The Passing of Ambassador Robert E. White

The US involvement in Central America during the Carter and Reagan Administrations is a black eye at best and a national disgrace at its worst. Much was lost: prestige, common sense, a sense of proportionality, and honestly the country’s moral compass.

Yet, Ambassador Robert E. White, who served in El Salvador briefly in 1980 and 1981, stood out for his commitment to human rights and his willingness to speak truth to power. This strength got him fired by the newly installed Reagan Administration, about which he took great pride in standing up for what was right. He would continue to his work on human rights and the pursuit to better the lives of poor people.

White died last week at the age of 88. There have been many fond remembrances of him as a person and diplomat. He is regarded for his actions and efforts in behalf of the four women religious who were murdered in December 1980 by Salvadoran national guard (link is to a RetroReport short documentary updating the status of the case).

He was also known for his disgust of death squad ringleader Roberto D’Aubuisson and his support for land reform that might help lift rural Salvadoran peasants. These positions caught the attention of anti-Communist crusader, Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), who previously voted against White’s nomination to the post in San Salvador.

Below is a State Department dispatch citing a request from Sen. Helms to Ambassador White to answer the allegations that White was plotting with the leftist members of the then-ruling junta to join the extreme leftist in organizing a coup. Helms, who was D’Aubuisson’s contact in DC, bought it hook, line, and sinker, unable to resist in challenging White.

Primary Doc DAubuisson Helms

It is a disgrace Helms would support a brute like D’Aubuisson and claim it was in the name of democracy and freedom.


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