El Salvador at Peace...

...Let the Work Begin

By Bill Stouffer and Joe Morris
February 1992; pages 8-9; Volume 3, No. 3

Emerging from an intensive series of year end negotiations, the FMLN and the government of El Salvador reached an agreement to end the 12 year old civil war that has taken over 80,000 lives and produced over a million refugees. The agreement, similar to the original FMLN proposals first put forward in 1990, represents not another a military stalemate but constitutes a new kind of revolutionary victory. In the words of UN mediator Alvaro de Soto, a key figure in the negotiating process, the accords amount to a "negotiated revolution." His comments were echoed by FMLN commander Joaquin Villalobos: "The agreement signifies the first revolution on our continent based on consensus, on accords which unite rather than divide us ... and have the support of the United States."

Child in communal village, Blanca Marina Quinteros.

The peace accords were signed in Mexico City on January 16 in a ceremony attended by the presidents of Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, the five Central American nations, and US Secretary of State James Baker. Angela Sambrano, the National Executive Director of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) was also in attendance, representing the international solidarity movement.

In San Salvador, several hundred thousand people gathered in the Plaza Civica to celebrate the lifting of the burden of 12 years of civil war from their shoulders. In the center of a city internationally known for repression and secrecy, 75 foot long FMLN banners adorned the national cathedral and old presidential palace.

People came to the celebration from all over El Salvador, including over 30,000 from the department of Chalatenango alone, together with international observers and solidarity activists.

At the request of festival organizers, the Midwest Regional Director of CISPES, Brooke Webster, made a solidarity statement pledging continued international support to insure the implementation of the accords and a CISPES banner was raised on the side of the old presidential palace alongside those of regional FMLN battalions. The banner congratulated the FMLN and the Salvadoran people for "their triumph of the New York accords." The victories achieved in the accords by the FMLN and the grassroots opposition are substantial.

A billboard posted at the border of FMLN controlled territory. The sign reads "A constructive force for the people and guarantee of the peace - National Democratic Army." NDA is an armed wing of the FMLN.

During the next nine months, the country will witness the dismantling of the US trained "elite" battalions, the National Intelligence Directorate, the various paramilitary forces, the civil defence, the rural patrols and the Security Forces.

The FMLN will participate at all levels in a new civilian national police which will replace the military for all of its domestic security functions. Substantial agrarian reforms will redistribute land to the disenfranchised peasantry.

A UN sponsored "Truth Commission" will conduct investigations into the most notorious human rights abuses and massacres of the last decade. UN monitors will also supervise the implementation of the accords and the demilitarization of the country. At the same time, the FMLN will begin the conversion of its military forces to their new civilian roles. The demobilization is set to take place in stages and will be completed on October 31, 1992.

Returning a Country to its People

The first stage of the implementation process took place on February 1, when a bilateral ceasefire went into effect throughout the country. The day before the ceasefire took effect the FMLN General Command and political leaders, accompanied by international press and guests landed at the San Salvador airport. They were greeted on the tarmac by the Committees of Mothers of the Disappeared, children with flowers, members of UN peacekeeping force (ONUSAL), and the diplomatic corps. "We're entering through the front door," declared Schafik Handal, "received by the Salvadoran people ... This is the beginning of a crucial stage in our history."

On the 1st, the FMLN General Command, along with President Cristiani and members of the various Salvadoran political parties, participated in a ceremony formally installing COPAZ, the bipartisan commission which will oversee the implementation of the peace.

Later that afternoon, the guerilla commanders participated in a huge public celebration in the Plaza Civica. Guerrilla radio stations broadcast live from the Plaza, and the General Command together with forty FMLN political and military leaders appeared on stage, escorted by FMLN special forces who were providing security in the capital. For the first time in twenty years the five members of the General Command appeared together publicly in the country.

By February 3, ONUSAL officials, the FMLN, and Armed Forces all agreed that the separation of forces stipulated in the terms of the ceasefire was advancing better than expected. Under the agreement, all government troops are to be initially concentrated in 100 sites; by February 7, these sites will be reduced to 39 garrisons and 22 economically strategic locations. The FMLN will be concentrated in fifteen areas by February 7 and ONUSAL military officers have already been stationed at all garrisons and in all FMLN zones.

United Nations personnel and vehicles are visible allover the country.

The Continuing Legacy of the War

Despite the tremendous victories in the accords, the climate of fear and repression remains. Death squad killings and threats have continued into the new year. Francisca Chavez, who worked with AMMA, an organization for women in the shantytowns of El Salvador, was shot through each temple on a major thoroughfare of the capital, San Salvador, at 10:30 am on Saturday, January 11.

Companera FMLN radio operator, in a small community outside of San Antonio los Ranchos in Chalatenango.

Her family, thinking she was working in the shantytowns, did not receive word of her death until they checked the morgues the following Monday and identified her body. Members of a CISPES delegation attended her wake, staying most of the night in support of her family. One mourner remarked that she had attended 15 such wakes for members of her family alone.

On January 28th the Salvadoran Anti-Communist Front (FAS) issued a communique threatening Mirtala Lopez and the leadership of the CRIPDES (Christian Committee for the Displaced in El Salvador).

Lopez received an international human rights award last December in Houston for her work with CRIPDES and for her courage in the face of such violence. This is the sixth death threat she has received. The latest letter demanded to meet Ms. Lopez on Friday, January 31st at the General Cemetery for "an appointment for justice." The communique ended, "We fulfill our duty toward our homeland. The communists will fall one by one."

In addition to death squad activity, there has been a sharp rise in forced recruitment by the military which is trying desperately to evade some of the most far reaching provisions of the peace.

The government of El Salvador has signed an agreement with the UN in conjunction with the peace accords which mandates cutting the army by 50% over the next two years. UN verification of the size of both the Salvadoran military and the FMLN is scheduled for February. The size of the army has been traditionally inflated by corrupt commanders who collect the pay of phantom soldiers to add to their own. Now facing involuntary retirement, the armed forces are attempting to fill the empty ranks both to maintain power as an institution and to minimize the number of career soldiers who must return to civilian life.

The Question of International Aid

Townspeople in Nueva Concepcion celebrate an official "coming out" rally for the FMLN, in the government controlled territory of Southeast Chalatenango. The sign reads, "Welcome to Nueva Concepcion. Greetings to you from the FMLN."

Even without continued repression, the task of rebuilding the country will not be easy. Over the past twelve years, the U.S. backed government forces destroyed the trade unions through killings, persecution, and forced exile. The ruined University, closed for years, will take years to reconstruct. In the countryside, a scorched earth policy depopulated vast zones causing untold ecological damage. Primary and secondary schools, along with health centers, were closed by the hundreds and many destroyed.

Under these harsh conditions, international economic aid has become one of the most critical and controversial foci for a postwar El Salvadoran government. Some European countries have already pledged assistance to support the process of recovery. On January 16, as the government and the FMLN signed the accords, the FMLN received $2 million from the Norwegian Government to initiate reconstruction programs. The FMLN and the grassroots civilian opposition have made it clear, however, that they will not permit international aid to be used as a counterinsurgency tool.

The critical issue here is the status of US aid. Despite the bipartisan consensus for demilitarization, the US government has not yet cut the flow of military aid that fueled the war. In the past, in El Salvador and throughout Latin America, so-called humanitarian, non-military aid, has also served primarily as the civilian arm of the overall counterinsurgency project. A recent study conducted by the conservative Rand Corporation at the request of the Defense Department revealed that the real cost of the war to US taxpayers was over $6 billion (not the $4.5 billion often cited) "due to covert CIA expenses" which he estimated at over $1 billion from 1979-1989. The question of aid, both military and humanitarian, is likely to be a focus of sharp debate this March when Congress begins consideration of foreign aid appropriations for next year.