CHAPTER I ~ Adoption [EXCERPT]

It is almost impossible to reconstruct twenty-five years later how much we understood of the interconnections in the political landscape of Central America. We considered ourselves fairly well informed, as we read both the U.S. and German press, but coverage of that part of the world was spotty. High profile killings the assassination of Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero on March 24, 1980, and the murder of four American churchwomen the following December come to mind had whipped up small waves of outrage in the United States that quickly subsided. Our awareness of the conflict in El Salvador, wracked since the mid-1970s by fraudulent elections, government repression, death squad violence, and civil war, was the reason we had wanted to adopt a Salvadoran child. Yet these same factors led to the uncertainties that had made our agency cancel its program there.

In all this time, we knew that U.S. military aid continued its upward trajectory. But did we know that both Honduran and Salvadoran forces, some trained in the States, had been involved in the killings at the Sumpul River along the border in May 1980, where peasants—women, children, the elderly—were massacred as they tried to cross into Honduras? Did we realize that there had been another similar massacre of civilians trying to flee across the Lempa River into Honduras in March 1981, and that both Salvadoran and Honduran troops were involved, using helicopters supplied by the United States? I don’t believe so.

Because we were in rural New Hampshire during the previous summer, we evidently did not see the article by Robert E. White, former ambassador to El Salvador, titled “Central America: The Problem That Won’t Go Away,”

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which appeared as a front-cover story in the New York Times Magazine. White stated, “It is not Russia, Cuba or Nicaragua that make the revolutions of Central America—it is injustice, brutality and hunger,” and he argued that Americans needed to better understand “the history, culture and motivations of those who fight and die in this neglected center of the hemisphere.” I think we would have agreed.

I do recall reading excerpts of Joan Didion’s book Salvador, with its vivid account of death squad violence and the fate of the disappeared, in the New York Review of Books the following October. We didn’t subscribe to Newsweek, though, so we missed the incriminating story it ran in November 1982 that specifically accused Ambassador Negroponte of being the “spearhead” of clandestine operations in support of the Nicaraguan “contras.” But how could we have missed the reports of this in other newspapers? Was it because we were not focused at all on Honduras at that point, I now wonder?

The ties between the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa and Nicaraguan as well as Salvadoran counterinsurgencies may not have been as obvious then as they were to become in the 1990s, especially after the Irancontra scandal broke, but I realize only as I write this book how much more we could and should have known. In the fall of 1982 the Honduran government had asked for additional helicopter support after a highprofile hostage-taking incident in San Pedro Sula involving a large number of government officials.

While we were away, General Álvarez had come to Washington, D.C., and by the time we got home in late June 1983, the U.S. plan to set up a training camp for the Salvadoran troops on Honduran soil was being questioned in the press. At this point I began to regularly clip articles about


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