307. Editorial Note

Documentation on relations between the United States and El Salvador is being printed in an accompanying microform publication. A narrative summary, based on that documentation, is provided below, along with a purport list of the documents published in the microform supplement. The document numbers cited in the summary correspond to the document numbers in the purport list and the microform supplement.

U.S. Relations With the Lemus Government

U.S. relations with El Salvador were without serious difficulties during most of the 1958–1960 period. Johns Hopkins University President Milton Eisenhower visited El Salvador in July 1958 during his 3-week trip to several countries in Central America as President Eisenhower’s personal representative. He met with President José Maria Lemus and other government officials, businessmen, and labor leaders. Lemus called attention to El Salvador’s economic problems and expressed interest in increased U.S. assistance but offered no specific proposals. (ES–2) Lemus made a State visit to the United States March 9–21, 1959. In a meeting with Eisenhower on March 11, he stressed his interest in Central American economic integration and Eisenhower expressed sympathy with this objective. (ES–5, 6)

During the following year, Lemus’ political support deteriorated as Salvadoran politics became increasingly polarized. In April 1960, the Embassy reported strains and cleavages within the “oligarchic triarchy (Army, landed gentry and church) which has ruled this country for decades” and growing strength among opposition elements “led by Communists and supported morally and financially from Cuban sources.” Lemus was increasingly isolated, the Embassy reported; opposition to him was growing not only on the left but also among the wealthy, who blamed him for failing to take strong action against extremist elements. (ES–13)

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Director of the Office of Central American and Panamanian Affairs C. Allan Stewart told Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Roy Rubottom in an April 12 memorandum that “Fidelismo is spreading like wildfire” among the poor but that the Lemus government had done nothing to remedy social conditions. (ES–14) When Stewart visited El Salvador in June, Lemus requested U.S. assistance for the Salvadoran security forces, but when he asked Ambassador Thorsten V. Kalijarvi about the request 2 months later, Kalajarvi told him it was still under consideration in Washington. (ES–16, 17, 18)

Events reached crisis level in August and September, with growing demonstrations and disorders. Kalijarvi commented that after an initially hesitant response, Lemus had antagonized the public by using heavy-handed and indiscriminate force; meanwhile he had alienated his supporters by failing to consult them. Nonetheless, Kalajarvi recommended continuing support of the constitutional government by speeding up action on pending aid requests. (ES–19, 23)

The Recognition Issue

On October 26, 1960, a military-civilian Junta seized power in a bloodless coup. It declared the Constitution still in effect and promised to hold free elections, and the new Foreign Minister assured Kalajarvi that the Junta wished to maintain close and cordial relations with the United States. (ES–25) Kalijarvi reported 3 days later, however, that the coup represented a “decided shift to the left.” Although the military members of the Junta were friendly to the United States, they were young and politically inexperienced, while the civilian members included many strong leftists and some “out and out Commies”. The leading figure behind the coup was reportedly former President Oscar Osorio, who might think he could keep the leftists under control, but Kalijarvi thought the military element in the Junta was “no match” for the leftists and that the coup should be regarded as “the first step towards Fidelismo.” Arguing that support for the Junta was already cooling and a countercoup might be in the making, he urged the Department of State to “go slow with recognition.” (ES–26)

In Washington, the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs took a more benign view of the new regime, considering that the Junta’s civilian members were largely leftist but moderate. (ES–27) In a November 1 memorandum to President Eisenhower, Secretary of State Herter noted that the majority of the army and the conservative oligarchy supported the Junta, that Osorio had a long record of cooperation with the United States and opposition to communism, and that several other countries had already extended recognition. He recommended [Page 814] prompt recognition in order to enable the United States to establish good relations and exert a positive influence on the new regime, and Eisenhower approved. (ES–28)

Meanwhile, the Department’s concern about the new regime was increased by new reports from the Embassy, reinforced by Kalijarvi’s return to Washington for consultations. Chargé Donald P. Downs was instructed to meet with Osorio and selected army officers and ascertain their views. Downs reported on November 3 that Osario had replied to questions vaguely and evasively and that he did not think it was necessary to curb Communist activities but intended that all parties should participate in free elections. Downs also met with one of the military members of the Junta, who he thought was friendly but “a complete babe in the woods.” (ES–29, 30)

At a National Security Council meeting on November 7, Acting Secretary of State Livingston T. Merchant reported that the United States had not recognized the new government in El Salvador in view of the possibility of a countercoup; the question was whether recognition should be extended in order to strengthen “reasonable elements” in the government or withheld in the hope of encouraging the opposition. Eisenhower remarked that the ease with which a few Communist elements could take over a government was frightening and that the reluctance of OAS members to take action was alarming; he observed that it might be necessary “to go back to greater reliance on power politics.” Secretary of Defense Thomas S. Gates, Jr., recommended delaying recognition, but further discussion was inconclusive. (ES–32) In a November 10 memorandum to Eisenhower, Herter again recommended recognition. (ES–34) The President again approved, but action was postponed because of continued Department of Defense opposition and concerns expressed by the intelligence community. (ES–36, 37)

In an effort to resolve the impasse, the Department of State sent C. Allan Stewart to El Salvador to survey the situation. He reported on November 23 that Osorio was the key figure behind the government, that the civilian members of the Junta seemed anxious to cooperate with the United States, and that the military members, backed by Osorio, provided a check on those of doubtful ideology. (ES–39) After receiving this report, Herter again recommended recognition. (ES–40) In a meeting with the President on December 1, the Department of Defense withdrew its objection, and Eisenhower gave his approval. (ES–42) On December 3, Kalijarvi returned to El Salvador and delivered a note extending recognition to the Junta as the provisional Government of El Salvador. (ES–43)