Pio Past : Look Back at El Salvadoran TPS Status

Chris Hankin, News Editor

On January 8, 2018, President Trump announced that the U.S. would terminate the Temporary Protected Status granted to roughly 200,000 El Salvadorans residing in the United States. The Trump administration said that Salvadorans would have until September of 2019 to leave the country or find another form of residency. Temporary Protected Status was granted to hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans following a devastating earthquake in 2001. Much of the controversy surrounding President Trump’s decision involves the complex history that the United States and El Salvador share. What follows is a partial transcript of an interview between a Pioneer reporter and a Sociologist from Lewis & Clark at the outset of the Salvadoran civil war, which lasted from 1979-1992

Written by Kelly Riggle, May 7, 1981.

To the growing outrage of many Americans, El Salvador is quickly taking on the dimensions of another Viet Nam.

Addressing this concern, Marvin G. Dunn asserts that “Reagan does not acknowledge similarities because, of course, Viet Nam is in the East and El Salvador is in Latin America.”

Speaking to a capacity crowd in Olin 130 last Sunday, at 7:00 p.m., Dunn noted that the problem lies in U.S. alienation from the world community.

“One of the problems we have in North America is getting good information concerning what is going on in the rest of the world,” says Dunn, Associate Professor of Sociology at Lewis and Clark College in Portland.

Dunn’s presentation was sponsored by MECCA house in an attempt to increase the Whitman community’s understanding of the El Salvadoran conflict.

Dunn has a doctorate of Sociology from the University of Oregon. A specialist in scholarly study of Latin American societies, he has lived and traveled widely in Central America.

The program opened with comments by Enrique Gleason, a Guatemalan Whitman student. Gleason discussed Central American nationalistic movements from a personal perspective.

Gleason stated that the U.S. refusal to aid and acknowledge newly formed nationalistic governments in Central America forces them to seek aid from the U.S.S.R. He cited Cuba as an example, claiming that the notion widely held by Americans of the Cuban revolution as Soviet-based is a false one.

Gleason also introduced Dunn, who prefaced his discussion with a file entitled “El Salvador: A Country in Crisis.” Prepared by a Boston-based group known as “Overview Latin America,” the film presented the Revolutionary Democratic Front (FDR) as a legitimate internal response to an oppressive Salvadoran Junta. The film traces U.S. support of the Junta to a history of U.S. interests in Latin America, beginning with the Monroe Doctrine. A State Department position assumed in 1927 clarifies this policy, asserting, “We do control the destinies of Central America, and we do so because it is absolutely in national interest to do so.”

The film also provides the following history of recent relations between the U.S. and El Salvador.

When a group of young militarists overthrew General Romero on October 15, 1979, the government changed in name, but retained military hardliners from the former regime. The U.S. supposed this first Junta despite widespread Salvadoran protest. The three civilian members of this Junta resigned by January, 1980, denouncing the Junta as a right-wing military dictatorship.

The Junta persuaded three other civilians to replace those resigning, but in March, 1980, this new group also resigned, and was replaced by another. Meanwhile, the U.S. continued to support the Junta.

On March 23, 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero criticized the Junta, and petitioned its members to bring a halt to the widespread violence. On the following day, archbishop Romero was shot and killed while performing Mass. The slaying was attributed to supporters of the Junta. The Secretary of the U.S. State Department noted that the U.S. would continue its support.

Summarizing these events, a Salvadoran woman observed, “Human rights are something the Americans have only for themselves. For us there is nothing.”

After the film, Dunn discussed the events occurring in El Salvador.

He observed that the number of priests, nuns and religious lay workers is no longer known, and that their deaths have been assigned to the Junta “by such impeccably reliable sources as Amnesty International and the Catholic Church in Latin America.”

In recent months, the centrists of Jose Napoleon Duarte’s Junta have resigned with the claim that the Junta is controlled by the military.

Questioning the continued U.S. support of the Junta, Dunn pointed to the Land Reform Act as one reason given by officials on both sides in defense of the Duarte government.

But land reform is frequently a means of government use of force against peasants. Dunn revealed that Junta soldiers have gone into the countryside, telling the peasants that the land belongs to them and instructing them to elect local leaders. They then return a day later to shoot all local leaders.

According to Dunn, two fallacies underlie U.S. support of the Junta. The first was the U.S. notion that Duarte’s regime is a democratic and moderate government. According to Amnesty International and the United Council of Church, 80 to 85 percent of the killing is committed or positively sanctioned by the Junta.

The second fallacy Dunn observed is the idea that the leftists in El Salvador are all Soviet-based. He told listeners that a U.S. State Department document known as the Whit Papers called the Salvadoran revolution the direct result of Soviet intervention. This document was hastily withdrawn by the State Department when only Britain, France and Venezuela found it convincing.

“Implicit in the assumption of Soviet interventions,” Dunn said, “is the attitude that Salvadoran people are Soviet Dupes.”

“We do not give them credit for being able to respond on their own to repressive military rule.” It is Dunn’s belief that if not for U.S. support given since January 1981, the Junta would have fallen by now.