MEXICO CITY (AP) — Robert E. White, a former U.S. ambassador to El Salvador and strong critic of U.S. policy in the region during the Central American wars, has died at age 88, according to the Washington-based Center for International Policy where he was a senior fellow .
White, who died Tuesday of cancer, spent 25 years in the U.S. Foreign Service and was ambassador to El Salvador from 1980-81. He was known as an outspoken critic of policies the U.S. followed in the fight against communism, writing in 1999:
"In the name of anticommunism, U.S.-supported armies suppressed democracy, free speech, and human rights in El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. Torture and assassination of democratic leaders, including presidential candidates, journalists, priests and union officials became commonplace."
Appointed to the El Salvador post by former President Jimmy Carter, White was probably best known for defying the U.S. government on the Salvador killing of three nuns and a fourth lay church worker in 1980, just before President Ronald Reagan took over in Washington.
"I did what I could to oppose policies that supported dictators and closed off democratic alternatives," White wrote in 2013. "In 1981, as the ambassador to El Salvador, I refused a demand by the secretary of state, Alexander M. Haig Jr., that I use official channels to cover up the Salvadoran military's responsibility for the murders of four American churchwomen. I was fired and forced out of the Foreign Service."
White was born Sept. 21, 1926, in Melrose Heights, Mass., according to the U.S. State Department.
He served in the U.S. Navy from 1944 to 1946 and received a bachelor's degree from St. Michael's College in 1952 and a master's from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in 1954. He joined the Foreign Service in 1955.
His focus on Latin America began in 1963, when he was named deputy principal officer in Guayaquil, Ecuador, and he later was chief of the political section in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. He also held posts in Nicaragua and Colombia and was appointed ambassador to Paraguay in 1977.
White was also Latin America director of the Peace Corps and deputy permanent representative to the Organization of American States. He joined the Center for International Studies as president in 1989.