Former U.S. ambassador Robert White dead at 88

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 14, 2015 4:20 PM

By David Adams

(Reuters) - Former U.S. ambassador Robert White, who refused to cover up murders by El Salvador's death squads in the 1980s, died on Tuesday. He was 88.

White had been in and out of hospital for over a month and was diagnosed with prostate cancer and bladder cancer, according to William Goodfellow, his longtime colleague at the Washington-based Center for International Policy where White was president.

During his 25-year diplomatic career with the U.S. State Department, White specialized in Latin American affairs with a particular emphasis on Central America.

He joined the State Department in the 1950s and served in Latin America in the 1960s, inspired by what he called U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s "creative response to the revolutionary fervor then sweeping Latin America" in the wake of the 1959 Cuban revolution led by Fidel Castro.

"During my Foreign Service career, I did what I could to oppose policies that supported dictators and closed off democratic alternatives," he wrote in an article published in the New York Times in March 2013.

In 1981, as the ambassador to El Salvador, he said he refused a demand by the secretary of state, Alexander Haig Jr., to use official channels to cover up the Salvadoran military’s responsibility for the murders of four American church workers.

"I was fired and forced out of the Foreign Service," he wrote.

Among the other posts he held were Latin America director of the Peace Corps, deputy permanent representative to the Organization of American States, and ambassador to Paraguay. After retiring from the Foreign Service in 1981, White worked at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace before joining the Center for International Policy as its president in 1989.

A frequent critics of U.S. foreign policy in Latin America, he published numerous studies on the region and led an ongoing effort to reform U.S. intelligence agencies.

White was especially scathing of U.S. policy to Cuba. "The embargo no longer serves any useful purpose (if it ever did at all); President (Barack) Obama should end it, though it would mean overcoming powerful opposition from Cuban-American lawmakers in Congress," he wrote in the article.

(Reporting by David Adams; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)