Paying the Price | Sojourners

Paying the Price

Robert E. White was the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador at the time that Jean Donovan, Dorothy Kazel, Maura Clarke, and Ita Ford were murdered. He was persistent in pushing for the investigation of their deaths and has been an outspoken critic of U.S. policy in Central America for the last decade.

White was president of the Commission on United States-Latin American Relations, a self-described "activist think tank" and a project of the International Center for Development Policy in Washington, DC, when this article appeared. He was interviewed at the center by Joyce Hollyday.

-- The Editors

Sojourners: When did you begin serving as U.S. ambassador in El Salvador?

Robert White: I was a career foreign service officer. I had been ambassador to Paraguay. I was supposed to arrive in El Salvador in November or December of 1979. Thanks to Sen. Jesse Helms -- who created a split vote on my nomination -- my arrival was delayed. I got down there in late February 1980.

Sojourners: When did you first meet Jean, Dorothy, Maura, and Ita?

White: Shortly after I arrived, I received a telegram from Jean Donovan inviting me to visit them in La Libertad. I responded that I was glad to know of their existence and that I would be down as soon as I could figure out what this embassy was all about and what was happening. But, as you can imagine, things were extremely difficult those first few months.

There was a Thanksgiving service at which I had been invited to speak, and I met them afterward. And then I did visit them in La Libertad shortly after that. I invited them to come to the house the next time they were in San Salvador.

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