Grassroots Mobilization Against US Military Intervention in El Salvador

Perla Jr.

Probably the largest and most sustained anti-war movement in the US since the Vietnam War was the grassroots mobilization that has come to be known as the Central American Peace and Solidarity Movement (CAPSM).1 It arose in the 1980s in response to President Reagan’s foreign policy initiative toward El Salvador, where he sought the military defeat of the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) guerrillas.2 In large part because of the CAPSM, the administration was never able to quell public opposition to US intervention, despite spending millions of dollars and significant political capital trying to justify it.3

Recent scholarship has shown that the CAPSM was a transnational movement in which Salvadoran immigrants in the US (citizens, legal residents, undocumented immigrants, refugees, and temporary or transitory migrants) played an essential part.4 Despite their lack of US citizenship rights, which limited their potential for direct political influence, they were not powerless. They made important use of what I have called a Signal Flare Strategy of transnational resistance, in which Central Americans both in-country and in the diaspora worked at the grassroots level to help stimulate North American public opposition.5


From 1932 to 1979 El Salvador was ruled by a series of military dictators closely allied with the US, all of whom gained power through either military coups or fraudulent elections. However, by the mid-1970s this system of governance was facing significant challenges from diverse sectors of Salvadoran society. In 1979 the military regime was replaced by an ostensibly reformist civilian-military junta seeking to stave off a popular revolution.

This process played out with great violence over more than a decade. It began in the late 1960s when labor, peasant, student and political organizations mobilized for economic and political change. Their demands were met with repression, including the arrest, harassment, torture, exile, and assassination of many key leaders.6 Throughout the 1970s the mobilization of Salvadoran society continued and social upheaval broadened to include opposition political parties in two successive elections (1972, 1977). In both elections a center-left coalition known as the National Opposition Union won the popular vote. Yet the coalition was not allowed to take office and its presidential candidate was tortured and exiled.7

In response, a group of junior-ranking military officers staged a coup in 1979, establishing a military-civilian governing junta. However, within less than a year all the moderates within the junta had been replaced by conservative elements who unleashed a tidal wave of violence against the civilian population. Caught up in this state-sponsored terror were over 40,000 Salvadoran citizens, including the country’s Catholic Archbishop, who was assassinated on March 24, 1980 while saying mass. This huge surge of government-sponsored death-squad murders and disappearances confronted many Salvadoran activists with a grim choice: leave the country or take up arms. It is estimated that over a million Salvadorans left, most of them settling in the United States, principally in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Washington, and New York.8 Another 15-20,0000 are believed to have gone underground and taken up arms. On October 10, 1980, five incipient guerrilla organizations came together to form the FMLN. The Salvadoran civil war, which would last for over a decade, had begun.

When Ronald Reagan was inaugurated in January 1981, among his first official acts was to increase military and economic aid to El Salvador’s ruling junta. Essentially, Reagan drew the line to stop what he claimed was a global communist conspiracy to take over the western hemisphere. An official White Paper put forward this position in the following terms:

The political direction, organization and arming of the Salvadoran insurgency is coordinated and heavily influenced by Cuba with the active support of the Soviet Union, East Germany, Vietnam and other Communist states… the insurgency in El Salvador has been progressively transformed into a text-book case of indirect armed aggression by Communist powers through Cuba.9

However, the Central American Peace and Solidarity Movement – encompassing secular and religious activists and civil society organizations – immediately assailed this claim. CAPSM organizations offered evidence that the conflict arose indigenously in response to problems inherent to Salvadoran society. They led a massive public campaign to persuade Congress to oppose Reagan’s Central America policy.10 According to a New York Times report, “Key members of House and Senate foreign policy committees have been receiving hundreds of letters a week opposing the Reagan Administration’s decision to send military aid to El Salvador and expressing concern that the United States might become entangled there in a Vietnam-like war.”11

Many elected officials became staunch opponents of the administration’s policy in Central America. As a result Congress capped the number of advisers that were permitted in El Salvador at fifty-five. It also set strict guidelines of behavior for these advisers such as prohibiting them from being in combat zones, carrying combat-type weapons, or engaging the FMLN except in self-defense.12 Finally, it passed a resolution requiring the president to certify that progress was being made on human rights before further aid to El Salvador could be approved. Throughout the decade Congress scrutinized each successive reauthorization of aid to El Salvador.13

This pressure culminated in the suspension of military aid in November 1989, in response to the murder of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter by the Salvadoran Army’s elite US-trained Atlacatl Battalion.14 Even more impressively, it helped convince the first Bush Administration to accept the United Nations-sponsored peace process that eventually ended the conflict without having achieved the policy’s original objective – military defeat of the FMLN.

Transnational Grassroots Mobilization

While social movement scholars have long acknowledged grassroots activists’ potential to challenge established political institutions and beliefs, public opinion specialists have analyzed attitudes primarily in terms of elite actors and the cues they generate through the media.15 In the Central American case, political scientists have tended to explain public opposition to Reagan’s policy by citing disagreement between the President and Congress.16 Meanwhile, international relations experts have looked at the role of the public in constraining US policy in Central America, but none have considered the CAPSM’s role in stoking public opposition. Instead they have seen the process as one in which Congress became more assertive as a result of the Vietnam debacle, or simply as a natural outcome of divided government.17

There was not any particularly compelling reason why the US Congress or public should react so viscerally against Reagan’s El Salvador policy. Few US troops were killed in El Salvador, the president was relatively popular, and the monetary costs entailed by the policy were relatively low. Most importantly, other similar policies in different parts of the world during the same time did not encounter such intense opposition. What previous analyses have failed to consider, however, is the political impact of Salvadorans in general and of Salvadoran immigrant activists in particular.

The FMLN was convinced that once the US public knew what was happening, it would oppose Reagan’s foreign policy.18 To this end, the FMLN implemented a Signal Flare strategy, whereby a population adversely affected by the foreign policy of another government communicates directly to the public of the transgressing state, most often through transnational sub-state actors (i.e. civil society organizations). The instrument for this process was the FMLN’s International Relations Commission.19

Immigrant Networks as Mobilizing Structures and Resources

How did the FMLN seek to build this solidarity network? Without access to large sums of money or advanced technology, they turned to the resources traditionally used by marginalized groups and ordinary people confronting powerful oppressors.20 The most important of these was the widespread network of sympathetic Salvadoran immigrants, many of whom maintained strong ties to their home country’s social and revolutionary movements, including several of the FMLN guerrilla factions. Salvadorans in the US with political ties to their homeland had been organizing since the mid-1970s. At first, their efforts targeted their fellow immigrants and were thus confined to Latino enclaves. However, they soon began attracting and targeting North Americans. Among the earliest of their organizations were the Comité de Salvadoreños Progresistas (Committee of Progressive Salvadorans), Casa El Salvador, and Casa El Salvador-Farabundo Martí.21 Felix Kury, founder of Salvadoreños Progresistas explains that the first organizing efforts began in 1975 as a direct result of events unfolding in El Salvador:

All of a sudden there was the massacre of the 30th of July 1975 and I made the first call to organize… We came up with the name Committee of Progressive Salvadorans and we decided to organize the first ever march in the United States to protest what was happening in El Salvador… after a discussion and meeting that lasted from 6pm to 1am, thinking about what was the best way to attract the most number of people possible… to denounce the repression of the Salvadoran dictatorship, you understand? To the degree that we were here we gained more understanding of what we thought we could do for El Salvador, we had seen the Chileans’ example, we had seen the Nicaraguans, and then the situation in El Salvador got worse and we started to think about ‘how can we really make a difference?’… I think that we had a vision that was really revolutionary. El Salvador had to change; those of us from the outside were going to contribute to that process of change, and our solidarity from here was very important.22

These Salvadoran immigrants’ organizational work had four primary objectives. One was to draw US citizens’ attention to the human suffering caused by US support of the Salvadoran government. Another was to influence the public’s understanding of the origins of the Salvadoran conflict and US policy by presenting an alternative frame that contested Reagan’s interpretation. A third goal was to generate a sustained social movement by US citizens against Reagan’s policy that would build public and Congressional opposition.23 Their final goal was to build a support base among the Salvadoran and North American communities for their revolutionary movement. As José Artiga, a leader of the Casa El Salvador-Farabundo Martí, explains,

Our goal was to create more organizations, to create more chapters, contacts… not among the Salvadorans (if they were there, we’d organize them), but more than anything [among] the North Americans… Organize the North Americans so that they would be part of something … activism was a form of organizing people… we would fill the year with activities… a plethora of activities, activities that required lots of people and since we didn’t have any paid positions everyone was a volunteer… we relied on volunteers… so we have all these organizations functioning and very active, but who is organizing them? This is where I feel that the Salvadorans’ role is very important, sometimes making the invitation, sometimes giving their blessing. The invitation was really important because people after a presentation or after becoming aware of the situation would have a really bad feeling and you’d say it’s your tax dollars that are financing these human rights violations and the question they would ask is what can I do? And here is where with lots of creativity we had a menu of things that people could do… join CISPES, Sanctuary, support refugees. This menu of activities also included a range of political pressure, [from] participating in a vigil to participating in civil disobedience…24

Sites of Political Activism

By the late 1970s and early 1980s, Salvadoran immigrant activists had established their own grassroots organizations in the major cities with large Salvadoran populations. These immigrant-based organizations were the CAPSM’s earliest, attracted some of the movement’s most effective organizers, built important working relationships with strategic US civil society organizations (in the religious, left, academic, labor, and human rights communities), presented a powerful alternative framing of the conflict, and helped create some of the larger North American-based national solidarity groups.

It is important to note that many of the immigrant activists were refugees from El Salvador’s state-sponsored terror. Most of them occupied marginal positions in US society, many were in the country illegally or, even if “legal,” did not have citizenship rights, and the few that were citizens were not considered a significant political constituency nationally or even locally. Thus, they were figuratively outside of the US polity, without formal political standing, and almost completely unable to gain direct access to institutional channels of influence. Yet this does not mean that they were unable to affect US politics. Rather it means that their signal flare strategy of resistance had to rely on what scholars of transnational social movements have called accountability and leverage politics.25

US Civil Society: Counter-Public Spaces

The left. Among the first sectors of US society to respond to the Salvadorans’ signal flare strategy was the left. This included the small, but well-organized and nationally present Communist Party USA. The party’s activists played a minor but important role in providing contacts to Salvadoran revolutionaries. The FMLN’s early efforts to encourage the creation of solidarity committees was detailed in a collection of documents allegedly captured by the Salvadoran military and released in 1981 in the State Department’s White Paper.26 This contained documents purportedly from Shafik Handal, a top FMLN commander, including a report from Handal’s brother Farid documenting his visit to the US in early 1980.

The report explains that during his travels Handal met with leaders of the US Communist Party, the US Peace Council, and Amnesty International. Moreover, “according to information held by the State Department, FBI and other agencies,” Farid Handal met with Sandy Pollack, “a former member of the pro-Cuban Venceremos Brigade and an official of the US Peace Council…” According to the White Paper, Pollack helped Handal arrange a conference to establish the nationwide network of committees in solidarity with the Salvadoran guerrillas, which laid the initial foundation for the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES).27

Academic Sector. Another important counter-public space was universities. Solidarity and peace organizations flourished on campuses across the country. Many of the victims of political repression in El Salvador were students and professors. Scholars concerned with Latin America, human rights, intellectual freedom, and social justice issues were particularly receptive to the Salvadorans’ message. Many of them directly confronted the Reagan administration’s claims about El Salvador, offering an alternative explanation of the conflict that largely coincided with the refugees’ testimonies and the FMLN’s analysis. They thus laid the foundation for North Americans, particularly young people and students, to take a stand against US policy. This is clearly evidenced in a statement passed by the Pacific Coast Council on Latin American Studies and sent to President Reagan,

…[T]he turmoil in El Salvador is primarily the result of long-standing social and economic injustice, persistent repression of non-violent forms of political participation, and the well documented brutality of government security forces. The growing popular opposition to the military dominated government in El Salvador is not the work of a small number of terrorists, nor is it engineered by external political forces hostile to the United States. The armed opposition in El Salvador represents an internal struggle against injustice and authoritarian rule.28

Religious Sector. Similarly, US Catholic and Protestant denominations began receiving a massive influx of Salvadoran refugees fleeing their government’s human rights violations and seeking sanctuary. At the same time, many parishes around the country with connections to El Salvador’s Liberation Theology-inspired Christian Base Communities were asked by their Salvadoran coreligionists to help mobilize their congregations against US policy. As a result of their previous relationships and the stories told by immigrants arriving on a nearly daily basis, many congregations were highly receptive.

Their positions are reflected in letters to the President, which show great knowledge about particular “on-the-ground” details and actors involved in Central America. Instead of relying on generic frames and Cold War scripts, they offer compelling narratives with specific details of human suffering. For example, Bishop Robert M. Keller of the Eastern Washington-Idaho Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America forwards a resolution passed by the Synod that states in part,

WHEREAS, in 1987 and 1988, the Salvadoran Lutheran Synod has suffered repeated attacks on its ministries, including the bombing of the child care center at Fe y Esperanza Lutheran Home for refugees, death threats and harassments against Lutheran leaders, Bishop Medardo Gomez and others…29

Moreover, their letters also are full of information from Central American immigrants or from activists based in Central America. A good example of this comes from Sister Mary Canavan, General Superior of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth. In October of 1988 she wrote,

Dear Mr. President… During the past five years, members of the Sisters of Charity of Convent Station, New Jersey have studied the plight of refugees from El Salvador and Guatemala who are in the United States without governmental sanction. The testimonies of these refugees, our religious workers in Central America and human rights agencies have led us to the conclusion that tremendous political and social upheaval in the region is at root of the displacement of millions of Central Americans… We believe that the foreign policy of the United States is directly responsible for that upheaval…30

Labor Unions. Organized labor was another sector where the Salvadorans’ signal flare strategy resonated. Because El Salvador’s trade union movement was among the hardest hit by the Salvadoran military and paramilitary repression, US labor union activists played an important role in opposing US policy. This was no thanks to the AFL-CIO, which on the contrary participated through the AIFLD in the training of government-allied unions in El Salvador. Nevertheless, some unions did use their influence to challenge Reagan’s Central America policy. A letter from Ron Holley, President of the Michigan State Employees union illustrates their opposition,

Dear Mr. President, I am writing to you to express the deep concern of our Union that US dollars and human resources continue to be squandered in Central America. The economy of Michigan, as well as the entire Country, is not served by US involvement in Central America. We need to put people to work in this Country. This waste of our tax dollars should not be allowed to continue…31

Human Rights Organizations. Among the earliest sectors of North American civil society to support the Salvadoran opposition were the transnational advocacy networks working for human rights, peace, economic development, and demilitarization. Organizations such as the US Peace Council, the Institute for Policy Studies, Amnesty International, the Washington Office on Latin America, Peace Brigades International, the American Friends Service Committee, EPICA, and the National Council of Churches all helped disseminate the Signal Flare in opposition to Reagan’s policy. Many of them also helped form or joined advocacy coalitions to lobby Congress more effectively.32

These organizations’ expertise, resources, and political connections were vital to the CAPSM organizations in their grassroots work. Human rights groups, with their connections and credibility, were effective allies, at times helping prominent Central Americans to share their testimonies with elected officials. Probably the earliest instance was in 1976, when Dr. Fabio Castillo former rector of the national University of El Salvador and opposition presidential candidate, testified before Congress.33

Creating New Sites of Counter-Public Contestation

It is important to note that Salvadoran immigrant activists not only sought out existing venues in US civil society, but also encouraged the creation of new solidarity organizations to reach broader audiences.34 The first of these was the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), which was formed in October 1980. According to CISPES’s first National Coordinator, Angela Sambrano, it originated in a process of collaboration between the Comité Farabundo Martí (a Salvadoran immigrant-based organization) and North American solidarity activists.35 By some accounts CISPES would become the largest and the most effective nationwide CAPSM organization. At its height there was a CISPES office in nearly every major US city, well over 300 local chapters across the country.36

The other major CAPSM organization was the Salvadoran Humanitarian Aid Relief and Education Foundation (later renamed the SHARE Foundation: Building a New El Salvador Today). “SHARE was born in 1981 in response to a cry for solidarity that came from thousands that fled from the death squads to the refugee camps in El Salvador and Honduras, as well as from the refugees that sought sanctuary here in the US.”37 The SHARE Foundation worked with the mainstream US religious community, linking US parishes with Salvadoran parishes and communities devastated or displaced by the war. It sent delegations by North American religious activists to accompany organized Salvadoran refugee communities and protect them from military attacks as they returned to repopulate the war zones.38 Once the North Americans returned home they would be mobilized to lobby their elected officials for an end to US military support of the Salvadoran government.

Repertoires of Political Activism

How did the Salvadoran activists persuade North Americans to oppose and work to overturn their government’s Salvadoran policy? And what role did these immigrants play in this process? Among already existing North American civil society organizations, Central Americans generally did not play a leadership role. They typically participated in the role of refugees from US foreign policy. In this capacity, Salvadoran immigrants who had fled repression used their personal testimonies and denunciations to mobilize North Americans to action. In the newly created solidarity organizations Salvadoran immigrants played a role of encouragement and partnership. Their leadership was by example and inspiration in the face of extreme hardship. Their varied approaches to subverting the official US paradigm took three basic forms: rhetorical, demonstrative, and procedural.39

Rhetorical mode of subversion: immigrant testimonios. The most powerful weapon in the Salvadorans’ signal flare strategy was the refugees’ personal testimonies. The testimonies educated people as to what was going on, outraged them at their government’s betrayal of their country’s stated ideals, sparked a desire to do something about it, and provided a clue as to what they should do to remedy the situation. As sociologist Christian Smith has found, “absolutely nothing ignited in US citizens the fierce insurgent consciousness for activism more than personal encounters with the traumatized victims of the US-sponsored war in Central America.”40

It is important to emphasize, however, that these were not passive or helpless victims being manipulated for political ends; it was by their own choice that they came forward. In addition, when, where, how, and to whom these immigrants told their stories were also conscious and strategic decisions. In spite of this, sharing intimate and painful personal stories with complete strangers was often a traumatic experience. Moreover, in the context of the Sanctuary Movement, taking a public stand exposed those who did so to the danger of deportation, with the risk of torture, disappearance, and death.41

As a result, refugees often decided not to talk about their experiences and most never shared their stories publicly. Those who spoke out often did so out of a sense of obligation to those they had lost. As one immigrant who testified before North American audiences notes, “It is very difficult to talk about the death of my brother and my friends… One feels the pain every time. But you feel some kind of accomplishment because those people who are dead cannot speak at all.”42

Demonstrative mode of subversion: mística revolucionaria. The immigrants’ activism was characterized by extraordinary sacrifices, intense commitment, and self-abnegation on behalf of their cause.43 As anthropologist Susan Coutin notes, “Activism was all absorbing for many [Salvadoran] exiles who engaged in solidarity work. The immediacy and violence of the war and of human rights abuses created a sense of overwhelming urgency.”44 As one young Salvadoran remarked, “I was already connected [to the revolutionary movement], my brother had been killed in combat, I was in a state of permanent anger, there was a contradiction between leaving the country and leaving behind an investment of blood… the feeling was how can I run away when others have already given their lives… So when I left El Salvador I was committed to getting involved in something…”45

The passionate commitment of Salvadoran immigrants was transmitted to North Americans and helped give the CAPSM its “mobilizing identity”46 – the immigrants’ mistica revolucionaria.47 This revolutionary mystique was conveyed through immigrants’ strong commitment to the FMLN’s struggle, as well as their sense of obligation to their fallen compatriots. Their enthusiasm, determination, and clarity of purpose inspired North Americans to believe that they had the ability to change US policy. Thus, many US citizens became CAPSM activists after personal experiences with Salvadoran immigrant organizers. As a national CAPSM leader put it,

I got involved in El Salvador solidarity work after meeting Salvadoran activists who had just arrived in Los Angeles, ‘fresh from the front,’ so to speak in the early 1980s. They were experienced organizers, ‘on fire’ with passion for their cause, and filled with optimism. The continuous contact with them inspired me, as I am sure it did many other non-Central Americans who joined the solidarity movement.48

Procedural mode of subversion: US citizen letter writing. Throughout the decade various CAPSM organizations constantly sought to maintain public pressure on Congress to stop aid to the Salvadoran government. Immigrants’ personal narratives provided a compelling counter-frame to the official narrative. Solidarity organizations launched nationwide educational campaigns offering up-to-date information directly from El Salvador or from Salvadoran immigrants’ testimonies. An analysis of the letters sent to the President indicates that Salvadoran immigrants’ activism had a strong impact on building opposition to his policy. In stark contrast to Democratic congressional opponents of US-Central America policy, letter-writers rejected Reagan’s framing of Central America’s problems as arising from foreign communist subversion. Among letters supporting the President’s policy 85% exclusively used a Communist interference frame. By contrast, nearly all (99%) of the letters that opposed Reagan’s policy used an exclusively domestic problems frame, citing the unjust structure of Salvadoran society and government.

Interpretation of Findings

Thanks to the immigrants’ testimony, the administration’s claims were directly contradicted by evidence from those whom its policy was supposedly designed to benefit. This increased the CAPSM’s credibility and attracted the support of mainstream religious organizations, making the movement difficult to discredit. Thus, Reagan’s inability to sell his El Salvador policy was intertwined with the policy’s inherent faults. As the UN Truth Commission Report documented, the very government that the Reagan Administration asked the public to support was responsible for about 85% of the human rights violations committed during the Salvadoran civil war (compared with only 5% attributed to the FMLN).49 Still, US public opposition would not have been as intense without the Salvadorans’ grassroots activism – which has found no comparable counterpart in relation to the Iraq war.

Complementing the immigrants’ role was the social capital provided to the CAPSM by North American activists, who accessed their own social networks and institutional resources to spread public opposition far beyond anything Salvadoran immigrants could have accomplished on their own.

Finally, the CAPSM created a strong mobilizing identity and a compelling counter-narrative to Reagan’s framing of US policy. Its alternative analysis included the hard numbers and information on such matters as how much aid was being sent to El Salvador and how many people were being killed in the conflict. It provided the indispensable intellectual framework for the immigrants’ emotional testimonies. Salvadoran activists were thus able to communicate their grievances to the US public in a way that motivated active opposition.

There is no reason to believe that this signal flare strategy would not also be applicable in other conflicts. However, it does depend significantly on shared cultural norms and transnational institutions, such as Catholic or Protestant Churches with a Liberation Theology vocation. Furthermore, it also requires to some degree that the weaker actor in the conflict eschew extreme tactics – such as indiscriminate bombings or targeting of civilians – and that it maintain the high moral ground. These insights help explain why we have not witnessed the same kind of intense anti-war movement in other cases of US military involvement, such as Colombia or Iraq, where one or more of the above elements are missing.

Implications for the Immigrant Rights Movement

What are the lessons from this case of immigrant activism for the current struggle for immigrant rights, from which the so-called New Sanctuary Movement has emerged? How can immigrants and immigrant rights activists develop a powerful progressive analysis in relation to the ongoing immigration debate?

First, in comparing the original Sanctuary Movement to the New Sanctuary Movement, one of the clearest differences is the urgency that gave rise to the former – the near certainty of death, torture, and disappearance awaiting those that were deported. While today’s Central American immigrants may face extreme hardship if they are deported, including the break-up of families, loss of livelihood, stigma for not having been able to “make it,” and physical as well as psychological traumas, they are not likely to be the immediate targets of state-sponsored terrorism. In fact, in many Latin American countries today immigrants particularly to the US are celebrated as heroes for their personal sacrifice and for their contributions to the nation, primarily in the form of remittances.50 Therefore one of the most compelling factors in the original movement is missing.

Second, present-day immigration from Central America is based less on flight from political repression and more on the economic impact of US policies. The rationale for supporting immigration must therefore shift toward putting forward a broad critique of US neoliberal economic policy. By focusing on the root causes of immigration – the displacement of people from traditional economies caused by neoliberal economic restructuring and free trade – progressive activists and scholars can point to the US government’s complicity in generating the immigration dilemma. Such a critique also allows us to focus on the common plight affecting working people in the US and Latin America. This opens up the possibility that immigration, instead of being a wedge issue for conservative forces to instill fear and xenophobia, can become an issue around which progressives can organize to expose the underlying bankruptcy of the free market capitalist model at home and abroad.


1. Christian Smith, Resisting Reagan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996; Sharon Erickson-Nepstad, and Christian Smith, “The Social Structure of Moral Outrage in Recruitment to the US Central America Peace Movement” in Passionate Politics: Emotions and Social Movements, ed. Jeff Goodwin, James Jasper, and Francesca Polletta, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001, 158-174.

2. Although the CAPSM also included organizations concerned with Guatemala and Nicaragua, in this article I refer only to the portion of the movement that dealt with El Salvador.

3. William LeoGrande, “Central America and the Polls,” Washington, DC: Washington Office on Latin America, 1987.

4. Nora Hamilton and Norma Stoltz-Chinchilla, Seeking Community in a Global City, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001; Susan Bibler Coutin, Legalizing Moves: Salvadoran Immigrants’ Struggle for US Residency, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2003; Héctor Perla Jr., “Si Nicaragua Venció, El Salvador Vencerá,” Latin American Research Review, Vol. 43, No. 2, 2008, 136-158.

5. Perla, “Si Nicaragua Venció, El Salvador Vencerá,” 142.

6. Charles Brockett. Political Movements and Violence in Central America. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005, 95.

7. Tommie Sue Montgomery. Revolution in El Salvador. Boulder: Westview Press, 1995, 64, 71. The account in the following paragraph is based principally on this source.

8. See Maria Cristina Garcia, Seeking Refuge: Central American Migration to Mexico, the United States, and Canada, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006, 31-34.

9. United States. Department of State. Communist Interference in El Salvador: Documents Demonstrating Communist Support of the Salvadoran Insurgency. Washington: US Government Printing Office, February 19, 1981.

10. Garcia, Seeking Refuge: 19; Richard Sobel, ed. Public Opinion in US Foreign Policy. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1993, 108-112, 156.

11. Judith Miller, “Congress Mail Heavy on El Salvador Issue,” New York Times, March 26, 1981, A7.

12. However, we now know that US armed forces were involved in combat operations against the FMLN throughout the war. See Graham, Bradley, “Public Honors for Secret Combat; Medals Granted After Acknowledgment of US Role in El Salvador,” Washington Post, May 6, 1996, A1.

13. Montgomery, Revolution in El Salvador: 150.

14. Montgomery, Revolution in El Salvador: 221. The murdered Jesuits were leading intellectuals, critical of government human rights abuses.

15. John Zaller, The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

16. Ibid.

17. Richard Sobel, The Impact of Public Opinion on US Foreign Policy Since Vietnam, New York: Oxford University Press, 2001; William G. Howell and Jon C. Pevehouse, “When Congress Stops Wars,” Foreign Affairs, September/October 2007.

18. Hamilton and Chinchilla, Seeking Community in a Global City. See also Philip Taubman, “Salvadorans' US Campaign: Selling of Revolution,” New York Times, February 26, 1982, A10.

19. Montgomery, Revolution in El Salvador: 114.

20. Margaret Keck and Kathryn Sikkink, Activists beyond Borders, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998; John Guidry and Mark Sawyer. “Contentious Pluralism: The Public Sphere and Democracy,” Perspectives on Politics Vol. 1, No. 2, June 2003.

21. Van Gosse, “‘The North American Front’: Central American Solidarity in the Reagan Era,” in Mike Davis and Michael Sprinker, eds., Reshaping the US Left, (New York: Verso, 1988: 19.

22. Author’s interview with Felix Kury, San Francisco, February 2007.

23. Perla, “Si Nicaragua Venció, El Salvador Vencerá.”

24. Author’s conversation with José Artiga, Executive Director of the SHARE Foundation, 2/21/07.

25. Leverage politics refers to “the ability to call upon powerful actors to affect a situation where weaker members of a network are unlikely to have influence.” Accountability politics refer to “the ability to hold powerful actors to their previously stated policies or principles.” Keck and Sikkink, Activists beyond Borders: 16.

26. While the veracity of the White Paper’s conclusions has been seriously challenged, in an October 2003 speech at UCLA, Shafik Handal acknowledged that during the war the FMLN established good relationships with North American civil society organizations and Congressmen with the express purpose of building opposition to Reagan’s Central American policy. Moreover, Van Gosse, a national CISPES leader, acknowledged in “‘The North American Front’: Central American Solidarity in the Reagan Era” (note 21 above) that in the months before CISPES’s founding “a few key activists met with the newly-formed Democratic Revolutionary Front [FDR] in Mexico and agreed to help initiate a national solidarity effort” (24), and that CISPES leadership maintained close connections to the Popular Revolutionary Bloc (BPR). The BPR was a member of the FDR, but it was also affiliated to the FMLN’s Popular Forces of Liberation (FPL) guerrilla group.

27. Ross Gelbspan, Break-ins, Death Threats and the FBI: The Covert War Against the Central America Movement, Boston: South End Press, 1991, 41-43.

28. Letter, Kristyna Demaree to Ronald Reagan, February 25, 1983, ID#131368, PR013, WHORM: Subject File, Ronald Reagan Library.

29. Letter, Robert M. Keller to Ronald Reagan, August 1, 1988, Folder “Central America-Presidential Letters,” Box 92378, Robert S. Pastorino Files, Ronald Reagan Library.

30. Letter, Sister Mary Canavan to Ronald Reagan, October 5, 1988 Folder “Central America-Presidential Letters,” Box 92378, Robert S. Pastorino Files, Ronald Reagan Library (emphasis added).

31. Letter, Ron Holley, to Ronald Reagan, found in Letter, Robert Kelnhofer to Ronald Reagan, October 31, 1983, ID# 194354, PR 003, WHORM: Subject File, Ronald Reagan Library.

32. Mark Falcoff, “The Apple of Discord: Central America in US Domestic Politics,” in Rift and Revolution, Washington, DC: American Institute for Public Policy Research, 1984, 368.

33. US House of Representatives. Hearings before Congressional Subcommittee on International Organizations of the Committee on International Relations. Washington DC: US Government Printing Office June 8-9, 1976.

34. Van Gosse, “El Salvador is Spanish for Vietnam,” The Immigrant Left in the United States, Eds. Paul Buhl and Dan Georgakas, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996, 303.

35. Author’s interview with Angela Sambrano, Los Angeles, February 17, 2007.

36. Gosse, “‘The North American Front.’”

37. SHARE Foundation Homepage, (emphasis added).

38. Author’s conversation with Jose Artiga, Executive Director of the SHARE Foundation, 2/21/07.

39. Guidry and Sawyer, in “Contentious Pluralism” (note 20), define a procedural mode of subversion as involving the use of “accepted, legal procedures to hold the state and dominant actors accountable to their own principles… A rhetorical mode of subversion is one in which actors use the logic of political ideas and discourse to change opinion in diverse publics, including the dominant ones… In the demonstrative mode of subversion, actors strike at the structures of power by presenting and modeling alternatives to the existing order” (277).

40. Smith, Resisting Reagan: 151.

41. Robert Tomsho, The American Sanctuary Movement, (Austin: Texas Monthly Press, 1987), 30.

42. Ibid., 209.

43. Guidry and Sawyer, “Contentious Pluralism”: 277.

44. Coutin, Legalizing Moves: 138-139.

45. Author’s interview with Werner Marroquin, Los Angeles, February 15, 2007.

46. Garcia-Bedolla defines a mobilizing identity in the following way, “Put simply, for individuals to choose to act, they must feel that they are a part of something and that that ‘something’ is worthy of political effort. That feeling of attachment and group worthiness is what motivates them to act on behalf of the collective.” See Lisa Garcia Bedolla, Fluid Borders: Latino Power, Identity, and Politics in Los Angeles, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005, 7-9.

47. Marco A. Mojica, “Mística, Memoria y Nostalgia: The Construction of the Sandinista Political Identity in Nicaragua.” Paper presented at the 48th International Studies Association Conference, Chicago, February 28, 2007.

48. Hamilton and Chinchilla, Seeking Community in a Global City: 129-130.

49. United Nations Truth Commission Report on El Salvador, From Madness to Hope.

50. See Susan Bibler Coutin, Nations of Emigrants: Shifting Boundaries of Citizenship in El Salvador and the United States, (Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2007).