Sunday, December 02, 2007

December 2

elsal4Twenty-seven years ago today, four American women were murdered in El Salvador by officers of that country's National Guard -- victims in a civil war that would eventually claim over 70,000 lives. On the evening of December 2, Maryknoll Sisters Ita Ford and Maura Clarke, lay missioner Jean Donovan and Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazell were abducted near the San Salvador airport when Ford and Clarke returned from a Maryknoll conference in Managua, Nicaragua. Along with four other guardsmen in civilian clothing, Sergeant Luis Antonio Colindres Aleman followed the women in a military jeep and detained them. After interrogating the four women, Aleman ordered that the Americans be taken to a remote field about 15 miles from the airport, where they were to be "eliminated" on the instructions of his superior officer. Each was raped and shot in the head by men trained and armed by the United States. The bodies were dumped along the side of the road. The next morning, when the bodies were discovered, a local justice of the peace ordered that they be buried in shallow graves. On December 4, the four women were exhumed after Ambassador Robert White learned of the murders.

Catholic priests, nuns, and lay workers were frequently accused by the right-wing Salvadoran government of aiding communist guerillas during the decade-long civil war; religious workers -- particularly those from outside El Salvador -- were routinely arrested, harrassed, beaten and tortured for providing food, medical aid and other forms of relief to the tens of thousands of people displaced by the violence. Jean Donovan, one of the December 2 victims, frequently picked up bodies of peasants left by death squads on the roadsides near La Libertad, the village where she worked. Donovan and her colleagues understood that their lives were at risk each day they remained in El Salvador. During a liturgy held in Managua the night before she was killed, Ira Ford read a passage from one of Archbishop Oscar Romero's last homilies, delivered shortly before he was assassinated in March 1980:
Christ invites us not to fear persecution because, believe me, brothers and sisters, the one who is committed to the poor must run the same fate as the poor, and in El Salvador we know what the fate of the poor signifies: to disappear, be tortured, to be held captive -- and to be found dead
Under Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, the United States provided material assistance and training to the Slavadoran military that killed Ford, Clarke, Donovan and Kazel. Two months after the deaths of the churchwomen, Secretary of State Alexander Haig urged Ambassador White to publicly congratulate the government of El Salvador for conducting a thorough and prompt investigation of the muders; Haig was hoping to put the matter to rest so that full military assistance to the Salvadoran military could be resumed.

Because the regime of Jose Napoleon Duarte was not in fact conducting such an investigation, however, White refused Haig's request. He soon became the first ambassador to be fired during the Reagan administration.

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