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Transnational conservative activism and the transformation of the Salvadoran right, 1967-1982

posted on 2023-08-03, 15:22 authored by Aaron T. Bell

In October 1979, a group of military officers orchestrated a successful coup against the regime that had ruled El Salvador for nearly half a century. Concerned that surging civil unrest at home was the prelude to a left-wing revolution reminiscent of the recent Sandinista victory in nearby Nicaragua, the officers appointed a broad-based civil-military junta and pledged to respond to popular demands for social, economic, and political reforms. Faced with the dual threat of structural reforms supported by reformists in the military and the US government, and a left-wing opposition movement intent on leading a popular revolution, military and private sector rightists organized a political-paramilitary counterrevolutionary response with material support and advice procured through transnational networks of right-wing activists and organizations. The Salvadoran right successfully undermined the government's reform program while strengthening the position of officers who favored a violent purge of the opposition. Salvadoran rightists took their fight to the United States as well, where they championed their cause as quintessentially American in its defense of free market economic values and its commitment to fighting communism imposed from without and within. Though overshadowed by the Iran-Contra affair, US policy toward El Salvador's conflict was critical to defining Washington's Latin America agenda during the final phase of the Cold War and to efforts by the Reagan White House to navigate foreign policy autonomously amidst pressures from different currents of the Republican Party. Using private and government archival sources, media, and scholarship from the United States, El Salvador, and throughout Latin America, this study shows how transnational processes involving state and non-state actors alike have shaped domestic dynamics in both the United States and Latin America.







Electronic thesis available to American University authorized users only, per author's request.


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