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Remembering U.S. Complicity in Salvadoran Military Crimes

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25 years ago yesterday, the Salvadoran military massacred six Jesuit priests and two women who worked for them. The National Security Archive has collected documents showing how the Bush administration refused to acknowledge that its client state’s military could have committed such an atrocity, when in fact it committed human rights violations all the time. This isn’t just a past event without relevance to the president. A Spanish court is attempting to extradite of the indicted offices for the tragedy. U.S. support of that effort would partially remediate American complicity in the mass deaths that plagued El Salvador in the 1980s and continue to destabilize that nation today.

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  • Book

    Don’t forget to watch last week’s Retro Report on the years leading up to this.

  • hylen
  • CP

    Taken together, the documents indicate the striking initial unwillingness on the part of the United States to acknowledge the possibility that its closest Central American ally — the Salvadoran armed forces — may have been behind the atrocity. Despite overwhelming evidence of the Army’s bitter hostility toward the Jesuits — as documented by the UN Truth Commission report — the first reaction of United States officials on the day of the murders was the imprecise speculation that often served as a default US setting whenever political violence struck in El Salvador: that “extremists on either the right or the left may be responsible,” as Ambassador William G. Walker wrote in his earliest cable to Washington about the crime.

    Not to derail the thread, but a similar thing from the other side of the world happened on that same year – Saddam’s “gassed his own people” moment when he used chem weapons on the Kurds. Washington reacted by trying to blame the Iranians, a position it stuck to for quite some time after it should have known better (and basically switched away from after it became advantageous to hammer away on Iraq’s WMD program).

    • Malaclypse

      Washington reacted by trying to blame the Iranians, a position it stuck to for quite some time after it should have known better (and basically switched away from after it became advantageous to hammer away on Iraq’s WMD program).

      Thank goodness “we have always been at war with Eastasia” is an indictment of communism, and has nothing at all to do with us.

  • Gregor Sansa

    The president of Guatemala is a war criminal. Here’s proof. (Trigger warning. Also, in Spanish.) If you click on the related links of that video there’s another one where he’s singing the praises of US helicopters and Israeli mortars. Both videos are 30 years old.

  • Murc

    A Spanish court is attempting to extradite of the indicted offices for the tragedy. U.S. support of that effort, partially remediating the nation’s complicity in the mass deaths that plagued El Salvador in the 1980s and continue to destabilize the nation today.

    I’m fairly certain you’re missing some words and punctuation in there, Erik. :)

  • joe from Lowell

    In the aftermath of this crime, Congressman Joe Moakley of South Boston doggedly ran down evidence of Salvadoran government guilt and Bush administration knowledge. He made himself a real PITA in defense of human rights in Latin America.

    His top aid at the time, who worked closely with him on this issue, was Jim McGovern, now a Congressman from Worcester.

    Good eggs, both of them.

    • Malaclypse

      Other good thing Moakley did – turned Louisa Day Hicks from a national politician into a purely local one.

  • Kurzleg

    On my first trip to El Salvador, we took a trip up into the mountains to Perkin, which was a anti-government stronghold and now is home to the “museum of the revolution.” Still bomb craters there plus some unexploded ordinance that they cut in half (!) to remove the explosives for other uses. Out guide through the museum lost a leg in the war. Going to places like this and seeing the “fruit” of U.S. policies left quite an impact on me.

    • I’ve spent 2 days in San Salvador. It was very intense in a number of ways. Would like to get into the countryside.

      • Kurzleg

        It’s a beautiful country. Being from MN, I enjoyed the beach and the seafood the most, but places like Lago de Coatepeque and Suchitoto are just gorgeous. Coatepeque isn’t too far from San Salvador, so it’s a nice day trip. The views as you enter the crater are spectacular.

      • Kurzleg

        A few more tidbits. Up in Perkin we stayed at a cool place call Perkin Lenca. I’ll never forget being awakened in the morning by a virtual chorus of crowing roosters. Actually, it was like a call and response type of thing, with one rooster crowing and then another responding.

        Also, La Posada de Suchitlán in Suchitoto is quite nice. We stayed in this room. The view from the veranda is terrific.

  • U.S. support of that effort would partially remediate American complicity in the mass deaths that plagued El Salvador in the 1980s and continue to destabilize that nation today.

    Yeah, like that’s gonna happen.

    • Sure, but you have to call for it, no?

    • Gregor Sansa

      mass deaths

      One interesting thing about El Salvador (at least, from my Guatemalan perspective) is that, while there were unquestionably widespread and major war crimes in the 80s, there arguably wasn’t a genocide. And the reason for that is that there had already been a genocide in 1932, one of the few 20th-century genocides in the Americas that the US actually was not complicit in.

      …today

      The blame for El Salvador’s gang problems today falls on the US in at least 3 different ways:

      -US trained and funded war criminals in the 1980s
      -Gangs developed in Los Angeles, then moved to Guatemala with the mass deportations under Clinton.
      -I wouldn’t blame the 1980s CIA-crack connection for gangs in general, but given that the CIA was involved in both of the points above, I think it’s worth mentioning here.

      • Right, I wouldn’t call anything that happened in El Salvador anything like a genocide, but then a lot of things get called a genocide that aren’t. In Guatemala however, you can definitely make a case for it.

  • Sev

    I believe Dan Quayle said it best, “The US condones this violence in El Salvador.”

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