Leaving El Salvador 1980 –
Peace Corps left El Salvador in the Spring of 1981 for the first time. The documents describing what was happening in El Salvador and Peace Corps were made available by the Digital National Security Archives at George Washington University. The security situation was dominated by political tensions in Guatemala. Also, Richard Celeste was relatively newly appointed as Director of the Peace Corps. One of the issues was who would have the final decision on suspending the Peace Corps program, the Director of the Peace Corps or the Ambassador of the Country. Here is a summary of what happened.
PCV Deborah Loff, who had been taken hostage on December 11 with a group of Salvadorans from a market place, was released after eleven days. Loff was home for Christmas. But, Peace Corps continued to struggle with the decision to stay or leave El Salvador. Potential Volunteers in training had been redirected from El Salvador to other Central American countries.The contingent of serving Volunteers had been reduced by half to 59. Some Volunteers had been evacuated to Guatemala.Still, Peace Corps evidently hoped that the program could be continued. The Digital National Security Archives at George Washington University was the source for the public documents that described all the events
The following document summarizes how events dictated the final decision: “Summary of Events Leading to the Withdrawal of Peace Corps Volunteers from El Salvador”
(DNSA/GWU:Collection: El Salvador, The Making of U.S. Policy 1977-1984, Item Number: ES00332)
“In early January, PC Deputy Director William Sykes and LAC Regional Director Paul Bell traveled to El Salvador to assess the situation. After much dialogue with PCVs, PC staff, American Embassy and GOES officials, the recommendation was given to Peace Corps Director Richard Celeste not to withdraw the PCVS. (My note: there is an attachment referenced describing the reasons behind this recommendation. I could not locate it. It is cited as ” Attachment I, Appendix A.”). It was hoped that the second Civilian military junta…would be able to stabilize the situation in El Salvador… However, violence continued to escalate. On January 31, 1980, PC Director Celeste made the decision to pull the volunteers out of El Salvador by February 28th.”
Peace Corps did not return to El Salvador until 1993.
Thank you, again, to the Digital National Security Archive at George Washington University and Dr. Mary Curry for all the work in making these public documents available.