Burden of the Cold War: The George H.W. Bush Administration and El Salvador



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At the start of the George H.W. Bush administration, American involvement in El Salvador?s civil war, one of the last Cold War battlegrounds, had disappeared from the foreign policy agenda. However, two events in November 1989 shattered the bipartisan consensus on US policy toward El Salvador: the failure of the FMLN?s largest military offensive of the war and the murder of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter by the Salvadoran military, the FAES. Despite more than one billion dollars in US military assistance, the war had stalemated, promoting both sides to seek a negotiated political settlement mediated by the United Nations. The Jesuit murders demonstrated the failure of the policy of promoting respect for democracy and human rights and revived the debate in Congress over US aid to El Salvador. This thesis argues that the Bush administration sought to remove the burden of El Salvador from its foreign policy agenda by actively pushing for the investigation and prosecution of the Jesuit case and fully supporting the UN-mediated peace process. Using recently declassified government documents from the George Bush Presidential Library, this thesis will examine how the Bush administration fundamentally changed US policy toward El Salvador. Administration officials carried out an unprecedented campaign to pressure the FAES to investigate the Jesuit murders and bring the killers to justice while simultaneously attempting to prevent Congress from cutting American military assistance. The Bush administration changed the objective of its El Salvador policy from military victory over the guerrillas to a negotiated political settlement. The US facilitated the peace process by pressuring the Salvadoran government and the FMLN to negotiate in good faith and accept compromises. When both sides signed a comprehensive peace agreement on January 16, 1992, the burden of El Salvador was lifted.