El Salvador Could Be Like That
A Memoir of War, Politics and Journalism by Joe Frazier
Dramatis Personae
Short biographical annotations for selected names referenced in El Salvador Could Be Like That.
Roberto d’Aubuisson (1944-1992). Former National Guard major and founder in 1980 of the far-right Republican Nationalist Alliance, or ARENA, a major Salvadoran political party. D’Aubuisson was closely linked to leadership of rightist death squad activity that in the 1980s killed thousands of Salvadoran civilians suspected of leftist or liberal leanings. Lost a 1984 bid for the presidency.

José Napoleón Duarte (1925-1990). A founder of El Salvador’s moderate Christian Democrat Party, provisional president then president from 1984-1989, the country‘s first civilian president in 50 years. He had American support as he tried to keep both guerrilla forces and ARENA at bay as the country went through a vicious civil war in which 75,000 people died.

Robert White. U.S. ambassador to El Salvador 1980-1981, recalled by the Reagan administration after his repeated warnings to both Washington and the Salvadoran right that mounting rights abuses by the military and death squads were fueling the growing guerrilla movement and building resentment in Congress over further military aid. His warnings generally were ignored and the country tumbled into 12 years of war.

Maximiliano Hernández Martínez (1882-1966). Seized the presidency in a coup in 1931 and was deposed in 1944, fled to Honduras where he was assassinated. He oversaw "La Matanza," or the slaughter, of as many as 30,000 Salvadoran peasants in 1932. The country‘s most active death squad in the 1980s bore his name. He had strong pro-fascist tendencies.

José Guillermo García (b. 1933). Former Salvadoran defense minister who was granted entry to the United States in 1989 but was facing deportation proceedings on accusations of torture and murder as of early 2013.

Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova (b. 1937).  Former defense minister who headed the Salvadoran National Guard when guardsmen murdered three American nuns, Maura Clarke, Ita Ford and Dorothy Kazel plus lay Catholic social worker Jean Donovan in 1980. He was fighting deportation from the United States in 2013.

Msgr. Oscar Arnulfo Romero (1917-1980). Archbishop of San Salvador from 1977 until his murder in 1980, an act widely blamed on d’Aubuisson. Romero was a strong advocate for peace, and urged the United States to end military support, which he considered an aid to repression, and told young Salvadorans not to fight. By many accounts his death ended any chance to avoid the war that followed.

Miguel Marmol (1905-1993). A founder of the Salvadoran Communist Party who survived a firing squad in 1932 and went on to become an icon of the revolutionary movement.

Roque Dalton (1935-1975). The guerrilla poet who aligned himself with the People’s Revolutionary Army but was killed by them on suspicion of being a traitor, an accusation rebel leaders later admitted was a mistake.

Jorge Shafik Handal (1930-2006). Former presidential candidate and previously head of the Armed Forces of Liberation, or FAL, the military wing of the Salvadoran Communist Party. The FAL was among the five rebel armies that made up the umbrella Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN, that battled government forces until the 1992 peace treaty.

Rufina Amaya (d. 2007). One of the few surviving witnesses of the 1981 massacre of up to 1,000 civilians in the village of El Mozote and the surrounding area by government troops. It was by far the worse massacre of the war.

Joaquín Villalobos (b. 1951). The son of prosperous San Salvador furniture dealers who eventually headed the People’s Revolutionary Army, or ERP, another major component of the FMLN. The ERP operated mostly in the eastern part of the country. He apparently ordered the death of poet Roque Dalton.

Francisco José "Chachi" Guererro (d. 1989). Co-founder of the conservative military-backed National Conciliation Party that ruled from 1961 until it was tossed in a 1979 coup. He finished third in the 1984 presidential election but his support of Duarte in the runoff was key to the Christian Democrat win of Duarte over ARENA and d’Aubuisson. Guererro was appointed to the Salvadoran Supreme Court and was assassinated in 1989.

Alfredo Cristiani (b. 1947). A major mover in ARENA and the first of four ARENA presidents after the death of Duarte

José Antonio Morales Ehrlich (b. 1935). A major Duarte supporter and adviser, co-founder of the Christian Democrats in El Salvador and a close Duarte adviser. A member of the second post-coup junta. Two of his sons fought with the guerrillas, an example of how the civil war tore up families and family loyalties.

Salvador Sánchez Cerén (war name Leonel Gonzalez, b. 1944). A former high school math teacher who later headed the Popular Liberation Forces, or FPL, possibly the most important of the five armies of the FMLN. After the 2009 FMLN victory at the polls he became education minister and vice president and was the FMLN choice to head the presidential ticket in 2014.

Alvaro Magana (1925-2001). A conservative businessman who headed the government after the far right assumed control of the legislative branch in the 1982 constituent assembly elections until Duarte won the presidency outright in 1984.

Hugo Barerra. Salvadoran businessman who was d’Aubuisson’s running mate in 1984. He broke with ARENA the next year, citing its rather bloody past, in what was the beginning of d’Aubuisson’s fall from influence.

Msgr. Gregorio Rosa Chavez (b. 1942). The auxiliary archbishop of San Salvador who was a major hand-on factor in the Roman Catholic Church’s move toward promoting peace talks and defusing numerous hostage and other crises.

Guillermo Ungo (1931-1991). A member of the first junta after the 1979 coup. He and many other members of the new post-coup government soon resigned after 10 weeks, claiming continued repression. He was a leader of El Salvador’s democratic left and cofounder of the Democratic Revolutionary Front, considered a political arm of the FMLN. He spent much of the war in exile in Panama.

Rubén Zamora. Like Ungo, a leader of the democratic left and a member of the post-coup government who joined others in quitting in protest.

Mauricio Funes (b. 1959). A television journalist who won the 2009 presidential election on the FMLN ticket, although he was not a guerrilla during the war. He was leading a generally moderate center-left administration toward the end of his five-year term. He is term-limited and cannot seek reelection in 2014.

Miguel d’Escoto (b. 1931). A Maryknoll priest, Hollywood-born and the first foreign minister of Nicaragua’s Sandinista government after they tossed dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979. Despite staggering and thunderous evidence to the contrary be continued to deny that Nicaragua was backing the Salvadoran guerrillas with weapons and in other ways.

Inés Duarte. Daughter of President Duarte, who was kidnapped for 44 days in 1985 by guerrillas at age 35 in an episode that led to Duarte releasing many captive rebels as a part of the ransom demand. This weakened Duarte’s presidency among many who felt there should be no negotiations with the rebels, president’s daughter or not. Ines was a Duarte favorite who ran his 1984 election campaign.

Arturo Molina (b. 1927). Rode a comically fraudulent presidential election to power in 1972. His was the last of a long string of military presidents to finish his term without being booted in a coup. He had toyed with some land reform ideas. His successor, Gen. Carlos Humberto Romero, lasted just two years until 1979 and since then, as of 2013, El Salvador has been coup-free.

Rutilio Grande (1928-1977). Jesuit priest murdered in a death squad hit. He was a close friend of Msgr. Oscar Romero, and his death is said by many to have radicalized Romero at least to a point.

Msgr. Arturo Rivera y Damas (1923-1994). Named archbishop of San Salvador after Romero’s assassination but not for three years, reflecting Vatican dislike of liberal bishops and the liberation theology movement. He played a key role in the first peace talks in 1984. The Salvadoran church reverted to a much more conservative stance after his death.