Maura Clarke : biography
Sister Maura Clarke, M.M., was an American Roman Catholic Maryknoll Sister, who served as a missionary in Nicaragua and El Salvador. She worked with the poor and refugees in Central America from 1959 until her murder in 1980. She was beaten, raped, and murdered, along with fellow missionaries Jean Donovan and Sisters Ita Ford, M.M., and Dorothy Kazel, O.S.U., in El Salvador, by members of a military death squad of the military-led right-wing government fighting the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front at the time of the Salvadoran Civil War.
As news of the murders was made public in the United States, public outrage forced the U.S. government to pressure the Salvadoran regime to investigate. The earliest investigations were condemned as whitewash attempts by the later ones, and in time, a Truth Commission was appointed by the United Nations to investigate who had given the orders, who had known about the crime, and who had covered it up. Several lower-level National Guardsman were convicted, and two National Guard generals were sued by the women's families in the federal civil courts of the United States for their command responsibility in the incident. After the murders of the churchwomen, U.S. President Jimmy Carter suspended all aid to El Salvador, but domestic U.S. right-wing political pressure forced him to reinstate it.
Unlike President Carter, succeeding U.S. President Ronald Reagan favored the Salvadoran military regime; he authorized increased military aid and sent more U.S. military advisers to the country to aid the government in quelling the civil/guerrilla war. In El Salvador's Decade of Terror: Human Rights Since the Assassination of Archbishop Romero, Human Rights Watch reports:
- "During the Reagan years in particular, not only did the United States fail to press for improvements … but, in an effort to maintain backing for U.S. policy, it misrepresented the record of the Salvadoran government, and smeared critics who challenged that record. In so doing, the Administration needlessly polarized the debate in the United States, and did a grave injustice to the thousands of civilian victims of government terror in El Salvador.  Despite the El Mozote Massacre that year, Reagan continued certifying (per the 1974 amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act) that the Salvadoran government was progressing in respecting and guaranteeing the human rights of its people, and in reducing National Guard abuses against them."
According to the Maryknoll Society:“The U.N.-sponsored report of the Commission on the Truth for El Salvador concluded that the abductions were planned in advance and the men responsible had carried out the murders on orders from above. It further stated that the head of the National Guard and two officers assigned to investigate the case had concealed the facts to harm the judicial process. The murder of the women, along with attempts by the Salvadoran military and some American officials to cover it up, generated a grass-roots opposition in the U.S., as well as ignited intense debate over the Administration’s policy in El Salvador.
In 1984, the defendants were found guilty and sentenced to 30 years in prison. The Truth Commission noted that this was the first time in Salvadoran history that a judge had found a member of the military guilty of assassination. In 1998, three of the soldiers were released for good behavior. Two of the men remain in prison and have petitioned the Salvadoran government for pardons.” by Maryknoll Sisters.
The head of the National Guard, whose troops were responsible for the murders, General Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, went on to become Salvadoran Minister of Defense in the government of José Napoleón Duarte. InterReligious Task Force of Cleveland; accessed October 7, 2005. After their emigration to the U.S. state of Florida, Vides Casanova and his fellow general, José Guillermo García, were sued by the families of the four women in federal civil court. The case is styled Ford v. Garcia. The defense won the case.
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