SAN SALV
The charge met with MINDEF Vides
Casanova May 23 advised him of the impending publication of the Tyler Report
and reviewed its conclusions with him. Vides indicated that he was prepared for
criticism which the publication would engender. He lamented that he was
unjustly being accused of a cover-up when he had in fact gone to extraordinary
lengths to assure that the case got to trial. He reminded the charge that we
had worked together for three years on this case and he had always attempted to
be as cooperative as possible. The charge agreed. Vides said he had informed
both Magana and Duarte that if be became too controversial he would resign as
0 250022Z MAY 84
FM: AMEMBASSY SAN SALVADOR
ROME FOR VATICAN
The dramatic churchwomens trial has ended with the conviction of all five
former guardsmen on all charges. The press behaved abominably. One journalist
explained that whatever they could get away with was all right and
blamed the Salvadorans for not imposing controls. The truth lies in the middle:
Controls were articulated and attempts made to enforce them. The aggressiveness
of the press simply overwhelmed Salvadorans who could not or would not match
the press rudeness.
The Reagan administration referred to civilians killed by the Salvadoran
military as battlefield casualties; a Salvadoran former treasury
policeman alleged Green Beret captain and major taught torture techniques; the
Salvadoran armed forces air war against guerrillas and civilian
populations increased in intensity; and a U.S. appeals court disallowed the
Reagan administrations attempt to end the biannual human rights progress
reports for El Salvador. In Salvador with bullets, in the U.S. with bulletins,
the war against the churches in Salvador was intensified. Though the
churchwomen case was ended, those who had helped seek justice were not
forgotten either by the Salvadoran right -- or the U.S. government -- as this
concluding cable reveals.
0 1414Z MAR 85
FM: SECSTATE WASHDC
Department takes note of
Supreme Court President Guerreros comments on Judge Rauda and the reasons
for his transfer to Chalatenango. Despite Dr. Guerreros opinions of Dr.
Raudas professional shortcomings, the fact remains that it was Rauda who
tried the five national guardsmen responsible for killing the U.S. churchwomen.
Whatever unnecessary delays may have occurred in the trial, it was Rauda who
presided over the one successful prosecution which we have seen in the various
murder cases which have languished (or worse) in the Salvadoran judicial
system. Dr. Raudas fortitude impressed us far more than that of his
predecessor, Dr. Adalberto Rivera, who now serves on the Supreme Court as the
colleague of Dr. Guerrero.
Department requests that ambassador approach Dr.
Guerrero and strongly stress the importance of avoiding even the appearance of
political retribution against Dr. Rauda, which would generally undermine
independence of Salvadoran judiciary and specifically discourage courageous
judicial conduct in pending Sheraton, Kline and Las Bojas cases. We have
received one Congressional inquiry about Judge Raudas reassignment from
Senator Specter and expect to hear more in the context of developing FY 1986
authorizing and appropriations over moribund GOES legal-reform initiatives (No
JDU, no SIU, no functioning revisory commission, no National Council of
Judiciary, no visible progress in pending cases or investigations).
would appreciate being kept informed of further developments regarding
Judge Raudas assignment.
DAM -- CONFIDENTIAL
Slain Americans, DAubuisson and human rights
More than a dozen U.S. citizens lost their lives in El Salvador during
the 1980s, the same period during which some 70,000 Salvadoran citizens were
murdered, assassinated, butchered or made to disappear.
While there is significant cable traffic reflecting the plight of the
Salvadorans being slain, it is not surprising that the bulk of the traffic
directly concerns U.S. citizens deaths.
Cable 0 131844 MAY 87 listed Amcits killed in armed
conflict. It began with William Hom (Sept. 23, 1979), killed during
an attack by gunmen on the grounds of the Presidential Palace, and
Rogelio J. Alvarez (March 3, 1980), found strangled near University of
Then came the four churchwomens deaths and, two weeks after them,
Thomas Bracken (Dec. 17, 1980), killed on street by unidentified
guerrillas during police investigation of kidnapping. The two U.S. labor
representatives were next, Michael Hammer and Mark Pearlman (Jan. 3, 1981),
killed by National Guardsmen at Sheraton Hotel, then John J.
Sullivan (Jan. 7, 1981), decapitated body found 07/82, and Patricia
Cuellar (July 28, 1982), presumed dead.
Michael Kline (Oct. 13, 1982) was removed from bus and shot by
ESAF soldiers, and Lt. Cmdr. Albert Schaufelberger (May 25, 1983),
shot by FPL guerrilla assassins on university campus. Linda Cancel
(Jan. 26, 1984), shot by guerrillas on Pan Am Highway in Morazan,
and John Philip Hoagland (March 16, 1984), killed while accompanying
Salvadoran army in battle.
On June 19, 1985, four U.S. Marines (Bobby Dickson, Gregory Webber,
Thomas Handwork and Patrick Kwiatkowski) and two civilian telecommunications
workers (George Viney and Robert Alvidrez) were slain by PRTC guerrilla
terrorists at outdoor cafe in Zona Rosa, San Salvadors posh
The 1987 cable ends with Peter S. Hascall (Feb. 15, 1986), killed
by unknown assailants passing by in automobile, and Gregory Fronius
(March 31, 1987), killed during attack on 4th Brigade Garrison in
Was death in El Salvador, in the Reagan-Bush assessment, an accepted
necessity, like U.S. association with the right-wing assassins and corrupt
The Reagan administration knew in the early 1980s that the national
guard was staffed by murderers and thugs; that even the exiled Salvadoran
wealthy presumed the Salvadoran armed forces were corrupt and responsible for
kidnapping, extortion and worse; that the Salvadoran judiciary was corrupt;
that the Salvadoran far right and Roberto DAubuisson were running death
But if it knew all of these things, why did the Reagan-Bush
administrations play their hand as they did? Because they were playing
superpower games by proxy in El Salvador and Nicaragua. A reading of the
selected cables and extracts below supports the continuing claim by the
advocacy community that Salvadoran human rights abuses and political and
military corruption were secondary to fighting the military fight.
The State Department -- and, therefore, throughout the decade, the
Reagan and Bush administrations -- did have an enormous amount of knowledge
about Salvadors right-wing paramilitary, the death-dealing security
forces and the military human rights abuses.
Even at the start of the Reagan administration, there was material
sufficient to give pause. To examine these issues, we start again with cables
from the beginning of the decade. And again, the Helms role should not be
underestimated. Word around Washington was that it was a Helms aide who
actually came up with the name ARENA, the Republican Nationalist Alliance, for
DAubuissons party, because Helms wanted to be sure that
Republican was in there. Here is an example of Helms playing
P 151305Z JUL 80
FM: SECSTATE WASGDC
RE: Request from Senator
Jesse Helms re. Leftist Coup Plotting.
1. Follows text of letter received
July 2 (1980) from Senator Helms to the Secretary (of State). The group of
conservatives referred to in letter is Roberto DAubuisson and company.
2. Dear Mr. Secretary: Yesterday a group of conservative El
Salvadorans held a press conference in Washington charging that Ambassador
White was encouraging left-wing members of the present junta in El Salvador to
join with other representatives of the far left in mounting a coup.
sometimes difficult to separate fact from fiction in small countries distant
from the United States, but I would appreciate it if Ambassador White could be
formally asked for a reply to these charges. The El Salvadorans believe that
this coup is planned for the next few weeks. For this reason a rapid response
from Ambassador White would be appreciated. Sincerely, Jesse.
LIMITED OFFICIAL USE
On July 15, 1980, White replied:
SECSTATE WASH DC
Naturally we are tempted to suggest a tough response
to Senator Helms disingenuous query. However, we suspect that is exactly
the type of letter he is looking for and we therefore suggest Department
confine its response to a. some phrasing that would indicate we do not
necessarily accept his characterization of Major DAubuisson and company
as conservative (to accept this description of DAubuisson
would undercut the Departments action in finding him ineligible for
entry), and b. that would deny that Ambassador was encouraging anyone in
present junta to join with representatives of the far left in mounting a coup.
Department should also note that Senator Helms phrasing of this sentence
is tendentious. Unless the Department is careful in drafting its reply, we
could wind up admitting that some members of the present junta are adherents of
the far left, a total falsehood.
LIMITED OFFICIAL USE
DAubuissons reputation was always being assessed in cables
regarding his U.S. visa applications.
In 1980 the State Departments American Republics Area, ARA,
official William G. Bowdler cabled that DAubuisson is a retired
Salvadoran army major who for some months has been public spokesman for the
Salvadoran extreme right and cochairman of an organization named Broad National
Front, FAN (later ARENA). In a public television appearance, DAubuisson
bitterly attacked the U.S. -- we were responsible for frustrating a rightist
coup on Feb. 23 -- and linked U.S. Embassy officers and moderate politicians
with leftist groups. Thereafter, one of those politicians and several members
of the leftist groups were assassinated.
DAubuissons performance contained a strong (though implicit)
threat against U.S. Mission personnel because of our role in supporting the
Bowdler wanted DAubuissons name placed in the Look Out
System and be listed with INS for checking should he return to the U.S. in the
Two years later, Ambassador Hinton was referring to Major
DAubuisson of unsavory reputation, visa blacklisted by Ambassador White
for good and sufficient reason, even if lacking solid proof, purportedly now
born-again devotee of democratic electoral politics, has asked me for a third
time about visa to travel to U.S.
He apparently has invitation, as perhaps do all party leaders,
from some U.S. organizations (we believe from American Enterprise Institute)
and wants to travel no later than Mar. 12. Believe he and his cohorts plans to
make this visit even if AEI invitation is deferred.
DAubuisson generally received his visas, however. In May, 1983,
SECSTATE WASH DC cabled, Department has no objection to issuance of one
entry B-2 visa to subject for purpose stated forthwith. However, he remains a
controversial person whose visits to the U.S. rarely fail to arouse the
interest of the press and others concerned with Central American Policy. Any
visa application by DAubuisson must be submitted to the department for an
advisory opinion. Two years later came a cable: Issue for Decision:
Whether to recommend that the Immigration and Naturalization Service grant a
waiver of ineligibility to Roberto DAubuisson. The GOES persists in
efforts to bring criminal charges against DAubuisson for his role in the
Mar. 24, 1981 Archbishop Romero assassination. On Aug. 13, the Attorney General
took the first legal steps to reopen the case, which was closed three years
ago. DAubuisson could be indicted.
In 1985 and 1986, after much similar hemming and hawing,
DAubuisson was still obtaining visas.
In 1986: Embassy recommends granting of a waiver for one entry to
the United States for 10 days. Please note short time frame.
Read from the perspective of State Department cables, it is obvious that
there was little that was not known about Roberto DAubuisson. But the
Reagan-Bush administrations put down the magnifying glasses with which they
examined the religious and secular human rights communities and put on
rose-colored glasses to look at DAubuisson.
Given the breadth and depth of U.S. State Department knowledge of
DAubuissons activities and aims, the cable traffic is interesting
when juxtaposed with Sen. Helms 1989 plea for fairness for
DAubuisson. Helms describes DAubuisson as the author of the
constitution down there, which is patterned closely after the U.S.
Constitution. Helms told his Senate colleagues this in the same breath in
which he referred to ARENA as a centrist party.
Equally, the State Department was well-aware of how widespread the
security forces activities were in the constant killings, as revealed in
the following October 1981 letter the State Department received from John
McAward of the Universalist Service Committee.
0 0201439Z OCT 81
TO: AMEMBASSY SAN SALV
Dear Art. I spoke to Ambassador Hinton by phone
last week. The Ambassador wanted me to share with you data on the nuns
deaths that we both have pieces of so that you can communicate it to him on the
When I was in Mexico City recently with representatives
Petri and Schroeder, I met privately with and then had the delegation meet with
BLANK BLANK a computer engineer and graduate of BLANK BLANK. He and Napoleon
Duarte became fast friends while Duarte was studying at BLANK Notre Dame. He
was a cofounder with Duarte of the Christian Democratic Party. Until June he
held a high position BLANK BLANK San Salvador. He fled to Mexico City at that
time because he could no longer work in the country in the face of so many
assassinations by the security forces.
One incident he described had him
sitting in a bar in early 1980 in La Libertad when the officer in charge of the
National Guard in that port city, half drunk, came into the bar with stains on
his uniform and bragged he had just killed three guerrillas. As BLANK relates
the story he told him he was just shooting off his mouth, he was drunk, to shut
up and sit down. The officer challenged him to come to the National Guard
barracks for himself. He did and found the bodies of three young people with
their throats slit lying on the floor.
A short while later, in June, the
left called a general strike. BLANK told BLANKS five chauffeurs to come to work
but not to leave the building that day in their vehicles. This brought the
wrath of the Treasury Police who considered their actions as supportive of the
strike and arrested the five. BLANK went to Colonel Moral BLANK. The colonel
admitted that the five were held but told BLANK not to worry they would be
released in the morning. When he went to pick them up, he found their bodies.
He shared these stories with Duarte as he tells it and Duarte told him,
The military takes care of the war and we take care of the politics. Keep
your nose out of it. He fled the country shortly
In March 1984, Americas Watch, Helsinki Watch and the Lawyers Committee
for Human Rights critiqued the 1983 U.S. State Department report on human
rights practices in El Salvador. The critique opened with the heart of the
As has become customary in reports from the Reagan administration, every
effort is made in this report to exculpate the Salvadoran armed forces as an
institution for any responsibility for human rights abuses. In keeping with
this tradition, the report asserts:
Extremists of the right and left are
guilty of politically motivated civilian deaths as are some members of the
armed forces. The climate created by the guerrilla violence has further
depreciated the value of human life.
Apparently after four and a half years
during which the armed forces and paramilitary forces allied to them have
murdered more than 38,000 civilian noncombatants, the State Department
doesnt yet consider that the blame should be attributed to more than just
some members of the Armed Forces.
Much of what is wrong with
this report follows from this central failure to acknowledge the institutional
responsibility of the Salvadoran armed forces. In addition, we note
objectionable features of the report on El Salvador:
In discussing criminal
punishment of members of the armed forces for human rights abuses, the report
refers to the sentence imposed in August on a civil defenseman. This is
introduced with these words, for example. This is misleading,
probably deliberately. This is the only known case in which a civil defenseman
has been criminally punished for a human rights abuse. There is no known case
in which a member of the armed forces has been criminally punished for such an
DAubuisson, meanwhile, was not short of well-placed supporters in
the wealthy expatriated Salvadoran community.
JAN 10 81
TO: WILLIAM WEBSTER, FBI DIRECTOR
FM: DAVID D. NEWSOM,
This is further to Warren Christophers
conversation with Mr. OMalley concerning the accusations of involvement
of wealthy Salvadoran exiles resident in Miami in assassinations and terrorist
acts in El Salvador.
We would greatly appreciate the bureau investigating
these charges as thoroughly and promptly as possible, particularly since they
involve possible actions against the lives of our own personnel in El Salvador.
There is a strong national interest in pursuing an investigation which could
uncover illegal activities on the part of the U.S. residents who are also
acting without regard to the foreign policies of the U.S.
R 271319Z NOV 82
FM: SAN SALV
Poloff stopped off in Miami on Nov.
2 through 9 to meet with about 15 members of the Salvadoran expatriate
community. Most were supporters of Roberto DAubuisson and Arena, but
appear to have lost faith due to his failure to reverse the reformers and bring
back the Good Old Days. Fear of kidnapping or worse was the primary
reason for these individuals departures from El Salvador. Their fear and
loathing was not directed at the left, but at the Armed Forces whom they
consider directly responsible for many of the kidnappings.
All had either
been kidnapped, suffered a kidnap or assassination attempt or had such a fate
befall a close family member. Their vindictiveness over being the victims of
terrorism was directed not at the left, but to a person, at the armed forces.
None held back on this issue. They felt that a corrupt and venal clique of
officers either condoned or planned most of the 30-odd major kidnappings
between 1972 and 1981.
They pointed to Ex-major Guillermo Roeder as the only
perpetrator to be unmasked but insisted he was only one of those responsible.
They claimed ex-chief of staff Carlos Alberto Rodriguez (jailed in 1975 in New
York for arms trafficking), ex-Anesal director Col Roberto Santivanez, current
Policia de Hacienda director Col. Francisco Moran and current Minister of
Defense Gen. Guilermo García as among those who either knew or profited
from the kidnappings. None acknowledged the contradiction between their fear
and distrust of these officers and their support for ex-major DAubuisson
who was/is closely associated with Roeder, Santivanez and Moran. Some went so
far as to claim that the military collaborated with the left in some
kidnappings and really does not want the war to end so they can continue to
profit from US assistance and other opportunities for corruption.
oligarch summed up what appeared to be the general sentiment: We want to
go back to our country more than anything else. But we cannot until we are
reasonably certain we can do so with the knowledge that if something happens we
can seek recourse. Now it is impossible to know who is your
0 030242Z MAY 84
FM: SAN SALV
At meeting with DAubuisson at
his request, Poloff found that the Helms letter was only peripherally the
reason for the meeting. DAubuisson said he had a problem he hoped could
be straightened out and asked whether Kevin Brown was known to Poloff. Poloff
said he was, that Brown was a member of the political section who last week had
left El Salvador on reassignment. DAubuisson said it had been reported to
him that Brown had visited Santa Ana (sic) prison where he had spoken with an
inmate arrested on kidnapping charges. Inmate, DAubuisson noted, was a
former employee of the legislative assembly security force. Note: The force was
reputedly a death squad working for DAubuisson under direction of
assembly security chief, Hector Regalado. DAubuisson says former guard
now alleges he was offered money and other inducements by Brown in return for
testifying that DAubuisson was involved in death squad
DAubuisson asked what Poloff knew about this matter. Poloff
replied Brown had worked largely on judicial and human rights matters and had
visited many prisons and it would not be surprising if his name were known
within the prison population. DAubuisson volunteered that the inmate
could have concocted the allegations in an effort to gain relief through Arena
and gave no indication he intended to pursue the matter further.
the Brown matter is not fully invented but it is completely distorted in the
DAubuisson version. It is possible that Brown was seen speaking with
BLANK and that (DAubuisson) was fishing.
BLEAKLEY -- CONFIDENTIAL
0 092113Z OCT 85
FM: SAN SALV
TOPIC: DAubuisson--I am
not an assassin.
DAubuisson and Alfredo Fredy Cristiani, Arena
president, met with Ambassador Corr at the residence Oct. 5 at their request.
DAubuisson said he did not want to talk about politics or
Arena and then proceeded to do so for two hours.
Topics included the
kidnapping of Duartes daughter, strong criticism of Duarte government,
alleged U.S. interference in Salvadoran political process.
It was DAubuissons name in cables that usually offered the
best insights into how perverse U.S. policy in Central America could be, while
revealing that arrogant defense of DAubuisson and that policy. A cable,
and then Helms address the Senate, provide examples.
0 022351Z SEP 90
FM: SAL SALV
Arena honorary president-for-life
Roberto DAubuisson is many things to many people: as assasin, a savior, a
bully, an inspiration, a menace, a hero. Depending on ones perspective,
DAubuisson may be all of the above. In any case, regardless of the
adjective used to describe him, DAubuisson is a reality in Salvadoran
political life, despite many wishes to the contrary.
politicians or people in general fear DAubuisson, many contacts did not
hesitate to say yes. His image and history apparently are enough to intimidate
both opponents and allies alike.
Here is Helms addressing the Senate at a Jan. 18, 1989, morning session
attended by the secretary of state:
Mr. Secretary, The major news
media in this country never mention Roberto DAubuissons name
without saying, said to be connected with the death squads.
But I have tried for years to find justification for that. I have
talked with the CIA and of course I cannot discuss what they said but I will
say that they have indicated to me that they have no such evidence.
But I would like to ask you as secretary of state as soon as may
be practicable to release whatever information, good or bad about Mr.
DAubuisson. I do not know the man beyond two or three visits with him.
One time I west over with George Shultz to El Salvador on a little mission
suggested by President Reagan to try to unify the political forces down there
and I think that happened.
But be that as it may, I hope that, in fairness to the man,
whether he is guilty or not guilty of what the press continually says, and the
television in particular, that whatever the facts are, that they be laid
In 1984, when he was running against Mr. Duarte, he carried 10 out
of 14 states and he lost the election in San Salvador where Mr. Duartes
son was the mayor, and that sort of thing.
But in any case, Mr. Secretary, in 1984 I asked the State
Department about reports that I had received, and they were credible reports,
that the CIA was covertly pumping money into the presidential campaign of Mr.
Duarte. The purpose was obviously to defeat the centrist party in El Salvador
and that happened.
Now the State Department said, oh, this is not so, did not happen,
we do not know anything about it. But subsequently it was substantiated and
confirmed that they pumped about $2 million into that election.
And by the way, the ARENA party platform was a little left of the
Republican Party platform and I call that a centrist party.
Human rights; pacification; Reagan and Shultz
Reviewing the period 1980-1991, there are many ways to assess how
desperate was the Salvadoran peoples plight. Even in the unemotional
cable traffic, the torment -- and politicking -- in a conflicted society comes
through. It is important to note, too, in the Nov. 1980 cable, the fact that
one or two more Jesuits were already marked for assassination.
R 0617308 MAY 80
FM: AMEMBASSY SAN SALV
In a portion of his homily May 4 devoted to events of the
week, Apostolic Administrator Bishop Rivera expressed grave concern over the
increase in violence not only in the number of victims but also the brutality
and cruelty with which they were killed, especially those who were members of
the popular organizations.
R 2413241 OCT 80
At Oct. 22 meeting, Bishop Rivera said the JRG (the
ruling junta) in effect had accepted the episcopal conference mediation offer
of Oct. 18 and that the request for a written proposal would soon be met.
A small but influential group with the church according to Revelo,
is politicized and entirely committed to the leftist agenda.
O R170100Z NOV 80
FM: SAN SALV
This week was marked by a level of
violence similar to last week. At least 202 people were killed during the week,
among them the leader of a large, democratic labor union, Filipe Zaldavar. Also
during the week, guerrillas succeeded in injuring several policy by landing a
grenade in their truck, were able to take over at least one town and several
radio stations for short periods and, according to Bishop Rivera Damas, killed
at least 11 people in one town in retribution for the killing of of several
guerrillas by the national guard. Rightest killers were also active. The bodies
of 12 victims of the death squadron were found near the road between San
Salvador and Santa Ana. The close embassy contact told us that rightists are
intent on killing JRG Magano and one or more Jesuit priests.
Always, the State Department was mindful of finding the right
OCT 8 81
TO: AMB. STOESSEL
FM: THOMAS ENDERS
purpose of our meeting it to discuss US policy in El Salvador (with) Thomas
Hammarberg, secretary general of Amnesty International since Nov. 1979.
-- We share your concern about violation in El Salvador --
the US condemns the violence of both the right and the left
-- our efforts
to bring to justice the murderers of our own citizens signify our concern with
indiscriminate violence from any origin in El Salvador
-- in this regard we
have made our views know repeatedly to GOES officials.
has urged the U.S. not to provide the current GOES with military
-- any political solution would be more
difficult if the GOES were denied outside aid while the insurgents continue to
receive arms, destroy the economy by their current terrorist tactics, and
impose their military solution.
-- a major objective of our military
assistance to ESAF is to increase their professionalism, discipline, and
adherence to the GOES governments own code of conduct.
-- our security
assistance goes only to the Salvadoran regular army, air force and navy, none
is given to the Salvadoran security force.
And nothing the human rights advocates could do or say was about to
influence the State Department.
OCT 9. 1981
TO: AMB. STOESSEL
FM: STEPHEN PALMER
Rights Opposition to Administrations Foreign Policy.
Opponents of the
Administrations foreign policy are beginning to use human rights as
convenient policy around which they can organize.
The human rights reporting
requirement recently attached to the appropriations for assistance to El
Salvador is a reminder that human rights related issues can stand in the way of
important security interests.
Despite all this, the United States was not making much progress. Reagan
was prevailed on to talk turkey, politely, to junta President Magana.
NOV 19 82
TO: THE PRESIDENT
This is your first meeting with President Magana. It comes at a
critical juncture in US-El Salvador relations. Over the past 18 months
Salvadorans with our help have made considerable progress militarily and has
moved to put into place a democratic government. Human rights violations,
although a serious problem, have diminished steadily. More importantly, the
momentum has shifted away from the foreign supported guerrillas, the short-term
survivability of the GOES ELSAL is no longer at stake.
problems remain. In the past few months the direction of the GOES in
implementing land reform, in bringing to justice those implicated in the murder
of US citizens, in curbing human rights abuses and in establishing a dialogue
with the left, has been obstructed by politicians and military officers of the
Magana, with the help of MINDEF Garcia, has been successful in
overcoming some of these problems. But rightist opposition continues to severly
limit his flexibility on dialogue with the left ...
The influence of the far
right has also made MINDEF Garcias position somewhat shaky.
Magana also faces a severe economic situation. Guerrilla sabotage has had a
devastating effect on the economy. ... In addition, the guerrillas have
particularly targeted the economic infrastructure in order to foment
dissatisfaction between the government and business and labor.
with Magana provides the opportunity to commend Magana for a moderate course he
has maintained. Your expressions of concern for further progress on human
rights and in the administration of justice for the slain U.S. citizens will
give Magana the opportunity to re-emphasize our policy to other key
Although we remain fully committed to supporting the GOES in its
drive to defeat the guerrillas, the seminannual certification process will make
this difficult without Salvadoran progress in bringing those who ordered the
death of the AFL-CIO workers to justice and in the successful prosecution of
the case of the slain U.S. churchwomen. Guerrillas continue to mount
hit-and-run operations against military convoys and to attack small isolated
security force garrisons. However, the Salvadoran military, with our help, has
demonstrated marked improvement in its counterinsurgency operations. But our
continued assistance depends on certification. It is in the interest of El
Salvador to have this aid continue in order that further military training will
have desirable long term effects.
And Magana responded with an invitation to a day out in the countryside
for the U.S. Ambassador.
O 0320691 JAN 83
At invitation of President Magana some of my family
and I spent Dec. 30 at Apaneca with hime and his family. President was relaxed,
confident adn in my view somewhat overly optimistic about the future. He
clearly loves his simple -- wood cook stove -- but comfortable country home and
delights in showing off its marvels, orchids he grows, oddities such as his
Ecuadoran tomato tree and Chocha Mesina, his wifes extensive huerta
complete with multiple varieties of lettuce, asparagus and super
... in course of this day I ran through with him points
contained in reftel. I also left with him some papers of your specific hopes I
earlier gave to Gen. Garcia.
He thought action on Lopez Sibrian could be
possible. In recent five-hour meeting with military commanders he had reviewed
importance of the case and he thought they understood detention would be
necessary. He stressed to me then, however, detention meant detention not
trial. He asserted that evidence would not convict Lopez Sibrian. To try him
would result in his being freed once again. I said my instructions were to seek
Regarding amnesty, he remarked he has wanted to go to San Jose
meeting with President Reagan with amnesty law and peace commission in
Casualty head counts have always been a problem of perspective for the
United States. Something bordering on optimism seemed called for when the daily
political death count in El Salvador dropped to around five or six a day.
O 05667Z JAN 83
Deaths attributable to political
violence continue to decline during the past six months, in fact monthy
statistics showed dramatic improvement compared to average 500 during 1981.
Monthy totals in last six months never exceeded 200. There is an increasing
realization within the Government of National Unity that the reconstruction of
the criminal justice system is imperative if further progres on human rights is
to be achieved. As Ambassador Hinton stated in his speech to the AMCHAMCOMMERCE
on Oct. 29: Further improvement in human rights climate largely rests on
the government to reconstruct an honest judicial system, free of
Pope John Paul II made a finger-wagging trip to yet another Central
American country, El Salvador.
O 06093851 MAR 83
In a strong and impassioned plea
for Christian reconciliation Pope called for dialogue, but not dialogue which
would be a truce to fortify for war, but rather a sincere effort for a
solution. He decried the shattered homes, the refugees, the orphans, the lives
of murdered religious workers, especially the heavenly and martyred
Archbishop Romero whose tomb I just visited. Wagging his finger at the
crowd, he attacked those who played politics with the Archbishop Romero,
saying, no ideological tendency must lessen his sacrifice as a pastor.
... invest yourselves with the tender understanding of benevolence, suffer one
another and forgive each other, mutually if oe has come complaint against
Duarte and Elliott Abrams then had a tète-a-tète.
R 020438Z JUN 81
In a May 18 meeting with Assistant
Secretary Elliott Abrams, El Salvador Christian Democrat leader Napoleon Duarte
said that he expected to win the December presidential election. Duarte has
said he favored the postponement of the Congressional elections because this
would give the newly elected president time to improve the human rights
situation and thus improve the possibilities of later inducing the left to
participate in the legislative elections.
Duarte said that Archbishop Rivera
Damas has matured. When he first assumed office he was complete
surrounded by leftist priests. Now, however, he has become more independent and
has reduced the influence of the left on him. He now also blames the extreme
left for human rights violations.
SHULTZ -- CONFIDENTIAL
The United States showed its concern when River Damas life was
O 071722Z JAN 85
FM: AMEMBASSY SAN SALV
I spoke with Duarte about
information available to us on possible threat ot life of Archbishop. I told
him we must take the threat as serious and that the consequences for him and
the country would be serious as well. He agreed fully. I told him I had
requested an appointment to see the archbishop. Duarte said he too would speak
to the archbishop and clearly indicated he felt a responsibility to do what he
could to assure the archbishops security.
PICKERING -- SECRET
How widespread was the presence of U.S. military personnel in El
Salvador and what were their functions? That cable traffic was not made public
and the available State Department documents denied any active role by U.S.
trainers in the country.
TO: SEN. NANCY KASSEBAUM
FM: POWELL A. MOORE, ASST. SECTY
FOR CONGRESSIONAL RELATIONS
I am writing ... concerrning one of your
constituents report(ed) allegations that U.S. trainers in El Salvador
tortured Salvadoran civilians. The allegations are not true. The Department of
Defense interviewed all 19 trainers in El Salvador at that time. All
emphatically denied witnessing any torture sessions. In at least one account,
Carlos Gomez, a Salvadoran deserter who was the source of a December New York
Times story on the incident, alleged the Americans wore camouflage fatigues and
green berets. U.S. trainers going to El Salvador are prohibited from using
camouflage fatigues or green berets.
Polical murders were not solethe the province of the Salvadoran
P 181717Z JAN 85
FM: AMEMBASSY SAN SALV
The FMLNs Clara
Elizabeth Ramirez Front (CERE) death squad has claimed authorship of four
political murders since the beginning of 1985. Four other apparently political
killings took place during the past two weeks and another person was gravely
wounded in the fifth incident. We suspect the left in at least three of these
PICKERING -- LIMITED OFFICIAL USE
In 1983, Reagan sent Vice President Bush to El Salvador to remind the
military that Congress -- not Reagan -- might cut off aid if the habit of
tolerating a wide range of abuses did not cease. By 1988, the American embassy
in San Salvador was seeking a repeat performance by a high-ranking
administration official, but one to be played in a softer key. Two cables
provide insights. In time, Secretary of State Shultz would go. The second cable
is the embassys suggested outline for Shultzs private performance
to the Salvadoran armed forces high command.
TO: ARA AMBASSADORE ENDERS
FM: HA -- STEPHEN PALMER
indiscriminate killings by Salvadoran security force continue and are further
eroding public and Congressional support of the Administrations polices
in El Salvador. If the Administration is to arrest this erosion of support,
Administration initiatives must bge undertaken to end such killings. With that
in mind, and in order to shore up Congressional support for the present policy,
I would suggest that consideration be given to sending to San Salvador a senior
Administration official who could speak with the authority of the President and
of the Secretary ... to convince the Salvadoran High Command to undertake the
necessary measures to end the indiscriminate killings. ...
O 241450Z JUN 88
FM: AMEMBASSY TO SECSTATE SHULTZ
probably be the most sensitive meeting you will have in El Salvador. The
Salvadoran Armed Forces (ESAF) has accomplished a great deal since 1979 in
terms of its capabilities as a warfighting force, in human rights and in its
support for democratic progress. Yet I am particularly concerned that the human
rights improvements may have leveled off and that we may even be slipping
The ESAF is in a turmoil at present over command changes being
forced by the colonels.
It is important you not give the impression that you
have called the military leaders together to chew them out. This meeting is not
meant to be a repeat of the 1983 visit by Vice President Bush. We do not wish
to threaten but as partners to describe why abuses are wrong and
counterproductive. I recommend we keep the U.S. participation at this meeting
to a minimum, yourself, Elliott Abrams, myself, your interpreter, and the
highest ranking military office we can find. USCINCSO Ge. Woerner or Army Chief
of Staff Vuono would be good choices.
CORR -- CONFIDENTIAL
Enclosure -- talking points --
-- You see me before you as the Secretary of State of the
United States. But 45 years ago I was a Marine lieutenant taking fire and
losing troops under my command. I well remember what combat is and I understand
-- I commend the ESAF for your remendous achievements. You
have professionalized. You have expanded the size of your officers corps and
-- with better training, equipment and movility, you have more than
halved the number of fulltime FMLN combatants.
-- With a small military
group, we have assisted with money, equipment and training. But it is you who
are fighting and winning this war. As Secretary of State and a former Marine, I
-- I am concerned by reports that the ESAF and the security
force are committing an increasing number of human rights violations. I do not
presume that these charges are necessarily correct. The problem is that without
genuine investigations of these charges the international community -- and many
in the U.S. Congress -- will assume that the charges are true. And that worries
me profoundly. We must find some way to make a strategic leap on
human rights. I assume it is obvious why such activities are morally wrong.
Experience has taughts us that mistreating civilians or captured combatants
createsmore guerrilla sympathizers that it eliminates.
rights does not mean that you must endure a state of anarchy in the cities of
El Salvador. No one will blame you for arresting violent demonstrators who are
destroying public and private property. But they must be arrested applying the
appropriate level of force -- and brought before a court of law.
-- Again I
wish to congratulate you for all that you have accomplished. You have won my
respect. You are winning the war. You have become an apolitical force and you
have resisted the enticements of those who would use you to change the covilian
government in contradiction to your constitution.
-- Civilians are a
fractious lot. Democracy is inefficient. ... But is it without a doubt better
than any other system of government.
And as the eight-year Reagan adminstration drew to a close, here is what
had been accomplished, as reported from San Salvador.
O 291658Z JUN 88
FM: AMEMBASSY SAN SALV
Auxiliary Bishop Rosa
Chavez backed up his pessimistic Dec. 1987 sermon by quoting Tutela
Legals year-end statistic of 1,309 civilians who died violent politically
motivated deaths in 1987.
Governmental rights commission (CDH) executive
director Benjamin Cestioni since mid-May has been telling Embassy officers he
is dismayed by what appears to him to be the beginning of the return ot the
appalling human rights situation of the early 1980s.
Our hunch is that the
increase in extralegal violence my be related more to the expiration of the
State of Exception Decree in January 1987 than to any other single event. There
are no quick fixes. This is not 1983 when Vice President Bush could meet with
the military commanders and cause a strategic leap in the observance of human
Some academics distinguish between command
repression and institutional repression. The former would be
an officer drawing up a list of suspected terrorists and order his men to kill
them. The latter would be a corporal feeling he can kill someone with impunity
in order to steal his property. While command repression may be
more repugnant morally, both types must be addressed in order to create the
climate where citizens feel protected by the law and have some belief in
equality before the law.
Contrary to reports in the U.S. press and questions
which wwe are being asked by U.S. visiting delegations, the increased number of
death outside combat look as if they may be due to the security forces, the
army, or perhaps the para-military death squads, does not appear to be related
to the Arena victory in the Mar. 20, 88 assembly elections.
As for the
solution, there is no easy answer. While the human rights commission, CDH, has
gone just about as far as it can in educational programs, once a human rights
violation is committed there is little the CSH can do because it cannot present
evidence in court.
We had high hopes of the new attorney general, but when
he ran into problems with the military in the fall of 87, he backed off and his
office is no longer making serious efforts to promise to prosecuted human
In the final analysis, it is interesting not only how little was
achieved, but how little was leaned in the White House. As Reagan was working
through his final year, his government was still lumping every critic -- no
matter how knowledgeable -- together in something called the
This letter was from the head of Human Rights Watch to the U.S. Embassy
in San Salvador in July 1988:
I have been informed that the Embassy has circulated in its press
package several articles under the title of leftist propaganda in the
U.S. It is my understanding that on May 5 the Embassys press digest
included under this heading an article by a Human Rights Watch staff membver,
Holly Burkalter, concerning labor rights in El Salvador and an article by
journalist Chris Norton, also labeled leftist propaganda in the
U.S. Mr. Nortons articles appear frequently in the Christian
Human Rights Watch stronly objects to the Embassys
labeling and circulating articles in this manner. ... [T]he Embassys
annuncing to the military that a working journalist living in San Salvador is a
purveyor of leftist propaganda is irresponsible and my put
Nortons life at risk. ... We maintain an office in San Salvador which is
directed by our counsel, Jemera Rone. The characterization of the organization
as one which produces leftist propaganda is false, insulting and --
given the policial violence in El Salvador -- possibly dangerous to Ms.
In a sense, the period under review in the released State Department
documents, 1980-91, both opens and closes with Jesuits -- from the 1977 slaying
of Jesuit Rutilio Grande to the Nov. 16, 1989, wholesale massacre of the six
Jesuits and their housekeepers and the ensuing investigation and trial.
Assassinated were: Jesuits Ignacio Ellacuría, Joaquin
López y López, Amando López, Ingnacio Martin-Baro, Seguno
Montez, Juan Ramón Moreno and their housekeeper Julia Elba Ramos and her
The U.S. Embassy had always maintained regular contact with the Jesuits
and the University of Central America, as these cables reveal. Interspersed
with the cables is a partial chronology from NCRs files.
0 311382Z MAR 83
FM: SAN SALV
Staffdels McCall, Hayes and Sklar,
accompanied by Ambassador Hinton and Poloff, met with Central American
University (UCA) rector Father Ignacio Ellacuria, Father John Cortina and Dr.
Ricardo Stein on March 29, 1983, at the Embassy conference room. McCall
requested views on where El Salvador is today and where it is going.
Ellacuria responded by saying he would contribute some comments on the
situation. He then proceeded to read from well-prepared notes a careful, almost
tautological analysis of the situation.
According to Ellacurias
personal opinion, the Reagan Administration policies have yielded
some good results but have not solved the real problem in El Salvador. The
Administration has been successful in that the FMLN has not achieved power.
There is a relative improvement in the human rights situation and there is more
activity by the political parties.
But on the other hand, the FMLNs
position has not been weakened, its military strength is larger than two years
ago. Neither has its potential diminished, nationally or internationally.
Important political resources have been squandered in a futile search for a
solution which is not nearer now than before, indeed, seems farther away. The
cost of these efforts, however, has been tremendously high. According to
Ellacuria, President Reagans new policy does not solve the problem of El
Salvador because it relies on a failed scheme. The policy emerges from two
assumptions: 1. that a Marxist regime is so unacceptable that anything,
including war and repression, would be preferable, and 2. that the negotiated
presence of the FMLN in a power-sharing or representation scheme will
inevitably usher a Marxist regime into power.
Reagans new policy is
characterized by two methods, 1. to seek the progressive military defeat of the
FMLN and 2. to seek a political facade that is able to legitimize the military
struggle and muster national consensus behind it. Ellacuria affirms that this
policy will fail because Reagans Administration will not weaken the FMLN
in the time it has left in power. There is also no reason to expect a rapid
decline in the increasing military power of the FMLN. To ignore those facts
necessarily implies continuation of the violence and carnage.
proposed that the US Administration shift policies and attempt a
pre-dialogue with the FMLN through a personal, official and secret
emissary from President Reagan. The rationale behind this proposal, Ellacuria
stated, is that the US and the FMLN are the two real protagonists in this
conflict. According to Father Ellacuria, the FMLN is now ready to speak
seriously with any sector in this country which is not extremely rightist nor
too directly involved in the killing. The FMLN is ready to speak to private
enterprise and to the military as it now speaks to the top hierarchy of the
church. The US Administration will be able to convince everyone -- except Arena
-- to join in the dialogue. Ellacuria admitted that even though the FMLN is
willing to negotiate, the two main guerrilla groups -- the FPL and ERP -- must
still be convinced that it is not necessary to continue the war to win.
HINTON -- SECRET
The next month, another meeting.
R 292305Z APR 83
Burke (meeting with Human Rights groups) noted that
the number of civilians killed appeared to be on the decline. Ellacuria agreed
that the numbers of deaths had come down, but that this did not mean the human
rights situation had improved. Ellacuria attributed that decline to the
following 1. there are simply fewer potential victims, this is simply because
so many have been killed already, 2. because those who supported FMLN had been
so terrorized by the security forces that they dare not manifest their support,
3. because many FMLN supporters have fled the country and 4. because of U.S.
Well-known figures such as himself are no longer targeted but the
apparatus is still in place. Ellacuria gave his vision of an ideal government
in a future El Salvador.
In his opinion, Salvador needed an authoritarian
regime of the left to address the basic human needs of the nation whose
population would reach 10 million in the year 2000. A democratic regime could
not wield sufficient power to resolve these problems and the trickle
down program of the rightist authoritarian government would not suffice.
In the interest of helping the poor, Ellacuria was prepared to put his and the
nations political liberties on the back burner for an indefinite period.
A leftist authoritarian regime would want relations with the United States
because the nation would depend on trade with the U.S. and foreign investment
for economic recovery.
Deaths declined in 1984 to 3,400 from 6,100. In 1984, the dead included
Lutheran pastor David Ernesto Fernandez Espino, whose mutilated body was
discovered in January.
That same month, the Catholic Traditionalist Movement took a full-page
advertisement in a San Salvador newspaper with veiled threats against
Archbishop Rivera (remember your predecessor) and accusing him of
sowing class hatred and supporting Catholic communist
Internally, Salvador was chaotic, with more than 10 percent of the
country displaced. The pacification attempt had thus far consumed $10 million
from sources Reagan found and $23 million in U.S. Agency for International
Development money. Congress charged the USAID money was buying war,
with only 15 percent of the $1.7 billion that had gone into El Salvador since
1980 spent on reform or economic development.
That spring, Elliott Abrams denied the Salvadoran air force had engaged
in indiscriminate bombing. The summer brought the Zona Rosa slayings of the
marines and civilians.
The next year, 1985, DAubuissons ARENA party lost its
majority in municipal elections and by October ARENA had dropped
DAubuisson. It was at that time that some 2,500 Salvadorans held a peace
march in the capital, that Duartes kidnapped daughter was released, and
Duarte subsequently said no to resumed peace talks.
The U.S. Embassy was still assessing who mattered and who
R 260007Z NOV 85
FM AMEMBASSY SAN SALV
The Jesuit University (UCA)
journal ECA has an impact beyond what its rather restricted
distribution would indicate. It is widely read in professional and academic
circles, as well as by top level government bureaucrats and politicians. It is
useful as a rather accurate reflection of the thinking of the left-wing
intelligentsia. Its publication of articles such as the editorial on Nicaragua
and the justification of the Zona Rosa massacre, if nothing else, refute the
charge that there is no freedom of the press in El Salvador and that there is
no legitimate outlet for the printed expression of views opposing the
government from the left.
CORR -- UNCLASSIFIED
As 1986 opened, Archbishop John Quinn condemned the bombing of
civilians; two Salvadoran army officers accused of assisting death squads were
promoted and two former national guard corporals were found guilty in the
deaths of the AFL-CIO advisers.
Before the year ended, talks between the government and guerrillas were
A year later, October 1987, peace talks were back in the headlines and
in November Archbishop Rivera Damas was lamenting that the increased number of
murders makes us think the death squads are returning. A few weeks
later, the Salvadoran government declared there was new evidence to link
DAubuisson to Romeros death -- provided by Saravia, the driver of
the getaway car. His extradition to El Salvador from the United States was
sought -- and fought.
Yet DAubuisson -- with George Bush in the United States
campaigning for Reagans place in the White House -- won a stunning
victory in the April national elections. Later, Bush won, too. In February
1989, a commission appointed by the Salvadoran government concluded that
Roberto DAubuisson planned Romeros assassination and that Helgado
Regalado was the triggerman.
In May, the Jesuits Central American University was bombed. In
retrospect it was a signal of what lay only months ahead. That summer, as the
ARENA party stepped up its anti-Jesuit campaign, the long shadows from a decade
earlier crept toward UCA. On Nov. 16, soldiers brutally blew away the lives and
brains of six Jesuits and two women.
Who ordered the Jesuits killed? The U.S. Embassy in San Salvador was
partly responsible for seeing that question answered. Instead, as time elapsed,
it became extremely defensive and did not want the investigation pushed too far
in the direction in which it was heading -- toward final responsibility resting
with Col. Rene Emilio Ponce, Salvador armed forces chief.
The embassy grew increasingly protective -- or schizoid. It wanted to
see those responsible in the high command brought to justice while not wanting
to rock the leaderships boat on the grounds it was in the interests of
the United States to protect the FMLN-Salvadoran government dialogue.
Equally strange was the period when (0 125848Z OCT 90) on Jan. 2
1990, Major Eric W. Buckland, US miloff in Salvador, approached his superior
officer with the important news that Col. Guillermo Benavides Marino may have
ordered the killing of the six Jesuit priests and their two housekeepers on the
morning of Nov. 16, 1989.
According to Buckland, Col. Carlos Aviles, his ESAF counterpart,
told him on Dec. 21, 1989, in an informal conversation in Aviles office
that Benavides admitted his role in the crime to Lieut. Col. Manuel Rivas, the
director of the SIU (special investigation unit), and asked for his help in
obstructing the investigation.
Bucklands testimony -- he later retracted it and some of it did
not hold up under lie-detector examination -- raised questions as to whether
Bucklands account was diversionary, diverting attention away from Ponce.
One fact was clear, however: The armed forces were stalling the investigation
and prosecution into who killed the Jesuits, and the U.S. ambassador was
unwilling to push.
In a 1991 report to Congressman Joe Moakley, aides Jim McGovern and Bill
Woodward, who uncovered material that implicated Ponce as ordering the murders,
looked at the situation this way:
Perhaps the best summary of the current status of the case was provided
by one Salvadoran government official who told us that the Armed Forces
wrote the first act in the Jesuits case by murdering the priests, now,
they are writing the final act by controlling the
Although we have more confidence now than after
previous trips (that) Col. Benavides and others charged with murders may be
convicted, we also believe more strongly than ever that the high command of the
armed forces has successfully limited the scope of the investigation and
protected certain officers from possible prosecution. (Ponce was the most
The Salvadoran military has grown so uncooperative in the case that
the Bush administration secretly ordered a slowdown in delivering U.S. military
aid this past August. The slowdown continued until November when a resurgence
in FMLN military activity prompted renewed aid.
For this reason, both
Salvadoran and U.S. officials familiar with the investigation stress the need
for continued external pressure in the Jesuits case. Pressure to
guarantee the integrity of the trial and pressure to develop more information
about who ordered the murders, who planned them, and who sought to limit the
investigation concerning them.
It is disturbing that President Cristiani
proved either unwilling or unable to exercise his authority as
commander-in-chief to require Col. Ponce and the other officers to testify in
In fact, Cristiani was not the only one unwilling to put Ponce on the
spot. U.S. Ambassador William Walker, increasingly flailing about, was advising
Bushs secretary of state, James A. Baker III, that the United States
not jeopardize the political progress by what we do to solve
past deaths, however heinous.
Walker (031421Z) was extremely defensive of Ponce, placing a higher
priority on reform of the military than on the Jesuit investigations:
The ESAFs institutional problems had been dramatically
highlighted by the Jesuit case and its aftermath -- and the stigma of an
arbitrary Armed Forces resistance to civilian authority remained. Ponce thus
had an extremely narrow window to demonstrate that the situation had
Further (0 152305Z): I have reached the conclusion that the (U.S.)
Embassy (in San Salvador) must cease the pursuit of unilateral overt
information-gathering or face continued no-win decisions and criticism. I
recommend that the Embassy be so instructed and that all further investigative
effort be left to the GOES (government of El Salvador). SECRET.
Walker believed (same cable), the Embassys sustained efforts
to support, stimulate and advance the GOES investigation of the Jesuits
murders has again put it and an individual mission officer in a difficult,
dangerous and virtually no-win situation -- risks that far outweigh the gains
possible at this point.
In conclusion, then, the United States involvement in El Salvador, as
these cables relate it, was ending the decade much as it had begun -- by
concerning itself first and foremost with its own interests.
The Salvadorans had little to show for the U.S. millions spent, the
military battles fought on the ground and the political battles fought in
Washington beyond a demoralized people, a dislocated population, the promise
still of peace and 75,000 dead.
Religious Task Force on Central America
NCR: How do you summarize what happened in El Salvador?
El Salvador tragedy began with (President) Carter. That special commission
(Rogers-Bowdler) he sent after the four churchwomen were killed, came back and
their public statement was, basically, the Salvadoran government is doing an
honest job, a sincere job in trying to investigate. Military aid was then
restarted. And that happened before Reagan came into office.
The Salvadoran military government (saw) the (1980) U.S. election
results as a green light. I mean, incredible high-profile assassinations: the
four (Salvadoran) FDR leaders, the four churchwomen, John Sullivan.
Reagan came into office. It was so quickly announced that countering
terrorism would replace human rights in U.S. foreign policy, it became obvious
in Salvador there wasnt going to be much of a price to be paid for these
high-profile assassinations. I remember hearing even in Guatemala that with
Reagans election, people in the Guatemala government and military, for
example, were throwing parties.
With Reagan in, was there any likelihood that responsible dissent was
going to make a difference?
With folks like Alexander Haig, I dont
think we could influence the administration except through the purse strings --
thats why so much of the effort was focused on Congress.
Congress as a whole never really signed on?
Thats right. Given
the dominating ideology, people were extremely nervous about the soft on
communism charge. It worked extremely well. Dissenting groups represented
popular opinion, public opinion. Polls kept showing the skepticism about U.S.
involvement and opposition to U.S. military aid. But it was an issue on which
elections would be decided.
The religious right?
We know there were connections with people in
the White House. The fact that none of that is coming out shows how informally
they kept those relationships -- so that they wouldnt come out. What
really was the role of the Institute on Religion and Democracy?
What went on in the Reagan administration in the way they attacked the
religious community is almost unprecedented. Faith itself actually became a
theological debate. It was astonishing.
What is missing from the cable traffic?
We see very little, for
example, about the role of the U.S. military advisers. People believe we had
advisers in each of the garrisons and that there was a much more direct role
being played by them in actually carrying out the war -- I mean strategically
planning with the Salvadoran army. Some of the military personnel down there,
Im sure, were part of the intelligence agencies. This says little about
the CIA role. That is a huge hole. We also have not seen much from the FBI and
how they linked some of their domestic surveillance here with the El Salvador
foreign policy. Another missing piece.
Why did it all come to an end?
A couple of things sort of gathered
momentum. Bush was somewhat more pragmatic. I dont think he was ever as
ideologically bound up as Reagan, and the war was very costly and it was clear
that Congress was not going to keep funding at those levels.
Then, on top of that, the FMLN launched its offensive Bushs first
year in office. It showed an amazing military capacity. It really did surprise
everybody. The army was not able to defeat them; the FMLN was not able to
defeat the army. Then came the killing of the Jesuits, in a sense, the straw
that broke the U.S. camels back. And after all those years, the U.S.
policy had not changed and the character of the Salvadoran army was the
Salvadors future? Central Americas future?
worried, with ARENA in power and a president critical of many reforms and the
peace accords. Unless the peace accords are fully implemented, Salvador could
again be headed for an unstable period. My major worry is that the Clinton
administration, seeing the Salvadoran elections sort of resolved, will think we
dont have to worry about it when precisely the opposite is the case. The
U.S. is trying to help redefine the role for the army in Central America. A
couple of years ago, we really hoped that demilitarization would become a major
theme. State Department people will tell you demilitarization is not what
were going for right now.
U.S. ambassador to El Salvador, 1980-81
NCR: When the United States failed to move on Bosnia, people in the
State Departments Eastern European section resigned in protest. We
didnt see anyone resigning over U.S. Central American policy in the
Reagan-Bush years. Why not?
White: Well, you had the communist-anticommunist
struggle in which to place these things -- that occurs to me. Also, I think
what you had (in those years) was a creeping policy -- you cant point to
any one happening where U.S. policy went awry. What you did have was a lot of
foreign service officers fleeing ARA (American Republics Area), seeking
Let me put it this way. The Vietnam War -- the Pentagon really learned
something from that. There was a kind of catharsis that took place inside the
Pentagon because of Vietnam. They learned the right lessons.
What is shocking, I believe, is that the State Department was perhaps
the primary vehicle for the Central American policy and its clear that
lessons that should have been learned have not been learned.
If no lessons have been learned, is all this going to happen again?
I was just in Mexico City talking to (Guatemalan) revolutionaries. There was
talk about this Guatemalan truth commission. I said, its not only the
Guatemalans who need a truth commission, its also the Americans.
Unless we get the entire story out about what our actions have been like
in Central America over the last four decades, the danger is that this will be
repeated. Now I dont think it will be repeated immediately, but in 10
years? Who is to say?
What was the collusion level like? Helms-Reagan, the religious
Well, you had these Reagan ideologues driving this policy, right? And
later on, you had Elliott Abrams. And then you had the U.S. Embassy more or
less routinely trying to do its job -- occasional clashes like when
(Ambassador) Deane Hinton got up and denounced the guerrillas of the
right and got slapped down for it. But whatever reporting the embassy was
doing had absolutely no effect on the ideologues back in Washington.
What finally finished the (Reagan-Bush) Salvadoran policy was the death
of the Jesuits where the Congress just told the Bush administration no more
money. And that was it. And thats when the State Department basically got
the mandate to bring it to an end.
Fr. William Callahan
NCR: Stand back from the era and events, if you would, to provide a
closing assessment that looks at El Salvadoran issues not really discussed in
the released cables, yet vital to an understanding of the times: liberation
theology, and where the U.S. religious right was in all this, and the
Vaticans generally invisible hand.
Callahan: It was clear in El
Salvador and was true in Nicaragua that the solidarity folks, the
U.S. church people, far from being the so-called naifs, have been absolutely
right on target most of the time. We were lied to, cheated by the U.S.
The bottom line is liberation theologys espousal of the poor. It
was seen as a threat to U.S. strategic interests and to U.S. strategic allies.
The (various administrations) didnt care how religiously based it might
be, it stood in the way. They had to be marginalized.
Since the days of the Banzer Plan of 1975, theyve known what
liberation theology was and what it claimed. Theyve known all along that
Roman Catholics -- many of whom were killed -- were not communists in the sense
of being loyal to Moscow, that type of thing.
Yet in their determination that the so-called leftist element would in
no sense be allowed to share power, human rights -- even for Carter -- were not
in any way a U.S. priority that would be allowed to come into conflict with
I guess I have another framework. The Salvadoran military, just as the
Haitian military in the present day, was very shrewd. They read the Americans
very clearly. I liken them to the Mafia or the Somoza national guard: Use
corruption to eliminate the moral sense.
What I mean is, when you have an ally who has a queasy conscience, the
way you can lock them in and join them to you is to make sure they enter into
your corruption. If they dont back out at that moment, they are
So kill Romero. The Americans protested, swallowed hard, and kept the
aid coming. Once youve swallowed the assassination of an archbishop, how
can you protest about the killing of some peasants? Escalate and kill some U.S.
churchwomen. Another swallowing -- how can they protest Salvadoran deaths? Then
you kill American labor people -- how can you protest assaults on journalists?
Another swallow. And when they swallow, the moral outrage is basically gone
The only thing that could be mustered was in 1983 when George Bush went
down and told them they were jeopardizing the strategic interests and had to
The military control of the death squads was perfectly reflected in the
fact that the violence dropped instantly.
And the religious right?
The religious rights fingerprints were
all over Central American policy, and it is a holistic policy -- a U.S.
government-facilitated flight here, an encouragement there, and an affirming
word that protects missionaries of the right pretty much from the harm that
comes to liberationists.
The Vatican is one of the unspoken stories. I think the Vaticans
complicity has all kinds of unwritten chapters of which very little was more
than hinted at in Central America. Every signal we see from the 1980s is that
the Vatican remains a major player and from my vantage point, in practice,
though never in words, an absolutely hateful player toward the poor and an
absolute ally of the rich. I just havent seen many signs where anything
on the Vatican diplomatic front resonated the scriptures.
Human Rights Watch
Was the best cable material on El Salvador withheld? Were
not really sure, said Cynthia Arnson, acting director, Americas at Human
Rights Watch, Washington. This is just a partial record of U.S. policy,
but theres some absolutely incredible stuff, CIA stuff -- you know,
identifying Ponce, and the death squad participants.
El Salvador was an Arnson project during the period for which the cables
have been released. She believes that part of the importance of the documents
is that while the U.S. government was always saying the killing was happening,
the United States blamed the deaths on extremes of left and right and
that the Salvadoran government was gaining control. Now we know it was the
(Salvadoran) government we were supporting that was doing this stuff.
The Reagan and Bush administrations, she said, never told the
Salvadoran government, You guys are thugs and murderers and if you
dont clean up your act were going to cut you off. What they
said instead was, These death squad murders are appalling and if they
dont stop, Congress might do it regardless of our desire to keep on
helping you. Congress might pull the rug out from under us.
At the same time, the human rights community and the church
community in the United States, she said, were viewed almost as
much the enemy as the guerrillas in El Salvador. Our characterizations of the
situation in El Salvador threatened the ability (of the White House) to support
the Salvadoran armed forces.
The end came in Salvador, Arnson contended, first because the
military offensive by the FMLN reminded people there was a nonmilitary solution
to this war; second, the killing of the Jesuits occurred after the fall of the
Berlin Wall -- the Cold War rationale was no longer valid.
In El Salvador today, there is a peace accord and still no guarantee of
National Catholic Reporter, September 23,