Skip to Main Content

Digital National Security Archive (DNSA): El Salvador: War, Peace, and Human Rights, 1980–1994

About this Collection

The second set of declassified U.S. records concerning El Salvador, this collection incorporates several thousand U.S. government documents relevant to the human rights cases that were studied by the United Nations Truth Commission.

Following the March 15, 1993 release of the commission's ground-breaking investigation, From Madness to Hope: The 12-Year War in El Salvador, members of the United States Congress wrote to President Clinton asking that the government documents be declassified for public inspection.

Research Value of the Collection

From the Carter presidency to the Bush administration, El Salvador was an obsession of United States policy. As a brutal civil war raged on the ground, Washington's Cold War concerns ensured massive and continued U.S. support for the Salvadoran government and military against the guerrilla forces of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN). Now, and for the first time, this collection of declassified U.S. government records charts the complete course of Washington's role in the war, from the conflict's earliest years to the United Nations-brokered peace accord of January 1992 and beyond.

At the heart of the collection is the human rights catastrophe that gripped El Salvador throughout its war, and the investigation launched by the United Nations after the signing of the peace agreement. The Clinton administration's first release of declassified documents on El Salvador in November 1993 was linked directly to the 32 human rights cases examined by the U.N. Truth Commission, although the subjects covered in the documents often go far beyond the parameters of human rights. The material provides convincing evidence that, during the 1980s, the United States government collected and internally debated detailed information about assassinations, abductions, and torture orchestrated by members of El Salvador's powerful right-wing and military, yet continued to work with those individuals.

President Clinton's second release, in August 1994, was made in response to a request by Rep. Benjamin Oilman (R-N.Y.) and other Republican members of Congress for information on the guerrilla forces: their training, financing, and sources of arms and material. These documents provide a fascinating and unusually detailed profile of an insurgency, as reported by the CIA, State Department and Department of Defense. Among the subjects discussed are the creation of the controversial "White Paper," alleging regional arms flows to the FMLN in the early months of the Reagan administration; the use by guerrilla forces of refugee camps in Costa Rica and Honduras as recruiting grounds and logistical bases; and FMLN reliance on political "front" organizations in El Salvador and abroad.

Taken together, these documents serve as a crucial sequel to the Archive's first collection on El Salvador, El Salvador: The Making of U.S. Policy, 1977-1984.

The records included in this collection enable scholars to refer directly to primary documents in discussing U.S. operations and activities in El Salvador and in Central America during the final years of the Cold War. Thus, the documents should be of great relevance to researchers and scholars in a variety of fields, including:

  • international relations;
  • human rights;
  • conflict resolution;
  • Latin America studies;
  • U.S. policy in Central America;
  • presidential decision-making;
  • national security policy;
  • intelligence policy;
  • intelligence operations and analysis;
  • guerrilla warfare.