The New World Order Goes to El Salvador

U.S. and ARENA Undercut Negotiations

By Charley MacMartin
May 1991; pages 10-11; Volume 2, No. 6

The past three weeks, Austin served as something of a crossroads for the Salvadoran popular movement. Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) representative, Luis Flores, was in town April 23. The same week, Ernesto Benavides of the Salvadoran Marginalized Community Movement spoke in Austin. On April 30, FMLN Diplomatic Commission member, Salvador Sanabria, parachuted into town for a day of meetings at UT. And on May 9, Gladis Sibrian of the FMLN will be in Austin for the premiere of "Maria's Story." The following article encapsulates the analysis of the negotiating process during April between the FMLN and the Salvadoran government as explained by these visitors to Texas' capital city. The bottom-line calls for both hope and our renewed commitment to the Salvadoran revolution.


In El Salvador, hope for a negotiated solution to an eleven year civil war was interrupted by the assassination of rebel leader, Antonio Cardenal, by troops of the Salvadoran Army's Atlacatl Battalion. Meanwhile in Mexico City, negotiating teams of the Salvadoran government and the rebel FMLN attempted to reach a final cease-fire agreement during a prolonged, three-week meeting in April. FMLN spokespeople comment that previous agreements have been torn up by a Salvadoran Army echoing the shrill voices of the far-right and the U.S. Embassy.

Publicly, religious, polilical and grassroots leaders in El Salvador expressed anticipation that the April round of negotiations would produce a genuine cease-fire. Optimism was sparked by a FMLN proposal in March to accelerate the peace talks. In summary, the rebels suggested simultaneous focus on (1) conditions for a cease-fire to begin before May 30, (2) reforms to the nation's constitution and (3) restructuring of the Armed Forces. Both sides agreed to convene for marathon round of peace talks in Mexico on April 4, one year after the Salvadoran government and the rebels accepted United Nations mediation in peace talks.

FMLN field commanders join talks

A special conjuncture of world and regional events offered reason for optimism as well. The five governments of Central America put pressure on both the FMLN and the government of Alfredo Cristiani this year to end a civil war that the leaders see as driving away foreign aid and investment from a region struggling with economic crisis.

In addition, according to political observers, United Nations Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar is fishing for a negotiations success after the failure of diplomacy in the Middle East. Third World countries, for good reason, express skepticism about the world body' s autonomy and efficacy after its manipulation by the United States in the super-power's murderous attack on Iraq.

Going into the April meeting, FMLN negotiators counted on not only these circumstances to prompt advances toward peace but also the turn of events at a March meeting in Managua, Nicaragua.

There, the Salvadoran government attempted to convince the convened representatives of the five Central American countries, the European Economic Community plus Mexico, Venezuela and Colombia, to condemn the FMLN and to call upon the rebels to lay down their weapons.

Not only did the European Economic Community (EEC) delegation refuse to consider the Salvadoran government's proposal, the EEC asked that the Cristiani government meet seriously with the FMLN before economic development issues between the EEC and Central America would be considered.

The presence of FMLN field commanders at the April peace talks in Mexico City underlined the meeting's seriousness. Territorial control is a key issue in any cease-fire proposal. Government and rebel armies would be confined to their respective "zones of control" while negotiations proceed on concrete measures to reduce the size of both armies. The Salvadoran Army, in April, balked at any talk of bargaining away the size of its ranks.

Popular Call for Peace

Inside El Salvador, pressure built on both sides to come to terms with peace. War fatigue registers as perhaps the broadest consensus in El Salvador - from the urban slums to the rich colonias to the mountains of the countryside. Responding to the call for peace becomes a central policy concern for any political tendency claiming to represent the aspirations of the Salvadoran people. Cristiani's ARENA party, sobered by its losses in the March 10 elections, made additional overtures to the peace process. Both Cristiani and party chief, Calderon Sol, stepped forward as the main ARENA spokespersons for the right-wing's participation in negotiations. The Salvadoran Armed Forces humbled by the continuing military capacity of the FMLN- as well seemed ready for serious talks.

Third World countries, for good reason, express skepticism about the United Nation's autonomy and efficacy after its manipulation by the United States in the super-power's murderous attack on Iraq.

In a Sunday sermon, Salvadoran Catholic bishop, Gregorio Rosa Chavez, said cease-fire discussions by rebel and army chiefs at the peace talks in Mexico imply recognition of rebel-controlled territories in the country. The bishop clarified that a recent guerrilla peace initiative does not seek a permanent partitioning, but respect for rebel areas during the "armed peace." According to the prelate, now is the time for rhetoric to give way to "serious ... language, and for realities to take the place of illusions."

But as one FMLN representative recently in Austin explained, "the process, even with all these positive elements, is not a mechanical one."

Obstacles emerged during the April talks. First, back in El Salvador, the right-wing began publishing paid advertisements condemning possible constitutional reforms and the subdivision of the national territory. A far right women's group took out an ad in the obituary section of a morning paper. The ad suggested that the names of national assembly representatives who passed reforms to the constitution would soon find their names listed among the dead.

Significantly, no strong message of support emerged from Washington during April. Indeed, U.S. General Colin Powell declared on April to that El Salvador's conflict could be resolved "the way it was in the Persian Gulf." Salvadoran rebel and political leaders immediately condemned the remarks. From the site of the peace talks in Mexico City, insurgent field commander, Salvador Guerra, criticized the U.S. military chief of staff, saying, "El Salvador is not the Persian Gulf ... this is an internal struggle ... We aren't invading another country."

Army Provocation

According to the FMLN, the Salvadoran Army seized upon the right-wing 's threats and the Powell's remarks as an opportunity to harden its position in Mexico City. The Army negotiators rejected a previous (February 2, 1991) agreement on a commission to review the human rights records of Army leaders.

Senior military officers refused to acknowledge that the FMLN controls any portion of the territory. First Brigade commander, Col. Francisco Elena Fuentes commented on April 4 that the topic is ridiculous to bring up for discussion in Mexico.

Intransigence on the topics of the Armed Forces and a cease-fire left negotiators with only constitutional reform. Any constitutional changes require the approval of two consecutive National Assemblies. This would mean approval of a proposal before April 30, when the new representatives voted in on March to take their seats. As the Polemicist goes to press, the prospects look bleak.

U.S. General Colin Powell declared on April 10 that El Salvador's conflict could be resolved ''the way it was in the Persian Gulf."

As a final provocation, troops of the elite Atlacatl Battalion assassinated FMLN leader, Antonio Cardenal, in Chalatenango during the first week of negotiations (see accompanying article). The FMLN refused to leave the negotiating table, although reminding the Army of its capacity by knocking out electricity in all of El Salvador for the first time on Monday, April 15.

The results from April are mixed. According to FMLN representatives, the key now is to "facilitate the continuation of the negotiations." This means securing a process by which to reform the constitution of El Salvador. A new round of negotiations then in May could lead to additional hope for peace. Without an alternative process to reform the constitution, FMLN leaders maintain, a permanent peace would not be possible until the next National Assembly takes office in 1994. "Three more years of war," one FMLN spokesperson emphasized, "is simply unacceptable for the people of El Salvador."

April 28th: Minimal Accord Reached

As we go to press, FMLN and government negotiators reached a partial accord on constitutional reforms. Judicial modifications connected to the establishment of a UN human rights monitor in El Salvador were part of the reform package. Reforms will be brought to the Salvadorian National Assembly before the body adjourns at the end of April. While a positive step, the proposed reforms do not touch upon a cease-fire nor an investigation of past armed forces human rights violations. Activity will continue in May, both at the negotiating table and on the battle field.