Statement by Deputy Press Secretary Speakes on Providing a United States Medical Team to El Salvador

June 2, 1983

As a humanitarian gesture, the United States will provide a medical team to the Government of El Salvador. The team is a battalion-size unit of 20 to 25 members, composed of doctors, technicians, medics, and corpsmen, who will assist the El Salvadoran Government in emergency medical services. The unit is composed of military personnel from the various service branches. About a third of that total will be doctors.

The decision which was approved by the President was in response to a request by the Government of El Salvador. There have been reports, both from the Government and from the private sector, that have cited the serious medical problems faced by the military and civilian population in El Salvador. Of particular interest was a study by the New England Journal of Medicine, which pointed out in specific terms the difficulties faced by the people of El Salvador.

After these needs were pointed out by the Government, and prior to the New England medical publication, the U.S. sent a survey team to El Salvador to study the needs and to recommend a U.S. response. The action is a result of their recommendations.

Consultations with appropriate Members of Congress began several weeks ago. We have kept Congress fully abreast of our plans. The reaction among key Members of Congress has been one of understanding and general approval.

This decision in no way conflicts with our self-imposed commitment to hold the number of military trainers to 55. The number at the moment is 52 military trainers, but it does vary virtually on a day-to-day basis. It has not exceeded 55, and we have no plans to exceed this limit.

The medical team, which will be headed by two medical service officers, will be under the policy direction of the U.S. Embassy. They will report through appropriate military channels. They will assist the Salvadoran Government in treating their civilian and military casualties. They will provide guidance to the Government in establishing their own medical services.

It is our desire in taking this action to help alleviate a devastating situation. It is our intention to provide basic humanitarian medical relief through training medics, helping establish a medical supply system, and repairing medical equipment.

This team would be able to undertake an extensive survey in the military hospital medical system and begin repair of equipment and establishment of a medical logistics system and would instruct El Salvadoran armed forces medical personnel in field-medic techniques.

This project is designed to help alleviate a bad situation, which is getting worse. They will operate in the San Salvador area. The duration of their stay is expected to be about 6 months. The U.S. survey teams, which have observed medical conditions in El Salvador for a number of weeks, report the medical situation in the country is critical. The Salvadorans are faced with crowded medical facilities, lack of equipment and sufficiently trained medical personnel.

The President, once informed and briefed on the situation, directed this effort be made to aid the people of El Salvador in coping with a difficult situation. It is an effort on our part to allow a nation struggling to establish democratic principles to meet yet another challenge imposed on them by an unfortunate and vicious war being waged and directed by forces from outside their country.

The President said, ``The United States will not stand by idly while human suffering is at such a level.''

Note: Deputy Press Secretary Larry M. Speakes read the statement during his daily briefing for reporters, which began at 12:33 p.m. in the Briefing Room at the White House.