[Marxism] Robert E. White, Ex-Ambassador to Latin America, Dies at 88

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Jan 18 10:30:19 MST 2015

(The obit does not mention it, but White was the president of the 
International Center for Development Policy in the 80s, a group that was 
key to the success of Tecnica, the volunteer project for Nicaragua that 
I worked with. White was a really admirable figure.)

NY Times, Jan. 18 2015
Robert E. White, Ex-Ambassador to Latin America, Dies at 88

On Dec. 1, 1980, two churchwomen, Jean Donovan and Sister Dorothy Kazel, 
spent the night at the American Embassy in San Salvador as guests of 
Ambassador Robert E. White and his wife. The next day, the two women and 
two other nuns, all crusaders for human rights, were abducted, raped and 

Mr. White concluded that El Salvadoran government death squads had been 
complicit in the crimes and conveyed those suspicions to the Carter 
administration’s State Department. The United States, however, was 
supporting the military government in El Salvador in its struggle 
against leftist revolutionaries, and after President Ronald Reagan took 
office that January, Mr. White, who had been appointed by President 
Jimmy Carter, was recalled by Reagan’s secretary of state, Alexander M. 
Haig Jr., and forced out of the Foreign Service.

His suspicions about the deaths were later confirmed by the conviction 
of five National Guardsmen and by declassified State Department 
documents accusing the Salvadoran military of a cover-up.

“I regard it as an honor to join a small group of officers who have gone 
out of the service because they refused to betray their principles,” Mr. 
White said at the time.

Mr. White died Tuesday at a hospice in Arlington, Va. He was 88. The 
cause was cancer, his daughter Claire Kelly said. After leaving 
government, he had served as president of the Center for International 
Policy, a Washington research and advocacy group founded by former 
diplomats and Vietnam-era peace advocates.

Serving every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower as a career diplomat 
rather than a political appointee, Mr. White was distinguished by his 
dispassionate, boots-on-the-ground analysis and his blunt conclusions.

He once branded Roberto D’Aubuisson, the Salvadoran rightist, a 
“pathological killer.” And in a face-off that Mr. White had with 
Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, Mr. Kissinger blinked, revoking a 
reprimand he had ordered after Mr. White, at a meeting of the 
Organization of American States in Chile, delivered an unalloyed 
critique of the host government’s human-rights infractions.

“I was fired by the Nixon White House for opposing politicization of the 
Peace Corps, reprimanded by Henry Kissinger for speaking out on human 
rights, and finally, definitely dismissed by Alexander Haig for opposing 
a military solution in El Salvador,” Mr. White recalled.

Inspired to serve in Latin America by what he called President John F. 
Kennedy’s “creative response to the revolutionary fervor” sweeping that 
region, Mr. White lamented that once Kennedy was assassinated, 
Washington adopted a single-minded goal to thwart Communism, whether in 
Vietnam or in its half-century embargo of Cuba.

He lived just long enough to witness his criticism of the embargo 
vindicated, when President Obama announced on Dec. 17 that it would be 

“For a half-century,” Mr. White asserted in an Op-Ed essay in The New 
York Times in 2013, “our policies toward our southern neighbors have 
alternated between intervention and neglect, inappropriate meddling and 
missed opportunities” to, as he put it, “restore bonds with potential 
allies who share the American goal of prosperity.”

William LeoGrande, an American University political scientist and the 
author of “Our Own Backyard: The United States in Latin America, 
1977-1992,” described Mr. White as a hero.

“He stood up for his principles, which reflected the values of the 
American people — a belief in democracy and human rights,” Professor 
LeoGrande said. “His courage cost him his job, but he never wavered, 
spending the rest of his life advocating for those ideals.”

Robert Edward White was born in Melrose, Mass., on Sept. 21, 1926. He 
enlisted in the Navy at 17 and served in the Pacific during World War II.

He received a bachelor’s degree from Saint Michael’s College in Vermont, 
won a Fulbright Scholarship, and graduated from the Fletcher School of 
Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

In 1955, he married Maryanne Cahill, who survives him along with a son, 
Christopher; two daughters, Claire Kelly and Marylou White; a brother, 
David, and three grandchildren.

He joined the Foreign Service that same year and served in Colombia, 
Ecuador, Honduras and Nicaragua.

In Latin America he was regional director of the Peace Corps and deputy 
permanent representative to the Organization of American States.

President Carter nominated him as ambassador to Paraguay in 1977 and to 
El Salvador in 1980, where the embassy was targeted by rockets from 
leftists and besieged by rightists.

A cable sent by Mr. White from Paraguay in 1978 and declassified in 2001 
suggested that Latin American officers involved in a joint effort by 
right-wing governments to crush leftist opposition had used an American 
communications network to share intelligence.

In El Salvador, he said, American support for the military government 
had been misplaced.

“We took the concept of national security and wrenched it out of context 
to the point where it bore no relation to reality,” he said last year in 
an interview for Retro Report on nytimes.com. “How can a country the 
size of Massachusetts, where you can see the entire country from 9,000 
feet from a helicopter — how can a homegrown revolution in that country 
threaten the security of the United States?”

In 1980, the four churchwomen were murdered eight months after the 
assassination of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, a human rights 
advocate, as he celebrated Mass. Mr. White, who witnessed their 
exhumation, was asked why the women were singled out. “In the eyes of 
the military,” he replied, “identification with the poor was the same as 
identification with revolution.” But this time, he was quoted as saying 
as he stood over their grave site, “The bastards won’t get away with it.”

He later testified in a suit against two retired Salvadoran generals 
living in Florida who were accused of covering up the deaths of the four 

“One of the primary tasks of an American ambassador is to protect 
American citizens,” he said in the interview. “And that’s why, when 
somebody asked me at the end of one of the trials, why I testified 
against the general, I said, ‘I regard this as completion of duty,’ 
because it was my duty to protect American citizens.”

Gene Palumbo contributed reporting from El Salvador.

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