Death Squad Activity Threatens Peace

By Bill Stouffer
April 1992; page 4; Volume 3, No. 5

The civil war in El Salvador entered a new phase when peace accords ended full scale military confrontation between the government and the FMLN earlier this year. As expected, implementation of the peace accords has become the central focus of conflict in the country since February 1. Ruben Zamora, a member of the supervising commission for the peace (COPAZ), claimed that, despite setbacks, the compliance process is progressing, but noted "the honeymoon phase is over and now the power game begins."

Instead of completely dismantling these forces by March 2 as called for in the accords, the government shifted their mission and official title - leaving their personnel, command structure, and old headquarters intact.

Last fall, when peace negotiations began to advance rapidly, right wing factions within the Army and the ruling National Republican Alliance (ARENA) party escalated a campaign of threats and attacks aimed at sabotaging the accords. Newspaper advertisements placed by shadowy extremist groups have threatened everyone from FMLN combatants and their families to U.N. personnel to U.S. Embassy staff.

A number of death squad murders followed these threats. The caretake for the main office of one of El Salvador's largest labor federations (FEASIES) was found hacked to death by machete on the morning of March 2. The victim, Nazario de Jesus Garcias, had apparently put up a struggle against at least two assailants; marks on his wrists and face suggested that he had at one point been bound and blindfolded in death-squad fashion.

His assassination coincided with the date set for the demobilization of the Treasury Police and the National Guard. On March 15, a member of the Committee of the Unemployed (CODYDES), Jorge Alberto Martinez, was found dead on the outskirts of San Salvador after having been abducted from his home the night before by armed men identified as members of National Police.

From National Guard to Border Police; More of the Same

The failure to fully demobilize the Treasury Police and the National Guard, whose human rights record is among the worst in the Salvadoran military, is one of the most serious violations of the accords by the government to date. Instead of completely dismantling these forces by March 2 as called for in the accords, the government has simply shifted their mission and official title while leaving their personnel, command structure, and old headquarters intact. Gerson Martinez of the FMLN political committee charged that the National Guard "hasn't even complied with the formalities. They are still in the same barracks, wearing the same uniforms."

The Treasury Police and the National Guard have been redeployed as the border guard and as military police. The formation of the border guard was justified by citing increased tensions along the Honduran border, areas which are largely FMLN zones of control. ARENA deputy Moises Daboud justified the creation of a Military Police in light of the difficulties controlling the military in the encampments to which they have been confined under the accords. He said the Military Police would "control abuses of human rights, delinquency, and robbery inside the Armed forces," despite the fact that the two forces that would form these police themselves have among the worst records for such abuses.

A more realistic hope for controlling such problems lies in the new bipartisan national police force (PNC) to be created under the provisions of the accords from members of the FMLN and civilian opposition as well as the government and the military. Citing the increase in armed assaults and assassinations, the FMLN proposed as an immediate solution that all infrastructure, vehicles, radios and equipment of the Treasury Police and National Guard be turned over to the National Police and that additional administrative personnel be hired to augment the number of agents until the PNC is formed.

The Christian Democrats announced a proposal called "10,000 NOW" to initiate the new police force immediately. The plan calls for the hiring of 1000 women as traffic police and thousands of men as agents. The PDC also suggests that the Treasury Police National Guard infrastructures and budgets be assigned to the PNC. According to the current implementation schedule, the process of selecting members for the PNC will begin in April and the first group of cadets will begin training May 1.

Government Evictions Threaten Land Reform

The activities of the government also threaten to vacate agreements made over land reform: The accords stipulate that current land tenure will be respected subject to a subsequent arbitration process that has not yet been fully clarified. Nonetheless, the government has already begun carrying out a series of evictions of peasant cooperatives around the country in favor of long absentee landlords. One of the most notable evictions occurred in mid-March when the National Police evicted the residents of the 11 year old "El Campeche" Cooperative in Usulutan, completely destroying the houses and property of the residents in the process.

Imprisioning a People

A number of foreign observers confirm the evictions, including a US Jesuit priest and a member of the UN observer mission (ONUSAL). The police arrested and subsequently deported the prieset when he attempted to mediate on behalf of the peasants. The ONUSAL representative failed to note this clear violation of the accords or interfere with the process in any way, raising questions about the effectiveness and impartiality of the UN in overseeing the accords.

Constructive action by the UN is critical if the peace is to take hold. Given its willingness to legitimize the slaughter in the Gulf War, the UN has so far played a surprisingly constructive role in mediating the Salvadoran conflict. Since the accords were negotiated, however, the UN has come under criticism from all sides.

The FMLN and the civilian opposition have been sharply critical of the passivity of the UN in permitting a "twisted interpretation" of the accords in the case of the Treasury Police and the National Police. For its part, the government has accused ONUSAL of complicity in the "destabilization of the country." The right wing newspaper Diario de Hoy published a poem which complained "It's a lousy thing, that wherever you go, everywhere you find ONUSAL emissaries, looking like the owners of our native land." More seriously, the government unilaterally attempted to expel and ONUSAL representative without offering any justification for its action. Foreign Minister Pacas Castro argued "The government has the right to object to anyone and not give any public explanation," insisting that the incident was a "private matter" between ONUSAL and the government.