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American Imperialism: Controversial Involvement in the Salvadorian Civil War

posted Feb 24, 2012, 12:36 PM by Golden Knight   [ updated May 4, 2012, 2:32 PM ]

By Ricardo De La Torre 


The long civil war of El Salvador (1980 – 1992) was not just an internal Salvadorian conflict, but America’s war as well. American involvement in this bloody war is largely controversial and widely unknown. Even as the years go by, the American imperialistic thrust as well as the rhetoric used to hide such actions continues day by day and country by country. 


War officially broke out in 1980; between the military dictatorship in power and the Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN). In the opening year, the U.S. backed Salvadorian Army murdered over 11,895 people including Archbishop Oscar Romero and four American church workers. The killings were usually made because of the suspicion and fear that individuals supported social or economic reform. Mass killings increased in the following year of 1981 with the death of 16,000 unarmed civilians murdered by the government. In some instances entire villages were wiped out by death squads. El Salvador and the U.S. were quick to deny any claims of large scale killings, but the discovery of mass graves validated the claims. The year 1982 brought 8,000 more deaths and the killing of four Dutch journalists. The death squads responsible for many of the killings were supported by the Salvadorian government and wealthy Salvadorian landowners. In 1984 the former U.S. ambassador to El Salvador, Robert E. White, revealed that six of the wealthy Salvadorians who principally funded the death squads were living safely in Miami. The killing of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter in 1989; sparked international awareness that would soon lead to the intervention of the United Nations.


American involvement was initiated by President Carter as he sent 19 advisors and over $5.7 million in aid to the Salvadorian military. Although Carter began it, President Reagan was a stronger supporter of the conflict. Reagan consistently increased military aid to the military dictatorship of El Salvador. At the peak of the war the U.S. was sending El Salvador $1.5 million a day. The financial and militaristic support given by the U.S. to the Salvadorian government prolonged the war; which lead to more deaths and heinous crime.


Reagan’s increase of military aid and military advisors to El Salvador rapidly exceeded what Congress permitted. He surpassed the congressional limit of 55 advisors, and by 1987 there were over 150 military advisors in El Salvador. These U.S. military advisors also supervised the torture of political prisoners at Mariona Prison where over 40 different types of torture were routinely used. The Salvadorian Army, including its 12 year old conscripts, were trained and supervised by Americans. The training of Salvadorians also occurred in the U.S., specifically in Georgia.


American support continued until 1990 when the UN became more involved because of international outcry of the violation of human rights. The deaths of Archbishop Oscar Romero, four American church workers, four Dutch journalists, and six Jesuit priests triggered the most attention around the world. After international awareness, military aid sent to El Salvador by the U.S. became reconstruction aid, with $30-35 million a year. Before peace was reached in 1992, 25% of El Salvador’s population had been displaced. Between President Carter, Reagan, and Bush over the span of 10 years; $7 billion in financial and militaristic aid had been sent over to El Salvador.


The Salvadorian Civil War proved to be costly with innocent lives and full of atrocious crimes. The U.S. supported an unpopular military dictatorship in El Salvador in order to extend its influence. Therefore, by supporting and involving itself in the conflict, America holds responsibility for some of the carnage. Apparently billions of dollars, thousands of innocent lives, the violation of human rights, and the destruction of a country were necessary costs for American imperialism. America’s engagement in foreign conflicts and its overextension upon the world produce a cascade of international strife as well as a negative global opinion toward the nation as a whole.