Salvadoran Civil War

Salvadoran Civil War
El Salvador's Civil War
Part of the Cold War
El Salvador-CIA WFB Map.png

Map of El Salvador
Date 1980–1992
Location Central and Eastern El Salvador
Result Chapultepec Peace Accords of 1992; Restructuring of Salvadorian Armed Forces, the National and Treasury Police are dissolved (new civilian-overseen police created); FMLN becomes a political party, its combatants are exonerated
Salvadorian Government:
El Salvador Salvadorian Armed Forces
National Police
Treasury Police
Death Squads
Revolutionary Forces:
Commanders and leaders
El Salvador Roberto D'Aubuisson
El Salvador Álvaro Magaña
El Salvador José Guillermo García
El Salvador José Napoleón Duarte
El Salvador Alfredo Cristiani
Cayetano Carpio
Leonel González
Schafik Handal
Joaquin Villalobos
Nidia Díaz
Approx. 50,000-100,000 100,000
Casualties and losses
~75,000 dead[1]

The Salvadoran Civil War (1980–1992) was a conflict in El Salvador between the military-led government of El Salvador and the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), a coalition or umbrella organization of five left-wing militias. Significant tensions and violence had already existed, before the civil war's full outbreak, over the course of the 1970s. El Salvador's Civil War was the third longest civil war in Latin America after the Guatemalan Civil War and the Armed conflict in Peru. The United States supported the Salvadorian military government.[2][3][4] The conflict ended in the early 1990s. Some 75,000 people were killed.[5]



El Salvador is a small country located in Central America bordered by Honduras, Guatemala, and the Pacific Ocean. In recent years,[when?] it has been plagued by violence and poverty due to over-population and class struggles. The conflict between the rich and the poor of the country has existed for more than a century.

In the late 1880s, coffee became a major cash crop for El Salvador. It brought in 95% of the country's income. Unfortunately, this wealth was confined within only 2% of the population. Tensions between the classes grew, and in 1932 Augustín Farabundo Marti formed the Central American Socialist Party and led peasants and indigenous people against the government. In response, the government supported military death squads which killed anyone who even looked Indian or may have been supporting the uprising. The killing became known as La Matanza (the Massacre) and left more than 30,000 people dead. Marti was eventually arrested and put to death.

Both sides continued to fight back and forth in an endless string of assassinations and coups. As the presence of guerillas persisted, the military reinstated the death squads in order to combat the rebel forces. The government-supported military and its affiliated paramilitary death squads targeted anyone they suspected of supporting social and economic reform. Often the victims were unionists, clergy, independent farmers, and university officials. In 1978, government forces and death squads reportedly killed 687 civilians; in 1979, this rate more than doubled to approximately 1,796 killed.[6] In 1979, the Junta Revolucionaria de Gobierno (Revolutionary Government Junta) overthrew the government. When the junta made promises to improve living standards in the country but failed to do so, discontent with the government provoked the five main guerrilla groups in the country to unite into the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN).

In 1980, El Salvador's civil war officially began. As insurgent activity increased, the state-sanctioned repression reached nearly unprecedented levels. In 1980, which marked a turning point in the scale of the repression, the Salvadoran Army and three main security forces (National Guard, National Police and Treasury Police) murdered a minimum of 11,895 people. In 1981, government forces killed over 16,000 unarmed civilians, with the death toll for the first six months of the year nearly eclipsing the total for the entire previous year.[7][8] The military death squads wiped out entire villages believed to be assisting the guerrilla efforts. In December, 1981, the military massacred over 1,000 people in the village of El Mozote. The first reports of the attacks were denied by both El Salvador and the United States, but after the mass graves were uncovered, it was hard to deny what had taken place. Government killings continued at high levels in 1982 and 1983, with an estimated 8,000 civilians killed annually by government forces in both years.[9][10] Some of the most notable victims of this repression were Archbishop Oscar Romero (shot to death in 1980), four US church workers (raped and murdered in 1980), four Dutch journalists (murdered in 1982) and six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter (shot to death at home in 1989).

As the military defended their stand of killing any alleged rebels, the FMLN also worked to sabotage bridges, cut power lines, destroy coffee plantations, and do anything else possible to damage the economy that supported the government. The FMLN also murdered and kidnapped government officials. As time passed, guerrilla efforts progressed from using machetes and small pistols to using grenade launchers and other imported arms. Their advances became more strategic and better planned.

The war persisted despite efforts from both sides to bring an end to the fighting. The FMLN refused to participate in the presidential elections, feeling that any election results would be adjusted in favor of right-wing parties. The government refused to attend peace talks organized by the FMLN.

Today many people[who?] say that the Salvadoran civil war would not have lasted so long without the support of the United States. Like many countries engulfed in civil war, El Salvador exhausted its resources fighting itself. The government was able to continue its efforts with help from the US, which had begun supporting the government with financial and military aid as soon as the war started. Although the US temporarily suspended funds after the rape and murder of the church women in 1980, apparent growing Soviet support in Nicaragua encouraged the US to reactivate support for the Salvadoran Army and security forces, and military aid resumed as usual within six weeks of the killings. Military and monetary aid supporting the Salvadoran government from the US continued until 1990. During the height of the war, aid averaged $1.5 million a day. The US finally ceased support only in 1990 after the United Nations became involved, and Congressman Joe Moakley confirmed reports of human rights violations. Eventually, the military aid from the US became reconstruction aid. Currently, the US sends about $30–35 million annually to El Salvador.

Throughout the war, critics in the US[who?] fought to end US aid to El Salvador's government and argued that the United States was pouring money into an organization that committed incredible violations against human rights. Some[who?] say that the US chose to remain oblivious to the violations in order to justify its actions. In addition, many[who?] argued that the United States had no business in Central America as many regional countries, including El Salvador, were ripe for internal unrest.

By contrast, others[who?] supported the US government's decision to intervene. They agreed with President Ronald Reagan when he said, "What we see in El Salvador is an attempt to destabilize the entire region and eventually move chaos and anarchy to the American border."[cite this quote] Some believed that it was essential to protect America from any possible communist advance. The FMLN rebels were seen as communist supporters because they accepted some weapons from Cuba and had the support of Cuban leader Fidel Castro. (Evidence is said to be found in certain "White Papers", but has not been confirmed, although the visible presence of FMLN leaders in Managua encouraged the belief.) Acceptance of any Cuban support was viewed as acceptance of Soviet support, and Soviet documents from the period show that the USSR viewed Central America as part of a larger strategy to extend its influence. At the time the Soviets were viewed as the greatest threat to the United States.

In the end about 75,000 people died as result of the civil war between 1980 and 1992. With the passage of time, more evidence of war crimes emerges and more former government officials are prosecuted.


The FMLN insurgency originated in the 1960s, when reformers challenged the alliance of an authoritarian dictatorship.[citation needed] Because of the fraudulent presidential elections in 1972 and 1977, and long-standing repression of alternative communist political parties focusing on socialist reforms, leftist political groups organized huge demonstrations demanding fair elections and improved social conditions. The government fought back violently to maintain power. Most Salvadorans were campesinos, peasants living at subsistence level without running water or electricity, while a tiny privileged minority live in wealth and opulence.[citation needed] In 1976, the régime's token land reform did little to alleviate the economic inequity. The government replied to the consequent political unrest with state-of-siege declarations, the suspension of constitutional rights, and paramilitary death squads. These actions further alienated the population and prompted many in the Catholic Church to denounce the government violence.[11]

1979 coup d’état and civil unrest

On 15 October 1979, the civil-military Junta Revolucionaria de Gobierno (Revolutionary Government Junta) — JRG — deposed President General Carlos Humberto Romero. Inspired by left-wing politics, and wishing to project a moderately-civilised Salvadoran world image, the JRG — Col. Adolfo Arnaldo Majano Ramo, Col. Jaime Abdul Gutiérrez Avendaño, Guillermo Ungo, Mario Antonio Andino, Román Mayorga Quirós — governed El Salvador from 1979 to 1982; his government effected some land reform (Decree No. 43, 6-XII-1979) restricting landholdings to a hundred-hectare maximum, nationalised the banking, coffee, and sugar industries, and disbanded the paramilitary private death squad ORDEN.

In 1980, José Napoleón Duarte, the Christian Democratic Party (PDC) leader, joined the JRG as provisional-head-of-government until the March 1982 elections, but the JRG was internally divided, vacillating about how strongly to manage the FMLN's armed insurrection and the military's institutional pressure against the JRG's moderates, seen as Marxist sympathizers; U.S. ambassador Robert E. White summarises contemporary Salvadoran society:

The major, immediate threat to the existence of this government is the right-wing violence. In the city of San Salvador, the hired thugs of the extreme-right kill moderate-left leaders, some of them well-trained Cuban and Nicaraguan terrorists, and blow up government buildings. In the countryside, elements of the security forces torture and kill the campesinos, shoot up their houses and burn their crops. At least two hundred refugees from the countryside arrive daily in the capital city. This campaign of terror is radicalizing the rural areas, just as surely as Somoza's National Guard did in Nicaragua, also backed by the USA Government. Unfortunately, the command structure of the army and the security forces either tolerates or encourages this activity. These senior officers believe, or pretend to believe, that they are eliminating the guerrillas.[12]

The government-backed death squad terrorists' most infamous assassination was of a Catholic Archbishop: on 24 March 1980, Archbishop Óscar Romero was shot while giving a mass — a month after publicly asking the U.S. Government to stop military aid to the Salvadoran Government, and the day after he called upon members of the Salvadoran soldiers and security force members (National Guard, Treasury Police, and National Police) not to follow orders of their commanders to kill Salvadoran civilians, especially farmworkers in connection with the newly announced Phase I of government agrarian reform. At his funeral a week later, government-sponsored sniper(s) in the National Palace and/or posted on the periphery of the Gerardo Barrios Plaza in front of the National Cathedral, were responsible for the shooting deaths/trampling massacre of some forty-two mourners.

On 7 May 1980, former Army Major Roberto D'Aubuisson was arrested with a group of civilians and soldiers at a farm. The raiders found documents connecting him and the civilians as organizers and financiers of the death squad who killed Archbishop Romero, and of plotting a coup d’état against the JRG. Their arrest provoked right-wing terrorist threats and institutional pressures forcing the JRG to release Maj. D’Aubuisson. In 1993, a U.N. investigation confirmed that Maj. D'Aubuisson ordered Archbishop Romero assassinated.[13]


A casualty of El Salvador's Civil War is carried back to his farm for burial (1982).

In May 1980, the Salvadoran revolutionary leadership met in Havana, forming the consolidated politico-military command, the DRU — Dirección Revolucionaria Unificada (Unified Revolutionary Directorate). In October, they founded the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (comprising the Frente Farabundo Martí de Liberación Nacional [FMLN] and the Frente Democrático Revolucionario [FDR]) honoring insurgent hero Farabundo Martí, whom the Salvadoran National Guard killed in 1932.

In preparing for a mass insurrection against the U.S.-sponsored military government of El Salvador, the FMLN's feasible military victory was a two-pronged strategy of economic sabotage and a prolonged guerrilla war-of-attrition (per the principles of Ché Guevara, Mao Zedong, and the Vietnamese) fought with rural guerrillas and urban civil political support; thus, in the 1980–1982 period political violence increased when mass political groups metamorphosed into guerrillas.[11] On 10 January 1981, the FMLN's first, major attack established their control of most of Morazán and Chalatenango departments for the war's duration.

The U.S.-directed counterinsurgency war — echoing "scorched earth" air-power tactics from its Vietnam era — escalated in the early 1980s; the Salvadoran military's infrastructure was severely degraded when the FMLN captured much countryside in the eastern and northern sections, despite the inconclusive January 1981, General Offensive.

Elections occurred during U.S.-directed counterinsurgency/anti-imperialist civil war, but were interrupted with right-wing paramilitary attacks and FMLN-suggested boycotts. In 1986, a major earthquake punctuated the war; and for three years fighting lessened and calls for negotiation grew within the context of the rising social movement, The National Debate for Peace; also the Human Rights Commission of El Salvador-non governmental (CDHES) published a 165-page report documenting the routine use of forty types of torture applied to political prisoners in the Mariona men's prison, and that U.S. military advisors often supervised said interrogations.[citation needed]

Meanwhile, the JRG re-allowed select, U.S.-financed political party activity; on 28 March 1982, Salvadorans elected a new Constituent Assembly that, in turn, elected Álvaro Alfredo Magaña Borja as interim president. In 1983, the Assembly drafted a new constitution ostensibly strengthening civil rights, limiting “provisional detention” and unreasonable search-and-seizure, establishing a pluralistic republican government, strengthening the legislature, guaranteeing judicial independence, and codifying labor rights — especially of agricultural workers; the FMLN thought them too little.

Despite the nominal reforms, El Salvador's human-rights record registered only death-squad terrorism. In 1984, Christian Democrat José Napoleón Duarte won the presidency (with 54% of the votes) against Army Major Roberto d’Aubuisson, of the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), becoming the first, freely-elected President of El Salvador in more than fifty years. Fearful of a d’Aubuisson presidency, the CIA financed Duarte's campaign with some two million dollars, because, per U.S. ambassador Robert White, the "pathological killer" d’Aubuisson and his ARENA party were the death squads.[citation needed] In 1989, ARENA's Alfredo Cristiani became president with 54 per cent of the votes; his inauguration was the first, peaceful Salvadoran presidential succession, albeit in the midst of civil war.

On 26 October 1987, Herbert Ernesto Anaya, head of the CDHES, was assassinated. His killing provoked four days' of political protest — during which his cadaver was displayed before the U.S. embassy and then before the Salvadoran armed forces headquarters. The National Union of Salvadoran Workers said: Those who bear sole responsibility for this crime are José Napoleón Duarte, the U.S. embassy ... and the high command of the armed forces. In its report the Commssion on the Truth for El Salvador, established as part of the El Salvador peace agreement, stated that it could not establish for sure whether the death squads, the Salvadoran Army or the FMLN was responsible for Anaya's death.

Moreover, the FMLN and the Revolutionary Democratic Front (FDR) also protested Mr. Anaya's assassination by suspending negotiations with the Duarte Government on 29 October 1987. The same day, Reni Roldán resigned from the Commission of National Reconciliation, saying: The murder of Anaya, the disappearance of university labor leader Salvador Ubau, and other events do not seem to be isolated incidents. They are all part of an institutionalised pattern of conduct. Mr. Anaya's assassination evoked international indignation: the West German Government, the West German Social Democratic Party, and the French Government asked President Duarte to clarify the circumstances of the crime. United Nations Secretary General, Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, Americas Watch, Amnesty International, and other organisations protested against the assassination of the leader of the Human Rights Commission of El Salvador.[14]

In November 1989, the FMLN captured parts of San Salvador city, though they failed to take power. Eventually, by April 1991, negotiations resumed, resulting in a truce that successfully concluded in January 1992, bringing about the war's end.

Peace Accords

On 16 January 1992, the Chapultepec Peace Accords were signed in Chapultepec Castle, Mexico City, to bring peace to El Salvador,[15]. The Armed Forces were regulated, a civilian police force was established, the FMLN metamorphosed from a guerrilla army to a political party, and an amnesty law was legislated in 1993.[16]


The peace process set up under the Chapultepec Accords was monitored by the United Nations from 1991 until June 1997 when it closed its special monitoring mission in El Salvador.

Truth Commission

At war's end, the Commission on the Truth for El Salvador registered more than 22,000 complaints of political violence in El Salvador, between January 1980 and July 1991, 60 percent about summary killing, 25 percent about kidnapping, and 20 percent about torture. These complaints attributed almost 85 percent of the violence to State agents, private paramilitary groups, and the death squads. The Salvadoran armed forces were accused in 60 per cent of the complaints, the security forces in 25 percent, military escorts and civil defense units in 20 percent of complaints, the death squads in more than 10 percent, and the FMLN in 5 percent. The Truth Commission could collect only a significant sample of the full number of potential complaints, having had only three months to collect it.[17]

The retrospective assessments of human rights organizations and truth commissions document and reiterate the Salvadoran complaint that most violence was committed by the National Guard and other military bodies;[18][19][20] per Amnesty International's 1985 annual report: many of the 70,000 people killed in the preceding five years had been murdered by government forces, who openly dumped the mutilated corpses, in an apparent effort to terrorize the population. More than 70,000 people were killed, many in the course of gross violation of their human rights. More than 25 per cent of the populace was displaced as refugees before the civil warriors signed a U.N. peace treaty in 1992.[21][22]

Despite mostly killing peasants, the Government readily killed any opponent they suspected of sympathy with the guerrillas — clergy (men and women), church lay workers, political activists, journalists, labor unionists (leaders, rank-and-file), medical workers, liberal students and teachers, and human-rights monitors.[23] The State's terrorism was effected by the security forces, the Army, the National Guard, and the Treasury Police;[24][25] yet it was the paramilitary death squads who gave the Government plausible deniability of, and accountability for, the political killings. Typically, a death squad dressed in civilian clothes and traveled in anonymous vehicles (dark windows, blank license plates). Their terrorism comprised publishing future-victim death lists, delivering coffins to said future victims, and sending the target-person an invitation to his/her own funeral.[26][27] Cynthia Arnson, a Latin American-affairs writer for Human Rights Watch, says: the objective of death-squad-terror seemed not only elimination of opponents, but also, through torture and the gruesome disfiguration of bodies, the terrorization of the population.[28] In the mid-1980s, state terror against Salvadorans became open — indiscriminate bombing from military airplanes, planted mines, and the harassment of national and international medical personnel; all indicate that, although death rates attributable to the death squads have declined in El Salvador since 1983, non-combatant victims of the civil war have increased dramatically.[29]

In addition, the FMLN continuously violated the human rights of many Salvadorans and other individuals identified as right-wing supporters, military targets, pro-government politicians, intellectuals, public officials, and judges. These violations included kidnapping, bombings, rape, and killing.[17]

Military Reform

In accordance with the peace agreements, the constitution was amended to prohibit the military from playing an internal security role except under extraordinary circumstances. During the period of fulfilling of the peace agreements, the Minister of Defense was General Humberto Corado Figueroa. Demobilization of Salvadoran military forces generally proceeded on schedule throughout the process. The Treasury Police and National Guard were abolished, and military intelligence functions were transferred to civilian control. By 1993 — nine months ahead of schedule — the military had cut personnel from a wartime high of 63,000 to the level of 32,000 required by the peace accords. By 1999, ESAF strength stood at less than 15,000, including uniformed and non-uniformed personnel, consisting of personnel in the army, navy, and air force. A purge of military officers accused of human rights abuses and corruption was completed in 1993 in compliance with the Ad Hoc Commission's recommendations.

National Civilian Police

The new civilian police force, created to replace the discredited public security forces, deployed its first officers in March 1993, and was present throughout the country by the end of 1994. As of 1999, the PNC had over 18,000 officers. The PNC faced many challenges in building a completely new police force. With common crime rising dramatically since the end of the war, over 500 PNC officers had been killed in the line of duty by late 1998. PNC officers also have arrested a number of their own in connection with various high-profile crimes, and a "purification" process to weed out unfit personnel from throughout the force was undertaken in late 2000.[30]

Land Transfers

More than 35,000 eligible beneficiaries from among the former guerrillas and soldiers who fought the war received land under the Peace Accord-mandated land transfer program which ended in January 1997. The majority of them also have received agricultural credits. The international community, the Salvadoran Government, the former rebels, and the various financial institutions involved in the process continue to work closely together to deal with follow-on issues resulting from the program.

United States involvement

Beginning with the Carter Administration and continued by the Reagan and Bush administrations, the U.S. sent seven billion dollars of foreign and military aid to El Salvador in ten years. The silent-partner role of the United States in El Salvador's Civil War became public when a National Guard death squad raped and murdered four American nuns and a laywoman on December 2, 1980; Maryknoll missionary nuns Maura Clarke, Ita Ford, and Ursuline nun Dorothy Kazel, and laywoman Jean Donovan were on a Catholic relief mission providing food, shelter, transport, medical care, and burial to death squad victims. After the murders of the churchwomen, President Carter suspended all aid to El Salvador, but domestic U.S. right-wing political pressure forced him to reinstate it.

Unlike President Carter, President Reagan favoured the Salvadoran military régime, and increased military aid and sent more U.S. military advisors. In El Salvador's Decade of Terror: Human Rights Since the Assassination of Archbishop Romero, Human Rights Watch reported: "During the Reagan years, in particular, not only did the United States fail to press for improvements ... but, in an effort to maintain backing for U.S. policy, it misrepresented the record of the Salvadoran government, and smeared critics who challenged that record. In so doing, the Administration needlessly polarized the debate in the United States, and did a grave injustice to the thousands of civilian victims of Government terror in El Salvador."[31] Despite the El Mozote Massacre that year, Reagan continued certifying (per the 1974 amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act) that the Salvadoran government was progressing in respecting and guaranteeing the human rights of its people, and in reducing National Guard abuses against them.

Per the Carter Administration, officially, there were 19 U.S. advisors in El Salvador, sent in January 1980.[3] Early in Reagan's presidency, 26 other military advisors joined the first 19; moreover, the U.S. Army was training Salvadoran military at the School of the Americas, in Georgia. Investigations, including a report by four U.S. Army lieutenant colonels at the Harvard University JFK School of Government, reported that the current number of U.S. military in El Salvador exceeded the maximum 55 allowed by Congress. In the New York Times, Congressman George Miller (Dem. Calif.) wrote: the [Reagan] Administration has evaded a 55-person cap on military personnel in El Salvador, by redefining 'military personnel'. According to the Army analysts' report, the number of American military service people exceeded 150 in 1987.[32]

In December 1983, the Reagan administration promised President Álvaro Magaña an additional US $100 million in military aid if his government took action against the death squads and dismissed from their official posts or transferred abroad at least eight armed forces officers and one civilian who had been identified as death squad leaders. Vice President George H.W. Bush personally visited San Salvador, however, to deliver the more decisive message that aid would be cut off if the abuses did not stop. The United States specifically asked for a halt to secret arrests by the three security forces and demonstrable progress in the court cases involving the murders of the churchwomen and the AIFLD advisers.

In response, senior Salvadoran officials and the armed forces leadership pledged a major crackdown on right-wing death squad activity and asked the United States for technical and investigative assistance in dealing with these groups. The Salvadoran Army also quietly dismissed or transferred abroad the officers whose names were on the United States list of suspects. In addition, the PN arrested a captain who had been linked to the murder of the two AIFLD advisers, but he was held on charges unrelated to the killings.

Despite these actions, the existence of the death squads remained a controversial issue in the United States in the mid 1980s . In congressional testimony in February 1984, former United States ambassador to El Salvador Robert E. White identified six wealthy Salvadoran landowners, then living in exile in Miami, as the principal financiers of the death squads. Critics of the Reagan administration's Salvadoran policy also alleged that the United States had indirectly supported the death squads. After a six-month investigation, however, the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence reported in October 1984 that there was no evidence to support such allegations.

On May 25, 1983, LCDR Albert Schaufelberger USN/SEAL was assassinated on the grounds of the Central American University in San Salvador while waiting for his girlfriend. A group under the umbrella of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), the Central American Revolutionary Workers' Party (PRTC), is thought to have carried out the act. His death was the first of a U.S. military member in El Salvador following the October 1980 arrival in country of U.S. military advisors.

In 1984 and 1985, President José Napoleón Duarte demoted several military officers with alleged links to death squads. During the 1984-88 period, the civilian government and armed forces reiterated their opposition to death squad activity and their commitment to dealing with the problem. As a result, death squad killings declined sharply.

In the 1985 Zona Rosa attacks, gunmen dressed as Salvadoran soldiers attacked off-duty US Marine members. In total twelve people were killed: four United States Marines, two United States businessmen, a Guatemalan, a Chilean, and four Salvadorans. A left-wing guerrilla group, the Central American Revolutionary Workers' Party (PRTC), and its terrorist arm, the Mardoqueo Cruz Urban Commando (CMC) claimed responsibility for the attack. The Marines were not military advisers but Embassy Guards.

Death squad activities began to pick up, however, in late 1987 after the signing of the Central American Peace Agreement. The number of right-wing death squad killings reportedly continued to creep upward in 1988; suspected right-wing death squads killed thirty-two civilians during the first half of 1988.

On 16 November 1989, a Salvadoran paramilitary death squad summarily killed six Jesuit priests — Ignacio Ellacuria, Segundo Montes, Ignacio Martin-Baro, Joaquín López y López, Juan Ramón Moreno, and Amando López — and their housekeepers (a mother and daughter, Elba Ramos and Celia Marisela Ramos). This mass murder occurred nine years after Archbishop Romero's assassination. In the middle of the night, these six priests were dragged from their beds to a garden behind where they lived. There, they were each shot in the head. The soldiers that were sent to kill the priests were told to not leave any witnesses, and, therefore, killed the mother and daughter.[33][34][35][36] This, and the rape-murders of the American nuns, re-started public interrogation of the Reagan Government about the killings, demanding public explanation of United States support of the Salvadoran military régime.

Defenders of President Reagan's Latin American foreign policy say that defending U.S. national security necessitated supporting such a military government, and that the FMLN's military efforts, including terrorism, seriously threatened the Salvadoran Government, and — by implication — the United States itself. In a televised national address on May 9, 1984, President Reagan stated: San Salvador is closer to Houston, Texas, than Houston is to Washington, D.C. Central America is America; it's at our doorstep, and it has become a stage for a bold attempt, by the Soviet Union, Cuba, and Nicaragua, to install Communism by force throughout the hemisphere.[37]

The U.S. State Department supported the President's contentions, detailing the international Communist conspiracy connections among the Salvadoran FMLN, Sandinista Nicaragua, Communist Cuba, and the Soviet Union, in the White Paper: Communist Interference in El Salvador explaining that — in the Russo-American Cold War context — the U.S. sided as it did because that was its viable middle-path in the Right-wing vs. Left-wing Salvadoran Civil War. Publicly, Reagan supported President Duarte's government because it worked with some success, to deal with the serious political and economic problems that most concern the people of El Salvador.[38]

In 2002, a BBC article about President George W. Bush's visit to El Salvador, on the 22nd anniversary of Archbishop Romero's assassination, reported that U.S. officials say that President [George H.W.] Bush's policies set the stage for peace, turning El Salvador into a democratic success story, but challenged his claim's validity, because of the thousands killed by a U.S.-sponsored military government directly aided by U.S. military advisors in training and supporting the death squad leaders.[39]

Post-war international litigation

Groups seeking investigation or retribution for actions during the war have sought the involvement of other foreign courts. In 2008 the Spanish Association for Human Rights and a California organization called the Center for Justice and Accountability jointly filed a lawsuit in Spain against former President Cristiani and former defense minister Larios in the matter of the 1989 slaying of several Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter. The lawsuit accused Cristiani of a cover-up of the killings and Larios of participating in the meeting where the order to kill them was given; the groups asked the Spanish court to intervene on the principle of universal jurisdiction for crimes against humanity.[40]

Long after the war, in a U.S. Federal Court, in the case of Ford vs. García the families of the murdered Maryknoll nuns sued the two Salvadoran generals believed responsible for the killings, but lost; the jury found Gen. Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, ex-National Guard Leader and Duarte's defense minister, and Gen. José Guillermo Garcia--defense minister from 1979 to 1984, not responsible for the killings; the families appealed and lost, and, in 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear their final appeal. A second case, against the same generals, succeeded in the same Federal Court; the three plaintiffs in Romagoza vs. García won a judgment exceeding US$54 million dollars compensation for having been tortured by the military during El Salvador's Civil War.

The day after losing a court appeal in October, 2009, the two generals were put into deportation proceedings by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), at the urging of U.S. Senators Richard Durbin (Democrat) and Tom Coburn (Republican), according to the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA). Those deportation proceedings as of May, 2010 have been stalled, however; one of the plaintiffs in the case believes the U.S. CIA/DOD — protecting its "assets" — has stymied the Obama Justice Department, for now.



1) Civilians resign from the national government.

2) US President Carter sends 19 advisors and $5.7 million to the Salvadoran military (replacing Israel as its main supplier).

3) Military and Christian Democratic Party form junta.

4) March 24, Archbishop Oscar Romero assassinated.

5) FMLN formed.

6) Death threats and 2 bombs received at the University of Central America.

7) Ronald Reagan elected US president.

8) 6 FMLN leaders kidnapped and killed.

9) 4 US church workers abducted, raped, and killed.

10) 11,895 civilians murdered by government forces.


1) FMLN began military attacks.

2) Salvadoran military took over the University of Central America.

3) US government provided a total of $48.92 million in military aid, military equipment sales and military credits to the Salvadoran military.

4) Repression by government forces further intensified, with over 16,000 civilians murdered.

5) Government military massacre at El Mozote left more than 1,000 civilians dead.


1) President Reagan approved human rights’ standards in El Salvador.

2) May 2, military candidate Alvaro Magana was elected president by Legislative Assembly.

3) Overt US military aid increased to approximately $82 million.

4) Government forces murdered 8,000 people.


1) President Reagan asked Congress to send more aid to El Salvador.

2) US Congress passed a resolution that reduced military aid by 30% until a verdict was reached for the murders of American church workers.

3) Government killings continued at high levels, with an additional 8,000 civilians murdered.


1) Napoleon Duarte (Christian Democrat) became Salvadoran president.

2) 5 National Guard members convicted in the murders of the church women.

3) Peace talks began.

4) US Kissinger Commission called for more aid and examination of human rights issues.

5) Repression by government forces declines dramatically, but continues.


1) FMLN kidnapped Duarte’s daughter and her friend.

2) Father Ellacuria and Monsignor Riveras y Damas negotiated the girls’ release.


1) Peace talks fell apart.

2) ARENA party increased power.


1) Peace talks began again.

2) US increased aid to El Salvador.


1) Father Ellacuria met with FMLN leaders in Nicaragua.

2) Father Ellacuria and Father Montes (Catholic Leaders in El Salvador) met with future Salvadoran president, Alfredo Cristiani.

3) George H. W. Bush elected US president.


1) February, US Vice President Dan Quayle visited El Salvador and warned against further human rights violations.

2) Alfredo Cristiani became Salvadoran president.

3) April, the Salvadoran Attorney General Roberto Garcia Alvarado is murdered.

4) June, the Minister of Presidency, Jose Antonio Rodriguez Porth is murdered.

5) October, the daughter of Colonel Eduardo Casanova Vejar of the Salvadoran military, is assassinated.

6) November, the US Assistant Secretary of State, Bernard Aronson, called for peace.

7) National Trade Union Federation is bombed.

8) President Cristiani asked Father Ellacuria (Catholic Leader of El Salvador) to help investigate the bombing.

9) FMLN attacked military centers in major cities.

10) Military bombed residential neighborhoods believed to support the FMLN.

11) US pulled out non-essential military personnel.

12) November 15, secret military meeting held to plan assassination of Father Ellacuria.

13) November 16, 6 priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter murdered at UCA.

14) December, Congressman Joe Moakley led the Speaker’s Salvadoran investigation.


1) Colonel Benavidas of the Salvadoran military is arrested for the November 16th murders.

2) February, Congressman Moakley visited El Salvador.

3) April, Congressman Moakley filed his official report.

4) UN became involved, and serious peace talks finally began.

5) US House of Representatives voted for a 50% decrease in aid to El Salvador.


1) FMLN killed 2 U.S. military advisors.

2) Congressman Moakley reported that the El Salvadoran military was controlling investigations.

3) Congress increased aid to El Salvador by 50%.

4) Colonel Benavides and Lieutenant Mendoza were convicted in November of the murders at UCA.

5) Moakley reported that high military officials planned the murders.

6) Military and FMLN signed a peace agreement in New York.


1) Peace Accords of El Salvador signed in Mexico.

2) Cease-fire began under UN supervision.

3) UN Truth Commission began investigation of human rights violations.

4) UN Secretary General found the El Salvadoran military not in compliance with the peace accords.

5) UN released findings from investigations.

6) Top military officials resigned in El Salvador.

7) US ended military aid to El Salvador.


1) Elections held in El Salvador: ARENA party won; FMLN came in second


1) 2nd elections, FMLN won 45% of National Assembly and mayor of San Salvador.

2) US began to send reconstruction aid.


1) Law suit against Generals Garcia and Casanova of the Salvadoran military for the 1980 church-workers’ murders began.


1) US constructed a military base at the Salvadoran national airport.

2) Court found Generals Garcia and Casanova not totally responsible for murders.

3) Salvadoran Attorney General began an investigation against former president Cristiani and other top officials.


1) Generals Garcia and Casanova were found guilty of allowing their men to kidnap, torture, rape, and murder thousands of unarmed civilians.

See also

Other sites

The CIA World Factbook AND/OR The US Department of State background notes on El Salvador Timeline Informative Background Article on the El Salvador Civil War The Battle for Human Rights in El Salvador (1975–1999) UN General Assembly Resolution “Situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in El Salvador” issued 18 December 1990 The Chapultepec Peace Accords (alternate site) Report of the UN Truth Commission on El Salvador


  1. ^ Twentieth Century Atlas - Death Tolls
  2. ^ Francesca Davis DiPiazza. El Salvador in Pictures. p. 32. 
  3. ^ a b (No author.)"Supply Line for a Junta," TIME Magazine March 16, 1981. Retrieved 2008-07-16.
  4. ^ [1] CIA World Factbook. Accessed online February 21, 2008.
  5. ^ [2] USAID Central America and Mexico Gang Assessment, 2006, p. 50. accessed online July 29, 2011.
  6. ^ Socorro Jurídico Cristiano (Stanley 1996, 1-2, 222)
  7. ^,,USCIS,,SLV,,3dee03944,0.html
  8. ^ Socorro Jurídico Cristiano (Stanley 1996, 1-2, 222)
  9. ^ Stanley, 1996, p.3
  10. ^,,USCIS,,SLV,,3ae6a6a68,0.html
  11. ^ a b Library of Congress. Country Studies. El Salvador. Background to the Insurgency. [3]
  12. ^ US Department of State, Preliminary assessment of situation in El Salvador, 19 March 1980, p. 3.
  13. ^ Report of the UN Truth Commission on El Salvador, April 1, 1993, from the Equipo Nizkor/Derechos site. Retrieved 2008-07-16.
  14. ^ Jose Gutierrez: The Killing of Herbert Anaya Sanabria Green Left Online, 7 April 1993 (English)
  15. ^ The El Salvador Accords: A Model for Peace Keeping Actions
  16. ^ Amnesty Law Biggest Obstacle to Human Rights, Say Activists by Raúl Gutiérrez, Inter Press Service News Agency, May 19, 2007
  17. ^ a b From madness to hope: the 12-year war in El Salvador, Part IV. Cases and patterns of violence, Truth Commissions Digital Collection: Reports: El Salvador, United States Institute of Peace. Retrieved 2008-07-16.
  18. ^ El Salvador’s decade of terror, Americas Watch, Human Rights Watch Books, Yale University Press, 1991.
  19. ^ El Salvador: 'Death Squads' — A Government Strategy. New York: Amnesty International, 1988.
  20. ^ From Madness to Hope: the 12-year war in El Salvador: Report of the Commission on the Truth for El Salvador.
  21. ^ El Salvador’s Decade of Terror, 107.
  22. ^ "U.S. role in Salvador's brutal war," BBC News, March 24, 2002.
  23. ^ El Salvador’s decade of terror, vii.
  24. ^ McClintock, Mchael, The American connection: state terror and popular resistance in El Salvador, Zed Books, 308.
  25. ^ El Salvador’s decade of terror, 47.
  26. ^ Martin, Gus. Understanding terrorism: challenges, perspectives and issues, Sage Publications, 2003, 110.
  27. ^ El Salvador’s decade of terror, 21.
  28. ^ Arnson, Cynthia J. "Window on the past: a declassified history of death squads in El Salvador," in Death squads in global perspective: murder with deniability, Campbell and Brenner, eds., 86.
  29. ^ Lopez, George A. "Terrorism in Latin America," in The politics of terrorism, Michael Stohl, ed.
  30. ^ Profile, El Salvador
  31. ^ El Salvador’s decade of terror, 119.
  32. ^ George Miller. "El Salvador: Policy of Deceit", The New York Times, October 21, 1988.
  33. ^
  34. ^
  35. ^ Renderos, Alex; Wilkinson, Tracy (November 17, 2009). "THE WORLD : 6 slain Jesuits receive highest award : El Salvador honors the priests killed in 1989, and the defense chief says the army is ready to ask for forgiveness". Los Angeles Times. 
  36. ^
  37. ^ Ronald Reagan. Televised national address, 9 May 1984, cited in Gettleman, Lacefield, Menashe and Mermelstein, eds., El Salvador: Central America in the New Cold War, Grove Press, New York.
  38. ^ Gettleman, Lacefield, Menashe, Mermelstein, eds. The U.S. State Department, White Paper: Communist Interference in El Salvador from El Salvador: Central America in the New Cold War, Grove Press New York, p.323.
  39. ^ "US role in Salvador's brutal war," BBC, March 24, 2002. Retrieved 2008-07-16.
  40. ^ Daniel Woolls, Associated Press. "El Salvador massacre case filed in Spanish court," November 13, 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-14.

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Journals / Academic studies


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