Curbing the Death Squads
In December 1983, the Reagan administration promised Magana
an additional US$100 million in military aid if his government
took action against the death squads and dismissed from their
official posts or transferred abroad at least eight armed forces
officers and one civilian who had been identified as death squad
leaders. Vice President George Bush personally visited San
Salvador, however, to deliver the more decisive message that aid
would be cut off if the abuses did not stop. The United States
specifically asked for a halt to secret arrests by the three
security forces and demonstrable progress in the court cases
involving the murders of the churchwomen and the AIFLD advisers.
In response, senior Salvadoran officials and the armed forces
leadership pledged a major crackdown on right-wing death squad
activity and asked the United States for technical and
investigative assistance in dealing with these groups. The
Salvadoran Army also quietly dismissed or transferred abroad the
officers whose names were on the United States list of suspects.
In addition, the PN arrested a captain who had been linked to the
murder of the two AIFLD advisers, but he was held on charges
unrelated to the killings.
Despite these actions, the existence of the death squads
remained a controversial issue in the United States in the mid1980s . In congressional testimony in February 1984, former United
States ambassador to El Salvador Robert E. White identified six
wealthy Salvadoran landowners, then living in exile in Miami, as
the principal financiers of the death squads. Critics of the
Reagan administration's Salvadoran policy also alleged that the
United States had indirectly supported the death squads. After a
six-month investigation, however, the United States Senate Select
Committee on Intelligence reported in October 1984 that there was
no evidence to support such allegations.
In 1984 and 1985, Duarte transferred to lesser positions
several military officers with alleged links to death squads.
During the 1984-88 period, the civilian government and armed
forces reiterated their opposition to death squad activity and
their commitment to dealing with the problem. As a result, death
squad killings declined sharply. According to Tutela Legal, the
annual totals of death squad killings were 225 in 1984, 136 in
1985, 45 in 1986, and 24 in 1987. Although violence continued to
be endemic in El Salvador, the number of politically motivated
deaths reported in the Salvadoran press averaged 28 per month
during the first half of 1987, as compared with 64 in 1984 and
140 in 1983. These figures probably were inexact, but they
indicated a general downward trend. Of the 183 political murders
reported in the local press during the first nine months of 1987,
most were attributed to the FMLN; only 2 were blamed on the
extreme right and 5 on military personnel.
Death squad activities began to pick up, however, in late
1987 after the signing of the Central American Peace Agreement.
The number of right-wing death squad killings reportedly
continued to creep upward in 1988. According to Tutela Legal,
suspected right-wing death squads killed thirty-two civilians
during the first half of 1988.
Data as of November 1988