The Revolution is Necessary

Decisive Steps in El Salvador Bring the Civil War to a Head

By Charley MacMartin
November 1990; pages 14-15; Volume 2, No. 2

The province of Santa Ana spells home to El Salvador's coffee kings. The rich who extract their wealth here are fiercely independent and cruelly unforgiving of attempts at organizing by local day-laborers and peasants. Simply to form a cooperative farm in the Santa Ana province risks certain death. October 1990 continued this bloody tradition.

In Santa Ana, on the road to Metapan, the body of Hector Martinez was found on Oct. 15, tortured and shot. Martinez had been an organizer and leader of the Salvadoran Peasant Union.

The following two days saw two more tortured bodies left by death squads on the same road: one a teacher, the other a farmer.

Decisive Events

The continued bloodshed in El Salvador during 1990 gave rise to two events that will irrevocably change this country. First and foremost is the decision on October 18 by the U.S. Congress to cut in half the military aid to the government of El Salvador.

Second is the Sept 24 "Proclamation to the Nation" by the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), describing the insurgents' vision of a post-civil war El Salvador.

Meanwhile, in the United States, solidarity groups are raising funds this fall for medical hospitals of the FMLN and are preparing to respond to continued attacks against civilians by the Salvadoran Armed Forces.

Fighting for an Aid Cut

October's vote to slash military aid to El Salvador comes during a national campaign to stop all aid to the ruling ARENA government in El Salvador. CISPES committees around the country employed "street-heat" tactics during September to embarrass U.S. Senators who refused to take a stand against aid to El Salvador. In Dallas, U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen (D-TX) received a thirty-five count felony for each time he voted for aid to El Salvador during the 1980s.

The centerpiece of the fall campaign to end aid is a 30-second television advertisement that aired in major cities during September and October. The ad features a check being written for military aid to El Salvador, interrupted by gunfire and images of the Jesuit priests ki1led in El Salvador by the Armed Forces in November 1989. The punchline is a call to U.S. Senators to halt all assistance to ARENA President Alfredo Cristiani' s government

Controversy over the television ad only increased the public presence of debate on aid to El Salvador. Rejection of the ad by television channels in major U.S. cities ran two-to-one against acceptance. One Washington, D.C., station referred to pictures in the ad of Salvadorans killed with U.S. bullets as "grotesque and disturbing." The controversy made headlines in the Washington Post (September 19), in the Los Angeles Times (October 9 and 10), in the United States largest Spanish daily, La Opinion (September 9), and in at least seven other major papers.

Mexico's daily newspapers ran stories on September 20 and Diaria Lorino in San Salvador picked up the story as well. In both Washington and New York, vehement rejections by television channels' advertising departments sparked the interest of the people in the newsroom who - knowing a good story when they saw one - ran the ad on the evening news broadcast!

Cristiani visit to U.S. a bust

Cristiani Visit a Bust
Protestors block entrance to United Nations in New York during visit by Salvadoran President Alfredo Cristiani on October 1. The protest successfully blocked Cristiani's motorcade, forcing postponement of his address to the U.N. General Assembly. Over twenty demonstrators were arrested by New York City police during the blockade. Photo credit: Michael D'Elia.

ARENA government president Alfredo Cristiani, visited the United States in late September and early October. His popularity at an all-time low, Cristiani found U.S. law-makers reluctant to meet with him. Officials on Capitol Hill, according to Congressional aides, see Cristiani as either unable to control his army or complicit in the army's abuses during his 17 months as president.

In addition to the cool reception by Congress, demonstrations and street blockades followed Cristiani around the United States. On September 25, Cristiani was forced to cancel a visit to the Beverly-Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles after CISPES activists tied up traffic around the building. In New York, Cristiani's October 1 talk before the United Nations was postponed as CISPES and religious activists blocked the entrances.

Details of Aid Cut

The U.S. Senate version of the aid cut, the Dodd-Leahy bill, approved in late October, carries the same restrictions as language passed in the House earlier this year in June. Fifty per cent of military aid, $42 million, is held back pending certain conditions placed upon both the Salvadoran government and the FMLN.

The same night that the Dodd-Leahy bill passed, Senators Graham (D-FL) and McCain (R-AZ) attempted to introduce an amendment supported by the Bush Administration which would have forced the FMLN to lay down its weapons before any political agreements were reached in negotiations with the Armed Forces. Only the most recalcitrant Senators - including Jesse' Helms (R-NC), Orrin Hatch (R-UT) ... and Lloyd Bentsen - voted for this amendment which was quickly defeated. (The other U.S. Senator from Texas, Phil Gramm, was absent for both of the evening's votes.)

The Democratic Revolution

On September 24, the FMLN unveiled its third national statement of political goals since the guerrilla's formation in October of 1980. Entitled, ''The Democratic Revolution," the proclamation outlines the FMLN view of the crisis in El Salvador, the FMLN's strategy to eliminate both its own army and the government's army, and the FMLN's view of an El Salvador without civil war.

The document describes in detail the "four great changes" that must occur before the roots of the civil war can be cut. The first change describes "an end to militarism" through the abolition of El Salvador's two armies. The second point is a full elaboration of a "new economic and social order" in El Salvador which demands economic democracy (land reform, national health care, and ecological policy).

The third "great change" calls for "national democratization" of El Salvador's political institutions: judicial, legislative, the media as well as electoral. The fourth point of the proclamation describes the "restoration of sovereignty and an independent foreign policy."

The six-page document sharpens the negotiations between the FMLN and the Armed Forces by forcing the latter, according the rebel leaders, to either comply with or ignore the basic changes in Salvadoran society necessary to insure a lasting peace.

A Hot November

Sitting at a restaurant in Austin recently, Mauricio Mejia Mendez rubbed his face wearily and stared into his coffee. "I do not like the looks of what we can expect in November. The Army would rather kill than compromise," he said. As General Secretary of the University of El Salvador (UES), Mejia Mendez, is all too familiar with Army threats and attacks against civilians in El Salvador. The UES is at this moment surrounded by Salvadoran Army tanks. The Army accuses the UES of "subversive ideas" which "threaten security."

In addition to surrounding the UES, the Army in October threatened Lutheran Bishop, Medardo Gomez, for his continued pastoral work with El Salvador's poor. Because of the threats, Gomez was forced to work of a hotel to protect himself from attack by death squads at night. In an October communique, the Army threatened public sector workers with jail sentences if worker demands for better wages and for rehiring continue.

With negotiations between the FMLN and the Armed Forces stalled, the atmosphere throughout the country is tense. One student at the national University commented November 1st in a phone interview, "I cannot be sure what will happen the next four weeks, but the Army never has been in a weaker position. Things could be very hopeful or things could be very bad, very bloody."

MacMartin works with the local committee of CISPES, the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador. For more information on El Salvador or on what CISPES is doing to support the revolution, call us at [phone number redacted].