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Digital National Security Archive (DNSA): El Salvador: The Making of U.S. Policy, 1977–1984

About this Collection

El Salvador contains more than 27,000 pages of documents covering one of the most hotly debated subjects of the last decade: the U.S. role in the civil war in El Salvador, including intelligence-gathering, policy-making, and extensive reporting on human rights abuses.

Collection Background

This set of documents focuses on United States policy toward El Salvador and events in El Salvador from the Carter Administration's formulation of a new Central American policy in January 1977 through the Salvadoran Presidential elections of May 1984 that brought José Napoleón Duarte to power. Major events in the period include: the military coup of October 1979; the agrarian reform efforts launched in 1980 and 1981; significant labor and peasant protests followed by a growing number of guerilla actions by leftist organizations; a series of political slayings widely attributed to government affiliated forces including those of Archbishop Oscar Romero, the majority of the leadership of the Democratic Revolutionary Front (FDR), four American churchwomen, and three land reform proponents, of which two were American Institute for Free Labor Development consultants; the shift of U.S. policy brought about by the Reagan Administration; U.S. Congressional inquiries into El Salvadoran government human rights abuses, the investigations of the political slayings under American government pressure, the Constituent Assembly election of 1982; the promulgation of a new Constitution in December 1983.

Materials in the document set have been obtained from a wide range of U.S. Government sources, including governmental libraries and archives and from records retained by various federal agencies and requested under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Freedom of Information Act requests were filed with the Executive Office of the President, the National Security Council, the Departments of Commerce, Defense, Justice, Labor, Sate, and Treasury, the separate branches of the military services, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Agency for International Development, and the Peace Corps.

Where the National Security Archive sought and acquired previously unpublished materials from relevant congressional committees and subcommittees and in some few cases from the offices of individual congressmen, those otherwise unavailable materials are both indexed and published in microfiche. The unusually active role of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs in shaping and reviewing U.S. policy toward El Salvador has made its correspondence with executive agencies of particular interest.

Wherever possible, the National Security Archive has attempted o acquire any unpublished official U.S. government executive branch document which mentions El Salvador in a substantive way that was created between January 1, 1977 and June 30, 1984. Certain categories of previously published documents may be in the set when they contain information not elsewhere available; these include excerpts from transcripts of official executive branch agency press conference (which in most instances are not available elsewhere), items from The Public Papers of the President, and from Foreign Policy Current Documents. A very small number of documents created after June 30, 1984 that discuss events of the earlier period and have been deemed essential to an understanding of that period, have also been included in this set.

The communiqués, official statements and pronouncements of foreign governments, foreign political parties, guerrilla groups and political actors whose activities are usually noted by U.S. diplomatic posts are included when they were collected by the U.S. government and released under FOIA, as transcribed by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) a program of the Central Intelligence Agency that monitors radio broadcasts worldwide, reports them in full text to interested embassies and publishes a summary five days a week.