As the nation pays tribute to Ronald “Dutch” Reagan on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his birth, media coverage is every bit as laudatory as when he turned 90. I wrote in 2001 about PBS’s fawning tributes on the Charlie Rose show and the Jim Lehrer NewsHour. Then, as now, one of the most glaring omissions was the human cost of his foreign policies. In the interest of filling out the Reagan portrait, let us consider a few regions unfortunate enough to capture his attention, starting with Central America.
In January 1981, the newly inaugurated Reagan inherited Jimmy Carter’s policy of supporting a Salvadoran government controlled by a military that, along with the security forces and affiliated death squads, killed about 10,000 civilians in 1980. In the first 27 months of the Reagan administration, perhaps another 20,000 civilians were killed. El Salvador’s labor movement was decimated, the opposition press exterminated, opposition politicians murdered or driven into exile, the church martyred.