Letter to President Bush on U.S. Policy Toward El Salvador, December 22, 1989

Year Published
  • 2013
  • English

December 22, 1989 

President George H. Bush
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500 

Dear Mr. President: 

On behalf of the United States Catholic Conference, I write once again to express our deep concerns and strong convictions about U.S. policy toward El Salvador. The continuing violence and repression, the recent guerilla offensive and the activities of the Salvadoran military have intensified the loss of life, the brutal denial of human rights and the tragic suffering of the Salvadoran people. Their lives, dignity and rights are constantly assaulted by this continuing conflict and the pervasive social and economic injustices which haunt their land. 

As Catholic bishops, we stand with our brother bishops in El Salvador in their defense of human rights for all, their condemnation of violence on both sides, their solidarity with the poor, and their pursuit of dialogue, negotiation and peace in place of war and violent conflict. As U.S. religious leaders, we wish to stress how important it is that our government, at every level and in every situation, place a clear priority on the defense of human rights, the protection of religious leaders, workers and institutions and the pursuit of true justice and genuine peace through dialogue and negotiations among all the parties. We appeal to our government to support actively and strongly the efforts of the Central American Presidents and the Church in El Salvador to bring about a cease-fire and good faith negotiations to end the conflict. 

Our perspectives on these matters are shaped to a considerable extent by our solidarity with the Church in El Salvador, a courageous community of faith proclaiming the Gospel in the midst of danger, violence and suffering. We stand with Archbishop Arturo Rivera y Damas, his brother bishops and the Church they serve in the pursuit of peace instead of war, dialogue in place of violence. We also stand with Archbishop Rivera in his powerful criticisms of both sides of the conflict in El Salvador and all those in the region and around the world who tragically fuel the flames of war and violence in that suffering land. 

I wish to thank you for your recent reply to my letter on the murder of the Jesuits and their co-workers. I appreciate your reassurance that your Administration "will continue to press for full respect for human rights, democracy, and social justice in that troubled country."

I enclose a brief summary of some of the more specific concerns we have expressed in recent communications and meetings with members of your Administration and leaders of the Congress. We know you share several of our concerns and there may be different points of view on others. We welcome opportunities to continue to discuss these concerns with your Administration and the leaders of Congress. 

Our prayers are with you as you lead our nation at a time of such contrasting challenges --the triumph of freedom in Eastern Europe and the tragedy of brutal violence in El Salvador. We hope and pray that our nation will be true to its best traditions in responding to the challenges we face around the world. 


Most Reverend Daniel E. Pilarczyk
Archbishop of Cincinnati
President, NCCB/USCC 

Principal Concerns of the U.S. Catholic Conference on U.S. Policy Toward El Salvador

The following points are a brief summary of the concerns expressed by the Catholic Bishops Conference in recent communications with key members of the Bush Administration and the Congress. We have specifically urged the U.S. Government to use its considerable influence with the elected government of El Salvador and its military forces to pursue the following goals: 

  1. An end to the pattern of harassment, threats and intimidation against the Catholic Church, other religious communities and religious workers. We refer, by way of example, to the Salvadoran Attorney General's letter to the Pope, the threats on government radio and in the newspapers, the arbitrary detention and expulsion of church workers, the denial of visas, and the ominous leaflets signed by the Salvadoran Air Force. The U.S. government at the highest levels needs to clearly and effectively condemn this pattern of activities. The authorities in El Salvador, instead of permitting or participating in such activities, must act decisively and effectively to protect church leaders, bishops, ministers, and workers of every faith from harassment, intimidation and violence.
  2. The effective investigation and prosecution of those responsible for brutal violations of human rights, especially the murderers of the Jesuits and their co- workers as well as other recent crimes. The poor record of the Salvadoran authorities in pursuing those who killed Archbishop Romero and the four American churchwomen suggests that the U.S. must act decisively to ensure that this crime will not also go unpunished. Archbishop Rivera's recent public concerns about the alleged mistreatment of a witness to the killings is a disturbing sign. We were also concerned by the reported failure of the Salvadoran authorities to promptly interview military persons in the area of the killings.
  3. Renewed respect and protection for the proper role and work of religious and international humanitarian assistance and relief organizations seeking to help the Salvadoran people in this time of increased need and difficulty.
  4. Strong U.S. support for efforts to establish a cease- fire and to resume dialogue and negotiations seeking an end to the conflict. The way to peace and justice in El Salvador is through dialogue and negotiations. There is no real military solution to the conflict. The U.S. should strongly and actively support the Salvadoran bishops' call for a renewed dialogue and negotiations to end the conflict and the renewed efforts of the Central American Presidents to carry out and strengthen the regional peace process.
  5. The improving dialogue between the U.S. and the USSR should give priority to the regional conflicts in Central America and their peaceful resolution. We appreciate efforts to raise these issues at the recent summit and pursue them. Both East and West need to agree to stop sending weapons of war and encourage their allies to pursue the path of negotiation and peace.
  6. Active administration support for legislative efforts to provide legal protection and status for those fleeing the violence and repression in El Salvador.
  7. A thorough reconsideration of the extent, nature and appropriateness of U.S. military aid to El Salvador. We have always insisted that U.S. military aid should be strictly conditioned and regularly monitored on two factors: human rights performance and good faith efforts toward a negotiated solution U.S. policy must send a clear and unmistakable signal to the elected government and the military forces of El Salvador that their failure to vigorously protect human rights and to seriously pursue the path of dialogue and negotiations will cost them U.S. support and military assistance. This is why the Bishops Conference, operating through its International Policy Committee, supports the withholding of substantial portions of U.S. authorized military aid while the performance of the Salvadoran government and military is tested and assessed for its commitment to protect human rights and to effectively pursue negotiations to end the conflict. The Conference is now reviewing the broader question of future U.S. military aid. 

We fear that in the current crisis and in the future the extremes of Right and Left will increasingly threaten the lives dignity and rights of Salvadorans. 

We, therefore, ask the Administration and Congress to undertake a thorough review of both U.S. policy and performance on the defense of human rights, the protection of religious persons and institutions, and the pursuit of dialogue and negotiations in place of military conflict. We also ask for an effective exploration of how military arms from outside El Salvador that fuel the violence can be replaced by economic and social assistance that El Salvador so desperately needs to address the fundamental causes of the conflict. These concerns flow from the principles and policies adopted by the U.S. Catholic bishops in their Statement on Central America in November, 1987. 

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