The news cut into my Thanksgiving Day and left a sharp pang, reminding me of the continuing crisis that is El Salvador. That morning 200 uniformed members of the Salvadoran army surrounded a San Salvador high school in which a press conference was being held by members of the Democratic Revolutionary Front (FDR), the broad opposition coalition in El Salvador. Twenty-five men in civilian dress entered the building and captured six key leaders of the FDR and 23 others.
The tortured corpses of the leaders were later found on highways surrounding the capital city. Among those dead was Enrique Alvarez, president of the FDR, who had traveled through the United States last summer to plea for an end to U.S. aid which was funding the official terrorism that later claimed his life. A right-wing death squad claimed credit for the killings, as well as for the bomb which later exploded in the cathedral where the bodies lay in state, sending fragments of the caskets flying through the church.
There was hardly time to process the impact of the Thanksgiving Day murders when four more killings from El Salvador hit the headlines, this time the deaths of four American women. The bodies of Ita Ford, Maura Clarke, and Dorothy Kazel, all Catholic sisters, and Jean Donovan, a lay missionary, were discovered buried in a cow pasture on December 4. They had been shot, tortured, and at least two had been raped. The deaths of these women, whose lives were marked by their gentleness and compassion for the poor, should finally put to rest the falsehood that only leftists and armed guerrillas are the targets of official violence.
The deaths of the four women forced a U.S. decision to cut off more than $25 million in aid and launch an investigative mission to El Salvador. It is appalling that 9,000 other deaths in El Salvador last year were not compelling enough to force our government into action.