Military activity escalates in El Salvador

By Charley MacMartin
December 1990; page 8; Volume 2, No 3

Military activity escalated in El Salvador during November as talks stalled in this country's decade-long civil war. Government and Army repression against El Salvador's unions and rural communities continues, making 1990 an ominous first year for the new decade.

Threats and Killings Continue

Democracy is more than a procedural affair of ballot cards and well-groomed candidates. Democracy requires conditions which encourage a diversity of views and which offer the opportunity to organized collectively around a platform of demands.

In El Salvador during November, organizations which would constitute a functioning democracy suffered attacks by the government's Armed Forces. The Union of Unemployed Workers, CODYDES, had its offices surrounded and its members harassed by the National Police. On November 13, Salvadoran Marines attacked the agricultural community of La Lima in the province of La Libertad. By the attack's end, one villager was dead and three wounded.

Moderate political parties are not even safe. On November 12, Juan de Dios Mira, a politician from the Christian Democratic Party (PDC) was shot to death in a hit and run assassination. PDC leaders denounced the killing, calling it an attempt to intimidate the party in advance of elections in March of 1991.

The role of solidarity

Members of the popular movement describe the importance of international solidarity when attacks occur. On November 26, the offices of the Christian Committee for the Displaced, CRIPDES, were surrounded by the National Police. The police threatened to enter although they had no search warrant.

No peace in El Salvador
During November, the FMLN responded to the Armed Forces' intransigence at the negotiating table with escalated military activity. Nine of El Salvador's fourteen provinces saw attacks by FMLN combatants against military targets of the Armed Forces.

CRIPDES is a vocal supporter and advocate for Salvadorans who have returned from refugee camps in Honduras to repopulate their original communities in northern and eastern El Salvador. These same Salvadorans were forced out of their home towns in the early 1980s when the government carried out bombings throughout the countryside.

CRIPDES feared a repeat of April 1989. In that instance, the National Police (along with members of the U.S. Embassy Security Police) ransacked the CRIPDES office and arrested those inside. The CRIPDES leadership was held illegally in prison for weeks. Testimony taken after release retold brutal treatment, including rape and torture.

Determined not to allow the same occurrence, CRIPDES immediately initiated an international alert concerning the National Police presence outside the CRIPDES offices in San Salvador. An hour later, the U.S. Embassy and National Police in San Salvador received calls at the rate of ten per minute, demanding the safety and respect for the integrity of the CRIPDES offices. CISPES (Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador) chapters across the country joined the response, utilizing telephone and telex services to flood the U.S. Embassy.

Embassy spokespeople claimed they knew of no incident occurring at CRIPDES that morning although the CRIPDES offices stand but two blocks from the Embassy. CRIPDES members reported by phone that the National Police entered the block at 9:30 AM and remained in front of the offices with their distinctive patrol cars and with police dogs.

With Embassy and international attention suddenly focused on their morning
mission, the National Police backed off. CRIPDES attributes the de-escalation of the scene to the international calls and telexes. By the afternoon, according to a CRIPDES spokeswoman, the National Police retreated to the end of the block and were searching the cars and personnel belongings of persons entering the street.

Military Fighting Flares

During November, the rebel forces of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) initiated a "military campaign with limited objectives," in hopes of pressuring the Salvadoran Armed Forces into real negotiations during the last weeks of 1990.

Talks between the FMLN and the Salvadoran Armed Forces stalled during November. The central point of disagreement, according to United Nations spokespeople supervising the talks, is the crucial issue of reorganizing El Salvador's police and security forces under civilian control. The Army opposes any reorganization.

While asserting that their latest attacks were "nationwide operation of limited objectives," the FMLN General Command said they reserved the right to launch a larger offensive in the near future if the government and the military "continue to oppose a political solution."

To underline the FMLN's potential strength, combatants in northern and eastern parts of El Salvador used Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAMs) to down numerous Army aircraft including an A37 jet fighter-bomber and Army helicopters. In addition, fighting occurred in nine of El Salvador's fourteen provinces during the last two weeks of November.

Rebel attacks included coordinated strikes against the Air Force base in Hopango, attacks on major Army garrisons in Usulutan, Morazan and three other provinces as well as escalated sabotage against the utility poles and electric substations throughout the capital, San Salvador.

The use of SAMs and damage to Army helicopters, according to observers, sent a strong message to the Salvadoran Army that its air superiority has peaked. Fighting is expected to continue.