The Health of the State
Report on El Salvador: Negotiations Stall, Repression Escalates
By Reneé Trevino and Charley MacMartin
November 1989; pages 6-7; Volume 1, No. 2
As the U.S. Congress voted to increase its underwriting of the Salvadoran government of Alfredo Cristiani, government repression escalated during October. Meanwhile, peace talks between the government and representatives of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), stalled.
As the peace talks began the third week of October. plainclothes members of the Salvadoran security forces attacked a civilian vigil for peace at the National Cathedral. Death squads linked to the ruling party, the Republican National Alliance (ARENA), destroyed the homes of opposition political leaders and the facilities of the Lutheran Church in the capital, San Salvador.
The Tough Road of Negotiation
Class differences arc not settled over a cup of coffee. That's the central lesson of the current round of negotiations taking place between Cristiani government and representatives of the FMLN. In September, both sides pledged to meet each month until a settlement can be reached. During the week of October 16th, the talks continued in Costa Rica.
Room for serious negotiations was enlarged dramatically on January 24 when the FMLN offered to participate in the presidential elections (scheduled for March) if the elections were postponed until September to provide time to arrange security agreements and register supporters. As Sara Miles in a recent edition of NACLA reports, "For perhaps the first time since the war began, Salvadorans felt peace to be a real possibility and not merely a rhetorical posture."
The government rejected the FMLN proposal of January, deciding to proceed with the elections in March. Disappointed with the government's decision, the Salvadoran electorate abstained from voting. Indeed, during this decade, in the five elections that have been held in El Salvador, participation has consistently, and precipitously, fallen with each round.
October Breakdown in Costa Rica
Concessions were hard to come by this month in Costa Rica. The Cristiani government represents the political arm of the landed oligarchy which controls El Salvador's agricultural and industrial wealth. The FMLN represents an armed struggle rooted in the poverty and powerlessness of unequal access to land.
The Cristiani government does not see this reality. The Salvadoran Army's press service, COPREFA, paints the FMLN as "terrorists" to whom the offer of amnesty is generous. This offer of amnesty - made by the Cristiani government in Costa Rica as pre-condition to further negotiation - is tantamount to surrender for the FMLN.
As FMLN representative Salvador Samoya explains, "we are not dealing only with a war between the FMLN and the government, but a civil war that affects the entire country. The government wants, in 24 hours, to end a war that has lasted ten years."
FMLN leader Joaquín Villalobos added: "We don't come to say no to an agreement to cease hostilities, we come to say yes to an agreement that has serious basis. After a war like ours - so bloody, so long - we can't have confidence in the good will of the other party. It would be absurd and illogical."
Negotiation and the "Strategic Counter-Offensive"
The FMLN continued urging for a "negotiated, political solution" to nearly ten years of civil war can only be understood within the context of the 1989 "strategic counter offensive." Launched in January, the FMLN's strategic counter offensive intends to break preconceived notions of what "insurrection" and a final victory mean.
For example, in Cuba and Nicaragua, insurrection meant a triumphant period of fierce battle climaxing on a specific date when popular troops marched into the capital. But in El Salvador, the people are not battling a Batista nor a Somoza. Instead, the armed struggle is against an entire class: The rich oligarchy historically referred to as the "Fourteen Families." Since 1981, the terrain of combat has been further complicated by an escalated U.S. role in the form of 1.5 million dollars each day.
As a result, a final insurrection isn't seen as a specific red-letter date when the dictator is thrown out, but as a process incorporating the entire population: political mass movement as well as armed insurgents. Two trends have emerged as a result of this "new thinking." First, the people's war has been "irregularized." That is, the crucial attacks against the government are carried out less by the well-trained, standing armies of the FMLN, but more by "urban commandos," young people and members of the large unemployed population. The 1984 destruction of the largest bridge, the Cuscatlan, typified the previous FMLN attack; now, strategic strikes against Army offices and government vehicles, in response to government repression are common. The disruption factor is higher in this "generalized" strategy in which attacks - like those in late September - occur in dozens of cities around the country simultaneously.
Second, the "strategic counter-offensive" puts negotiation squarely back in the plans for popular victory. FMLN strategy now defines a "political project" that includes all sectors of the society - religious, labor, student - as a starting point for negotiating an end to the war and reconstruction of a popular government.
But the ARENA government of Alfredo Cristiani remains incalcitrant. Government reaction to the rejection of amnesty by the FMLN in October unwittingly revealed the government's conception of peace. President Cristiani said: "I don't see the problem the FMLN has with ending the hostilities, because after that the government will take necessary measures to pacify and normalize the country."
The escalation in selective repression against labor organizers and popular organizations reveal the ARENA meaning of "to pacify and normalize." On October 15th, members of the Permanent Committee for the National Debate for Peace (CPDN) had planned to carry out 24-hour vigils in five churches and then to leave in marches for an activity in the Civic Plaza. However, governmental security forces violently forced people out of three of the five churches. As a result Jorge David Pineda, a member of the National Association of Campesinos (ANC) was captured.
By Monday, October 16th, over 400 people were occupying the Metropolitan Cathedral, and a smaller group continued its vigil in El Rosario church from which they marched to the Civic Plaza to join the mlly which began at 5 p.m. A few thousand gathered throughout the evening to listen to speakers and music.
At about 9:30 p.m. shots were fired at a group of people from the National Debate who were on watch around the Civic Plaza. Nelson Ernesto Martínez, a peasant from the department of La Libertad was critically wounded in the stomach and another was shot in the leg. Later at 11 p.m., shots were fired into a group and two more were wounded. In the middle of the night, shots were again fired but most were inside the Cathedral at this time and none were wounded.
While there was little presence of uniformed military in the area, the military was clearly responsible for the attacks. Members of the National Debate who witnessed the men in civilian dress fire shots the first two times, pursued them. They caught three of them; one had an identification from the First Infantry Brigade, another from the Air Force, and the third was a former member of the security forces. All three men were escorted to the National Police Headquarters as evidence of the military attack against a peaceful activity and that participants had no intention of acting against the military.
The Non-governmental Human Rights Commission (CDHES) offers no encouraging news in the record of the Salvador government's human rights abuses either. The statistics CDHES presents for September 1989 show the increase of only continue their repression.
On Thursday, October 19th, a caravan of ten students and professors from the National University of El Salvador (UES) were reported captured as they travelled to visit political prisoners from the university community imprisoned in Tonacatepeque and Ilopango jails. Mauricio Mejia, Secretary General of the UES, denounced this new attack against the university community, stating that some 15 university students, professors and workers have been abducted by government security forces during the week of October 16th alone.
It's time for the ARENA government, as well as the Bush Administration and the U.S. Congress, to admit what has long been evident. Peace in El Salvador will not be hastened by increasing the funding for the Salvadoran Security Forces. Real peace will only be achieved through fundamental change in the economic, political, and social fabric of El Salvador.
Trevino is a UT government senior and a coordinator for CISPES, the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador. MacMartin, an Austin resident, coordinates a student exchange program with the University of El Salvador.
For more information on the current Salvadoran reality, see:
The NACLA Report, "D'Aubuisson's New ARENA," Volume 23, No.2, July 1989.
The NACLA Report, "FMLN New Thinking," Volume 23, No.3, September 1989.
Both are available at Garner & Smith Bookstore, as well as Guadalupe News and the Benson Latin American Collection.
As this issue goes to press, the captured university professors and students cited in this article were released. However, repression against the university community continues. On Friday, October 27, at 9:15 am, a high power explosive was thrown into a crowd of students at the University of El Salvador. The students were gathering to join a procession to the cemetery where Herbert Anaya, assassinated director of the Non-governmental Human Rights Commission, is buried. Anaya was assassinated by death squads on October 26, 1987, for investigating human rights abuses. According to a statement released by the university administration, at least five people were hospitalized with serious wounds and at least 13 others were injured.