Letter Urging a Negotiated Settlement to War in El Salvador May 7, 1990

Year Published
  • 2013
  • English

May 7, 1990  

The Honorable Thomas S. Foley
Speaker of the House
United States House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515 

Dear Mr. Speaker: 

For more than a decade, the U.S. Catholic Bishops have strongly supported efforts to bring an end to the war in El Salvador, to defend human rights and to pursue the path of justice and peace in that country. Recently, I visited El Salvador on behalf of the bishops of the United States and found remarkable hope for peace in the midst of tragic suffering and war. 

Perhaps at no time in the past ten years have the prospects for a peaceful settlement of the conflict in El Salvador been better. Both sides appear to have been profoundly affected by events of recent months, including the terrible human costs of the November offensive and the unspeakable murders of the Jesuits and their coworkers. We hope both sides are now more committed to the negotiation process recently begun under the direction of the Secretary General of the United Nations. 

This process, although more promising than previous efforts to bring the contending parties to a sincere dialogue, and indeed made possible in part by the foundations laid through those previous dialogues initiated by the Church, is likely to be long and arduous. In the meantime, the violence and killing go on. 

The U.S. Catholic Conference believes there is no military solution for El Salvador. We have consistently opposed all outside military aid to all the factions within El Salvador. If a universal cut-off of outside aid cannot be achieved, we believe any U.S. military aid ought to be severely limited, strictly conditioned and regularly reviewed both for progress on negotiations to end the war and for compliance on the human rights issues. 

In our view, the Government of the United States must convey to all the parties in El Salvador, especially the military leaders of both sides, our unequivocal and unmistakable will that the killing end now, and that every effort be made to achieve a negotiated settlement. It is time that an absolutely clear signal be sent, one that leaves no room for doubt in anyone's mind of the seriousness of our intention actively and creatively to support the path of negotiations to end the war. A summary of our overall position is enclosed. 

The provision on military aid to El Salvador incorporated into the House supplemental aid authorization bill passed by the Foreign Affairs Committee on April 26 could well be such a signal. By linking continuation of U.S. military aid to behavior of the FMLN as well as of the Salvadoran Armed Forces, it places responsibility where it clearly belongs, on the combatants and those who command them. By initially withholding a substantial portion of the military aid as yet unexpended in the current year and of that already authorized for next year, it demonstrates that failure to respect human rights will have real consequences. It also demonstrates our active and strong commitment to the peace process. 

Mr. Speaker, the enormity of the murders of the six Jesuit priests and the two women at the UCA, and of so many other unpunished crimes, calls for new approaches that clearly signal an end to business as usual. Failure to send an unmistakably clear signal now, especially in the somber light of the report of Congressman Moakley's task force and other assessments, could leave the more intransigent elements in El Salvador convinced that the war can go on as before. That must not happen, and I pray it will not.

I write to encourage you, Mr. Speaker, to continue offering your essential leadership on this matter and to do all you can to assure that the Congress send that unequivocal and strong signal for peace and justice in El Salvador. 


Most Rev. Roger Mahony
Archbishop of Los Angeles
Chairmen, International Policy Committee