Cook Report

©2005 L.Timmel Duchamp

Witnesses returning from El Salvador are telling a completely different story than we're hearing from the press and our politicians. People returning from El Salvador insist that the government's crackdown (primarily carried out through a total news blackout, Treasury Police "arrests," & other death-squad action, & the seizure of food & medicine shipments) began two weeks before the FMLN launched their massive offensive. The following notes were taken at a talk given by one such witness, the Rev. Dr. Donovan Cook of The University Baptist Church in Seattle, WA., on the evening of Friday, November 17,1989.

(Notes taken by Timmi Duchamp)

Donovan Cook's impassioned, vivid speech moved me—&, I am certain, the hundreds of other people attending it—deeply. I do not provide here a complete reconstruction, but a selection of some of the many details and impressions he offered us.


Cook went to El Salvador on Thursday, November 9, at the request of the Lutheran Bishop in San Salvador who felt, because of the precipitous systemic rise in death squad activity (described in more detail below) targeting himself and other Lutheran clergy (among many others), the need for more foreign witnesses in El Salvador. He arrived with an international delegation of clergy, carrying a multi-use visa and letters from Sen. Brock Adams, Rep. Jim McDermott, & the U.S. State Department. Though he presented this considerable array of documentation, however, security forces at the airport, after checking in a book of typewritten names two & a half inches thick (arranged alphabetically, with country of nationality listed after each name), ordered him to get back on the plane. When he refused, they began interrogating him. After some time the officers were distracted & temporarily left him. A low-level security guard seized the opportunity to lead Cook to a telephone & punched a zero on it, thus enabling Cook to call Brock Adams' office. Since the U.S. Embassy can accomplish its ends almost instantly in El Salvador, very shortly after he had completed his call, the officers dumped his baggage at his feet & gestured him to get out of there. Cook & the rest of the delegation then went into San Salvador.


Forty Lutheran pastors from all parts of El Salvador met with Cook's delegation (& the Bishop & other members of a "Peace Committee" [I don't remember its exact title]). All told of an unfolding pattern of targeting by the death squads, of clergy, human rights and health workers, and union activists. The Bishop had not only been bombed, but like a multitude of others had been receiving elaborately graphic death threats (detailing the sorts of tortures that would be used & which family members & associates would be killed first, etc). The Lutheran pastors told of how in every area of El Salvador the military had been confiscating medicine & food—all shipments officially approved by the Salvadoran Government—intended for distribution to the poor & the displaced. Cook described a universal feeling of impending catastrophe, of some grim plan that was beginning to be carried out by the right wing, reminiscent of the atmosphere of terror there in 1979, 1980 & 1981. Yet he also noted that in the last six months many diverse & differing groups in El Salvador have come together to work & act with newfound unity, which he found inspiring in the face of the terror.


On Saturday Cook's delegation received warnings to stay in the hotel (the Camino Real, where the foreign press contingent were quartered). He described the bombing of the National Guard barracks by the FMLN & their surrounding of the First Infantry Brigade, & said that even inside the hotel the noise of it was terrifyingly loud. According to Cook, contrary to press reports the rebels were still encircling the First Infantry Brigade on Monday morning—& might still be there today. He said that rebels had at first taken up positions in UES, but that the military had subsequently invaded it with tanks etc., & then occupied it on Saturday night.

He gave vivid descriptions of the strafing that the military began Saturday night: airships overflying poor neighborhoods; bengali lights dropped by parachute, lighting up the ground below with illumination as "bright as daylight"; C47s mounted with gatling guns pounded poor neighborhoods with enormous, powerful rounds. (He is not surprised that the government is asking for an expediting of arms shipment, since their airships are prodigally pouring out ammunition onto the neighborhoods they've targeted.) He passed along to us a description an eye-witness gave him of the bombing of a house holding only a woman & her children: the blast destroyed the house & severed the woman's head from her body; the witness said he saw it flung out into the street, where it rolled some distance. [He spoke of the tonnage & size of the rounds, but I didn't copy down the numbers. This illustration seemed an ample demonstration of the power of the ammunition being dumped on civilians.]

Cook asserted that the strafing & bombing are hitting only civilians. The guerrillas, he pointed out, know how to avoid being hit by air attacks, & were prepared in advance for them.

The fighting & air attacks are worse in San Miguel than in San Salvador, as in Uzulatan & other places. The military are strafing & bombing civilian populations there too, only more intensely.

Cook emphasized the extreme significance of the twenty-four-hour curfew that has been imposed on so many poor neighborhoods. Most Salvadorans must buy their food and water daily and thus do not have more than one day's supply in their homes. Cristiani's twenty-four-hour curfew has virtually ordered them to deprive themselves of food and water.


He told us of his admiration for the journalists there who have been going out into the fire despite the tremendous danger. He said he saw the footage an ABC camera crew took & thought that that meant that everyone in the States would know what was going on. It shocked him, then, on his return to find out that everyone here is in ignorance. The footage being shot is being censored here, while all television & radio stations are now under the control of the government in El Salvador. [At least thirty journalists have died in El Salvador over the last decade.] To illustrate the military's attitude towards the press, Cook recounted how as a German journalist was returning to his parked car the National Guard dropped a grenade into the car & blew it up.


The churches in San Salvador opened themselves up as sanctuaries for civilians, especially for the wounded, though the government forbade them to do so. Health care workers stationed themselves in these churches to treat the wounded. Paula Brentlinger, a physician from Seattle, for instance, did so in a Lutheran parish church. The government also prohibited the Red & Green Cross from evacuating the injured from the areas being bombed to the churches. By contrast, the FMLN agreed to evacuations & offered to abide by a ceasefire to allow such evacuations. As we know, Paula Brentlinger & others were captured & detained, &, like others who have since been released, has been ordered to leave the country.

At one point Cook donned a clerical collar—hoping for some protection from it as he moved through embattled streets (a terrifying experience as he described it). When Cook expressed the hope that the collar would protect him, the campesino guiding him joked that the reason for wearing a clerical collar was so that "when you're dead they'll know the military killed you, since the rebels don't kill priests."

Cook remarked that the head of the ARENA party & leader of the Assembly, Roberto D'Aubbison, was rumored to be making appearances on local television shows saying: "Be a patriot: shoot a pastor, kill a priest."


On returning to the States, Cook went straight to Washington D.C. to bear testimony to the pattern of violence that had begun unfolding before the FMLN began their offensive, as well as to the government's deliberate slaughter of civilians by indiscriminate bombing & strafing. Though he had scheduled a meeting with Senator Christopher Dodd a week in advance & had had it confirmed, Dodd refused to meet with him & Dodd's aide refused to speak with him. Even more depressing, Cook said, had been his being told by one Senator something to the effect that because the liberal democrats had been given the contras, they were obliged to allow the Bush administration do what it wanted with El Salvador.

Cook reported that at today's hearing on El Salvador held by the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee, 40 people were arrested. Aronson, the State Dept official charged with handling Central America, was forced by the scheduling Sen. Pell imposed to listen to three & a half hours of testimony about the captures, tortures, & murders that have been going on in El Salvador over the last two weeks.

Speaking about the sort of tactics we might consider using to force Congress to seriously reconsider their Salvadoran policy, Cook related to us that one Senator on the Foreign Relations Subcommittee expressed extreme irritation that callers concerned with the El Salvador policy were so occupying his staff that his office was unable to carry out any other functions than to handle the volume of calls about El Salvador. Cook suggests that we bombard all the members of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee with phone calls to keep them from returning to business as usual. The University Baptist Church has made a tape providing the names & Washington numbers of the Senators on that Subcommittee at (206) 632-3777.

Cook made clear that Brock Adams' office has been extremely helpful at several steps along the way.


Cook expressed the fear [at the beginning of his talk, if I remember correctly] that foreign clergy & human rights and healthcare workers were being hustled out of the country so that they wouldn't be able to shield their Salvadoran colleagues to the extent that their presence has so far helped to do (though obviously not with total success). In sum, Rev. Cook left us with the impression that an unprecedented wave of repression has been unleashed in El Salvador, a holocaust set into motion well before the FMLN began their offensive on Saturday.

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