On This Date in Latin America – December 02, 1980

This is the first in a series I will be doing periodically that explores important moments in Latin American history based on the date of the events.

On December 2, 1980, five Salvadoran National Guard troops beat, raped, and murdered four church women  outside of San Salvador in El Salvador.  Nuns Ita Ford, Maura Clarke, and Dorothy Kazel, along with laywoman Jean Donovan, had been driving when the five troops stopped their car.  They took the four women to an isolated location and proceeded to beat, rape, and murder the four women. Villagers recalled hearing the gunshots and seeing the men flee. The next morning, their bodies were discovered.

At the time, El Salvador was involved in a brutal civil war that would last from 1980-1992, during which 75,000 Salvadorans were murdered. By the time the bodies of the four American church women were found at the end of 1980, thousands of Salvadorans fell victim to the military regime, including Archbishop Oscar Romero. However, the brutality of the act and the fact that the women were from the United States led to public outrage in their home country. However, newly-elected president Ronald Reagan would actually increase funding and military aid to the Salvadoran military regime that had ordered the murder, and the Salvadoran army never seriously acted to reduce the activity of death squads. The five guard members were ultimately tried and sentenced to prison, though all were eventually released.  As human rights activists pursued the case and pushed for further investigations, evidence emerged that high-ranking generals had ordered the murders. General Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, the commander of the National Guard at the time and later Minister of War, and Gen. José Guillermo García eventually emigrated to Florida, where they still live. Meanwhile, the nuns and Donovan remain important symbols in human rights struggles to this day.


The four church women murdered in El Salvador on December 2, 1980 (clockwise, from top left): Jean Donovan, Ita Ford, Dorothy Kazel, and Maura Clarke.


About Colin M. Snider

I have a Ph.D. in history, specializing in Latin American History and Comparative Indigenous History. My dissertation focused on Brazil. Beyond Latin America generally, I'm particularly interested in class identities, military politics, human rights, labor, education, music, and nation. I can be found on Twitter at @ColinMSnider.
This entry was posted in Catholicism in the Americas, El Salvador, El Salvador's Civil War (1980-1992), Human Rights Issues, Human Rights Violations, Impunity, On This Date in Latin America, The Cold War in Latin America. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to On This Date in Latin America – December 02, 1980

  1. Dear Colin,
    Thanks. I am sharing your blog spot with a colleague who is currently writing the biography of Ita. Her name is Marian Mollin.

    • Dennis,

      Thanks for passing it along. Much appreciated, and good luck to your colleague! I’ll look forward to her work – I’m working on a Human Rights course for the future, and a current biography would be particularly helpful, so I’ll certainly keep my eyes opened for her book.

Comments are closed.